Google and the Path To Enlightenment

In the lat­est edi­tion of The New York Review of Books, Robert Darn­ton, a promi­nent French his­to­ri­an who now runs Har­vard’s Library sys­tem, puts out a tan­ta­liz­ing idea: “Google can make the Enlight­en­ment dream come true.” Hav­ing set­tled its law­suit with pub­lish­ers and authors, Google is now steam­ing ahead with its effort to dig­i­tize mil­lions of books and cre­ate a vast dig­i­tal library avail­able to indi­vid­u­als and insti­tu­tions every­where on a sub­scrip­tion basis. (The fees apply to copy­right­ed texts only, not to those in the pub­lic domain.) This opens up the pos­si­bil­i­ty that Google can ful­fill the Enlight­en­ment promise of democ­ra­tiz­ing knowl­edge, enrich­ing the intel­lec­tu­al mar­ket­place, and dif­fus­ing the ideas that have the great­est social ben­e­fit. The ques­tion is whether Google will actu­al­ly make this hap­pen. Will Google’s pri­vate inter­ests line up with the pub­lic inter­est? Will the com­pa­ny keep the dig­i­tal library open and ful­fill the hopes of Voltaire, Rousseau, Franklin, and Jef­fer­son? Or will the pur­suit of prof­it grad­u­al­ly lead Google to dri­ve up prices and close off access? Giv­en the recent con­duct of the bank­ing com­mu­ni­ty, it’s hard to remain opti­mistic that mar­ket-dri­ven insti­tu­tions will act altru­is­ti­cal­ly. Yes, Darn­ton acknowl­edges, Google seems to be start­ing off with good inten­tions. But what the com­pa­ny does long-term with its near monop­oly on online infor­ma­tion is any­one’s guess, and it’s entire­ly up to Google to do the right thing. For more on the Enlight­en­ment and Google’s online book ini­tia­tive, you should dig deep­er into Darn­ton’s piece. Also you can join The New York Review of Books group on Face­book, or fol­low it on Twit­ter.

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  • James says:

    You make a good point about Google’s pub­lic and pri­vate inter­ests. The promise of ubiq­ui­tous access, cloud com­put­ing and ‘do no harm’ is great and holds won­der­ful pos­si­bil­i­ties for democ­ra­tiz­ing infor­ma­tion and even edu­ca­tion.

    How­ev­er, all the data Google has is fod­der for algo­rithm-based ad sales. If you cou­ple GBooks, GSchol­ar, GMail with the con­cept of GDrive, it’s a pow­er­ful com­bo.

    Do we give up too much of our­selves to get it free?

    I did a post on the very same thing just yes­ter­day if you’re at all inter­est­ed .…

  • Thomas Mitchell Glen says:

    ‘Enlight­en­ment for All’ is now in Google com­mu­ni­ties and in the pub­lic domain for all God’s peo­ple. ‘’ gives an expla­na­tion of to-day’s real­i­ty describ­ing the spir­i­tu­al inter­ven­tion of uni­ver­sal law. Cre­at­ed by Jesus Christ/Isa the final work of redemp­tion is about to take place and sweep away those who now prac­tice evil war­ring and cause suf­fer­ing of mil­lions. Peace­mak­ers will con­tin­ue the gov­er­nance of coun­tries bring­ing peace and plen­ty.

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