April 15th, 2011
02:02 AM GMT
Larry Page, the founder and now CEO has a reputation as a brilliant innovator, a non-conformist and an introvert. Those attributes work for entrepreneurs, but often do not translate into good CEO’s.
I had a chance to sit down with Steven Levy, a veteran technology journalist who has just released a new book about Google, “In the Plex,” and asked whether Page has the ability to lead the company.
“He is a smart guy...we know he has a great vision of the future,” Levy said. “Larry has to step up not only in terms of great products, great vision, take on Facebook, but also make people feel okay about Google and not be scared of it.”
Page takes the reins at a critical time for Google. It is still making pots of money, but growth rates are not anywhere near the meteoric 40% pace of years past. Google has missed the rise of social networking. In his book, Levy details Google’s “Facebook panic,” describing how concerned they are about the vast information Facebook now controls.
Does that mean their best days over? No says Levy.
“The thing they have going for them is that Larry, in particular, looks far ahead and he is making a big bet on artificial intelligence and pushing Google's mission to the farthest definition that you could, which is gathering and making accessible all the world's information,” Levy said. “It is by no means assured. In the short term they have a big challenge in the social space with Facebook, but I think they have a shot.”
Artificial intelligence? I knew from press reports that Google was working on a driver-less car, but everyone knows Google likes to experiment with new technologies in lots of different fields. It is one of the things investors worry about – that the company is spread too thin. But Levy says that misses the point.
“Google has always been an artificial intelligence company.”
In his book Levy details how A-I is actually the secret to their superior search methods. He says they are working on something called zero query search, which will anticipate user questions. Looked at from that perspective Google’s driver-less car seems less random.
Levy may be biased from all the time he spent hanging out with Google staffers and eating all the free food (something we joked about). But he knows his technology and raises an interesting point.
The search business may be peaking, but if Google isn’t really a search company – they may still have room to surprise us.
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