“They are doubling down on the technocratic approach,” Siva Vaidhyanathan, who’s writing The Googleization of Everything, said in today’s NY Times responding to news that Google.org will focus its philanthropy more on its own science and technology and integrate its charitable arm more with the company. Agreed.
But then he adds in the Times: “The habits and ideology of the company will lead the philanthropy rather than the needs of the communities or the planet.” No, I think it’s actually more hubristic than that: Google believes its technology, science, methods, and intelligence are best suited to solve the needs of the planet.
On its blog, Google.org head Larry Brilliant said – as he announced that he’d be moving to corporate to become philanthrop evangelist and would hand over the foundation to long-time Googler Megan Smith:
During our review it became clear that while we have been able to support some remarkable non-profit organizations over the past three years, our greatest impact has come when we’ve attacked problems in ways that make the most of Google’s strengths in technology and information; examples of this approach include Flu Trends, RechargeIT, Clean Energy 2030, and PowerMeter. By aligning Google.org more closely with Google as a whole, Megan will ensure that we’re better able to build innovative, scalable technology and information solutions. As a first step, Google has decided to put even more engineers and technical talent to work on these issues and problems, resources which I have found to be extraordinary. In this global economic crisis, the work Google.org is doing, together with our many colleagues around the world, to help develop cheap clean energy, find and fight disease outbreaks before they sweep the globe, and build information platforms for underserved people globally, is more important than ever.
In moment such as that, we see how Google think its ways can solve big problems. And maybe they’re right. We can only hope so.
For today’s 30 Days of WWGD? snippet, here’s an excerpt from the chapter about Google.org’s technocratic method brought to the energy and environment: the essential scientific optimism of invention as a means of solving problems:
Here is our one example of an industry being remade in Google’s image that is not hypothetical. Google?.org, the company’s philanthropic wing—supported with 1 percent of Google’s equity and profits—is trying to reinvent the energy industry and with it, our energy economy. It is funding companies and research looking for ways to make power that will cost less than that generated with coal. Their geeky name for the initiative: RE
[Note: Google recently announced PowerMeter, which begins to do these things.]