The Star Fraction

As is typical during the summer, I like to relax by reading some new Sci-Fi. This year’s book (or books) is Ken Macleod’s The Star Fraction. This book is a mix of politics, struggles, technology, and near future conflicts. One small part of it is the emergence of the first independent AI, which many are fearful of and want to destroy. It, of course, is a distributed entity similar to the distributed computing model of the SETI screensaver, etc.

One of the Memphis keynotes indicated that Google is now the number two advertising agency in the world. If I’m not mistaken, they pull revenue from companies based on pennies or fractions of pennies from each link selected from Google to the company web sites. They have other income, of course, but this is part of it. It also explains the “sponsored links” at the top of searches in Google.

If you think of computers as cognitive tools, and Google searches as cognitive processes (I’m thinking of this, I’m thinking of that, I just linked this to that from a third idea), then basically Google is making money from our disparate thought processes. One may think that the load or cost to us is negligible (we’re talking pennies, fractions of pennies, clearly marked sponsored searches or hierarchy changes), but there is no free lunch. In fact, one could say that there are knobs that could be turned left or right by these semi-invisible tools, leading to effects directly linked to our thought processes.

An interesting question—to what extent should we be aware of these distributed processes or profit centers? Is Media Awareness becoming a larger topic than we think—if “media” becomes inter-related with thought and judgement sequences. Maybe newspapers and magazines always were, but I’m not certain that we ever spent as many hours with them in the past as we do with Google today.

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