Thursday, November 06, 2014

What Should Google’s Mission Statement Be?


Now that it's much more than search, Google is due for a whole new view of what it's purpose is.

After 16 years in business, Google Inc (GOOG) has evolved from a simple Internet search engine — originally incorporated in a Menlo Park, California, garage — into one of the largest, most influential tech companies on the planet.

So it makes sense that the original Google mission statement might need to change.

Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page recently talked with Financial Times and said that its mission statement might need some updating. And sure, “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” while undoubtedly still applicable, no longer encompasses all of the company’s broad intentions.

But considering that Google’s plethora of businesses is drastically different from its stated mission, the question at hand is, what should Google’s new mission statement be?

What Google Is … And Will Be

In the FT interview, Page touched on the future of the company, and some of the avenues and industries that he feels are most important and relevant for the future — not just Google’s future, but mankind’s.

Page explained that his intentions include focus on “the real breakthrough technologies that have the potential to make a difference to the lives of most people on earth.” For example, low-cost energy, robotics, healthcare, biotechnology, self-driving vehicles and nanotechnology are some of the areas into which Page plans to direct more of Google’s cash resources.

A major recurring theme in many of Google’s endeavors involves the use of robots or artificial intelligence to enhance our lives and make more efficient use of our time.

For example, Google’s driverless car is more advanced than competing prototypes from big-name automakers like Ford (F), Nissan (NSANY) and Fiat Chrysler (FCAU). These companies are focusing their efforts on safely navigating highways, while Google recently announced that it is mastering city street driving. And it’s possible that Google’s driverless car offers benefits “that could amount to trillions of dollars per year.”

Google is continuously investing in next-generation technology innovation and acquiring smaller companies that show significant promise. Considering the track record of both initiating and funding far-reaching, seemingly impossible science-fiction-type endeavors, the Google mission statement should reflect the company’s current values and intentions.

But what, exactly, would sum it all up in a clear and concise manner?

What About Google’s Moral Compass?

While never an official part of Google’s mission statement, Page and Sergey Brin, the company’s other co-founder, included a letter to potential shareholders in its 2004 IPO prospectus that stated, “Don’t be evil.” The letter explained the founders’ belief that both the company and its stockholders would be better served if short-term gains were foregone for longer-term goodwill.

Whether Google has remained true to its founders’ principles is open for debate.

Evil is not always easy to identify, as the boundary between good and evil is not a straight line in the sand — particularly when we’re talking about an evolution of corporate affairs. In the movies, it’s always easy to spot the bad guys and the malicious corporations, but let’s face it: Google is not the infamous Umbrella Corporation that spawned a race of mutant zombies hell-bent on eating our brains.

That would just be evil.

However, many of Google’s products, services and actions over the years have spurred an increasingly vocal mass of consumers who vehemently object to the company’s choices.

Some people would describe the mere tracking and recording of Google searches and the subsequent websites visited as evil, especially since that data is used to enhance advertising campaigns. (Personally, I wouldn’t call it evil. I call it effective use of available data.)

With the ever-expanding number of Google products and services like Gmail, Google Wallet, YouTube, Google Voice, Picasa and the Android OS, conspiracy junkies around the world have an unlimited number of avenues from which to portray the tech behemoth as a malicious conglomerate whose ultimate goal is total world domination.

Considering Google’s history of data tracking and piecing together consumers’ use of its various services to obtain a clearer overall impression of users’ habits — together with the company’s borderline frighteningly accurate predictions about future behavior — it’s not a far leap for the conspiracy theorist in all of us to believe there’s something sinister in the works.

Obviously, if Larry Page has an Orwellian master plan in the works, he wouldn’t admit it. He’d instead simply continue to profess his company’s “don’t be evil” motto, while secretly herding the sheep — us — into the proverbial slaughterhouse.

As far as masterminds go, if Page is one, he’s probably the best there ever was. Google stock has increased almost 940% since the August 2004 IPO. With available cash of more than $62 billion and total assets in excess of $125 billion, Google has unprecedented resources with which to advance an array of technological innovations that could shape the future of the world.

The question, then, is how does Google want to shape the future?

Bottom Line

The biggest challenge, according to Page, is determining how to invest all that money to have a positive impact on the world. He called it uncharted territory. I call it the best problem a non-evil tech company could possibly have.

If Page sticks with his stated efforts to advance the future of humankind with innovations in biotechnology and robotics, alongside innovations in automotive and artificial intelligence, what we’re currently able to accomplish only through the use of green screens and Hollywood CGI will be a reality far sooner than anyone expects.

That being said, if I were to take a shot or two at Google’s new mission statement, I’d go with “Enhancing humankind through innovations in technology that lengthen life and expand our existence.” Or, maybe something simpler like “Making the future into the present.”

For the conspiracy theorists, evil-Google’s new mission statement might be along the lines of “We already know everything about you. Just do what we tell you. You can’t stop us.”

This article originally appeared on InvestorPlace.com (11/06/2014)