Will Google Cure Cancer? 4 Exciting Projects From the Search Engine Giant That Have Nothing to Do with the Web

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - JANUARY 30: A sign is posted on the exterior of Google headquarters on January 30, 2014 in Mountain View, California. Google reported a 17 percent rise in fourth quarter earnings with profits of $3.38 billion, or $9.90 a share compared to $2.9 billion, or $8.62 per share one year ago. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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If you're the kind of person who gets excited thinking about the future, and the new safeties and securities that the high-tech age can bring, well, you've probably had a pretty exciting few years. After all, everywhere you look, some titan of the tech industry is dreaming up something new, and potentially game-changing. Wifi-spewing drones flying over developing nations, perhaps? And Google is no exception, with Wednesday's news that the hyper-secretive Google X lab is working on a cancer-detection pill. From the sounds of it, it could really shake up how people monitor and diagnose their internal health.

It's just one of many daring, ambitious non-Web projects that Google has taken on through the mysterious research and development lab — back in 2011, The New York Times couldn't get anyone to speak about it for attribution, because of Google's dedication to secrecy — and there have been many awesome sounding ideas rumored over the last few years. Having grown up during the '90s, it's kind of a bizarre turn of events. I'd never have guessed that what started as a ubiquitous search engine would one day be trying to protect me from cancer. But that just goes to show that you never quite know where technology will take you. For example, here's some of the other things Google has tried to whip up behind the scenes.

Self-Driving Automobiles

By now you've probably heard about this, since it's looking so imminent that Governor Jerry Brown has already signed a bill permitting test-drives on California roadways, but it's still a pretty mind-blowing concept all the same. The self-driving car has been maybe the most high-profile of Google's non-Internet related pursuits, and with each passing month they get closer and closer — in fact, the vehicles will start getting tested out on British roadways by January, and they've already logged a reported 700,000 accident-free miles in California. There's no certainty when you'll start seeing these streaking down the freeway regularly, but this much seems certain — it's going to happen eventually.

Space Elevators

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Yes, believe it or not, the Google X lab has also attempted space elevators, about as futuristic a leap forward in human transit as it gets. For the uninitiated, a space elevator would allow for rocket-free ascent into orbit, by way of an enormous cable stretching from the ground all the way through the atmosphere. Sounds exciting, right? 

Well, sadly, this one is on hold pending further scientific advancement — Google found that the only material strong enough to be used for the essential cable, carbon nanotubes, had never produced a worthy cable more than a meter in length. For some perspective, a cable for a space elevator would have to be... well, a lot longer than one meter, let's say that. So for now, they've moved on to other things, but don't think for a second this idea won't relaunch if something new comes along.

"Project Loon" Aerial Wifi

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It's no surprise when you see Facebook and Google competing with one another, iconic competitors that they are, but in this case the competition can only help the world — both companies have launched plans to provide aerial wifi signals to otherwise disconnected environments. Facebook aims to achieve this through a series of high-flying drones, while Google's scheme is to use balloons to drift high in the skies, spreading internet connectivity to the lands below. 

This would be a huge boon to people living in places traditionally without Internet access, swaths of the developing world in particular. But as Forbes' Erika Morphy notes, this would help in the U.S., too. Many Americans still don't have quick or reliable service, with some in remote rural communities still relying on dial-up modems as a means of getting online.

Cancer-Detecting Pills

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This, of course, is the breaking news Wednesday that's got people all excited. And really, based on the description, it's well-deserved. If Google's anti-cancer efforts come to fruition, here's how it'd work: You take a pill containing tiny nano-particles, which then spread throughout your body, latching themselves onto cancerous or otherwise abnormal cells. You then get the information sent to you on a wearable device, which communicates with the nano-particles to determine if anything is amiss. Rest assured, if Google pulls this off, there will be no limit to the amount of praise and plaudits they'll earn — this could be potentially life-changing innovation.

Image: Getty Images

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