Google Maps Reveal Future
Written by Erik Neff   
Sunday, 22 May 2005
ImageBy bringing together advancements in wireless networking, consumer battery life, voice recognition software, and computer network architecture, Google could revolutionize modern computing - and it's all hidden in satellite images.

By now, almost everyone this side of Mars has visited Google Maps and clicked on Google's newest feature, "Satellite", to see a breathtakingly high res image of earth that is transparently scrollable and zoomable in all its glory. Most people's immediate reaction to this was to zero in on their own house or a friend's house, fascinated by the ability to see a swimming pool, or perhaps cars in a driveway. However, much lies beneath the surface of these images...


What you see above is a simple map showing the location of a person's house, as shown by Google's regular mapping program. Aside from a clever implementation, the Google Maps site was nothing that Map Quest hadn't been doing for years. However, with the most recent advent of Google Maps using real satellite images instead of vanilla street maps (as seen below), a whole new dimension of street mapping has opened up, breathing glorious new life into the mapping industry, with dynamic images unlike anything ever seen before on the internet.


As mentioned earlier, there is much more to these satellite images than just the images themselves. In fact, even as you read this article, Google may be secretly sculpting an elaborate plan to revolutionize modern computing, as supported by these satellite images. There is already a plethora of evidence indicating that Google intends to make a browser called gBrowser, and a network operating system called gOS. These could be used in conjunction to enable computers that run just a web browser and operate entirely off the internet. Using this design, a computer need not have a hard drive since everything is stored in a centralized loaction somewhere within Google, accessible only by you. With no hard drive, there is no more data to lose from viruses or hardware failures or data corruption on your computer itself, which are now the three greatest problems with modern computers as they exist today. Also, in this new network computing model, the responsibility for management of the computer's data and software is entirely abstracted to Google, who is definately much better qualified to handle such a task than the individual. Thus, modern computers need only be a display of some sort, with a network connection, as well as some method of inputing user commands. Furthermore, because of the lack of moving parts, such a computer would have greater energy efficiency, generate less heat, and have less susceptibility to damage from being dropped, making such a computer much more suitable to general purpose use, as making it much better for portability than a desktop or a laptop, but with much greater usability than, say, a hand-held device.

This network computing model is nothing new either - almost 10 years ago Bill Gates prophecized that the whole world was on the verge of a shift away from the obsolete software of the day, and that the future of computers was for all software to run from within a browser, with every user paying a monthly subscription fee to use things like word or a calculator. However, due to a number of problems, such as the horrific failure of the Microsoft .NET architecture to revolutionize the web, coupled with strong consumer reluctance to pay never-ending subscription fees for software they previously owned, this prophecy did not come to pass. Google seems to be dealing with these problems by using commonly-supported functions that all browsers support in a powerful way to make web pages that do more than they used to in elegant ways, and by generating revenues from advertising rather than subscriptions fees, the software is free to use by the general public.

Now, in order for the hardware aspect to support such a forward-thinking picture of modern portable network computing, several leaps and bounds must be made in other adjacent technologies. Specifically, Wireless Mesh technologies that enable groups of people to share one or more internet connections must be widely implemented. This technology is already being implemented in select cities across the continental U.S. such as Las Vegas and New York, and have been been met with great success thus far. It will need to achieve nation-wide utilization if a wireless networked computing model such as this should ever come to pass. Also, nuclear battery technology is also advancing by leaps and bounds, and will soon make portable consumer devices with large displays much more feasible by allowing them to operate for weeks, months, or even years without recharging, or for that matter even turning off. This is done by harnassing the chemical energy given off by mildly radioative Radium, and turning that into mechanical energy, which is then converted into electrical energy. Nuclear batters are also a crucial element of this brave new world of wireless network computing.

So, bringing everything together, we have satellite mapping and imaging software, an operating system that runs from within a browser and stores everything in a centrally accessible location, and finally a computer that is portable enough to be taken anywhere, has constant internet access, a large display, and can run for significant periods of time without turning off. Now, if you add one more element to this equation, than finally Google's intentions for its new Satellite Imaging program will instantly jump out at you. GPS technology. Google's satellite images already scroll beautifully using a mouse – now imagine them scrolling automagically as you move and you've just figured out the Google puzzle. Let's call it, “Google World”. It shows you a real-time image of the place where you are, and scrolls wherever you move, no matter how fast. Bringing together other Google functions, such as Google Local, it can instantly show you stores and landmarks nearby, with directions leading you there, all in real-time. With this picture in mind, almost every project Google is working on has an application. FInally their purpose is quite clear. Now, combine with this the ability to use speech recognition to say where you want to go, and you now have a hands-free guide that can hold your hand as you go, every step of the way.


This is the view of the future that appeared before my eyes as I used Google's satellite imaging system. It's just my opinion, so don't go getting all excited quite yet. Although there may be many indications that my predictions will likely come true, in the end there are still many technical obstacles that have yet to be overcome, such as the development of technologies that may never exist (gbrowser, gOS, gmaps+gps) as well as the substantial improvement of several existing technologies (nation-wide wireless internet access, nuclear batteries, voice recognition software).

I hope you enjoyed being in my brain for a while. You are now free to return to your normal reality.

- Erik Neff

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 22 February 2006 )
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