August 31, 2005

Google Purge

Last spring , Jean-Noël Jeanneney warned us about "cette inquiétude lancinante du n'importe quoi, de la dispersion du savoir en poudre" ("this throbbing anxiety for anything and everything, for scattering knowledge like dust"). Well, according to The Onion, here comes the vacuum cleaner: Google Purge.

"Our users want the world to be as simple, clean, and accessible as the Google home page itself," said Google CEO Eric Schmidt at a press conference held in their corporate offices. "Soon, it will be."

As John Battelle explains

"Thanks to Google Purge, you'll never have to worry that your search has missed some obscure book, because that book will no longer exist. And the same goes for movies, art, and music."

As a phonetician, I'm especially excited about Google Sound:

"Book burning is just the beginning," said Google co-founder Larry Page. "This fall, we'll unveil Google Sound, which will record and index all the noise on Earth. Is your baby sleeping soundly? Does your high-school sweetheart still talk about you? Google will have the answers."

Page added: "And thanks to Google Purge, anything our global microphone network can't pick up will be silenced by noise-cancellation machines in low-Earth orbit."

Finally, speech and language scientists will be able to do away with old-fashioned sampling methods, and rely instead on statistics calculated from the entire domain of phenomena under investigation! In fact, scholars and scientists of all types will be able to complete their transformation from field and lab-bench investigations to purely digital research:

Although Google executives are keeping many details about Google Purge under wraps, some analysts speculate that the categories of information Google will eventually index or destroy include handwritten correspondence, buried fossils, and private thoughts and feelings.

The company's new directive may explain its recent acquisition of Celera Genomics, the company that mapped the human genome, and its buildup of a vast army of laser-equipped robots.

I guess this is what Jean-Claude Juncker and other European politicians were talking about when they warned of "virulent attacks" on European culture, fearing that "Google's ambitious plans could result in important European literary works missing out and being lost to future generations". Did Jacques Chirac slip them classified reports from a DGSE mole in Mountain View?

I feel in honor bound to warn readers that the Onion is a satirical publication, and this post is a joke... However, I do think that there is a serious point to be made here. And it's not that there is a paranoid strain in European intellectual culture, or that Google's servers are the leading edge of the The Matrix.

For me, the lesson is a narrower one, directed at publishers in general, and scientific and scholarly publications in particular. There is growing evidence that Open Access increases impact. In my opinion, this effect is certain to increase, asymptotically approaching the point where publications that are not indexed and accessible on line will effectively cease to exist. No one will have to purge them -- they will have purged themselves.

[Onion link via Kerim Friedman]

Posted by Mark Liberman at August 31, 2005 11:24 AM