Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Google's AD&D alignment

It has gone well beyond cliché for bloggers to accuse Google of breaking their stated motto of "Don't be evil". Whatever harebrained scheme the Googlers try next, it seems everyone these days wants to convict them of hoisting themselves on their own petard.

I don't own GOOG shares (or any shares), but this strikes me as missing the point. Google is not evil, nor is it going that way. Perhaps the fault lies with the conceptualistation of that motto in the first place, since it is very hard for corporations to be evil in the true sense of the word. Sure, companies can be evil to their employees by paying them low wages or ignoring OH&S, but with so many option-rich millionaires working at Google I don't think they are anywhere near that. Google is also not evil to other companies, since that word has very little meaning in the world of corporate cut and thrust. Is it inherently evil to make a profit? Is it inherently evil to buy someone out? No and no.

If Google is worthy of criticism, it is not on the issue of evil. It is on the other axis of alignment familiar to players and DMs of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons system: the law/chaos axis. On this axis, Google would undoubtedly not fall very far on either side of the good/bad axis, but would certainly be straining the upper limit of the law axis. Google is almost the apotheosis of lawful neutral. Its code of conduct does not deal with any issues of good versus evil, it is all about adherence to the law. Furthermore, Google's real corporate aim is to organise the world's information - how much more lawful can you get?

Consider this description of the fictional race of modrons from the Planescape expansion of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons:
Rumor has it that they are the keepers of their mechanical plane, the maintainers of the gears and the polishers of the cogs. Modrons keep the whole place running smoothly and cleanly—without them, Mechanus would surely break down. Though the majority of modrons live in Regulus (their own city in Mechanus), they can be encountered anywhere within the planes. No modron is ever without a task to carry out, though these tasks may be no more comprehensible to other creatures than the modrons themselves are. Just what are the goals of these creatures of ultimate order? Do they want to impose total law over the rest of the cosmos? Are they simply keepers of the machinery that drives the multiverse—the repair unit of infinity? Or are they devious players on the cosmic gameboard, trying to eliminate their competition? These questions may never be answered, and a host more may never be asked. No one but a modron truly understands a modron.

Google is not good or evil, it is merely lawful. It is no surprise that rowdy bands of chaotic good adventurers would chafe at the sight of such a radically different way of looking at the world, but if we didn't have Primus Eric Schmidt and his Google modrons looking after the gears and cogs of the Web, where would we be? Over with Steve Baatezu... I mean Ballmer.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heh - what a flashback. Good post. :-)

5:49 am, October 31, 2005  

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