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Google: Tomorrow's General Electric


Google is the new GE and Amazon is the new Sears Roebuck. So argues John Gapper in a very smart FT piece on the fortunes and future of Google. Just as GE dominated its rivals in the battle to control and profit from electricity, Google is leading the way with innovations in data gathering and artificial intelligence:

Compared with the 1890s, Google resembles GE, while Amazon is like Sears Roebuck, the catalogue shopping company that transformed US retailing. GE was founded in 1892 and Sears Roebuck in 1893, at a time when the continent was altered by the telegraph and electricity […]

What was once a search company has become an internet, data and software company with boundless ambition and the capacity to deliver a flow of unexpected products. In that sense, [Google co-founder] Mr Page is a latter-day Thomas Edison, a commercial inventor marked by “the utterly fearless range of his experimental activities,” according to Randall Stross, a biographer.

Read the whole thing. Not only does it put Google in its proper historical context, but it also illustrates a key point we’ve been following at Via Meadia: that the pace of technological change is accelerating. As Page says, “We haven’t seen this rate of change in technology for a long time, probably not since the birth of personal computing.” Perhaps no company epitomizes this change more than Google, and no company is better positioned to profit from it as it continues. Already, Google is on the cutting edge with technologies like Google Glass and self-driving cars. And with each new innovation, life gets gradually better. The future looks bright, indeed.

[Google office image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Anthony

    Will combination of inventiveness and commercial acumen distance Google from the pack also? Only history may tell.

  • lukelea

    Accelerating means picking up speed faster and faster. I’d say the rate of change has been more or less steady since the start of the Industrial Revolution. It’s been Future Shock all the way down.

  • ljgude

    In this game of imperfect analogies I suppose that would make Jobs the new Henry Ford because he got the manufacturing chain right. Is it safe to use the term Jobsism to refer to maximizing profits by offshoring jobs, marketing to the well heeled and minimizing tax by keeping the swag in an Irish shell company?

  • Corlyss

    The only data mining that matters to me:

    The idea that these supersavvy Silicon Valley Democratic donors/supporters with whom the Dems have allied operationally and whom they have brought into the WH (but not the IRS, obviously) will be the exclusively Democratic ops when it’s pretty obvious the Republicans have no such resources at their disposal scares the heck out of me. The Dems success last year proved that issues really have little sway in turning out voters, it’s primarily an issue of whom the campaigns can identify as a likely sympathizer and get them to the polls. It goes almost without saying that issue-awareness is not American’s strong suit.

  • Jim__L

    We wanted flying cars. We got 140 characters.

    For someone sitting in their armchair at home, life has changed quite a bit. Endless vistas have opened up for work and play. Nero Wolfe would be well pleased.

    For someone out in the physical world, not much has changed in 50 years. Aircraft are the same shape. So are cars. 2001 came and went without a manned Jupiter mission, and without a Heuristic ALgorithm (HAL) computer system. Siri just doesn’t count.

    Technological change hasn’t gotten grander. We’ve gotten smaller. (Aside from our waistlines.) Our expectations have diminished, and if the rate at which the scope of our physical ambitions keeps declining, we’ll end up in little vats jacked into the Matrix without even the trouble of losing a war against the machines.

    If there’s any hope for humanity, sometime within my lifetime, the novelty of introspection will wear off and our horizons will expand once again. I’m looking forward to it.

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