Vint Cerf: Explaining Why Google Is Scrambling

May 9, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_tNote: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

One thing OpenAI’s ChatGPT legions of cheerleaders cannot do is use Dr. Vint Cerf as the pointy end of a PR stick. I recall the first time I met Dr. Cerf. He was the keynote at an obscure conference about search and retrieval. Indeed he took off his jacket. He then unbuttoned his shirt to display a white T shirt with “I TCP on everything.” The crowd laughed — not a Jack Benny 30 second blast of ebullience — but a warm sound.

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Midjourney output this illustration capturing Googzilla in a rocking chair in the midst of the snow storm after the Microsoft asteroid strike at Davos. Does the Google look aged? Does the Google look angry? Does the Google do anything but talk in the future and progressive tenses? Of course not. Google is not an old dinosaur. The Google is the king of online advertising which is the apex of technology.

I thought about that moment when I read “Vint Cerf on the Exhilarating Mix of Thrill and Hazard at the Frontiers of Tech: That’s Always an Exciting Place to Be — A Place Where Nobody’s Ever Been Before.’” The interview is a peculiar mix of ignoring the fact that the Google is elegantly managing wizards (some who then terminate themselves by alleging falling or jumping off buildings), trapped in a conveyer belt of increasing expenses related to its plumbing and the maintenance thereof, and watching the fireworks ignited by the ChatGPT emulators. And Google is watching from a back alley, not the front row as I write this. The Google may push its way into the prime viewing zone, but it is OpenAI and a handful of other folks who are assembling the sky rockets and aerial bombs, igniting the fuses, and capturing attention.

Yes, that’s an exciting place to be, but at the moment that is not where Google is. Google is doing big time public relations as outfits like Microsoft expand the zing of smart Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and — believe it or not — Excel. Google is close enough to see the bright lights and hear the applause directed at lesser outfits. Google knows it is not the focus of attention. That’s where Vint Cerf’s comes into play on the occasion of winning an award for advancing technology (in general, not just online advertising).

Here are a handful of statements I noticed in the TechMeme “Featured Article” conversation with Dr. Cerf. Note, please, that my personal observations are in italic type in a color similar to that used for Alphabet’s Code Red emergency.

Snip 1: “Sergey has come back to do a little bit more on the artificial intelligence side of things…” Interesting. I interpret this as a college student getting a call to come back home to help out an ailing mom in what some health care workers call “sunset mode.” And Mr. Page? Maintaining a lower profile for non-Googley reasons? See the allegedly accurate report “Virgin Islands issued subpoena to Google co-founder Larry Page in lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase over Jeffrey Epstein.”

Snip 2: “a place where nobody’s ever been before.” I interpret this to mean that the Google is behind the eight ball or between an agile athlete and a team composed of yesterday’s champions or a helicopter pilot vaguely that the opposition is flying a nimble, smart rocket equipped fighter jet. Dinosaurs in rocking chairs watch the snow fall; they do not move to Nice, France.

Snip 3: “Be cautious about going too fast and trying to apply it without figuring out how to put guardrails in place.” How slow did Google go when it was inspired by the GoTo, Overture, and Yahoo ad model, settling for about $1 billion before the IPO? I don’t recall picking up the scent of ceramic brakes applied to the young, frisky, and devil-may-care baby Google. Step on the gas and go faster are the mantras I recall hearing.

Snip 4: “I will say that whenever something gets monetized, you should anticipate there will be emergent properties and possibly unexpected behavior, all driven by greed.” I wonder if the statement is a bit of a Freudian slip. Doesn’t the remark suggest that Google itself has manifested this behavior? It sure does to me, but I am no shrink. Who knew Google’s search-and-advertising business would become the poster reptile for surveillance capitalism?

Snip 5: “I think we are going to have to invest more in provenance and identity in order to evaluate the quality of that which we are experiencing.” Has Mr. Cerf again identified one of the conscious choices made by Google decades ago; that is, ignore date and time stamps for when the content was first spidered, when it was created, and when it was updated. What is the quality associated with the obfuscation of urls for certain content types, and remove a user’s ability to display the “content” the user wants; for example, a query for a bound phrase for an entity like “Amanda Rosenberg.” I also wonder about advertisements which link to certain types of content; for example, health care products or apps with gotcha functionalities.

Several observations:

  1. Google’s attempts to explain that its going slow is a mature business method for Google is amusing. I would recommend that the gag be included in the Sundar and Prabhakar comedy routine.
  2. The crafted phrases about guardrails and emergent behaviors do not explain why Google is talking and not doing. Furthermore, the talking is delivered not by users of a ChatGPT infused application. The words are flowing from a person who is no expert in smart software and has a few miles on his odometer as I do.
  3. The remarks ignore the raw fact that Microsoft dominated headlines with its Davos rocket launch. Google’s search wizards were thinking about cost control, legal hassles, and the embarrassing personnel actions related to smart software and intra-company guerilla skirmishes.

Net net: Read the interview and ask, “Where’s Googzilla now?” My answer is, “Prepping for retirement?”

Stephen E Arnold, May 9, 2023


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