Solve This: What's Google Really Up To With 'X'?

Solve-for-XGoogle unveiled hints early Monday to a project called Solve For X, which it later revealed represents an event held last week for experienced entrepreneurs, innovators and scientists. The event follows similar guidelines to those established at the Technology, Entertainment, Design conference, also known as TED. It focused on discussing technology solutions to some of the world's greatest problems.

It might seem like science fiction, but Google wants to change the meaning of "X" in equations. Rather than define X as a problem similar to climate change or cancer, the tech company wants to present it through opportunities for "radical thinking," "breakthrough ideas," and "cutting edge technology."

The event, co-hosted with Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, champions a concept known as technology moonshots, defined as 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, explain Astro Teller and Megan Smith, co-hosts of Solve for X, in a blog post.



That ideology for the conference focuses on the positive influences for change, which might require some guidelines. The invitation-only event attracted innovators to deliver 12-minute presentations on their topic of choice. Some of the videos can now be seen on the Solve for X YouTube Channel. For example, Adrien Treuille, an assistant professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon, talked about collaborative science. Treuille's talk describes Foldit and EteRNA, a series of new scientific discovery games that he has helped create.

X continues to become a popular letter for Google since Google Co-founder Larry Page found his way back to the C-level executive suite. Last year, The New York Timesdisclosed information about a top-secret lab in the Bay area where "robots run free," suggesting that some of the hundred or so projects going on at the Google X lab were pie-in-the-sky ideas.

1 comment about "Solve This: What's Google Really Up To With 'X'?".
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  1. Chris Simpson from AU/SOC, February 7, 2012 at 3:12 p.m.

    Google's role in Solving for X is less mysterious than it might sound. By its own rules as a shareholder-owned company, Google is looking first of all for ways to expand profits and/or shareholder value. That means that solving world problems in the abstract is irrelevant; what the company wants to find are ways to ensure that 'solutions' to big market problems feature Google in a leading or dominant role. That's not so unlike Google's hundred-billion-dollar strategy in some aspects of the WWW.

    The problem however is that most deeply rooted human problems cannot be solved via algorithms, advertising, and market dominance, no matter what rhetoric they are dressed in. In fact, advertising, oligopolistic power, and commercial rhetoric are more often a source of problems than of solutions.

    Think it through: Google benefits most if it successfully frames problems in terms that Google can 'fix,' preferably by using tools that it already owns. Stay tuned for 'fixes' that actually compound existing problems as they repair those that serve the company's interests.

    We've been through this before, and recently. Not so long ago, mortgage derivatives were hailed as the creative solution to systemic problems in banking. Ooops.

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