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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