Google Verily Contact Lens

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Three signature projects from Google’s biotech venture are built on shaky science, according to investigative report. 

Bring the tech out of Star Trek and into the real world. That was the bold promise made by Google’s ambitious biotech enterprise, Verily Life Sciences in 2013. Making the futuristic medical device beloved by Trek-fans the world over, the tricorder, and using it to cure cancer.

As reported by STAT today, that was three years ago, and far from the working prototype that executive Andrew Conrad promised, evidence suggests that project Tricorder is floundering. 

Alongside Tricorder, Verily’s glucose-sensing contact lens, designed as a substitute for frequent blood tests for diabetics, is also in trouble with external experts claiming that the project is “scientifically dubious at best.”

“One needs to balance how much these toys are used mostly for marketing and for giving a sense of a company really working on something impressive — the brave new world — or if we’re talking about something that will have clear and immediate clinical impact,” said Dr. John Ioannidis, speaking to STAT, a professor of disease prevention at Stanford University. “The latter is very hard to imagine.”

According to the report the crux of the problem is a fundamental conflict between Silicon Valley philosophy and the true nature of science. “It’s axiomatic in Silicon Valley’s tech companies that if the math and the coding can be done, the product can be made,” writes report author Charles Piller. 

Piller claims that seven former Verily employees “said the company’s leadership often seems not to grasp the reality that biology can be more complex and less predictable than computers.”

Verily declined to be interviewed for STAT’s report, but have strongly defended the company’s record. Their projects were selected because “they are inherently difficult. We, together with our partners, believe that we have technology, expertise, and insights that might make success attainable on very challenging projects.”

Read the full report here, and as always let us know what you think in the comments below!

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