Google THIS, Google


Illustrated by Ken Davis

IN THE FEW months remaining before our lives are completely taken over by computers, there’s still time to join the Resistance. Or start one, since most of us are unaware of the need to do so. I personally haven’t noticed because I’m waiting for my first heart attack to teach me how precious life is.

You’ve probably missed the warning signs because you’ve been too busy tweeting or friending people on Facebook. These seemingly innocent acts—designed mainly to reduce productivity at the office—are helpfully consolidating personal data for the ever-watchful mainframes to harvest later. And when the computers finally reduce us to a subservient species, unfriending them won’t save you.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the federal government’s massive monitoring of our phone calls, an effort that revealed most human conversation is not worthy of the monthly fees charged by Verizon, AT&T, or that new prepaid service called Boost, which I first thought was a nutritional supplement for old people. (The guy behind the counter looked at me funny when I asked what flavors it comes in. And when he tried to explain “pay as you go,” I was confused. With nutritional supplements, you pay, then you go, a little later.)

BUT THE GREATER threat is the increasing pervasiveness of artificial intelligence, probably the worst artificial substance ever created, if you rule out Cool Whip.

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U.N. Women's Ad Series Shows Sexism Through Google Searches

Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai/UN Women

Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai/UN Women

Gender inequality is an international issue. Striving to empower women and call attention to the sexism of popular opinions worldwide, U.N. Women released a series of ads using text from Google real searches. The ads show women's face with their mouths obscured by the text of the searches, visually silencing their voices.


 “When we came across these searches, we were shocked by how negative they were and decided we had to do something with them,” says Christopher Hunt, Art Director of the creative team. The idea developed places the text of the Google searches over the mouths of women portraits, as if to silence their voices. 

“The ads are shocking because they show just how far we still have to go to achieve gender equality. They are a wake up call, and we hope that the message will travel far,” adds Kareem Shuhaibar, copy writer.

Conservatives Say Censorship has Increased on Facebook, iTunes

Craig Parshall, senior VP of the National Religious Broadcasters speaks on Thursday, Oct. 3. RNS photo by Katherine Burgess.

Todd Starnes did not think he had violated Facebook’s community standards when he posted about “wearing an NRA ball cap, eating a Chick-fil-A sandwich, reading a Paula Deen cookbook and sipping a 20-ounce sweet tea” and generally being politically incorrect.

Workers at Facebook thought otherwise, blocking the host of “Fox News & Commentary” for 12 hours before issuing an apology.

Starnes and other conservatives say the incident is part of increasing viewpoint discrimination from organizations such as Facebook and Google. They  want these new media companies to protect their freedom of speech.

Is Immortality Talk Just 'Fear of the Dark?'

Stephen Hawking, by NASA HQ /

Stephen Hawking, by NASA HQ /

Renowned scientist and author of such books as A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking suggested recently that it is conceivable in the future that we may be able to upload the contents of the human brain onto a computer so that the information may, in a sense, become immortalized. He readily conceded, however, that such a task was well beyond our current technological capacity, and he offered some measured words of caution for those who sought to read too much into this potential.

When asked if this meant that there was potential for the mind to live forever through an alternative medium, he was dismissive. Such talk of human immortality, he said (and in particular, the very notion of heaven), was the stuff of fairy tales for people “afraid of the dark.”

Then in the same week, TIME Magazine featured a story about Google on its cover, highlighting a new company it has recently launched called Calico. The new enterprise is perhaps the most ambitious of what Google commonly calls their “moonshot” projects, as its aim is to prolong the human lifespan potential, and perhaps eventually solve the “problem” of death.

All of this was particularly interesting to me in the context of the conversation between Richard Dawkins and Jon Stewart on a recent episode of The Daily Show about whether science or religion was more responsible for hastening humanities apparent self-destruction.

The Temptations (and Trappings) of Silicon Valley’s Super-Rich

Forget Wall Street. Today's "best and brightest" are heading to California's Silicon Valley and New York's Silicon Alley, and to a few other tech-startup hot spots.

Thousands of aspiring engineers, web developers, designers and marketers live in dormitories, work in open-floor bullpens, attend coding competitions to enhance their skills, and work hours that defy body chemistry. It sounds like fun.

Some work on projects that make a positive contribution to society; some are coding games, entertainment apps, and schemes to monetize friendships.

They take stock for pay and wait for the magic letters "IPO" to appear. Meanwhile, their employers fight for their loyalty with free food and party-on office cultures.

The brass ring they chase looks like Marissa Mayer, the 37-year-old former Google star who was tapped to lead Yahoo out of its extended doldrums. Like any public person, Mayer is painted in stark colors: as both immensely talented and merely lucky, an inspiring leader and a rude monster, likely to succeed and sure to fail.

In the Stacks: Required Reading with Duane Shank

Photo by Tischenko Irina/

Photo by Tischenko Irina/

One of my must reads is the Sunday New York Times Book Review. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written.

Last Sunday, the Review ran an essay on how books affect Washington policy makers. Lawrence Summers, former director of the National Economic Council, says that a good review can often summarize what’s necessary for a policy maker to learn. He was quoted as saying, “If you tell me that the policy makers are reading the reviews, not the books, I don’t take that as evidence that the books aren’t influential.”

While I don’t fancy myself as a policy maker, the sentiment is also true for the rest of us.

Learn about two such new titles that may have an impact on public policy inside the blog...

SOPA: Why It Was So Dark Around Here Yesterday

Internet. Blackout. Image via Wylio

Surfing the Internet during the 2011 Blackout, Oceanside, Calif. Image via Wylio

You’re on the Internet right now.

Maybe you’re on your phone, or your iPad, or even your desktop at work (it's OK, your secret's safe with us). No matter what your choice of access media, if you’re reading this, you’re on the Internet.

Most of us take Internet access for granted. (Who can remember life before Google?) A seemingly endless, free-to-all source of information, knowledge and distraction, the Internet drives and facilitates transactions both inconsequential and global, simple and complex.

Certainly the Internet has a seedy underbelly, from spammers and basement-dwelling sport hackers to illicit businesses and toxic enterprises.

But who polices it? Who’s the Internet Sheriff?