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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Is there anything Google can't do?

After decades of governments trying to "solve" traffic congestion, a problem they largely created, Google is providing a solution:

Google Inc. is road-testing cars that steer, stop and start without a human driver, the company says.

The goal is to "help prevent traffic accidents, free up people's time and reduce carbon emissions" through ride sharing and "the new 'highway trains of tomorrow,"' project leader Sebastian Thrun wrote Saturday on Google's corporate blog.

The cars are never unmanned, Thrun wrote. He said a backup driver is always behind the wheel to monitor the software.

It's not the first signal that Google wants to change how people get from place to place. In a speech Sept. 29 at the TechCrunch "Disrupt" conference, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said "your car should drive itself. It just makes sense."

You better believe it does. Not content to make our morning commutes easier, Google is also giving a knock to our old friend, the Consumer Price Index:

Google is using its vast database of web shopping data to construct the ‘Google Price Index’ – a daily measure of inflation that could one day provide an alternative to official statistics.

The work by Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian, highlights how economic data can be gathered far more rapidly using online sources. The official Consumer Price Index data are collected by hand from shops, and only published monthly with a time lag of several weeks.

One less opportunity for governments to fudge the numbers. One of the great methodological problems of the CPI is that it does not capture asset inflation, i.e. how funny money boosts the prices of homes and stocks. The new Google index seems to replicate that same blind spot. Still, a fascinating idea. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on October 16, 2010 | Permalink


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