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Google Unveils 'Secret Lab' For Radical Ideas

What 'skunkworks' projects are underway at Google? New website aims to bring together big thinkers and big problems, such as climate change and cancer.

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Google last week convened a private technology gathering for innovators--a sort of secret TED conference--and on Monday plans to share some of the discussions and related materials through a new website,

"Solve for X is a place where the curious can go to hear and discuss radical technology ideas for solving global problems," the website states. "Radical in the sense that the solutions could help billions of people. Radical in the sense that the audaciousness of the proposals makes them sound like science fiction."

It is, in the words of a video posted on the site, a forum for fostering discussion about seemingly insurmountable problems such as climate change or cancer.

Google rapid evaluator Richard DeVaul, who calls himself a "mad scientist on his Google+ page, explained what was discussed at the conference in a Google+ post.

"The conference is driven by short, technology rich presentations on topics ranging from low-energy, low-cost water desalinization to stretchable silicon biosensors," he wrote. "This stuff is real."

[ Google plans to consolidate its privacy policies next month, despite regulators' pleas to delay. Read Google Rejects EU Request On Privacy Policy Consolidation. ]

Other topics included using crowdsolved labor to tackle science problems (such as protein folding), e-waste mining (apparently, a ton of e-waste contains more gold than a ton of mined ore), transforming education, improving agriculture, synthetic biology, and carbon-negative biofuels.

DeVaul says that videos and materials from the conference should be posted by the end of the day on Monday.

Google has long pursued novel technology projects, such as its plug-in hybrid initiative, but it hasn't had a dedicated umbrella organization under which such projects can be managed.

Enter Google's secret lab. Referred to as "Google X" in a November article in the New York Times, Google's skunkworks houses projects like Google's effort to develop self-driving cars, not to mention robots.

DeVaul says on his website that he "works in a secret Google lab that may or may not be filled with roving robots, space elevators, and talking refrigerators."

It wasn't clear whether Solve For X will serve as the public face of "Google X." Google, in keeping with the secret lab playbook, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Having a secret lab might help restore Google's cutting-edge image, which was dulled a bit after CEO Larry Page cleaned house and shut down Google Labs, a home for innovative, commercially-questionable Google projects.

The company's rivals in research long ago leaked the existence of their own secret labs. Lockheed Martin pioneered the concept with its Skunk Works, Amazon has its Lab 126, HP has Area 17, Microsoft has labs all over, although they're more private than secret, and then there's Apple, an entire company built as a secret lab.

Stay tuned to see whether Google reveals more about its research lab as gets populated with content.

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User Rank: Apprentice
2/7/2012 | 7:30:20 AM
re: Google Unveils 'Secret Lab' For Radical Ideas
I wish them well, but it sounds like the old futile search for a "silver bullet" to solve problems that really require lots of time, understanding, and unglamorous hard work.
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