Google Solve For X Targets Tech's 'Moonshot' Challenges

Google's We Solve for X event and Website are designed to enable some of the world's top thinkers to propose and collaborate on using technology to solve worldwide problems.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), whose co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have discussed building an elevator to space, is no stranger to thinking about and tackling daunting challenges.

The company Feb. 6 moved to aggregate so-called "moonshot technology" projects intended to help solve worldwide problems, such as tackling water scarcity and efficient drug delivery.

The Website,, stemmed from Solve for X, an exclusive event Google hosted for entrepreneurs, innovators and scientists last week.

"These are efforts that take on global-scale problems, define radical solutions to those problems, and involve some form of breakthrough technology that could actually make them happen," Googlers Astro Teller and Megan Smith, who co-hosted the Solve for X event, explained in a blog post. "Moonshots live in the gray area between audacious projects and pure science fiction; they are 10x improvement, not 10 percent. That€™s partly what makes them so exciting."

Some examples of the moonshots experts discussed at Solve for X included the notion that major science and technological advances will come from individual contributors.

Adrien Treuille, a professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, who posited the theory, pointed to scientific discovery games where individual gamers are lapping the best computer programs in DNA folding and RNA nano-fabrication problems.

Treuille's idea is more of a return to the past than a leap to the future. Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell and several other renowned inventors worked mostly solo when they made their scientific breakthroughs.

Meanwhile, Rob McGinnis, co-founder of Oasys, argued that fresh water could be produced everywhere in the world at less than one-tenth the energy input or cost to the environment of what's possible today through advancements in desalination.

Solve for X was originally thought to be a Website dedicated to Google's X labs, which would move that Brin-led research unit out of its clandestine closet and into the public eye.

However, it now seems clear that while X labs and Solve for X share some commonality in high-minded concepts and challenges, X labs is currently working on some slightly more practical, down-to-earth solutions as well.

For example, it is believed Google's X labs have built computerized glasses that serve as newfangled smartphone form factors, complete with voice input and output, GPS and WiFi.

While not a moonshot approach by any stretch, computerized glasses are a radical form factor, compared with today's world of mobile phones and tablet computers.

The X lab is also the birth place of Google's driverless cars, which could be super-useful in the future to curb drunk driving. Conversely, Google said Solve for X isn't about developing a new business line or building an investment portfolio.