‘Computers are still pretty bad,’ car ownership may die and other observations from Google’s co-founders

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin had a really interesting talk with Vinod Khosla, touching on self-driving cars, why they didn’t sell Google in its early years and more. Page, who suffers from vocal cord paralysis, doesn’t do a lot of interviews. So the 41-minute conversation was a rare chance to hear how the duo thinks.

Page discussed how the “I’m feeling lucky” button on Google.com was an early window into his company’s desire to provide answers without making the user do much work. (While the button remains on Google.com, it’s essentially a dead feature due to Google Instant, where search results automatically populate as a user types.)

“We feel like right now that computers are still pretty bad. I mean you’re just messing around, kind of scrolling on your touchscreen phone. You’re in a car and it’s bouncy, you can’t — it doesn’t really work,” Page said. “So I think the actual amount of knowledge you get out of your computer vs. the amount of time you spend is still pretty bad. So I think our job is to kind of solve that.”

Google Now is perhaps the best example of this effort, in which Google predicts information you’re interested in, and shares it at a relevant time. For example, when you’re about to leave the office it might tell you what route home will be fastest.

Page also talked of former Apple chief executive Steve Jobs telling him that Google was trying to do too much.

“I think it sounds stupid if you have this big company, and you can only do five things. I think it’s also not very good for the employees,” Page said. “Because then, you have 30,000 employees and they’re all doing the same thing, which isn’t very exciting for them.”

Perhaps Google’s best known project that deviates from its core business is self-driving cars, an area Brin devotes much of his time to as the leader of Google X.

“I hope that that could really transform transportation around the world, and reduce the need for individual car ownership, the need for parking, road congestion and so forth,” Brin told Khosla. “… The bigger changes can come to the community, the lifestyle, the land use. So much of our land in most cities — about 30 to 50 percent is parking, which is a tremendous waste. And also the roads themselves, which are both congested and take a lot of space and are just unpleasant. With self-driving cars you don’t really need much in the way of parking because you only need one car person basically. They just come and get you when you need them.”

You can read a full transcript of the interview here.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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