The future of Google
Most people know Google as the search engine company with a bunch of side projects. In the next 20 years that will all change. Let’s take a step back and look at what Google actually does. They are a company that organizes the world’s information. With Google Search, they were able to index all the available online information and make it accessible. The next and much harder task is to organize the physical world.
Google Maps is their attempt to do just that. In The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal explained how Google is deploying a huge force of people to improve their maps. The maps from governments, satellite shots, and street-view images are all stitched together by hand to create a searchable database of our world. You should read his full article to get an idea of how massive and hard the Google Maps operation is. It’s crazy to see just how much manual work has to be done.
While Alexis hinted at the implications of indexing the physical world, he didn’t fully explore the possibilities. That’s what I’m here for. Alexis quoted novelist Robin Sloan, who said, “In 50 years, Google will be the self-driving car company (powered by this deep map of the world).” But that’s only part of the story.
Google’s self-driving cars are already touring the US. As of August 2012, the cars have driven over 300,000 miles accident-free. In the near future, many people will abandon their current cars for self-driving ones. They’ll likely only be within reach of the wealthy at first, and of course enthusiasts will still prefer to drive their own cars, but the adoption rate will be close to the S curve.
Having a database of the physical world (Google Maps) will make the self-driving cars that much more powerful. Imagine getting in your car and saying “take me to McDonald’s” or “take me to work.” It will even be possible to get in your car on a weekday morning and have it automatically take you to work. This why Google is currently testing Google Now. If you have a flight, the car will know to take you to the airport. If you have a meeting, the car will whisk you there.
It’s even crazier to think that soon Google will convert their Street View cars into driverless cars. That means that Google will have self-driving cars around the country that are constantly improving the company’s database. Skynet is happening.
Google Glass will also take advantage of Google Maps’ massive database. If you haven’t heard, Google Glass is what the search giant calls its forthcoming smart glasses, which deliver augmented reality to users. When walking around, say, a city, Google Glass devices will use images from the on-board camera as well as GPS and compass data to tell users what restaurants they’re looking at along with the restaurants’ reviews, hours, and menus. Of course, that’s just a single example of what Google Glass will be capable of, and I encourage you to watch this video to get a better idea of what Google’s plan is.
When Google Fiber was announced, everyone got super excited, and then stepped back and asked why. Why would Google pump so much money into the project when they don’t stand to turn a profit on it? people wondered. Journalists have jumped to the easy conclusion that Google did it to make Comcast, Time Warner, and AT&T look bad. And others have speculated that Google is curious to see what people do with super-fast Internet. I think there’s more to it. To get Google Fiber in your neighborhood, you have to sign up in groups. If a certain undisclosed percentage of your neighborhood signs up, you will be one of the first neighborhoods to get Google Fiber. It creates a competition to build excitement, but again, I think there’s more to it. All of the Google Fiber set-top boxes, modems, and routers are Wi-Fi hotspots, so every house that gets it will have several Wi-Fi access points. Since the homes with Google Fiber will be clustered in neighborhoods, you end up with areas of the city that are blanketed with Wi-Fi from Google Fiber. Over time this will expand to the whole city, to other cities around the country, and eventually to the whole country. This is the Wi-Fi cell-phone network that Steve Jobs dreamed about.
Google Maps will be the base layer. Google Fiber will be the communication protocol. Project Glass will be how you interface with the world while walking around. Google’s driverless cars will be there to take you anywhere either automatically or by natural-language input.
The next 20 years are going to be just as exciting as the past 20. People who say technological progress is slowing down are not thinking hard enough. I think Apple knows all of this, and it scares them to death. I just hope Google keeps Gmail around.