New Scientist reports today on this almighty ambition which nevertheless, in its peculiarly American spirit of giganticism, contains and encircles – as it defines with substantial clarity – its very own special and considerable contradictions:
Internet search giant Google – sometimes criticised for the amount of energy its servers use – now aims to do for the power grid what it did for the web.
Having conquered the market for web search by first simplifying how it is done and then linking advertising to users’ search terms, Google Inc is now funding green technology and using its brand power to lobby for policy change.
Google launched a plan on Wednesday to wean the US off burning coal and oil for power by 2030, and cut oil use for cars by 40%. That will cost the nation trillions of dollars, but Google believes it should ultimately save money.
Chief Executive Eric Schmidt says the annual cost of the energy plan would anyway be less than the $700 billion currently being considered to bail out the financial industry, and he sees some parallels between the energy challenge and the so-called credit crunch.
Schmidt goes on to point out:
“That is an unconscionable failure of system design,” he says. “It is inconceivable to me that the sum of the financial industry would have created that as a possible outcome.”
He says Google has not yet felt the economic impact of the crisis, but adds it is hard to say what will happen next.
“There is an equivalent scale problem in energy,” he told reporters after a speech to San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club entitled Where Would Google Drill?. “I’m a computer scientist and computer scientists love scale problems. We like scale and replication and leverage in a technical way.”
Through its philanthropic arm Google.org, the company is backing start-ups designing wind, solar and geothermal technologies, which it hopes will eventually be cheaper than coal. Google invested $45 million in such companies this year.
“But that is a drop when we need a flood,” Google writes on its official blog.
And Schmidt’s quite right. The credit crunch is an unconscionable failure of system design. Where not deliberately provoked (Thatcher comes to mind), I’m sure that – in similar ways – a good deal of the downturns we’ve suffered over the years have been the result of processes and procedures clearly unfit for purpose. Too often have our economies been left to suffer at the mercy of the vagaries of mere belief systems and prejudice – at the mercy, that is, of the politics of the self-interested and the self-interests of all (not only the politicians) that is political. Too often have the true wealth creators in our economies had to beg desperately at the doors of the parasites who sit back comfortably in their leather office chairs as they wait for the money and kudos to roll in through magical circumstance.
When, in reality, there is nothing magical about the wealth that the toil of so many hard-working souls generates for those who can afford on themselves to spend lavishly as to others they dole out with parsimony.
But I think Google should go further. I think Google should go much further. Google’s ambition should become even more gigantic than simply solving the energy crisis. In reality, if Google truly cared to put its mind to it, it could take on the whole capitalist system itself – not to break it up into the smithereens of revolution but, rather, to break it down into the physics of social and economic communication.
A clear and cogent analysis.
That is to say, a very 21st century analysis.
Why not? By breaking capitalism down into its component parts and then recreating it, burnished and secure, with all the computing power of a planet in flux, we could engineer – yes, engineer my friend, as the Victorians before us engineered an industrial revolution – a world of essentially permanent, uninterrupted and sustainable growth.
The market forces of the purest forms of capitalism at the hard-nosed service of the kindest forms of socialism.
Now that would be an achievement worth writing home about.
An achievement truly worth blogging about.