Google just bought Skybox Imaging for $500m to gain access to its capability to take real-time, high-resolution satellite images/videos of the whole world daily. Last week Google sources told the WSJ that Google was planning to spend $1-3 billion on “180 small, high capacity satellites at lower altitudes than traditional satellites” to enable two-way Internet access. In April, Google bought Titan Aerospace – which makes solar-powered, high-flying drones that Titan calls “atmospheric satellites” — for Internet access to remote areas and for disaster relief. And in March Google CEO Larry Page shared his ambitions that Project Loon “could build a world-wide mesh of these balloons that can cover the whole planet.”
Google’s Cover Story
Google’s public rationale for all these recent endeavors has been altruism, to supply Internet access to the two-thirds of the world that is not online. About Skybox, Google said: “Skybox’s satellites will help keep Google Maps accurate with up-to-date imagery. Over time, we also hope that Skybox’s team and technology will be able to help improve Internet access and disaster relief — areas Google has long been interested in.”
Never mind that Google Inc. was caught secretly wiretapping hundreds of millions of Gmails before they were delivered for three years without anyone’s knowledge via an NSA-PRISM-like device called Content One Box.
And never mind that Google was also caught secretly wiretapping the personal WiFi signals of tens of millions of households in 33 countries over three years.
Google now wants us to believe that Google will not be doing any secret surveillance, spying or illegal data collection when it builds a new worldwide, high-capacity, satellite grid with two-way, tracking, monitoring, and high-resolution video capabilities?
And the company that has long maintained publicly that any broadband access with less than Gigabit speeds are inferior, is now claiming it wants to offer inferior, slow-speed, satellite Internet access to the whole world?
Even if one believes Google’s incredible cover story for a moment, that they will use their world-wide satellite network primarily to supply internet access where there is none, what does one surmise that Google Inc. will do with the unused surveillance capability in all the many geographies where there is already superior Internet access and where all Google’s monetize-able customers routinely operate? And wouldn’t it be more profitable and make more business sense to densely pack more satellites over-top of where most of Google’s users and devices are?
Acquiring Military-Grade Capability
Importantly, SkyBox’ produces dual-use technology that can be used for both military and civilian purposes. More importantly, SkyBox’ technology offers military-grade capability. “No one outside the military has ever been able to access data like this: Theoretically, one could follow individual people from space, per Business Insider.
SkyBox’ cutting edge SkySat satellite circuitry is phone book size and uses the power equivalent of a ~100 watt light bulb. The satellites also provide real-time high resolution video images. SkyBox current commercial value proposition is selling satellite surveillance of foreign company logistics to help estimate when certain business activities will occur. Interestingly, the Economist reports the prices for chipsets for nanosats like SkyBox’ SkySat satellites are approaching just $25 a piece.
In a post-Snowden world, expect the rest of world to have big concerns about the growingmilitarization of Google as a leading DOD contractor for mapping analytics, soldier-robotics, artificial intelligence and now satellite production, operation and application.
Google’s Superstate Ambitions
As the Internet’s lone superpower, will Google’s latest big move into military-grade satellite services make foreign governments and foreigners think that Google will become more valuable to, and a closer partner and technology supplier to NSA and the U.S. intelligence community than before?
Will Google’s eye-in-the-sky ambitions make those who fear that Google has become an unaccountable “digital superstate” even more fearful that Google is becoming all-powerful and effectively digitally colonializing the world’s data and private/secret information on Google’s terms?
Could Google Big Brother Inc. covet the surveillance potential of a Google-owned-and-operated satellite network that could fill in the gaps where Google currently cannot yet surveil, watch and track people in real-time, because Google does not yet have a fully omnipresent satellite capability that is potentially real-time, continuous, high-resolution, and targetable to tracking individuals or groups of individuals’ movements at any time?
That outcome is not what Google Chairman Eric Schmidt would have people believe. On CNBC April 30th Mr. Schmidt reassured the world that Google does not spy or surveil: “We actually don’t track people. We are very very careful to respect people’s privacy. We disclose exactly what we do.”
Google’s Eye-in-the-Sky, Sky-Eye, or Sky-Spy YouTube Channels?
As almost always, Google is way ahead of everyone here. Long term Google sees the potential for Google Earth and Google Maps to meld with its satellite capability to immediately film in real-time for YouTube any event of interest in the world, whether it be a natural disaster, terrorist attack, plane/train/car crash, boat sinking, political demonstration, battle/war-in progress, crime-in-progress, shooting, hostage taking, car chase, concert, sporting event, celebrity island wedding, etc.
What Google realizes that others do not is the commercial and business dominance value of being the only entity that can constantly surveil, spot, and then immediately respond with a live video feed in real-time to any breaking development or news of interest to some or many of its users.
One can imagine that many foreign governments will not be thrilled with Google having the new capability to broadcast live via YouTube a foreign government’s dirty laundry via its soon-to-be constant aerial surveillance videos of their country, or to choose to give what it finds secretly to the NSA or another foreign government. The editorial, political, and military power of this dominant commercial surveillance capability could be staggering.
Like Google dominates mapping with Google Earth, StreetView, and Maps, a Google owned-and-operated satellite network integrated with all of Google’s other dominant surveillance services: search, data, advertising, mobile, video, browser, etc. provides Google with the opportunity to globally dominate aerial surveillance as well.
In closing, it is telling that Google’s latest satellite investment binge discussed above coincides with a another Google buying binge of eight military robotics companies several months ago, and also a targeted hiring and acquisition effort to bolster Google’s leadership in artificial intelligence just a few months ago; (Google bought ethics-concerned, DeepMind, an acquired company that scarily-required Google to establish an Ethics Board as a condition for Deepmind being bought by Google.)
On top of this creepy predicate, Google’s Head Futurist, Ray Kurzweil, told the Guardian in February that he had long thought the ‘singularity’ — the time when computers’ artificial intelligence will overtake human thinking — will be 2029, and that “by 2045 computers will be a billion times more powerful than all of the human brains on Earth.”
Fans of science fiction, and the Terminator movies in particular, will surely see the creepy parallels between Google’s concentrated efforts over the last several months and the dystopian “Terminator movie future” where a satellite-enabled, artificial-intelligence named “SkyNet” becomes “sentient,” i.e. smarter than humans, and then proceeds to see humans as a threat, and then proceeds to try and wipe out the human race.
Google’s purposeful determination and actions over the last several months indicates that Google may be anticipating Kurzweil’s “singularity” and wants to be sure that any future SkyNet artificial intelligence and robot army is Google owned, programmed… and controlled.
Forewarned is forearmed.
[Originally published at Precursor Blog]