Is the free-text search box the defining invention of the last twenty years? I think it probably is. Now more than half the entire Western world (and a lot of the rest of it) can find the answer to more or less any text-based question that occurs to them within about 30 seconds. It is true magic, true sci-fi, and no-one really predicted it.
I was just lying in the bath asking myself: what portion of the features of our entire shared world are already described in the form of sentences somewhere already published on the internet? Quite a lot. Let’s call that the Text Googleverse: the part of the world you can find out things about right now, on google.
Then we have the potential Text Googleverse - all the other features of our world which could be described in text form but just happen not to be.
But what does that leave? What other aspects of our lives are never going to be captured in text form? Google and co. are obviously working on many of those things too, and are right now expanding the Googleverse to include, say, images.
But surely Google and co. could never map and record feelings and atmospheres, could they?
Cut to Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress. This year, one of the things the manufacturers like Samsung are pushing hardest is fitness devices with biosensors like heartrate. The data aggregators will soon have billions or trillions of datapoints on how heartrate and so on - and they will be able to correlate all that with what else you are doing, who you are near to at the time, what part of what street in what town you have just visited, what you are texting and tweeting and what you are searching for, what you purchase, and so on. After a bit of big data crunching it should be possible to identify signals in your personal biodata which are best associated with positively worded tweets, expansive behaviour, or alternatively with being alone, listening to quiet music …. and hence those signals can be combined with others and slowly be interpreted as good mood, introverted mood, etc. One of the interesting things for google and co. will be to work out what signals are associated with now likely to buy something.
The uses of that kind of data are mind-boggling. To take one example, it should be possible for Google and co. to start to aggregate that data across people and disaggregate across location and for example display it on google maps so users can see how people of a certain demographic profile get excited around certain bars or other locations at certain times of the day or week. Imagine google maps with a coloured overlay showing how people feel at different locations. Imagine how store owners would want to have that data too. Yuk.
Our world will gain a new layer of objective (because aggregated across many people) and searchable, mappable, feeling-data: the Googleverse of Feelings. The data it will contain, at least in the early days, will not seem terribly deep or insightful to your average human being, let alone your average poet. But it will very certainly be highly profitable.
And then let the data mining run another fifty years.