A boy - maybe he's in his early 20s - balances in a red hammock in the corner of a cafe, the northern Californian sun streaming through a picture window behind him. Black T-shirt, blue jeans, black sneakers. He has a laptop computer on his knees. A metre or so away a young woman, lime-flavoured mineral water and a box of muffins at hand, perches on a comfortable lounge. She has a laptop open, too. As does the fellow nearby laid back in an easy chair, sneakers plonked on a table. They're all working.
Googlers. Or perhaps the boy is a Noogler, the Google corporation's in-house word for a newly employed Googler. Any or all of these youngsters could be playing around with ideas that will change the way virtually everyone in the world will work, behave and think. Googlers, of course, have been doing just that for years.
Right now, however, their Silicon Valley-based employer is drastically readjusting its original mission, laid out in a famously magisterial press release in 1999, "to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful". Having gone quite a way towards achieving the goal of soaking up everything humanity has ever known, Googlers are now being urged to understand that turning uncounted trillions of pieces of data into more trillions of pages of retrievable information was a mere baby step in a march towards something much grander and less tangible: the getting and disseminating of knowledge.
It means, effectively, teaching computers to think; to figure out precisely what a user might want to know, find it and then package it up so it can be digested in the shortest possible time and in the most useful possible manner.
Right now, a Google search will undoubtedly find you a PhD dissertation on, say, the expansion of the universe or the potential effect of glacial melting on the people of the subcontinent. But it might deliver you 300 pages. Google's archbishop of search, Amit Singhal, thinks that's a waste of time for most ordinary people. The useful dissemination of knowledge, to him, would be for Google's computers to work out, in the blink of an eye, what those 300 pages were actually arguing and then synthesise it all into an easily understood but objective precis that takes into account the essential points and counterpoints. Not just information, but knowledge.
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