Why is Google buying AI companies, professors and gurus?

1. The Singularity and the Internet.

In December 2012 Google hired Ray Kurzweil as the head of engineering of the company. Kurzweil is the guru of the Singularity, a vision that supports that in 2029 the artificial intelligence will overcome the human one. In the last semester of 2013 the company of Mountain View bought eight companies specialized in robotics. Boston Dynamics is the leader company in the sector and it is specialized in the building of robots humanoids. Finally co-founder Serge Brin announced on May 28, 2014 that the company has quietly designed and manufactured its own line of driverless vehicles and was preparing to start testing them later this year.

The common topic linking these facts is simply: it is called NAI, Networked Artificial Intelligence.  The Internet is transforming itself in a connected robot, an artificial intelligence machine or a network of them that learns. Until now we have lived in the era of information and communication technologies. From now on we are entering in the intelligent, learning and creative technologies. This is the next frontier of Internet. 

But now a visionary AI scientist is providing Google with a disruptive advantage:  Ray Kurzweil and his vision of our future: the Singularity. This is hypothesis about a coming period of the human history that is near, during which the pace of technological change will be so fast and far-reaching that human existence on this planet will be irreversibly altered. In Kurzweil own words: “We will combine our brain power—the knowledge, skills, and personality quirks that make us human—with our computer power in order to think, reason, communicate, and create in ways we can scarcely even contemplate today. This merger of man and machine, coupled with the sudden explosion in machine intelligence and rapid innovation in gene research and nanotechnology, will result in a world where there is no distinction between the biological and the mechanical, or between physical and virtual reality1.”

Although this perspective is in discussion, Kurzweil sustains his futuristic hypothesis in a solid background as computer scientist in Artificial Intelligence. He got in 1999 the National Medal of Technology by President Clinton. The interesting question is how Kurzweil is helping Google, the company leader in Internet, to make real such future.  In the 90s the computer became the network. In the first decades, maybe the network becomes an AI machine, a learning artifact that could answer our question even before we have time to fully formulate it. 

Can the advanced AI reinvent the Internet? But what will be Internet? A simple network of computers? But what will be a computer?  

2. The car is a robot. The street is Internet. 

We still think about computers based in the image of a PC, smartphone or a wearable device. But how about if the computer, and consequently the Internet, would be a robot, a network of robots, learning robots? 

That would explain the renewed interest of Google for buying more and more robotics companies. The most disruptive technology Google is offering us is the driverless car or the car-as-a-robot. In Europe, particularly in Germany where the car was invented, we are proud of our cars. We still think in the automobile as an industrial machine. We are now embedding computers that gradually are transforming the car in a more efficient machine.  The computer scientists in Europe are helping the industrial engineers in changing the automobile industry. But there is another way of thinking, a more disruptive one. 

How about if the car is not anymore a car but a robot with wheels? How about if the computer scientist designs the car with the help of the industrial engineer instead the other way around? How about if the routes, streets become more information networks than civil engineer’s constructions? 

The result is a kind of brand new auto-mobile, not an evolution of the old XIX century industrial machine but a new intelligent robot or family of robots for mobility in XXI century. But more important, the whole traffic and transportation system can change dramatically. 

Modern cities are not made by architects and urban planners as European think. The most determinant technology shaping the modern cities has been the car. The explosion engine car is now making unlivable the emerging cities of XX century with pollution, noise and accidents. But things can change. Disruptive solutions are needed urgently. The driverless car can be one of them. Sorry, I mean: the new generation of autonomous mobile intelligent robots. By the way, the German born Sebastian Thrun, head of the AI Laboratory in Stanford was at the same time the leader of the Google driverless car project2.

3. Google X, the private DARPA.

During years the strategic supremacy in high tech has been based in the American system of advanced federal agencies like DARPA and its “dual use technology” model. Economists like Mazzucatto are beginning to study it. See her book “The Entrepreneurial State”.  But this model is evolving. The new thing is that now private companies like Google are creating such advanced laboratories with private funds.  Google X is such laboratory, the nest where the driverless car has been designed. 

Not by chance, the father of Google X has been Sebastia Thrun, the computer scientist that won the DARPA Challenge in 2005, and then designed the Google driverless car. 

Please Sebastian, come back to Europe! Help us to spread the word! We don’t want the German automobile industry, and its factories in Catalonia, follow the same path of Nokia!

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