Book Review: Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy
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Google may offer everything for free, but that does not mean we are not paying. In reality, as Gilder and his new book point out, we are really the product and not the customer. Advertisers are Google’s customers, and we are Google’s product. Consequently, we are not their number one priority. Hence, privacy, utility, and security are sloppy at best. Additionally, for publishers and content makers, Google takes and profits off of the provided content with little to no compensation. Google too is running out of ways to continue to profit using its free to use model (from free search to email to YouTube etc.), as the cost of collecting and storing data is rapidly exceeding the profitability of the data.
The scientific and mathematical theories for artificial intelligence are not new; however, only until now has there been fast enough computers and large enough databases for which the computers could ‘learn.’ Every A.I. application from facial recognition to playing Jeopardy! (and winning) came from tons of data that the computer used to learn. This ‘big data’ comes from all of our internet activity: social networks, shopping, and searching. It also comes in from uploading human intelligence like scientific research and our vast libraries of music and books. Gilder argues in his book that A.I. is not necessarily a great thing. He also argues that collecting all of our data with little care or ability to secure it and storing it in centralized, large Siren Servers is also a bad thing. (The term Siren Servers is mentioned a lot in the book, and it was based on the singing sirens of The Odyssey that sung so beautifully that sailors steered their ships into the rocks and perished.) Big internet companies build and process data in enormous servers, making them not only vulnerable to attack, but they are also incredibly energy expensive to operate. Gilder goes on to argue that A.I. is being sold as inevitable because it is the internet world that Google created and wants to sustain. However, Gilder argues that not only is A.I. a bad deal, it is not inevitable, and new technologies such as blockchain can offer a radically different approach to accessing online information, shopping, commerce, and socializing. “The revolution in cryptography has caused a great unbundling of the roles of money, promising to reverse the doldrums of the Google Age, which has been an epoch of bundling together, aggregating, all the digital assets of the world.” (p. 257)
On blockchain technologies… If you purchase this book, read the last chapter and the third to last chapter first. The last chapter is a list of important terms (many of them being complicated technical terms in mathematics, economics, philosophy, and computer science). I really wish I had known about this handy chapter before I spent forever reading this book with my phone out having to give myself quick tutorials on a broad range of complex terms and ideas. The third to last chapter is a list of what Gilder believes are the blockchain companies to watch. He goes into detail regarding the who, what, where, and why about these companies, and again, I could’ve appreciated knowing this chapter existed, because honestly, he rattles off names of people, companies, and various blockchain applications in such a jumpy and gossipy manner I was often lost as to what founder went with what blockchain company and what (again?) did that company do that was different from the rest. All in all, when it came to the blockchain argument, this book read like a first draft, and I wish an editor had stepped in and laid out first a good, working definition of blockchain and then a good outline starting with back then, to now, and lastly, the future. I was genuinely excited to read a comprehensive review of blockchain technology and the key players involved when I ordered the book, but instead, it felt more like I was overhearing bits of conversations about blockchain and its major players at a party.
Besides hammering pretty hard on Google (and to a large extent A.I. and the world Google is not only creating but professing is inevitable) Gilder also expresses his distaste for government regulation, our current financial system, AND college. Yes, college. For Gilder, part of the horrible Google, over-regulated, every-thing-for-free-but-not-really-for-free, fiat-joke-currency, evil-A.I. world is another villain, and that is the modern, useless university. If you suspect college is a big waste of time and money—George Gilder would completely agree with you. He is pretty funny though and relishes his libertarian, anti-college, leery of government worldview with a delight that did make for some hysterical quotes. “Governments and investors everywhere should welcome the explosion of creativity in crypto, preparing a new financial system of the world for the moment when the fiat currency piñata bursts at last.” (p.246)
Lastly, while the first two-thirds read like a jumbled, though readable, case for his argument that Google might be past its better days and that blockchain might offer a brand-new technological world where data is de-centralized and security is primary to big data, the last third of the book reads less like a legal case with facts and logical conclusions and more like a philosophical, moral, and perhaps an even religious call to move away from the Google world and invest in and embrace blockchain. I was not sure of a key element: does one technology necessarily destroy another, or are we going to see a new aspect to our increasingly technological world? Will these new blockchain technologies simply play right along with Google, big data, and A.I.? I’ll end with a quote that I think encapsulates the overall tone of Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy:
“The Google system of the world focuses on the material environment rather than on human consciousness, on artificial intelligence rather than human intelligence, on machine learning rather than on human learning, on relativistic search rather on the search for truth, on copying rather than on creating, on launching human hierarchies in a flat universe rather than on empowering human beings in a hierarchical universe. It seeks singularities in machines rather than in human minds.” (p. 274)
Life after Google is available in paperback, Kindle, and audio CD and is published by Gateway Editions. You can find it here.
Jennifer Barnick is a painter and writer. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Twenty-two Twenty-eight. “One of the most exciting aspects of Twenty-two Twenty-eight is building a channel for artists and writers to share their work with the world.”
Check out Jennifer’s book. You can read the first short story for free on Amazon here.