Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Intelligent the Connected to Peter, Or, Google Introduces the Knowledge Engine

Gotta hand it to Google, they do really want to be the be-all and end-all of everything we do on the web.

Thus the nifty “knowledge graph” they’re introducing.

As far as I can tell from this web video, the knowledge graph is going to be something like a Wikipedia article written not by a mix of experts and random internet urchins, but by the “combined wisdom” found in Google searches.

I write what I write trying not to sound facetious, but there you have it.

I’m not really sure what this knowledge engine is going to offer that, say, Wikipedia doesn’t offer – connections to other information related to the topic at hand. But listening to Google’s folks on the video, I have to wonder if they’re really sure what it’s all going to be, or if they really are listening to themselves in the first place.

First there’s Emily Moxley, Google product manager, who says “Others may have come to Google to search for the same thing. Google can jump-start your research process by combining the information that others found useful with the information in the knowledge graph.”

How will Google know what others found useful? Will there be some kind of ranking system other than some algorithm that tells Google how long people stayed at a certain website? Will we be allowed to rank sites and give them reviews, a la Amazon? What the analytics may tell us is that a given website was open a long time because, hey, maybe it was the first one that came up as the wizards of speed and time we know as internet browsers discovered.

Then there’s Johanna Wright, Google Product Management Director, who says “All of the collective human wisdom that comes through our search engine, what people are searching for tells us what are the interesting things to put into our database.”

Again, is this going to be analytics-based, rather than people-based? One of the reasons I like Amazon and GoodReads, to pull an example out of the air, is that I know behind the book reviews are real people, not some mathematical formula telling me what’s popular or what is good about a book. If Google can make their knowledge graph people-based rather than algorithm-based, I’ll be more interested in it.

But this does explain why there’s suddenly all this white space to the right side of all my Google searches . . .

What a lot of technology seems to forget about knowledge and learning is that it’s not only the connections that matter, but the people behind the connections. I want to decide for myself if something is worthwhile as I search for it, and if that takes some time to do so, I’m not bothered by that. It all goes back to what Benjamin R. Barber says in his book “Consumed”:
Where once intelligence was equated with wisdom and deliberation, with the deliberate privileging of slowness and the intentional expenditure of time’s wealth, today smart is too often about quick. To be counted as bright, you have to be a quick study, reach conclusions in the blink of an eye, short-circuit the deliberative process (bor-ing!), and cut to the quick.
Google is helping us be quick by doing the deliberation for us. I’m not ready to relinquish that. Of course they say this is only the first step on their journey to becoming a knowledge engine. First steps are kind of wobbly. We'll see.

And we’ve seen how well they’ve done in other areas. Just watch this Google video with the closed captioning on, and you’ll see where I got the title for this post.

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