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Opinion

What happens when Google thinks for you?

The Google Books Settlement marks an end of self-directed inquiry and the beginning of self-referred intelligence, where our thoughts become just artifacts of Googlified experience.

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Each unit of text – from Darnay to guillotine – is scanned, deconstructed, and remixed into Google’s universal computational cloud. Dickens’s story is parsed and recalibrated to abysmal enterprise: think commercial (buy a knitted scarf), ethereal (storm the Bastille), colloquial (chat with Jacobins), financial (invest at Tellson’s), etc.

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Infinite correlation is just one specific cognitive role of Google’s technology. It dislodges time and place as key aspects of organizing and finding information. These dislocations are a real bummer for those of us concerned with posterity and public trust, because Google is not a benign tool – it both shapes and uses us to create information.

With its advertising, data mining, and codified persuasions, the Google Books Settlement marks an end of self-directed inquiry and the beginning of self-referred intelligence, where our thoughts (and fictions) become just artifacts of Googlified experience.

“The aim of science is not to open the door to infinite wisdom,” said German poet Bertolt Brecht, “but to set a limit to infinite error.”

By redefining readership, Google has slammed the door on the fundamental idea of authorship.

Perhaps, in time, these identifiable literary entities are destined to be just fragments of the One Big Global Book. Yes, if we are to cherish democracy in its purest form, we must swiftly get over this $125 million copyright quibble and make a concerted effort to think (and read) outside the cloud. Because a “Google times a Google” is a kind of OneBox omniscience – uniform, massive, redoubtable – from which our stories will either fade or flourish.

Emily Walshe is a librarian and professor at Long Island University in New York.

Ok. Want to do some more thinking on what this whole Google thing means? Try reading these:

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