What makes the Google boys so distinctive is not that they did update their assumptions about what machines can and cannot do (because many people in the field were aware of what was becoming possible), but that they possessed the limitless resources needed to explore and harness those new possibilities. Hence the self-driving car, the massive open online courses, the Google books project, the free gigabit connectivity project, the X labs and so on.
These are just for starters. A few months ago, an astute technology commentator, Jason Calcanis, set out what he saw as Google’s to-do list. Here is what he came up with: free gigabit Internet access for everyone for life; mastering Big Data, machine learning and quantum computing; dominating wearable — and implantable — computing; becoming a huge venture capitalist and developing new kinds of currency (a la Bitcoin); becoming the world’s biggest media company; revolutionizing healthcare and technologies for life extension; alternative energy technologies; and transforming transportation.
If any other company had a to-do list such as this we would have its executives sectioned under a Mental Health Act. And it is possible, I suppose, that the Google founders are indeed nuts. However, I would not bet on it, which is why we ought to be concerned. Because if even a fraction of the company’s ambitions eventually come to fruition, Google will become one of the most powerful corporations on Earth.
And we know what Lord Acton would have said about that.