The cover article of Time magazine’s latest issue is about the ultimate tech firm cage match: GOOGLE VS DEATH. This mortal coil is a problem, not a feature in Silicon Valley vernacular, and Time offers GOOG very favorable odds.
It’s worth noting that no other firm in Silicon Valley could make such a statement. Smaller enterprises lack the funds, while larger ones lack the bones. Apple may have set the bar for surprise product announcements, but they are usually short-term in nature, except for a big new device every few years. In comparison, Google’s strategy is gonzo airdrops into deep “Wait, really?” territory. What did you do this week, Google? Apple released a gold iPhone last week; what did you do this week? Oh, we established a business that may one day be able to overcome death itself.
Also worth mentioning? No firm can credibly claim to have conquered death. It is, in reality, improbable! “Might” isn’t nearly adequate. Probably. “One day,” she says. It offers Time and Google an opportunity to talk about “moon shots,” Larry Page’s favorite term for outrageous, supposedly brilliant ideas. Page, who helped create Singularity University, has long had a fascination with life extension. Last year, the business engaged Ray Kurzweil, a proponent of transhumanism, to develop “the ultimate AI.”
Calico is the death-curing business Time is alluding to. Calico “will focus on health and well-being, in particular the problem of aging and related illnesses,” according to a press statement released at the Same Time as the story. Arthur D. Levinson, the former CEO of Genentech’s biotech company, is Calico’s CEO and a founding investor. Despite his new job as Chairman of Genentech and a director of Hoffmann-La Roche, as well as Chairman of Apple, Levinson “will remain Chairman of Genentech and a director of Hoffmann-La Roche, as well as Chairman of Apple.”
But don’t bother seeking additional information about Calico from Time’s enthusiastic cover article. Pay little heed to the billionaires behind the curtain: All Google provides is some sleight of hand about all-knowing data.
Medicine is rapidly evolving into an information science, with physicians and researchers collecting and analyzing vast amounts of data from patients. And when it comes to massive data sets, Google is unrivaled. While the firm keeps its Calico plans under wraps, expect it to leverage its core data-handling capabilities to shine fresh light on common age-related ailments. According to sources close to the initiative, it will start modest and only focus on discovering new technology.
When will this result in a product that Google might sell? It’s anyone’s guess at this point.
Anyone except the publication that had Larry Page’s contact information. Time, on the other hand, offers this tidbit about what all that data has shown thus far:
What is apparent is that approaching medical issues through the prism of data and statistics, rather than just striving to get medicines to market, can provide stunningly unexpected results. “Do people seem to be concentrating on the appropriate things?” Page ponders. “One of the things that struck me as incredible was the fact that curing cancer would add roughly three years to people’s average life expectancy.
We imagine curing cancer as a massive undertaking that will completely transform the planet. But, when you think about it, there are a lot of horrible cancer instances, and it’s very, very sad, but in the aggregate, it’s not as great an advance as you might assume.” In other words, a Page is a man for whom conquering cancer may not be a big enough challenge.
It’s a reasonably high-class challenge to solve death rather than cure cancer. But, before we get all worked up about who gets access to Google’s “solution,” denouncing some nightmarish double feature of Elysium and In Time, where only the poor die young, examine Page’s statements’ arrogance.
It’s a clear sign that Time is laundering that notion (no need to say it in the press release when a cover line does it for you). How do you tell when everyone is too enamored with pampered millionaires’ illusory power? You trust them when they say they can solve death.