The Google Story: An Excerpt
Chapter 26: Googling Your Genes
Not since Gutenberg invented the modern printing press more than 500 years ago, making books and scientific tomes affordable and widely available to the masses, has any new invention empowered individuals or transformed access to information as profoundly as Google. I first became aware of this while covering Google as a beat reporter for The Washington Post. What galvanized my deep interest in the company was its unconventional initial public offering in August 2004 when the firm thumbed its nose at Wall Street by doing the first and only multi-billion dollar IPO using computers, rather than Wall Street bankers, to allocate its hot shares of stock.
A few months later, in the fall of 2004, I decided to write the first biography of Google, tracing its short history from the time founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page met at Stanford in 1995 until the present. In my view, this is the hottest business, media and technology success of our time, with a stock market value of $110 billion, more than the combined value of Disney, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Amazon.com, Ford and General Motors.
Chapter 26 -- Googling Your Genes
Sergey Brin and Larry Page have ambitious long-term plans for Google's expansion into the fields of biology and genetics through the fusion of science, medicine, and technology. Their goal -- through Google, its charitable foundation, and an evolving entity called Google.org -- is to empower millions of individuals and scientists with information that will lead to healthier and smarter living through the prevention and cure of a wide range of diseases. Some of this work, done in partnership with others, is already under way, making use of Google's array of small teams of gifted employees and its unwavering emphasis on innovation, unmatched search capacity, and vast computational resources.
"Too few people in computer science are aware of some of the informational challenges in biology and their implications for the world," Brin says. "We can store an incredible amount of data very cheaply."
He and Larry want to make it easier for users to find the right information faster, and the company is pouring the bulk of its resources into enhancing the breadth and quality of search. This involves wholly different methods of searching that may eventually make today's Google seem primitive. As these evolve, the search mechanisms of the future will produce better answers to queries, just as Google is superior to the early search engines that preceded it.
"The ultimate search engine," says Page, "would understand exactly what you mean and give back exactly what you want."
The critical path inside the Googleplex includes experimentation with artificial intelligence techniques and new methods of language translation. Brin and Page are hopeful that these efforts will eventually make it possible for people to have access to better information and knowledge without the limitations and barriers imposed by differences in language, location, Internet access, and the availability of electrical power.
To assist in this effort, Larry and Sergey have recruited a diverse group of people to work at the Googleplex, including a collection of former CEOs, hundreds of Ph.D.'s, U.S. and world puzzle champions, former Olympians, an award-winning independent filmmaker, and a coterie of university professors.
Brin and Page foresee Google users having universal access to vast repositories of fresh information, some of it public and some private, which is not currently available on the Internet. This encompasses motion pictures, television, and radio programs; still images and text; phone calls and other voice communications; educational materials; and data from space. The pair is also involved in the hunt for clean, renewable energy sources to power Google and broaden economic growth. "These guys have a big, compelling vision for what the company is going to do," said Stanford president John Hennessy. "They think very hard about the long term."
One of the most exciting Google projects involves biological and genetic research that could foster important medical and scientific breakthroughs. Through this effort, Google may help accelerate the era of personalized medicine, in which understanding an individual's precise genetic makeup can contribute to the ability of physicians and counselors to tailor health care treatment, rather than dispensing medications or recommending treatments based on statistics or averages. New insights, new medicines, and the use or avoidance of certain foods and pharmaceuticals for people with specific genetic traits are among the possible outcomes.