In Our e-Devices We Trust

Google, whose genius was born in the search engine, is now looking at itself from beyond the grave. CEO Erich Schmidt is preparing his company for the next round of development in Web-based technology, which includes, he says, a step away from the famed Google search toward a semantic Web. In this brave new world, algorithms operating on massive caches of personal data—from birthday dates to what’s about to spoil in the fridge—would perform predictive searches. In other words, soon you’re computer, mostly likely a mobile device with wireless Internet access, will be telling you the answers to searches you have not yet performed, but would perhaps be likely to.

What we say is often at odds with what we mean: ‘No, I wouldn’t want to impose,’ or ‘Yes, you’ve got a great fashion sense.’ Similarly, what we search for is perhaps at odds with the information we really want. Searches of the future will be performed—again, in anticipation of what you’re interested in knowing about—to present you with information relevant to what your current interests are. If you’re reading a history book on your e-device, you will be informed of a related event in your own state or neighborhood. If you buy exotic vegetables, your device, which might soon replace your credit cards, will alert you when a new specialty shop opens up in your city.

But would this anticipatory, semantic web simply carry us down the road we would naturally take if we were more aware of our own desires? Or does the concept impose restrictions on something that is wonderfully human, all too human?

The Atlantic is currently running a piece on finding new music, which it claims—in the iPod age—is ironically more difficult to do than ever. When searching for new music online, searches that return results similar to our tastes only give us more of what we already want, while closing off the possibility of stumbling on a new tune which, while perhaps initially cacophonous to our ears, could open up uncharted realms.

Does our caprice and inefficiency add or detract from our ability to enjoy the stuff of life?

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