While Apple could be the first company to hit a $1tn valuation, Google could be first to hit a $2tn market cap. Yes, $2tn. As a business born in the past 15 years and started by two guys with an interest in how web pages score against each other, how could Google get there?
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Let's look beyond the search engine we know and make some predictions – wild or otherwise – on how Google will change our world and become the most powerful business the world has ever seen.
First, let's just take a quick look at Google’s business model. It’s really simple. It provides consumers with free services, including search, maps and email, and makes money from advertisers through it’s AdWords technology. It is rumoured this now accounts for nearly 30% of the UK’s total advertising spend – and rising.
Moving on, let's look at artificial intelligence (AI). For AI to work well, it needs information. Up until recently, AI systems could acquire information and learning through machine-based learning. Show something like a picture of a car to an AI system, provide commentary and off it goes to find more cars. The problem with that system is it doesn’t scale well.
So then comes deep learning – the ability of a computer to learn by itself by mimicking the human brain. It is super-fast, with infinite learning capability.
Imagine if deep learning was applied to all of the internet. In 2014, Google – with its vast amount of cash – bought British company DeepMind for a trivial $400m to attempt just that.
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According to MIT Technology Review, DeepMind has unveiled a prototype computer that attempts to mimic some of the properties of the human brain’s short-term working memory.
"The new computer is a type of neural network that has been adapted to work with an external memory," it reported. "The result is a computer that learns as it stores memories and can later retrieve them to perform logical tasks beyond those it has been trained to do."
So Google now has the makings of a neural computer that learns and stores information in the way the human brain does.
Lets add another little Google project here – Google Books. It’s got teams of people in all of the world's libraries scanning every form of reference work they can get their hands on.
What do we end up with here? Between having a complete copy of the internet on its servers (including the 100 million pages of Wikipedia, of course) and the prospect of having all of the world’s major reference books in its memory, Google has an indexed copy of all of the world's learning and information. With an AI layer on top, that has implications – for everything.
Then there is the issue of computing power. Indexing and using all of that information is going to be something of a challenge, but not for Google. In 2013, Google spent $1.6bn on its datacentres in three months, which is $6bn a year. That figure is nearly one-quarter of the whole venture capital expenditure in the USA for one year – rather a lot of storage. And it's just the start.
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Then there's quantum computing. Google apparently has a whole warehouse of quantum computers, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers says it is building quantums on top of D-Wave machines.
At this time quantums are unreliable, but that will be fixed, and then we will have nearly unlimited computing power.
Add massive computing power to a copy of the world’s knowledge and an AI layer, and with all that power and intelligence maybe even curing cancer is a problem that Google AI can fix. In fact, another Google venture project is Foundation Medicine, which combines genome and molecular data to take a different approach to cancer treatment.
Google would like us to live forever – it means a never-ending stream of advertising revenue.
AI is the foundation of a huge number of highly disruptive Google projects. As AI computer HAL9000 said in the 1967 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, "I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen."
John Straw and Michael Baxter (pictured) are authors of the book iDisrupted.