It was a frenzy of activity as workers scurried from office to office, making their final checks, gathering books, papers, and personal belongings. Many were still stunned over the announcement that Google was closing its doors. The final minutes before the deadline were reserved for tearful hugs and remorseful goodbyes, but for the people of the world these brief moments of stunned silence would soon be replaced with long term anger and outrage.

A mere three weeks earlier this one-time tiny search engine company that overnight had grown into a goliath on Wall Street had appeared to be an invincible force on the global business stage. But now after wave upon wave of well-orchestrated attacks, the giant corporation had fallen to its knees, and in true medieval form, endured the equivalent of a public beheading of its data, its once stellar revenue streams, and its corporate integrity.

Teams of their best data-smiths and strategy people worked around the clock to plug the holes in their sinking ship, but were woefully unprepared for this kind of assault. After weeks of sleepless nights, witnessing one crippling blow after another, a grim new reality began to take hold. In the end, all data had become mangled to the point where it was irretrievable, and all backup systems suffering a similar fate.

TV cameras from around the world watched in horror as a single hand reached up and turned off the final power switch.

With the power turned off, an eerie silence filled the room.

The former giant of global business had breathed its last breath. This was the day that Google died.

Major System Flaws

The picture that I’ve painted above is a scenario designed to both shock and alarm you. While it is still only a fictional account, it is indeed a real possibility. It may not happen this quickly, or in this fashion, but it is possible.

Recent announcements from Google about massive attacks by Chinese hackers and stories about cyber criminals hijacking over 75,000 computers in one large-scale attack have left us feeling less than secure about our data’s future.

While I have focused on Google, there are many other corporations at risk, and the risks involve everything from the loss of individual jobs to the economic stability of entire nations.

Our governmental systems are evolving at speeds that are exponentially slower than the businesses that use them. They are ill-prepared for the sweeping pace of change and ill-equipped to handle the disruptive forces intent on exploiting every loophole.

Who Owns the Data?

Currently the vast majority of “humanity’s data” lies in the hands of individual corporations. Companies like Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Apple, IBM, and Microsoft have staked their future on the value of the information being collected and archived in their datacenters. They have created the systems for collecting it, and have invested heavily in vast server farms for storing it.

However, if one of these corporations ceases to exist, what happens to all of the information currently residing on the servers?

Thinking long-term, and knowing that only a very small percentage of companies survive long enough to celebrate their 50th anniversary, let alone their 100th or 200th, how much of this information will still exist 200 years from now?

What will our great, great, great grandchildren know about us? Will they even know we existed?

It’s easy to make the argument that information created “by the people, for the people,” should be preserved through some form of public ownership. But that doesn’t make sense in our current state of the world.

No global entity currently exists with the credibility and resources to take on this kind of task. Putting it another way, there is no global entity that would be able to align itself with the speed, creativity, and evolving nature of the private enterprises that create and use the data… without meddling with it.

The Evolving Nature of Data

For the past several decades the format of digital information has been evolving – from 8” disks, to 5.25” disks, to 3.5” disks, to CDs, stick drives, tape drives, and more. Few of these formats will still exist even 10 years from now.

One of the ideas behind cloud computing was to free users from the ever-changing nature of storage devices by using remote storage in server farms far, far away. Changes that happen inside the server farm will then be invisible to the end user.

Even though the clouds will be invisible, each of the clouds will be owned by individual companies.

As I have mentioned in a previous article, we are not likely to see an end to the evolving nature of data storage for over 100 years, so there is no end in sight.

What Information is Worth Saving?

One question I wrestle with frequently is the questions, “of all the information we are creating, what should we be saving?” And perhaps more importantly, who gets to decide?

It’s easy to argue that much of what is being posted on YouTube and Facebook is simply crap. It holds no long term value.

However, when we see archeologists fretting over hair, bone, and pottery fragments from centuries ago as they try to puzzle together information about past civilizations, we can argue that today’s “information fragments” hold far more value, and even the meaningless, mindless, and boring stuff will retain tangential significance.

Do we know now what information will be valuable in the future?

The Question Remains…

How then do we create a long-term strategy for data preservation, and by long-term I mean 1,000 years or more?

The information volumes in storage today are sure to be miniscule when compared to the massive volumes being collected in the future. Not only will we be collecting raw data on virtually every living and non-living object on the face of the earth, but we will be creating information about the information.

As an example, the flight patterns of individual flies or insects may be layered with a system for detecting pattern anomalies to determine if the insects are growing in intelligence over time.

Information about the information can easily dwarf the size of the original data by a factor of a thousand, even a million.

Another critical element in this conversation is the overall cost of data storage. The cost of storing an individual document is just a fraction of a cent, and continues to drop. However, when trillions of documents begin to multiply exponentially year after year, the cost becomes huge.

IDC is predicting that the cost of powering data centers around the world will reach $40 billion annually by 2012. How long before that number doubles, triples, or quadruples? When do we reach a point when we can no longer pay the bill, or can we invent some revolutionary storage system that is a factor of a million cheaper than what we have today?

Building for the Future

As we look at the directions we are headed in, the trend lines are being red-flagged with ominous signals. In addition to the volume and cost issues, the ownership question is sure to haunt us for many years to come.

However, what we are trying to build is something truly impressive – the greatest data archive in all history.

Before the Internet, mankind’s greatest data storage archives were physical storehouses like the fabled Library of Alexandria and today’s Library of Congress.

The coming era of cloud computing is being designed around super-intelligent communication systems that will make information extraordinarily pervasive, incredibly fast, and amazingly cheap. It will serve as the foundation for literally millions of new businesses.

The challenges, as I have pointed out, are huge, and detractors are quick to zero in on the pitfalls. But if not the cloud, then what? What is plan B?

In our current state of technology the cloud looks rather primitive. Some of the industry leaders see it as a Model-T holding together a network of BMWs. But that will change quickly.

In the future, the cloud is where the people will be. It will become mankind’s most valuable resource. Storytellers will refer to it as the mythical city in the clouds or perhaps describe it as the proverbial cloud with a silver lining. But in the end, we will find a million new ways to leverage it, capitalize on it, and integrate it into an inspiring future world that most will be proud to live in.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

19 Responses to “The Day that Google Died”

Comments List

  1. Don

    Such a megalith of personal data, once created, will be analogous to the atomic bomb. Whether used for good [sic] or ill depends on whose hands hold it. But it is a futurist's nightmare that once created, this data bomb WILL eventually fall into the wrong hands. Because of its potential for profit or population control, this WILL be created. The Good Works at this point in the game will be figuring ouit how to delay it.
  2. Jerry Arnold

    We can look to the fate of the legendary library of Alexandria to see what can happen when there is too much centralization of storage...whether it was destroyed by fire as most historians believe or is hidden in vaults under the Vatican as the conspiracy investigators assert, either way it is gone. Redundancy, decentralization and billions of individuals with a vested interest in the data has my vote of succeeding to keep the records alive and well and less likely to be abused by the deviant class who views everything as a potential weapons system. Even now there is a growing tendency to regulate the internet, surveil book and other purchases, along with every email and conversation to enforce homeland security. It it just me or is the handwriting already on the wall.
  3. Jeff Prystupa

    We have no evidence that would lead us to conclude that we, as a species inhabiting the small blue sphere located third from the Sun, are as important as we perceive ourselves to be. Does it really matter who kept a record of the species that failed to solve the problems that it created? We need to 'sober up' from our drunken self-importance. The answers to our present circumstances, such as energy and health, are more likely to be found in an examination of the past, as opposed to being found by future exploration of what is to be known or by shrinking what we think we now know to nano-dimensions. That's my point. Two quotes come to mind: "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." "The solution to the problem will not be found within the context that created the problem."
  4. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Bob Forshay</a>

    Having come from SAN business I can see many costly consequences and risks to centralized storage. Just as the internet has shown us ways to leverage massive gloabal networking ability, 75,000 pcs attacking Google, can work in reverse as well. Storage too will live in this way, clouds or something similar. Like a phsyical body of cells, some can fall away while others replace and flourish. Dynamic and less vulnerable. May be intersting to see how that would be "controlled".
  5. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Ray Hutchins</a>

    Tom, I continue to be amazed at your futurist capabilities and insights. You bring up multiple issues...some of the most important relate to security and control. How to accomplish this in an environment where the foxes are guarding the chicken coop? And when government sponsored entities are trying to hack it? It's an argument for keeping as much of our private data out of the cloud as possible.
  6. Jeff Prystupa

    As I re-read my comment, let me provide some balance. Google will die. So will we. What will we leave as seed for future generations? The reigning paradigm in health and environment is 'broken' man on 'broken' Earth. Neither is true. By advocating an 'all-of-us' mindset and re-directing our efforts, at least say half, of what we spend on our military means of destruction, that could be used to irrigate, cleanse, plant, educate, and harvest. In an equally-pressing front: What is the future outcome of Islam's war on the infidels - you and me? How will that problem be solved? How long will we ignore the camel's nose in our tent? This is the most threatening of all global problems and it seems that we even fear to mention it. ooops.
  7. Bakare Ayodele

    Tears is not enough tears in our eyes to tell how painful we miss you Google. But no matter how well we do in this world; One day we have to go and say bye bye to our friends and foes. Good dye Google!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Bakare Ayodele Lagos, Nigeria
  8. Critch

    First off, the attacks against Google were leveraged through known exploits of the Windows Operating system. Google has since removed Windows from the workplace and replaced it with OS X and Linux. Secondly, that attack was at internal operations data, and did not get at "search" related data, those machines are NOT located in Mountain view or any other physical facility at any Google campus. Google's search servers are scattered around the world in self-contained units --- literally shipping containers --- at various data centers. So any attack, well orchestrated or otherwise would not succeed in bringing down Google's core services unless the attack also brought the ENTIRE INTERNET down with it. Even a DNS level attack as exposed a couple years back in which entire domains could be hijacked would not be enough to kill it. And while a physical assault on Google with assassins and/or missiles might seriously harm them, they could still move on and continue since they are owned by shareholders and new staff and facilities could be obtained. In fact, a sudden vacuum in personell could be swiftly filled by eager technical grads from MIT and CalTech and Stanford as well as ex=pats from Microsoft Oracle and other high tech firms. There is quite frankly no way to kill Google from any other means outside of market competitions. Give it 10 or 20 years, after the founders are less-interested or gone and their current brain-trust is retired and their culture has changed to more of a back-biting, self-congratulating bureaucracy. Then we might see them start to wither and fade in the face of innovation from new competition."
    • admin

      Thanks for taking time to elaborate on the weaknesses of this scenario. But, if you're simply focused on the feasibility of Google failing, you're missing the point. The name "Google" can easily be replaced with names like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, or LinkedIn. Even changing the name, you're still overlooking the problems associated with the gaping holes we have in our global data systems. I can see that you're very focused on the failure points of the scenario. Granted, the scenario has its shortcomings and probably should have been framed better. However, failures happen to companies in thousands of different ways. As an example, a failure could result from a series of well-orchestrated EMP blasts, internal economic failures, some highly contagious disease inside the company, an internal mutiny among Google employees, or even a combination of things going wrong, just to name a few. However improbable they may seem, the likelihood of them happening is still greater than zero. A few months before their failure, people would have also thought it absurd for the likes of Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual, WorldCom, GM, Enron, and Chrysler to collapse. The life expectancy of a corporation is measured at best in decades, not centuries. In the end, all companies will fail. Some sooner than others. The bigger question remains, though, about what happens to the data that these private companies have in their archives. Does it just go away? Does the legacy that our generation has been entrusting to Google-like companies and their servers simply disappear? If you pay close attention to the problems, you will also begin to see the opportunities. Tom
  9. lalalalaladididida

    Tom, I think you bring up a few interesting points. Big tech internet companies will die, our data is at risk, and we are creating an archaeological record that is light years beyond what was happening 50 years ago, and practically in another universe compared to pre-historical (no written language) digs. Personally, I think that only the latter is of much interest. The first two are only different from past information security and safety in terms of mode. A certain number of copies of each thing are kept, and people clean house. This is fairly standard in business and personal life. Companies store old data they aren't using with delete/destroy dates based on current legal requirements. Individuals eventually go through their deceased loved ones belongings and trash the trash. Web companies are also known to delete unused accounts (despite facebook's belief that they are the mecca of the internet). We have always lost information to fire, espionage, and misplacement. As for the last issue, I completely agree. A whole planet of anthropologists could make a lifetime out of digging out our old data, reverse-engineering the technology, and throwing panoramas up in their museums depicting us.
  10. J

    Google addressed this hazard by creating the Data Liberation Front, whose job it is to ensure that people can always download their data from Google and store it locally or take it elsewhere.
    • admin

      Well, that get's Google off the hook, but it doesn't answer many of the long term questions about the data. There is huge value in this data, and that value will either go up or go down over time. But it will never reach zero. It doesn't make sense that one company should have the power to erase a 20-year swath of humanity simply by hitting the delete key. The people of the world created the information, and should have some say in the long-term preservation of it. It quickly loses its value if its stored on sticks and floppies in people's closets. There is great value in the aggregation of the data. Our systems are flawed and this hasn't been thought through very well.
  11. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Hastalık</a>

    Google has done more than a few things to cause hate and discontent among their user base. And they certainly provide stiff competition to everyone they're competing with. So yes, there may be someone disgruntled enough to go to war with them. Until last week's events at Amazon, I would have never believes a big company would leave themselves that vulnerable, so maybe your scenario is possible. Does this mean the big tech companies will suddenly have to be nicer to their customers?
  12. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Eric Sean Tite Webber</a>

    No one owns the data, as "ownership" itself is a flawed concept, we each influence each other, we are all children of the same Universe (GD what have ye), no idea is "original", everything that is possible now always was, the only thing that ever changes is awareness of what always is/was/will forever be true, and in the POST-TITE-INVERSION reality that is rapidly approaching, due in large part to wonderful companies like Google I might add, "ownership" will disappear altogether, as Robots will produce anything anyone wants on demand, so the problem will be one of TOO much stuff, and not not enough as is currently the illusory case.
  13. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Eric Sean Tite Webber</a>

    Nice presentation +Thomas Frey *To answer your implied question:* No one owns the data, as _“ownership”_ itself is a flawed concept, we each influence each other, we are all children of the same Universe (GD what have ye), no idea is “original”, everything that is possible now always was, the only thing that ever changes is awareness of what always is/was/will forever be true, and in the *_"POST-TITE-INVERSION©"_* reality that is rapidly approaching, due in large part to wonderful companies like Google I might add, “ownership” will disappear altogether, as the human directed *Robotic Infrastructure Backplane* will *JIT* produce anything anyone wants on demand, so the problem will be one of TOO much stuff, and not not enough as is currently the illusory case, all this in a Universe so vast in dimension & resources generously bequeathed to us by its Infinitely Generous & Beneficent Creator.
  14. <a href='' rel='external nofollow' class='url'>Eric Sean Tite Webber</a>

    Micro$oft among others, is behind the attacks on Google read this:
  15. Dean Bush

    Although I an intrigued by futurists and respect them and what they do, I can't help but wonder how the energy of this negative thinking counteracts the positive-future thinking that folks at Google are doing around their conference tables with their pets sitting and playing under the same table. I can't help but wonder if futurists have ideas that just come to their minds or if they create these ideas. Either way, wouldn't it be better in any case to be positive thinkers?
    • admin

      Dean, In the spirit of "every problem creates an opportunity" and "forewarned is forearmed," I view this as a very positive column. To be sure, this pece was far less about the death of a business, and far more about the implications of this house of cards we are building in the information world. I view my job as that of building awareness, not having all the answers. Tom

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