Google just acquired its 8th robotics company in the past few years with the acquisition of Boston Dynamics and it got me thinking, is anyone else truly investing in deep technological research? What about Apple, or Microsoft, what are they doing?
It reminded me of this wonderful Ali G bit at the BAFTAs.
It's not just me that has changed, it's technology too. There are things you can't even have dreamed of. The iPhone. The iPhone 2. The iPhone 3. The iPhone 4. The iPhone 5. Who can even imagine what is coming next.
Certainly not funding cool robots. Or virtual reality glasses. Or autonomous cars.
Only Google is investing in truly groundbreaking research.
Google has become our generation's Bell Labs.
Bell Labs was the research division of AT&T and Western Electric Research Laboratories, originally formed in 1925 to work on telephone exchange switches. However, over the next 50 years or so, their research won 7 Nobel Prizes, for things very loosely connected to telephone switches, if at all. Among their inventions are the transistor, the laser, UNIX, radio astronomy and the C and C++ programming languages.
Under various ownership structures and names, Bell Labs spit out truly groundbreaking inventions for 50+ years. They still enjoy a measure of success, but by most opinions their best days are behind them, and many of their ~20 locations have been shuttered.
Google is the only tech company who has devoted significant resources to not just figuring out what the next big thing is, but figuring out what the big thing will be 15 years from now, much like Bell Labs used to.
In 1880 Bell won the Volta prize from the French government for inventing the telephone. He used those profits to further advance research and knowledge relating to the deaf. Forty-plus years later, Bell Labs was named after him.
Google is acting in the same spirit as Alexander Bell, using their incredibly lucrative money-maker (Google Adwords) to finance moonshots and ambitious side projects. Both GMail and Google Maps are great examples, and they are ahead of the game with a truly integrated travel search engine in Google Travel (2-3 years in my estimate), Google Glass/wearable computing (at least 5 years before its time), autonomous cars (maybe 10 years) and household/military robotics (15 years?).
Apple has pretty phones and tablets and that's really it. Yes, they are wonderfully designed and delight millions/billions of consumers. Microsoft has a bunch of legacy businesses, a gaming console and a bunch of unwanted phones and tablets. Amazon has a combination of all of the above and a video of a drone that you can buy off the shelf dropping off one of its packages.
Are these companies innovating in important ways? Yes. Every newer and faster iPhone is a result of advances in chip design and technology. Inventions in logistics make same day delivery possible, and Amazon deserves credit.
But none of them are putting it on the line like Google .They are the only one trying to create industries. Apple did it with the smart phone, but as Ali G points out, they haven't done much since.
Google is the new Bell Labs.