Towards the end of a wide-ranging conversation that encompassed driverless cars, flying wind turbines, and high-altitude balloons providing internet access, Khosla began to ask about health.
Specifically, Khosla wondered whether they could “imagine Google becoming a health company? Maybe a larger business than the search business or the media business?”
Their response, surprisingly, was basically, “no.” While glucose-sensing contact lenses might be “very cool,” in the words of Larry Page, Brin notes that,
“Generally, health is just so heavily regulated. It’s just a painful business to be in. It’s just not necessarily how I want to spend my time. Even though we do have some health projects, and we’ll be doing that to a certain extent. But I think the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.”
“We have Calico, obviously, we did that with Art Levinson, which is pretty independent effort. Focuses on health and longevity. I’m really excited about that. I am really excited about the possibility of data also, to improve health. But that’s– I think what Sergey’s saying, it’s so heavily regulated. It’s a difficult area. I can give you an example. Imagine you had the ability to search people’s medical records in the U.S.. Any medical researcher can do it. Maybe they have the names removed. Maybe when the medical researcher searches your data, you get to see which researcher searched it and why. I imagine that would save 10,000 lives in the first year. Just that. That’s almost impossible to do because of HIPAA. I do worry that we regulate ourselves out of some really great possibilities that are certainly on the data-mining end.”
Khosla then asked a question about a use case involving one of my favorite portfolio companies of his, Ginger.io, related to the monitoring of a patient’s psychiatric state.
Responded Page, “I was talking to them about that last night. It was cool.”
That pretty much captures Brin and Page’s view of healthcare – fun to work on a few “cool” projects, but beyond that, the regulatory challenges are just too great to warrant serious investment.