Will Google cure cancer?

Four ways Google might just save the world.


Chris Tognotti

Internet Culture

Published Oct 30, 2014   Updated May 30, 2021, 7:39 am CDT

If you’re the kind of person who gets excited thinking about the future, and the new safeties and securities that the high-tech age can bring, well, you’ve probably had a pretty exciting few years. After all, everywhere you look, some titan of the tech industry is dreaming up something new, and potentially game-changing. Wifi-spewing drones flying over developing nations, perhaps? And Google is no exception, with Wednesday’s news that the hyper-secretive Google X lab is working on a cancer-detection pill. From the sounds of it, it could really shake up how people monitor and diagnose their internal health.

It’s just one of many daring, ambitious non-Web projects that Google has taken on through the mysterious research and development lab—back in 2011, The New York Times couldn’t get anyone to speak about it for attribution, because of Google’s dedication to secrecy—and there have been many awesome-sounding ideas rumored over the last few years. Having grown up during the ’90s, it’s kind of a bizarre turn of events. I’d never have guessed that what started as a ubiquitous search engine would one day be trying to protect me from cancer. But that just goes to show that you never quite know where technology will take you. For example, here’s some of the other things Google has tried to whip up behind the scenes.

Self-Driving Automobiles

By now you’ve probably heard about this, since it’s looking so imminent that Governor Jerry Brown has already signed a bill permitting test-drives on California roadways, but it’s still a pretty mind-blowing concept all the same. The self-driving car has been maybe the most high-profile of Google’s non-Internet related pursuits, and with each passing month they get closer and closer—in fact, the vehicles will start getting tested out on British roadways by January, and they’ve already logged a reported 700,000 accident-free miles in California. There’s no certainty when you’ll start seeing these streaking down the freeway regularly, but this much seems certain—it’s going to happen eventually.

Space Elevators

Yes, believe it or not, the Google X lab has also attempted space elevators, about as futuristic a leap forward in human transit as it gets. For the uninitiated, a space elevator would allow for rocket-free ascent into orbit, by way of an enormous cable stretching from the ground all the way through the atmosphere. Sounds exciting, right?

That Time Google Tried To Design A Space Elevator https://t.co/PRLqYWPyMj pic.twitter.com/3b7l2HLJbW

— ExpandedPerspectives (@ExpandedP) April 16, 2014

Well, sadly, this one is on hold pending further scientific advancement—Google found that the only material strong enough to be used for the essential cable, carbon nanotubes, had never produced a worthy cable more than a meter in length. For some perspective, a cable for a space elevator would have to be, well, a lot longer than one meter, let’s say that. So for now, they’ve moved on to other things, but don’t think for a second this idea won’t relaunch if something new comes along.

“Project Loon” Aerial Wifi

It’s no surprise when you see Facebook and Google going head to head, iconic competitors that they are, but in this case the rivalry can only help the world. Both companies have launched plans to provide aerial wifi signals to otherwise disconnected environments. Facebook aims to achieve this through a series of high-flying drones, while Google’s scheme is to use balloons to drift high in the skies, spreading Internet connectivity to the lands below.

Project Loon – Google balloons have taken flight to bring the Internet to underserved areas: https://t.co/K5WfZa3oqz pic.twitter.com/7RzYuTIytF

— Chris © (@chrisbed10) September 25, 2014

This would be a huge boon to people living in places traditionally without Internet access, swaths of the developing world in particular. But as Forbes’ Erika Morphy notes, this would help in the U.S., too. Many Americans still don’t have quick or reliable service, with some in remote rural communities still relying on dial-up modems as a means of getting online.

Cancer-Detecting Pills

This, of course, was the breaking news on Wednesday that got people all excited. And really, based on the description, it’s well-deserved. If Google’s anti-cancer efforts come to fruition, here’s how it’d work: you take a pill containing tiny nanoparticles, which then spread throughout your body, latching themselves onto cancerous or otherwise abnormal cells. You then get the information sent to you on a wearable device, which communicates with the nanoparticles to determine if anything is amiss. Rest assured, if Google pulls this off, there will be no limit to the amount of praise and plaudits they’ll earn—this could be potentially life-changing innovation.

Google X team designing nanoparticles for early cancer detection https://t.co/RV9riYKzkI via @WSJ #GoogleXLab #news pic.twitter.com/778uruZFC0

— Nadim Bel Lallahom (@NadimBhM) October 28, 2014

This post originally appeared on Bustle, and was reprinted with permission.

Photo via Kham Tran/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Oct 30, 2014, 9:00 am CDT