It's an interesting discussion as far as I'm concerned because we're talking about two specialized, scientific pursuits with broad importance to a public that has only the shakiest understanding of how they work or what they mean.
Theranos argued they could do blood chemistry with samples too small to have any stochastic certainty that they would contain the correct proportions of the markers and antigens necessary to test. That's my understanding of the situation - my wife's father has a couple dozen patents in diabetes testing and his take on Theranos was "I just don't see how it could work" from the very beginning. Several times, he walked me through all the problems that they've run into again and again and again with the goals of "smallest, least invasive test possible" as they rub up against the hard realities of protein chemistry and microfluidics.
The self-driving car contingent argues that they can do advanced autopilot with cognition too small to solve all the problems contained in an average drive. It's not the same because there is no actual, physical limit to the amount of processing the cars have to do - it's not a "this will never work because physics" problem, it's a "this isn't going to work right now because limits of technology" problem. But I think from an investor and public safety standpoint, "doesn't work right now" and "won't work ever" end up the same.
I still think Theranos had a way forward. They got my attention because the duopoly of Quest and Lab Corps is awful to deal with, and any disruptor simply going "the same, only less dickish" could have made a mint. Had Theranos gone "actually, the Edison is further out than we hoped, we've decided to build out a network of independent blood chemistry labs for consumers to take control of their health" they'd be a multi-billion-dollar company. If they'd gone with the GoodRX model instead of the flim-flam chicanery model they'd probably be in every Walgreen's.
And I think Google has a way forward - but only Google. I think they were able to convince the world they were working on "self driving cars" when in fact they were building out a map and a strategy for street sweepers, mail delivery bots, meter reader bots and community shuttles the world over. Their approach works great and without any problems whatsoever if:
- Weather is clear
- Route is known
- Environment is predictable
and if you keep it under 15mph and cover it in flashing lights, you're good. Google could roll their service out to the USPS and make their money back. They could roll it out to Waste Management and make their money back. Probably not so much municipal bus service? But a street sweeper is a gimme, particularly if you make it small enough that it can't really fuck up anything bigger than a motorcycle.
Is it self-driving cars? Hell to the no. But it's a level of autonomy that works right now, that replaces salaries with capital equipment and a service contract. I'll go one further: I'll bet Google could get autonomous semis approved, on the understanding that (A) they operate in the middle of the night (B) they operate with blinking lights (C) they operate with an operator on board to take over in and out of cities (D) they operate entirely autonomously unless they don't, in which case they don't operate autonomously at all.
But none of that is "take me to work while I smoke a bowl."