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8 Apr

Google scares me – Every now and then I feel the urge to comment on current events in cyberspace. Of course, by the time I get around to said commenting, the events are no longer current, at least not in internet terms, but you don’t come here for sparkling and refreshing commentary on the latest news, do you? No, you come here because you are either a) my mom or b) masochistic.

“I, for one, welcome our search engine overlords.”

Anyway, there’s a big brouhaha in the cybersoup about Google’s latest product, namely Google Maps with satellite imagery. That’s the only link you’re going to get for now. I’m not going to bother linking to any of the controversy or commentary because it would be pretty much pointless. Why pointless? Well, I honestly don’t know how many readers I have (yeah, I could check my logs, but who has time for that when there’s writing to be done?), but I figure they come in two types. For each type I have a specific reader in mind, and these two readers happen to be the ones I communicate with most often.

The M-type readers are like my mom. My mom is an intelligent, computer-savvy individual. She’s very skilled in a number of programs that I only have the vaguest idea how to operate. For example, she could probably launch a manned mission to Mars using only Microsoft Excel if she had access to the NASA mainframes. She is not, however, all that internet-savvy, and by that I mean she is not up on all the latest lingo and memes and such floating around in cyberspace. For these M-type readers, a simple link to the source of the issue is enough—anything else would be of no interest to them.

(Tangent: Having recently watched Pirates of the Caribbean on DVD once again, I am unable to type the word “savvy” without Johnny Depp popping into my head and saying, “I’m Captain Jack Sparrow. Savvy?” My wife loves this movie, and I have to tell you that there is nothing funnier than watching her walk around the house saying “Aarrrggghh!” at random intervals and responding to everything I say with “Aye!” in her best Geoffrey Rush voice.)

The D-type readers are like that David guy. Again, that David guy is an intelligent, computer-savvy individual. Unlike my mom, though, he has a blog and keeps up with the latest happenings here in the information wilderness. He posts daily on the aforementioned blog, and he has recently taken to linking to sites with only a brief accompanying comment (sometimes pithy, sometimes not). In other words, his kottkefication is almost complete. For D-type readers, providing a link to all the discussion would be superfluous, because these readers have most likely read it all already, especially since I’m always late to the party.

Heh. I guess that was actually just one big tangent, wasn’t it? I even had a little tangent within a tangent there. But back to the matter at hand. Google has added satellite imagery to their maps service, which is pretty cool because not only can you see satellite images of a certain area, you can scroll around that area by dragging in the window. I would show you a satellite picture of my parents’ house, but the satellite imagery for their street is pretty funky at the moment—it’s green and blotchy, and looks like a mess when zoomed in close enough to make out individual houses, etc. I guess the images for that area are not up-to-date or something. I’m not exactly sure. As a consolation prize, here’s the golf course where I used to work (the same golf course that was the inspiration for my several and failed attempts at a golf story—oh, and even though the address says Carmel, it's not. It's Mahopac. I don't know why it says that).

Needless to say, this “new” technology has bloggers wearing sackcloth and pouring ashes on their heads, for yea, the end of the world is nigh. OK, I just made that up. Actually, from what I’ve seen, most people recognize that this isn’t new technology, and most people are being pretty cool about it, even making little jokes about the new service (sorry, had to link that one because it’s just too funny). But let’s face it—alarmism is far more entertaining.

I think one of the major reasons for the buzz is that it’s Google doing this. They’re big, they’re powerful, and at present they appear to be benevolent, thus making them perfect targets of suspicion. I mean, their unofficial motto is “Don’t be evil.” You can’t get much more suspicious than that, can you? Methinks the massive corporation doth protest too much.

Before I go any further, I want to say that I really do love Google, and I know that Google loves me. In fact, Google and I have been quite happy together. But I’m always looking ahead, and I see worrying signs. You know what I’m talking about: no more romantic walks in the rain, no more flowers... I can just feel the magic fading.

It wasn’t until recently that I started to really get worried, though. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the new satellite imagery that set me off. No, it was the main page of Gmail. Go ahead, click on the link. It’s not going to bite you. Do you see it there on the left, underneath the “Don’t throw anything away” bullet? That number that keeps climbing up at a frantic pace? Well, that number supposedly tells you how much storage space you have as a Gmail user.

I have to tell you, that spinning number really freaked me out when I first saw it. I didn’t know why at the time, but I got the shivers every time I went to the Gmail login page. I jammed in my user name and password as fast as I could and then clicked off to another tab so I wouldn’t have to watch the dreaded number while the login info was processing. At first I chalked it off to my own neurosis, or to watching too many movies with time bombs in them.

Then I heard about the new satellite imagery function in their map service and the pieces began to fall into place—that number is not counting up, it’s counting down. Down to what, you ask? Down to the very second that Google puts into motion its plans to take over the world, of course. It’s quite clever, really. They couldn’t very well have a clock counting down because that would make everyone suspicious. But by having it count up, not only can they disguise it as an indicator of the amount of free space we Googledrones have in our Gmail accounts, they can also keep the timing of their plan secret.

The upper limit is most likely a nice even number, like three or four gigabytes (or 3072 and 4096 megabytes, respectively). I did some rough calculations, and the counter is going up at 0.000040 megabytes per second, meaning that if the upper limit is three gigabytes, Google will go into action at 03:44:01 (GMT) on 23 January 2006. If this number is four gigabytes, that time will be 10:50:41 (GMT) on 15 November 2006. Either way you look at it, we probably don’t have much time left before Google installs search engines in our brains.

So what can we do about it? The more important question is, I think, should we do anything about it all? Would it really be so bad to have a search engine in your brain? How many times have you had something just on the tip of your tongue but haven’t been able to spit it out? Not anymore. Granted, current technology is limited by the need to know the right search terms, but I figure that by the time Google is ready to take over the world they will have little details like that ironed out. Think of it—all that information tucked away in our brains accessible instantly without having to rely on silly things like long-term memory.

Of course, this scenario assumes that Google remains not evil. But as we all know, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If Google is corrupted, then all this information in our brains will be turned against us. Identity theft, blackmail, thought policing—it’s all just right around the corner. If that happens, then we’ll have to form an underground resistance. But I suppose that could be pretty cool too, especially if we get to do cool stunts like they do in the Matrix. Actually, I guess it’s a win-win situation: we either get unlimited control over the information in our brains or we get black leather overcoats and nifty sunglasses that snap onto our noses. What’s not to like about that? I, for one, welcome our new search engine overlords.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my little discussion here today. Remember, Google is your friend! Join me here next week at Liminality, when I discuss the role played by alien mold spores in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

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