Google puts spies out of work

BOND? YOU’RE SACKED. The spying industry worldwide has been hit by a massive crisis: Google.

Entire divisions of secret service operatives have been made redundant by the super slick search engine, I heard from reader Aber L, who works in security.

"Intelligence departments with massive budgets can now be replaced by any random kid with a talent for Googling," said Aber.

He forwarded me an astonishing speech given this month by former UK spy boss Sir David Pepper.

Because of Google, spies are struggling to make sure they don't produce intelligence which is "not secret at all," Pepper admitted.

Typical agent mission before:

"Get a fake passport, don a disguise, fly to Iran, hack into aircraft or satellite network, and get aerial pictures of nuclear facilities."

Typical agent mission now:

"Click Google Maps. Type Iran. Zoom. Print. Go for early lunch."

Google has "raised the bar" for spies, another UK spy chief, Sir David Omand, recently told the UK Daily Telegraph. (How come both spy chiefs are called Sir David? Is it in the job description? "Applicants must be called Sir David." If I change my name to Sir David, can I be the UK spy chief?)

Google is amazing. Last week, on a speaking trip, I found myself hopelessly lost in an unfamiliar city. I called up Google Maps on my phone, but without much confidence.

google map cursor

But as soon as I typed in the name of the hotel I was looking for, Google detected where I was and drew a map from my square of pavement to the hotel door. Then it drew me as a blob (hey, Google, I’m not that fat) floating on the map. As I walked, the blob moved along the map on the tiny screen in my hand.

Then, 11 minutes later, the route turned left into what looked like a dead end. What to do? I heard Alec Guinness’s voice say: “Feel the force, Luke.” I replied: “My name’s not Luke.” But I got the message and complied. Your humble narrator walked straight towards the end of the cul-de-sac. Lo and behold, a tiny lane became visible to one side: Google had led me to a neat shortcut to my hotel.

I was raving about this to a techie friend named Des, who showed me four examples of screw-ups by Google's impressive computer brain.

1) Someone used Google Translate to translate "Lady Gaga" from Malay to English.

The Google computer said: "Britney Spears."

2) Someone searched for "French military victories."

The computer responded: "Do you mean `French military defeats'?"

3) Someone searched for the phrase "she invented."

The computer responded: "Do you mean `he invented'?"

4) Someone searched for "anagram." The computer responded: "Did you mean `nag a ram'?"

But are these really screw-ups? Maybe not. I think the Google computer is just toying with us. I don't mind, as long as it remembers to call me Sir David from now on.