Friday, November 16, 2012

Why I'm OK with Google taking over the world

Sergey Brin himself told an interviewer in 2002 that the HAL 9000 from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was "what (they're) striving for" with Google. Now that shouldn't really strike the best chord in a society where sentient machines as the catalyst of apocalypse form the basis of some our most iconic Sci-Fi stories. People never really take the threat seriously though, because in reality without Google our world would be drastically different pretty much across the board. The sheer volume of data and information lost if Google disappears is roughly equivalent to a modern day sacking of the Library of Alexandria. I'm still bitter about that by the way. But anyways, is it really OK to trust a single entity with so much of our information? In a world run by algorithms, whoever holds the data is king, and Google looks pretty good with a crown.

There are people who believe that we have nothing to fear from Google, they think that they serve us because we consume their products and we keep them running. But when you think about it, do we really? If you're getting something for free, chances are you're not the consumer, you're the product. People don't like considering themselves as products of course but I think humans inherently make the greatest products of all. We waste so much time on really unimportant shit. And Google is staggeringly good at making use of seemingly mundane things humans do and turning them into something productive. It's no wonder that Google is so universally trusted; it gives these great free services to people under the illusion that it's completely one-sided. However, in reality they have an uncanny ability to make these services mutually beneficial by convincing millions of people to build datasets for them.

Take for example, Google Voice. When it was released in 2009, it was some weird ass shit for a company so web-focused to enter the voicemail market. Not only did they make innovations to a seemingly antiquated industry, but that probably wasn't even their goal. Today Android's voice recognition transcription is by far the best around (nothing's ever gonna bring it down). They used the data they got from us using Google Voice to build a voice recognition system that blows all others out of the water. It even works with different accents and languages! You can speak Mandarin in that shit and it will translate and transcribe it for you. Google managed to create a symbiotic relationship between us and itself by taking advantage of our human computation power that would have otherwise been wasted. The human cycles that we unknowingly use up on a daily basis are utterly ridiculous. It took 7 million human hours to build the Empire State Building. 20 million to build the Panama Canal. In 2003, human beings spent 9 billion hours playing solitaire. Ignoring the fact that solitaire is profoundly inferior to Minesweeper, THAT'S SO MUCH TIME. So I have no problem with Google doing what they're doing as long as they don't use the data maliciously which, to my knowledge, they haven't yet.

The main reason why I bring all of this up is because of Ingress. THEY FUCKING MADE LIFE A GAME GUYS. Is that George Clooney talking in the trailer too? It's a game that gives people points for exercising and going to museums and shit. That's so smart I can't even handle it. In a culture so engrossed with the idea of instant gratification, something like this integrates so well into our technological landscape. But the real question is what Google is aiming to use it for on their end. Google Maps' walking directions feature is reportedly still in beta. I'd imagine there really aren't better ways to improving walking data than a virtual reality game that forces people to walk. So there's that. Maybe they're trying to gather information on the most commonly taken roads so they know the perfect place to strike in case we ever stop giving them data. I'm kidding of course. Like we even have a choice anymore.

In all seriousness though, a company as big and efficient as Google that's also well-regarded is unique and rare. Like a unicorn or Roger Federer's backhand. As long as it focuses on optimizing human efficiency, I'll have no qualms about it mining our data. You can keep my search history, my porn isn't that weird anyway. And you don't really have to worry either. Google can't become Skynet, it needs us too much in the end. But we need it too. It's confusing at times, scary at others, kinda like an actual relationship. Fortunately I don't see Google going anywhere soon, so batten down the hatches and open the pod bay doors, HAL

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