In a talk titled "Beyond Today", Google's CEO Larry Page infused Zeitgeist 2012 attendees with a healthy dose of optimism and a call to make ambitious bets, be better organized and work harder to accelerate technology and improve people's lives. Donning a Google Glass prototype, he began his talk casually demoing the tech by saying, "If you guys are going to take my picture, I'll take your picture too." Then with a voice command and the tap on the side of the frame, he shared it with everyone at Google. That simple action captured the flavor of his two-part talk, which highlighted Google's current efforts and cast a vision for where Google is headed next, guided by a slogan he borrowed from a University of Michigan summer leadership course: "Have a healthy disregard for the impossible."
We've been painting a picture of a bright technological future here at Singularity Hub, and now Larry Page is here to bolster our argument.
Dropping a handful of mantra-like sayings, such as "Our job is to make the world better," Larry explained that since his return to the position of CEO about a year ago, he has helped sharpen what Google should be doing by focusing on important things that would make a difference. Under his direction, Google has been becoming more streamlined by letting go of about 30 projects and picking out about four areas of focus: Google+, search, mobile, and integration across services.
You can watch the whole presentation below:
Describing Google+ as the "social spine of Google", Larry said, "We think that it's important that when you are using Google, you be able to easily share things." He explained that he could share the photo he took with Google Glass easily because he used the circle for the company he set up in Google+. "Everything in Google gets better by being able to share and have identity." As a social network, Google+ now has 170 million users and has grown "much faster" than any other social network ever has.
Illustrating a key improvement to search - personalized search results - he mentioned how much easier it is now to find his co-worker "Ben Smith" in his search results now that Google recognizes Ben as a person and not a string of characters. "If you used Google [search] from five year ago, you'd be astounded at how bad it was. Search has gotten a lot better. You don't always see it, because we change it every day and try not to distract you too much with changes." He then went on to talk about his excitement for the latest search upgrade, Knowledge Panels, which are generated from Knowledge Graph and aim to synthesize knowledge. "What we're really trying to do its get to the point where we can represent knowledge and do much more complicated types of queries, like 'What are the 20 deepest lakes?' or 'What are the highest market cap companies?'"
Painting a picture of how far Android has come, Larry pointed out that Android is "really on fire now" and gave insight into how transformative mobile technology is: "It's exciting to see that everyone in the world is going to get a smartphone now. For most people probably in the world, it's going to be their first computer. It's not a question of if now, it's a question of when."
He also said Google is focused on making an "amazing, beautiful, seamless experience" across its applications, citing how Chrome instantaneously syncs between mobile and desktop as well as how Google Play removes the need for downloading apps or files to each device if you want to play games or watch movies.
Having started his talk by casting a bird's eye view of all the change that technology is bringing, he said, "It's easy to think about technology as being relatively static...but that's not really what's happening. I think the pace of change is really accelerating." In the second half, he returned to this future-focused viewpoint, giving insight into how Google decides what to focus on by using what he called the Toothbrush Test: "Do you use it as often as you use a toothbrush?"
Pointing to the $1.4 billion purchase of YouTube, he said it was a big bet but Google knew it was a popular service and fortunately, YouTube has been doubling revenue for the last four years. He also mentioned having the courage to fail, citing how AdSense was the result of a failed experiment to understand the web. He encouraged the listeners to be prepared to try new, crazy ideas, saying, "It's often easier to make progress when you're really ambitious. The reason is you actually don't have any competition because no one is willing to try those things. You also get all the best people." He used the Google self-driving car as an example of a crazy project that has enormous potential to change. Finally, he said, "Anything you can imagine is probably doable. You just have to imagine and work on it." He pointed to Google Translate, which developers initially said couldn't measure up to a human translator, but now, 64 languages can be translated into one another instantly and for free.
Altogether, Larry's 20-minute talk presents some insights into the Google worldview, both in terms of where the company invests its energy and how it is shaping the future. But his real message extended beyond Google's accomplishments and aimed squarely at encouraging people to make bold dreams that take advantage of the amazing opportunities modern technology provides and is capable of. The moments in his talk when his excitement came through earmarked an insider's vision of a rapidly approaching reality that will be amazing.
Who knew Larry was a Singularitarian?