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9/7/2010
07:45 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Google Knows What You're Thinking, Sometimes

Google's mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible is so ambitious and fraught with social and political risks that the company's actions and services are easy targets for satire, ridicule, or criticism. Sometimes the complaints have some merit, as in the case of the company's unintentional collection of WiFi data. More often than not, fear of Google is overstated. And occasionally, Google does something that straddles the line between cool and creepy, like <

Google's mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible is so ambitious and fraught with social and political risks that the company's actions and services are easy targets for satire, ridicule, or criticism. Sometimes the complaints have some merit, as in the case of the company's unintentional collection of WiFi data. More often than not, fear of Google is overstated. And occasionally, Google does something that straddles the line between cool and creepy, like Google Scribe."Google Scribe provides text completion service," Google explains on the new service's help page. "Using information from what you have already typed in a document, Google Scribe provides related word or phrase completion suggestions. In addition to saving keystrokes, Google Scribe's suggestions indicate correct or popular phrases to use."

Google in other words is trying to guess what you're about to type. As someone who writes for a living, I find this service both fascinating and worrisome.

It's fascinating that Google has an interest in trying to finish my sentences for me and it's worrisome that the company has enough data to do so.

At the moment, the utility of Google Scribe appears to be limited. Typing a well-known phrase, such as "Four score and seven years ago" into Google scribe doesn't immediately lead where you'd expect, the auto-completed Gettysburg address.

Instead, accepting the top suggestion word after word generates this run-on sentence: "Four score and seven years ago and I have been able to find anything in these search results from RT on your Google searches by subscribing to the..."

But Google's services are often like that. Google Voice's transcription of voicemail messages remains a work-in-progress. Google Translate does a decent but imperfect job of translating. Automation has its limits.

At the same time, you can be sure Google Scribe will improve. And perhaps one day, it will be completing sentences in articles that include lists of facts about particular hardware or the executive team of a particular company.

However, I'm not sure the world is ready to accept Google Scribe. In China, search suggestions are blocked because they may lead to politically sensitive search terms. For many elsewhere in the world, I suspect Google's automated helpfulness will soon run into resistance that's socially rather than politically motivated.



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