Recently, a well-known tech reporting outfit known as The Information held a subscriber summit in New York City. At this summit, speakers included some of the biggest names in tech, including Alphabet. Specifically, it was the CEO of Alphabet-owned Sidewalk Labs that turned heads. The company, aimed at urban improvement through technology, had reportedly hired some consultants to explore the idea of creating a city from scratch complete with all the modern bells and whistles you would expect from a city built by Google. When asked about the hot tip that had popped up, Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff was mostly quiet and unwilling to confirm anything, but did say that building a city “from the internet up… would be a great idea.”
Sidewalk Labs’ current projects mostly center around the fairly realistic and clear goals of improving Wi-Fi, providing free Wi-Fi in some areas and using anonymous data gathered from smartphones to improve traffic and public transportation. A decision to go whole hog and literally create an entire city is not only absolutely monumental by comparison, but is also a gigantic departure from what Sidewalk Labs has been doing so far, which is working with existing urban frameworks to improve livability through technology. Interestingly, the notion of building a sort of Googletopia would jive nicely with an idea that Alphabet CEO Larry Page voiced a while back, to create a live test bed for new Google products, free of the shackles of modern regulatory frameworks and national law.
The idea is, for now, just an idea. It’s just as likely that consultants were hired to play around with the idea as a means to gauge Sidewalk Labs’ existing technologies’ usability, as opposed to beginning a project that would likely span decades, meet with positive and negative acclaim from around the world and cost billions upon billions of dollars. It is entirely possible, but would be an absolutely monumental undertaking and likely end up shifting the overarching focus of Alphabet. For now, of course, the idea is strictly relegated to the realm of science fiction. Doctoroff did note, however, that no matter how hard city building may be, the technology behind what could become such an undertaking will not be stopped anytime soon.