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The Power and Peril of Search Engines

March 14, 2018
Alan Emtage

The developer behind the world’s first online search engine sees his creation’s descendants as the Internet’s biggest strength and weakness. 

While pursuing a post-graduate degree at McGill University in Montreal, Alan Emtage launched Archie in 1990. Derived from “archive,” the site was basically a database of web file names that could be matched with a user’s query. In an interview from 2017, Emtage shared his thoughts on the future of the Internet.

As searching capabilities have evolved from that initial database, the Internet has frequently become a way for individuals to seek out connections that otherwise would not have been made.

“People with very specific needs or interests can now find each other in the world in a way that they couldn’t before,” Emtage said. “If you’re a teenager in Hong Kong and you have a particular interest in one star in the galaxy that you find fascinating, you can find other people who share that fascination with that one star. There may only be 20 of you across the seven billion people across the face of the Earth, but it allows you to build that community. 

“Those communities are not always for good. It’s not just the hackers, it’s the trolls too. It can be the sociopaths who enjoy hurting other people and that’s not a good thing.”

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