‘[We invest in] things that are a little more long-term and a little more ambitious than people normally would. More like moon shots.’ – Google CEO Larry Page
First they dominated the desktop. Now they’re after the afterlife.
Google on Wednesday announced Calico, an ambitious new company that aims to solve some of the biggest problems facing humanity today: illness, aging, diseases and ultimately death.
If it were anyone but Google, the sheer audacity of the goal would be laughable. But coming from the company that redefined the Internet, funds projects to land on and mine the moon, and invented a self-driving car, it’s at least worth listening to.
“I’m not proposing that we spend all of our money on those kinds of speculative things,” Google CEO Larry Page told Time. “But we should be spending a commensurate amount with what normal types of companies spend on research and development, and spend it on things that are a little more long-term and a little more ambitious than people normally would. More like moon shots.”
Like Google, Calico will be no ordinary company. The company — the name is short for the “California Life Company” — will be headed up by Arthur D. Levinson, chairman and former CEO of Genentech and the chairman of Apple. Calico’s unveiling was coordinated with a Time magazine cover story on the project, appropriately titled “Google vs. Death.”
“It’s worth pointing out that there is no other company in Silicon Valley that could plausibly make such an announcement,” wrote Harry McCracken and Lev Grossman. “Smaller outfits don’t have the money; larger ones don’t have the bones. Apple may have set the standard for surprise unveilings but, excepting a major new product every few years, these mostly qualify as short-term.”
“Last week Apple announced a gold iPhone; what did you do this week, Google? Oh, we founded a company that might one day defeat death itself,” they wrote.
What the company will actually do is unclear, however, and not even Time could tease out the details. Google is good at analyzing and working with large data sets, the writers noted, and the company might research new technologies.
Or it might not.
Regardless, the problems Calico seeks to solve are ones that affect us all, Page said in an statement about the new company.
“Illness and aging affect all our families. With some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives.”
And if Calico can do that, everyone benefits — whether or not they own an iPhone.
Google just announced its most recent plan in a long list of crazy moonshots. This one isn’t self-driving cars or internet in the sky, instead it’s a company called Calico that’s going to try and put an end to aging and disease.
There aren’t too many details about exactly how Calico will go about its business, but the plan is to make long-term bets that healthcare companies are generally pretty slow about. Calico will be run by Arthur D. Levinson, Chairman and former CEO of Genentech and Chairman of Apple, but he’s not giving up his day job.
Larry Page summed up the project this way in a statement:
Illness and aging affect all our families. With some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives. It’s impossible to imagine anyone better than Art—one of the leading scientists, entrepreneurs and CEOs of our generation—to take this new venture forward.
This project has a lot less to do with Google’s specific technical chops than the vast majority of Google’s other moonshot projects. But Google does have scads of cash, which will be its main contribution. It seems that Calico will operate mostly on its own, and big money for an ambitious, independent project seems like as good a recipe for success as any.