There will be adjustments living in Google's brave new world | Editorial

There will be adjustments living in Google's brave new world | Editorial

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board on March 22, 2015 at 1:00 PM, updated March 22, 2015 at 6:34 PM

There are 48,000 Google searches every second. That translates to 3.5 billion per day, and 1.2 trillion per year worldwide. That's twice as many as there were just six years ago. Every six out of 10 searches on the Internet are through Google's engine.

You probably use it a dozen times a day yourself, even if you accept it as the gateway to a world often ruled by half-truths and witless lies, because the results they spit back at you are based more on popularity than veracity.

Now imagine the same portal, only with Mr. Spock as its gatekeeper.

Google is pondering something like that. And if workable, it is likely to change much of what we read online.

Consider: Scientists from the internet colossus believe they can someday base these searches not by how popular the Web pages are, but by their factual content. It's merely a theory until an algorithm can be developed to evaluate web page accuracy, but its ramifications could be as unlimited as the Internet itself.

Some may lament the loss of witticisms from Sarah Palin and Donald Trump, but is that a good or bad thing? Does this mean we'll have to switch over to Yahoo in order to hear from any living politician? Do we want to live in a world governed by Or are no longer satisfied with whatever pops up when we type in the terms "Barack Obama" and "birthplace"?

Should we fear that our egalitarian stripes will wash off, even with Facebook and Twitter still summoning its two-billion-strong cacophony?

But here's the bigger question, to paraphrase Col. Jessep: Can we handle the truth?

The interweb's raison d'être is the crazy and uncensored interaction of plain folks, while the "reliable" media portrays itself as the reasoned counterweight, even though their own corporate sponsors often peddle a specific viewpoint.

Amid this noise, Google may soon appoint itself as an arbiter of truth - which is a leap of faith for all of us, given that the FTC has long accused it of having a "monopoly position in the markets for search and search advertising."

Beyond that, truth can be a moving target for the growing legions of willful ignorance, such as the evolution-is-just-a-theory crowd. But if Mark Zuckerberg can set rules for free speech on Facebook before the Supreme Court can do it, perhaps it's time Google took a crack at separating fact from fiction.

Presumably, it will take time for its algorithm to develop search integrity, because the aptly-named Google Bombing and Google Washing and Spamdexing - complexities in which page rankings can be manipulated for political or humorous purposes - would conflict with its aims.

But Google's prime directive is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," and make piles of money in the process. Never before did the mission statement say "truthful." Clearly, however, this was the next frontier.

We haven't arrived yet, but nothing moves faster than computer engineering. It's a brave new world, and now we just have to figure out whether we'll be comfortable living in it.


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