Google Search Expert In Coma - InformationWeek

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Google Search Expert In Coma

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, a natural language search expert, was knocked unconscious by a falling tree branch Wednesday in New York.

One of Google's top search experts is fighting for his life after being struck on the head by a tree limb in New York City's Central Park.

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, 33, was on or near one of the parks many footpaths early Wednesday when he was hit by a large branch that plunged from the tree under which he was standing. He is listed in critical condition at New York hospital.

Unusually violent weather that has struck the New York metro area in the past week may have weakened the branch.

A married father of two, Blair-Goldensohn earned a computer science Ph.D from Columbia University in 2007. He's now employed at Google's New York City office, where he specializes in developing search technology that can respond to natural language queries.

One of Blair-Goldensohn's colleagues at Google's Manhattan office said "everyone is really upset and shocked" by the incident. "Sasha is a really great guy and very generous with his time—and he's super smart," the co-worker said, according to the New York Post.

Google officials were hoping for the best. "Sasha is a well-loved colleague, and our thoughts go out to him and his family at this difficult time," a company spokesperson said.

Blair-Goldensohn's Ph.D thesis focused on improving search results from queries that use natural language, or everyday speech. "We consider the problem of answering such questions, with particular focus on the contribution to be made by integrating rhetorical and semantic models," Blair-Goldensohn wrote in his thesis abstract, which is posted on the Internet.

As part of his student work, Blair-Goldensohn developed a system called DefScriber, which answers "What is?", or "Who is?" type questions.

Correctly interpreting and answering natural language questions is considered the Holy Grail of search technology. Most search engines, including Google's famed algorithm, are better at delivering results based on key words.

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