Sergey Mikhaylovich Brin (Russian: Серге́й Миха́йлович Брин; born August 21, 1973) is a Russian-born American computer scientist and internet entrepreneur. Together with Larry Page, he co-founded Google. Brin is the President of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. As of October 2017, Brin is the 13th richest person in the world, with an estimated net worth of US$46 billion.
Brin immigrated to the United States with his family from the Soviet Union at the age of 6. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Maryland, following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by studying mathematics, as well as computer science. After graduation, he enrolled in Stanford University to acquire a PhD in computer science. There he met Page, with whom he later became friends. They crammed their dormitory room with inexpensive computers and applied Brin’s data mining system to build a web search engine. The program became popular at Stanford, and they suspended their PhD studies to start up Google in a rented garage.
The Economist referred to Brin as an “Enlightenment Man”, and as someone who believes that “knowledge is always good, and certainly always better than ignorance”, a philosophy that is summed up by Google’s mission statement, “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” and its unofficial yet sometimes controversial motto, “Don’t be evil“.
Early life and education
Brin was born in Moscow in the Soviet Union, to Russian Jewish parents, Yevgenia and Mikhail Brin, both graduates of Moscow State University (MSU). His father is a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland, and his mother a researcher at NASA‘s Goddard Space Flight Center.
The Brin family lived in a three-room apartment in central Moscow, which they also shared with Sergey’s paternal grandmother. In “The Story of Sergey Brin”, Brin told Mark Malseed of Moment magazine, “I’ve known for a long time that my father wasn’t able to pursue the career he wanted”, but Brin only picked up the details years later after they had settled in the United States. In 1977, after his father returned from a mathematics conference in Warsaw, Poland, Mikhail Brin announced that it was time for the family to emigrate. “We cannot stay here any more”, he told his wife and mother. At the conference, he was able to “mingle freely with colleagues from the United States, France, England and Germany and discovered that his intellectual brethren in the West were not ‘monsters.'” He added, “I was the only one in the family who decided it was really important to leave.”
Sergey’s mother was less willing to leave their home in Moscow, where they had spent their entire lives. Malseed writes, “For Genia, the decision ultimately came down to Sergey. While her husband admits he was thinking as much about his own future as his son’s, for her, ‘it was 80/20’ about Sergey.” They formally applied for their exit visa in September 1978, and as a result his father was “promptly fired”. For related reasons, his mother also had to leave her job. For the next eight months, without any steady income, they were forced to take on temporary jobs as they waited, afraid their request would be denied as it was for many refuseniks. During this time his parents shared responsibility for looking after him and his father taught himself computer programming. In May 1979, they were granted their official exit visas and were allowed to leave the country.
At an interview in October 2000, Brin said, “I know the hard times that my parents went through there and am very thankful that I was brought to the States.” In 2017, Brin later recalled: “I came here to the US at age six with my family from the Soviet Union, which was at that time the greatest enemy the US had… It was a dire period, the cold war, as some people remember it. It was under the threat of nuclear annihilation. And even then the US had the courage to take me and my family in as refugees.”
In the summer of 1990, a few weeks before his 17th birthday, his father led a group of high school math students, including Sergey, on a two-week exchange program to the Soviet Union. His roommate on the trip was future Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor John Stamper. As Brin recalls, the trip awakened his childhood fear of authority and he remembered that “his first impulse on confronting Soviet oppression had been to throw pebbles at a police car”. Malseed adds, “On the second day of the trip, while the group toured a sanatorium in the countryside near Moscow, Brin took his father aside, looked him in the eye and said, ‘Thank you for taking us all out of Russia.'”
Brin attended elementary school at Paint Branch Montessori School in Adelphi, Maryland, but he received further education at home; his father, a professor in the department of mathematics at the University of Maryland, encouraged him to learn mathematics and his family helped him retain his Russian-language skills. He attended Eleanor Roosevelt High Schoolin Greenbelt, Maryland. In September 1990 Brin enrolled in the University of Maryland, where he received his Bachelor of Science from the Department of Computer Science in 1993 with honors in computer science and mathematics, which is part of the University of Maryland College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.
Brin began his graduate study in computer science at Stanford University on a graduate fellowship from the National Science Foundation. In 1993, he interned at Wolfram Research, the developers of Mathematica. As of 2008 he was on leave from his PhD studies at Stanford.
Search engine development
During an orientation for new students at Stanford, he met Larry Page. They seemed to disagree on most subjects. But after spending time together, they “became intellectual soul-mates and close friends”. Brin’s focus was on developing data mining systems while Page’s was in extending “the concept of inferring the importance of a research paper from its citations in other papers”. Together, the pair authored a paper titled “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine”.
To convert the backlink data gathered by BackRub’s web crawler into a measure of importance for a given web page, Brin and Page developed the PageRank algorithm, and realized that it could be used to build a search engine far superior to existing ones. The new algorithm relied on a new kind of technology that analyzed the relevance of the backlinks that connected one Web page to another, and allowed the number of links and their rank, to determine the rank of the page.
Combining their ideas, the pair began utilizing Page’s dormitory room as a machine laboratory, and extracted spare parts from inexpensive computers to create a device that they used to connect the nascent search engine with Stanford’s broadband campus network. After filling Page’s room with equipment, they then converted Brin’s dorm room into an office and programming center, where they tested their new search engine designs on the Web. The rapid growth of their project caused Stanford’s computing infrastructure to experience problems.
Page and Brin used the former’s basic HTML programming skills to set up a simple search page for users, as they did not have a web page developer to create anything visually elaborate. They also began using any computer part they could find to assemble the necessary computing power to handle searches by multiple users. As their search engine grew in popularity among Stanford users, it required additional servers to process the queries. In August 1996, the initial version of Google, still on the Stanford University website, was made available to Internet users.
By early 1997, the BackRub page described the state as follows:
The mathematical website interlinking that the PageRankalgorithm facilitates, illustrated by size-percentage correlation of the circles. The algorithmwas named after Page himself.
- Some Rough Statistics (from August 29th, 1996)
- Total indexable HTML urls: 75.2306 Million
- Total content downloaded: 207.022 gigabytes
- BackRub is written in Java and Python and runs on several Sun Ultras and Intel Pentiums running Linux. The primary database is kept on a Sun Ultra series II with 28GB of disk. Scott Hassan and Alan Steremberg have provided a great deal of very talented implementation help. Sergey Brin has also been very involved and deserves many thanks.
- – Larry Page pagecs.stanford.edu
BackRub already exhibited the rudimentary functions and characteristics of a search engine: a query input was entered and it provided a list of backlinks ranked by importance. Page recalled: “We realized that we had a querying tool. It gave you a good overall ranking of pages and ordering of follow-up pages.” Page said that in mid-1998 they finally realized the further potential of their project: “Pretty soon, we had 10,000 searches a day. And we figured, maybe this is really real.”
Some compared Page and Brin’s vision to the impact of Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of modern printing:
In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg introduced Europe to the mechanical printing press, printing Bibles for mass consumption. The technology allowed for books and manuscripts—originally replicated by hand—to be printed at a much faster rate, thus spreading knowledge and helping to usher in the European Renaissance … Google has done a similar job.
The comparison was also noted by the authors of The Google Story: “Not since Gutenberg … has any new invention empowered individuals, and transformed access to information, as profoundly as Google.” Also, not long after the two “cooked up their new engine for web searches, they began thinking about information that was at the time beyond the web,” such as digitizing books and expanding health information.
Brin is working on other, more personal projects that reach beyond Google. For example, he and Page are trying to help solve the world’s energy and climate problems at Google’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, which invests in the alternative energy industry to find wider sources of renewable energy. The company acknowledges that its founders want “to solve really big problems using technology”.
In October 2010, for example, they invested in a major offshore wind power development to assist the East coast power grid, which will eventually become one of about a dozen offshore wind farms that are proposed for the region. A week earlier they introduced a car that, with “artificial intelligence”, can drive itself using video cameras and radar sensors. In the future, drivers of cars with similar sensors would have fewer accidents. These safer vehicles could therefore be built lighter and require less fuel consumption. They are trying to get companies to create innovative solutions to increasing the world’s energy supply. He is an investor in Tesla Motors, which has developed the Tesla Roadster (2008), a 244-mile (393 km) range battery electric vehicle as well as the Tesla Model S, a 265-mile (426 km) range battery electric vehicle.
In 2004, he and Page were named “Persons of the Week” by ABC World News Tonight. In January 2005 he was nominated to be one of the World Economic Forum‘s “Young Global Leaders”. In June 2008, Brin invested $4.5 million in Space Adventures, the Virginia-based space tourism company. His investment will serve as a deposit for a reservation on one of Space Adventures’ proposed flights in 2011. Space Adventures, the only company that sends tourists to space, has sent five of them so far.
Brin and Page jointly own a customized Boeing 767-200 and a Dornier Alpha Jet, and pay $1.3 million a year to house them and two Gulfstream V jets owned by Google executives at Moffett Federal Airfield. The aircraft have had scientific equipment installed by NASA to allow experimental data to be collected in flight.
In 2012, Brin has been involved with the Project Glass program and has demoed eyeglass prototypes. Project Glass is a research and development program by Google to develop an augmented reality head-mounted display (HMD). The intended purpose of Project Glass products would be the hands-free displaying of information currently available to most smartphone users, and allowing for interaction with the Internet via natural language voice commands.
Brin was also involved in the Google driverless car project. In September 2012, at the signing of the California Driverless Vehicle Bill, Brin predicted that within five years, robotic cars will be available to the general public.
Brin is a supporter of lab-grown meat and kite-energy systems.
The Economist magazine describes Brin’s approach to life, like Page’s, as based on a vision summed up by Google’s motto, “of making all the world’s information ‘universally accessible and useful'”.
Censorship of Google in China
Remembering his youth and his family’s reasons for leaving the Soviet Union, he “agonized over Google’s decision to appease the Communist government of China by allowing it to censor search engine results”, but he decided that the Chinese would still be better off than without having Google available.
On January 12, 2010, Google reported a large cyber attack on its computers and corporate infrastructure that began a month earlier, which included accessing two Gmail accounts and the theft of Google’s intellectual property. After the attack was determined to have originated in China, the company stated that it would no longer agree to censor its search engine in China and may exit the country altogether. David Drummond, Google’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Development, reported that “a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, but that the attack also targeted 20 other large companies in the finance, technology, media and chemical sectors.” It was later reported that the attack had also targeted “one of Google’s crown jewels, a password system that controls access by millions of users worldwide”.
In late March 2010, it officially discontinued its China-based search engine while keeping its uncensored Hong Kong site in operation. Speaking for Google, Brin stated during an interview, “One of the reasons I am glad we are making this move in China is that the China situation was really emboldening other countries to try and implement their own firewalls.” During another interview with Der Spiegel, he added, “For us it has always been a discussion about how we can best fight for openness on the Internet. We believe that this is the best thing that we can do for preserving the principles of the openness and freedom of information on the Internet.”
Senator Byron Dorgan stated that “Google’s decision is a strong step in favor of freedom of expression and information.” And Congressman Bob Goodlatte said, “I applaud Google for its courageous step to stop censoring search results on Google.cn. Google has drawn a line in the sand and is shining a light on the very dark area of individual liberty restrictions in China.” From the business perspective, many recognize that the move is likely to affect Google’s profits. The New Republic adds that “Google seems to have arrived at the same link that was obvious to Andrei Sakharov: the one between science and freedom,” referring to the move as “heroism”.
Sergey Brin in 2005 at the Web 2.0Conference
In May 2007, Brin married biotech analyst and entrepreneur Anne Wojcicki in the Bahamas. They had a son together in December 2008 and a daughter in late 2011. In August 2013, it was announced that Brin and his then-wife were living separately after Brin had become romantically involved with Google Glass‘s marketing director. In June 2015, Brin and Wojcicki finalized their divorce.
Brin’s mother, Eugenia, has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In 2008, he decided to make a donation to the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where his mother is being treated. Brin used the services of 23andMe and discovered that although Parkinson’s is generally not hereditary, both he and his mother possess a mutation of the LRRK2 gene (G2019S) that puts the likelihood of him developing Parkinson’s in later years between 20% and 80%. When asked whether ignorance was not bliss in such matters, he stated that his knowledge means that he can now take measures to ward off the disease. An editorial in The Economist magazine states that “Mr Brin regards his mutation of LRRK2 as a bug in his personal code, and thus as no different from the bugs in computer code that Google’s engineers fix every day. By helping himself, he can therefore help others as well. He considers himself lucky. … But Mr. Brin was making a much bigger point. Isn’t knowledge always good, and certainly always better than ignorance?”
Brin and his ex-wife also run The Brin Wojcicki Foundation.
Awards and accolades
In 2002, Brin, along with Larry Page, was named the MIT Technology Review TR100, as one of the top 100 innovators in the world under the age of 35. In 2003, both Brin and Page received an honorary MBA from IE Business School “for embodying the entrepreneurial spirit and lending momentum to the creation of new businesses…”. In 2004, they received the Marconi Foundation Prize, the “Highest Award in Engineering”, and were elected Fellows of the Marconi Foundation at Columbia University. “In announcing their selection, John Jay Iselin, the Foundation’s president, congratulated the two men for their invention that has fundamentally changed the way information is retrieved today.”
In 2003, Brin and Page were both Award Recipients and National Finalists for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award 
In 2004, Brin received the Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award with Larry Page at a ceremony in Chicago, Illinois.
In November 2009, Forbes decided Brin and Page were the fifth most powerful people in the world. Earlier that same year, in February, Brin was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, which is “among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer … [and] honors those who have made outstanding contributions to engineering research, practice…”. He was selected specifically, “for leadership in development of rapid indexing and retrieval of relevant information from the World Wide Web”. In their “Profiles” of Fellows, the National Science Foundation included a number of earlier awards:
he was a featured speaker at the World Economic Forum and the Technology, Entertainment and Design Conference. … PC Magazine has praised Google in the Top 100 Web Sites and Search Engines (1998) and awarded Google the Technical Excellence Award, for Innovation in Web Application Development in 1999. In 2000, Google earned a Webby Award, a People’s Voice Award for technical achievement, and in 2001, was awarded Outstanding Search Service, Best Image Search Engine, Best Design, Most Webmaster Friendly Search Engine, and Best Search Feature at the Search Engine Watch Awards.
According to Forbes, he is the 12th richest person in the world with a personal wealth of US$39.2 billion as of October 2016.
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