A smarter search engine: Nicholas Schiefer @ TEDxToronto

This is the last post on the top five coolest tech talks from TEDxToronto, an annual showcase of innovative and provoking talks. The #1 spot goes to Nicholas Schiefer, the high school senior being toted as the next Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) for his redefinition of the Internet search engine. The project landed Nicholas a gold medal at a Canada-wide science fair for creating a micro search engine that retrieves information from short documents (such as tweets and Facebook statuses).  Previously, these docs were too small for key words to factor into search engine results.  His talk moved beyond this.  Nicholas focused on redefining how a computer interprets the meaning of words in relation to each other and the document.

Nicholas is creating a search engine that helps computers understand language, giving search engines human-like qualities.  By creating a smarter search engine, we can avoid what Nicholas calls “semantic baggage.” For example, search engines associate the word “Sendai” with earthquakes rather than as a city in Japan.  Smarter search engines could distinguish between the two and provide more accurate results.  This is technology not even Google is using yet! Nicholas was intrigued by computers from a very young age and mashed that curiosity with his passion for mathematics. Now in grade 12, he is preparing for university after spending a summer working for IBM.

Check out this video demo of Nicolas’ project or read about him on the Globe & Mail.

Nicholas’ TEDxToronto talk was funny, articulate and smart beyond his years. It is a natural progression for the student who spearheaded his school’s robotics club and continues to get the highest marks in his grade. Genius ideas aren’t strictly reserved for geniuses. All it takes is a curiosity about technology and the desire to learn. Put yourself out there, take chances and be a leader. Start a computer sciences or robotics club at your school, or join a pre-existing one.  Maybe one day you’ll be the next Nicholas Schiefer!


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