Eric Schmidt & the Serendipity Engine
While Google's executive chairman believes online connectivity benefits everyone, social psychologist Aleks Krotoski tries to introduce a little more serendipity into the equation.
(Photo by Toastwife under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence.)
With Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt in the hot seat at the company’s 2012 Big Tent event, Channel 4 news presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy was keen to ask him about the EU’s antitrust inquiry. But Schmidt refused to be drawn on the subject, saying only that Google’s top brass would be meeting to discuss the concerns raised by the commissioner. He said: “We don’t think we’ve done anything wrong but we’re happy to be corrected to the contrary.”
So looking into his crystal ball what does the Google exec envisage for the future of the internet in the next five to 10 years? One in which a further five billion people are connected either via the internet or mobile phone. “A generation of the middle classes have just come out of poverty in India and China and they’ll be joining our conversation,” he said. According to Schmidt, “everyone benefits from connectivity”. He cited education in Africa as an example, recounting a time when he met with teachers who, because of a dearth of textbooks, were using Google as an educational resource.
Schmidt then turned his attention to one of the main discussions of the day: should the UK government pass legislation that obliges all internet service providers to block pornographic websites by default? He said that while such decisions should be made at a national level, in general ”the best practices are where illegal or prohibitive content is noticed by others and immediately taken down”. He added that pre-screening every post would “eliminate the modern internet as we know it”, and essentially amount to censorship.
Interesting though he was, the highlight of the day was undoubtedly Aleks Krotoski’s Serendipity Engine, a phrase she readily admitted was borrowed from Schmidt. In September 2010, Schmidt said that one day the combination of cloud computing and mobile phones would allow Google to pass on information to users without them even typing in search queries. Krotoski’s vision is entirely different. The journalist and social psychologist has created a machine that aims to counter the algorithmic filters that drive search engines. The aim of her nifty (and fully functioning!) contraption – at least in theory – is to negate filter bubbles and thereby enhance serendipity on the internet. An undertaking she’s the first to admit is somewhat…unserendipitous.