As you may have heard by now, Google has started a new company called Calico aimed at figuring out how to extend human life. In other words, fighting death.
The news broke in a Time Magazine cover story, which was quickly followed by a Google+ Post from Google CEO Larry Page and a press release about the initiative.
The company is to be run by Arthur Levinson, the former CEO and Chairman of Genentech and current Chairman of Apple. He has also taken to Google+ to talk about Calico (and clarify what the name is about):
A lot of people are obviously skeptical about Calico’s quest to “solve death”. The business editor at the MIT Technology Review had this to say:
Google didn’t disclose how much money the company had raised. But if it’s primarily an investment by its venture arm, the amount is likely to be vanishingly small compared to the $31 billion spent on biomedical research each year by the National Institutes of Health, and billions upon billions more spent by drug companies.
This isn’t the first time Google has ventured from its core businesses in computing with grandiose claims that it can fix some huge social problem. The search giant previously sought to produce zero-carbon energy at massive scales, but backed away from that research after it found that inventing new energy technology wasn’t so easy (see “Google’s Search for Clean Energy”.)
He then suggested that if Page is serious about medical research, he should start with his own search engine, noting that paid ads promoting what amount to “pure snake oil” still appear at the top of Google’s results for health-related queries.
To be fair, from what I’ve seen, Google hasn’t actually said that Calico is focused on solving death. In fact, none of the announcements specifically say anything about “death”. They just said Calico is focused on health and well-being, “in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases”.
So yeah, that still sounds like they have the goal of extending life, which is essentially solving death, but Google is not out there saying, “We’re going to solve death.”
It does make for an attention-grabbing headline though. And it still seems like a good place for wealthy tech giants to focus some time and money.