Eric Schmidt has seen the future, and it's "autonomous search." That's a fancy term that means "discovery." But no matter what words you use, it still means the same thing:  more empowered consumers and greater value in earned media. 

Some people are creeped out by portions of what Schmidt said, but he has suggested an exciting future for empowering people to create greater influence and be armed with timely, relevant, and useful information.  At TechCrunch Disrupt, Schmidt envisioned a future where people and technology come together to create "a serendipity engine . . . a new way of thinking about traditional text search where you don't even have to type."

As you look into the future, the distinction between “search” and “discovery” gets muddy.  While it sounds like science fiction to suggest that technology can help search for things you don’t even yet know you want, the opportunities to improve human discovery are very real.  Combining a person’s context—where they are, who they’re with—with their past opinions and actions and the opinions and actions of others can create tremendous value and relevance.

Imagine you’re someone who has positively rated Mexican restaurants in the past.  As you drive through town around lunchtime, your device alerts you to a well-rated Mexican restaurant that is nearby and likely to suit your tastes.  This information may not be welcome at 8 a.m. or 2 p.m., nor would it be welcome to someone who hasn’t expressed an affinity for Mexican food.  It is the combination of social media, individual preferences and context that creates the opportunity for proactive discovery rather than reactive search. 

This isn’t about opening your Yelp application on your smartphone and seeing the same search results as everyone else; it’s about having hardware and software that intuits and presents the things you really care about.  There are already examples of simple "Serendipity Engines" available, such as Netflix's rating system—the more movies you rate, the better the recommendations you'll receive.

What is exciting about this future is the continued progress toward empowering consumers.  When this sort of functionality arrives, this will again change the way marketers plan for and use paid and earned media. The future of discovery is not about finding which nearby restaurant has a discount for checking in or becoming mayor but about finding which nearby restaurants are rated the best on the factors you most care about and by the people who are most like you. 

Great experiences create great advocacy, and in Eric Schmidt's world, that means greater visibility in "autonomous search." While Schmidt's "serendipity engine" will create opportunities for new forms of advertising, what really will matter is true, authentic advocacy.