TIME Companies

Here’s Why Google Is Making the Titanic Shift to ‘Alphabet’

It's about focus and the future

In a surprise announcement Monday, Google co-founder Larry Page said the company’s leaders are turning it into a subsidiary of a new holding company called “Alphabet.” Page will serve as Alphabet’s CEO, with fellow Google co-founder Sergey Brin as president; Google’s current vice president of products Sundar Pichai is taking over as CEO of Google.

The news is momentous—and also a little confusing. The question now is, why?

That Google is no longer just a search company has been evident for a long while. Though its mission has always famously been to organize all the world’s information, the company has increasingly gotten into more and more disparate lines of business—when new ventures were businesses at all, that is. Beyond selling ads against searches—it’s core moneymaking venture—Google is making driverless cars, beaming Internet signals from giant balloons, delivering high-speed Internet access, redefining television, making phones, and even trying to cure (or significantly delay) death.

When such ventures might actually turn a profit, however, has been a consistent, nagging question. At best, some will never turn into big money makers and others will take decades to do so—at a significant drain of financial resources. Over the past decade, technology investors have gotten significantly more comfortable bullying big companies, no matter how profitable, which they deem lacking focus. Once untouchable firms like Apple and Microsoft have, for instance, been egged into giving up board seats or instituting investor-enriching stock buyback programs as a result. Google’s move will, presumably, insulate Alphabet from such meddling.

What’s more, search and the ads sold against it, have come under increasing pressure. The business is still a behemoth: Google brought in $16.2 billion in ad revenue for quarter ended June 30 2015, up 11% year-over-year. But the shift to mobile has caused some observers to wonder about the company’s future rate of prosperity. As Internet users abandon desktop computers and flock to mobile devices, search results become harder to monetize, either because there’s less screen real estate or because users are searching in distinct apps rather than on the open web. Google’s dominant position with its Android mobile operating system is a hedge against such concerns, though not a panacea exactly.

Read more Read TIME’s 2013 cover story, ‘Google vs. Death’

The birth of Alphabet is likely to be analyzed for years to come as a corporate tactic, as a management maneuver, as pure theater. At first blush the “why” is fairly straightforward: Pichai’s Google will be freed up to focus on finding ways to better monetize the mobile explosion; Alphabet will be liberated to think different (and bigger, way bigger). In the near-term, Google itself will probably look a lot like YouTube has over the past several years: a mostly independent company with its own CEO operating inside a much larger organization.

The more interesting and as of yet unanswered question is “what is Alphabet?” That question may take years to answer.

TIME destiny

This Video Perfectly Captures What It’s Like to Lose Your Mind Over a Video Game

Everybody needs a friend commentating like this

Ah, Destiny. Bungie’s massively multiplayer shooter inspires great devotion and exasperation in players. But, at it’s best, it can be an addicting, adrenalin-pumping experience. Take the above video—warning it contains some profanity, you may want to wear headphones—the colorful commentary in which was supposedly accidentally recorded by the player’s Playstation 4. Kyle, who was watching a friend play, can be heard egging him on and generally commentating on the increasingly bonkers state of the match in Destiny‘s Crucible multiplayer mode. Everybody needs a pal like Kyle now and then.

[Source: Reddit]

TIME Video Games

Here’s When You Can Get Nintendo’s Sweet New Amiibo

The nostalgia factor is very high

Nintendo has taken the wraps off several special editions of Super Mario Maker, its make-your-own-Mario game slated for released later this year. The company also confirmed the release date for two of its most anticipated Amiibo figurines of its iconic Mario mascot.

The figurines, which connect to various Nintendo digital titles, will come in two variants, the traditional NES Super Mario Bros. in brown and red and referred to as “Classic Colours” and one in current shades dubbed “Modern Colours.” Classic Colours Mario Amiibo will be available as a standalone product September 11 in Europe and September 12 in Australia. The Modern Colours version will be available October 23 in Europe and October 24 in Australia.

A special-edition Nintendo Wii U bundle will pack Mario Maker in with a console. There’s currently no word on U.S. release dates.

 Mario Amiibo
NintendoOne of Nintendo’s new Mario-themed Amiibo.
TIME Video Games

Go Ahead and Treat Yourself to 90 Gorgeous Seconds of No Man’s Sky

A new trailer. More wonder

No Man’s Sky, the massively open space exploration game coming to PC and Playstation 4, is creeping closer to reality. Though an official date hasn’t been announced, more information about the Hello Games-developed title has been made available throughout the month of July. (A big source has been IGN’s great video series; The New Yorker also ran an excellent profile of the studio working on the game.) The title promises to let players explore a vast universe of procedurally generated worlds, discovering new species, mining resources, trading and fighting with one another. And check out our impressions and hopes for No Man’s Sky here.

TIME Virtual Reality

Watch the Demo That Will Make You Want Virtual Reality Right Now

Mind-blowing, totally mind-blowing

One of the most talked-about virtual reality products, the Vive developed by games giant Valve and smartphone maker HTC, has been making the rounds with a particularly enticing demonstration: a brand new game in the massively popular Portal universe. Clips of what players see during the experience have cropped up here and there; now, you can watch the entire play through in the video above. In the demo, players find themselves inside a workshop tasked with assembling one of the game’s wisecracking robots, among other tasks. One of the important distinctions of Valve’s VR implementation is its unique controllers, which can be seen being used in this clip.

TIME Innovation

Read the Inspiring ‘Questions of Existence’ Letter from the World’s Greatest Thinkers

Yuri Milner And Stephen Hawking Host Press Conference On The Breakthrough Life In The Universe Initiatives
Stuart C. Wilson—Getty Images for Breakthrough Initiatives DST Global Founder Yuri Milner, Theoretical Physicist Stephen Hawking, Cosmologist and astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees, Chairman Emeritus, SETI Institute Frank Drake, Creative Director of the Interstellar Message, NASA Voyager Ann Druyan and Professor of Astronomy, University of California Geoff Marcy attend a press conference on the Breakthrough Life in the Universe Initiatives.

Why we should be searching for life beyond our solar system

On July 20, a consortium of scientists funded by billionaire investor Yuri Milner announced a $100 million project to scan the universe for signs of intelligent life. Milner, 53, a prescient technology investor, is also a former physicist. The endeavor, named Breakthrough Listen, is being supported by some of the world’s most well-known scientists and thinkers. As part of the announcement, the group release a letter explaining why the search matters and why it must continue. Here is the document in full.

Are we alone? Now is the time to find out

Who are we?

A mature civilization, like a mature individual, must ask itself this question. Is humanity defined by its divisions, its problems, its passing needs and trends? Or do we have a shared face, turned outward to the Universe?

In 1990, Voyager 1 swiveled its camera and captured the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ – an image of Earth from six billion kilometers away. It was a mirror held up to our planet – home of water, life, and minds. A reminder that we share something precious and rare.

But how rare, exactly? The only life? The only minds?

For the last half-century, small groups of scientists have listened valiantly for signs of life in the vast silence. But for government, academia, and industry, cosmic questions are astronomically far down the list of priorities. And that lengthens the odds of finding answers. It is hard enough to comb the Universe from the edge of the Milky Way; harder still from the edge of the public consciousness.

Yet millions are inspired by these ideas, whether they meet them in science or science fiction. Because the biggest questions of our existence are at stake. Are we the Universe’s only child – our thoughts its only thoughts? Or do we have cosmic siblings – an interstellar family of intelligence? As Arthur C. Clarke said, “In either case the idea is quite staggering.”

That means the search for life is the ultimate ‘win-win’ endeavor. All we have to do is take part.

Today we have search tools far surpassing those of previous generations. Telescopes can pick out planets across thousands of light years. The magic of Moore’s law lets our computers sift data orders of magnitude faster than older mainframes – and ever quicker each year.

These tools are now reaping a harvest of discoveries. In the last few years, astronomers and the Kepler Mission have discovered thousands of planets beyond our solar system. It now appears that most stars host a planetary system. Many of them have a planet similar in size to our own, basking in the ‘habitable zone’ where the temperature permits liquid water. There are likely billions of earth-like worlds in our galaxy alone. And with instruments now or soon available, we have a chance of finding out if any of these planets are true Pale Blue Dots – home to water, life, even minds.

There has never been a better moment for a large-scale international effort to find life in the Universe. As a civilization, we owe it to ourselves to commit time, resources, and passion to this quest.

But as well as a call to action, this is a call to thought. When we find the nearest exo-Earth, should we send a probe? Do we try to make contact with advanced civilizations? Who decides? Individuals, institutions, corporations, or states? Or can we as species – as a planet – think together?

Three years ago, Voyager 1 broke the sun’s embrace and entered interstellar space. The 20th century will be remembered for our travels within the solar system. With cooperation and commitment, the present century will be the time when we graduate to the galactic scale, seek other forms of life, and so know more deeply who we are.

Yuri Milner –

Founder, Breakthrough Prize; Founder, DST Global

Cori Bargmann –

Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Torsten N. Wiesel Professor, The Rockefeller University

Sarah Brightman –


Magnus Carlsen –

World Chess Champion

Ding Chen –

Professor and Principle Investigator of the Search for Terrestrial Exo-Planets Mission, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Frank Drake –

Chairman Emeritus, SETI Institute; Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of California, Santa Cruz; Founding Director, National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center; Former Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University

Ann Druyan –

Creative Director of the Interstellar Message, NASA Voyager; Co-Founder and CEO, Cosmos Studios; Emmy and Peabody award winning Writer and Producer

Stephen Hawking –

Professor, Dennis Stanton Avery and Sally Tsui Wong-Avery Director of Research, University of Cambridge

Paul Horowitz –

Professor of Physics and of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, Harvard University

Garik Israelian –

Professor and Staff Astrophysicist, Institute of Astrophysics of Canary Islands

Lisa Kaltenegger –

Director, Carl Sagan Institute; Associate Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University

Nikolay Kardashev –

Deputy Director, Russian Space Research Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences

Mark Kelly –


Eric Lander –

President and Founding Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; Professor of Biology, MIT; Professor of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School

Alexey Leonov –


Avi Loeb –

Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science, Chair of the Astronomy Department and Director of the Institute for Theory and Computation, Harvard University

Seth MacFarlane –

Writer, Director and Actor

Geoff Marcy –

Professor of Astronomy, University of California, Berkeley

Lord Martin Rees –

Astronomer Royal, Fellow of Trinity College; Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics, University of Cambridge

Kenneth Rogoff –

Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics, Harvard University; International Grandmaster of Chess

Dimitar Sasselov –

Phillips Professor of Astronomy, Harvard University; Founding Director, Harvard Origins of Life Initiative

Sarah Seager –

Professor of Planetary Sciences and Professor of Physics, MIT

Sujan Sengupta –

Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Ministry of Science and Technology

Seth Shostak –

Professor, Senior Astronomer and Director, Center for SETI research

Thomas Stafford –

Jill Tarter –

Astronomer; Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research, SETI Institute

Kip Thorne –

Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics Emeritus, California Institute of Technology; Scientific consultant and an executive producer, Interstellar

James Watson –

Chancellor Emeritus, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; Nobel Prize Laureate

Steven Weinberg –

Professor of Physics and Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin; Nobel Prize Laureate

Edward Witten –

Professor, School of Natural Sciences, Institute for Advanced Study

Pete Worden –

Chairman, Breakthrough Prize Foundation

Shinya Yamanaka –

Professor and Director of the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application, Kyoto University; Nobel Prize Laureate

TIME philanthropy

Yuri Milner: Why I Funded the Largest Search for Alien Intelligence Ever

And why it’s worth $100 million over the next decade for him to help do so

On July 20, a consortium of scientists funded by billionaire investor Yuri Milner announced a $100 million project to answer one of the biggest questions in the universe: Is there intelligent life beyond our solar system? Milner, 53, a former scientist who was CEO of Russia’s largest Internet portal Mail.ru before making prescient investments in Facebook, Twitter and Alibaba, has focused his philanthropic efforts on science. The endowment—dubbed Breakthrough Listen—will fund telescope time in North America and Australia as well as data processing to look for radio signals in distant solar systems. Milner spoke to TIME about the announcements; what follows is a lightly edited transcript.

Q: You founded the Breakthrough Prize three years ago to recognize scientists in much the way the Oscars recognize Hollywood. The show also draws famous celebrity presenters like Benedict Cumberbatch. Why do this? Where does your interest in science come from?
In my previous life I was a physicist, maybe that explains my interest in science. I was named Yuri after Yuri Gagarin, the first human to journey into outer space. So I kind of carry this name, and I think, a mission to support science.

We don’t celebrate intellectual achievement. We celebrate athletic achievement. We celebrate artistic achievement. If you were to look at the 200 most famous people in the world, Stephen Hawking wouldn’t make the list—or maybe he’d be number 199 or something. With [Breakthrough], we’re making some progress on that. We don’t pay celebrities to come; they come because they want to. When we started it was the only black tie event in Silicon Valley. This year for the first time, it’ll be broadcast on a major network—Fox—and we’ll be televising it live.

Why focus on the question of life in the universe now?
We’re announcing on July 20, the anniversary of the Apollo Moon landings. I think interest in space is rising again after a long period of dormancy. Look at the excitement over Pluto, over possibly reaching Mars. This project is easy to explain. It’s high impact, low probability which is scientifically legitimate. And everyone in his life has thought about this question.

What are you looking for exactly?
An artificial signal not explainable by science.

MORE: What It’s Like to Spend an Entire Year in Space

SETI [search for extraterrestrial intelligence] has a long history. What’s changed?
In the 1960s, Frank Drake did pioneering SETI work and it was partially funded through the 1980s. But then the idea sort of faded away—except for the question of course. Today several things have changed that will allow us in one day to pull down as much data as we’re currently doing in a year.

We now know for a fact that there are candidates in the galaxy, a few billion. Telescope time used to be harder to get, but now there is an opportunity for private endeavors to buy telescope time. And finally Moore’s Law: we can design a backend infrastructure capable of processing huge amounts of data much faster than ever before. We want to marry the best of Silicon Valley’s capabilities with the best science can offer.

There’s a lot of space, to put it mildly. Even if we get a better look, what’s to say somebody is looking back at us?
There’s been a lot of very serious scientific work done on this and a lot of very interesting philosophical work. The thinking is if there is a civilization even a little more advance than us, they might be able to tell there is oxygen in our atmosphere and that we’re worth looking at. If they have something even as big as Arecibo [a radio telescope in Puerto Rico], and they point it at us they can communicate.

And what about the societal consequences of finding an answer either way?
Either answer is kind of cool and frightening. We’re alone is kind of cool and frightening. And we’re not alone is kind of cool and frightening. Although it would be a fundamental discovery, life will not change a lot. He will got work. I will make an investment. You will write something.

What do you think personally?
The universe is not teeming with life, but we’re probably not alone. If we were alone it would be such a waste of real estate. But I don’t want to be the judge, I just want to help find an answer.

MORE: Buzz Aldrin: We Need More Handshakes in Space

You say this is an “open” project. What does that mean?
We’re making all the data open and available to scientists and amateurs alike. A lot of projects claim to be open but really aren’t. We will be totally open. There will be no need to apply and the data won’t be delivered in a manner so complex as to make it unintelligible. We’re also using the SETI infrastructure—a network of 9 million personal computers that forms one of the largest super computers in the world. Now they’ll have a lot more data to chew on. The more people participate, the better. I’m sure there will be plenty of false positives, but it’s worth it.

The funding will last for a decade. What if we haven’t found anything by then?
I’ll fund it for another 10 years. This thing can go on forever. It’s our responsibility as human beings to keep looking for a signal.

TIME Video Games

Everything You Need to Know About the Revamped Destiny 2.0

It's the update many players have been calling for from the start

Destiny‘s next expansion, dubbed The Taken King, is launching on September 15. The popular shooter’s developer Bungie announced July 10 that the game will also be updated to version 2.0, bringing with it significant changes to many of the title’s core mechanics.

In a blog post, Bungie creative director Luke Smith revealed that those changes will affect the game’s balance, progression, enemies, guns, quests and destinations.

Smith specifically addressed quests in the post, saying developers want to provide players with more experiences similar to the exotic bounty chains, in which you are taken “on a journey through multiple activities–which in the best cases had flashes of unique moments and ended with rewards players cared about.”

From Smith’s note:

The implementation of Quests and Bounties in Year One was a foundation, but it was clear to us and the community that it was an area for improvement, especially if we wanted to rely on questing even more in Year Two.

The Taken King was built with Quests in mind, but we didn’t want to ignore the Year One content in this global change. So as a part of this update, we’ve taken all Destiny content and – for lack of a better term – “questified” it.

Other highlights from Smith:

Both Quests and Bounty slots will be tracked in the HUD
Completed Bounties will be turned in from the Quests screen
We’re increasing the number of Bounties players can carry
Reputations will be moved from Inventory to the Quests page

For more, read the full blog post on Bungie’s site.

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