by Mike Masnick

Google As Your Backup Brain

from the still-chugging-away dept

Over three years ago, I joked that Google was my backup brain, but for many that's becoming much less of a joke these days. The reliance on Google, combined with always on, wireless connectivity means that remembering certain things (or playing trivia games), just isn't that relevant any more. Even some doctors are found trying to diagnose with the aid of Google. Of course, this plays right into what we were saying a few weeks ago about the importance of figuring out which things to ignore. Letting Google (or other search engines, of course) sweat the little details could mean more efficient use of the brain on bigger, more important things. However, as the article points out, the downside is that this "collective" brain is fed information from all sorts of unreliable sources as well -- and so anyone using it as a tool needs to learn to have a healthy skepticism filter in place.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    bob, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 3:29am


    if doctors have to use google to find out that i have a sore throat..we got issues

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    jtdodge, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 3:44am

    Re: doctors

    i agree...

    i believe we should continue to rely on a good ol' fashion education.

    google should be left to everyone else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    JP, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 4:10am

    Re: doctors

    General practitioners can't be well-versed in every ailment of mankind. Just like when we come across an obscure pc problem, they'll go to doctor's websites where they can plug in symptoms and get an idea of what's going on. My doctor recently used google to get me more information on a rare sickness he wasn't totally sure about. I wouldn't have known how to read the information he got, but he was able to take the info he got from using google to explain it to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Andrew Strasser, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 4:33am

    Re: doctors

    "if doctors have to use google to find out that i have a sore throat..we got issues"

    No this is what scares me 60% by a national survey done two months ago of doctor's know how to use the internet. After 20 years of going undiagnosed which is still undiagnosed by a doctor. I have found on-line the one and only place to find the answers to what is wrong with me.

    With sites like Diagnose Me and the scholar version of Google. There is so much information out there you can find your answers. I trust my health to myself who can figure out how to use a computer way more than any of the 60% of Doctor's in this country who don't know how to use a computer and 80% in my state acording the the League they designed to bring more technology for Indiana doctor's.

    To see our nation coming out with statistics like 40% of Doctor's nationwide have a working knowledge of a computer, it bothers me a lot. I've been paying thousands and thousands of dollars over my life having tests done trying to figure out what was wrong with me. It took me one time of falling down from my, what I knew were seizures, but the Doctor's can't say that without conclusive proof so who knows. Currently it's considered startle syndrome by my doctor however if you did chromosome work on my I guarantee that I have a much more serious form of Myoclonus.

    I spend 3 hrs driving to see my specialist for her to weigh me and change my doseage. I'm not even allowed to speak in the doctor's office and my symptoms have matched perfectly with other people who have a completely different disease than the one I've been diagnosed with. Amazingly enough it just so happens to be the one I found on-line. JME

    Some good sites for health information are:

    National Library of Medicine

    There are other very helpful sources like Google, the reason I now am being healed after 20 years of Doctors refusing to help me or telling me it was all in my head.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Andrew Strasser, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 4:37am

    Re: doctors

    Is far as I'm concerned doctor's are useless except to write your prescription and even then I'd pick or at least be informed about their choices. I've been given three different drugs in my life that are know to not only make someone with my condition worse, but go as far as to kill them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    nyiddle, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 4:40am

    o rly?

    You see, the think about Google is that it brought us to a new level of technology. When you think about it, you have internet, and then you have 'Google'. First page you're brought to when you download Mozilla Firefox? Google. It's the first for everything. Have a question? Google. But it didn't start out that way. First, Google was a mere website with only a few thousand answers to common questions like 'Where do babies come from?' Now, you could ask Google the most complex answer and get that SAME AMOUNT of results. It's frightening, if anything, how much Google's needed to evolve to get to where it is in the present. And there's a lot of things about it people still don't know, or a lot of things that the people working at Google are trying to get down straight. Gmail, for example, some people have never even heard of it, and it's only in the Beta stages too. With all of this information in mind, it's safe to say that Google will some day create a mind of its own and take over the world.

    Good day to you, fine sir.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Andrew Strasser, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 4:43am

    Re: doctors

    Oh and sorry bout the flame on your thread :) Google me you'll know why ;)

    Andrew Strasser

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Dale, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 5:34am


    Back up brain, indeed. In addition to Googling, I gmail myself snippets of information constantly, relying then on gmail's blindingly fast search function to retrieve the stuff.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Phil, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 5:47am

    Collective vs individual

    Urban myths and indeed myths are the non cyber equivilant, that have been around as long as modern man. Just because data is dirty, doesn't mean its bad. Nothing worthwhile knowing, is certain. Google will inevitably be used for what its good for and ignored when its not so good. I find the benefits of its existence well out way the pitfalls.
    Like with Wikipedia. I'm happier to have some knowledge even if slightly inaccurate about nearly everything, than have however much knowledge I can buy, and be only slightly more sure of it.
    The collective brain will also improve its means of acquiring accuracy of information (especially if aided by targeted development of such technologies, which we can see happening).
    I don't know about you, but I fancy my chances more in a pub quiz with Google, than five years ago, when I'd never used it. I doubt that will change in 50 years. In fact I dare say I'd do better now, without using Google because of Google.
    But are we comfortable to have the collective brain more knowledgeable than the individual? Individually, no. But you won't make the decision. We will...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Jacob Reider, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 7:37am

    Re: doctors


    a) You may want to review your 8th grade grammar lessons on the apostrophe. (
    b) You provide rather little information about the medications that you were prescribed, but it sounds like you are interested in shared decision making .. which is certainly augmented by google and other search engines. I am concerned that you think that we physicians are useless. Is this just your anger speaking? Or do you really believe that 7+ years of training provides us with so few tools that we're really just a path to a prescription!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Christopher Pereira, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 7:44am

    False Information

    I am a undergratue student at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and I just recently finished my college writing course. We rely on google or other search engines at one point or another. It's a fact. However there is false information there. Going with the doctor example, if a patient has OCD and the doctor reads online using a search engine, states that trapping them in a small chamber and shock them until they stop being OCD, is false information. People should not be relying on search engines as a reliable source for information. As I have found there is crap out there and it's hard to find what's wrong. If you want to learn something then go to school, not use a search engine.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Asher, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 7:58am

    No Subject Given

    Having tools is never the problem. Having an education to know how to use them correctly, that's the point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Some Guy..., Dec 19th, 2005 @ 10:11am


    I like the idea of a "skepticism filter". It really is sad that so many people actually believe most of what other average Joe's put out on the net. As George Carlin said... "Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that." I think Google should work on that amongst the 9 billion other projects they're working on...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    clint, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 10:17am

    so true

    I actually sat in the examining room while a doctor googled my symptoms right in front of me. She wasn't able to find anything and told me that it probably wasn't serious.
    The funny thing is that I was looking at the same pages that she was just hours before my appointment. I had googled the same thing that she did.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 11:31am

    Re: Funny...

    The great thing about Pagerank is it's simple brilliance. The first results in all search queries are the pages in which the most people have viewed and returned to because they believe the information is accurate.

    This is the reason most searches on google will get you the correct answer with the "I'm feeling lucky" button.

    The beauty behind this is that the more EVERYONE learns through google and pagerank, the more informed the "less intelligent" people become. As more people become more intelligent, the more accurate pagerank becomes because we learn to ignore and weed out the false information. And the slower learners become the minority on Google. So once an answer is agreed on by the masses of increasingly intelligent people, the false pages are put at the bottom of Google's search list and become irrelevant.

    Google really is just keeping everyone on the same page. And the longer it works its magic, the more accurate it becomes.

    So basically Google just becomes smarter and smarter because it is slowly making the people who use it smarter and smarter.

    The longer Google is around, the smarter it will become. And the smarter WE will become.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Daniel Solove, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 11:59am

    More on Wikipedia

    My co-blogger has some fascinating thoughts on this issue in a post entitled, Welcome to the Google-Borg. And there's a lot more on recent Wikipedia controversies here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Haggie, Dec 19th, 2005 @ 4:41pm

    No Subject Given

    I use Google as my primary brain. I can't even count the number of times I've come up with a great solution to a work problem/challenge by using Google. My bosses or co-workers will say "How did you know that?". I just smile, shrug, and deposit another bonus check...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Sean, Apr 12th, 2007 @ 5:21pm

    Re: Re: doctors

    You seem like you make a good point or something, but it is just one incoherent and retarded mess of words.

    Please try using a comma.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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