Yeah why not? After all its a portal in to everything that humans have said, done or thought. But the World Brain that was envisioned by H.G. Wells in his speeches delivered at universities in 1936 and 1937, differs greatly from Google. While in my previous post I critizied Wells himself, in the following I will point to two particular points of Wells´ description and vision, which do not support the view that Google is or became Wells´ World Brain. In my view these these two arguments are sufficiently strong to counter the argument that Google is the modern incorporation of the World Brain. We can not know how Wells would have seen this, the following presents my interpretations of Wells´ ideas about the structure of the World Brain and my account to compare these with Google. I am relating to google as a whole, but I think the arguments I make also serve to disarm the claim that only Google Books is to be seen as the World Brain, which was made most prominently by the documentary: Google and The World Brain.
Selection, Editing, Presenting: Full of care
Wells, in various parts of his speech says that the content of the world brain should be carefully collected, curated and critically presented by a permanent editorial organization.
This is essential, as the content of the World Brain should be so reliable as to function as the standard source for all universities and scientists. The editorial board should work together with the authors of texts (producers of knowledge) to secure copyrights and edit the work to its´ most concise form.
The modern World Encyclopaedia should consist of selections, extracts, quotations, very carefully assembled with the approval of outstanding authorities in each subject, carefully collated and edited and critically presented. It would not be a miscellany, but a concentration, a clarification and a synthesis.Wells, H. G. (1938). World brain (p. 19-20, 28). Doubleday, Doran & Co., Inc.
I argue that Google does not have this in the way Wells imagined it. In general, the great amount of content shared via Google does not permit a careful investigation of each piece of information. But its not just the amount. Also some ways in which Google categorizes and promotes certain content do not solely rely on their outstanding credibility and simplicity of the information. Rather, they rely on personalized preferences of the user, which may actually have the effect that the user does not have an overview of various sides of an issue, but is prone to see what she/he already agrees with.
There are limited forms of content management in Google: The content moderators. These are people all over the world who chose if certain content is inappropriate and should be taken off Google. These people basically decide on cases where content was marked by users or algorithms (Gorwa et al., 2020) programmed to detect inappropriate content.
So while there are some measures to curate the content on Google, it does not come close to what Wells imagined. Regarding the criteria for editing content Google´s and Google Books´ are in my view very different to those of Wells.
$$$$ Oh my, what a World Brain $$$$
My second argument is about the discrepancy between the intention the providers of the World Brain should have, according to Wells, and which they actually have.
Wells expicitly says that the World Brain should not come into life and be operated as a gainful enterprise. I guess you know where I´m going. The dangers Wells imagines if the World Brain will be misused for financial gain are grave.
And there will be a constant danger that some of the early promoters may feel and attempt to realize a sort of proprietorship in the organization, to make a group or a gang of it.Wells, H. G. (1938). World brain (p. 29-31). Doubleday, Doran & Co., Inc.
There is not much is not much of warranting and backing to do here, since I guess the link is pretty obvious. Google does make money off the spreading of information, most obviously through advertising. Google uses the data it harvests off its users to make advertising more effective, but also for other sorts of revenue aggregation.
Many say that Google is free of charge for the user because in a purley monetary sense, it is. But that does not corroborate the fact that Google does make money with its´ service. The entire structure of the firm and its´ services is built around a corporation with the goal to make money.
I realize there are many more arguments for and against my claims, but these fall beyond the scope of this blog. I conclude, Google is not the World Brain, at least in regard to how Wells´ imagined it in his speeches. Interpretations of later texts of Wells read that Wells as well became sceptical of his own theoretical institution. After all, can you imagine a World Brain without anybody wanting to gain from it financially or politically (Kunz, 2010)? If its not Google what could it be? Share you ideas in the comments if you like.
Gorwa, R., Binns, R., & Katzenbach, C. (2020). Algorithmic content moderation: Technical and political challenges in the automation of platform governance. Big Data & Society, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951719897945
Kunz, B. (2010). Hans J. Morgenthau’s political realism, Max Weber, and the concept of power. Max Weber Studies, 10(2), 189. https://doi.org/10.15543/mws/2010/2/4
Wells, H. G. (1938). World brain. Doubleday, Doran & Co., Inc.