Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, October 1, 2010

creepy lines (and those who draw them)

Follow-up to this post:

The end of the interview turned to the future of technology. When Bennet asked about the possibility of a Google "implant," [Google CEO Eric] Schmidt invoked what the company calls the "creepy line."

"Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it," he said. Google implants, he added, probably crosses that line.

At the same time, Schmidt envisions a future where we embrace a larger role for machines and technology. "With your permission you give us more information about you, about your friends, and we can improve the quality of our searches," he said. "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."

Here. Eric Schmidt and I might disagree about where the “creepy line” goes.

3 comments:

  • What I would say is that finding that "creepy line" is not something that machines do well, and when Google has tried to do it in other areas, they've tended to draw the line where it's algorithmically expedient, rather than logical or morally defensible, or any of the other ways we're accustomed to parsing these questions.

  • I was just over at Alexis Madrigal's blog reading about a "stupid algorithm" causing "flash crash".

    That reminded me of listening to Nicolas Nassim Taleb talking about robust v fragile systems; which brought me back to Eric Schmidt's comment about getting right up to the edge.

    That reminded me of something I wrote about 15 months ago on a different kind of risk:

    "Judgments, mine and those of others, are informed by factual knowledge, experience, and values. When assessing risk I tend to be less concerned with frequency, and more concerned with severity. This is why, for example, I buckle up when I drive, even though it has been seven years since in was in an accident, and more than 20 years since the one before.

    This is also why I would never play Russian Roulette, regardless of how high the pay off. Unlike financial risks, physical risks do not amortize. You can never be half-pregnant, half HIV+, or half-dead.

    Similarly, when considering the balance of risk and reward, I look towards who is being asked to bear the risks, and who is in a position to reap the rewards. In my mind there is a world of difference between the risks that I am willing to take for my own amusement and the risks I will ask others to take for my financial benefit."


    When I wrote that I was writing in reference to people who's behavior is so meager and short-sighted I think it rises to the level of a banal sort of evil. Not mustache-twirling evil, but certainly speeding in a school zone evil.

    What I would like to ask Mr. Schmidt is this: let's say he/his company misjudge where the creepy line is, and let's say they step across. Who's gonna profit? And who's gonna pay?

  • We passed the creepy line long ago. We're inside the bubble, making honest assessment difficult for even the most circumspect of us, but our estrangement from nature is so complete that we're mostly unaware of the ominicidal path we're on. The techno-utopian dream we've adopted has the appeal of a cornucopian carnival, but it's not a mature vision.

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