(Bloomberg) — Alphabet Inc., the Mountain View, California-based owner of Google, is using its computing prowess to branch out into a dizzying array of new areas, from medical diagnoses to “transformative” partnerships between humans and artificial intelligence, laying out its ambition at the company’s annual shareholder meeting.
Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt on Wednesday also disclosed that the company’s Fiber fast internet service has new wireless technology that will cut the cost of hooking up homes because it won’t have to dig up people’s gardens to lay fiber optic cables. This may make build-outs cheaper and is probably part of the reason Fiber is expanding to 22 cities across the U.S.
Schmidt’s comments on the web service, in response to a shareholder question, came at an upbeat gathering at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters that was typically sparsely attended. Sundar Pichai, the Google chief executive officer, attended, along with Ruth Porat, who’s been chief financial officer for just more than a year. David Drummond, chief legal officer, also turned up, but no Larry Page or Sergey Brin, the co-founders of Google.
Alphabet’s multiple share structure, which gives Page, Brin and Schmidt voting control, meant all shareholder proposals that management didn’t like were quickly dispensed with.
The highlight of the meeting was Schmidt’s list of Alphabet’s top areas of interest. The company isn’t involved in all these fields, but thinks they are important, he said.
Search to suggest
The most profound new technology, where Alphabet has spent most of its time, is the move from helping people search for information by asking questions to suggesting the right information for them at the right time, Schmidt said. Google has developed an artificially intelligent system it calls “The Assistant” that will make suggestions inside a new Allo messaging service and from a Home device that will talk to people in their living rooms.
Alphabet is using this technology for other products too, such as the YouTube video service, and plans to expand it, Schmidt said. For example, a scientist may be close to a discovery and the Assistant would suggest areas of focus or new avenues to research based on its analysis of data. Alphabet hopes for “a true partnership” between computers doing things they are really good at and humans doing what they’re good at, Schmidt said. “This will be transformative for our company,” he added.
Nerds over cattle
Alphabet is interested in ways to make meat from plants and other cellular organisms, sometimes known as meatless meat. The company isn’t a direct player in this new sector, but there are startups already pursuing this technology, which has promise, Schmidt said. Schmidt called it “nerds over cattle.”