If you're a columnist, some things are mandatory: the "signing off for Christmas" column, the "interestingly bad service experience" column, the "kids say the darnedest things" column. And further expectations surround those of us who make stuff up about media and technology: "what does X mean for brands?", "what can we pretend to learn from Apple this week?", "whither digital retail?". So it's compulsory to write something when Google buys a company that makes robots and another that does "connected home" products.
Boston Dynamics makes scary robots. Really scary. Huge robotic dogs that can chuck blocks of concrete a long way; humanoids that can run with an alarmingly lifelike gait. Look at the videos on YouTube. Scary.
The start-up Nest makes beautiful and expensive products for the home. Not the usual hi-fis and media stuff but smoke alarms and thermostats. It has taken unregarded commoditised hardware and made it slick and desirable by adding some decent industrial design and internet connectivity. Now your smoke alarm doesn’t go beeping crazy at the first hint of cooking but it gently speaks to you at the first hint of trouble and only escalates to shrieking panic if it’s necessary and you don’t respond.
Google isn't going to stop behind our screens - the disruption is going to move into every aspect of life
And that’s not all Google is doing. It has got driverless cars, airborne wind turbines and clever robot wheels. It has got hardware. It is making physical things. This is the leading edge of a pack of innovation that will make all that media, search and advertising stuff seem trivial. That, I suspect, is what we will spend the next ten years learning: Google (and probably all the usual suspects) isn’t going to stop behind our screens – the disruption it has wrought in commerce, entertainment and communications is going to move into every aspect of life. And we’ll go through the same old cycles of boosterism and panic, exhilaration and suspicion.
The reaction on Twitter to Google’s purchase of Nest has been especially instructive. Here’s a company that (potentially) stores records of every e-mail you’ve sent, every call you’ve made, every meeting you’ve been in, every website you’ve seen and everywhere you’ve been. But what freaks people out is when Google gets connected to your thermostat – something physical, tangible in the home. This "internet of things" stuff has been bubbling under for years but has mostly been the work of interesting hackers or big, dumb infrastructure businesses. Now it’s going mainstream.
Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service
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