Quaero Forum: A public think tank on the politics of the search engine

The Jan van Eyck Academie in beautiful Maastricht, Netherlands is hosting a forum on the French information technology project Quaero, its political agenda, and the new frontiers that appear if its initial questions are to be taken seriously.

For the unacquainted, Quaero — “I search” in Latin — is a French, state-sponsored effort to boost technological research and development, as then-President Jacques Chirac put it. It clearly is also an attempt to counteract the American dominance of Internet access and search technologies, as well as a direct challenge to Google’s efforts to digitize the world’s libraries so as to — according to the French — monopolize the access to information and cultural heritage.

This forum will address this political side of Quaero — Web search engines in general — head on. It aims to “take the political side of the Quaero assignment seriously” and “rethink the politics of search engines.” Some of the issues to be addressed are:

  • What role can the digitization of European cultural heritage play in establishing a European identity?
  • How can a digital European cultural heritage/domain reflect the changing borders of Europe, and the national identities of the different countries that were, still are, or are no longer part of Europe?
  • What kind of hierarchy (if at all) should be implemented when deciding on the content of database – what is included, what is left out? Who has the authority of decision?
  • Will contemporary web practices be allowed to tackle the conventional static models used to archive and present culture to the public?
  • Collaborative and participatory techniques are effectively placing the Demos as the force that structures information. How can we work towards new categorization techniques that go beyond the democratic model and allow plural interpretations of data to coexist and enrich each other?
  • To what extent have search engines such as Google, that started off from the ideal to provide access to information, become the modus operandi of political bias? Is the double role of indispensable tool for public information combined with relentless private interest, problematic in the long run? Can we envisage new roles for the search engine as public domain?
  • What are the politics of the structure and image of search engines and their technologies? Does the nation state (France, for instance) still have a role to play in this context?

I look forward to participating in these stimulating — and vital — discussions.

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