Tech writer Steven Levy discusses All Things Google [video]

Tuesday, June 07, 2011 at 3:19 PM

Veteran technology journalist Steven Levy, a senior writer at Wired, visited Google recently as part of the Authors@Google program to talk about In the Plex, his latest book detailing the inner workings of our company. Levy was interviewed by search engineer Matt Cutts. Cutts asked Levy about his experience writing the book, his many visits to our Google campuses, and his impressions of the company as a whole.

In the video above, Levy is interviewed on-stage as part of the Authors@Google series

Levy touched on a number of interesting topics about Google in his interview, which you can watch in the video above. One Googler asked Levy what was one of the biggest revelations the author had about the company. Levy said that while some criticize Google for lacking coherence in what it does, you can find "the root of 'Googliness'" in any of the company's projects.

Citing Google's self-driving cars, for example, Levy says:

"It's AI [artificial intelligence]-based, and Google to me is an AI company among other things. It's also a really big information-processing exercise. [The car] takes in all this information about its local area, with little laser sensors and things like that, and it brings back information from Google in Street View and Maps and things like that. So I found it not a surprising product, once you think about it, for Google to embark on."

The book itself reads like an insider's guide to Google, with fascinating anecdotes dating back to the very founding of Google. One memorable scene shows founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin getting their first big investment in 1998 -- before the company even existed -- from investor Andy Bechtolsheim:

"At that ungodly hour Page and Brin demoed their search engine for Bechtolsheim... Bechtolsheim, impressed, but eager to get to the office, cut the meeting short by offering to write the duo a $100,000 check.

'We don't have a bank account yet,' said Brin.

'Deposit it when you get one,' said Bechtolsheim, who raced off in his Porsche. With as little fanfare as if he were grabbing a latte on the way to work, he had just invested in an enterprise that would change the way the world accessed information. Brin and Page celebrated with a Burger King breakfast."

Levy, with a copy of his Google eBook "In the Plex"

My colleague Ariel and I also had the pleasure of interviewing Levy before his conversation with Cutts. We asked Levy what initially drove him to start writing about technology. He told us that he originally covered many topics, and was even a rock music critic for awhile. Then in 1982, he had the opportunity to do a story about computer hackers. "I hadn't even touched a computer before then," he noted.

The experience writing his now-famous book, Hackers: heroes of the computer revolution (1984), led him to reject common stereotypes about hackers. "They were not creepy sociopaths," he said. "They were doing fascinating things with computers and it was clear that computers were going to change everything." Levy was inspired to become a technology journalist -- one of the early pioneers in the field.

This prompted us to ask Levy what he thought of tech journalism today. Levy thought the field was more interesting now, calling it a more "varied ecosystem." While coverage of tech companies and innovations used to be found in the business sections of big newspapers, he noted that with the Internet, there was a lot more diversity of outlets now. "A lot of the more interesting stuff comes from blogs," he said.

Finally, as members of the Google eBooks team, we wanted to know just what Levy thought of the digital publishing revolution. Levy liked that his books were available on new platforms, but also thought the digital books industry needed to figure out business models that work better for authors and consumers.

"It will take a while for people to understand how those economics really work," he said. "Books should be less expensive and more ubiquitous: there should be three times the number of books for half the price. You should be able to buy a book on whim, like music, or like getting a movie from Netflix."

If you're a fan of Levy's writing in the books In the Plex and Hackers, the Google eBookstore also has two other books of his on sale:


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