• Ray

How Google will Own the World


Google is about to take over, and not in the way that you might think. It’s not about the web’s most popular search engine, or an advertising behemoth, or hundreds of exaflops of raw computing power. Those things alone won’t let Google grasp the Earth in its silicon hands… and then deliver it to us.


Instead, it comes from something that might be mistaken for a futuristic fashion statement: high-tech sunglasses. More specifically: “Google Glasses,” due out later this year.

The clandestine GoogleX labs are building futuristic shades that will give us augmented reality so we can see information layered over the real world in our daily lives. For example, if you’re house hunting, perhaps you’d be able to drive down the street and see information about availability, pricing, and home layout projected in front of every home. Along with walking distance to the closest Cinnabon (if that's your thing).

The Google Glasses accomplish this with these purported specs:

  • Heads-up display on one or both lenses for augmented reality view

  • 960 x 540 resolution

  • Voice input/output

  • Camera that tracks hand/arm gestures for input

  • Wireless connection to relay visuals to Google’s cloud for processing (take note of this line, it’s the important one)

This would, of course, turn everyone into a terminator, and next time you found yourself wandering naked into a biker bar with your Google Glasses (happens all the time, except with beer goggles), you’d be able to size up every patron to find the one whose wardrobe would make the most sense to steal.

In other words, augmented reality will be freaking awesome. But this post isn’t even really about AR…

So Here’s Where Things Get Interesting

If you haven’t noticed, Google likes to digitize things. Whole things. Entire sets of things. Like maps. And books. And the moon. And, of course… the Earth.

The Earth.

Google Earth combines satellite imagery, aerial photography, crowdsourced building models, snapshots from car-mounted cameras, and more into a crude representation of our Earth, its topology, and buildings. But it’s been around for over 10 years. Google Earth is old technology. (BTW, it was originally created by a CIA-funded company that Google purchased.)

So if you want to check out San Francisco, Google Earth can give you a fun 3D view like this:



But zooming in, the limits of the current representation become apparent as cars are squished into the street and fine details get lost:



And if you’re not looking at a city, you lose all height information. Your view becomes a blurry photo-pancake:



Now, here’s where the glasses enter the equation. A New York Times article on the Google Glasses says, Through the built-in camera on the glasses, Google will be able to stream images to its rack computers and return augmented reality information to the person wearing them.

Imagine hundreds of millions of people walking around every day, streaming images back to Google of everything they’re looking at – with built in location data. All across the world. Constantly.

At first, only a trickle of early adopters will be wearing the glasses. But eventually these gadgets will be so pervasive that they’ll probably replace sunglasses and reading glasses, and the video and streaming capabilities will be superb.

The ramifications are so incredible it’s hard to even take it seriously.

Wearing a camera is nothing new. But when you have hundreds of millions of people wearing them and feeding all that data to a central location, paradigm shifts abound.

Google will be able to construct a high-resolution model of the world, down to the coin you stared at but didn’t pick off your lawn this morning because your Labrador ate your change purse only last week. And Google will be able to not just model the outsides of buildings in spit-stain detail, but the insides as well. Anything that someone can look at in the real world could be integrated into the model. And it would be updated in real time.

I call it: “The Mirror Earth.”

Google will own it all. They will own this world and everything amazing it will give us. As the quote from Sneakers goes: What we see and hear, how we work, what we think… it’s all about the information!

If you wanted a 3D model of your house, you could toss on the glasses and walk around, looking at everything until your view had painted it all onto a virtual canvas. Perhaps share it on Facebook. (And submit that to the homeowner’s insurance company instead of listing out all your belongings until you have carpel tunnel.) It’s like Photosynth just took steroids and rode a tornado over the rainbow.

And of course this will be gamified. Wearers will be directed to uncharted territory to capture views of it for community prestige. Extra points if you’re going on safari or somewhere with sparse traffic.

OK. Now pair this with augmented reality. This is when the line begins to blur between humanity and computers, and it will usher in a new technological revolution.

Want to see what’s around the corner without walking around the building? Use AR. Use the Mirror Earth.Look through the building. Google and your glasses know what’s on the other side. And so can you. Or perhaps it’s a public building – an Art Museum – and you want to take a peek inside. Tune your view to 20 feet through the entrance. Instant x-ray vision. If someone has seen it, then Google has seen it – which means you can see it too.

And while you’re checking out the art, your glasses alert you that there are 3 people currently inside with public streams. You switch to one of their views and see what’s actually happening right now. You can see there isn’t much of a crowd. But the guy who’s glasses you’re hitchhiking on seems more interested in the brunette standing next to him than the one in Hammershoi’s paintings. But you like Hammershoi, so you head inside.

I have a lot more to say about this, but I’ll save it for another post. Instead, I’ll just tell you the phrase that’s going through my head:

Buckle up. Shit is about to get real.

Or virtual, rather. Entirely, massively virtual.

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PS – If this kind of technology interests you, you need to read Daniel Suarez’s Daemon and Freedom novels. These novels ask the questions, “What if an incredible technology existed today? What if we had AR right now, and a distributed intelligence to guide us through it?”

Suarez plays with this idea in very much the same way my Day Eight series of novels ask the questions, “What if the Technological Singularity were to occur today? How could that happen, and what would be the result?”