Google and Skynet

Well first of all, those of you who don’t know what Skynet is, should first get  your fundamentals cleared up before you read the next line. For those who have made it this far without violating the rule stated in line 1, I congratulate you on being a part of a group that holds greatest of regards for one of the best movies ever – Terminator. Well, personally, I won’t go so far as to  include the later releases of the series to the clique.

Anyway, it was while travelling a couple of days back a thought stuck me as particularly intriguing one. Actually it was after I read about the upcoming launch of Google Drive, the search giant’s new cloud based storage service, which, as can be easily predicted, will make our lives easier in one more way. Not that there are no such services like this already present, but its not too much to expect something unexpectedly awesome from Google that will simple eliminate the competition, maybe incrementally, if not in one big swoop. Coming back to the point, what I started looking for was the number of the places where this company does NOT have its hands in. Again, no surprises, very few. From mails, documents, chats, social networks, languages, indexing biggest libraries, mobile devices, storage, computation, AI, hosting, websites, analytics, finance, managing your wallet and of course, search, to now making its way into embedding Android in consumer electronics (check out Google I/O 2011 keynote lectures), the company is making headway into any and every domain one can imagine. I actually might have left out quite a few. One look at Google Labs can tell you what they are currently working on, which also seems like a whole plethora of stuff, unique and interesting in its own way. The point being, that Google now has percolated down to a very deep level in our live’s and the trend will only continue for years to come with millions more joining the horde.

So the question that now came to my mind was simple. How long will it be when the company starts to deviate from its philosophy of  ‘Do No Evil’ and can people like you and me even imagine that scenario. I mean Page and Brin have certainly upheld their morales and demonstrated their thinking of doing good in everything they do, but what about people who will follow. At least people born before the millennium have a small part of their life not indexed in the Google hard drives, but imagine this for a people after that. Their whole life, downloadable at the click of a button. Educational, personal, social and professional. Everything. What is there to stop the owners of this much information to play God and use it in unethical ways. This brings me to the actual point I wanted to make. What if its not people who do this. What if the entire system, which has been ingrained in everything we interact with and anything we do and which is rapidly ‘learning’ at an exponential rate with all the data passing through it everyday,  becomes ‘aware’ and starts interpreting the ‘Do No Evil’ in ways we cannot imagine. What if the system becomes a narcissist and insane megalomaniac and decides to tread its own way. I chose the analogy of Skynet to elucidate this point. Of course currently, there are no military systems involved which, for example, run Honeycomb and will start their retaliation with the upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich, but all I asking is isn’t that possible in some near future. Maybe not that catastrophic an event but still, somewhat similar. I will admit that I am being a bit pessimistic here and this whole thing can also sway the complete opposite way and do better for humanity than any human has actually done. But I guess because of all the sci-fi movies I have ever seen, I cannot help but think of machines( and aliens) with an inherent aversion and hatred towards humans. Even those dammed Decepticons starting hating our race before we even started killing each other for oil and turning our planet to a pile of garbage. Not to mention The Matrix, where the ‘Architect’ created the simulation program for god-knows-what-reason  which eventually figured out that it would rather do better without human intervention and also figured out soon enough that the best way to keep the humans at bay was to not have any humans to be kept at bay. The list continues on. Only thing common in all of them is that after some time, the so called system somehow figures out things for its own good and obviously to the shock of its creator and eventually the mankind suffers.

I don’t believe that I am wrong in assuming that with ongoing trend, we will have systems capable of making their own decisions and with an integrated network and with the advanced AI guiding them, it will be a matter of time when they start doing things we cannot expect… or can we? Food for thought. 🙂

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