Google’s always been about thinking big
Whether the House of Brin, Page and Pichai is annotating your photos with the sum of human knowledge or building vaguely menacing holodeck robots, they can never be faulted for falling short in scale or imagination. Even their failures are spectacular: say what you like about Google Glass – and I will, Glass was an overhyped, underfeatured, deeply ethically troubling modern embodiment of Doing Tech Wrong – it was swinging for the digital fences.
But now they’re literally thinking big, as in, square mileage. Alphabet wants to build cities.
Meet Sidewalk Labs, the latest interesting offering from Alphabet. Just as a refresher, Alphabet is “Google, but for everything,” a conglomerate formed last year to expand the scope of the company (see what I mean about Google and size?) beyond the Google banner. Structurally, Google is a subsidiary of Alphabet; it’s where the tech lives. Obviously, to date it’s also been the face of the Alphabet brand.
If Sidewalk Labs accomplishes anything like their stated intentions, that may change with a quickness.
To use their own favorite phrase, Sidewalk is “reimagining cities from the Internet up.” It’s nothing less than an attempt to start at the literal ground level and remake the modern metropolis. They’re looking to address city planning, public management, resource distribution and the million and three other complex, and in many cases rapidly deteriorating, vital functions of the modern metropolis with solutions grounded in universally available connectivity to the same extent that the 20th – or 19th, or 18th – century current versions were grounded in the ground.
“looking to” is the right phrase
Sidewalk spent a year as a thought experiment. Now, bluntly, it’s a thought experiment and a website. And I’ll be honest, as a broke urban dweller and semi-professional do-gooder with and for fellow broke urban dwellers, every time wealthy, optimistic folks show up with money and a plan for my town, I get a cold chill. Here there be monsters.
But as linked above and shown in, you know, every aspect of digitally enabled life, the folks at Alphabet have accomplished incredible things.
Like I said, they swing big, and for every Glass there’s Earth or Gmail or Maps.
It’s hard to get bigger than “let’s rebuild cities with the Internet.”
Starting with connectivity poses questions of accessibility, bandwidth etc., especially with Net Neutrality in play, but Alphabet’s pretty good at connectivity. You may have noticed. Here’s hoping that expertise, not to mention that giant Scrooge McDuck bin of Google money, will be what it takes to get Sidewalk from a Utopian curiosity to a working solution for urban ills.