You've probably already heard about Google's newest project: Project "Glass". It's a pair of glasses that has a built-in display, camera and voice recognition that feeds in all kinds of interesting data to you as you walk about doing your everyday things. Think terminator-style augmented reality. The video is quite cool, showing off all kinds of new things that these glasses could make possible.
I was still working with Google when Larry Page took over from Eric Schmidt as the new CEO of Google. I remember when this announcement came out, it got the most amount of press coverage and media attention, but there was a second announcement that had gotten many other Googlers excited: Sergey Brin's new role. Sergey was going to go off and start "GoogleX" - A division of Google that was going to invest in exotic R&D, in futuristic and long-shot bets that would be huge game changers. This was going to be Google's skunk-works.
Sergey had two things going for him: A truly massive budget and the pick of the smartest Google employees (I remember everyone wanted to work on these projects, not even knowing what exactly they were going to be). Smart people and tons of money are a deadly combination. Without the daily pressures of deadlines, launch dates, limitations of current tech engineers would be free to let their imaginations run amok and create all kinds of exotic and cool stuff.
The last time these set of factors came together was at AT&T's Bell Labs. Backed by AT&Ts near-monopoly and cash cow of the 70s and 80s, Bell Labs engineers spent their time dreaming up exotic stuff and brought forth to the world invaluable technologies that changed the course of the world: Unix and C, fiber optics, digital cellphone tech, WiFi and many other technologies trace their origins back to Bell Labs.
Unfortunately, the problem with these exotic labs is that they need lots of money and patience. The technologies don't pay off for years, and even when they do, they don't necessarily make money for the parent company. But when they do, they can create entire new industries. This is the reason I'm really excited to see the tech start flowing from GoogleX. It has the potential to completely transform the way we work and interact with each other.
However, many pundits don't share my excitement. The most common criticism I've heard is that these videos are great, but the technology is so exotic that it isn't coming anytime soon. And even if it does, it will be horribly expensive. Some of the criticism may be valid, but it doesn't understand Google's way of doing things. I'm quite sure that this is coming and coming soon, otherwise Sergey Brin would never have showed it off. Sure enough, two days after the announcement, Sergey Brin was seen wearing a prototype of the glasses. Blogger Robert Scoble, who was there with Brin, described it as "[...] I saw a bluish light flashing off of his right eyeball. I could only guess that my Google+ profile flashed up, or maybe some PR voice said 'stay quiet' or something like that. But the glasses are real. Very light looking. Most of the people around us had no idea that these glasses are pretty special." He even got a picture of Sergey wearing them.
Sergey's fascination with exotic tech is well documented. We can only imagine what is coming next. Maybe a cellphone that absorbs all the electromagnetic radiation around you (from your office WiFi, nearby cell towers, radio and TV broadcasts) and slowly charges itself while sitting in your pocket. Or how about cars that talk to each other and co-operate while approaching an intersection, so no one has to stop at the intersection anymore. I, for one, am eagerly waiting for what comes next!