Search as the new science

They weren't joking

A few weeks ago, on the occassion of the company’s tenth anniversary, Marissa Mayer – Google’s VP, Search Products & User Experience – shared her thoughts on the future of search. The most striking feature of the analysis is a kind of quasi-religious fervour with which Mayer takes on her mission to extend the scope and realm of search, and of course, the pure belief that the company has in its continued ubiquity.

More than any dramatic change in paradigm, Mayer is previewing the building of an incrementally ‘better mousetrap’ – perfecting the search toy. Universal search, socially-honed search, location-orientated search, context awareness, search without the box, improved language handling and improved spelling correction.

But, as much as search has so rapidly come to dominate our  lives (and certainly our advertising), shouldn’t we be expecting more in the next ten years than just cranking the handle on technology which even our grandparents now take for granted? An idea that’s already entered our dictionaries? A noun that became a verb-generic before it’s eigth birthday.?

Let’s not forget that the Google twins are mapping the genome and the surface of Mars. They’re indexing audio clips, recreating video advertising and may even be able to help you find a cab in New York City.

Considering how far we’ve come together in the last two bubble bursts, where should we be setting our hopes for 2020?

If we were science fiction writers or TV producers, we’d have all-knowing computers with sinister voices, or at least self-driving cars.

Perhaps a greater amibition should be for us to rethink the concept of knowledge and truth in a world where we will be increasingly overwhelmed by the number of propositions to be evaluated. What we are talking about here is the ability to deliver a practical epistemology, rather than a theoretical framework.

To do this with a Platonic concept of truth is one thing. When we see truth as socially constructed, we can question again whether we are indeed all looking at the same picture, or whether communities of truth (or even conditions of truth) should be adaptable by who is searching, how they are searching, when they are searching, why they are searching. As the scope of what can be searched extends, as the scope of where search results are used becomes ever larger, the significance of this question grows too.

If a million people incorrectly believe something to be true when it is not, does that make it any less false? What about if they all blog about it? Well it certainly shouldn’t. But I think we all know that’s not the case.

What about a true thing which is all over the web but Google thinks it’s SPAM?

The problem is that for something to be true, it doesn’t matter if no-one knows it.  But to be known, something must be both true and be believed. Google’s often in charge of the later, and as it becomes ever more the owner of the context of social defintion, its role in the former will increasingly grow.

Then there will be more to its power then deciding on CPC rates.

3 thoughts on “Search as the new science”

  1. “Truth does not suffer at all if somebody does not recognize it.” – Friedrich Schiller

    Google now has the power to define what truth is in eyes of millions. With great power comes great responsibility, however I think that someone who managed to gain that great power actually deserves to be the one to wield it.

    This is strange: I thought I first time saw this video on this blog, however I couldn’t find it here when I searched: YouTube: Kevin Kelly: Predicting the next 5,000 days of the web

  2. Yes, I think there is something in this whole argument. When people like Wittgenstein were writing about language games, could they have had any idea of what might happen… It would be amazing to know what his view on such a contraption might be in terms of defining meaning reference.

    Thanks for the video link. I’d not seen that before and it was fascinating. I take it you’ve seen the Kurzweil on TED?

    In terms of power and responsibility. A) isn’t that a line from Star Wars or Spiderman? B) Hasn’t history shown us how few people acutally honor the responsibility they get from self-created power.

  3. I searched for Kurzweil on TED and watched it, thank you 🙂

    A. Yup, from Spiderman (had to google for it again to make sure 🙂
    B. They might not feel and behave very responsible – but the power now is in their hands – and fighting fire with fire doesn’t look like a viable option to me in this situation 🙂

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