How much do you know about Google? Or perhaps the more pertinent question is, how much does Google know about you?
The idea for doing an article about Google came to me initially from my own technological fears. Now, I’m no technophobe, but I’m not someone who fully embraces the fast-moving technology boom we’re living in either. Yes, I like things that work. I like efficiency. And I like that advancing technology improves our lives. Where would we be without mobile phones, social media and on-demand TV?
What I struggle with is that things are changing every five minutes. Nothing’s simple or straightforward anymore. There’s a new format every day, rendering the previous one defunct. New operating systems for Windows. New web platforms. New plug-ins for this, that and the other. New file formats. I bought a TV once that wouldn’t play any of the videos I’d downloaded because it didn’t recognise the file formats. The solution was going to involve downloading a million and one codecs – or whatever the hell they are. We’re constantly having to learn how the latest system or app works, before updating it when the next one comes out – and having to learn it all over again.
And it’s funny how the world’s attitude is that computers are the answer to everything. Yes, computer technology speeds up our lives. But how much time do we lose sitting in traffic jams? Why has no one yet invented the flying car, as Back to the Future Part II predicted we would have by now? The problem is, the technology that underpins computers is moving too quickly, whereas the technology behind everything else isn’t advancing fast enough.
The too-fast advancement of computers is what makes me slightly jittery about Google. Since becoming a copywriter, I’ve learned a lot about Google’s quirks. How it’s able to tell what web pages are useful. How it doesn’t like duplicate content, and will penalise web pages for it. How it knows if you use too many keywords. There’s a phrase that comes up more and more frequently: “Google knows.” And it’s a phrase that grows ever more disquieting.
Judging by the amount of Google conspiracy theories that exist, it seems I’m not the only one with these fears…
Is Google taking over?
Ten years ago, Robert Cringely said that he could foresee Google taking over the internet completely by creating a “parallel internet” to the one we all use. He said that it will do this by buying enough companies and making enough products that it will cover just about every facet of our online lives. We’re already seeing evidence of this: Google Chrome, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Play, Android, YouTube – to name a few.
Since the beginning of 2013, Google has purchased 60 companies with specialisms ranging from mobile software, wireless technology and e-commerce to robotics and artificial intelligence. That’s a lot. Google is bigger than most of us realise.
Is Google spying on us?
There is a conspiracy theory that Google is becoming Big Brother. It has the world’s most in-depth register of human wants, habits and enquiries catalogued by user, and it owns image and facial recognition software. It knows what we want and it knows who we are. Apparently the people at Google have promised that only machines are reading this data – but how on Earth can we ever be sure of that?
Even more disturbing are the rumours that Google is tied up with the Central Intelligence Agency, that the CIA is using Google to spy on us. Former CIA agent Robert Steele claimed in 2006 that Google and the CIA had a secret deal. In 2012, Jon King cited evidence that Google received a huge amount of development funding from In-Q-Tel, which invests in IT and communications technologies for the CIA. Interestingly – and disconcertingly – Google Earth began life as a CIA-funded company.
However, plenty of people say that Robert Steele has no evidence for his claims and Google has itself stated officially that his claims are false. The truth could lie with former computer professional and systems administrator for the CIA and the NSA, Edward Snowden. In 2013, he blew the whistle on a number of government global surveillance programs, but the full extent of his disclosures is not yet known.
Is Google alive?
There is a theory that increasing advancement of the technology that underpins Google will lead it to become a sentient entity, if it hasn’t become one already. It’s already all-knowing. How long till it becomes self-aware?
What’s interesting about this theory is that maybe it’s something Google is actively working on. Why have they been purchasing so many artificial intelligence and robotics companies over the last few years? Google DeepMind, the product of these takeovers, has developed a neural network that mimics the short-term memory of the human brain, and is trying to formalise intelligence and implement it into machines. What if DeepMind endows the Google search engine with this intelligence, in order to optimise its performance?
All I know is this: Google is already much more than a search engine, and if it did become a sentient being, it would be the most powerful entity on the planet.
Next week: the mystery of the Brown Lady