How Google is becoming an extension of your mind
SAN FRANCISCO — It’s time to think of Google as much more than just a search engine, and that should both excite and spook you.
Search remains critical to the company’s financial and technological future, but Google also is using the search business’ cash to transform itself into something much broader than just a place to point your browser when asking for directions on the Internet.
What it’s now becoming is an extension of your mind, an omnipresent digital assistant that figures out what you need and supplies it before you even realize you need it.
Think of Google diagnosing your daughter’s illness early based on where she’s been, how alert she is, and her skin’s temperature, then driving your car to school to bring her home while you’re at work. Or Google translating an incomprehensible emergency announcement while you’re riding a train in foreign country. Or Google steering your investment portfolio away from a Ponzi scheme.
Google, in essence, becomes a part of you. Imagine Google playing a customized audio commentary based on what you look at while on a tourist trip and then sharing photo highlights with your friends as you go. Or Google taking over your car when it concludes based on your steering response time and blink rate that you’re no longer fit to drive. Or your Google glasses automatically beaming audio and video to the police when you say a phrase that indicates you’re being mugged.
Exciting? I think so. But it’s also, potentially, a profoundly creepy change. For a Google-augmented life, you must grant the Googlebot unprecedented privileges to monitor your personal information and behavior. What medicine do you take? What ads did you just glance at while walking by the bus stop? What’s your credit card number? And as Google works to integrate social data into its services, you’ll have to decide how much you’ll share with your contacts’ Google accounts — and the best way to ask them to share their data with your Google account.
Where your Google comfort zone ends
It’ll be foolhardy to be as cavalier with tomorrow’s Google as you might be with it today. I think some of those sci-fi possibilities I just described could be real within three to five years, so now is a good time to start thinking about where your Google comfort zone ends.
Me? I’m immersed in Google services, but I worry that handy new features will arrive in a steady stream of minor changes that are all but imperceptible until one day I wake up and realize that Google has access to everything that makes me who I am.
Google Now says it needs access to my calendar? Sounds useful. My Android phone needs to turn on my phone’s microphone so the Google Maps app can judge by ambient noise whether I’m indoors or outdoors? Well, that’ll help me get through the airport faster. My glasses need to identify the faces of people in my company so Google can deduce who gets consigned to the Google Voice answering machine and who gets through to my phone even at 3 a.m.? Well, I sure don’t want to have to set all that up manually.