I have to say that I’m really excited about Project Loon, Google’s latest project to come out of their X lab. It is yet another example of the moonshots that Google is taking. In our age of short-term shareholderism, almost no other companies are doing these kinds of broad, ambitious moves. Sure, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have set up their own space exploration endeavors, but they’re not under the banners of PayPal and Amazon.
Loon is so over the top ambitious that I can’t think of any other company that would even go ahead with it. I don’t think they’ll be able to overcome the political obstacles – the world is probably not ready for a cross-border/from-the-sky internet provider – but I can’t not applaud the effort. It’s almost up there in its utopian optimism with Matternet.
Neal Stephenson was saying recently, in regards to his Hieroglyph project, that we need to move back to a more utopian view of the future. The dystopias being produced over the last decades might be more appealing to consumers, but I agree with him that they are not inspiring. As many breakthroughs as science have done in the last decades (human genome, nanotechnology, Internet), they still feel less revolutionary than the advances in medicine, aviation and space that we saw during most of the 20th century. It reminds me of Douglas Coupland’s feeling of nostalgia for the future from Generation X.
Like this FT article said recently, Google is our new GE for this century. And like GE was a largely benevolent force for consumers back then, so Google is now one of the few companies that are really moving us forward on a grander scale. Some might balk at the idea of Google as a non-state actor doing projects on this scale, but with most domestic politics mired in petty politicking, maybe corporate, non-state actors are necessary.
Google Reader or no Google Reader, I’d rather take self-driving cars, Google Glass and internet balloons any day. Altavista also died today, which feels appropriate as its demise helps Google finance its quest to improve our lives.