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Under Sergey Brin, Google's X Division Still Shoots for the Moon

If there are already notable competitors in a field, it's probably not where Google X wants to be.

Asa Mathat

Liveblog highlights:

  • Brin says Snowden’s NSA revelations were a “huge disappointment.
  • The secretive Google X wing of the company that Brin leads is working on multiple efforts, including Project Loon and Project Glass.
  • Project Glass, the wearable head computing technology, is best used outside, Brin says.
  • Google’s latest self-driving car iteration was built from the ground up by Google. This is what it’s like to ride in it.
  • Brin expects that Google will be testing its new self-driving car before the end of the year.
  • Brin’s Google X division steers clear of most projects that the rest of the company deals with regularly.
  • When working on Google Glass, Brin said, the company explicitly asks third-party developers to not incorporate facial recognition into their applications.

Google controls more than a 67 percent market share in search in the U.S. and much more than that in other global regions. It generated more than $61 billion in revenue over the past year and is now one of the five most valuable public companies in the world. It’s well positioned for the next big wave, accounting for some 47 percent of global Internet ad revenue on mobile.

In other words, it is in peak form. And it has never been more insecure. The company is going through a midlife crisis. To battle the effects of aging, it has turned to nurturing “moonshots” — long-term projects that take on physical rather than virtual challenges and are plucked straight from the realms of science fiction. Many of these projects won’t turn into viable businesses for years. But any one of these could change the face of fill-in-the-blank industry. This is Sergey Brin’s domain. His role as one of the leaders of Google X makes him the ringleader of self-driving cars, high-flying balloons that deliver Internet access, computers worn on your face and many other mysteries of engineering and science.

In an interview with Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg at the inaugural Code Conference, Brin sidestepped talk of business. He hasn’t paid much attention to the smartphone patent court battles with Samsung. And he has even less interest in running a big company — or even a big team.

But Brin waxed philosophic about the search giant’s latest and greatest futuristic projects, including a big extension of the self-driving car program. Brin unveiled Google’s first car built from scratch, a gondola on wheels with no steering wheel and no brake pedals.

Brin also discussed his impatience with the pace of innovation and his disappointment with the NSA surveillance revelations and joked about new projects (or not) around invisibility cloaks, fembots and thousands of hovering satellites.

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