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  • ASTRO TELLER: About five years ago,

  • right as Google X was being birthed,

  • I sat down with Larry Page.

  • And I was trying to work with him on how we were going

  • to talk about what Google X is.

  • And I was having a hard time getting something concise out

  • of him.

  • So I just started throwing things at him to respond to.

  • So I said, are we a research center?

  • He said, "no."

  • I'm glad to hear that.

  • Are we an incubator?

  • "Sort of, not really."

  • Are we just another business unit for Google?

  • Is that what we're going to be?

  • "No."

  • The original vision statement that Kennedy gave to the nation

  • in 1961, that we were going to put a man on the moon

  • and return him safely by the end of the decade,

  • was the original moonshot proposal,

  • at least in the moonshot sense.

  • So I was delighted when I-- after 10 of these things,

  • I threw out to Larry, are we taking moonshots?

  • And he said, "yes, that's what we're doing."

  • That made me really happy.

  • So from that afternoon on, what I've

  • been telling the people at Google X

  • is that we're trying to build a moonshot factory.

  • What I mean by that is that we're trying to take moonshots.

  • That word is to remind us that we're

  • trying to work on things that are very hard, that aspire

  • to make the world 10 times better in some way

  • than it currently is, not 10% better,

  • to remind us about the risks that we're taking

  • and the long-term nature of the work that we have ahead of us

  • when we try to do these things.

  • The word factory is meant to remind us

  • that even though we are doing these risky long term things,

  • that we want to pursue doing them with an eye

  • to actually having the impact that we aspire to,

  • that we're building products and services for the real world.

  • Fast forward five years, I'm tickled, I confess,

  • to see that the word moonshot has

  • made its way, fairly heavily now, into the popular lexicon.

  • I understand though-- I haven't seen the show myself--

  • that the TV show, "Silicon Valley," the Google in it

  • is called Hooli.

  • And they've now started their own Google X-like organization,

  • which they call XYZ, instead.

  • And it's taking moonshots also.

  • And I've personally been upgraded

  • from captain of moonshots to head daydreamer in the TV show,

  • apparently.

  • The fact that it's out there is important.

  • And part of the reason that I think that it's important

  • is that there's this bizarre-- it's understandable,

  • but it's this frustrating game of "Not It"

  • that we all play with ourselves.

  • So the small companies say, I can't take moonshots.

  • That's for big companies to do because it costs a lot of money

  • to take moonshots.

  • The big companies say, well, we aren't

  • going to take moonshots because that

  • means taking a lot of risk.

  • That's not really our game.

  • That's what the small companies should do because they

  • have nothing to lose.

  • The governments say, well, you know like 50 years ago,

  • we were taking moonshots.

  • But that's not really our thing anymore.

  • We have to work on popular, immediate problems.

  • We don't have any money.

  • Like, that just can't be us, sorry.

  • Academics love talking about moonshots.

  • They like writing the papers.

  • They actually produce some of the underlying science that,

  • later, can turn into a moonshot, but they're not

  • the system builders who are going to build

  • the moonshot themselves.

  • Everyone thinks it's someone else's job.

  • But we're not going to fix the biggest problems in the world

  • if everyone thinks it's someone else's job.

  • The truth is, we can all work on moonshots.

  • Working on things that aspire to be 10 times better, rather

  • than 10% better, is a mindset.

  • That's what it is.

  • It's got nothing to do specifically

  • with the risk, or the money, or the time frame.

  • It's a mindset about what we're working towards.

  • And counterintuitive as it is, if you

  • work on things that aspire to be that much better,

  • it not only isn't harder, sometimes

  • it's literally easier because, when

  • you aspire to make the world that much better,

  • you have to start over.

  • And when you've acknowledged to yourself as a team

  • that you're going to start over, you

  • know that what's going to happen next

  • can't be built on what people have done before.

  • You have to, in a meaningful sense,

  • come at it from a new perspective.

  • And that often, not always, but often unlocks

  • possibilities that make the impossible seem possible.

  • So this is our blueprint for how we

  • take moonshots, for what a moonshot should

  • be in our minds.

  • The first thing is that there has

  • to be a huge problem in the world that we want to resolve,

  • that we want to have go away or mitigate

  • in some meaningful way.

  • So for example, 1.2 million people

  • die every year in car accidents.

  • More than a trillion dollars is wasted every year

  • with people sitting in traffic.

  • That is a legitimately world scale

  • problem it would be awesome if we could make go away.

  • Number two, there has to be a radical proposal for how

  • to make that problem go away.

  • If it's something that people have tried over and over before

  • in the past, the idea that we or you or anyone else

  • by just trying harder, or staying up later at night

  • is not really a good outcome.

  • It's not very likely to work.

  • So cars that drive themselves all the way from point A

  • to point B-- I think that's like the poster

  • child for a radical sounding proposal

  • to make that kind of problem go away.

  • And then, the third one is there has

  • to be some reason to believe some breakthrough

  • technology, some aha from science or engineering,

  • which makes us believe that, even if it's not guaranteed

  • to work, we have a decent shot at learning through the process

  • and maybe, just maybe, getting there.

  • In the case of self-driving cars,

  • that was the DARPA Grand Challenge

  • work that originally happened and some advances

  • in smart software and smart sensors.

  • So each project that fits into this mold then

  • has to describe not just that it fits these things,

  • but that, in principle at least, it

  • could produce in the long run a Google scale business

  • or Google scale value to the company in order for us

  • to help it move forward.

  • Our goal is to have each of these things

  • create a ton of value for the world,

  • but then also create back to Google

  • a fair or equitable return on its investment

  • for taking these big risks.

  • And five years in, I'm very happy to say

  • that we've started to make real progress in this space

  • through the graduations that we've done.

  • Some of them play out in different ways.

  • So for example, the massive neural network project

  • that we originally built at Google X,

  • we graduated back into the main part of Google,

  • called knowledge, which is what you might think of as search.

  • And in that part of Google, it now

  • is servicing over 50 products and services helping

  • all these different parts of Google turn signals

  • into symbols more effectively, which is helping

  • Google to be successful.

  • And certainly, that's not all our credit

  • because they've done a lot since they left.

  • But we helped to get that going.

  • And that is a good example of the sort of thing

  • that we're shooting for.

  • In a very different way, the smart contact lens

  • work that we built, it wasn't going

  • to probably work out optimally for us,

  • not only to do the original work on that project,

  • but to take it all the way to the market ourselves.

  • So we developed a partnership with Alcon, the eye care

  • division of Novartis, and now we are headed towards the market

  • through this still very complex process

  • of trying to make contact lenses be

  • able to sense the glucose in your eye to help diabetics

  • manage their diabetes better.

  • But that is another example where

  • value can be released through this work, in this case,

  • through a partner.

  • Another of the critical operating principles

  • that we have at Google X is throwing ourselves out

  • into the world to get contact with the real world

  • as fast as possible.

  • It's not sometimes a natural thing to do,

  • but it is an absolute critical thing

  • to do, especially when you're taking on particularly

  • big, hard projects.

  • You can't possibly know at beginning the right thing

  • to do, but you can have a process where

  • you discover faster, rather than slower, that you're

  • on the wrong track.

  • That, you can do.

  • So we go through these processes for things

  • like the self-driving cars, for our flying wind turbines,

  • for Project Loon, for contact lens work that we do,

  • and for others.

  • We go through this process where we force ourselves

  • to seek out this contact.

  • And sometimes, this turns out to be us dragging our balloons up

  • to South Dakota to expose the balloons to Arctic winds.

  • Sometimes, it's asking a really specific tiny question,

  • like how long will this glucose sensor

  • the size of a piece of glitter actually

  • be able to sense glucose while sitting in this tear fluid.

  • The question is how and how fast can you

  • discover that what you're working on

  • is the wrong thing to be working on.

  • And the secret is it's discouraging

  • to hear these things.

  • We all avoid going out into the world,

  • throwing ourselves at the world to discover these things.

  • But no matter how discouraging it

  • is now, if you put more time into doing it,

  • you will unconsciously avoid even more doing it tomorrow,

  • or a week from now, or a month from now.

  • And that's why doing it as fast as you can

  • is actually the easiest time and the most efficient time

  • to discover that you're on the wrong path.

  • And that's why it is sort of central to how Google X works

  • on solving these problems.

  • I want to emphasize-- what this basically

  • means is we don't know.

  • And I would go so far so to say, nobody really

  • knows the right way to build any of these projects.

  • If you listen to the media stories,

  • you get this nice, tight arc where the entrepreneurs that

  • make it were destined to make it,

  • and the ones that didn't work were losers who were never

  • going to make it anyway.

  • And it completely misses the point,

  • that feeling in the pit of your stomach

  • where you know where you want to get to,

  • but you really don't know how to get there.

  • I have those feelings all the time.

  • Every single one of our project leads at Google X

  • has those feelings.

  • You're not alone.

  • That's just the truth of the world

  • that we have those feelings all the time.

  • All we can do is take our best guess about what

  • we should be building.

  • And then, don't wait.

  • Get quickly out into the world to discover

  • how wrong you are, which parts are salvageable,

  • and which parts you need to go back

  • to the drawing board about.

  • That's the only way to race forward.

  • So I'm going to tell you about Project

  • Wing as an example of this.

  • Project Wing had some kind of bumpy months--

  • some very bumpy months in late 2013, early 2014.

  • So the goal for Project Wing is self-flying vehicles

  • for delivery.