Problems with Google

[Skip to the document: Briefing – Problems with Google]

Since visiting the Bay Area in December 2013 and writing about it, I’ve been communicating a bit with Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google (his website gives an idea of what he thinks about). He is one of the world’s most influential researchers in the for-profit world (and a leader in a new style of research that will be interesting to watch), I’ve been asking him to really take a look at what effects Google has on our society.

I have almost the same problems with Facebook and Amazon as with Google, but something about Google is that extra bit creepier because it is just so damn good at what it does (Mathias Dopfner put it well). Peter Norvig, formerly Director of Search Quality, is a big reason why Google is insanely good at searching through all the information online and is making rapid advances in the world of artificial intelligence. My interest in this was sparked after attending the launch of the University of California, Berkeley, Institute of Data Science on December 12, 2013. During the event, which was about analyzing ever more data, all I could think of was the question : “how many of our fundamental problems persist because of lack of data?”, and that is the main subject of the post I made shortly after. So, when Peter Norvig began speaking (at 49:40 of the recording) and mentioned wealth inequality, Occupy, and the idea of the 99% and 1%, I was pumped. It’s worth quoting: “When you think of Berkeley you think of the 60s and protest and these days it’s the 99% and the occupy and so on. And I think that’s great that Berkeley is doing that, because, you know, the 99% are really in a lot trouble these days. We’ve created this society, and a lot of it is our fault in the tech industry, where we really worsened this income inequality.” Cool, he recognizes tech is part of the problem!

His suggestion (not quite a prescription) was that we all need to become data scientists, and to work together in teams guiding computers. To quote his conclusion from the talk: “…we will have to be able to guide the work of computers and understand data and work with that in order to get ahead and make your job useful and to progress.” Hmm.

I won’t go into what we’ve talked about in our emails (I’m pretty scared of Google suing me), but I have prepared this briefing to explain my beef, err, some problems with Google. It focuses on issues of education and democracy. I believe Peter Norvig and I see eye-to-eye on much of this stuff, and continuing this conversation thread will help build understanding, and maybe in the future lead to some idea sharing about ways forward. The contents are as follows:  

What Is a Corporation: Legal Structure

What Are the Best Interests of Owners and What Is Different About Google’s Ownership System?

Education: The For-Profit Bubble

Democracy: Trust in Two Men (Page & Brin)

The Praradox of Arguing with Someone in a Corporation (a fictional conversation)


Questions Outstanding  

The briefing can be read here. It’s a bit of a read at 7 pages, but there’s a lot to say while trying to keep it accessible to finance and tech newbs.  

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