Documenting the Coming Singularity

Thursday, January 03, 2013

See the Future Through the Eyes of Google's Larry Page

CNN Money - 1.3.13 by Miguel Helft

Page and cofounder Sergey Brin set out to build a company that made long-term bets on audacious ideas. Many quickly became essential products. And it was Page who was known for championing the craziest ones, like photographing every inch of every street to create a digital replica of the real world, scanning every book ever printed to assemble the world's largest library, and building a machine that could translate between any two languages (4,200 pairs of languages to date).
FORTUNE -- When Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP Group, the giant advertising agency, visited Google this past fall, CEO Larry Page sent a car to pick him up at the Rosewood Hotel about 20 miles away. Only this was no ordinary car. The Lexus SUV drove itself thanks to a slew of high-tech tools, including radars, sensors, and a laser scanner that takes more than 1.5 million measurements every second. For about 20 minutes, while navigating I-280 and the area's busy State Route 85, the car cruised on autopilot, making quick course corrections, slowing down here when traffic loomed ahead, speeding up there to get out of the blind spot of a neighboring vehicle. "It was pretty incredible," says Sorrell.

Page's chauffeurless car service is no mere parlor trick. It is, as Page will tell anyone who'll listen, the future of transportation. Never mind that most people think the mere idea of computer-driven cars is (1) preposterous, (2) dangerous, or (3) not much fun. Page makes the case for self-driving cars with the dispassionate logic of an engineer. The father of two young children, Page insists that his pet project, when ready, will actually enhance safety. Soon Google (GOOG) will be able to simulate your driving, "but just make sure you don't die and kill anybody else," he tells me during an interview in the private "bullpen" where he meets with his top lieutenants. He methodically enumerates the other advantages of driverless cars. There are energy savings (traffic would flow more efficiently) and productivity gains (commuting hours reclaimed). There will be cost savings too -- in the millions of dollars at Google alone. The Googleplex, he says, is short on parking, and quotes for new garages have come in at $40,000 per car. Why not let the car drop you off and go park itself offsite? Page asks. "Whenever you need it," he adds, "your phone notices that you're walking out of the building, and your car is there immediately by the time you get downstairs."

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