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What could be better than a singular future determined solely by Google?

Abstract: This is a new collaboration between Ted Hunt and Internet Age Media - exploring a series of pluralist alternatives to Larry Page’s rhetorical question ‘what could be better?’. This post represents an initial summary of the project’s key outcomes and learnings, alongside framing the implications upon the fields of; quantum like web search / an enhanced appreciation of the ethnosphere / the exploration of preferable pluralistic futures.

http://www.whatcouldbebetter.xyz

In 2015 the multi-billionaire Larry Page published an open letter to the internet euphorically heralding a revised future vision for Alphabet / Google. After outlining numerous ideological benefits the letter ended with Larry asking the entirely rhetorical question: What could be better? The question was answering itself — blindly assuming that every reader would agree that indeed NOTHING could be better than the totalitarian monopoly and ideology that Larry and Sergey are determined will continue to govern the structure of the internet.

And so, in early 2019, I attempted to create the conditions to allow a small group of workshop participants to actively engage with Larry Page’s rhetorical question. By simply proposing an answer; This is what could be better.

What is This?

This is a post-Google search engine platform that surfaces pluralist results from diverse perspectives — in order to promote human-centered values of coexistence, tolerance, open discourse, and the consideration of nuanced viewpoints upon complex & consequential search queries.

workshop blank canvases

This is What Plurality in Web Search Might Look Like..

Pluralism as Direct Opposition to Singularism

A lot is currently said and opinioned upon plurality, particularly within the field of futures design, yet less is seemingly done. What does plurality actually look like and how might it be increasingly enacted? In March 2019 I was commissioned by Internet Age Media Weekend to explore the active embodiment of plurality and its implications upon technological speculation through a 90 minute workshop for 32 participants.

This post is an initial summary of the output and insights from that workshop. The 32 individual contributions to the workshop can be grouped into seven broad themes of the new and alternative web search models and methodologies; Intersubjective Perspectives / Orders of Scale / Mental Models / Analogies / Planetary Perspectives / Human Perspectives / Introspective Perspectives. Below I will try to identify the potential affordances of each group, and briefly illustrate how they might be used through examples.

1. Intersubjective Perspectives;

The first grouping broadly regarded how adopting another(s) point of view might change the way we consider information and answers. How do views essentially differ between genders, ages, cultures, languages, and times? What can we learn from embracing other forms of, and means of accessing, knowledge from multiple intersubjective viewpoints?

Intersubjective Perspectives by example;

Let speculate upon the question of how best to ‘redistribute power’ through the hypothetical search engine another point of view. Searching specifically from the perspective of another culture, might afford us examples such as Rojava in Northern Syria (a secular polity promoting decentralisation, gender equality, sustainability and pluralistic tolerance). Or indeed the same search engine, when considering the perspective from another time, might present us with the evolutionary heritage of tribalism (as a form of social organisation that lasted thousands of years, far longer than the fleeting histories of socialism, communism and capitalism).

2. Orders of Scale Perspectives;

The second grouping largely concerns the profound implications of scale and orders of magnitude upon our questioning.

Orders of Scale Perspectives by example;

To demonstrate the potential of these we might use an example web search upon ‘long-term strategies’ within the search engine power of scale in order to surface instances of scales unique ability to reframe both our questions and answers. Here we could now navigate information and narratives from a human scale, such as the parable of Oxford College Forester as narrated by The Long Now Foundation. Alternatively we might consider long-term perspectives through examples at a higher conceptual level, such as the comparative scales of past, present, future generations.

Orders of Scale Perspectives by example;

3. Mental Models as Perspective;

Mental Models as Perspectives by example;

4. Analogies as Perspectives;

Analogies as Perspectives by example;

5. Planetary Perspectives;

Planetary Perspectives by example;

6. This x } Human Perspectives;

Human Perspectives by example;

7. Introspective Perspectives;

Introspective Perspectives by example;

What Could Be Better, Three Possible Implications..

a) Impacts On ‘Quantum Like’ Search

The emerging field of quantum interaction explores how quantum theory can be useful in areas having nothing to do with physics, ranging from human language and cognition to biology and economics. Subsequently new ‘quantum like’ projects and phenomenon, such as This, might begin to take shape. As such the same notions of ‘quantum weirdness’ could be seen to fit very naturally with how people link concepts together, often on the basis of loose implicit associations rather than explicit interconnections. That means search algorithms building upon quantum logic could uncover meaning in masses of information more effectively than classic algorithms or logic.

An urgent challenge is to get computers to find meaning in data in much the same way as people do. The structure of human conceptual knowledge is quantum-like because context plays a fundamental role. In the above example the way ‘red’ is defined depends entirely on it’s context, and so no two versions of these contexts observe the same reality of ‘redness’. In this way The Weirdness of Interdependencies becomes an immediate and observable feature of our shared reality.

b) Impacts On The Ethnosphere

In his 2003 TED Talk the author, anthropologist, and National Geographic Explorer Wade Davis introduced the notion of the Ethnosphere. Davis defines the Ethnosphere as encompassing: “the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness”. What if a search engine allowed us to increasingly access and navigate the entire Ethnosphere, rather than the microcosm of Google results that reside within the Ethnosphere?

c) Impacts On Pluralistic / Preferable Futures

Asking, and answering, the question ‘what could be better’ is central to how we imagine, develop, and use technology. Every future speculation, every hack, every version iteration, every new adaptation, is essentially both asking and answering the question what could be better? To question what could be better is to actively engage with what potential futures are preferable, rather than passively accepting what is merely probable.

Ted Hunt is an independent speculative/discursive/critical designer living and working in London and currently a resident of Somerset House Studios.

Internet Age Media is an alternative think–tank and community exploring the coevolution of the internet(s), digital tech and societies.

What Could Be Better is an analog toolkit and open-source provocation empowering a diverse audience of non-specialist to consider, and actively contribute to, the fundamental notions / urgent critical discourse of the preferable futures for internet search and discovery.

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