I don’t recall exactly who it was, but a TED talk I heard via podcast last summer clarified some thing for me. He explained that he and a few friends all googled simply “Egypt” the previous January. In the midst of the riot and the early part of Arab Spring, they each got very different front pages on their search results. For one of them, the current events in the region did not make page one.
Google makes money, and lots of it, by tracking your search habits. What you ‘googled’ last week affects the results of your searches next week.
I assume you are aware of this, but do you give it any thought? Do you care?
I thought anew about this Sunday as I was visiting with some colleagues with whom I teach sex ed. Our curricukum includes a Question Box: each week each student is invited to ask any question he or she wants to ask by writing it and putting it in the box. The anonymity encourages sincerity and openess.
For help in answering some of these questions, yes, we search. We Google. Thus, Google knows something about us but I am quite sure it doesn’t (they don’t?) know the context.
We used to say or think that understanding context was one advantge we humans would always have over machines. I am no longer too sure of this. Context is so hastily set aside when convenient, I have begun to think Google’s algorithm might account for it before our culture’s does.