After a preamble that compares Google to the artificial intelligence described in science fiction books, this was what I will take away from that article.
Kids are growing up with public persona's and as anyone 30 or over will tell you, those persona's change drastically over the course of our lives.
Building on this, I want to be known as a different person to different people. In the current Facebook and Google Indexing style of amassing information, there is no way for me to do this. I want to be known as a trustworthy, reliable father; a fun-loving, somewhat reckless friend; and a knowledgeable leader to my colleagues. However, I have no way to separate my past, present and future or the different people that I want to be known as right now.
Guess what: there never was such a way, in real life, either.
Your friends may hang out at the same bar as your colleagues. Your colleagues' children may be in the same school class as your kids. Your "reckless friend" may start telling stories about you.
Controlling your reputation is hard. Keeping different segments of your life from coming into contact with each other is hard. Keeping secrets is hard.
Google and Facebook change the medium, but they don't fundamentally change the rules.
What really needs to change is the need to maintain the appearance of being different people (because you're always you, unless you have severe psychological issues you aren't really different people). People need to understand that what I do at home and what I do at work needn't overlap.
It's just an extension of the adjustment that started with dress down - an understanding that wearing jeans didn't make me any less smart than wearing a suit. People will understand that playing Mario Kart while drunk with my friends doesn't make me less able than if I spent that time reading Dickens.
The interesting part is when it comes to people who are already public figures. How do political, religious, or any other charisma-derived leaders cope with the fact that their public images can be ruthlessly criticized?
Even more optimistically, I hope for acceptance and a greater understanding of the narrative of the changing personality throughout life. I hope for a public realization that some politicians even under total transparency are good enough to be leaders. I also hope that this transparency actually becomes a valuable filter on good leaders.
So it's in those hopes that I sort of am happy to hear that our online personas are slowly eclipsing our generative, "real" personas.
David Brin's "The Transparent Society" has some interesting things to say about this sort of transparency. While I'm not 100% sold on his conclusions the analysis is well worth reading and thinking about.
There are certainly pockets of increased respect and caring, but I'm afraid those are the exception and not the rule.
(I fully admit to being cynical and pessimistic, so it may just be my muddled worldview showing through.)
The problem is they often do unavoidably, at least for certain specific professions.
Imagine a Preacher/priest/etc involved in a major moral scandal regarding his major. He would lose moral authority in his congregation. Even just being known to get wildly drunk and play Mario Kart on Saturday is likely to affect his ability to provide the leadership he must. The same applies, in slightly different ways, to senior military officers.
On the other hand, if I find out that one of my programmers is doing substantial hobby programming, I would certainly see that as a positive. Not because it directly affects what he does at work now, but because it will almost certainly make him a superior programmer in the long run.
You can, and should, separate them to a degree, but especially for public facting positions you cannot and should not try to create an absolute separation.
Some positions come with expectations that are entirely reasonable - medicine, most religious posts, teaching and so on.
The point is that minor, cosmetic and irrelevant indiscretions will come to be accepted, not just any behaviour.
There is a difference between what your reckless friend might spill out when he is drunk and having a permanent record which anyone can have access to at will (with little effort).
What I foresee isn't a clamp down on privacy policies, rather a general people's flattening of behavioral characteristics, in order to keep the acceptable boundaries between all the different, inevitably public, social situations.
This isn't to say that there isn't a personality "bleed", only that if over the course of time, I reliably show someone one side of my personality, they come to identify me primarily as that person.
Google will slurp up all available information about me and there are no mechanisms on any one social network that allow me to present different sides of myself to different individuals or groups.
I'm not judging you one bit. I don't know which sites you were referring to, and you're clearly taking the nice-guy approach. But there are arguable reasons to not remove content just because someone is embarrassed of their past self.
Let's take two different examples: facebook vs HN.
If we're looking at facebook then someone would have a really good case to have their account and all data associated with it removed if they asked for it. In some places that would be legally enforceable.
In the case of HN I think the contributions are woven in to the site so strongly that other peoples stuff would be negatively affected. In such a case I would propose to anonymize the writer.
This avoids the embarrassment but leaves the fabric largely in tact.
Also I wonder if in the future lawmakers will put mechanisms into place that regulate information and give individuals the right to have their records deleted.
That's already happened in some places.
"I'm Google Blasting myself!"
Huh? What the hell is that?
"Well you see, I need to stop having all my online activity appear on page one on Google when people type in my name. So I paid this company to clog Google with a bunch of fake, generated content about me. Hopefully the real information about me which I want to hide from casual searchers will be drowned out in the fake information."
I had never heard of Google Blasting for the common end-user before this, but it's a brilliant idea. And I bet as all of our lives end up being more public through Google, Facebook, Foursquare, etc, the demand for services like Google Blasting will grow.
It sounds like a great business idea, though the timing is still wrong, since we're at least a few years from reaching a mass-market demand.
Ultimately, I disagree slightly with Gibson saying We never imagined that artificial intelligence would be like this. We imagined discrete entities. Genies. Simply because it will be far too easy to spam and blast this form of AI.
True AI in the sense of Wintermute/Neuromancer will happen, inevitably, just not yet. And the day it arrives, Google is instantly dead, a relic of a past era, an antiquated technology we'll all smirk at in history books.
in case anybody is interested...
This is the ray of hope, I think. As more and more people grow up with the embarrassing details of our adolescence online and public forever, having those embarrassing details public will be less of a big deal than it was in the past.
I've certainly changed over my 43 years. But I think that's only to a certain depth. I think that through my life (since I was a teen, at least) I've had a pretty consist underlying philosophy. What has changed is through a process of learning better ways to implement that philosophy. So to the degree that the outward projection reveals that core philosophy, I think that an ongoing record is fair.
That said, I share the same dismay that I have to entirely avoid some behaviors for fear of "leakage". And I'm not necessarily talking about drunken Mario playing, but even simple conversations. There are certain topics that I feel I need to avoid publicly because my opinions might either disappoint or somehow bother others.
In my early and mid teens I was reading (and mostly agreeing with) skinner and marx. I actually felt considerable angst as it became clear I was going to spend my life building and/or maintaining computer systems- systems that automate away human jobs. I spent my late teens and early 20s on Rand and the like. Picking up (and even partially living by) some radical ideology is pretty common for teens, I think, and most of us grow out of it. Personally, I can't imagine holding some ridiculous rant one posted as a teenager against an adult; Me, I'd even tend to forgive (some) actual hurtful actions undertaken by those same teens, assuming that it appears that they grew out of it. I mean, testing your own limits and figuring out what sort of person you want to be is what being a teenager is all about.
Sure, there are a few teens who will try to appear normal and responsible, but I don't think that will matter. the average decides what is acceptable.
This isn't really true. If you want to be known as a different person, be that different person. Whether your online 'persona' catches up is not the same thing. Your online persona is not you. People who mistake one for the other were probably not worth knowing to begin with.
Yes there is. I wrote about it a year ago -finally demand is catching up with that :)
And it turns out, as the GP says, that Gibson is making a wonderful and highly relevant reference to the poem.
Of course all of this varies person to person, but it's already known to be an effective heuristic by the password-stealing community. Point being: we live in a time of powerful data mining algorithms, and they're only going to get better. Anonymity does not come easy.
Eventually I stopped caring, but my decision to drop the cloak was a conscious one. I think it may have coincided with the creation of my Google (then just GMail) account, where it became obvious that my alias and my True Name would be appearing together on (at the very least) mailing list posts.
It became more useful to me to have one reputation, rather than two (or more). The methods I employed then would not work for me now; I've become accustomed to a certain level of service and community, and creating a new identity for every site would break some of what makes the modern Internet interesting.
I think it's much more useful if people just get used to the idea that we change over time. Checking the date stamp needs to become automatic behavior. Permanent data storage is a new thing for humans, but we can learn to adapt.
I've always liked Google a good bit, but I'd be prepared to put them in the 'as bad as microsoft or worse' category, based on their CEO, if he doesn't go away or stop talking soon.
It will be interesting to see how transparency (by design or not) will effect corporate governance and state behavior.