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Google's Schmidt: We know what you're thinking

Human autonomy is just a bug, basically

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Google's CEO Eric Schmidt continues his crusade to make a creepy, machine-driven future palatable, with two contributions of startling cybernetic idiocy within a week.

"We don't need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about," he reminded users at the Washington Ideas Forum last week.

That's rather a tactless rebuff to his company's PR's efforts to persuade us that it truly, deeply cares about our privacy. And speaking at a conference in San Francisco earlier in the week, Schmidt proposed removing human agency from other areas of life. Such as motoring.

"It's amazing to me that we let humans drive cars. It's a bug that cars were invented before computers."

Well, maybe the spontaneity of driving is something people quite enjoy. Or we have a sudden urge to pull into a Happy Eater, or change our plans. He may have been discussing why we don't use technology to improve driving safety - since we already happily make use of cruise control - but he wasn't. The problem is humans driving cars. With Schmidt these days, the feet are never far from the mouth.

The CEO also recommended Google for providing humans with ideas - in case they were ever bored, or came up with something original independently. What it adds up to - assuming we take Schmidt at his word, and we must - is a peevish irritation with the idea of human autonomy itself.

It must be a sore point to Google that humans play any role in the system at all - when its engineers could simply program software at each end of the interaction change and set the software bots free to interact with each other, in a giant AI simulation. Google is already halfway there, manipulating its misleadingly-named "auction" to produce the optimal outcome for Google. The quest seems to be to automate the rest of the system - and this means diminishing the role humans play.

Recent Ericisms include claiming that Google is open (try doing keyword arbitrage), telling Germans that his computers will never forget anything; and advising people to change their identities to escape the omniscient Google machine.

"Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it," he told an interviewer last week.

It's arguable whether relentless Schmidt's emphasis on dehumanised cybernetic drivel - something he shares with the techno-utopians at DARPA - is really doing the company and its shareholders any favours. It eventually affects both company strategy and product implementation.

Google is full of clever engineers, and small things can make a big difference. But guiding the company down a path that puts it on a collision course with humanity can't be good for the stock price - in the long run. ®

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