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How Google Uses Experimentation

To Invent the Future of Our Reality Before Anyone Else Thinks of it
Brett Friedman

The Company

Google is the internet overlord. They control online search. If you want information about anything, they can give you answers. The price: your data. Using the answers to every question ever asked in combination with most of the world's inhabitants' personal details, they come up with experiments to develop new technology before anyone else ("competitors") can. In fact, they have an entire website dedicated to experiments built with Google's software. You'll quickly note their collections range from art to AI, health to business, reaching every part of human society.

Below are a few examples of how Google controls the future through the very same 'test-and-learn' approach we apply to our advertising efforts.

The Experiment(s) Pt. 1

Let's start small. In 2014, Google had a civil war between engineers and designers over the shade of blue that colors links in search ads. After testing all known shades of the color (41), they found a winner, switched all ads to that shade and subsequently saw an increase in clicks that led to an extra $200 million in ad revenue. While some designers quit in anger of what Google had become, engineers rejoiced and this process of rigorous, meticulous testing became the norm.


The Experiment(s) Pt. 2

If color testing could rake in $200 million in new revenue, imagine what real experiments could do for Google's bottom line. It's no surprise they're testing every type of tech they can.

Consider their 2017 AI experiment Quick Draw. Google built an app that made their AI guess what users hand drew on their touchscreens. The app went viral, garnering articles across Reddit, popular blogs, and major publications like Fast Company and Co.Design. What's important here is that Google used the project solely to gather data. Google researchers wanted to see if they could get an audience with the public - they needed to get guinea pigs familiar with their tech in order to make larger, future experiments more accessible.


The Experiment(s) Pt. 3

But even simple AI games fail to illustrate fully how Google uses experiments to alter reality itself. On October 23rd, 2019, Google published a paper in Nature called "Quantum supremacy using a programmable superconducting processor."

In human terms, Google succeeded in building a functional Quantum Computer.

In Google's terms, "Our Sycamore processor takes about 200 seconds to sample one instance of a quantum circuit a million times—our benchmarks currently indicate that the equivalent task for a state-of-the-art classical supercomputer would take approximately 10,000 years. This dramatic increase in speed compared to all known classical algorithms is an experimental realization of quantum supremacy for this specific computational task, heralding a much-anticipated computing paradigm."

That puts Google's computer at about 315.36 billion times faster than our current best machines. Just imagine how many color tests they can run with that monstrosity. Currently, they're testing its use for optimizations in transportation, complex physics and material science simulations, as well as error mitigation in signal detection to name a few things.

We can only hope Google decides to stick to its 2018 promise not to use their experimental supremacy for weaponry and that they stick to people over profit, answering life's fundamental questions rather than determining how to best exploit its remnants.


The Results

Google is humanity's most promising venture and also our most potentially devastating enemy. Through experimentation in every aspect of life, using their hundreds of billions of dollars in annual revenue, they lead the future of technological reality. Fortunately, they allow us mortals to use some of their experimental methodologies too. Google offers A/B testing for ads and websites with its Google Optimize service. They also offer much of their data for free on Google Data Studio and Dataset Search.

These are just a couple ways they are able to continuously experiment with users. They offer so much value for free, it's nearly impossible to avoid using their products. That being said, through their philanthropy arm, Google.org, they do a lot of good for the world too.

The Application

Google has perhaps the most advanced testing procedures of any organization in the world, performing real science whether it's for marketing or for creation. If using their platforms is not enough, you can also choose to adopt their practices:

  • Use every customer interaction as a data collection opportunity
  • Treat every product as an experiment, complete with hypothesis and analysis
  • Offer as much for free as you can

Read our full creative testing guide

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