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

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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,, 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.

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