Google (GOOG) Revs Up a Radical Innovation Engine

When you hear about silly or outlandish Google projects, you can assume that it started at X Labs. The Google Glass augmented-reality specs that look set to launch at retail this year? An X Lab project.

The most talked-about X Lab project to date. Image source: Wikimedia user Antonio Zugaldia.

Driverless cars, designed to take people from point A to point B without the risk of human error? Another X Lab deal. Johnny Chung Lee helped Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) revolutionize video games with the Xbox Kinect controller-less gaming system. Now he’s at Google X, working on “the Web of things,” where machines talk to each other to make daily life safer, easier, and more fun.

These are just the best-known X Lab projects. Most of what happens there is kept tightly under wraps. Part of that is because Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) wants to get a jump on the competition in case any of these ideas become commercial hits, but that’s not all. The world might just not be ready for some of these crazy stunts yet.

Straight from the Captain’s mouth
The Lab even has an official Captain of Moonshots. Dr. Astro Teller holds a Ph.D. In artificial intelligence and develops “seemingly impossible ideas that through science and technology can be brought to reality.” You get one guess at where he works. Hint: I believe he’ll work closely with  Rubin and Huber in the near future.

Teller spoke on audacity and innovation at this week’s South by Southwest festival. He’s a big fan of Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) founder Elon Musk — not because he’s achieved success in electric cars and space travel, but because he dared to attack those seemingly unreachable goals at all. “He’s like a walking moonshot. He’s so audacious, it seems limitless.”

He also underscored one of the foundational concepts of Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) itself: Make something great and the money follows naturally. “If you’re adding huge amounts of value to the world, the money will come back and find you,” Teller said. Read that statement with Google’s stated 10-point philosophy in mind: “We take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line. … You can make money without doing evil. … Ultimately, our constant dissatisfaction with the way things are becomes the driving force behind everything we do.”

If you don’t believe these things, you’re a pretty poor job candidate at Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG). Not only that, but you probably shouldn’t even own the stock. Personally, I find this mind-set incredibly bold, valuable, and inspirational.

I can think of a few so-called inventors who focus more on the short-term bottom line, where your money might sleep more comfortably right now. Just don’t complain a decade or two down the road, when Google’s “impossible” inventions have changed the world and today’s money-making wonders will be forgotten.

What’s next?
That’s the environment into which Larry Page is pushing two of his most innovative lieutenants this week — reporting directly to his fellow founder, Sergey Brin. Their work will likely be classified, top-secret, leak-this-and-you’re-fired, but I can’t wait to see what they cook up in the long run.

As a human being, this stuff renews my faith in a better future. As a Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) shareholder, I’m beyond excited about the lifelong value the company is building in that strange lab.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Google, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out Anders’ bio and holdings or follow him on Twitter and Google+. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Tesla Motors, Microsoft, and Google.

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