编者按：1月3日，《财富》发表本文时，美国联邦贸易委员会（Federal Trade Commission）结束了对谷歌搜索业务的调查，称未发现该公司操纵搜索结果、违反反垄断法的证据。欧洲委员会（European Commission）和其他监管机构继续就此问题展开调查。
去年秋天，广告巨头WPP集团（WPP Group）的CEO马丁•索里尔爵士访问谷歌（Google），谷歌CEO拉里•佩奇派了辆车到大约20英里远的紫檀酒店（Rosewood Hotel）去接他。但这不是辆普通的车。这辆雷克萨斯SUV能够自动驾驶。这归功于很多高科技工具，包括雷达、传感器和每秒进行150多万次测量的激光扫描器。在大约20分钟的时间里，这辆车利用自动驾驶仪在280号洲际公路和该地区繁忙的85号公路上行驶，迅速修正航向，接近交通信号灯时会减速，进入邻近车辆的盲点区域时会加速脱离。索里尔说：“简直不可思议。”
Note: On Jan 3, as Fortune published this article, the Federal Trade Commission ended its investigation of Google's search practices saying it found no evidence that the company manipulated search results in violation of antitrust laws. The European Commission and other regulators continue to investigate the issue.
When Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP Group, the giant advertising agency, visited Google this past fall, CEO Larry Page sent a car to pick him up at the Rosewood Hotel about 20 miles away. Only this was no ordinary car. The Lexus SUV drove itself thanks to a slew of high-tech tools, including radars, sensors, and a laser scanner that takes more than 1.5 million measurements every second. For about 20 minutes, while navigating I-280 and the area's busy State Route 85, the car cruised on autopilot, making quick course corrections, slowing down here when traffic loomed ahead, speeding up there to get out of the blind spot of a neighboring vehicle. "It was pretty incredible," says Sorrell.
Page's chauffeurless car service is no mere parlor trick. It is, as Page will tell anyone who'll listen, the future of transportation. Never mind that most people think the mere idea of computer-driven cars is (1) preposterous, (2) dangerous, or (3) not much fun. Page makes the case for self-driving cars with the dispassionate logic of an engineer. The father of two young children, Page insists that his pet project, when ready, will actually enhance safety. Soon Google (GOOG) will be able to simulate your driving, "but just make sure you don't die and kill anybody else," he tells me during an interview in the private "bullpen" where he meets with his top lieutenants. He methodically enumerates the other advantages of driverless cars. There are energy savings (traffic would flow more efficiently) and productivity gains (commuting hours reclaimed). There will be cost savings too -- in the millions of dollars at Google alone. The Googleplex, he says, is short on parking, and quotes for new garages have come in at $40,000 per car. Why not let the car drop you off and go park itself offsite? Page asks. "Whenever you need it," he adds, "your phone notices that you're walking out of the building, and your car is there immediately by the time you get downstairs."
Sounds like a crazy mashup of the Jetsons and the '80s TV show Knight Rider. But that's just the kind of future Page wants Google to create, and the kind of big idea that excites him. Since Google's founding in 1998, Page and cofounder Sergey Brin set out to build a company that made long-term bets on audacious ideas. Many quickly became essential products. And it was Page who was known for championing the craziest ones, like photographing every inch of every street to create a digital replica of the real world, scanning every book ever printed to assemblethe world's largest library, and building a machine that could translate between any two languages (4,200 pairs of languages to date). So when Fortune set out to understand the future of computing, machine learning, and even transportation, we turned to Page to learn about how Google is reinventing just about everything -- including itself.