The Washington Post

Google plunges further into the world of ideas with Solve for X

Google has launched a new project this month tasked with finding radical solutions for the world’s biggest problems.

People walk past a logo next to the main entrance of the Google building in Zurich in this March 9, 2011 file photo. (ARND WIEGMANN - REUTERS)

Solve for X has the look and feel of TED talks, the conference series featuring industry leaders who explore big ideas with an eye toward improving society. As big as the TED ideas may seem, Solve for X appears to be going after even bigger, global problems—“moonshot thinking,” they call it.

According to the Solve for X Web site:

Solve for X is a place to hear and discuss radical technology ideas for solving global problems. 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. And radical in the sense that there is some real technology breakthrough on the horizon to give us all hope that these ideas could really be brought to life.

The first run of a Solve for X conference was held last week at CordeValle Resort in San Martin, CA where 50 scientists, technological entrepreneurs and innovators took on issues such as water scarcity and global disease prevention.

The launch of Solve for X marks the newest Google initiative to engage in idea generation to solve world problems. In November 2010, the technology giant launched its “think/do tank,” Google Ideas.

Indeed, Google’s commitment to the realm of ideas reflects one of its mottoes iterated last year by Jared Cohen, the director of Google Ideas: “Technology is part of every challenge in the world and a part of every solution.” It’s a view subsequently echoed by Google executive chairman, Eric Schmidt.

It is worth noting, however, that unlike TED and most think tanks which operate as non-profits, Google Ideas and Solve for X fall under the business side of the company and not its philanthropic wing,

Allen McDuffee writes about politics and policy and covered think tanks for The Washington Post from 2011 to 2013. He freelances and hosts a podcast at and is currently working on a book about the influence of think tanks in Washington.


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