Sat 12 Jan 2008
At the last ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research), Gary L. Christopherson (University of Arizona) gave an interesting talk called â€œâ€˜Googleâ€™ Archaeology: data and applications for everybodyâ€. The talk discussed the huge and under-recognized impact Google is having in archaeological research. Google continues to add ever more free services, ranging from search, book-scanning (but with controversy), mapping, visualization, and “software-as-service” applications (office-suite tools called GoogleDocs). Without us really noticing, larger and larger chunks of our research activities are mediated by Google.
Where is this going? We should probably worry about being so dependent on one behemoth commercial service provider. Siva Vaidhyanathan has a fascinating blog “The Googlization of Everything” that takes a critical look at Google’s immense power in our society and economy.
Because Google is such a force, and something of an enigma, rumors and questions about its ambitions and intents flourish. Some of these rumors are fed directly by statements by Google’s leadership, such as when Larry Page told an audience at last year’s American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences meeting that Google was working on developing an Artificial Intelligence, and will do it on a “large scale”. Sergey Brin is reported to have said that the perfect search engine would “look like the mind of God“. Similar ideas, but less extravagantly worded, have from from Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of Search Products and User Experience when she talked about how Google’s massive data stores and sophisticated algorithms are acting more and more like “intelligence”.
Pretty heady stuff.
I really don’t know where “Moore’s Law” and other rapid technological changes are taking us. Some of the ideas seem really extreme (see the so-called “Singularity“). But, I’m not a computer scientist or artificial life researcher, so I can’t dismiss these ideas out of hand, though I strongly suspect things will not work out in ways expected by starry-eyed futurists or techno-determinists.
What seems far more likely about Google’s statements in this area, is that they help fuel a mystique about Google as an unstoppable force that will shape the future. Who can contend with them if they have irresistible technologies on their side? It is powerful marketing, even if Artificial Intelligence remains 20, 2000, or 2 million years in the future, or always in the future.
But what seems absolutely clear is that all “digital archaeology” is done now in reference to Google. For better or worse, it will continue to shape archaeological cyberinfrastructure, research and education into any future I can see.
“When our machines overtook us, too complex and efficient for us to control, they did it so fast and so smoothly and so usefully, only a fool or a prophet would have dared complain.”
This quote applies to Google, with or without “AI”. Its services are simply too useful and powerful. Hopefully, we’ll not all be fools for letting archaeology (not to mention other facets of our lives) become “Googlized”.