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Google’s echo chamber challenge

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Turns out I/O 2013 was not a little mind blowing.  Larry Page and co. put on a killer show, featuring flawless demos of the newly unified google platform.  From social (google+) to local (maps), google will deliver an immersive experience through major design changes and deeply integrated machine learning. Whether the new direction represents a natural evolution, or, as Mashable sees it, evidence of google’s master plan, it’s clear that Google, the machine, is a lot smarter now.  And it wants to get personal.

Google is uniquely qualified to deliver what is in effect an at-scale personal agent.  Google Now was a mere morsel.  The new google at our fingertips and eyeballs promises to empower nimble knowledge seekers everywhere and in real time.

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However, we run the risk of creating the ultimate echo chamber, where subtle signals for creative exploration are drowned out by a din of easy answers.  Such a loss of fidelity could stifle intellectual growth.  STEM fields in particular would see less innovation from learners less attuned to creative exploration.

Ray Kurzweil

kurzweil-portraitFamed futurist and machine learning proponent Ray Kurzweil joined Google as Director of Engineering in December 2012.  As a skeptical singularist I’ve followed Ray for years.  Though he was not a presenter, his ideas are perfectly in line with the developments at I/O 13.

Kurzweil has long discussed his goal of creating a digital agent that knows what you want before you do.

Google Now was already enjoying success as an intelligent agent, but it was the promise of Knowledge Graph that attracted Kurzweil to google.

nexus-10-knowledgeGraph“If you’re going to understand natural language, you have to understand the concepts and things in the worlds, abstract things as well as concrete things” says Kurzweil. Knowledge Graph now has 700 million topics, locations, people and other concepts with billions of links between them and growing quickly.

Knowledge Graph is integral to almost everything Google announced at I/O 13.  The deep integration of Knowledge Graph is the most exciting aspect of google’s new direction because I believe we run the risk of creating an infinite echo chambers if the system isn’t designed from the ground up to foster human learning.

no-limit-ed-badgeI believe elearning technology will drive the killer apps of an enlightened world.  Elearning can be the glue that binds man and machine.  People’s intellectual curiosity can drive a symbiotic relationship with the learning machine.  As I/O 13 showed, google is betting the house on a platform powered by Knowledge Graph and at-scale machine learning.

Here’s learning at you, kid

Nobody yet can match google’s unique ability to plumb and process the unfahtomatble depths of data.  Easy answers and appealing choices will come at us ever more quickly.  What does it take to not become complacent? The immediacy of the internet already lends itself to a false sense of certainty.  As the system speeds up and speaks out, will people increasingly avoid ambiguities?

Internet psychologist Graham Jones  believes people who speak multiple languages are prone to seek out opposing views and explore those grey areas.  As people engage with the internet at deeper levels, it’s important to seek out other cultural factors that correlate with an autodidactic orientation.

The changes announced at Google I/O 13 will deliver us an awesome new innovation engine.  Through its deep integration with Knowledge Graph, google empowers us to be nimble learners.  For those who aren’t comfortable with this new machine-directed experience, google provides an option to dial down the smart.  And it’s possible to opt out of personalization altogether.  But the better story is to leverage google’s new features to sustain a mindful approach to learning which explores opposing views and gray areas.