A conversation with a computer, a search that can “see” beyond the typed word, A.I. that can detect lung cancer before human doctors. These are all amazing achievements, and I bobbed my head appreciatively as Google CEO Sundar Pichai and various other execs unveiled them at this year’s Google I/O keynote.
But when I close my eyes and think of Google I/O events of years past, certain images flood in, like a team of parachute divers jumping out of an airplane to introduce Google Glass, a weather balloon delivering internet access from the sky, phones you assembled from puzzle-like pieces, and fabric that seemed alive. These achievements were stunning, audacious, and exciting.
But those days are gone.
Some might argue that the products Google unveiled on Tuesday — privacy-focused software updates and some fresh hardware iterations — are inspired in their own way. But I wonder what happened to the moon-shot-obsessed Google that toyed with robots, cooked up ridiculous modular phone ideas, and put a giant Android-powered labyrinth game on the floor of the 2011 Google I/O convention space.
The relatively staid approach isn’t unique to Google. Look at Facebook, the company that just two years ago unveiled a brain-computer interface at its F8 conference. This year’s keynote was about quality of conversation, safe spaces, groups, privacy — lots of privacy — and commerce on the Facebook platform.
Microsoft’s last big developer conference moment was when it introduced HoloLens in 2015. The mixed-reality headset was totally unexpected and seemingly out of character for the once dull tech company. A few years later, and HoloLens is on version two, but for Build 2019, Microsoft’s cloud service Azure took center stage.
These developer conferences are still full of innovation, but that sense of experimentation — the risk factor, the “look what we just did” — is gone. The crazy ideas have been scrubbed clean, and tech companies seem overwhelmed with a new sense of responsibility.
This is understandable. The last 24 months have been some of the tech sector’s darkest…