Playing around with Google’s new instant search feature, I noticed myself using the “suggested” queries more often. I began a search for ‘Android Phone’ and had only typed in ‘Android’ when Google popped up the suggestion ‘Android Tablet.’ Curious to find out more, I typed in ‘Tablet’ instead of ‘Phone’ and the results instantaneously materialized before me – a myriad of news blips, pictures and advertisements.
Essentially, Google told me what to search for (which it’s been doing for quite a while now). The game changer with instant search is the ease in which we can switch directions mid-search; now we are far more likely to take Google up on one of its suggestions. This might not seem like a huge deal at first, but it actually points to the direction that Google, Search, Internet Users, and Humanity as a whole are heading.
Everyone who has watched Star Trek knows the phrase “you will be assimilated.” This is the motto of The Borg, a fictional Star Trek species of cybernetic organisms who act as one collective brain. The Borg travel the universe to assimilate other species, making them drones of their ‘hivemind.’ Essentially, the Borg’s mission is to wipe out the diversity of any other species by assimilating them. I believe Google is slowly assimilating us. Google is making us into the Borg.
Google’s algorithm for suggesting search results is based on a hivemind of sorts. ‘Android Tablet’ might have popped up as my suggestion for a number of reasons, including my IP address and search history. However, the primary reason for the suggestion was based on the popularity of the keyword; Google monitors trends in queries and suggests the higher volume keywords. This makes for the classic snowball effect – as a keyword picks up enough inertia it is bound to keep rolling and getting bigger and bigger.
Of course, this type of collective consciousness exists across the internet, apart from just Google. Twitter followers retweet popular messages, Reddit users up-vote amazing stories, YouTube videos go viral, etc. More and more, internet users are exposed to what other internet users are exposed to. It’s fairly often now that your average ‘water cooler’ conversation involves an internet meme that everyone in the office has already been exposed to. Beyond talking at the water cooler – these collective stories are wired into each of our brains, occupying short and long term neural circuits that our ancestors previously utilized to store memories like ‘how to skin a woolly mammoth.’
You might say that the trend towards collective chatter occurred long before the internet, perhaps back to the advent of mass media or the printing press, or even as far back as early Homosapiens crouching around a campfire. However, it wasn’t until the internet, and even more recently social networking tools, that this collective chatter has reached a near species-level volume.
Search goes beyond chatter. Search embodies our most base thoughts and emotions: what we want to buy, the types of jobs we are looking for, the global news we are looking for. With Google leading the charge in search, they are essentially leading the charge in the our continued assimilation. Our global voices and thoughts will continue to merge into one.
Some might argue the internet is making us more unique – providing us with our own customized iPhone apps, Facebook Groups and Zazzle T-Shirts. Certainly, the internet is becoming a more specialized environment, where every tool (whether web-based or app-based) is providing a more specific, singular function. Human society underwent a similar evolution when our broad hunter gather skill-set slowly became replaced with the niche jobs required for today’s complex society. Sociobiologist E.O. Wilson might say humans are becoming something akin to a swarm of bees – each bee with a specific job or task but all with a centralized ‘collective goal’ to let the queen reproduce.
So what is our collective goal? To the Borg, more ‘drones’ means more collective computing power that can be utilized for the goal of more assimilation. Sound familiar? Google also utilizes our collective keystrokes to power its search engine – algorithmically finding trends and making search more effective for us, which in turn assimilates us even more.
Perhaps we are bound to become the Borg. That might not be such a bad thing. Collective consciousness has its advantages. The mind power of billions working together is likely to increase our technological advancement in unbelievable ways (see ‘technological singularity‘). Maybe a collective consciousness will root out idiotic human tendencies to persecute those who are different. Maybe disease and hunger will be more easily combated on a global scale; already, the internet is raising awareness and money for disasters and causes around the world.
Or perhaps, some time from now, when someone begins to type ‘Google…’ into their search box, in hopes of finding a new Android phone, the suggestion ‘Google Borg’ will pop up on their screen instead.