[PLUG-TALK] Google and the Presidency

Keith Lofstrom keithl at kl-ic.com
Sun Feb 7 13:45:00 PST 2016

A smart friend appreciated my email about how to get on
PSU wifi, but was puzzled by my reference to Mordac.  
That email contained a link:

> For more details, see http://wiki.keithl.com/Mordac

That page contains a paragraph describing Mordac, with
a link to a Dilbert cartoon panel where Mordac is
described as "Preventer of Information Services" and
says "Security is more important than usability". 

Instead, my friend went straight to Google. 

When smart busy people go to Google first (and sometimes
only), think of the implications for the 2016 presidential

<paranoia on>

Eli Pariser's book (remember those?) "The Filter Bubble"
describes how Google remembers your searches, and presents
you with information biased the way you are biased -
greenpeace for lefties, christian coalition for righties.
That is a soundbite summary that doesn't fully capture
Pariser's description.  Still, Google curates what you see.
Or what reporters at the New York Times or Fox News see. 

Who are the leading presidential candidates?  What are the
most important issues?  What is newsworthy?  Ask Google. 
Subtle (or blatant) biases in the search results determines
what people learn and what they believe, including the 
people who choose the news.

Presuming that Sergey Brin is still in operational control
of the search product (it could be Page or Schmidt) and is
capable of analyzing the company's own internal metadata
for trends, and funding projects for more analytical tools, 
he may be able to nudge public opinion in directions of his
choosing by setting search engine policy.  Google has had 
four election cycles (2000/04/08/12) to run small calibration
experiments, and was a global force for the latter two.

Like William Randolph Hearst before him, Brin is a potential
(and possibly an actual) kingmaker.  

Optimally, individuals should use multiple and independent
information sources and media, insuring an inconsistent flow
of factoids to be sorted out with logic and further research. 
Use Duckduckgo sometimes.  Use Bing.  Use Wikipedia.  Use the

That won't happen.

Instead, we should attempt to understand the probable results
of filter bubble manipulation, and prepare to adapt.  Sanders
election?  Offshore your pension investments.  Trump election?
Move upwind of nuclear targets.  Clinton election?  Learn to
use steganography for privacy.  Etc.  If you figure out which
candidate Brin prefers, invest the most time analyzing that
candidate and preparing for that presidency.

I have less than a 33% chance of being right - this control
may belong to Page, Schmidt, or a less visible subordinate.

Worst case, nobody may be the kingmaker yet.  An anonymous
level apparatchik scanning the hundreds of gmail accounts
receiving this plug-talk email may nominate herself. 

I, for one, welcome our new overlord!

<paranoia off>

Thank you for reading my email about the Bronco's chances
in the Superbowl!


Keith Lofstrom          keithl at keithl.com

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