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Google ‘We Solve For X’ Targets The Big Technology Challenges

Google’s “We Solve for X” initiative will enable some of the world’s top thinkers to collaborate on worldwide challenges

Google is no stranger to thinking about and tackling daunting challenges. Its co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, once discussed building an elevator to space.

The company bosses have now decided to aggregate so-called “moonshot technology” projects intended to help solve worldwide problems, such as tackling water scarcity and efficient drug delivery.

The X factor

The Website, wesolveforx.com, stemmed from Solve for X, an exclusive event Google hosted for entrepreneurs, innovators and scientists last week.

“These are efforts that take on global-scale problems, define radical solutions to those problems, and involve some form of breakthrough technology that could actually make them happen,” Googlers Astro Teller and Megan Smith, who co-hosted the Solve for X event, explained in a blog post. “Moonshots live in the grey area between audacious projects and pure science fiction; they are 10 times improvement, not 10 percent. That’s partly what makes them so exciting.”

Some examples of the moonshots experts discussed at Solve for X included the notion that major science and technological advances will come from individual contributors.

Adrien Treuille (pictured), a professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, pointed to scientific-discovery games where individual gamers are knocking out the best computer programs for DNA folding and RNA nano-fabrication problem solving. His idea is more of a return to the past than a leap to the future. Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell and several other renowned inventors worked mostly solo when they made their scientific breakthroughs.

Meanwhile, Rob McGinnis, co-founder of Oasys, argued that fresh water could be produced everywhere in the world at less than one-tenth the energy input or cost to the environment compared with what is possible today through advancements in desalination.

Solve for X was originally thought to be a Website dedicated to Google’s X Labs, which would move the Brin-led research unit out of its clandestine closet and into the public eye.

However, it now seems clear that while X labs and Solve for X share some commonality in high-minded concepts and challenges, X labs is currently working on some slightly more practical, down-to-earth solutions as well.

For example, it is believed Google’s X labs have built computerised glasses that serve as new-fangled smartphone form factors, complete with voice input and output, GPS and WiFi.

While not a moonshot approach by any stretch, computerised glasses are a radical form factor, compared with today’s world of mobile phones and tablet computers.

The X lab is also the birth place of Google’s driverless cars, which could be super-useful in the future to curb drunk driving. Conversely, Google said Solve for X isn’t about developing a new business line or building an investment portfolio.