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“Would you tell me, please,…

… which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where-” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

– Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (not copyrighted in the United States)

I was thinking a lot about the Cat last night.

And Martin Gardner, of course…. Martin Gardner wrote a monthly column on recreational mathematics in “Scientific American.” He is also responsible for the “notes” behind the book, The Annotated Alice. Gardner’s notes after the passage above (some of the passage appears on my landing page) state, “The Cat’s answer expresses the eternal cleavage between science and ethics. …science cannot tell us where to go, but after this decision is made on other grounds, it can tell us the best way to get there.”

OK, so why was I thinking about this stuff last night? (You hoped that I would get to the point, eventually! :-) )

I watched a KQED program about Google (“World According to Google“), its culture, its many projects, and also some questions from others about privacy and ownership of information. I learned the origin the Google motto, “Don’t Be Evil,” and (with what history tells us about the evil acts performed by “good” people) I wished that the motto were, “Don’t Do Evil.” However, the motto makes me realize that, despite statements by some on the program that Google is focusing on the science, math, and engineering (and advertising :-) ), the organization is also KEENLY aware of its ethical behavior and responsibilities, for which Google should be commended!

It IS possible to be profitable without being evil. (Though evil appears to be winning among corporations in general…. :-) )

I have commented twice (1, 2) recently about legislation in the California General Assembly concerning the “blurring” of Google Earth and other “virtual globe services” (in defense against terrorism), and my belief (I have no direct knowledge of such things) that these efforts to blur aerial photographs are misguided and likely reflect the incomplete understanding of the lawmakers involved. Such clear aerial photography might be the best defense against terrorism, in creating honeypots.

The KQED program also raised concerns about Google becoming Big Brother (hmmm, funny that it did not mention any telecommunications companies :-) ). I understand the concern, and I am more concerned about other entities, particularly governments. The KQED program points out that corporations do comply :-) with government “requests,” however, including those of the U.S. government and China.

In fiction, the involvement of governments with even logical, nonhuman entities like the HAL-9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and 2010, has led to worse-than-expected :-) consequences. History teaches that similar results can occur with much-less-logical human beings.

The ethical question of “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” involves personal, corporate, and governmental responsibilities.

Did the Cat dodge the question, or merely try to make Alice understand that she had to find the answer for herself?

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

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