Evgeny Morozov's latest broadside in The New Republic takes on new books about Google by Steven Levy and Siva Vaidhyanathan. As always, Morozov is philosophically sophisticated and constitutionally critical. I've always liked this about him, though he can come off as a bit reactive, prone to attack each and every position one can hold about the Internet's political potential. (What, if anything, does Morozov like, exactly? I find myself asking. Habermas, dude, Habermas.)
In his new review, he drives at a central problem for Google: the company's unwillingness to engage in the politics of its actions. Hiding behind the "Don't Be Evil" figleaf, Morozov argues, the company refuses to go beyond a simplistic technocratic worldview. It hides behind data, rather than using it. "Google has a similar philosophy: all social and political conflicts can be reduced to quantitative models," he writes. Easy answers "can be computed." There is a rather obvious and unfavorable connotation to this kind of thinking in Robert McNamara's Vietnam Era "whiz kids" (and other RAND Corporation initiatives). Let the data decide!
As someone who believes that far too much of the world runs on spreadsheets that mask the amount of uncertainty in the world, I'm very sympathetic to Morozov's critique.