On Feb. 16, Chairman Eric Schmidt announced that Google Ideas, a think tank that researches issues at the intersection of technology and international security, will become Jisgsaw, "a technology incubator that aims to tackle the toughest geopolitical issues." Schmidt explained the name change in a Medium post:
Why Jigsaw? For one thing, the new name acknowledges that the world is a complex puzzle of physical and digital challenges. For another, it reflects our belief that collaborative problem-solving yields the best solutions.
As a technology incubator, Jigsaw will be investing in and building technology to expand access to information for the world's most vulnerable populations and to defend against the world's most challenging security threats.
Jigsaw will be led by Jared Cohen, who, like many leaders at Alphabet, has an impressive resume.
In 2006, at age 25, Cohen served as the youngest member of the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's Policy Planning Staff. He continued in this capacity for Hillary Clinton. His role focused on generating ideas for counter-terrorism, Internet freedom, and fostering opposition in repressive countries. He is best known for keeping Twitter open during a scheduled maintenance during the Iranian presidential election protests, defying President Obama's non-interference rules. In 2013 he was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people. Cohen even found time to party with Iranian youth in Tehran's underground.
Enough about this guy. He's lowering my self esteem.
Jigsaw is looking to expand from just being a think tank that builds tools to a supporter of free expression and access to information in repressive societies. As a technology incubator, Google teams will partner with outside businesses, non-profits, and thought leaders to tackle issues related to violent extremism, online censorship, and the threat of digital attacks.
Current projects include Project Shield, which uses Google's technology to protect independent news, human rights, and election monitoring sites from digital attacks. The Digital Attack Map displays attacks against websites of newspapers, businesses, and charities.
From an investing angle, it may be a challenge to see how Alphabet's initiative will add to profitability. However, a safer and open Internet around the world will only help increase the population of Google users. An argument can also be made that initiatives such as Google Ideas and Jigsaw foster a culture of innovation, which is imperative for companies such as Alphabet.
Jigsaw won't fall under the main Google umbrella, which includes the search business, ads, maps, YouTube, and Android. Rather, the segment will become the 10th unit inside Alphabet, Google's holding company.