Astro Teller of Google[X]: Take Smart Risks All the Time | Disrupt NY 2014 | Summary and Q&A

May 6, 2014
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Astro Teller of Google[X]: Take Smart Risks All the Time | Disrupt NY 2014

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In this video, the speaker discusses various topics including Google Glass, privacy concerns, the importance of taking risks for innovation, and the practical applications of their research at X. They also touch upon the possibility of exporting their methodology to other companies and mention their interest in solving problems in the agriculture and battery industries.

Questions & Answers

Q: How has the progress of Google Glass been going so far?

The progress of Google Glass has been going well, although much of the progress is not yet visible to the public. The explorers using Glass have provided valuable feedback and have been patient and thoughtful in their usage of the device.

Q: How does the speaker address the criticism of Glass regarding privacy concerns?

The speaker acknowledges that people are uncomfortable with the changing landscape of privacy, but argues that Glass is not the main contributor to this issue. They point out that there are already many cameras present in public spaces, and that Glass users often ask for permission before recording. The speaker believes that society will evolve and come to terms with cameras in general, including Glass.

Q: What are the potential privacy implications of Glass becoming less obvious and more unobtrusive?

The speaker argues that Glass is not a good spy camera, as it is designed to be facing in the direction the user is facing and lights up when taking a picture. They explain that other devices, such as phones and watches, can be more effective as spy cameras. As Glass becomes less obvious, privacy concerns might arise, but the speaker emphasizes that the responsibility lies with society to establish social norms around recording and sharing.

Q: Do big companies like Google need to take risks to remain innovative?

Risk-taking is important for all companies, regardless of size. The speaker believes that taking smart risks is the essence of entrepreneurship and the only way to stay sharp, grow, and remain relevant. They emphasize that the context and tolerance for risk might differ based on the size and industry of the company, but the principle of taking smart risks remains the same.

Q: Can the speaker provide an example of practical applications resulting from their research at X?

One example given is the creation of a software infrastructure by a company called Flux, which aims to revolutionize the construction industry by allowing faster and more efficient building prototyping. The speaker highlights the importance of addressing big problems with innovative solutions and mentions that some projects have been spun back into Google while others have been turned off if they didn't align with the desired impact.

Q: Is X an incubator for companies or a model that can be emulated by others?

The speaker states that X aims to stay flexible and doesn't know if one model will emerge as the best. They mention spinning off some projects into separate companies while others have been reintegrated into Google. The focus remains on making an impact and the speaker expresses a desire to share their methodology and encourage moonshot thinking through events like Solve for X.

Q: Can the speaker give examples of specific problems that have come up and how their team solved them?

One example mentioned is Project Loon, where the team encountered difficulties in acquiring a specific harmonized spectrum for their project. However, the team took the problem as an opportunity and developed a more efficient solution by using existing spectrum in each country. Another example involves addressing the GPS multipath problem to improve location accuracy by considering it as an inverse ray tracing problem.

Q: How much freedom does X have in determining the success or failure of projects?

The speaker explains that Larry and Sergey, along with many large companies, focus on not allowing projects to fully materialize if they don't make sense early on. They encourage failure at an early stage when there is less emotional attachment and fewer resources invested. The freedom to shut down projects or pivot is part of X's methodology.

Q: Can X's way of doing things be exported to other companies or labs?

The speaker expresses a desire to share their ethos and methodology with others. They talk about events like Solve for X, where people can propose moonshot ideas and celebrate others' ideas. They hope to encourage moonshot thinking and inspire others to adopt a similar approach. They mention that this sharing of their ethos is part of X's mission.

Q: If the speaker had a problem that frustrated them enough to turn their team loose on solving it, what would it be?

The speaker mentions two areas that they personally find important and in need of innovation. The first is agriculture, as it is the largest and most inefficient industry globally, causing environmental problems. The speaker believes there is a lot of opportunity for improvement, such as solving issues with arable land on slopes. The second area is batteries, as a 10x improvement in energy density would have a radical impact on many aspects of society, particularly in the field of energy consumption.

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