Google is a company that can alter the way we, as a global society, understand and interact with one another.
It has control over the world’s dominant search engine, web browser, video and email platforms, mapping service and mobile operating system.
The decisions made by this company have far-reaching effects, and Google I/O 2018 presented a short-lived, noteworthy vision of what the future holds, and that is what makes Google even more personal, influential and essential in our daily lives.
One of Google’s promotional videos during a recent event concluded with the tagline “Just make Google do it.” As for the very name of the “Google Assistant” that it was advertising, this promo positions Google’s services as your servants or the Alfred to your Batman.
This deliberate and caring portrayal masks a huge number of proactive decisions that Google makes every day on our behalf, and it’s useful to revisit those considering the latest announcements from the company.
It’s the most ambitious project that Google has embarked on in recent times, according to The Verge.
Google has long had the power to affect the news we see daily, but the company is now proactively embracing the responsibility to do so.
Google News is an aggregator of news stories that Google thinks you might find interesting, providing a single point of access for information that was previously scattered across Google’s various IPs.
You can also opt to just look at the most widely read stories of the moment, independent of your personal context.
Google also announced a new developing story format called “newscast.”
There’ll also be a fact-checking component to every story, addressing the fake news problem.
But there are a ton of underlying issues.
The Verge is skeptic about whether Google will do this correctly.
“Anyone engaged in any form of journalism knows that it’s impossible to remain neutral and there are many polarized questions in modern politics that simply don’t have a fixed right answer.”
“Who are “the good guys” in a conflict?”
“Are they the decisive leaders who keep their promises or reckless warmongers?”
“Which of those takes will Google deem worthy of its quality journalism label, and will it give them equal prominence if they appear in the same publication, such as the The New York Times?”
“I’m not sure Google’s machine learning, as great as it is, will be able to delineate between the small linguistic biases that distinguish good-faith journalism from deliberate propaganda.”
Gmail Smart Compose
In another example, Google is boldly entering into what might potentially be very personal or confidential interactions, and Gmail is soon getting a predictive composition feature that will finish your sentences for you.
On the one hand, we can all think of those little stock phrases that we use way too much, things like “hope you are well.” However, on the other hand, there’s something to be said about the social impact of not even typing out the words we send to another human being.
This is only the latest step in the move from writing letters on paper to mashing keys on a typewriter to tapping out digital letters on flat touch screens.
The further we go from the mechanical and physical mode of communication, something personal may be lost.
If you take the time to scribble thoughts on a piece of paper, no matter how bad your handwriting is, you are implicitly saying that “you are worth the effort.” But an email?
The reduction of emails to a greeting-card level of convenience was accompanied by a demo of Google’s AI performing phone calls with customer service personnel.
The Google Assistant was talking in a natural manner, successfully as if it was a real person.
Once operational, this new Google Assistant function promises to remove yet another human-to-human interface, serving laudable purposes, but also serving to distance and atomize us as individuals.
Like the self-checkout tills at supermarkets, this removal of social friction from everyday lives might be convenient, but it also drains the routine from the possibility of any social fate.
How do you make friends if you have never had a random reason to engage in small talk?
An ethical issue that Google didn’t address in its presentation: Will AI callers have to identify themselves as such?
What does this automation mean for the person on the other end of the line?
How about someone who isn’t sure if they’re dealing with an especially obstinate customer or a malfunctioning AI?