So. Google (arguably) has access to the most complete and up-to-date dataset of fact, opinion, intent and interconnection on the planet. What’s it doing with it, apart from shifting ads and servicing up web search?
Let’s start with a provocation. Why didn’t Google management either:
- Profit from,
- Alert us to, or Intervene to stop
…the ongoing collapse of contemporary capitalism? Was that an active decision on their part, or do they simply not have the predictive capability? That’s an either-or question. We’re guessing the answer is that they don’t, but that they’re working on it. Wouldn’t you be?
Google’s long-standing interest in zeitgeist and trending suggests a deep interest in the descriptive uses of their wealth of data. Once you have description nailed, then prediction is a logical next target — and prediction at the scale Google might attempt would lead to a historical discontinuity of the kind only tackled head-on by Golden Age science-fiction hacks. Check out, for example, Isaac Asimov’s 1955 short story Franchise set in a [fictional] Election Year 2008 in which
… the United States has converted to an “electronic democracy” where the computer Multivac selects a single person to answer a number of questions. Multivac [...] then uses the answers and other data to determine what the results of an election would be, avoiding the need for an actual election to be held.
The story centers around Norman Muller, the man chosen as “Voter of the Year” in 2008. At first he is not sure he wants the responsibility of representing the entire electorate, worrying that the result will be unfavorable and he will be blamed. However, after voting he is very proud that the citizens of the United States had, through him, “exercised once again their free, untrammeled franchise” — a statement that is somewhat ironic as the citizens didn’t actually get to vote.
There has been much speculation that Google is working to develop some general high level artificial intelligence. AI is tricky and doesn’t, we think, fit Google’s proven modus operandi. Google people like to solve pragmatic tasks in clever ways, not mess with fiddly intractables.
Consider Google’s recently announced flu prediction system — which analyses clustering in search query data to infer epidemiology two weeks earlier than traditional methods. We’re guessing the development of this tool offers clues to what Google is really expending the bulk of its computing resource and intellectual activity towards — not on AI research, but on data-driven predictive models for all sorts of real-world happenings — not only those related to public health, but the financial markets, weather systems, sports results.
We’re betting Google doesn’t know which real-world phenomena it will be able to model predictively. It doesn’t matter. As long as it can model some of the systems which drive our lives, Google is placed to dominate the global economy through the next economic cycle. Revisiting our original question — does Google’s non-intervention in the Crash of ’09 mean that they haven’t got the modelling down yet, or that they simply don’t want to Get Involved? Either way, it’s a Google future, people. Enjoy your franchise.