Zeitgeist 2012: Year In Review
Fantastic Video of the Google search 2012 in review..
The company wants to improve its mobile search services by automatically delivering information you wouldn’t think to search for online. For three days last month, at eight randomly chosen times a day, my phone buzzed and Google asked me: “What did you want to know recently?” The answers I provided were part of an experiment involving me and about 150 other people. It was designed to help the world’s biggest search company understand how it can deliver information to users that they’d never have thought to search for online. Billions of Google searches are made every day—for all kinds of things—but we still look elsewhere for certain types of information, and the company wants to know what those things are. “Maybe [these users are] asking a friend, or they have to look up a manual to put together their Ikea furniture,” says Jon Wiley, lead user experience designer for Google search. Wiley helped lead the research exercise, known as the Daily Information Needs Study. If Google is to achieve its stated mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible,” says Wiley, it must find out about those hidden needs and learn how to serve them. And he says experience sampling—bugging people to share what they want to know right now, whether they took action on it or not—is the best way to do it. “Doing that on a mobile device is a relatively new technology, and it’s getting us better information that we really haven’t had in the past,” he says. (via Google’s Searches for UnGoogleable Information to Make Mobile Search Smarter | MIT Technology Review)
Google’s driver-less cars are already street-legal in three states, California, Florida, and Nevada, and some day similar devices may not just be possible but mandatory. Eventually (though not yet) automated vehicles will be able to drive better, and more safely than you can; no drinking, no distraction, better reflexes, and better awareness (via networking) of other vehicles. Within two or three decades the difference between automated driving and human driving will be so great you may not be legally allowed to drive your own car, and even if you are allowed, it would be immoral of you to drive, because the risk of you hurting yourself or another person will be far greater than if you allowed a machine to do the work. That moment will be significant not just because it will signal the end of one more human niche, but because it will signal the beginning of another: the era in which it will no longer be optional for machines to have ethical systems. Your car is speeding along a bridge at fifty miles per hour when errant school bus carrying forty innocent children crosses its path. Should your car swerve, possibly risking the life of its owner (you), in order to save the children, or keep going, putting all forty kids at risk? If the decision must be made in milliseconds, the computer will have to make the call. (via Google’s Driver-less Car and Morality : The New Yorker)
One big problem with renewable energy projects is that they have to go somewhere. They have to occupy a part of the very environment that their proponents are often trying to save. Photographer Jamey Stillings beautifully captures this tension in his images of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS). Located in Southern California’s Mojave Desert, the plant aims to eventually be the largest solar thermal power plant in the world – making enough electricity to run 140,000 homes all by focusing the sun’s energy to create steam. Problem is, the system is located smack in the middle of the threatened desert tortoise habitat and the companies that built the system have already had to allocate $56 million to care for and relocate these ground dwellers. At least one major environmental group has argued the plant should have never been built on its current location. “What I’ve discovered along the way is the issue of building renewable energy is a lot more complicated than one what might assume from afar,” says Stillings, who has been photographing Ivanpah since 2010. Known for his photos of other large-scale industrial engineering projects at the intersection of nature and human activity, Stillings hopes the Ivanpah photos provide a way for people on opposite sides of the issue to find common ground for negotiations. Kristin Hunter, a spokesperson for BrightSource Energy, which is one of three owners of the project along with Google and NRG Energy, says the project did take into consideration the environmental impact of the solar plant and purposely placed it in an area that already saw some human traffic. She says the area where Ivanpah sits is close to a major highway and a golf course, among other things, and is trafficked by people on all-terrain vehicles. (via Aerial Photos of Giant Google-Funded Solar Farm Caught in Green Energy Debate | Raw File | Wired.com)
It is The Future. You wake up at dawn and fumble on the bedstand for your (Google) Glass. Peering out at the world through transparent screens, what do you see? If you pick up a book, do you see a biography of its author, an analysis of the chemical composition of its paper, or the share price for its publisher? Do you see a list of your friends who’ve read it or a selection of its best passages or a map of its locations or its resale price or nothing? The problem for Google’s brains, as it is for all brains, is choosing where to focus attention and computational power. As a Google-structured augmented reality comes closer to becoming a product-service combination you can buy, the particulars of how it will actually merge the offline and online are starting to matter. To me, the hardware (transparent screens, cameras, batteries, etc) and software (machine vision, language recognition) are starting to look like the difficult but predictable parts. The wildcard is going to be the content. No one publishes a city, they publish a magazine or a book or a news site. If we’ve thought about our readers reading, we’ve imagined them at the breakfast table or curled up on the couch (always curled up! always on the couch!) or in office cubicles running out the clock. No one knows how to create words and pictures that are meant to be consumed out there in the world. This is not a small problem.