October 12, 2007

What Hath Google Wrought


 go ogle

The quote, "what hath God wrought" comes from Numbers 23:23, about the Israelites, but it was popularized by Samuel Morse when he sent it as the first message over the telegraph.

I've been telling everyone who will listen to buy Google-- it's up 140 points since I wrote about it a month ago-- because it is more than an investment, it is a paradigm shift.


Others have described the typical fears of a Google world-- boiled down, essentially, to "everything gets saved, and everything can be searched."

While true, there are nuances missing that are worth describing explicitly.  Buckle up.

First, four basics: 

1. Google is more than search; Adsense is much more than ads. Google records every search you make-- time, date, which links you chose, time between clicks, etc.  It's a relatively simple matter to piece together a profile of the user, even without knowing the identity of the user, which Google knows anyway.  But Google also has a general ability to know what websites you visit, independent of search.  See those Google Adsense ads? They're javascript: every time the webpage loads, a request is sent to Google for the  immediate creation of an ad, based on the contents of that page.  If that page sends a request, then Google knows that you are there, at that moment;  when you came, how long you stay, where you went next, etc.  And yes, the information is recorded without you clicking on the ad.  It is a technically easy process to follow an IP address across the internet, as it hits Adsense pages.

2. Google is the default backup of the internet.  Read that again.

Every page Google's bots crawls is cached on their servers.   In other words, they have a copy of most pages on the internet.  You may try to delete something from the internet, but once Google saw it, it's on their servers forever.  There is also considerable redundancy: if you upload a pic to your site, it is in Google's cache, but also Google's cache of anyone else who used your pic.

Here's an example: there's a story about a woman upset because the Google van (which takes street level photos for use with their maps) caught a picture of her cat in the window.  She wanted the picture removed.  Removed?  From where?  She doesn't get it, she thinks Google has the photo paperclipped to the inside of a manila folder.  You can't remove it, it's not a possession,  you can't take it back-- it's like the spoken word and the spent arrow, it is past tense.  It's not just at Google Maps; it is at BoingBoing, and at Google's cache of BoingBoing...

You know all those closed circuit cameras?  Some of them are online.  Look, here are some, live.  Guess what? Now they're on Google, too.

3a. Google is an accidental monopoly...

People complained that Microsoft forced people to use their products by linking them with other products.  For example, Internet Explorer was the browser because it came with Windows.  Google, however, can't help being the end product of the internet.  Consider email: you can choose to use Yahoo! Mail and not GMail because you are worried that Google keeps all Gmails.  Fine; but if you email to someone with GMail, Google stores a copy and knows what you wrote, but now also knows your IP and email address; consequently, it knows other sites you've visited.  Etc.

Imagine the post office copied every letter it handled, and could cross reference the contents of those letters with other databases: calendar; credit card/online purchases, physical location,  etc.   Scary?  Now imagine that the post office housed those databases.

3b. ...that cannot die. 

Everyone worries about Google's growth, but who is worrying about its demise?  Google has so much data that it actually takes up real estate all over the world.  Let's say Google goes out of business.  Who gets all those servers?  All that data?  Who gets a copy of the world, on the cheap? Whoever it is doesn't have to give us satellite photos anymore.  What can you do with satellite photos that no one else has?  Who gets to decide how to control all that data?

4. Don't Be Evil. 

Well, okay, that's good advice, I guess, but what happens when the subpoenas come?  Or the Russians invade?   Or the Chinese commandeer/hack Google servers-- some of which are actually in China?  Discussions about the legal aspects of privacy aside, if something exists, it can be found.  Even if it's just a disgruntled organ donor at the Googleplex who decides to fork over terabytes of data to the highest bidder.  An organization-- a security organization-- is only as strong as the weakest person. Go to the Googleplex and park your car.  Do you see any potential weak links? I sure do.

As a quick example of how crippling this information can be:  Google has recorded the surfing habits of every employee of Microsoft, including Bill Gates.  And of two Presidents.  And the Pope. 

The Missing Piece

The above three are well known, if maybe a little paranoid.  But what is so important, and never discussed, is this: Google will be around for another 100 years.  At least.

So when I say that it knows everything, it knows everything across time.  It doesn't just have insights into your character; it has insights into your character as you age, and the character of your family line.


Social Ramifications:

Used to be, "on the internet, no one knows you're a dog."  Well, now everyone knows. But worse, there's no hierarchy of identity.  You may think you're Chariman of Oncology who occasionally played World of Warcraft 7 years ago.  But if a Google search reveals 10 hits about WoW, and only one of being a doctor, then guess what? You're a nut.

The narcissism I always refer to is characterized by a vital need to self-identify.  You want to pick an identity, and you want others to accept it even in the absence of facts or behavior.  "I read Hegel, I'm an intellectual."  No, you're a coffeehouse agitator.  I can tell by the undershirt.  What Google has done is to make this self-identification impossible.  Before, you could be exposed only if someone took the time and effort to background check you.  Soon-- hell, now-- it will require no effort.  When the brooding artist-type you met at Starbucks calls you up to deride romantic comedies, inauthentic japanese food, and Ambercrombie and Fitch, but your cell phone shows you a picture of his (read: parent's) house in Irvine, well, that pretty much ends that, doesn't it?

Apparently, incoming college freshmen already know their future classmates through Facebook.  Worse: the parents know their kids' future classmates.  Remember the clean start college gave you?  Well, forget it.


The focus is on who is monitoring our children.  What are they up to?

Well, think about this: your kids are investigating you.

Remember that time when your mom was 19 and she was in that wet t-shirt contest?  No?  Well, your kids will get to remember yours in AVI format.  Oh, and that DUI conviction?  Remember that vapid comment you posted on the Daily Kos? (Hint: ten years from now a high school freshman will cringe at its inanity.)   And, lo, the IP address search.  How did your IP end up on pornotron.org?  (Yes, the non-profit.)

Did you realize that your future daughter in law will be checking you out? "Billy, did you know eight years ago your Dad...?" This didn't occur to you?  Then I guess it didn't occur to you that your son's reply will be, "Sigh. Yeah. I knew."

(As an aside, the very fact that you are surprised by the possibility that your kids are googling you is evidence of the cultural narcissism I'm always referring to.  You are the parent, your child is yours, you monitor and control it-- it doesn't occur to you that they can exert the same power over you.)

Parenting has always required a degree of acting.  You can't be an effective parent if there is not at least the illusion of moral superiority; children rely on an unchanging moral stance to be able to test limits and to establish a superego.  While it isn't a disaster that your kid knows you smoked pot in high school, it doesn't help.  But it is a far worse when your kid learns it without your contextualization.  Consider: "Son, I smoked pot, but..." vs. reading an email when you were 20 where you recommend it to a girl you're trying to bed...

Google compresses time.  What you did might feel like it was a long time ago, but your kids "experience" that memory immediately.  Additionally, they are raised in a world where the past never disappears, so they do not connect with your language of "a long time ago."   For this reason, identity will be fixed at an earlier age.

Look deeply into your childrens' faces.  You will never remember them as well, as accurately, as they remember you.


It's beyond me that no one else has mentioned this.

Google wants to set up a system for online medical records, so that they can be "transported"-- accessed by all the various medical providers in your life.  This is not even great in theory.

First, does anyone remember the Seinfeld episode where Elaine gets labeled in the chart as a problem patient?  And every time she tries to change doctors, the chart follows her, and she can't get anyone to work with her?  Let me assure you that in psychiatry this already happens even without the chart.  If you want to ensure a two tiered system of medicine, enact medical record portability.

Next, medical records will thus be searchable, like GMail.  See all those Zoloft ads?  Guess why.  Think drug reps know too much about doctors prescribing habits?  How about how they will know the demographic characteristics-- diagnoses x epidemiology x financial status x etc--  of the patients he treats?  

But the worst is this: genomics.  It's not too far away that doctors will be running genetic tests as often as they run CBCs.  Where is that going to be recorded?  Imagine that your DNA can be cross referenced with your surfing habits.  And your kids' DNA with your surfing habits.  Imagine the preposterous world where Google "Adsense" predicts what products your kids might be interested in based on your life cycle...  (Update:  23andMe.)

Here's a scary, sad, non-porn example: "Mom, why am I getting so many ads for breast cancer prevention?"

Think how good a Google search is using only a few keywords.  There is no reason why Google can't suggest to you state of the art, or at least evidence based, treatments, tailored as well as possible to the information in your medical records.   So much for doctors.  At best they retain their importance as diagnosticians.  (Oh, and how much more accurate if the Google medical records happen to link up to your numerous emails that begin, "oh my God, I was so wasted last night...")

Look, people, I'm not saying Google will do it; I'm saying that it is no additional effort at all to do it.


You know the hippocampus?  You won't need it where we're going.

Memory takes practice.  I can remember the phone number of almost everyone I meet, because I practiced that skill.  Most people are the opposite, however, because they directly dial much less often.  Same with my calendar (in my head vs. PDA.) And if you don't remember someone's phone or address, you can always google him.

I don't know anyone who quotes whole passages from books anymore.  Very few even know any poems.  Pretty soon, we won't be so great at memorizing 10 digits at a time; or directions; or names.  This isn't a bad or good thing, but it will be different.  Factual memory will be less important than "feeling," "experience."   "That was an awesome party."  Yeah, who was at it? "Hold on a second, I'll tell you exactly..."

Soon, you won't need to remember anything about "him." You want to call him?  Say, "call that guy, red hair, worked at the gas station..." and he'll answer.

Here's a crazy idea: that guy walking towards you that you don't remember?  His "device"-- cell phone/PDA/GPS/brain implant signals your device, and instantly not only do you now remember who he is, but you know a lot of other stuff about him you didn't know before.  Solid.

General facts will no longer be rehearsed, learned, because they can be immediately accessed.  I don't mean go-to-your-laptop-and-search immediately, I mean wristwatch, or earpiece, or contact lens immediately.

(A propos of testing: multiple choice has to vanish. All education now has to be essay.)

Not just that, but access will be faster.  Question: how important is it to prevent memory loss in dementia, when they can access the memory instantly?  So recall (e.g. Ach?) won't be important: processing skills (DA and Glut?) will be important.  Maybe that's a good thing.

Mobile Search

I know, it's about target ads.  Ok.  What do you have when you have infinite storage capabilities, and voice recognition search software (e.g., Google 411)?  You have a permanent database of everyone's voice. Across time, under different circumstances.  Across generations.  And always tagged with all your other information.  So when Google hears your voice through someone else's phone while on vacation in France, or on a CCTV, or whatever-- it can helpfully say, "oh, that's Bill, he likes cooking and Asian porn, let me send him some targeted ads!"

It's Taking Over The World, You May As Well Profit From It

A lot of people think Google, at 620, is overvalued.  They're not just wrong, they are casualties.  It has a $200b market cap; it has $13b in cash, and no debt.  It grosses $6b in profits a year, margins of 30%, and it's growing at 30% a year.  It has time on its side.

I've long argued we are moving towards feudalism, away from national governments.  Google is already gunning for the top spot. 

Oh, I know, Google is just a big advertising company.  That has satellite photos of the entire world that they artificially worsen because the U.S. Government doesn't think you should be allowed to have it.

What saves us, today, is that Google is a relatively small company run, really, by three people.  But if it grows too big- if it becomes like an oil company, with tentacles into politics and world affairs and everything else-- in other words, if it becomes a lord-- you can just change the motto from "Don't Be Evil" to "Don't Be a Sucker." And then look out.

(long GOOG, obviously.)