Google's extending its grip on the digital world in a wholly new and surprising way: It's just brokered a deal with Iraq's authorities to digitize historic artifacts and documents in the country's museums. It's a philanthropic move, don't you know.
Google's CEO Eric Schmidt has been touring the country, and just made the announcement of Google's archiving plans. The whole idea is to both preserve and publicize the information--Schmidt notes that Google's mission is to "make information available to everyone" and that particularly the texts and objects in the Arab world are often neither well understood nor "broadly available". In Iraq's case, of course, access to many of the country's historic objects (from many important periods through Roman rule and stretching back to include the Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations) was difficult during the Hussein dictatorship years, and the subsequent modern wars led to outright plunder.
Google's plan is to scan and electronically catalog texts and artifacts at the Iraq National Museum, More than 14,000 images have already been taken, plus what Schmidt noted as "a few surprises" will be accessible across the world early next year. And it looks like it's just the start of a big scheme--Google will almost certainly add more Iraqi projects to its workload after this one.
Before you start scratching your heads, wondering what Google's precise interests in all this historic data is, you should know Google's bearing most of the costs of this enterprise itself (with some help from the U.S. State Department). That's the philanthropic bit, and it's an action that will help preserve information about the objects into the future. But because it'll be useful to academics and history buffs the world over, the database will also earn Google hard cash--via its standard online advertising channels. If the scheme's seen as a success, Google will almost certainly try to partner with other museums around the globe.