Over the last ten years, Google's foray into the smartphone market has established its Android phones as a viable competitor to Apple's iPhones. However, in the years to come, mobile revenues will be more or less chump change in comparison to the returns Google will be able to derive from robots and artificial intelligence.
With their eye on the prize, the Search giant seeks to garner control over the Internet of Things and Semantic Technology. The same leader that turned that Android cell phone into a hot commodity is now setting his sights on creating an Army of Androids - the type that will succeed man in the walk-talk-chew-gum categories.
Father of the Android
Andy RubinYes, former Android boss Andy Rubin has been appointed Google's commander-in-chief of this newly formed militia, complete with the acquisition of nine separate companies, in addition to the company's initiative to build self-driving cars by the year 2017.
Rubin, who started his career as a robotics engineer at Carl Zeiss, before his subsequent roles at Apple, Microsoft and Danger actually funded the startup acquired by Google to form the basis for the company's Android division.
"I have a history of making my hobbies into a career. This is the world’s greatest job. Being an engineer and a tinkerer, you start thinking about what you would want to build for yourself," Rubin mused in an interview with the NY Times.
Acquisition of the Nine
The acquisitions have been publicly announced, including the recent purchase of Nest for an astounding $3.2 billion. However, the company has been fairly tight-lipped about its specific plans to focus on the manufacturing sector versus the consumer markets. A realistic case, according to the NY Times interview, would "be automating portions of an existing supply chain that stretches from a factory floor to the companies that ship and deliver goods to a consumer’s doorstep."
The nine companies aligned with Google's artificial intelligence initiatives include:
2- Autofuss (US)
Autofuss"We thrive on being a hub of creative collaboration by colliding visual artists with programmers, engineers with designers, storytellers with illustrators, architects with machinists." (Autofuss is the outlier here, being a creative agency rather than a robotics company – but according to the NYT interview, it's part of Rubin's robotics plans).
3- Holomni (US)
"Holomni powered caster modules create a holonomic omnidirectional vehicle. A Holomni-powered vehicle can instantaneously produce omnidirectional accelerations and forces."
4- Meka (US)
"A provider of world-class robotic systems for researchers. At Meka we develop human-safe, human-soft, and human-scale robot technologies that will enable the robots of tomorrow to work alongside people in the home and the workplace."
5- Redwood Robotics (US)
"Our robotic arms are simple to teach, affordable, and safe to operate around humans. Redwood manipulators will make professionals more productive, reduce the stress of dull and repetitive tasks, and allow manufacturers and service providers alike to respond flexibly to ever-changing market needs."
6- Bot & Dolly (US)
"Bot & Dolly is a design and engineering studio that specialises in automation, robotics, and filmmaking. It's our mission to advance motion control and automation as a creative medium, and build world-class tools that enable others to do the same."
7- Schaft (Japan)
"We, Schaft Inc. create the future where we walk together with humanoid robots, through research and development, manufacture and sales of humanoid robots."
8- Industrial Perception (US)
"A leader in 3D vision-guided robot technology and enables industrial robots to assume challenging logistical tasks such as truck and container unloading, e-commerce fulfillment and package sorting."
9- DeepMind (UK)
Google's most recent acquisition, DeepMind specializes in 'machine learning' - designing computers that learn from their mistakes - and was set up by a group of neuroscientists and AI experts. Reports claim the California tech giant acquired London-based artificial intelligence (AI) firm DeepMind for around $500m (£302m) - although some reports quote the figure closer to $400m (£242m).
Singularity -- More than a Late-Nite Talk Show Host's Joke?
Robots are an inevitable next step in man's evolution. Our ability to create artificial intelligence devoid of emotional distraction and other inherent flaws of mankind are the primary drivers of this technology. Google, in its desire to control all aspects of the digital landscape will at the onset use these robots to decipher and catalog all of its accumulative Big Data its amassed to date.
The fear, of course is in time, artificial intelligence a la Hal from Space Odyssey 2001 will overtake mankind. In the book "The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology," futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that computers will be as smart as humans by 2029, and that by 2045, "computers will be billions of times more powerful than unaided human intelligence."
So the question to ask at this juncture is: Do we trust Google to play God over a race of humanoids that will eventually become our overlords? Makes trying to figure out their search algorithms as child's play, wouldn't you say?