Posted in Uncategorized

Google Drive and Knowledge

Since its launch as an Internet search engine in 1998, Google has continually expanded the online services that it offers. Maps, search engines for researchers, cloud storage, and even its own internet service (Google Fiber) are among the many ways this company has diversified, while maintaining the philosophy that “You can make money without doing evil“.

xkcd

But can Google help increase the amount of knowledge in the world? Can it make collaborative research easy, accessible, and reliable? One research tool it offers is Google Scholar, which allows you to search peer-reviewed publications using their algorithms to weed out irrelevant results. But their greatest contribution to the furthering of scientific knowledge is something even simpler: Google Drive.

Google Drive

If you’ve never used it, Drive is an online cloud storage platform that is included for free with any Gmail account. (And Gmail is also free!) In itself, the platform is great for sharing files – you can share something you create or upload with the public, specific people, or through a link.

googleshare

This, of course, opens up the question of piracy – but Google will shut down accounts that are publicly sharing copyrighted files. You can share files with a few friends with no repercussions (similar to the First Sale doctrine that allows libraries to run), but blatantly breaking IP regulations on a broad scale isn’t allowed.

Using Apps to Create

But file sharing isn’t research! So how does this help people create new knowledge? Well, now we get into the apps that Drive offers: specifically Docs and Sheets. These are online versions of Microsoft Word and Excel, respectively, and they fall under the same sharing guidelines as any file in the cloud. Collaborators can work on the same document, or draw data from the same spreadsheet, without the hassle of e-mailing work back and forth. Instead, you simply log into the drive from wherever you are and start working. Drive saves everything as you go, and keeps records of revisions, so you can also see who did what to each document.

googlerevhist

This not only increases the reliability of your information (since each writer’s name is attached to their work, they have reasons to ensure the accuracy), but also makes it much faster to collaborate. In fact, people can work on the same document simultaneously! So the epistemic speed, or “how quickly it leads to true answers” (Thagard, 1997), is quite high, because knowledge can be created, edited and fact-checked as fast as people can type. And because Drive is accessible to anyone with internet access – whether it’s at home, at the library, or through a mobile device – the amount of potential researchers is vastly increased. The fecundity, “ability to lead to large numbers of true beliefs for many practitioners” (Thagard, 1997) is also high, because the knowledge – once created – can be shared with anyone online. However, the power of Drive is hard to measure. While Google’s search algorithms make it easy “to help people find true answers to the questions that interest them” (Thagard, 1997), articles that exist on Drive must be accessible to the public for this to be useful.

And for the social sciences, this is especially amazing. No longer are you stuck with doing studies in your area, wondering if your results are truly generalizable to the larger population. Now you can set up a study, find collaborators in other areas, combine your data, and do research that’s not only broadly applicable but easily shared! And it opens up access to anyone with an internet connection – not just people who work or study in the academic fields. With the growing recognition that diversity in science is needed, Drive could be a major positive force for researchers all over the world.

Of course, you’ll have to make sure it doesn’t end like this…

human_subjects

Full text of my Epistemology of Google Drive is here!

References

Google Company. (2016). Ten things we know to be true. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/intl/en/about/company/philosophy/

Google Company. (2014). Our history in depth. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/about/company/history/

My Paper. (2012, May). Google drive not a pirates’ paradise. Retrieved from http://news.asiaone.com/News/Latest+News/Science+and+Tech/Story/A1Story20120508-344475.html

Thagard, P. (1997). Internet epistemology: Contributions of new information technologies to scientific research. Retrieved from http://cogsci.uwaterloo.ca/Articles/Pages/Epistemology.html

Munroe, R. (2006, December 4). Working for Google. Retrieved from https://xkcd.com/192/

Munroe, R. (2015, October 23). Human subjects. Retrieved from https://xkcd.com/1594/

Image Credit

NASA Goddard Space Flight. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/16326710782/in/photolist-qSJEiu-8Nxr1C-pN7nmE-91Cr3M-8cVDAN-t1MDG-ngJ93-4cNSAN-91FDPj-pZX6Fr-qEhnFH-9Ptb4x-bSFpoV-csBTpY-nXu85b-hgj3V8-mfbHU2-5Vrcxi-eaxhbm-wEK7jQ-ro44H3-rjQRm5-pBwyua-fWFARy-ciiroq-qwbHXe-q2fTri-7jTzqj-iemegw-dKCCoJ-dSspXi-pab3yz-cDUitf-bzyQpt-6LY11P-v91QyV-2BsfZ8-pWS7PE-pa3e7R-d5UJiq-fr6PG-qX1KRc-7jTzpQ-qWJoez-5wnVi3-sBf1JR-n47br-3ficfR-cmbFd7-91CvbK

 

Posted in Thoughts, Uncategorized

Computing is Everywhere!

The Merriam-Webster definition of ubiquitous is “existing or being everywhere at the same time :  constantly encountered”. Indeed, this does seem to be true about electronic devices – at least in the United States – which allow us to do seemingly anything imaginable. Want to track your steps taken, the hours of sleep you get, calories eaten (and burned), your heart rate, stairs climbed, and even remind you to start moving if you’re still too long? The Fitbit can do all that, and fit stylishly on your wrist besides; and it costs barely anything compared to what all the machines we USED to use would together. ($249 for the ultimate model, if you’re wondering.) And I won’t even touch the range of things common smartphones can do with a click…

But do the availability and cost-effectiveness of these consumer electronics (CE) make them a new hazard to our health – an addiction?

Can’t Get You out of My Head

Paula Poundstone (a stand-up comedian) talks about how people are addicted to electronics – a common theme on the internet. (While this may be satire, it’s satirizing a very popular opinion.) As proof, she states:

“I love to play ping-pong, I love to practice the drums, I love to tap dance. But I have never, even once, tried to figure out how to do any one of those things, while driving, in such a way that the cops couldn’t see. Because I am not addicted to those activities, I just enjoy them, and there’s a huge difference.”

And most of us can probably think of a moment where CE distracted someone from an important conversation or moment – whether it was yourself, a friend, or a co-worker. There are people banning smartphones from wedding ceremonies, so that people are actually “there”, not just recording images.

Personal admission: Right now, I’m writing this blog post in between feeding my one-year old his lunch, because I rarely have time to just sit down and type without multitasking something else as well. Before I deactivated my Facebook account a week ago, I would randomly browse posts in between other tasks – probably at least twice an hour, if not more. Since I deactivated it, I’ve actually had more time to do stuff with my family, because my work online is so much more productive. But I’m still behind, and still have to work in my “computing” time between all my other responsibilities. (I refuse to get a smartphone, because my laptop and tablet are already too intrusive, too tempting.)

Internet or Devices – the New Chicken or the Egg?

But maybe it’s not the devices that are the problem – maybe it’s the Internet itself. After all, there are several peer-reviewed articles on Internet Addiction Disorder, which (despite the literature) has not been included in the DSM-V (the psychological manual for mental disorders). It’s hard to think of a device we use that doesn’t link to the internet in some way – even the Fitbit mentioned earlier has an app that allows you to compare your activity with friends…or the world. Is the preponderance of information available online the real problem? Are we addicted to the semblance of knowledge?

Love of Knowledge vs. Love of Knowing

Paterson touched on the love of knowledge (and truth) in our reading from last week, but I believe there’s a deeper need being expressed here. We’re bombarded every day with information, with news, with stories that may or may not be true. (The fact that Snopes.com needs to exist is part of this.) Our natural desire to know about the world around us is being smashed by deluges of data, so instead we just want to “know” more, anything, even if it’s not true. We don’t turn off the learning process when we leave childhood, it’s just shaped and molded by our adult experience. So, in some cases, this turns into an addiction, an obsession with knowing what our friends and celebrities are writing, an urge to constantly be “on” without stopping to consider why. It’s not that we don’t care about the truth anymore, it’s just that there are so many truths out there and mentally – it’s exhausting.

The definition of addiction is this: “compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal” (Merriam-Webster). It seems this definition could hold true for the devices we use, and the Internet we access with them.

Knowledge has always been addicting, the search for wisdom a drug we start in childhood. It’s just that now we crave the pursuit, the chase, the hyperlink clicking and video watching sometimes more than the knowledge that may be contained in all of it. Is that the fault of electronics? Or our fault, for not finding other better things to satisfy that desire to know?

References

Paterson, R. W. K. 1979. “Towards an Axiology of Knowledge.” Journal of Philosophy of Education 13:91-100.