Something in all of us wants to believe that big tech companies, the ones we provide with reams of personal data everyday, are doing something noble with that information. That’s what made Google’s flu tracker, Flu Trends, so appealing. Here’s Google, taking time out of its busy day of selling our data for profit to apply those millions of Google searches and location trackers to something useful for humanity: Tracking the spread and severity of flu outbreaks across the United States.
There’s only one problem: Flu Trends is wrong.
According to a new Science study, Google overestimated flu outbreaks by 50 percent in the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons. As TIME’s Bryan Walsh writes, “If you wanted to project current flu prevalence, you would have done much better basing your models off of 3-week-old data on cases from the CDC than you would have been using GFT’s sophisticated big data methods.”
Things are changing in Silicon Valley. Where once tech companies paid little regard to their surroundings, Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon are all in the process of opening epic purpose-built headquarters. In a new article in Vanity Fair, Paul Goldberger “explores what companies’ choices reveal about their cultures, their workforces, and the shifting relationship between city and suburbs.” Below is a brief extract, read the full piece here.
In Silicon Valley, almost every town is a company town. As Cupertino belongs to Apple and Mountain View is dominated overwhelmingly by Google, Menlo Park is where Facebook is located, and Palo Alto has the old, troubled, but still-enormous Hewlett-Packard. Yet you don’t always feel this. Tech companies tend to look inward; they seem to like campuses more than cities or even towns. Gehry’s Facebook building will be across the street from the company’s existing complex, which will be retained. Apple occupies more than 30 low-rise buildings in Cupertino, with the corporate headquarters in a cluster of modern glass buildings that bears the invented address of 1 Infinite Loop. The address tells you as much as you need to know about the company’s view of its campus as a self-contained environment, disconnected from the city around it, a goal that the new, Foster-designed building will achieve more fully, surely, than any building since the Pentagon, which it exceeds in circumference. The current Apple offices, which were originally put up by a real-estate developer in the early 1970s for the company Four Phase Systems, are notable less for anything about their architecture than for their exceptionally elegant signs in a small Myriad font, the identical typeface to that used on most of the company’s products. Oracle, the huge software company, built itself a kind of high-rise campus, a cluster of rounded, reflective glass towers beside the 101 Freeway a few miles north in Redwood Shores—more conspicuous than any of the old Google buildings, to be sure, but nearly as generic, since you could imagine these buildings sitting beside a freeway in Dallas or Houston as easily as on the San Francisco peninsula. They’re no more specific to Silicon Valley than the Alpine Inn.
Here’s an interview with Google’s chief technology advocate (yep, that’s a real job title) Michael Jones. Jones was co-founder of Keyhole, one of the first companies to offer high-res views of the Earth online, which was acquired by Google in 2004 and became Google Earth. So Jones knows maps, and has some fascinating insights on where he thinks maps are going.
The entire concept of a “map” seems radically different from even a decade ago. It used to be something in a book or on a wall; now it’s something you carry around on your smartphone. Which changes have mattered most? And what further changes should we be ready for?
The major change in mapping in the past decade, as opposed to in the previous 6,000 to 10,000 years, is that mapping has become personal.
It’s not the map itself that has changed. You would recognize a 1940 map and the latest, modern Google map as having almost the same look. But the old map was a fixed piece of paper, the same for everybody who looked at it. The new map is different for everyone who uses it. You can drag it where you want to go, you can zoom in as you wish, you can switch modes—traffic, satellite—you can fly across your town, even ask questions about restaurants and directions. So a map has gone from a static, stylized portrait of the Earth to a dynamic, interactive conversation about your use of the Earth.
I think that’s officially the Big Change, and it’s already happened, rather than being ahead.
Read the interview here.