Earlier this month, rumors arose that Sidewalk Labs, an urban planning start-up Google owns under its Alphabet parent company, had its eye on the ultimate moonshot: building its own high-tech city. Sidewalk C.E.O. Dan Doctoroff said as much onstage at a conference hosted by the Information. “Thinking about [a city] from the Internet up is really compelling,” Doctoroff, a former deputy mayor of New York City, said. Existing “cities are hard. You have people with vested interest, politics, physical space. . . . But the technology ultimately cannot be stopped.” Referring to the potential to help find solutions for privacy issues, he later added: “If you could create a place, it’d be a laboratory to experiment with these problems.”
Now, it seems, that tech utopia may not be beyond Google’s grasp. Doctoroff and Alphabet C.E.O. and Google co-founder Larry Page are meeting to discuss the creation of a futuristic, tech-based city, code-named “Project Sidewalk,” the Information reports. “A lot of people have tried it and haven’t succeeded. Right now we’re just building products and services but there are lots of lessons that can be learned from the past and we’ll see what happens over time,” Doctoroff previously told the Information. It’s an ambitious plan—and if Page approves, Sidewalk Labs and Alphabet could begin looking for bids from different cities later this year. Alphabet has brought on board 100 expert city planners to design the city of the future, which Sidewalk Labs and Alphabet would build from scratch.
The new city would be a “test bed” for technological advancements including self-driving vehicles, super-fast Internet (think of Google Fiber), and all sorts of smart, Internet-connected devices. The Information reports that Denver and Detroit are being considered as test areas for Project Sidewalk. While Sidewalk Labs has been quiet about its projects, it has started worked on installing high-speed Wi-Fi hubs around New York City.
Alphabet isn’t the first to dream of creating a tech utopia. PayPal co-founder and venture-capitalist Peter Thiel famously proposed a project called Blueseed, based out of his Seasteading Institute, to establish a floating libertarian island off the coast of California. The “world’s first floating city” for “pioneers who wish to demonstrate new ways of living together” was successfully backed on Indiegogo in 2013, though plans to develop Blueseed were paused due to insufficient funding. Likewise, venture-capitalist Tim Draper had a plan several years ago to split California into six separate states, including a Northern California section that would be called Silicon Valley.
Alphabet appears to have put pressure on some of its ambitious “moonshot” projects recently—it put robotics-maker Boston Dynamics up for sale, and smart-home device maker Nest has been under its own revenue pressure—but Project Sidewalk will likely be a different story, especially if it’s meant to serve as a model for how cities everywhere should integrate technology into their infrastructure. //www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/04/googles-parent-company-wants-to-build-its-own-tech-utopia