Early this year, Eric Schmidt - the current executive chairman, who was Google's CEO before Page took back the job in April - declared there were just four truly significant technology companies: Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google. Apple controlled the high-end hardware like iPhones, iPads and Macs, Amazon had wrapped up the art of selling stuff online, Facebook owned social media and Google owned search and the Android smartphone operating system, plus the consequent advertising diamond mines. Most importantly, these companies didn't limit themselves to attracting specialised markets such as big business or government: they offered their highly desirable services and wares to everyday people everywhere.
But Schmidt had a warning. Not all four would survive. The next Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Sergey Brin or Mark Zuckerberg (co-founder of Facebook) could be beavering away at a better idea right now. And there is deadly competition - before he died, Apple's Steve Jobs promised to wage "thermonuclear war" on Google's Android smartphone system for what he claimed was its theft of his iPhone operating system, and bitter tit-for-tat legal challenges between the two companies continue.
The constant requirement to innovate and change the nature of the game is pretty clearly the reason that early this year, very quietly, Larry Page renamed the core group of his company. What had always been named "search" became known, internally, as "the knowledge group". "It will take about a decade to get to knowledge," says Singhal. "Knowledge to me is how much you can know in the least possible time." He appears breezily unperturbed at the idea of it taking another decade - equal, perhaps, to a million lifetimes in the white-hot explosion of modern technological advancement.
Computers effectively thinking for themselves is a frontier capable of inspiring both excitement and fright: a vision from Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey, with its all-knowing and eventually murderous computer, HAL. But Singhal doesn't see it like that. He is already dreaming far beyond the decade's next big thing. Beyond knowledge, he confides, lies the Holy Grail: wisdom.
Wisdom, he merrily concedes, may be a mythical place, but in his mind it is where there are no more wars, no more hunger, no more poverty; where everyone has at hand the knowledge to eliminate such wickedness.
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