Google on Questions

I saw a commercial about the google app last night. Since it was about asking questions, something I really like, I thought I’d post about it here.

A question is a powerful force in the world.
A question can start you on an adventure.
A question can spark a connection.
A question can change how you see the world.
A question can take you anywhere.

Search on. The Google app.

I agree with the underlying logic that Google presents here on the value of questions. A question is powerful. It can lead us on exciting explorations, help us to connect with others, transform our perspectives and take us to many different places. But, beyond this vague (and romanticized) vision of the question, what does the Google app do with these questions? How does it help us to ask them? How does it answer them and do those answers diminish/increase/maintain the transformative power of our questions?

My questions sparked my curiosity so I decided to visit the Google app site to find out what this app actually does. According to Google, in their “Things You Can Do” section, you can use the app to:

1. Talk instead of type by speaking your questions. You can also speak follow-up questions. Here’s the example that they give:

original question: How spicy is a ghost pepper?
follow-up request 1: I’m looking for Curra’s Grill (Mexican Restaurant)
follow-up reqeust 2: Show me the menu
follow-up request 3: How do you say my mouth is on fire in Spanish?
follow-up request 4: Play “Gonna Make you Sweat”

Fun. But (how) does this function tap into the power of asking and exploring questions?

2. Find things around you, “discover great restaurants, cool things to do, and the best ways to get there.”

3. Let Google pose the questions for you by sending email or text questions to friends.

4. Find your stuff: plane tickets, packages, etc.

5. Let Google anticipate your needs and provide you with the information before you ask using Now cards.

Wait. Google’s anticipation of our needs seems to be encouraging us to not ask questions. Who needs to even think about what we need and ask for it when Google will just figure it out for us?

This last function is troubling to me and undercuts the power of using questions to explore new places, new perspectives and new ideas. Much has been written about Google algorithms and the filter bubble or echo chamber that can be created when we rely only on sources that we find through google (or Facebook or twitter, etc). I briefly wrote about it on this blog a few years ago. I don’t want to rehearse those arguments here. Instead, I’ll conclude this post with a rewriting of Google’s commercial to reflect some possible hidden motivations and meanings behind their app and what it does to our questions:

Undisciplined’s Intervention

While a question is a powerful force in the world, its force is severely weakened when the answers that it yields are controlled by an algorithm and motivated by market interests.

A question can start you on an adventure to a place that Google has predetermined that you might should like.

A question can spark a connection to businesses that want to sell you things.

A question can change how you see the world but the answers often dictate and restrict how you interpret and understand that new vision.

A question can take you anywhere if you scroll through enough google search pages.