Last week, the first ever synthetic beef hamburger was served to a panel of experts. It was a Promethean feat of human ingenuity, involving weeks of intensive lab work, hand weaving of microscopic fibres, and the expenditure of a cool £215,000. Despite all this, however, the achievements of Dr Mark Post and his team pale in comparison to those of the burger’s patron, Sergey Brin. Through years of dedicated PR work, unstoppable drive and genuine creative genius, Brin has managed to cast himself globally as a sort of spokesperson for human ingenuity itself.
Brin’s public journey began, of course, with a little start up called Google, which he and college friend Larry Page incorporated back in 1998. In some ways, he was always the mad, inspirational one. Apocryphal stories abound of him turning up to meetings with investors five minutes late on rollerskates, and his childhood in the Soviet Union has always lent his public image a faintly mythic quality.
However, it has been his work with Google’s special products division that has really catapulted Brin into the stratosphere. Brin’s team are responsible for kindling ideas which have led to some of Google’s most inspirations projects This man has given the world cars that drive themselves and glasses that see for us, and he has mapped streets, wastes and canyons for the benefit of the world.
His fame isn’t accidental, of course – fame never is. Whatever Brin’s personal ambitions, it seems likely that his profile has been stoked by Google’s PR team. Whether he’s religiously wearing his own special pair of Google glasses (http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevecooper/2013/04/30/great-entrepreneurs-practice-what-they-preach/), talking more eloquently than his co-founder ever could about internet freedom, censorship and totalitarianism (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/22/interview-sergey-brin-on-googles-china-gambit/?_r=0) or simply continuing to publish ground-breaking academic research, he embodies everything Google should be. He is outlandish. He is irrepressible. He is Not Evil.
I’ll be watching with interest where Brin takes his personal brand over the next few years. With Larry Page and Eric Schmidt coming under increasing media scrutiny and public criticism, Brin may be unable to sustain his current tech messiah status while associating himself with Google. In an interview in Bloomberg Businessweek this week, Bill Gates cast doubt on Google’s commitment to philanthropic projects, and indeed any ideas outside of their ‘core thing’ (http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-08-08/bill-gates-on-his-foundations-health-and-education-campaigns). Crucially, Brin funded the aforementioned hyperburger out of his own pocket. Could we be approaching a slicker, Brin-less Google and a wilder, Google-less Brin?