At I/O, Google showed its willingness to change and shape our lives

Every company in Silicon Valley will tell you, with operatic grandeur, that your goal is to change the world and make it a better place. But leaving aside the suitors trying to sell $ 400 blenders, Google is a company that can actually alter the way we, as a global society, interact and understand each other. Google has control over the dominant search engine in the world, the web browser, the video and email platforms, the map service and the mobile operating system. The decisions made by this company have far-reaching effects, and Google I / O 2018 presented a vision of the future that makes Google even more personal, influential and essential in our daily lives.

One of the promotional videos of Google during the event concluded with the slogan "make Google do it". As with the name of the Google Assistant that it advertised, this promotion places Google services as your servants, Alfred to your Batman, so to speak. But I think this deliberately benign representation masks a lot of proactive decisions that Google makes every day on our behalf, and it's useful to review them in light of the company's latest announcements.

Google News

The new Google News is my choice for the most important announcement of I / O 2018. Based on the Google News Initiative, I think it is the most ambitious project that Google has undertaken in recent times, Especially because it is not the typical Google company where simply throwing more AI into the problem will eventually perfect your solution (for examples of such efforts, look at Waymo self-directed or the evolution of Google Photos). Google has always had the power to affect the news we see on a daily basis, but it is only now that the company is taking the responsibility to do so proactively.

Google News is a news aggregator that Google believes you can find interesting, providing a single access point for information that was previously dispersed in Google Newsstand, the Google News & Weather application and other sources such as YouTube. You can also choose to look at the most read stories of the moment, regardless of your personal context. A new development story format called "newscast" will offer something similar to Twitter Moments. And there will be a component of verification of facts in each story, addressing the problem of false news that plagued social networks like Facebook. On a superficial level, everything seems a welcome postponement of the (bad) information bombardment we face online every day,

But there are a lot of underlying problems. My main concern is that we have to necessarily trust Google to do this correctly. Anyone involved in any form of journalism knows that it is impossible to remain neutral, even our choice of language to describe a subject reveals a particular perspective of it, and there are many polarized questions in modern politics that simply do not have a correct answer. . Who are the "good guys" in the Syrian conflict? Is Donald Trump a decisive leader who keeps his promises or is he a reckless warmonger? Which of those takes will Google consider as worthy of its quality journalism label, and will give them the same prominence if they appear in the same publication, such as [TheNewYorkTimes


Simply "let Google do it" is fine when the issue is daily tasks and reminders, but we should take a break when the job is to heal news and choose good and bad sources of news. Apple and Facebook face many of the same challenges with their news services. We know what we do not want: people should not immerse themselves in a resonance chamber of voices that agree, but they should not have things forced on them by a paternalistic news supervisor. But where do you achieve the balance between the two? The fact is that today's media do a terrible job of combining news and opinions, and I'm not sure that Google's machine learning, great as it is, is able to delineate the small linguistic biases that distinguish journalism. in good faith. deliberate propaganda

Smart Displays

Google Smart Displays, which will go on sale from their hardware partners in July, are a direct response to the Amazon Echo Show, basically a smart speaker with a screen. During a meeting with Lenovo and Google at CES in January, I was surprised at how proactive Google was planning to be in curating the Smart Display experience. Most of the Smart Display interactions will be based on web technologies, but Google expressly said it will not provide a web browser, arguing that it would hinder the simplicity that the company is looking for. That is something peculiar to Google, a company that has long defended the opening of the web, and creates a situation in which only partners approved by Google will get their content on the smart screen.

If you're a big media organization or an influential YouTuber, Google Smart Displays do not have to worry. Google is likely to approach you to discuss collaborative opportunities, such as optimized cooking recipes and the Smart Display life tips series. And, if we make Google keep its word, the user will do better if he has a reliable custodian who discards false and unreliable information and leaves us with only quality content. As smart screens are more of a kitchen gadget, however, I see many potential pitfalls again. What is really a good diet? The official dietary guidelines of EE. UU Between 1977 and 2015 they advised everyone to avoid the consumption of cholesterol; however, that diktat was discarded three years ago when it became clear that there was not enough scientific evidence for it.

Practically all dietary advice that exists has a diametrically opposed theory to compete. Some say we should eat many small meals during the day, others argue in favor of intermittent fasting. Low-fat diets are now giving way to low carb diets. No one is really sure how much protein we should consume daily. And what about the ecological footprint of being a gluttonous omnivore? Should Google force you to worry about that? Or should I just be your assistant fool?

Very please

What most clearly expressed Google's non-neutral attitude in I / O 2018 was the promise to add recognition of "please" and "thank you" to Google Assistant Devices. In order to help parents teach their children the importance of manners, this feature, called Pretty Please, offers encouraging answers from the Google Assistant when he receives a query accompanied by a courtesy term. You may think it is banal, but this shows a Google with values ​​and principles. Specifically, it has the values ​​and principles of its Anglo-American environment.

I grew up in Bulgaria, where the words "please," I'm sorry "and" thank you "are not used as punctuation marks. They talk to each other in the same brusque way that most people talk to their digital assistants.With integrating this more American way of interacting with their assistant, Google is making a choice, one that serves to export American cultural values ​​in a similar way to As movies, TV shows and popular music have done in the past, it's optional, of course, and I'm not criticizing Google for the addition (which seems nice to me), but it shows a company ready to be more assertive about the exact future that is helping shape.

Gmail Smart Compose

In another example of Google moving boldly into what could be very personal or confidential interactions, Gmail will soon get predictive function composition will finish their prayers for you. Once again, I do not know how to feel about that.

GIF: Google

On the one hand, we can all think of those little common phrases that we use too much, things like "I hope you are". ok "or" here is my address to send your latest $ 3,000 headphones to. "(Only me in the last one?) But, on the other hand, there is something to be said about the social impact of not even writing the words we send to another human being. This is just the last step in the step of writing paper letters. to combine keys on a typewriter to touch digital missives on flat touch screens The more we move away from the mechanical and physical communication, I think something personal and intangible is lost, if I take the time to scribble my thoughts on paper you, no matter how bad my handwriting, I'm implicitly saying that you're worth the effort If I send you a Gmail message, well … you can not even be sure I bothered writing it.

AI calls

The reduction of emails to a convenience level of the greeting card was accompanied by a sample demonstration of the Google IA making phone calls with pers Onal customer service. The Google Assistant was doubling and acting extremely naturally, posing as a person. Once operational, this new feature of the Google Assistant promises to eliminate another person-to-person interface, which serves laudable purposes (such as helping a busy parent make a call to schedule a medical appointment for a sick child), but also serves to distance and atomize us as individuals.

Like self-service boxes in supermarkets, this elimination of the social friction of our daily lives may be convenient, but it also drains our routine of the possibility of any social chance. How do you become friends if you never have a random reason to participate in a small talk? And, an ethical problem that Google did not address in its presentation: will the callers of AI have to identify themselves as such? What does this automation mean for the person on the other side of the line, who will not be sure if he is dealing with a particularly stubborn customer or an AI that is not working properly?

Trusting Google

Every time Google I / O rolls, it reminds me of Google's immensely powerful position in our everyday lives. Only China and some remote places are not yet under the overwhelming influence of this Silicon Valley giant. There is a bittersweet taste for the new Google companies, with the sugary taste of an incredible new convenience accompanied by the aftertaste of a growing dependence on this one almighty company. Like Facebook, Google has an immense influence on our modes of social interaction, and with that comes a great deal of responsibility to "do no harm", as was once encouraged by Google's motto now in disuse.

What Google I / O asks each year is trusting Google a bit more. Let Google handle that task more, let him know that extra piece of personal information so he can help us more intelligently. As an Android user, Chrome OS, Gmail, Google Maps, Google Photos and Google Docs, I obviously trust Google. But only up to a certain point. And while I see great potential for Google to continue to improve people's lives, I also recognize the dangers along that path. Wherever it takes us, it seems obvious that Google's direction will become increasingly personal and essential to our lives.

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