Google tackles the world’s big problems

February 7, 2012

There are some problems you can’t answer with just a quick Web search: How do we make sure the world has enough water? How can we best reuse our world’s resources? What’s the best way to treat chronic illness?

There aren’t easy answers to these questions, but now — thanks to a new initiative called Solve for X — the answers may be Googleable.

At least, that’s what Google hopes. The search giant announced Monday that it is taking on the world’s big problems with a sort of crowd-sourced think tank. Google gathered several scholars and experts at a Solve for X conference last week, something that the company hopes to do a few times per year moving forward.

“The Solve for X gathering, which we co-hosted with Eric Schmidt, is a place to celebrate a concept we champion internally and that we believe will inspire many others: technology moonshots,” wrote Google’s Astro Teller and Megan Smith in a company blog post. “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.”

According to the Solve for X Web site, a talk must have three characteristics: It has to highlight a huge problem, propose a concrete solution and explain breakthrough science or technology that could make that solution happen.

Speakers at the first of many planned conferences included Rob McGinnis, who is working on a less energy-intensive way to produce fresh water; Mir Imran, who believes there’s a more efficient way for patients to take medicine; and Mary Lou Jepsen, who’s working on a way to project mental images.

Google said that more talks from the 50 or so scientists and experts will be posted in the coming weeks.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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