BoSacks: The Profit Prophet: Planned Serendipity
Google CEO Eric Schmidt, in a recent Wall Street Journal interview, shared a new vision of his company beyond the current complex search business. He called the process serendipity, and he said, "I actually think most people don't want Google to answer their questions. … They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next. … A generation of powerful handheld devices is just around the corner that will be adept at surprising you with information that you didn't know you wanted to know. The thing that makes newspapers so fundamentally fascinating—that serendipity—can be calculated now. We can actually produce it electronically."
Even though I had predicted the eventual use of an electronic editor, I am fascinated by the concept of writing an algorithm to create serendipity. This quality is the charm and mystique of any good magazine, newspaper or book. It is the ability of a human to offer you knowledge in an apparently random process. The enjoyment of reading and stumbling upon something that you truly enjoy knowing, but didn't know you wanted to know. That is the true magic of a great editor—creating a collection of disparate words and thoughts that, when combined, offer a few moments of enjoyment.
Editors have been, as I mentioned above, creating this knowledge-based reading experience for hundreds of years. They did it based on experience and adeptness. They didn't use a mathematical formula; they just "knew" what their readers were interested in.
Is it possible that great editors are now on the verge of extinction by a serendipitous algorithm?
We are now all facing unprecedented and complex social issues created by machines, and I expect that with these new issues will come ethical-use issues as well. Are we willing to tell a cloud-based computer enough about ourselves to eliminate the need for human editors? Do Google and those computers, in fact, already know what they need to know? Eric Schmidt seems to think so. PE