Re: How Does Google Do It?
"Even if it fails, the R&D will likely yield some usable insights. Google's not known for hiring stupid people. And if they succeed, it's a game-changer. Meanwhile, they bask in the press coverage."
Exactly. There's a pervasive sense among many people I know at Silicon Valley companies that the tech industry will solve virtually all problems in the world, including ones that have stumped the conventional medical industry for decades. Is some of this confidence misplaced? Probably. But even if this idea in particular doesn't pan out, we'll learn some valuable things in the aggregate. I see it as a positive that this generation's smartest minds are contributing to projects like this.
For a company like Google, the benefits outweigh the financial risks, whatever they happen to be. This is one of many such projects at the company, and if any one of them strikes gold, it will more than pay for failed efforts. Moreover, as Lorna points out, there are a lot of PR and recruiting benefits. Steve Jobs convinced people to work at Apple by telling them that they'd be working at a company that would change the world (or so goes an anecdote I've heard). Why shouldn't Google use a similar pitch? If you're a talented engineer choosing among companies that all offer elite packages, would you rather work for the one that's known only for selling ads, or the one that makes a lot of money selling ads but nonetheless spends a ton of resources developing free products and potentially disruptive concepts across all disciplines?