Google’s software ecosystem either already is, or is in the process of becoming, self-aware, and of becoming the gatekeeper and steward of the world’s intelligence. Before you start handing me tin foil, let me explain what I mean, because it may be the biggest story not being written today.
What is Google? A search engine? Once upon a time it was that. Now it’s many things, too many to easily list, but in many ways is still only one thing, one evolving set of algorithms serving different purposes, organized by Google Spanner
, a near-real-time global database acting almost like one vast brain.
If Knowledge is Power, then Google is the most powerful corporation on the planet. Their products and services receive human input from over a billion users, including consumers, corporations, government agencies, schools, and more, all of which use one or more Google services regularly or encounter Google elsewhere on the web. In a very real sense Google stands at most of the major “pipelines” of human intelligence on the internet.
They’re mapping all of this knowledge and activity to give users what they want or need, sometimes before they even ask for it (e.g. Google Now). The system itself makes adjustments based on user activity (and account information, if it has any), while Google employees work behind the scenes to do whatever the system can’t, often with the voluntary assistance of millions of users.
Ask any competent researcher what they would need to build the ultimate AI and a pool of human intelligence on the scale that Google has access to would be at the top of their Wish List. Just ask Ray Kurzweil.
Google may prove James Cameron wrong: the first sentient software will likely borrow its sentience from the intelligence and self-awareness of a global user base, rather than being sentient in itself. (Luckily this also means it probably won’t try to nuke humanity.)
When does Artificial Intelligence, fed by a billion minds, become self-aware? This is a question we may have to find an answer to much sooner than any of us might have predicted, especially if Kurzweil has his way, although I do look forward to some future Google lawyer possibly arguing that their product is a living thing for legal purposes. The ghost of Azimov will be smiling.
I love technology and how it changes our lives. There’s something almost spiritual about how new technologies connect and empower us. And it’s really cool, too.