Google founder dreams of Google implant in your brainBody modification - or channel ploy?
By Andrew Orlowski in San Francisco
Wednesday 3rd March 2004 09:12 GMT
Mobile Device Management and Security Body modification is all the rage these days, as any parent with teenage children knows. Pack them off to the school disco, and the next thing you know, they've come back with a fabric of piercings and tattoos that only a supercomputer can decipher.
Our very own Kevin Warwick - or "Captain Cyborg", to regular readers - was just a middling tutor at a Midlands polytechnic before he caught a whiff of this peculiar zeitgest. For the past few years Warwick has staged a succession of publicity stunts in which he "augments" his human self with bits of machinery. His adolescent stunts have been pretty lame so far, but he has been successful in gathering an appreciative following in the international press.
The issue of augmentation, or fusion with technology, is a masturbatory fantasy that we encounter often, especially out here in California. The venerated Extropians
are just one of many cults that dream of transcending mortality - and evading the messy social responsibilities to your brother or sister - by launching themselves into a cryogenically-assured future to which only they have the keys.
Enter Larry Page, who by cruel popular caricature is the friendly, goofy half of the partnership that created Google. In the manner of a Bond villain, the brilliant, cold and secretive Russian Sergey calls the shots, while the American nitwit Larry loafs around on colored cushions between Segway rides, and gets to "chill" with with Joi Ito. Lucky Larry!
(Parodies don't work unless they have at least a grain of truth, but we must point out that in real life, Sergey is not so nerveless as his parody suggests, nor Larry so stoopid. However Larry is mesmerized by stupid tech toys, perhaps fatally so, as we shall see.)
Leisure Suit Larry
For a brief and wonderful moment, Larry escaped his minders and 'fessed up his wildest desires to CNET.
"On the more exciting front, you can imagine your brain being augmented by Google. For example you think about something and your cell phone could whisper the answer into your ear," he burbled.
Yes, Larry, that's pretty exciting. But first things first. John Markoff in the New York Times recently unearthed the gem that Google is planning to create a "phone" that directs the user to Google's incomparable archive of weblog trackbacks and payola bracelet placements. Heads rolled at Google HQ after that revelation, although we ought to acquaint Google's remaining sentient executives with their kin from Nike who have also been planning an entry into the commodified phone business with such a similar caper. Neither Nike, nor Amazon has yet to launch such a product.
But commercial considerations aside, why is Google's co-founder so besotted by the idea? Is he genuinely such a cartoon simpleton, or does he simply think that his product is so amazing - and that we're so correspondingly gullible - that we would willingly submit to such a complicated medical operation to make it work. (And, alas, it still requires messy medical science to implant a Google chip in your brain). Can you imagine a car manufacturer touting such a pitch? Where, in the history of commerce, has the promise been so distant from the reality? Car buyers wouldn't stand for this ("just take our Ford implant, sir, and everything will work out...") and neither, we suggest, should you.
The "Internet" promised us so much when it was touted to us ten years ago. The world's body of knowledge would be at our fingertrips.
Now we're being told that we need body modification to make it work. Ten years ago we thought that all we needed was an ISP. Now, all we need is a brain surgeon!
------------------------------------Google. Who's looking at you?It wants to know everything about you. It wants to be your best friend — or your Big Brother. Are your secrets safe with Google?
The Sunday Times
October 21, 2007
[A]s it prepares to celebrate its 10th birthday, Google has developed serious engine trouble. A series of missteps have left it facing claims that it has gone from a benign project – creating the first free, open-all-hours global library – to the information society’s most determined Big Brother. It stands accused of plotting some sinister link between its computers and us: that it wants, somehow, to plug us into its giant mainframe – as imagined in The Matrix or Terminator.
The crisis began a few months ago when Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, popped up in London and made some extravagant remarks about the firm’s ambitions. He declared that the company’s goal was to collect as much personal data as it could on individual users so that it could improve the quality of its search results and even start making recommendations, like a trusted friend. “We are very early in the total information we have,” he said. “We cannot even answer the most basic question about you because we don’t know enough about you. The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask questions such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’ ”
His comments provoked a firestorm. Right-to-privacy campaigners howled that a machine that knows so much about us that it can tell us what to do would be the biggest-ever threat to personal privacy. No totalitarian regime, no Bond villain had dreamt up anything so creepy. “At what stage,” one critic asked, “did the company whose motto is ‘Don’t be evil’ evolve into the Evil Empire?”
What’s going on? Is Google trying to take over the world’s information and worm its way into our consciousness? When he said he could implant a Google chip in our brain, was Brin not joking, after all?
Or have we all got the wrong end of the memory stick?
You only have to spend a few hours in the Googleplex, talking to Mayer and fellow Googleytes, to realise that, if anything, Schmidt was being conservative. Instead of worrying that they are going too far, Google’s top team talk, with poker faces, about a “300-year mission” that will eventually see almost everything – including, perhaps, one day you and me – linked to the web and searchable online
Google’s techno-dream comes in three bytes. The first is loosely referred to as “universal search”. Scribbling frantically on a whiteboard, Mayer, Google’s head of search products and user experience, says the web is currently “very limited and primitive”. It consists mainly of words, images and some music, mostly created in the last few years. There is much, much more that could – and should – be online. At its simplest level, this includes every film, TV show, video or radio broadcast ever made; every book, academic paper, pamphlet, government document, map, chart and blog ever published in any language anywhere; and any piece of music ever recorded. Google is currently developing new software that will scan millions of new sources of information to give richer search results.
Mayer illustrates the idea by googling her hero, Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs, on her PC, which already uses an experimental version of universal search. The results include video news archives, the latest news on the iPhone, highlights of Jobs’s career, and up-do-date news stories. “You get six searches for the price of one,” she says in her curiously giggly voice.
So far, so uncontroversial – but there’s much more. Mayer and co argue that to be true to its mission statement of “organising all the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful”, Google should be about more than searching for words, images and music; it should be about finding objects and, eventually, people. Any item that can be fitted with a radio-frequency identifier – an electronic tag called an RFID – can be linked to the internet over local or national WiFi networks. Retailers already use this technology for stocktaking, and fleet managers track buses and taxis this way. Why not, asks Mayer, “take the things you care about – your watch, your phone – stick little tags on them and watch for their receiving signals”? This is not a joke. “It would have been really useful to me yesterday when I lost my cellphone while it was out of power. It took me half an hour to find it had fallen behind a dresser.” And why not go one step further and tag your partner or your children, so that you can find out where they are whenever you want? Googleytes point out that we already do this with newborn babies and pets
The second part of Google’s techno-dream is “personalised search”. Google has just launched iGoogle, a new turbocharged version of its regular search service. It allows Google to monitor our search and web-surfing history, so that it can find out who we are, how old we are, what job we do, whether we are married and have children, where we go on holiday, what we do in our spare time – anything, in fact, that it can glean from our web-surfing, which, since we do so much online these days, means pretty much everything. Google wants us to sign up for iGoogle on our PC, and also to install it, along with Gmail, Google Maps and Google Earth software, on our mobile phone, so that it knows not just who we are but where we are in the world, 24 hours a day, thanks to the satellite-positioning chips starting to be included in mobile phones. “Our goal is that you can, if you want, search for anything, anywhere, any time,”
says Douglas Merrill, 37, Google’s chief information officer.
The final piece of the Google future is called “cloud computing”. Instead of using the internet to search for information that we then copy and use to work on documents stored on the hard drives of our computers, using the software on those computers, Google wants us to create all our documents online, to work on them online using Google’s web-based software, and to store them online on Google’s vast global network of servers. Google has recently launched its own web-based software programs – called Google Apps – that enable us to create password-protected word files and spreadsheets, edit them and store them online. These applications – along with Gmail, Calendar, Google’s online diary, Picasa, its picture-management and storage system, and Presentations, its online version of PowerPoint – mean Google will provide all our computing and storage needs, not on our PCs but, as Mayer puts it, “in the computational cloud”.
Google’s overall goal is to have a record of every e-mail we have ever written, every contact whose details we have recorded, every file we have created, every picture we have taken and saved, every appointment we have made, every website we have visited, every search query we have typed into its home page, every ad we have clicked on, and everything we have bought online. It wants to know and record where we have been and, thanks to our search history of airlines, car-hire firms and MapQuest, where we are going in the future and when.
This would not just make Google the largest, most powerful super-computer ever; it would make it the most powerful institution in history. Small wonder that the London-based human-rights group Privacy International has condemned its plans as “hostile to privacy”, and EU ministers called Google’s vision “Orwellian”. Even John Battelle, one of the net’s leading evangelists, who co-founded the technology bible Wired magazine, and wrote The Search, the definitive study of Google’s rise, now says: “I’ve found myself more and more wary of Google, out of some primal, lizard-brain fear of giving too much control of my data to one source.”
It all begs one key question: why? What makes a bunch of California geeks who are relaxed enough to spend their lives creating extraordinary products – and then give them away for nothing – suddenly want to take over the world, or at least its information?
To Googleytes, the most surprising thing about the row over its plans for the future is that anyone is surprised at all. Its founders have always envisaged a vast super-computer that connects everything and everyone
. Ask Craig Silverstein. He knows because he was there at the beginning, when Brin and Page were graduate students messing about with algorithms at Stanford University, California, when they should have been out getting laid. Silverstein is a man for whom the word “geek” could have been invented. He is young – 34 – thin, has a beard and speaks softly. He does not like to travel more than once a year. He was Google’s first employee and, even though he is now worth £250m, he still turns up to work every day because he “likes solving complex software-engineering problems”. We meet in another anonymous meeting room with no windows. For a firm that expects us to tell it everything about ourselves, Google is remarkably coy about revealing the simplest information about itself – such as what its executives’ offices look like. Interviews in the executive suite are banned for fear that journalists might uncover its software secrets.
Over coffee, Silverstein, now director of technology, explains that, from the earliest days, Brin and Page envisaged a super-connected computer
. “The vision of search has always been broader than has been portrayed in the press,” he says. “We would explain it every chance we got. I don’t think the press misunderstood it. It was just that they were focused on what the users were into at the time.” He recalls one example that shows that Brin and Page imagined that one day even the smallest “stuff” would be online. “When we were doing the first research, we used to eat in Whole Foods [an organic supermarket chain]. We talked about using search to find out what aisle the salt is on. Instead of having to look at the big signs at the top of each aisle, you could use a search engine to tell you where in the store everything is, and maybe graph it out for you.”
Brin and Page were obsessed with recording, categorising and indexing anything and everything, and then making it available to anyone with internet access because they genuinely believed – and still do – that it is a morally good thing to do. It may sound hopelessly hippie-ish and wildly hypocritical coming from a couple of guys worth £10 billion each, but Brin and Page insist they are not, and never have been, in it for the money. They see themselves as latter-day explorers, mapping human knowledge so that others can find trade routes in the new information economy.
“Google has been trying to democratise information to make it possible for everyone in the world to access the information they need to do the things they need to do,” Silverstein says. Belief in the value of information for its own sake was behind the firm’s highly controversial decision to cave in to demands from the Chinese government for censorship so as to break into the giant local market. Some information, Google reckoned, is better than none.
In spite of the growing public paranoia over its omnivorous intentions, Google is convinced that the more we find out about what it is up to, the more we will agree with it.
Google thinks that creating a free-to-use global library and global computer is “a good thing”. But it can only become a really useful library and computer if it knows more about the people that use it: you and me. If we trust it, it can do things for us we could never have imagined, things that Googleytes call “the magic stuff”.
Want every computer in the world to be “our” computer? Sign up for cloud computing. Lost our keys? Google will find them. Want to have an alfresco lunch? Use our Google-enabled phone to view images of our nearest Italian restaurant, check it has a terrace and book a table. Want to know how far our bus is from the bus stop or where the nearest taxi is? Look online. Worried that our child has safely reached school? Google him or her. Search and ye shall find.
The £100 billion question, therefore, is: will we feel comfortable putting our privacy on the line online? Or will fears that we will become slaves to the machine outweigh the desire for a connected future? In spite of the growing furore over privacy, the signs are that we might sign up
. iGoogle personalised search is Google’s fastest-growing new product. It already accounts for one in five searches in America. The service has just been launched in Europe, and Google claims the take-up is strong.
Apple’s wildly popular iPhone already uses location-aware Google Maps, and online queues are forming for Google’s soon-to-be-launched suite of mobile-phone applications that will work on any handset. Some of America’s largest firms, including Procter & Gamble and L’Or, are already using cloud computing, in the first serious challenge to the dominance of Microsoft Office. Polls show that, in spite of the recent furore, many web-users here and in the US do not care about privacy
. According to a recent study by the Ponemon Institute, a US-based privacy think-tank, 68% of Americans believe that online privacy is important, but only 8% care enough about it to change their online behaviour. Above the din of chattering classes railing against “Googlezilla” can be heard the tip-tap of hundreds of millions of ordinary users willingly signing up to what they consider to be Google’s benign digital dictatorship. What’s another hunk of privacy lost if it makes life easier?
As I walk out of the Googleplex, I notice a new feature by the exit. It’s a giant 3-D computer-generated image of the globe which has giant red lasers shooting up into the sky. Each laser represents the number of Google search queries made at that point on the Earth’s surface. The higher the spikes, the greater the number of queries. It is supposed to be a celebration of what Google has achieved so far. But it also highlights how much of the world it has already conquered and reveals how much it soon hopes to colonise
. It is the perfect metaphor for where that simple little search box we use every day has come from and what its vaulting ambitions are. It does not simply want to be a good search engine on the web: it wants to be the web.
Will it get there? In the end, it’s up to us. Google has only gone from being the most famous misspelling since “potatoe” to a verb recognised by the Oxford English Dictionary because you, me – in fact, almost all of us – use it. If we carry on logging on, it will carry on growing. And growing. If we don’t, it won’t. The choice – the click – is ours.