Project Loon is a complex Google project with a simple objective: Internet for All. Because, the world is not Britain, you see, and contrary to what you may think, for two-thirds of world’s population the hardest thing may be finding a way to watch a YouTube video or reading a Wikipedia article – or many other things we take for granted, for that matter.
Project Loon should operate by installing a balloon internet infrastructure in the stratosphere to create an aerial wireless network. Winds flow with different speeds and in diverse directions in different layers of the stratosphere, which means that, theoretically, any of these Google-powered balloons can float in any way and at any speed necessary to make internet possible for everybody. Now, “theoretically” is a good word as any when it comes to implementing Project Loon. Its very name suggests this; true, it’s an elision of “balloon”, but it’s also a concise description of the project: the idea sounds crazy even for Google!
This, of course, doesn’t mean that the idea is not possible – it just sounds too good to be! What makes it even better is the fact that Project Loon should use almost exclusively renewable energy sources. As explained above, the balloons should be wind-aided. But, what’s more, even the LTE signals should be generated in an eco-friendly way: the balloons come equipped with solar panels, which, in full sun, produce about a hundred watts of power, enough to keep the unit running, while also charging a battery to store solar power so that the balloons can operate during the night. As usually, it’s the idea that makes the difference: there is probably no cheaper or “greener” way to build a wireless network anywhere in the world. And Google intends to make it possible everywhere.
Project Loon, if successful, might as well be Project Boon for almost every single person on the planet. Because of the relatively inexpensive production costs and the high technology involved, it should ensure both fast and low-priced internet access for those who currently have none. And in addition to this leading to free education and job opportunities for many, it also guarantees a better communication between us and all those millions – if not billions – currently offline minds in the world.
Yet another internet project by Google, Project Fi is a mobile virtual operator which provides users (this time, developed markets only) a unique way to connect to the internet on the go.
Because, let’s face it, it doesn’t matter which cell phone carrier you use, where you are and where you want to go – connectivity problems are bound to occur. But, just imagine if you are in the middle of a Viber or Skype conversation when such thing takes place? Most probably you don’t even have to do it, because it has undoubtedly happened to you at least once during the past month or two. And it has almost certainly resulted in you roaming about in the middle of a busy street trying to retrieve the lost signal.
Google’s project Fi solves these problems by automatically switching between networks depending on the current speed and the signal strength. For example, if the 3G signal from a supposed carrier X is slower than a similar signal coming from the carrier Y at a given place, Google will automatically connect your phone to the Y carrier’s network. And if a Z carrier is generating a 4G-LTE signal at the same place where X and Y are generating 3G, Google will obviously prefer to connect your phone to the Z carrier’s network. The best thing is that all of this happens seamlessly, without you even knowing that your network has changed.
In addition, if there is a Wi-Fi available at some particular place, Google will first try to verify it by spending no more than a second to check against its seemingly endless database (over millions and millions of Wi-Fi networks), and if it decides that the network is reliable, your phone will be automatically connected to the respective Wi-Fi network in a securely encrypted connection.
The pricing model is flat-fee-based and is paid at the beginning of each month:
- The basic plan is priced at 20$ for unlimited domestic calls and messaging, unlimited international texting and the ability to use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot every month. This package is called Fi Basics.
- Texting is free outside the United States, cellular phone calls cost $0.20 per minute, and data costs 10$ per 1 GB; if supported, the country you’re in is irrelevant.
If overuse of data results in paying the aforementioned price, unused data results in refunds. Let’s say that you opted for the Fi Basics plan ($20) with additional 3GB of data ($30). This means that at the beginning of the month, you’re going to pay $50. However, at the end of the month, you discover that you have used only 2.5 GB of additional data. Instead of charging you the whole amount, Google will be nice enough to refund you the unused 0.5 GB of data. So, when you check your account the first day of the next month – you’ll be richer for $5.
Not only because of this, the project sounds amazing – and all critics seem to confirm this – especially when you realize that there are no additional roaming charges or taxes. The only downside is that the project is so far available only for selected few and is (at least for us) moving mainstream too slow. In addition, it currently supports Nexus devices only (Nexus 6 and above).
In terms of business, Google’s nanoparticle platform doesn’t amount to much; but in terms of what’s best for humanity, it may be the best project Google has ever devised. One of its objectives is to devise pills able to detect serious diseases like cancers and heart attacks, well before they can form and much earlier than we can detect them today.
“So, imagine that you swallow a pill and that pill has small things called nanoparticles in it  decorated on their surface with markers that attach to cancer cells. We then have them circulate through your whole body looking for those cells, and we collect them in the superficial vasculature of the arm with a magnet, and you ask them what they saw.” – Andrew Conrad, Head of Google Life Sciences
After taking these pills (say, once or twice a month), tiny magnetic particles, the size of the billionth of a meter, attached to some kind of a protein, will enter your bloodstream. The particles will then separate from the protein and attach themselves to the molecules in your body in an attempt to perform in-depth diagnostics.
Afterwards, you just put a simple magnetic device on your arm which should call all these magnetic particles back to its location within the bloodstream. But now, the particles will have already collected all the necessary data and will be able to communicate it to you in a comprehensible way, preferably over the internet. You can then send the diagnostics to your doctor and learn everything you want to know about any possible symptoms.
The technology is still in its early stages and, due to secrecy, it’s unclear how much it has progressed so far. It’s safe to say – since, bear in mind, the pill is meant to be used by healthy people – that even when the product is ready for commercial use, it will probably be highly regulated and monitored. But, based on experience, there is no real reason why we shouldn’t trust Google.
Will the IT giant usher a new era for medicine and cancer treatment, as well? Let’s hope so.
This next sentence is both scary and wonderful: Google has created an operational Artificial Intelligence assistant in its UK-based DeepMind lab. The assistant is not only capable of making decisions and performing tasks, but it’s also capable of learning by itself. (Itself? Himself? Herself? We should better think of a suitable pronoun, shouldn’t we?)
Much like a human being, whenever the AI assistant does a task correctly, it stores the procedure within its memory. At the moment, Google is making it (we’ll go with it for now) learn about cats by watching relevant YouTube videos. So, basically, just the normal human behaviour! In addition, Google is teaching it – or rather the AI is teaching itself – to play games. More specifically, Go. And this part of the AI has a name of its own: AlphaGo.
For those of you who don’t know, Go is a Chinese board game, dating back at least to the fist millennium BC, making it the oldest board game we still play today. The objective is simple: you need to use your stones (either black or white) to surround more territory than your opponent. Despite this, the game is one of the most complex games ever invented, requiring great decision-making skills and creativity.
And until recently, as Randall Munroe taught us, it was one of the few games where humans were able to beat computers. We didn’t make a mistake there: “until recently” is the right expression. On March 15, 2016, Google’s AlphaGo AI beat one of the most dominant Go players of the decade, Lee Sedol. 4 games to 1.
Is the era of AI dominance already here? Can it be as dangerous as some films have convinced us? At least one guy seems to think so:
” just keep an eye on what’s going on with artificial intelligence. I think there is potentially a dangerous outcome there.” – Elon Musk
Oh, no, wait – it’s three guys. The guys: Musk, Gates, Hawking. And Musk even says he invested in DeepMind only because of Terminator fears. Are you reading this right? Yes, unfortunately, you are. Even Google has fears of its own. That’s why it has created an ethics board and is working with scientists to create a “big red button” to stop AIs from learning harmful and destructive patterns and actions.
Big red button What has ever gone wrong with big red buttons? But, those are films, you say
Wait a minute!
An exciting new project by Google about to become mainstream. And they always choose such good names. This one is called Project Ara.
Ara is a modular smartphone, meaning you’ll have the option of adding and removing components in a PC-like fashion. The phone will have a basic exoskeleton housing the processor, the antennas and some other necessary components. But everything else is left to your imagination.
The modules (the extra parts) will be developed by some of Google’s partners. And you will be able to choose. You can install a better camera, a high-quality speaker, or additional storage by simply putting the module of your choice in the mobile’s exoskeleton. So, you’ll design your own phone in a manner much similar to solving a puzzle. And, in addition to the more conventional parts a mobile usually has, Google and its partners promise to offer features such as fitness trackers, better flash lights, double batteries, and heart rate sensors. And even inoperable building blocks made of wood, concrete, glass, etc. So that it looks like you have a new mobile phone every month. You know, for style.
The first consumer version of Ara should ship sometime in 2017. Samsung and Sony are among the many partners of Google who should work on the modules. But the phone will be the first ever to be manufactured by Google itself. 
 The service was launched on April 22, 2015 and after functioning for a year on an invitation-only basis while supporting exclusively Nexus 6 phablets, it recently started supporting additional devices and dropped the invitation system. (October 2016)
 Unfortunately, on September 2, 2016, Google confirmed the shelving of the Ara smartphone. Nobody knows when – or even if – the project will be restarted. (September 2016).