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The Internet was buzzing when Google’s mother company, Alphabet, announced its plans to build the ultimate high-tech city of the future. Sidewalk Labs, the Alphabet company of 100 people that is taking on this project, was built with the aim of improving city life using Google’s technology research. However, before deploying these technologies on end-consumers in real life, it needs to be tested somewhere. Alphabet is considering using either an already existing city where counties are already bidding to host Project Sidewalk, or it will just buy land and build its own city from the ground up, possibly housing its own employees. So what will this techno-utopian complex include? Alphabet hasn’t issued an official statement as yet, but we’ve made our own predictions based on Google’s portfolio, acquisitions, and stated vision over the past few years:
1. Internet of Everything Amsterdam has already begun implementing a version of smart city lighting that helps preserve energy, as city lighting accounts for approximately 20% of total energy consumption. Connecting everything to the Internet and embedding it with environment-detecting sensors makes it possible to install a citywide operating system that will optimize consumption, waste management, traffic, resource distribution, and even entertainment centers in the most efficient ways that help keep resident needs and environmental repercussions balanced.
2. Metrics and data Connecting everything to the Internet with embedded sensors opens the gate to a new world of potential: micro and macro data collection. However, with big data getting even bigger, we need the proper tools to connect the dots and make sense of it all. Enter TensorFlow, Google’s life-imitating, deep-learning technology. An artificially intelligent algorithm, TensorFlow learns by analyzing visuals and data, and then recognizes new visuals based on previous perceived patterns, much the same way humans do. This has endless implications and applications, because creating feedback-learning loops in our surroundings enables the ecosystem to act like a gigantic human brain, learning and evolving by using information it has collected.
3. Self-driving cars and public transportation One thing I’m pretty sure we’ll find in Project Sidewalk is self-driving cars, which Google has been working on for more than a few years. Adding a logistics twist to that, Google may be able to use that technology in public transportation, and maybe even air travel. We have also been promised drone delivery systems for a while now that deliver everything instantly from our online gadget purchases to instant pizzas to even humans (using hoverboards, maybe?).
4. Robotic… everything From traffic wardens to hygiene workers, the robots are coming. Google has been aggressive in its robotics strategy acquiring more than eight startups in this field over the course of a few months. We’ve seen glimpses of what they have in store, but I doubt we have seen the full potential of that field just yet. The robots need a home, a city-of-origin to dwell, blossom and interact in. We’re hoping Alphabet will give them just that.
5. Neo-governance on the horizon Will Google rely on traditional ways of governance that it has been strongly critical of ever since its inception? I think not. This might be the most subtle yet powerful application of this high tech city where Google can test a “technology empowered collective governance method,” a place where users will have a say on logistic, political and economic decisions through their connected devices, rather than going through endless layers of corrupt humanoid bureaucracy.
6. A.I. service interfaces Imagine this: “Ok Google, take me to the lake, pay my credit card installment, send a bouquet of flowers to my mom, and rent me a bicycle for tomorrow.” We might never need customer service professionals ever again if A.I. systems can remember your preferences and give well-rounded suggestions based on your history of consumption, just like YouTube video algorithms. Today’s available technology currently lacks the logistics to make it happen. The dots are not yet aligned, which is a great opportunity to seize in designing Project Sidewalk.
7. Enriching entertainment Google is known for its colorful company culture as a hub that encourages and supports creativity and work as play. That is projected in most of their services: Google Doodles, Chrome Music Lab, Maps. Easter Eggs etc. Naturally, a lot of Google’s top management have been spotted at indie-culture festivals like Burning Man. Entertainment will be a central activity at Google-ville, and knowing Google it won’t be anything like we’ve seen before- these include ongoing music fests, virtual reality spiritual experimentation, science fairs, exhibitions and artistic/intellectual workshops.
8. Green energy solutions Google is investing heavily in green energy startups like SolarCity, Regulus, and BrightSource. If Google was to build a new city from the ground up, green energy innovations are going to be implemented in the basic structural design, which solves a problem that current cities have, as sustainable efficiency is not a staple part of current urban planning. Another green aspect? The “smart and aware deep-learning algorithms” would ensure the optimal use of harvested energy with minimum leakage.
9. Vertical farms Although ignored, one major impact on the environment is providing food for humans, and food for human food (livestock). Land is stripped for homogeneous domestication with one mass-consumer product (farm or factory). Ray Kurzweil, author, renowned futurist, and Head of Engineering at Google, has been discussing vertical farms for a while now. In brief, vertical farming includes buildings that don’t consume space or nature and offer healthy harvesting of human food supply needs. The Google city green areas would be natural and park-like, and its farms would not trample nature.
10. Hackschooling To keep up with such a smart ecosystem, humans need to evolve at the same speed of their environment to stay in control of it. Unfortunately, current educational systems do not allow exponential growth of human potential; if anything, educational systems are limiting idea growth. Google, will offer through new programs or through a network of educational partners new approaches to education, utilizing MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses), hackschooling, gamified learning, and on-ground workshops. Coding will be at the center of this new educational ecosystem, rather than a possible end goal for it.
While my ten points are optimistic predictions, there is something also deeply threatening about the closeness of Google’s realism. A lot of questions are raised, including topics of privacy management, and also preventing Google from becoming a tech-enabled tyrant. No matter what happens and which path Alphabet decides to take, Project Sidewalk is set to change human lives forever.