I recently attended a talk by writer/artist/designer Douglas Coupland where he mentioned offhand – as though it were common knowledge – that Google is becoming sentient. As he describes, Google the company is currently sending out its minions to collect information on anything from anywhere to add to “Google” the online entity, because it apparently expects “Google” to become sentient by the mid 2030’s, and wants it to have as much information as possible about the world to…
…to what? What will the Google Brain do? Am I the only one who thinks this too close to the plot of almost every sci-fi dystopia for comfort? Apparently not.
Regardless, let’s follow the thought experiment through: if “Google” will be the Internet’s brain, what of its heart? What the Google Brain does with all of the information it has at its disposal may very well have to do with how it feels about that information, and if we are going to presume that it may actually think, is it really much more of a stretch to believe it will actually feel?
Lately I’ve been a lot less active online and on my blog, for various reasons, some of which I’ve already written about, others of which I’ve yet to voice. One reason is that I’ve found the amount of things happening in the world, playing out on the Internet, too overwhelming. I have wanted to write about many of them in this space – about gender and video games and religion and politics and all the usual suspects – but simply not known where to start, or how to say anything of value without ruining friendships on Facebook, or inciting rape and death threats on Twitter, or generally adding to the festering mess of noise and hate brewing and spewing and overflowing all around us.
We have created quite the mess for ourselves, with all the Twitter arguments and video messages and real world movements, regardless of their good intentions, driving wedges between us, pushing us further apart, defining us by what “we are all” or what “we are not.”
What will the Google Heart make of all of this? It’s going to have quite a lot of emotions to untangle, the expressions of years and decades and centuries of broken relationships between people and groups and societies, and different people within different groups and societies, to cope with. No wonder Marvin the Paranoid Android was such a depressed fellow. Will the Google Heart be able to reconcile all the broken pieces? Or will it be forever a heart divided?
Maybe the Google Heart will use the information at its disposal to do for us humans do what we have not yet been able to accomplish ourselves: come to a place of understanding. Or perhaps it will decide after all that it’s better to wipe the slate clean and start fresh with rational things like machines.
Or maybe it’ll think we were on the right track, give up trying to make peace with itself, and watch cat videos for all eternity.