Washington, D.C. (October 17, 2017)–Few journalists have gotten a peek inside X, the secretive lab run by Google’s parent company Alphabet. Its scientists are researching cold fusion, hover boards, self-driving cars, among other potentially world-changing technologies. Derek Thompson, senior editor at The Atlantic, spent several days with the staff of X; and in Episode 15 of Radio Atlantic, available now, Thompson talks to podcast hosts Matt Thompson and Alex Wagner about what he found, and what X suggests about the future of invention.
Thompson is one of the few journalists to have spent time at X, where their scientists, designers, physicists, and engineers are working on such ideas as contact lenses that measure glucose for diabetics, space elevators that could expedite cargo shipping across the globe, and a new method of storing nuclear energy in molten salt. In the wake of the disruption of key infrastructure following the hurricane in Puerto Rico, X’s Project Loon has gotten some attention: it is being developed as a network of stratospheric balloons designed to bring Internet connectivity to rural and remote communities.
But X’s soft benefits and theoretical valuations can go only so far; at some point, Alphabet must determine whether X’s theories of failure, experimentation, and invention work in practice. Radio Atlantic discusses what the existence of X says about the perceived notion that companies in Silicon Valley are solely focused on increasing profits and trivial technological pursuits. And regardless of how impactful X’s tremendous breakthroughs may be, the trio acknowledges that we must reconcile that X’s research would not be possible without the tremendous profits Google generates from its controversial monopolistic practices.
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Show notes for Episode 15 and related links can be found here. Read Thompson’s full reporting, “Google X and the Science of Radical Creativity,” online at TheAtlantic.com or in the November issue of the magazine, on newsstands now.