Astro Teller, the head of Google’s experimental lab, Google X, has told the New York Times that the company’s “moonshot” ventures do in fact make money.
Teller’s statement ought to reassure investors who are worried that Google has been too distracted by its offbeat, out-there research projects. (Increasing human longevity, medical contact lenses and driverless cars are the best-known ones but Google is also rumoured to have considered hover boards, space elevators, and teleportation.)
While those projects make great headlines, none of them have made money.
Google Glass has been put on hold as a consumer product. Project Loon, Google’s attempt to create worldwide internet coverage from satellite balloons, has suffered some setbacks (they keep falling out of the sky). The company’s driverless cars look impressive, but they’re still years away from a production line.
The Boston Globe reports that Google has spent billions on its Moonshot Factory. Analysts once estimated that Google Glass could fetch up to $US11 billion in sales by 2018. Driverless cars, meanwhile, were predicted to be a not too-distant $US200 billion revenue stream by a Piper Jeffray analyst Gene Munster.
In real life, Google’s revenue-generating operations have stayed pretty much the same: it’s a search tool to find other websites; its core is advertising revenue.
It would be fair to say Google Brain (now called the Neural Network Project) is producing in value for Google something that would be comparable to the total costs of Google X — just that that one thing we’ve spun out.
The “Neural Network Project” is a simulation of the human brain comprising 16,000 computer processors that can identify cats on YouTube, 9to5Google reported in 2012. (Identifying something as random and varied as an image of a cat is actually an impressive task for a machine and it is regarded as a big step in the development of artificial intelligence.)
Teller says “we owe it to Google to explore new problems for Google to have a hand in (solving) and new businesses for it to get into over time. Our time horizon is longer than most of the rest of the companies’ time horizon tends to be.”
Quite how long that time-frame is, though, remains unclear.
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