A few good friends have recently turned me onto the theory of using Google as an oracle. The idea is to use the Google homepage, with either auto complete or ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’, to enter your question and follow the trail of results delivered.
Now, we all know how indispensable (and almost omnipresent) Google Search has become but just because it gives you results you could not have attained elsewhere does that make it an oracle?
First, what is Google? Well apart from being a multi –billion dollar cash machine that is involved in everything from your email to Obamacare it is, at heart, a corporation built on the idea of search. The Google algorithm lies at its core and seeks to reference and categorise all information into an instantly accessible, variable and retrievable form. It doesn’t actually hold much of our information, but it works out how to get it.
The trouble is that it can currently only deal with the data we humans have uploaded. So it does not pull its search results – like a good oracle would – from everywhere, it pulls them only from across its known world.
I recently spent some time searching online for an old employer I had worked for between 1989 and 1995. I knew the company was still in existence, although it had changed its name and ownership since my time. Try as I might I could not find any reference, via Google, to the existence of the original company nor any of its workforce or products. The only workers I could find were the ones that had left and gone on to create their own online identities separately via employment elsewhere, or through social media. This bothered me greatly, for as far as Google was concerned, a pivotal and formative time of my life did not exist. I searched for a few more things from that early-mid 1990’s period, to the same end, nothing. This is important, for it suggests that a whole swathe of life, pre to early Internet and without major historical importance, does not, in Google terms, exist. So what kind of an oracle is this? What kind of wise dispensation and prophetic counsel can it possible provide if it cannot read my life, or the lives of others, fully?
Google might be an oracle in the sense that it throws up things we weren’t expecting, but it is a poor one, made all the poorer by the limitations of its Gods – the programmers who write the algorithm with specific, pre-determined commercial purposes in mind – and its followers, who often only speak only in limited terms about limited things. Google might be to Ford Motors, as the World Wide Web is to the Car, as the Internet is to the idea of independent moving transport, but that does not make it all seeing and all knowing. Far from it.
My thought process did, however lead me down an interesting avenue. Computer scientists are currently pursuing two major technological advances. The first is bio-computing where basic micro processing tasks are carried out by living bacteria and DNA. The second is AI, artificial intelligence. Mix in both of these with a dose of higher mathematics – by which numbers attain energy and behaviour, not just mere quantity – and you can speculate on a future release of Google Search capable of intuitive leaps from existing information. These results can then be fed back into the system for it to improve its performance next time. And thus Google Search increases its reach, accuracy and power. Science fiction? Maybe. But perhaps Google is less oracle and more Skynet? 🙂