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Re: <nettime> tensions within the bay area elites
Florian Cramer on Tue, 13 May 2014 04:41:56 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> tensions within the bay area elites


On Mon, May 12, 2014 at 5:36 PM, Hans de Zwart <hans.dezwart {AT} bof.nl> wrote:

> Just look at the graph displaying Google's DC lobbying investment and
> you will instantly realise that Google is not the same Google that it
> was a decade ago.

To chime in here: If Facebook qualifies as "scary", then Google does even
more so. Lately, the company has been aggressively ventured into
military-industrial territory with its recent investments into robotics,
artificial intelligence, augmented reality and drone technology.

On top of that, or rather: in sync with it, its top management believes in
technological "Singularity" (about which Wikipedia remarks that the
"flashback character in Ken MacLeod's 1998 novel The Cassini Division
dismissively refers to the singularity as 'the Rapture for nerds'). Ray
Kurzweil, chief "Singularity" evangelist, has been working as Google's
director of engineering since 2012. Google is co-founder and main sponsor
of his "Singularity University" (
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/13/business/13sing.html?pagewanted=all :
"For those who haven't noticed, the Valley's most-celebrated company -
Google - works daily on building a giant brain that harnesses the thinking
power of humans in order to surpass the thinking power of humans. Larry
Page, Google's other co-founder, helped set up Singularity University in
2008, and the company has supported it with more than $250,000 in
donations. Some of Google's earliest employees are, thanks to personal
donations of $100,000 each, among the university's 'founding circle.'").

Google's most recent projects straightforwardly follow the "Singularity"
script. Most of them are bundled under "Google [x]", "a semi-secret
facility run by Google dedicated to making major technological
advancements" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_X). Examples:

- Through quick and aggressive company acquisitions, Google has become one
of the main players in contemporary robotics. The company has put Andy
Rubin, architect and former chief developer of the Android operating
system, in charge of its robotics program. Its most recent and most
spectacular acquisition has been Boston Dynamics, a company at the cutting
edge of military robotics and notorious for products like this one:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNZPRsrwumQ
(The Guardian has more information on that acquisition:
http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/dec/17/google-boston-dynamics-robots-atlas-bigdog-cheetah)

- Linked to its robotics research is Google's project to develop driverless
cars. The company is beyond the prototyping stage and currently runs
test-drives of autonomous cars throughout the U.S.. (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_driverless_car)

- Google has also begun to invest into drone technology and bought up the
drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace:
http://money.cnn.com/2014/04/14/technology/innovation/google-titan-drone/ .
Google strongly competes with Facebook in this area.

- Google's acquisition of 'smart meter' company Nest (
http://www.theclimategroup.org/what-we-do/news-and-blogs/google-buys-smart-meter-start-up-nest/)
and development of a "Google Contact Lens" equipped with wireless chips (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Contact_Lens) are further indications
that the company is leaving behind its search engine roots.

On the likely upside: All this sounds as if the company, with the billions
it can burn on experimental projects and its attempt to find new areas of
business, is going through some retro- or neo-1990s cyber phase. It's quite
possible that these efforts will eventually fall flat on their face. Public
resistance against Google Glass, even in a tech-friendly country like the
U.S., and the protest actions against Google employees in San Francisco
seem to indicate changing times.

-F


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