Microsoft Corp founder and former CEO Bill Gates has criticized Google Inc’s initiative to help humanity by bringing Internet access to developing nations. The Windows inventor and philanthropist reiterated that the ambitious project should not be guised as an initiative to uplift and help the poor.
The concept calls for a fleet of hundreds or even thousands of balloons that will float twice as high as most jetliners fly, in a circle around Earth. But while it sounds relatively simple, the logistics are mind-boggling. Since the balloons drift with the wind, Google engineers devised a system to raise or lower them in order to catch the air currents needed to keep them floating just the right distance from each other — and aligned so if one floats out of range from Internet users in a particular region, another will come along and take its place.
In a recent interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Bill Gates reiterated his belief that saving lives and fighting off diseases should be prioritized more than giving poor people better access to the online media. He also emphasized that the poor especially in third world countries would not appreciate renewable energy research, search data for disease activity monitoring, and crisis response apps.
While having established a testing ground for its Project Loon Internet balloons in New Zealand, Google continues to improve its testing device on the side of California.
Providing Internet access in regions without fixed or mobile networks or too poor to install is the heart of Google Project Loon, with the use of air balloons carrying transmitters to cover large areas.
The American group has already launched an experiment in New Zealand to validate the concept but the technology still needs to be refined. On the Google+ network, the company states that it conducted a series of experimental tests in California to optimize various aspects of solar power to the radio configuration.
Google has admitted some of the 30 “Project Loon” balloons it launched from Tekapo in June have been lost at sea. The helium-filled 12-metre high polyethylene balloons were launched into the stratosphere in a “world first” experiment to test whether they could be used to provide internet access to remote regions.
Bill Gates, whose foundation has given $26 billion in project grants in its existence, also dinged Google for drawing publicity for its broad philanthropic efforts to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges and, later, quietly shutting them down. (For example, in 2011, Google shuttered its program aimed at making renewable energy cheaper than coal.) Gates said:
Now they’re just doing their core thing. Fine. But the actors who just do their core thing are not going to uplift the poor.
The Microsoft founder has a point in his comments, and mostly seems to want Google to drop its rhetoric about helping people and admit to selfish aims.
Meanwhile, the Google’s Project Loon has been criticized as an attempt to increase market share. In an article published in the MIT Technology Review, African entrepreneurs described why they thought the project was ill-conceived, with one noting that the problem isn’t connectivity, it’s the high price of smartphones and computers.