Scenario 1 (Circa 2025): Google Is The Media
Google TV, Google Mobile and the rise of e-paper create the perfect storm.
Some say it began with the launch of Google News, the company's first media aggregation site, in 2002. Others point to Google Book Search, completed in 2007 despite cries of foul play from the publishing industry. But those were just trial runs. Google took its first real step toward media dominance in 2008, when it bought an obscure cable network for $3 billion and transformed it into Google TV. The library of video content the company had been archiving for years was now searchable via remote control. Viewers could choose any show they wanted from the history of TV; all they had to do in return was sit through just one commercial before each show, and then vote with their remotes on how relevant they found the ad.
Since viewers had to enter their Google IDs--the same ones they used for Gmail and other premium services--the company had already compiled a rich history of their searching and surfing habits. If you spent a lot of time looking at cars on eBay, for example, you'd be shown automotive ads the next time you watched Google TV. Between 70 and 80 percent of the revenue from each ad went to the content provider, just as it had on the Web.
Scenario 2 (Circa 2015): Google is the Internet
Free wi-fi, a faster version of the Web, the Gbrowser, and the cube transform the technology landscape and our language.
It's been a long time since "Google" referred solely to a company in Silicon Valley. Its lawyers were battling use of the verb "to google" as early as 2003. But during the past decade, especially among the generation born after the millennium, the word has become interchangeable with "Internet," "computer," and "phone call." As in "Did you see that movie on google?," "Mind if I borrow your google?," and "Give me a google later in the week." This is no mere linguistic sloth. For most daily purposes, Google has become the technology platform, the communications network, and the Internet itself.
The ubiquitous GoogleNet, which blankets every major urban center in the world with free wireless access, cell-phone service, and targeted local advertising (starting with the successful San Francisco experiment of 2007), is only the most visible tip of the iceberg. Since the early 2000s, Google was buying up thousands of miles of previously unused fiber-optic cables--so-called dark fiber. Then it began building myriad server farms, sending out billions of crawlers (automated programs that constantly browse the Web), and storing a fresh cache of all searchable information on the Web regularly--first every week, then every day, now every minute.
Scenario 3 (Circa 2020): Google is Dead
The once-mighty search engine falls prey to privacy intrusion, optimizers and Microsoft.
It was 15 years ago, when Google was in its ascendancy, that the seeds of its decline were sown. Not only did the company's 2005 deal with AOL introduce unpopular graphics-heavy banner ads onto what had formerly been a spartan search site, but that was the year that search engine optimizers, or SEOs, became a nuisance. Optimizers could, for a fee, tweak how important your website appeared to Google's PageRank engine by, say, hijacking the homepage of a major university and adding a link to your site.
Despite a titanic struggle between Google's top technologists and the SEOs, within years many of the popular search results were clogged with irrelevant (and barely literate) commercial and porn sites. Meanwhile, virtually no one attempted to optimize results on Microsoft's MSN search, which had room to improve far beneath the SEOs' radar.
When the quality of search slipped, so did Google's advertising business. The market for online ads turned out to be far softer than anyone--except Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer--had predicted. Ballmer's smartest move, in 2008, was to buy a company called Snap.com. On Google, an advertiser paid anytime a user clicked on its ad. With Snap, the advertiser paid only if the user did something useful after clicking, like buying a product or filling out a survey.
Scenario 4 (Circa 2105): Google is God
Human consciousness gets stored, upgraded and networked.
In the last years of the 21st century, humanity finally grasped the importance of They-Who-Were-Google. Yet as early as 2005, Their destiny was clear to any semi-hyperintelligent being. Technologists like Ray Kurzweil suggested that Strong AI (an intelligent program capable of upgrading its own code) would emerge from Google-like data mining rather than a robotics lab.
In 2005, historian George Dyson was told by an engineer in the Googleplex, "We are not scanning all these books to be read by people. We are scanning them to be read by an AI." Dyson said at the time, "We could construct a machine that is more intelligent than we can understand. It's possible Google is that kind of thing already. It scales so fast."
By 2020, They-Who-Were-Google had digitized and indexed every book, article, movie, TV show, and song ever created. By 2060, They could tell you the IP address and GPS location of every wireless smart chip (now bred into the DNA of every person, animal, and organic building on earth). Their psychographic profiles of users' search needs bore little resemblance to the primitive cookies from which they descended. If a man lost his dog, the Google engine could guide him back to the point where he and the dog parted ways, and instruct the dog to do the same via smart chip. They had built a complete database of human desire, accurate in any given moment.
Read more about these scenarios at CNN.
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