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Is there a greater force against ignorance than Google? The search giant’s knowledge-bearing tentacles extend to every cranny of the globe, empowering its billion-plus users with information of all varieties—and in 159 languages. Processing over 100 billion queries a month, Google has so profoundly changed our world that it’s hard to remember life before it. But Google is not just a tool for curious minds; it’s a springboard for academic collaboration: Google Scholar has leveled ivory towers and become a spiritual guide for open science. Catriona MacCallum, senior advocacy manager at open-access pioneer PLOS, says the “discoverability” it provides researchers is invaluable. Then there’s Google Translate, decoding 1 billion linguistic mysteries per day, which is closing cultural gaps in communication in stunning real time. With 25 million books scanned already, Google Books is fast becoming our most comprehensive archive of the written word. Meanwhile, Google Earth, a satellite-based mapping tool, is helping scientists track climate change as never before. “It makes it very simple to get our data out there,” says Jane Beitler of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, which posts time-lapse images of declining sea ice. “Whether you’re a scientist who wants to know how this affects polar bears or a citizen who wants the straight-up information on climate change, Google Earth provides that. A picture, after all, is worth a thousand words.”

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