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Gregg Early is vice-president of KCI Communications and executive editor of the company’s flagship publication, Personal Finance. Over the past decade, he has helped build the newsletter’s reputation as a trusted source for penetrating market analysis and investment advice that subscribers can... More
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  • A Juggernaut in Reality and Fiction 0 comments
    Jan 20, 2010 3:00 PM | about stocks: GOOG

    I read a pile of stuff. And some of that stuff is purely for entertainment.
    In my youth the proportions were radically reversed: Most of what I read was fiction--rarely did I traverse into weighty nonfiction unless it was to broaden my creative horizons.

    When I realized I wasn't going to be the next great American novelist, playwright or poet, I beefed up my reading list so that I could function in the world at large.

    Decades later I usually have a few works of fiction in my reading pile and recently started dabbling in science fiction. I’ve also discovered that referring to the genre as sci-fi to an aficionado is a grievous faux pas. If you commit this error, be prepared to look totally uncool.

    But I’m not interested in being cool. It’s fascinating to read accounts of where technology could take us from authors whose fertile imaginations extrapolate future worlds from today’s trends. I prefer writers who aren't necessarily looking to develop allegories in space, but instead focus on the technology rapid growth and its interaction with slowly evolving mammals such as ourselves.

    Earlier this week my fiction reading collided with my work reading.

    In Vernor Vinge's 2007 award-winning Rainbows End, which is set in San Diego in the near future, augmented reality and haptic feedback technology play a key role. Cutting edge technologies today, these innovations are fully integrated into the society Vinge envisions.

    Another carryover from our current society is Google (NSDQ: GOOG), the only existing company to appear in Rainbows End. In this fictional universe the company not only survived the transition to technological singularity but it also plays an important role in this society.

    Then the real Google releases a mobile phone that runs on its own operating system. It's developing its own browser. It's out in beta with an augmented email product.

    And now it's getting into the power business--by that I mean buying and selling electricity. Talk about vertical technical integration on a massive scale.

    The company formed the Delaware-based subsidiary Google Energy on Dec. 16, 2009. The stated goal is to allow Google to have more flexibility in finding and using renewable power for its operations. Part of this move is philosophical, but as many smart businesses are finding out, it's also good for the bottom line.

    As a major power consumer, Google would be impacted by any legislation governing carbon dioxide emissions. As the costs of carbon-intensive energy rise and state and federal legislation becomes more stringent, it makes sense to move toward renewable fuels.

    But I doubt Google’s power subsidiary will have just this single purpose. Considering how much energy Google uses, it may find a way to become a power purveyor across the country. I wouldn't put anything past these folks.

    In an upcoming article for Portfolio 2020, we’ll look at a few companies that will benefit from the smart phone revolution and its increasing adoption beyond the US and Europe. And next week Roger Conrad and I will publish an article about making a splash in the hydropower sector.

    Google is now a player in both of these important sectors. And from what I can tell the only way Vinge missed the boat in his fictional portrayal of Google is that he underestimated its management's vision and ambition.

    GS Early is Executive Editor of Personal Finance and Associate Editor of Portfolio 2020.

    Disclosure: no positions
    Stocks: GOOG
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