Google and the immediate access to information

There was an interesting article by James Glieck in the NY Review of Books a little while ago. The article is a good overview on the evolution of google, it’s role in today’s world, and it’s plans for the future.  One bit that especially struck me is the transcript of a conversation with google’s founders Page and Brin on how they see the company shaping our interaction with information.

“It [google] will be included in people’s brains,” said Page. “When you think about something and don’t really know much about it, you will automatically get information.”

“That’s true,” said Brin. “Ultimately I view Google as a way to augment your brain with the knowledge of the world. Right now you go into your computer and type a phrase, but you can imagine that it could be easier in the future, that you can have just devices you talk into, or you can have computers that pay attention to what’s going on around them….”

…Page said, “Eventually you’ll have the implant, where if you think about a fact, it will just tell you the answer.”

There is something more than just the initial terror of a pseudo-cyborg utopia, or how the founders of the company that has essentially become the gateway to information see themselves re-inventing the human. There is also an underlying confusion between (immediate) access to information, knowledge, and understanding, as well as how these interact.

Google is not an access to knowledge, it’s a portal of information and it is up to the recipient to give that information necessary context. Most of the information on the web comes with very limited context, and at best provide factual accuracy. Of course, immediate access to such facts can be helpful and can also aid in a process but I am not convinced that the world that Brin and Page imagine is necessarily one of progress and innovation – it is certainly not one of understanding, which is a completely different story all together. Many of the great strides in human civilization, whether these be in art, science, technology, etc, have come from limitations, from boundaries and the inability to immediately answer questions, have particular tools, freedoms, or gather certain information. These are no great insights, but perhaps ones that google is ignoring.

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2 thoughts on “Google and the immediate access to information

  1. Ian Langmore says:

    I’ll agree with you that we’re stuck for the moment with ever-improving retrieval of facts, while understanding is still done the old-fashioned way (thinking). Of course ML attempts to add meaning, but is limited. I’ll add that many people equate regurgitation of facts with intelligence.

    Also, Daniel, can you put an RSS button somewhere so your posts can be transferred automatically to my brain implant.

  2. notjustmath says:

    Fact regurgitation has been has been confused for knowledge and intelligence likely from the dawn of time. It’s a fool-proof way to “progress.”

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