Can Google, the technology giant best known for search and free email, tackle aging?

Another day, another weird business that Google enters. This time, according to a Time magazine cover story, it’s health.

googleGoogle Inc. believes that making big gambles can yield revolutionary advances, whether it be cars that drive themselves, wearable computers connected to the Internet or air balloons that beam wireless Internet access to remote areas of the world.

Now it’s searching for ways to keep people alive longer.

The technology giant said, that “Calico” a new company that Google has started will address “health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases.” But Google declined to provide any more details on how the venture would operate or what it would do.

Calico is the latest in a series of ambitious projects undertaken by Google to test the power of technology to change lives.

Google is not the first technology company to make the leap into healthcare. The search for the fountain of youth — and health — has long been a great obsession of big corporations.

Not far from Google’s headquarters, Calico will be making longer-term bets than most health care firms.

“In some industries, it takes ten or 20 years to go from an idea to something being real. Healthcare is certainly one of those ares,”
“Maybe we should shoot for the things that are really, really important so ten or 20 years from now we have those things done.” -said Larry Page.

Google is keeping its exact plans close to the vest. But it is likely to use its data-processing might to shed new light on age-related maladies. Sources close to the project suggest Calico will start with a small number of employees and focus initially on researching new technology.

That approach may yield unlikely conclusions.

“Are people really focused on the right things? One of the things I thought was amazing is that if you solve cancer, you’d add about three years to people’s average life expectancy,” Page said. “We think of solving cancer as this huge thing that’ll totally change the world. But when you really take a step back and look at it, yeah, there are many, many tragic cases of cancer, and it’s very, very sad, but in the aggregate, it’s not as big an advance as you might think.”

The project is being led by biotech pioneer Arthur Levinson, chairman of the boards of Apple Inc. and Genentech Inc. Levinson, the former chief executive of Genentech and a Google board member, was named the CEO and founding investor of the California Life Co., or Calico. He will report to Larry Page, Google’s chief executive and a major supporter of Calico.

The unavoidable question this raises is why a company built on finding information and serving ads next to it is spending untold amounts on a project that flies in the face of the basic fact of the human condition, the existential certainty of aging and death. To which the unavoidable answer is another question: Who the hell else is going to do it?

Page himself wrote in his Google+ post on Calico:

You’re probably thinking wow!  That’s a lot different from what Google does today.  And you’re right.  But as we explained in our first letter to shareholders, there’s tremendous potential for technology more generally to improve people’s lives.  So don’t be surprised if we invest in projects that seem strange or speculative compared with our existing Internet businesses.  And please remember that new investments like this are very small by comparison to our core business.

Calico is in line with Page’s oft-stated belief that the company should be aiming not just to make the world a little better, but a lot better. Page urges Google employees to engage in so-called 10x thinking—aspiring to create inventions which are better than anything that already exists by at least an order of magnitude.

For Google, nothing is off limits. Even death is on the firing line.
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By Cabal Martin | Staff Writer