CMU and Google grow closer

Carnegie Mellon is constantly trying to improve its “brand recognition” across the country and around the world. Typically, if you aren’t a high-powered executive, a cutting-edge computer scientist, a trailblazing roboticist — or a Pittsburgh native — Carnegie Mellon doesn’t quite generate the same reaction as, say, dropping the Ivy League H-bomb.

However, in recent years we have come across a very powerful ally in this seemingly never-ending mission. One of the greatest brand names of the 21st century is becoming inexorably tied with Carnegie Mellon, for better or for worse.

Google, the great Internet search engine operator, was formed in 1998 and has rapidly grown into the most-used and most powerful search engine available. It is this rapid growth that has brought Carnegie Mellon into Google’s inner circle of influence and opportunity.

Last year, the company announced that it would be opening an engineering lab in Pittsburgh to make better use of Carnegie Mellon graduates. The head of this new lab? Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Andrew Moore.

More recently, Carnegie Mellon faculty members have contributed to several of Google’s other offerings. Professor Luis von Ahn was recently featured in both Popular Science and The Tartan for his work on computerized image comprehension. This year, he licensed his work to Google. Technology he created is now a part of Google’s Image Labeler game, which harnesses the collective intellect of Internet users everywhere to sharpen and extend Google’s image search capabilities.

Computer Science Dean Randy Bryant will be one of five judges for the Google Gadget Awards, a competition open to university students to develop minimal web applications (“gadgets”) to incorporate onto Google’s personalized home page. These gadgets can serve any purpose, and will be judged on five different criteria: most useful, most intelligent, “Most Likely to Help You Get a Date,” most addictive, and prettiest. Other judges include the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, the president of Stanford University, and the creator of popular tech news website Slashdot. It would seem that Google has caught Carnegie fever — and vice versa.

But are we really going to benefit from this newfound attraction? All our work with Google raises a worrisome issue. What happens when people don’t love Google anymore? Google already side-stepped a public relations nightmare when it began voluntarily censoring content in China.

Google has been running afoul of the government and other interested parties on our own soil as well. The company is spearheading a project to categorize and make searchable virtually every literary work in existence. While this would allow people to access more knowledge and content than ever previously imagined, it also violates a healthy number of copyright laws and, according to many authors and publishers, threatens to undermine the entire printed-word economy.

As Google comes under more scrutiny and shows signs of straying from its famous “Don’t be evil” corporate motto, the Carnegie Mellon community should take a moment and contemplate what could happen as we become more and entangled with a global corporation.