It’s time to stop thinking of Google as an advertising company, even though it dominates the online advertising market.
It’s time to stop thinking of Google as the internet’s pre-eminent media owner, even though it is the only game in town when it comes to search and video.
And when Google likely becomes the world’s biggest video-game platform when it launches Stadia later this year, it would be wrong to think of Google as a computer-games brand.
In fact, maybe we should stop thinking of Google as a brand at all. A brand communicates what it is and defines its relationship with its consumers.
What Google is, and has been almost from its creation 21 years ago, is a data collection and analysis project. The common thread of this sprawling company’s many activities is the pursuit of observing and studying how humans behave.
What is Google doing with all this data that it has from our emails (1.4 billion people use Gmail), or from our video-watching habits (five billion videos are watched a day on YouTube), or from how well we can distinguish grainy-looking pictures in those annoying Recaptcha security forms?
With that in mind, it becomes no surprise that Google now wants you to play video games directly on its cloud computing rather than use a console that could be played offline.
There is a huge amount of data that can be collected in terms of how people make decisions under pressure, how we react with certain visual stimuli or, more uncomfortably, what makes video games more addictive.
Game-playing habits are one of the few areas in human life that Google's many tentacles do not currently reach. Although security was briefly noted, yesterday’s conference in San Francisco made little mention of what the data collected from Stadia would be used for.
Helpful hints for what Google's endgame could be came from two sources this week. First, at Advertising Week Europe, Google's advertising and commerce chief, Prabhakar Raghaven, said the company is trying to minimise the amount of data is collects about us in the future in order to deliver personalised ads. This is because its artificial intelligence algorithms are getting so advanced – presumably, thanks to all the data Google has already collected.
And, speaking to MIT Technology Review, Google's AI research division said its neural networks can now perceive whole objects despite only seeing part of it, in the same way that humans do.
While keeping ad revenues high today and finding new income sources tomorrow is going to please shareholders, Google is extremely well-placed to thrive in an increasingly automated world where data fuels AI-powered platforms.
Whether Google intends to "do no evil" or not, we are already past the point of no return, with this company now able to observe humankind on a scale that has only been imagined so far in dystopian fiction.