This in response to the post that Robert Scoble put up on his own blog a short time ago. I really resonate with the post – thinking about how Google may move is a favourite past-time of mine, as well as a handy thing for work. But I disagree with the main contention of Robert’s post, that they will end up being another disappointing Microsoft. Here are my thoughts, to add to the pile.
1) Voice Recognition
Google is one of, if not the best, company leading the global efforts to turn speech into text. It seems like a simple enough task, right? But it’s still very much driven by humans. Google have made great acquisitions (as well as hired a heap of great people) over the past 4-5 years to make this a reality.
Given there are 35 hours (at last count) of content uploaded to YouTube each minute, and all of those videos are machine translated by YouTubes still nascent captioning algorithm, points that they’ll crack this soon enough.
Also note their purchase of GrandCentral years ago (which has become Google Voice – also piping in speech-to-text learning’s for their algorithm) and you have a very powerful sandpit to play in. What’s more social than allowing everyone on the planet, disabled or not, to have access to speech that is translated into text?
Once you have speech-to-text nailed, then it becomes a simple step to say “well, couldn’t I translate my English, in real time, to another language?” Yes, I reckon you can.
Not only that, the common languages (Spanish, English, French, Mandarin) have a scarily human voice that will read your translation back to you. The Spanish one actually has inflection! A robot, speaking with inflections in their voice!
Eric Schmidt, when he was CEO, used to talk about how this could lead to better understanding of people around the world, leading to more chances of peaceful resolutions. I’m not saying Google will create ‘World Peace,’ but the ability of all of us to communicate the globe over easily is huge.
Google, through Android, have been working on mobile for a while. But it’s still very early days for them. Once the marketplace and native apps catch up with the beauty of the iPhone, the utility of this will be immense. Google’s product mix of Google Latitude, Maps, Google Earth provides it with a beautiful sandpit, again, to play with new ideas to connect humanity. Pair this with the translation and speech to text stuff above, and you really start to see some pretty incredible stuff.
In the 2004 Founders’ IPO Letter, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, when discussing what has now become Google.org are quoted as saying;
“We hope someday this institution may eclipse Google itself in terms of overall world impact by ambitiously applying innovation and significant resources to the largest of the world’s problems.”
I think this could be a reality in 4 years/5 years. Consider Google is only a 10 year company, and they’ve just begun hiring specific people in different areas around the world to soley work on Google.Org projects. This is more of a darkhorse and perhaps a ‘gamble’ to claim it will be bigger than Google.com – but I feel that these sorts of projects could add significant dollars to Google’s bottom line. Don’t think about it in terms of what Google currently do now, but what they will have at their disposal with the benefit of time. Language translation, planetary data, satellites over Africa and many other things we probably don’t know.
I’m not saying that Google will continue to be the darling that is has been for the past decade. Certainly the gloss is off and it’s perhaps not the employment destination that it once was. But I think we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Google will remain one of the most important utilities on our planet for at least the next decade, and I reckon, even beyond that. Whether they ‘get social’ is neither here nor there for me.