Intriguing update on 26 November: Our Silicon Valley editor, Tekla Perry, just received an invitation from Google that says in part:
Google is getting ready to help Santa deliver presents with a very large, floating, nautical sled.
The blogosphere has been going absolutely bananas this week trying to figure out what Google was hiding on a barge docked at an island in the San Francisco Bay. The latest reporting says that the structure, which is made out of shipping containers, will be a party space and showroom for technologies that come out of Google X, the company skunkworks that birthed Google Glass.
Frankly, we're a bit disappointed. If you're going to have a secret lair in San Francisco Bay, it should be something really cool. Here's some ideas we thought would be cooler, or at least more fun to cover. Leave yours in the comments.
Singularity Induction Center: With Ray Kurzweil onboard, Google has moved swiftly to realize the vision of a transhuman future, in which minds and machine merge. The barge provides a scanning center to digitize and upload humans into a digital paradise, while also incorporating a mulching unit that converts discarded physical bodies into fish food, burnishing the companies environmental credentials.
Island Generators: Not generators for islands, but generators of islands. Using the latest in 3-D printing techniques, these barge can "print" an entire island in international waters up to 200 meters deep, allowing the construction of new sovereign microstates outside the reach of pesky U.S. or E.U law.
The Holodeck: Want to pilot an F-35 fighter? Take a Formula-1 car for a spin through the streets of Monaco? Jog across the Martian deserts? Be chased by ravenous hordes of zombies? The barge will provide simulated experiences with an unprecedented degree of physical immersion, with rooms that can tilt, vibrate, and accelerate in any direction. Of course, it will also constantly rock with the swells and waves, so we hope you don’t get sea sick.
The world's largest hard disk drive: Flash memory is zippy, but very pricy compared to good old fashioned magnetic material. Still, having endless hard drive enclosures is inefficient, in terms of volume and energy. By constructing a stack of platters three stories tall and 10 meters across, suspended in a vacuum, Google plans to store the entire searchable Internet on a single drive. A barge is needed in case mechanical problems arise: The platters act like flywheels with immense angular momentum. In an emergency a floating structure can spin and gently bleed off momentum rather than eject a giant flying disk of doom.
Ghost Containment Grid: Google's founders were inspired in their youth by the 1984 movie Ghostbusters to find a way to truly use modern science in the service of taming the supernatural. (The Google search engine actually grew out of an early attempt to catalog the information required to build unlicensed nuclear accelerators.) The movie got a lot of things wrong, but one thing it got right was the need for a secure place to put captured, or "busted," ghosts, and preferably one out of the reach of Environmental Protection Agency pencil necks.
The base for a space elevator: Supposedly, Sergei Brin and Larry Page were keen to use some of their billions to build a space elevator. Former CEO Eric Schmidt talked them out of it, but where is he these days?
The bottom of the foot of the world’s largest humanoid robot: They’ll call it the Colossus of Nodes.
Document Storage: Maybe Google Drive is actually powered by physical printouts of everyone's documents, and Google needs a place to hide all the filing cabinets.
Zombie-proof Data Center: Much of the early speculation about the barge was fueled by a patent Google filed for a floating data center. That would be neat, but why would you need one? Because zombies can't swim. We’ll all need Google Maps and the ability to do social networking to survive the zombie apocalypse, right? Alternatively, something has gone horribly wrong over at Google X and this is a zombie detention center. Again, because zombies can't swim.
Employee Office Space/Prison: Google has always been trying to keep its employees on campus. (Marisa Mayer exported the principle to Yahoo! when she took over that outfit.) What better way to keep employees at work than to maroon them on a barge, in the middle of a bay, surrounded by zombies?
That’s no barge: It's a fully armed and operational battle station, manned by zombies.
Illustrations: Randi Klett; Google Barge: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images