When I left my full time gig at TechCrunch last month, there were a few things on my plate that I was still looking into. One of those was “Google X”.
I first started hearing about Google X in March. I was told it was the codename of the group Sergey Brin took charge of after he handed off control of Google+ — then-called “Emerald Sea" — to Vic Gundotra and Bradley Horowitz. The way it was described to me at the time was "Google’s version of Brickhouse" — referring, of course, to the now defunct Yahoo Brickhouse.
I asked around, but couldn’t get much. Someone else told me it was the place that some of Google’s best talent was going rather than leaving the company to go start their own thing or go to Facebook like everyone else.
Then in June, Nicholas Carlson at Business Insider wrote a post connecting Brin and Google X. This arose from a conversation with Steven Levy, who had just published the in-depth, behind-the-scenes book on Google, In The Plex. Still no further details were revealed.
In July, I got pinged again about the project. Here was the context:
I hate hanging out with my Google friends because they say something like “He’s on Google X”, then look at me, then change the subject.
From there, the trail went cold. Until tonight.
Nick Bilton and Claire Cain Miller of The New York Times have just published a story unmasking the project. Not fully, but enough. Google X is Brin’s top secret section of Google being used to cook up the craziest big ideas they can come up with. And there’s a particular preference for robots.
Google’s self-driving cars? Yeah, that’s part of Google X.
Most of this stuff is lightyears away from being completed. In fact, most of it will probably never see the light of day. Though, intriguingly, apparently one of the X projects may be unveiled before the end of this year.
Critics (lately, I’ve clearly been a pretty big one) will rush to say this is Google essentially setting money on fire while continue to distract themselves. The fact that Google’s PR department feels the need to preempt such questions (while at the same time not acknowledging Google X) certainly doesn’t help. From the NYT piece:
A Google spokeswoman, Jill Hazelbaker, declined to comment on the lab, but said that investing in speculative projects was an important part of Google’s DNA. “While the possibilities are incredibly exciting, please do keep in mind that the sums involved are very small by comparison to the investments we make in our core businesses,” she said.
LOL. That sentiment is repeated at the end of the story as well.
But I actually think something like Google X is vital for Google. Dream big. Think way outside the box. Etc. The world is rediscovering the importance of places like PARC thanks to the Steve Jobs biography. Maybe Google X will be the next PARC.
Or maybe all the projects conceived here will fall of their face. Still, this is worth trying. These pie-in-the-sky projects make a hell of a lot more sense than doing Google Music, Google TV, Google+, etc. Those things are not in Google’s wheelhouse. They never have been. They never will be. They ultimately don’t move the needle. But self-driving cars? Fuck yeah.
Whatever is going on inside of Google X, I’m fairly certain it’s filled to the brim with the kind of stuff that made us all fall in love with Google in the first place.