It’s amazing that, before Google came along, any of us was able to survive beyond childhood. At the company’s Zeitgeist conference in London yesterday, cofounder Larry Page warned that privacy-protecting restrictions on Google’s ability to store personal data were hindering the company from tracking the spread of diseases and hence increasing the risk of mankind’s extinction. The less data Google is allowed to store, said Page, the “more likely we all are to die.” (This is a particularly sensitive issue for Page, as he’s a big backer of the Singularitarians’ attempts to secure human immortality.)
I couldn’t help but be reminded of how, back in 2001, Google saved the life of that fellow who was about to suffer a heart attack. The guy was having chest pains, and he went to the Web to seek medical advice. The first search engine he tried – not Google’s – got bogged down by serving up graphical banner ads. So he switched to Google, which only served text ads, and in a snap discovered he should take aspirin and go to a hospital. “Not only did our search engine save his life,” said Sergey Brin, the other, equally humble cofounder, “but it shows that these decisions – like whether to use text-based or graphical ads – matter.”
In 2005, Google announced that it would begin running graphical ads to increase its revenues. By that time, most people had broadband connections and, for them, loading graphical ads was no longer quite so much of a life-threatening ordeal. And what of the millions of people who continued to rely on pokey dial-up connections? Google ran the numbers, I suppose, and calculated that they were dispensable.