Angling to Land the Big Google Fish: A Humblebrag Quest to Be CEO?

April 3, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

My goodness, the staff and alums of DeepMind have been in the news. Wherever there are big bucks or big buzz opportunities, one will find the DeepMind marketing machinery. Consider “Can Demis Hassabis Save Google?” The headline has two messages for me. The first is that a “real” journalist things that Google is in big trouble. Big trouble translates to stakeholder discontent. That discontent means it is time to roll in a new Top Dog. I love poohbahing. But opining that the Google is in trouble. Sure, it was aced by the Microsoft-OpenAI play not too long ago. But the Softies have moved forward with the Mistral deal and the mysterious Inflection deal . But the Google has money, market share, and might. Jake Paul can say he wants the Mike Tyson death stare. But that’s an opinion until Mr. Tyson hits Mr. Paul in the face.

The second message in the headline that one of the DeepMind tribe can take over Google, defeat Microsoft, generate new revenues, avoid regulatory purgatory, and dodge the pain of its swinging door approach to online advertising revenue generation; that is, people pay to get in, people pay to get out, and soon will have to subscribe to watch those entering and exiting the company’s advertising machine.


Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Nice fish.

What are the points of the essay which caught my attention other than the headline for those clued in to the Silicon Valley approach to “real” news? Let me highlight a few points.

First, here’s a quote from the write up:

Late on chatbots, rife with naming confusing, and with an embarrassing image generation fiasco just in the rearview mirror, the path forward won’t be simple. But Hassabis has a chance to fix it. To those who known him, have worked alongside him, and still do — all of whom I’ve spoken with for this story — Hassabis just might be the perfect person for the job. “We’re very good at inventing new breakthroughs,” Hassabis tells me. “I think we’ll be the ones at the forefront of doing that again in the future.”

Is the past a predictor of future success? More than lab-to-Android is going to be required. But the evaluation of the “good at inventing new breakthroughs” is an assertion. Google has been in the me-too business for a long time. The company sees itself as a modern Bell Labs and PARC. I think that the company’s perception of itself, its culture, and the comments of its senior executives suggest that the derivative nature of Google is neither remembered nor considered. It’s just “we’re very good.” Sure “we” are.

Second, I noted this statement:

Ironically, a breakthrough within Google — called the transformer model — led to the real leap. OpenAI used transformers to build its GPT models, which eventually powered ChatGPT. Its generative ‘large language’ models employed a form of training called “self-supervised learning,” focused on predicting patterns, and not understanding their environments, as AlphaGo did. OpenAI’s generative models were clueless about the physical world they inhabited, making them a dubious path toward human level intelligence, but would still become extremely powerful. Within DeepMind, generative models weren’t taken seriously enough, according to those  inside, perhaps because they didn’t align with Hassabis’s AGI priority, and weren’t close to reinforcement learning. Whatever the rationale, DeepMind fell behind in a key area.

Google figured something out and then did nothing with the “insight.” There were research papers and chatter. But OpenAI (powered in part by Sam AI-Man) used the Google invention and used it to carpet bomb, mine, and set on fire Google’s presumed lead in anything related to search, retrieval, and smart software. The aftermath of the Microsoft OpenAI PR coup is a continuing story of rehabilitation. From what I have seen, Google needs more time getting its ageingbody parts working again. The ad machine produces money, but the company reels from management issue to management issue with alarming frequency. Biased models complement spats with employees. Silicon Valley chutzpah causes neurological spasms among US and EU regulators. Something is broken, and I am not sure a person from inside the company has the perspective, knowledge, and management skills to fix an increasingly peculiar outfit. (Yes, I am thinking of ethnically-incorrect German soldiers loyal to a certain entity on Google’s list of questionable words and phrases.)

And, lastly, let’s look at this statement in the essay:

Many of those who know Hassabis pine for him to become the next CEO, saying so in their conversations with me. But they may have to hold their breath. “I haven’t heard that myself,” Hassabis says after I bring up the CEO talk. He instantly points to how busy he is with research, how much invention is just ahead, and how much he wants to be part of it. Perhaps, given the stakes, that’s right where Google needs him. “I can do management,” he says, ”but it’s not my passion. Put it that way. I always try to optimize for the research and the science.”

I wonder why the author of the essay does not query Jeff Dean, the former head of a big AI unit in Mother Google’s inner sanctum about Mr. Hassabis? How about querying Mr. Hassabis’ co-founder of DeepMind about Mr. Hassabis’ temperament and decision-making method? What about chasing down former employees of DeepMind and getting those wizards’ perspective on what DeepMind can and cannot accomplish. 

Net net: Somewhere in the little-understood universe of big technology, there is an invisible hand pointing at DeepMind and making sure the company appears in scientific publications, the trade press, peer reviewed journals, and LinkedIn funded content. Determining what’s self-delusion, fact, and PR wordsmithing is quite difficult.

Google may need some help. To be frank, I am not sure anyone in the Google starting line up can do the job. I am also not certain that a blue chip consulting firm can do much either. Google, after a quarter century of zero effective regulation, has become larger than most government agencies. Its institutional mythos creates dozens of delusional Ulysses who cannot separate fantasies of the lotus eaters from the gritty reality of the company as one of the contributors to the problems facing youth, smaller businesses, governments, and cultural norms.

Google is Googley. It will resist change.

Stephen E Arnold, April 3, 2024


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