You hardly go a single day without googling an idea, thought, interest, question? Right? Sure, you might use another search engine, but the fact that the word googling has entered the vernacular, and that we do all google is a dead give-away that something big has happened.
But to be honest, it wasn’t until I recently read Turing’s Cathedral: the Origins of the Digital Universe by George Dyson, that I really stopped to sniff the revolution and feel the digital sizzle in the air.
The staggering potential of our information and knowledge web is built on an intricate history of science, mathematics and the genius of a handful of men and women, and a bigger pool of quite brilliant people. What is staggering is the way data and data connection has now become a major factor of knowledge. It is impossible to have one without the other, and it is becoming less and less obvious which side of the data/knowledge equation is driving the other.
Thirty years ago, networks developed for communication between people were adapted to communication between machines. Since then we’ve gone from transmitting data over a voice network to transmitting voice over a data network. Google started buying up “dark fiber”, awaiting a time when it would be worth the expense of connecting it at the ends. This is now being lit, and the “last mile” problem – how to reach individual devices without individual connection costs – has evaporated with the arrival of wireless. Google is a force to be reckoned with.
There was a time, in the prehistory of about 1995, when our ideas of “search” still carried the sense of the word’s Latin roots – a search was a kind of “arduous quest” that invariably involved “wandering” and “seeking” and “traversing”. Not any longer. For those who are growing up to search in this millennium, it implies nothing more taxing than typing two words into a box – or, increasingly, mumbling them into a phone – and waiting less than an instant for a comprehensive answer, generally involving texts and images and films and books and maps.
But one of the most interesting news around Google Search last year was the introduction of Knowledge Graph, in May for English queries and in December 2012 for many other languages. Now the Knowledge Graph “covers 570 million entities, 18 billion facts and connections, and about three times as many queries globally as when we first launched it”. To refresh how Knowledge Graph works, it’s worth (again) watching the video :
In the chapter The tale of the Big Computer my mind was riveted by the potential of the future:
Virtual machines never sleep. Only one-third of a search engine is devoted to fulfilling search requests. The other two-thirds are divided between crawling (sending a host of single-minded digital organisms out to gather information) and indexing (building data structures from the results). The load shifts freely between the archipelagos of server farms. Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, algorithms are systematically converting the numerical address matrix into a content-addressable memory, effecting a transformation that constitutes the largest computation ever undertake on planet Earth.
Google..has been executing precisely the strategy that Alan Turing had in mind: gathering all available answers, inviting all possible questions, and mapping the results.
We celebrate the open communication that the web has come to make possible. The capacity to share and build knowledge. But the reality is that the machines are doing the building for us almost more rapidly than humans. I want to believe that this will all end well! We want a global knowledge cathedral – a glorious repository that celebrates out humanity.
How will Google instil wisdom into it’s machine-made disembodied neural knowledge networks? Or will we just be assimilated so we can google your brain?
I really loved reading Turing’s Cathedral (the title refers to the significant contribution to theory known as the Universal Turing Machine), to know more about the origins of the digital universe, and the shape of things to come. The visionaries who laid the foundations saw the future, and sometimes the peril. We see these too, and the topic is covered over and again in Fantasy and SciFi books and movies, almost as if our global subconscious is pondering this technological revolution and it’s impact on humanity. Look for it, and you’ll see it everywhere.
Never mind. I have faith in the best scholars and creatives amongst us in getting us through the knowledge assimilation process.
Mashable reported the story of Kaleb Lechowiski, who at 22, thanks to his short science-fiction film R’ha, is off to Hollywood.
He created the story of an alien race betrayed by its machine army in search of independence, R’ha centers on a single interrogation scene between an uprising computer and its sentient captive. Looking to break free of the limitations of their design–and carry out total elimination of their creators–the machines use some particularly nasty “motivation protocol” to extract key information from their prisoner.Most things were done in Maya, like animation, rigging, shading, and rendering (Mental Ray). But he modeled almost everything in Blender for speed, using Brush to sculpt the alien and paint a lot of objects. Post-production was done in Nuke and After Effects.
Image: Turing cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Leo Reynolds
- All Men By Nature Desire Knowledge Graphs (covario.com)
- Google and the future of search: Amit Singhal and the Knowledge Graph (guardian.co.uk)