This Is Google's Vision of the Future

The Atlantic
This Is Google's Vision of the Future
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This Is Google's Vision of the Future

Google CEO Eric Schmidt told the world his vision of the Google-ified future at the company's Zeitgeist sales conference. Turns out it involves a lot of creepy products we already know about and others we aren't ready to welcome into our lives. Here's a day in the life, from The New York Times's Claire Cain Miller, paraphrasing Schimdt: 

His bed will wake him up when he cycles out of R.E.M. sleep. A driverless car will take him to work. Returning phone calls, scheduling events and other routine tasks will be taken care of by devices using artificial intelligence. A micro-robot he swallows will monitor his insides and alert his doctor if something is wrong. At night, a robot will go to parties in his place.

Some of those things might sound familiar, as they can be done by Google's most recent future-now innovations: Google Glass, Google's driverless cars, and Google Now, the company's personal assistant. Glass and Now can schedule events and return phone calls using artificial intelligence, while the driverless car does the driving. Some of the stuff, like your robot replacement, to our delight, does not yet exist—parties are things we hope we want to do in human form forever. (If you had a robot double, would you really stay at work while it went out partying?) While it's all very ambitious, it also sounds like something out of a Philip K. Dick novel. Which, is "cool" to read about, but not a society I'd want to live in. Don't all those people use technology to numb their brains from the "dust," or whatever metaphor for destruction and despair you prefer? Is that what we're gunning for?

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Google thinks so, but we're not sure humanity agrees. Google Glass, what Miller calls the "first step" in the journey to the future, for example, even has tech nerds skeptical. The reviewers gave them a cautious "has potential." And when the fashion world tried to accept them into their couture world, all the models looked like beautiful cyborgs. Pretty, but... weird. We've seen similar hesitance with respect to the driverless cars and Now, too. Google recently called the cars their greatest innovation, yet people are still scared of having a robot get behind the wheel. For Now to work properly, it has to know a lot of personal information about the user, which we find invasive, to say the least. 

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Even if it weirds us out, perhaps creepy is the only way to go when trying to invent the future in the tech world these days. The rest of the stuff coming out of Silicon Valley is a play on the same social networking thing that does some geolocating and works on a smart phone. Those are certainly not the future, as that bubble has fizzled. It's refreshing that Google has a vision for the decades to come that involves actual inventions, even if they turn our entire lives into a conversation with a computer. 

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But, this is also about Google wanting to seem like a company that will dominate the future. Schmidt and Google co-founder Sergey Brin have been talking up these niche projects at press heavy events—like the Diane Von Furstenberg fashion show—to look like the tech hub that will build the next 50 years. Unlike Facebook, Google is not a fad. Rather, it is the type of company that provides zero gravity flights to its conference attendees because the future is now and Google is on it. 

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