Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Global Brain Fragmenting – About Google’s New Search Personalization

Google has changed. Until a few weeks ago, whenever you would search Google, you would get a series of results constructed by an algorithm which aims to represent the structure of humanity’s knowledge and interests and in some mystical way, maybe even the objective order of things in our world.

Google was thus seen as the global brain, an artifact which informs us about what is more important and what is less important – an electronic brain which connects us all to a global consciousness, by supplying us with a common electro-neural field of associations. A network which integrates humanity by creating a common basis of ideas so that when I think (SEARCH) “Love” I think (FIND) the same ideas (RESULTS) that you think. When I think (SEARCH) Karl Jung I think (FIND) the same ideas (Results) that you think.

Now all that has changed. Starting Dec 4. 2009, Google began to personalize search results, so that the result pages viewed by each user are actually tailor made to fit his particular taste, based on his search history.

What does this mean? It means that each of us is seeing a different web, or perhaps better put, each of us sees the web from a different perspective. The objective order of the early Google days is shattered, and now one does not have any way of knowing what other people are finding when they are looking for something (one could take the effort and turn off customization in the setting menus, but most users won’t, and since most users will use the default personalized search option, the meaning of an ‘objective’ search, which represents the ‘objective’ Google ranking actually loses its significance). Models of search results thus no longer obey a Kantian “thing-in-itself” logic; instead there is only the very subjective the web-as-experienced-by-me.

What does this mean for the global brain? Well, to begin with, it means that our consciousnesses becomes less synchronized, each of us drifts a bit more into a world of his own. But is this good or bad for the global brain? On further consideration, increasing the individuality of search results might actually be beneficial for the global brain. Jesuit priest and evolution scholar Teilahard de Chardin, spoke of an omega point, a futuristic event in which the totality of human consciousnesses would fuse and create one collective super-consciousness of which we will all be part, an idea which many today believe to be manifested in the web, where each computer or user is like a single neuron, and part of a greater consciousness. However, De Chardin had one important condition regarding the omega point. He spoke about the elements composing the Omega Point becoming assimilated in a collectivity but also retaining their individuality. In the same way, the new Google search results page, which combines both personalized results as well as some of the old ‘objective’ results viewed by all users tries to balance between collectivity and individuality. Perhaps this is only the latest step on the techno-evolutionary race to rewire the neural paths of the global brain.


Anonymous said...

But if each person can never get to see the global brain by seeing the same web available to all- and instead if trapped in searches which provide to only according to his taste and history- then the web accomplished nothing and we're back to square one in which each person is living in his own world. there is no connection point with others. sad.

Ido Hartogsohn said...

Hey Anonymous,

I beg to differ. From what I read, Google has said it is aware of this problem and does not wish that each user gets locked up inside his own world. This is why they mix the personalized results with the 'objective" ones. While I am also bothered, I do hope that this will be a step in the right direction in the long run.