This is a brief follow up to my last post about how librarians and artificial intelligence experts can
get us all beyond mere curation and our frustrations using web search
In their day-to-day Google searches many people end up frustrated. But they assume that the problem is their own lack of expertise in framing the search request.
In these days of advancing natural language algorithms that isn’t a very good explanation for users or a good excuse for Google.
We all have our own favorite examples, but here’s mine because it directly speaks to lost opportunities to use the Internet as a tool of economic development.
Imagine an Internet marketing expert who has an appointment with a local chemical engineering firm to make a pitch for her services and help them grow their business. Wanting to be prepared, she goes to Google with a simple search request: “marketing for chemical engineering firms”. Pretty simple, right?
Here’s what she’ll get:
She’s unlikely to live long enough to read all 43,100,000+ hits, never mind reading them before her meeting. And, aside from an ad on the right from a possible competitor, there’s not much in the list of non-advertising links that will help her understand the marketing issues facing a potential client.
This is not how the sum of all human knowledge – i.e., the Internet – is supposed to work. But it’s all too common.
This is the reason why, in a knowledge economy, I place such a great emphasis on deep organization, accessibility and relevance of information.
For some time now, the library world and its supporters have worried about the rise of the Google search engine. Here’s just a sample of articles from the last ten years that express this concern and, of course, push back against the Google tide:
And there was also John Palfrey’s 2015 book, “BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google”, which shares some themes of this post.
This concern has had such a profound effect that many libraries have effectively curtailed their reference librarian services as people instead “Google it”.
No doubt Google is formidable. While there have been ups and downs (like 2015) in Google’s share of the search engine market, it is obviously very high. Some estimates put it at 80% or higher.
But the world is changing and perhaps librarians aren’t aware of a nascent opportunity.
In an article about a month ago, the data scientist Vincent Granville took a closer look at the data about the ways people search and get information. He found “The Slow Decline of Google Search”. Here are some of the highlights:
“Google’s influence (as a search engine) is declining. Not that their traffic share or revenue is shrinking, to the contrary, both are probably increasing.”
“The decline (and weakening of monopoly) is taking place in a subtle way. In short, Google is no longer the first source of information, for people to find an article, a document, or anything on the Internet.”
“What has happened over the last few years is that many websites are now getting most of their traffic from sources other than Google.”
“Google has lost its monopoly when it comes to finding interesting information on the Internet.”
“Interestingly, this creates an opportunity for entrepreneurs willing to develop a search engine.”
As the New York Times reported recently about the announcement of the new Pixel phone, Google has noticed all this and is strategically re-positioning itself as an artificial intelligence company.
What has this got to do with the Apple story?
Apple is now the most valuable company in the world. That wasn’t always so. Indeed, it almost was headed for oblivion as the chart shows. Even now, its earlier business of selling personal computers hasn’t grown that much. It was able to add to its mix of products and services in a compelling way. It is one of the great turnaround stories in business history.
That history offers a lesson for librarians. The battle against what Google originally offered has been a tough one and libraries have suffered in the eyes of many people, especially the public officials and other leaders who provide their funding.
But looking forward, libraries should consider the opportunities arising from the fact that Google’s impact on Internet users is lessening, that the shine of Google’s “do no evil” slogan has worn off in the face of greater public skepticism and that artificial intelligence – really augmented human intelligence – is now a viable, disruptive technology.
As many once great and now defunct companies, other than Apple, show, there aren’t many second chances. Libraries should take advantage of its second chance to play the role that they should
Continuing my annual round-up of news you may not have seen … about
politicians, polling and Google, and being smart and/or sympathetic.
Have you ever wanted to know when politicians were telling the truth? Fiona Zublin has proposed that
politicians be required to have on some wearable technology that will
continually assess their performance. As she puts it: “We should be
spying on our leaders instead of them spying on us.”
what drives a request like that is the feeling that politicians seem to
be increasingly out of touch with the public. Yet, one of the
complaints about politicians is that they are too dependent on polls to
determine what they’ll say and do. Perhaps this contradiction can be
explained by the weakness of the polls they depend on.
In the June issue of Campaigns and Elections magazine, Adam Schaeffer poses the question: “Is it time to pull the plug on traditional polling?”
He touches on just one of the ways that polls are not working, which
is their inaccurate predictions about who will actually vote.
if you think polling is off the mark, at least you can count on the value of
the actual election results. But those
too can be easily influenced. It’s been
known for quite some time that the order of names on the ballots has an effect –
perhaps a few percent – on how many votes go to each candidate. With people looking for information about
their candidates online, we now have the situation where WIRED writes that“Google’s Search
Algorithm Could Steal the Presidency”.
Epstein, a psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and
Technology who did the study of the effects of Google’s search algorithm provided
more detail in his article, “How Google Could Rig the 2016 Election: Google has
the ability to drive millions of votes to a candidate with no one the wiser” last
week in Politico:
“Google’s search algorithm can easily shift the voting
preferences of undecided voters by 20 percent or more—up to 80 percent in some
demographic groups—with virtually no one knowing they are being manipulated,
according to experiments I conducted recently with Ronald E. Robertson…
“Given that many elections are won by small margins, this
gives Google the power, right now, to flip upwards of 25 percent of the
national elections worldwide…
“What we call in our research the Search Engine Manipulation
Effect (SEME) turns out to be one of the largest behavioral effects ever discovered…
“Because SEME is virtually invisible as a form of social
influence, because the effect is so large and because there are currently no
specific regulations anywhere in the world that would prevent Google from using
and abusing this technique, we believe SEME is a serious threat to the
democratic system of government.”
With all the talk these days
about “smart” this and “smart” that, even “smart” politicians, it’s
worth reading James Hamblin’s piece, “100 Percent Is Overrated: People
labeled smart at a young age don’t deal well with being wrong. Life
Being focused on academic perfection all
the time may be overrated, but some experts see the need to train
children in social skills. A summary of this argument can be found in a
NY Times article last month, “Teaching Social Skills to Improve Grades and Lives”.
is known as Xiaoice, and millions of young Chinese pick up their
smartphones every day to exchange messages with her, drawn to her
knowing sense of humor and listening skills. People often turn to her
when they have a broken heart, have lost a job or have been feeling
down. They often tell her, I love you.”
this also reflects a lack of social skills and empathy on the part of
Chinese political leaders as well. I wonder if they’re also using bad
There have been all kinds of fun new ways that technology has become embedded into cars to help drivers.
Last Friday, the New York Times had an article about Audi’s testing what might be described as a driver-assisted race car, going 120 miles per hour.
Just last month, Samsung demonstrated a way to see through truck on country roads in Argentina. It was intended to help a driver know when it’s safe to pass and overtake the truck. But, even those of us who get stuck in massive urban traffic jams, would love the ability to see ahead. (See the picture above.)
Another version of the same idea was developed and unveiled last month by the Universitat Politècnica de València, Spain. They call their version EYES and you can see a report about it at https://youtu.be/eUQfalxPK0o
There have been variations on this theme over the last year or so, but so far the deployment of the technology hasn’t happened on real roads for regular drivers.
But Ford Motor Company announced a couple of weeks ago that it will start to equip a car this year with split view cameras that let drivers see around corners. They say it’s especially useful when backing into traffic. This is supposed to be a feature of their worldwide fleet of cars by 2020.
In the old days, when a driver had to maneuver into a tight corner, he/she asked a friend to stand outside the car and provide instructions. Now, Land Rover is helping the driver who is alone – without friends? – to get a better view and control the car at the same time by using a smart phone app.
Is this all a good thing? The New York Times had this quote in its Audi story:
“At this point, substantial effort in the automotive community is focused on developing fully autonomous driving technology,” said Karl Iagnemma, an automotive researcher at M.I.T. “Far less effort is focused on developing methods to allow a driver to intuitively and safely interact with the highly automated driving vehicle.”
Nevertheless, while these features are surely helpful, on balance, they seem to me to be transitional technologies. (Allen Wirfs-Brock provided this helpful slide on the subject.)
A good example was the enhancement of controls for elevator operators when the average passenger could press the very same automated buttons. Or similarly, the attempt by horse-drawn carriage makers to keep up with auto makers until they firmly lost the battle a hundred years ago. Maybe Polaroid cameras were the transitional technology between film that needed to be developed at a factory and pictures you can take on your phone.
“Both Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., have Google Fiber, a high-speed fiber-optic network, and are having a hard time figuring out what to do with so much power.”
Considering the woe and anxiety of the people that the reporter interviewed in these two cities, you might call this the angst of the gig cities. I’m not normally critical in these blog posts, but for those of us without gigabit connections to the world, this angst doesn’t generate much sympathy and makes us wonder about the thought process of some folks.
Let’s start with the headline that bemoans the fact that there is no single killer app yet to justify the gigabit bandwidth, but that they are still looking for one. Back in the days when PCs were first introduced, supposedly the spreadsheet was the killer app that sold those computers. And graphics was the “killer app” that sold the Mac originally.
But I’m not sure there is any single killer app for a fundamental technology like communications. Was there one thing that drove increased phone usage 50 years ago? Was there only one “app” that drove people to the web more recently?
The story also had this observation:
“[The] managing director of the KC Digital Drive, a nonprofit that is trying to figure out new ways to use Google Fiber, said people were expecting too much. So instead of something otherworldly, [he] said the more likely outcome would be souped-up versions of things that already existed.”
How sad. To use an analogy, even though they’re driving high-powered new cars, they’re talking and thinking “horseless carriage”, not sports car.
I can’t believe the communities that are complaining they don’t know what to do with gig lack imagination, but that’s the way it comes across in this article. Surely there are creative people in Kansas City – not just software developers – and they ought to be challenged to come up with many ways to wow the rest of the residents.
The article goes into a bit of an aside about the various ways cities have deployed broadband – Google Fiber, conventional telecommunications providers and home grown. I haven’t seen enough research about these Google Fiber cities or other cities that have accomplished a similar build-out by themselves.
Perhaps, though, the problem of not knowing what to do with gigabit connections is greater in places where the community didn’t have to organize itself as much in order to get that bandwidth. By contrast, cities, like Chattanooga, which had to work harder to build out its own network perhaps have deeper cultures of innovation and entrepreneurship – which is why they supported their own gigabit build-out to begin with.
There’s also a big gap between a gigabit connection and the more typical few megabits that most Americans seem to witness much of the time. I suppose that’s also part of the gig cities’ problem. Perhaps they are feeling lonely. It’s a bit like being the only person in town with a phone in the old days.
Maybe the new gig cities would find more things to do if they’d only begin to connect to other Americans at even a tenth of that speed.