Daniel Lyons is a freelance journalist and a writer for the HBO comedy “Silicon Valley.”
Google is the biggest and best-known Internet company in the world, a colossus with revenue expected to top $65 billion in 2015. It makes headlines seemingly every week — including last week’s unflattering publication of the government’s 2012 investigation into possible antitrust practices. But despite being so familiar, Google is often misunderstood. Here are five common myths.
1. Google is a search company.
Search is Google’s primary product. Its search engine is so widely used that “Google” has become a dictionary-approved verb, and the company makes virtually all of its money by selling ads connected to search.
But Google’s ventures into self-driving cars and balloons that deliver Internet connectivity from the stratosphere show that it’s not just a search company. Its long-term plan is to become an artificial-intelligence company.
Google has built a research group around AI and machine learning, and it even hired renowned AI guru Ray Kurzweil, who believes that by 2045 humans will merge with computers in what’s known as “the Singularity.” Google’s recent acquisitions speak to its intentions: British company DeepMind, one of the most advanced AI development shops in the world, plus eight of the world’s best robotics companies. Nobody knows what Google will do with all these robots and AI software, but its ambitions certainly go well beyond self-driving cars.
This work takes place inside Google X, the company’s top-secret research lab. A few hundred people work there, a tiny but potent slice of Google’s workforce of 53,600. Google isn’t alone in the quest to develop AI (Facebook also has an AI research team), but it’s one of the few organizations with the brainpower and financial resources to make true artificial intelligence a reality. Plus, AI is in its blood: Google co-founder and chief executive Larry Page is the son of renowned AI pioneer Carl Page, and he’s personally funding a research project to reverse-engineer the brain of a worm. “Every time I talk about Google’s future with Larry Page, he argues that it will become an artificial-intelligence” company, tech venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson has said .