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Google — It Ain’t Just Search

Google Glass, Innovation@50+ Hear Me See Me Google (Courtesy Google)

Google Glass, a device that you wear like an eyeglass frame with a relatively unobtrusive camera. — Courtesy Google

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Google is working on two projects, one of which is about to make its debut, while the other is years away.

Google’s next big project is Google Glass. It’s a device that you wear like an eyeglass frame with a relatively unobtrusive camera and heads up display attached.

The first units have already gone out to developers to see what they can do with this gadget. And based on what I’ve seen, all of the hype still underplays its capabilities. Google Glass could be among those technological achievements that rank with the Internet, smartphones, personal computers, the ATM and the microwave oven.

It will enable us to share the world as we see it in real time with whomever we wish. It will enable us to be somewhere, look at it and immediately have information about what we’re looking at displayed in front of an eye. You’ll be able to take pictures or record video just by asking. You’ll be able to get directions and information just by asking. The potential for how this could change the way we interact with the world and the people around us is virtually unlimited.

Google Lexus self-driving car, Innovation@50+ Hear Me See Me Google (Courtesy Google)

"With 79 million boomers on the road to worsening eyesight and slower reaction times, a self-driving car could be a real game changer." — Courtesy Google

And finally, a look to the past as predictor of the future.

At the 1939 World’s Fair, in New York’s Flushing Meadows Park, the most popular exhibit was Futurama, built by General Motors. It envisioned the world of 1960. While it accurately predicted the development of the Interstate highway system, it was wrong in figuring that we’d all be driving radio-controlled cars that would keep us safe from the drivers around us.

Now, Google is out to make that prediction come true in the form of a self-driving car. With 79 million boomers on the road with worsening eyesight and slower reaction times, a self-driving car could be a real game changer.

Google says, "Our main goal with self-driving cars is to transform mobility — to improve people’s lives by making driving safer, more enjoyable and more efficient. Over 1.2 million people are killed in traffic accidents worldwide every year, and we think self-driving technology can help significantly reduce that number."

So why then does Google, fundamentally an information company, feel it’s appropriate to step into the field? The company’s response: "At heart, driving is an information problem. We’ve been teaching our self-driving cars to intelligently deal with all the signals and information that we normally process every day. We've successfully driven over half a million miles in self-driving mode across a wide variety of terrain and road conditions .... Self-driving cars never get sleepy or distracted, and their ability to make driving decisions 20 times per second helps them run smartly. Already there are indications that a self-driving car can operate more safely than an average driver."

Google acknowledges it still hasn’t figured out exactly how this new technology is going to be implemented. That’s still down the road.

Information, Please

Google began life as a search engine. And Sieberg says, "Search is still the front door to your information world." And Google is still by far the most popular search engine.

That gives it enormous power over how information is filtered and presented to us. How often do you do a Google search and see that there are hundreds of thousands of results? But the chances are you’re only going to look at the first page or two of those results. How do you know that the best answer to your question might be on page 243 of the results? You don’t.

With the exception of its hardware products, like the Chromebook or the Nexus phones and tablets, most of what Google provides is free to the average consumer. But because Google controls the way information is filtered and presented, we’re still paying a price.

In the long run, we can expect that Google (or some yet-to-exist competitor) may come up with a way of giving us results based on the context of our own experiences. So when you do that search, your computer, or your personal cloud, will know every search you’ve done before, every hotel you’ve stayed at, every flight you’ve taken, every address you’ve been routed to, every book or gadget you bought online. Will that get you more relevant search results? Perhaps. But that too could come at a price — your privacy and anonymity in the digital world.

Unlike Apple, Microsoft, IBM and almost every other technology company, Google has joined the ranks of brands that have entered the contemporary lexicon as verbs. Dictionary.com offers this definition of google: "to search the Internet for information about (a person, topic, etc.): We googled the new applicant to check her background."

That verb alone is emblematic of the power and influence that Google continues to gain in the information age. We might only hope that Google will keep making life easier for us even as the torrent of information becomes ever more complex.

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Video Extra

DOES TECHNOLOGY DEHUMANIZE US? People are not substituting technology for "real" life, says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. If you're social and successful in the analog world, that can carry over to the digital realm, and vice versa.

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