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Danny Kirk/the Gauntlet

Google: six attributes away from God

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In July 2004, a relatively infamous billboard ad in California displayed, without any hint of explanation, simply "{first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e}.com." For most, this doubtlessly didn't mean anything worth thinking about, and correspondingly, thousands probably drove past, glanced sideways at it, and went on to contemplate the lamb chop dinner waiting at home or the naughty secretary at work. For those who knew what e was, there was probably still not much of a reaction: a glare here, a couple more thoughts, maybe a paranoid delusion or two. The real conspiracy nut computer nerds--and it isn't too hard to picture them, hair disheveled, face alight doing so--immediately drove home, typed some code into a math program, found the digit sequence requested (7427466391) and typed in the URL, eyes wide and ready to be received into a secret math spy society.

It would be interesting to find out how many people were disappointed when the page that loaded up turned out to be a recruitment test for Google Labs, the research heart of the wildly popular--even verbed--search engine-cum-software monolith Google. There were no math spies after all! If ever there was a use for the frowny-face emoticon, this was it.

But disappointed nerds shouldn't be so quick to dismiss benign old Google. Everyone's favourite friendly giant might not be so much a giant as a whole bunch of ninjas poised in such a way as to appear one.

Google has been taking bold, terrifying actions since its inception as the little Stanford databasing project that used context to search and index the relevance of request returns. In 2005, the company laid out its 300-year plan to index every piece of information known to humanity. Similarly, the announcement that they had been purchasing dark fibre-optic cable and related infrastructure since the tech bubble burst pretty much implies they could only be planning to start their own dark internet sometime soon.

This isn't to say the company hasn't done some truly amazing things. The American government--in particular the Department of Justice--presumably under the jurisdiction of the USA PATRIOT Act, told web search engines in early 2006 that it wanted them to hand over records of what was being searched for, and Google told them in polite corporate terms to sod off. This culminated in the company being forced to hand over a limited subset of that information in February. And dang if services like Google Maps, Google Earth and Google Images aren't the handiest things around.

This competition between the good and bad aspects of the company is exactly why it is so hard to make heads or tails of malicious rumours like the one spreading recently that Google is in league with the CIA. On the accusing side is former CIA agent Robert David Steele who can supposedly verify the information and who says the argument with the Department of Justice was a scandal. On the accused side is Google, who is either too lovable to truly be shifty or too shifty to truly be lovable, and the CIA--or "mistrust central."

Indexing information at this late stage in human development is an absolutely necessary evil. Discovering information is one of the most truly wonderful feelings a person can experience, but let's face it: if we had to discover everything whenever we had to do anything, nothing could ever get done. For instance: try programming a word processor every time you need to type a paper. Sometimes, one must trust that somebody else knows what they are doing or talking about.

If Google really is in league with the CIA, and the American government has a hotline to everything the human race knows, then we might want to tuck, kiss and prepare for the coming apocalypse. Even Big Brother (no, not the reality show, Philistines) has got nothin' on that team. Even if they aren't partners, all human knowledge still probably isn't an area in which it is good to maintain a monopoly, so there's really no other choice: I guess I have to learn everything too.

Google, you've been challenged.

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