You’re watching your Google TV. Your wife is sat next to you, idly thumbing through images of holiday destinations on Google Travel. Life is good. The world’s information is organised; what you need is at your fingertips. You sigh and let your muscles relax to conform with shape of the sofa, safe in the knowledge that a Google Wing drone will soon fly through the delivery portal and drop a pizza into your lap.
While you are absorbing this idyllic moment Larry Page sits with his own feet up in an office half a world away. Air streams noisily through his nostrils as he stares at a recent portrait of himself on the opposite wall. He’s thinking about broccoli, about how much he hates that tree like vegetable. He remembers being forced to eat it as a child and the resulting tears at the dinner table.
“Why must I live in a world where this horrible green substance exists?” he says to himself. A youthful Larry might have ignored such a thought, would have put it to one side. Younger people are more idealistic, they believe in the fundamental freedoms of human beings, are more flexible in allowing people to live as they choose. Larry is forty-three now though, approaching middle age and finds himself less tolerant to the things that don’t fit into his world view.
When you get rich, people do things for you. Sometimes you pay them, sometimes they do it because they hope you’ll pay them or find themselves in your favour. It’s a little embarrassing at first, to be catered to. After a while however that door didn’t open out of kindness or someone’s political manoeuvre, it opened for you. Anything less would be an deviation from reality.
Larry drums his fingers on the desk in his office at the pinnacle of the Google pyramid. Sometimes it is necessary to make unwelcome adjustments to the world for the greater good. “Ok google”, he says with a smug grin, leaning his executive office chair as far back as it will go. “Cancel…”, he pauses for a moment to make sure he’s making the right decision. Cauliflower sucks a lot too. But no, there will be time for other vegetables later. “Cancel broccoli please.“
From here on out no human will be involved in this process. His speech is analysed and the decoded words are parsed into tokens and matched with the closest known instruction. This instruction is expanded to be delve into all of Google’s services. A sequence of API calls ending in /delete?term=broccoli are made, filtering through servers around the world.
First the machines crawl through the basic text search indexes. Any page that contains the unthinkable term is removed. They no longer appear in search results. A search now yields the suggestion, “Did you mean bronchitis?”. A further contextual analysis is applied to remove any text that describes brassicas or hints at its unique structure.
Images and videos are scanned, applying deep neural networks to discover anything that might have the vegetable within. A high contrast filter is applied to remove anything that has dark and light shades. You can’t be too careful. The subtitles of cooking videos are scanned and anything containing the ingredient is deleted. Food blogs, farming journals, social network posts are all eradicated.
Google’s supermarket inventory system silently deletes all orders for broccoli. The product no longer comes into the warehouse, the automatically printed shelving plans and pricing tickets are simply not printed any more. Nobody notices that the carrots section is now double the width. The farmers still grow them, but no vans come to collect them and they simply rot in the warehouse. They eventually rot into mulch that is distributed as fertiliser on top of potatoes, a vegetable Larry has plenty of time for.
A few enterprising journalists publish investigative scoops, questioning the bizarre disappearance of what was once known to all, but anyone on Google News will not see them. Blogger posts are shadow banned so the authors will just believe that the articles have failed to arouse interest. Any link clicked on through search results or in Google chrome is modified to replace these stories with more sympathetic news.
It hasn’t been long. You’re still finishing your pizza. Your wife is finishing the grocery order on Google Express. “Could you get some broccoli dear?” you ask sweetly.
“I can’t find it,” she says, puzzled. “What about runner beans?”
“Yeah, whatever, I guess.“
After dinner you return home to see that your Google Smart Home furniture has tidied itself and the TV and the sofa have swapped places.
“What happened in here?” exclaims your wife.
You shrug. “Does it matter? The TV still works. The sofa could be over there, and that plant in the other corner. The world changes, what does it matter as long as you can enjoy it?”
“It’s our living room! If I want the sofa on the ceiling then that’s where it’s going to be!“
“Darling,” you to try to calm her, “they organise the world’s information. Aren’t we all just information in the end? This conversation we’re having, that’s just an exchange of information. I think it would be nice if it were a little more organised. They have algorithms that make sense of this stuff you know.”
“It could be one hundred percent efficiency for all I care, but I want to know that I have control over my own life, not be shuffled about like a box in a warehouse.“
You can’t quite hear her. You look at her and ask for clarification but the TV seems to be getting louder. Something about cheaper aubergines.
“I said! I want my … … to be … and not trapped … in a …”. Her lips are moving but you can’t actually hear what she’s saying. Some kind of practical joke perhaps. She always does this when she’s losing an argument.
An app on your android phone has installed an update. You already gave it microphone and speaker permissions without a thought. It listens to the sounds floating past it, identifies the ones that might be troubling to the mission and emits an inverse waveform, cancelling out the sound entirely. Matter and antimatter collapse into nothing. It never was.
“…” says your wife.
Larry Page is hungry. Keep searching.