I finally got a chance to watch Oren Etzioni's Feb 2006 talk, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Google".
Oren is a fun and engaging speaker. The talk is quite interesting, a good overview of the KnowItAll family of research projects.
Oren and his team are seeking to extract knowledge from the massive number of documents on the web. The goal is to use this knowledge for a next generation of search that presents information summarized and collated from many web documents, like question answering, but deeper.
Some compelling examples of this idea come from the Opine project, a spin-off from KnowItAll that focuses on product reviews. It attempts to summarize many separate reviews into percentages of favorable and unfavorable opinions and the product features that went into those opinions.
If this kind of stuff sounds like something the search giants might want, you'd be right. Oren mentions in the talk that his graduate students seem to keep getting poached.
See also my previous posts, "Google and question answering" and "Mining the peanut gallery".