For the past couple of weeks, we’ve all been wondering why Google bought Boston Dynamics, the company that makes those creepy Big Dog and PETMAN robots for the military.
This comes after the company announced a project to eliminate death, and after building a secret installation out of cargo crates on a barge in San Francisco Bay. It’s as if Google is in the early stages of building a city state.
Historically, city states like Athens in ancient Greece were contained within physical walls, anchored to one location. But their tentacles of influence might reach far and wide, just as the Greek culture that bloomed in Athens is said to have Hellenized many parts of the Middle East.
And what are the main ingredients of a city state? It must have a ruling elite of course, much as a corporation does in its various executives and VPs. It must have a shared ideology, hopefully one that’s boastfully vague — sort of like Google’s motto “Don’t be evil.” Perhaps most importantly, it must have an army and an economy.
If you think of Google’s Mountain View campus as a city state, and all its satellite campuses as colonies, then it was kind of inevitable that the company would raise an army. Already, it has a culture within its walls that is as strong as any city-state’s.
Googlers across the globe share common values, types of work and meals. They exist within a social hierarchy as clear-cut as any caste system in ancient Greece (though Google doesn’t have slaves, which is nice). And they’ve even taken on a state-like role in defending U.S. assets against Chinese hackers.
But recently, Google’s cultural goals have gotten a little more pronounced. They’re not just out to make great web services like search, maps, and gmail. They’re making driverless cars and funding Ray Kurzweil’s efforts to eliminate human death. It’s almost like the company is trying to build its own religion, based on vaguely environmentalist and Singulatarian ideas. They’re acting less like a company, whose goals are entirely economic, and more like a city-state, whose goals include ineffable things like quality of life.
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