Sebastian Thrun, one of the lead engineers behind Google’s fringe Google[x] projects, was at the Wired Business conference in New York today.On stage he answered a few questions about the Google[x] program at Google, which handles outlandish projects like self-driving cars and its computerized glasses project.
Here are some of the highlights:
What exactly is the new Google[X] project?
Sebastian Thrun: Google[x] in a single sentence is Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s ambition to complete moonshot-type projects. (Shooting to the moon and bringing the moon to earth.)
The third project is Google Glasses. We know everyone is attached to their phones. We started saying well, that’s kind of nice, but not what I want in my life. How can we think of technology as more liberating — how can we make the technology Jack Dorsey calls, “technology that goes away?” Why can’t I just take a picture right on my eye so other people can see through my eyes?
So we came up with this concept of building a super lightweight computer. It’s a project so far, not a product. It has a display, it has a camera, I took a picture of Charlie Rose. It has an ear-free component by using a speaker that touches your head for making a phone call. In the physical world, Google Glass is our best shot to achieve that, being hands free.
I looked at the feedback we got when we got to the public, distraction was the number one concern. We want to make a device that’s there when you want it and not distract you. In addition to being a camera, we use it for when someone texts me I can read it. When I’m in the situation where I don’t want to be distracted, I have the freedom to let go. And then I can go back.
The reason we went public, by the way, was to get feedback from everybody who might be our future customers. What are your concerns? We’re looking very systematically into this now.
How do you build a team that will land on the moon every year?
ST: My very first conversation is, rule number one, disobey your manager. A year later my employees come back to me, every single one says, now I understand. This is the age of disruption, there’s an amazing number of opportunities now. In the execution of disruption, many large companies have problems doing this.
It’s hard to get out of this aura of opinions. You have a whole stack of opinions — manager, SVP, VP. I try to shield my team from opinions, give them a vision that I believe in and that they believe in, and let them do their thing. Then they come back a year later and something amazing emerges.