POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

POC Bundle 6.16.2008

General News

  • Gregg Easterbrook says "Life is Good" even when everyone is saying how terrible things are today
  • S. T. Karnick thinks the media is interested in making all of us Girly Men with an attack on masculinity.


  • Too much e-mail - I think I feel what this New York Times piece is getting at...between blogs, e-mail, Facebook...it gets difficult to focus.  Lost in E-mail, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast.
  • Nicolas Carr in the Atlantic Monthly asks a poignant question - Is Google Making Us Stupid? - Personally, we were probably stupid before Google...but maybe we are getting stupider. I just finished a book about Google so this quote was not surprising...it may surprise you though - Perhaps Google will BE Skynet some day...we'll see.  I'll give you some context:

The company has declared that its mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It seeks to develop “the perfect search engine,” which it defines as something that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.” In Google’s view, information is a kind of commodity, a utilitarian resource that can be mined and processed with industrial efficiency. The more pieces of information we can “access” and the faster we can extract their gist, the more productive we become as thinkers.

Where does it end? Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the gifted young men who founded Google while pursuing doctoral degrees in computer science at Stanford, speak frequently of their desire to turn their search engine into an artificial intelligence, a HAL-like machine that might be connected directly to our brains. “The ultimate search engine is something as smart as people—or smarter,” Page said in a speech a few years back. “For us, working on search is a way to work on artificial intelligence.” In a 2004 interview with Newsweek, Brin said, “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.” Last year, Page told a convention of scientists that Google is “really trying to build artificial intelligence and to do it on a large scale.”

Such an ambition is a natural one, even an admirable one, for a pair of math whizzes with vast quantities of cash at their disposal and a small army of computer scientists in their employ. A fundamentally scientific enterprise, Google is motivated by a desire to use technology, in Eric Schmidt’s words, “to solve problems that have never been solved before,” and artificial intelligence is the hardest problem out there. Why wouldn’t Brin and Page want to be the ones to crack it?

Still, their easy assumption that we’d all “be better off” if our brains were supplemented, or even replaced, by an artificial intelligence is unsettling. It suggests a belief that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated, measured, and optimized. In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive.

Nicholas Carr, Is Google Making us Stupid? The Atlantic Monthly July/August 2008, http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google - accessed June 16, 2008.

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