Monday, November 21, 2005

For Google, Good Intentions Might Not Be Enough

Lauren Weinstein writes about the risks of Google:
Google currently represents virtually a textbook example of the complex interplay between innovative, socially positive inventions and developments on one hand, and oppressively dangerous technological arrogance on the other. Or as the fictional David St. Hubbins of the film "This is Spinal Tap" put it more simply around twenty years ago: "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever."


[A] very real mix of extremely potent positive and negative impacts on society, and a range of complex risks that need to be fully understood, are increasingly coming into focus relating to Google's operations.

Such powerful forces can sometimes be managed successfully to truly exclude evil, but only when those in charge recognize that their own intellects and even good will are insufficient to prevent the "great machines" from being used in ways that can seriously damage individuals and society. It's all too easy not only to be blinded by science, but also to create mechanisms that can be horrendously abused by entities who don't necessarily share the benevolent philosophies of their creators.

There are things that Google could do immediately to potentially ameliorate this situation, but only if their powers-that-be recognize that there are intelligent folks outside of the current Google circle who understand these issues in ways that could avoid a lot of problems for Google -- and for the rest of us.

One relatively simple step would be for Google to create a permanent advisory panel or committee of respected outside individuals well versed on policy and risk issues associated with technology and its impacts on and interactions with society. Such a committee would likely make both public and private reports (the latter protecting proprietary information and plans
as appropriate). If such a committee had appropriate access within Google, and if Google were genuinely willing to pay serious attention to the ongoing recommendations of such a group, it is likely not only that future risks to society, but also future risks to Google's own business, could be greatly reduced, and Google's own prospects enhanced as a result.
[via Question Technology]

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