Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

Secret lab hides Google's boldest future projects

Claire Cain Miller and Nick Bilton (SMH) | Nov. 15, 2011
In a top-secret lab in an undisclosed San Francisco Bay Area location where robots run free, the future is being imagined.

Google said in May that, by the end of this year, another team planned to introduce a web-connected light bulb that could communicate wirelessly with Android devices.

One Google engineer familiar with Google X said it was run as mysteriously as the CIA - with two offices, a nondescript one for logistics, on the company's Mountain View campus, and one for robots, in a secret location.

While software engineers toil away elsewhere at Google, the lab is filled with roboticists and electrical engineers. They have been hired from Microsoft, Nokia Labs, Stanford, MIT, Carnegie Mellon and New York University.

A leader at Google X is Sebastian Thrun, one of the world's top robotics and artificial intelligence experts, who teaches computer science at Stanford and invented the world's first driverless car.

Also at the lab is Andrew Ng, another Stanford professor, who specialises in applying neuroscience to artificial intelligence to teach robots and machines to operate like people.

Johnny Chung Lee, a specialist in human-computer interaction, came to Google X from Microsoft this year after helping develop Microsoft's Kinect, the video game player that responds to human movement and voice.

At Google X, where he is working on the web of things, according to people familiar with his role, he has the mysterious title of rapid evaluator.

Because Google X is a breeding ground for big bets that could turn into colossal failures or Google's next big business - and it could take years to figure out which - just the idea of these experiments terrifies some shareholders and analysts.

"These moon-shot projects are a very Google-y thing for them to do," said Colin Gillis, an analyst at BGC Partners.

"People don't love it but they tolerate it because their core search business is firing away."

Page has tried to appease analysts by saying that crazy projects are a tiny proportion of Google's work.

"There are a few small, speculative projects happening at any one time, but we are very careful stewards of shareholders' money," he told analysts in July. "We are not betting the farm on these."

The New York Times


Previous Page  1  2  3 

Sign up for MIS Asia eNewsletters.