Wired Senior Writer, Steven Levy, On His Latest Book About Google

Google was told by the government to not only censor their search results within China, but the government wanted the results changed outside China. So when a person searches Tiananmen Square, instead of seeing tanks, the image would be happy Chinese citizens, in Beijing and Manhattan.

Steven Levy, Wired Senior Writer, and recent author of In The Plex How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives, spoke at the Roeliff Jansen Library in Hillsdale, NY.  Many in the audience were concerned about privacy issues, and when they use gmail, ads on the side of the page would reflect their email content.   But is Google the Orwellian Big Brother that tracks your inner thoughts and will soon rob you of your soul?  Many beg to differ.  Highlights from the talk include Google‘s foray into China, Steve Jobs, and a short video interview on what surprised Levy most about Google

Levy began his talk with the start of Google at Stanford, and Co-Founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s quest for artificial intelligence.   Then, as in now, engineers are king, and as students, they went after the most seasoned computer scientists to help them develop the algorithms that matched behavior to search.  Page rank, Levy said, was named after Co-Founder Page, not the webpage.

But search was never meant to be thought of as sinister, but as a service to all who have access to information.

“Don’t Be Evil”, Google’s core value and motto, was put to the test when Google opened an office in China to compete with the local search engine, Baidu.  China is the biggest internet market in the world, and the opportunities are too numerous to fathom, but their was one “small” compromise: censor the search results.  For a company that prides itself on delivering the most extensive search results to their consumers, this was hard to fathom.  Soon Google was told by the government to not only censor their search results within China, but the government wanted the results changed outside China.  So when a person searches Tiananmen Square, instead of seeing tanks, the image would be happy Chinese citizens, in Beijing and Manhattan.

The government began a viral video campaign depicting a Chinese wiseman, (Baidu) and the “foreigner” Abe Lincoln (Google).
In the first scene we see Lincoln surrounded by a Chinese girlfriend and many Chinese friends.  As the scenes advance, more and more Chinese people leave Lincoln’s side for the wise man, until finally, Honest Abe is vomiting blood. Watch the short video below.

Believe it or not, this video made an impact and it started to turn people away from Google.  But it was really the censorship that became intolerable. Co-Founder Brin, left oppressive Russia to live in freedom and practice his religion. As the government demands mounted, and Google was hacked and information from Chinese dissidents who used gmail was released, Brin and Page decided to pull out.   Instead of thinking Google could change China, China changed Google.

On Steve Jobs, Levy said Page and Brin looked to him as a mentor.  With Eric Schmidt on the Apple board, Jobs initially felt Google and Apple would be a great partnership.  But when Google announced the Android phone, Jobs felt personally betrayed and felt Google was a “dirty player.”  Levy said Brin, Page and Jobs did speak the last year before Jobs died and Brin released a statement of condolence after Jobs death.  Levy said that any one of Jobs’ creations, Apple, Mac, iPad, iPod, iPhone, Pixar would be a crowning achievement in any career, but that he had all six, is something the world won’t see again in a very long time.  He said we are deprived of other great things Jobs would discover.

As far as the future of Google, because of their hold in the mobile market, they are well placed.  Where are they headed?  Zero Query Search.  Before you know it, Google will know it for you.  Creepy?  Some think so, but in the world of artificial intelligence, it’s a dream come true and many a millennial might come to expect it.

 

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