A map chock full of surprises
"It's the end of the world and I feel fine," went the line from 80s song. The 2018 equivalent of the sentiment can be found in George Gilder's book Life After Google. The era Big Data is ending and it's good news. More tantalizingly, perhaps not just Google but a whole way of centralized control may be passing away, the victim not so much of hostile populism but of changing times. Big silicon's model of selling everyone's information to advertisers, politicians and secret policemen for an absolute fortune yet a relative fraction of real value is running out of steam.
"Centralization is not safe," nor is it even efficient. Google's offer 'free' service on close inspection reduces to Tim Cook's observation that "you are the product" they can sell to companies and governments who are the real customers. What's free is your data. In the centralized world you don't even own yourself. Users only have a fragmented view of their own information, unable to see what they've left scattered among dozens, perhaps hundreds of sites with each behind its user name and password combination. Even at your sites ownership is illusory. Hollywood actor James Woods with 1.7 million followers found Twitter could suspend his account simply because they didn't like what he said.
By contrast big silicon has a seamless view of the user's information. As James Carmichael in the Atlantic put it, Google knows you better than you know yourself. By using algorithms (to quote Wells that are "vast, cool and unsympathetic") they are able to piece together every scrap about an individual without the "small, self-deceptive fictions [that] are a big part of how we operate". The results are valuable to paying customers. The algorithms can recognize your face, parse your voice, track your movements, note your purchases and read your emails through data centers running so hot they literally need rivers to cool them.
Gilder gives some idea of their throughput. "Google’s internal links are larger in cross-section bandwidth than the entire Internet". This apparatus works so rapidly that even light speed has become too slow. "The length of the computation ... is governed by the speed of light, which on a chip is around nine inches a nanosecond—a significant delay on chips that now bear as much as sixty miles of tiny wires." Speed: all so it can predict how you'll behave to clients before you predict it yourself.
Despite this frenzy those data centers don't really attempt to understand the users or duplicate their consciousness. They simply generates a statistical prediction based on history at blazing speed. A map but a very quick one. In the "great divide between creativity and determinism" Google's hidden Markov models stands squarely on the side of determinism.