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Friday, 29 August 2014

Locked inside Google's new Vault

Google is further expanding its monopoly over the information age. They've already got the Knowledge Graph, which collects data from across the web to enhance its search results:

All the Wiki information and link suggestions that pop up to the right of the search results is the Knowledge Graph

But Google have noticed that results are slowing down. The Knowledge Graph relied on human crowd-sourcing to expand its information, and humans just aren't up to scratch.

It's now about to launch the amped-up Knowledge Vault - an automated link-building algorithm and the most comprehensive knowledge-building project ever attempted in human history (that doesn't require any human help).

The Vault, by using an algorithm to automatically pull in information from all over the web, uses machine learning to turn the raw data into usable pieces of knowledge.

So far it's managed to pull in 1.6 billion facts, of which 271 million are rated as "confident facts". That is way faster than humans... way faster.

What does this mean for the future of the search market industry? Could the Knowledge Vault steal our job, just like all the other tech solutions that can do our jobs much quicker and much cheaper?

Maybe I should be asking a different question... What does this mean for the future of humanity?

Last year an Oxford Martin School study found that by 2030, 47% of US jobs could be done by computers and machines. Automation used to mean the replacement of physical labour by machines; now it means the replacement of mental labour by software.

Another implication: if Google becomes the omniscient overlord it one day aims to be, what's going to happen to money and industry in general? If the cost of information goods tends towards zero, and the ability to standardise and virtualise the manufacture of real things also reduces their cost, there's eventually going to be nothing else to make!

When information is free and available to everyone, what will Google have the rest of us do? The nightmare is one in which capitalism is forced to privatise and commodify simple human interaction. To quote Paul Mason in the New Statesman: 'just as we have sex work now, we might have affection work, sympathy work, anti-loneliness work in the future.'

That is, until we invent sympathy robots, like something out of 'Black Mirror'.

One other point worth noting about the new Knowledge Vault is that although it promises to supercharge our interactions with machines, it also comes with an increased privacy risk. As the New Scientist report says: 'the Vault doesn't care if you are a person or a mountain – it is voraciously gathering every piece of information it can find.'

Google may be trying to separate itself from government surveillance programs like the NSA, but in turn appears to be building it's own database on everything and everyone. This is that other future world where we're all locked in to necessary digital identities and, if we are not, we're terrorist suspects.

In many ways the Vault is a frightening project, consolidating public information in the hands of one company in order for it to possess a global monopoly on advertising space. Let's hope the rest of us manage to patent some of that information, or that all that new information makes us much, much smarter, else the day may come where there's nothing left to advertise!

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