Google X: Secret CIA-like lab of the future?

Google X aims high
The search giant’s vision of the future is being put to the test in a top-secret lab somewhere in the US Bay Area. The facility is giving shareholders the jitters by drawing resources into far out projects, which could pay out tenfold in the future.

Little is known about the clandestine Google X lab, reports The New York Times. It has a list of 100 far-shot projects, with a dozen experts discussing their potential. The majority are far from ready for the public to see, although at least one is to be revealed by the year’s end, the newspaper says.

Among the dream ideas are driverless cars, which the company first tested on public roads last year. The project dates back to a 2005 competition and could integrate well with Google’s ad program for local businesses: passengers would be shown info on shops, restaurants and other places to hang out, as the artificial intelligence driver carries them on their way.

Another mind-boggling scheme involves connecting home appliances to the internet and integrating them into a user-controlled network. This “Web of things”, as Google calls it, would allow refrigerators to order fresh supplies of groceries all by themselves as they run low on stock, and kitchen plates to Tweet what was on the menu for dinner.

Google X’s robotic department is home to world-leading experts on robotronics and artificial intelligence gurus like Sebastian Thrun. The company eyes the machines as personal assistants taking on routine office jobs or as a replacement for humans – remember Surrogate, the movie starring Bruce Willis?

The lab also aims for the stars with a space elevator project. A great engineering challenge, which requires materials yet to be discovered, the space lift would radically cut the cost of taking cargo into orbit and open up the skies to private investors. The idea is a long-time dream of Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Their enthusiasm may not find understanding with all shareholders, who would rather see Google’s revenues spent on more down-to-earth things. Proponents however argue only a fraction of the company’s hefty resources are spent on Google X.

“There are a few small, speculative projects happening at any one time, but we are very careful stewards of shareholders’ money,” Page told analysts. “We are not betting the farm on these.”

But for X fans, who knows? The truth could be out there.