Could we see the end of Google?

According to futurist George Gilder the era of Google could be coming to an end. In his recent book “Life after Google”, Gilder explains why Silicon Valley is suffering a nervous breakdown and what to expect as the post-Google age dawns.

Is it worthwhile paying attention to what somebody like George Gilder says? Putting aside the fact that nobody can accurately predict the future on a consistent basis (as has been shown by Gilder’s track record), it is possible to make informed statements about the future based on sound logic. Here Gilder does base his assumptions on more than conjecture.

So where does Gilder come up with such an outlook regarding Google? As Peter Thiel pointed out, “Google’s algorithms assume the world’s future is nothing more than the next moment in a random process. George Gilder shows how deep this assumption goes, what motivates people to make it, and why it’s wrong: the future depends on human action.”

The argument is based on an analysis of big data. Right now, big data looks like it holds all the answers for any questions a person or company might have. William Terdoslavich wrote in InformationWeek, “At the heart of big data is the search for “insight — some correlation or finding that eludes the seeker until he or she adds another terabyte or 10 of data, just in case it is lurking there. At a certain point, the law of diminishing returns has to kick in. Adding another 100TB becomes redundant.”

Nassim Taleb pointed this out by the following analogy, “We humans do not predict when it’s safe to cross a road by adding more different data-points, like e.g. the colour of the eyes of by-passing car-drivers, to our decision-making process, but by filtering the data and only assess what’s relevant to get across safely.”

In 1972, Gordon Bell formulated what is now known as Bell’s law of computer classes. It describes how types of computing systems (referred to as computer classes) form, evolve and may eventually die out. New classes of computers create new applications resulting in new markets and new industries. Gilder believes that Google can’t continue on the present path as we now need an entirely knew infrastructure.

Kurt Godel, the brilliant Austrian mathematitian exposed the limitations of mathematics (the incompleteness theorems). He proved that there can be no human construct, no human system of thought that does not rely on some reality outside of itself. It shows that human intelligence could not be recreated by a traditional computer.

Google was built on ads. All these arguments can be seen as presenting a case where Google’s system of aggregating huge amounts of data to create adverts will inevitably break down. There is also the concern that Google and Silicon Valley in general have put security on the back burner. The fear is that Google has been avoiding the challenge of security across the internet by giving away most of its products for free, and financing itself with an ingenious advertising strategy. This has become more apparent with the recent massive data breach at Google+.

But is it really possible for a company such as Google, which is so engrained in everybody’s daily life, to cease to exist? A good way to understand the present and future is to look at the past in order to gain some insight.

Comparing the 1955 Fortune 500 companies (here)  to the 2017 Fortune 500 (here), there are only 60 companies that appear in both lists. In other words, fewer than 12% of the Fortune 500 companies included in 1955 were still on the list 62 years later in 2017, and 88% of the companies from 1955 have either gone bankrupt, merged with (or were acquired by) another firm, or they still exist but have fallen from the top Fortune 500 companies (ranked by total revenues). Many of the companies on the list in 1955 are unrecognizable, forgotten companies today (e.g., Armstrong Rubber, Cone Mills, Hines Lumber, Pacific Vegetable Oil, and Riegel Textile). One recent name that was driven into extinction by its own technology was Kodak. They came up with the first digital camera but did not capitalize on it.

It’s reasonable to assume that when the Fortune 500 list is released 60 years from now in 2077 (although it could happen much sooner), almost all of today’s Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist as currently configured, having been replaced by new companies in new, emerging industries.

In any case there was a time when Google didn’t exist and the world was inundated with search engines. Nobody was really crying out for somebody to build a new one. To imagine Google being replaced by another technology wave is by no means difficult. It is probably just a question of how fast it happens.