The UK’s history is littered with moments to be proud of, from William Wilberforce’s fight against slavery to its contribution to global knowledge through luminaries such as Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday and more recently, Tim Berners-Lee.
It’s also populated by elements we should all remember so that we never repeat them, such as the British founding the concept of concentration camps during the Boer war.
The class based society that saw Victorian Britain’s own equivalent of the more modern day Russian oligarchs, reflects elements of both of these sides of Britain.
On the one hand, we had a society where a quarter of the population was living in poverty and 40% of wealth was owned by 5% of the population. As a viable middle class was formed, the rich continued to grow richer.
The other side of that was a great sense of philanthropy. From setting up of children’s hospitals to helping house the poor Britian has benefited from its ancestors. Whether we enjoy a stroll around Hyde park, given to the public by James I, or take a gander round the National Gallery, a fine piece of philanthropy by the government itself.
Charity isn’t dead
Perhaps nowadays the generous nature of the rich is harder to see, particularly on scale. However, from the seeds of yesterday’s start-ups have come a reflection of this philanthropy.
At the top of those has always been Google, with its Google X projects which have worked to further humanity. So great have been its moonshots (the term given to the projects with such unlikely aims) that investors have wondered whether Google’s innovative nature is getting in the way of good old capitalism and bottom lines.
Want to try driverless cars? Go ahead
Think you can come up with something a whole lot better than touch? Try it
Internet for everyone? That would be Project Wing
Google isn’t alone in this (Facebook also wants to launch internet drones, for example).
If you haven’t seen Gates’s talk on Malaria below, it’s well worth catching:
End of an era?
Google’s Sundar Pichai has said announced Google’s split into two. From now on there’ll be the profitable part of Google. Think the stuff you know, search, video etc.
Complimenting this, there’ll be the more adventurous part of Google, including Google X (responsible for all three examples above).
For the first time, investors will gain an understanding of just how much Google invests in all those moonshots.
The idea is to bring in better financial controls. For the first time, we may very well see the dreamers who won, Larry and Sergei, reigning in their ideas.
Remember though, maps and Google news were both once amongst these. Yet, every media outlet in the world is now adjusting to a method of reading news which Google prominently led.
For the investors, ads was once seen as a minor part of Google’s bottom line, rather than the cornerstone of it.
Changes to change
We don’t know whether Alphabet is the start of something new or the end of something old. The hope is that Google and others continue to dream, to wonder what if. We hope that they give back to society in the way that they have so richly. Larry, Sergei, we’ve underappreciated you.
By the way, the top 1% in the UK now earn the same as the bottom 55% of the population. Perhaps things change less than we think.