Google co-founders discuss self-driving cars and artificial intelligence
Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin recently sat down with billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla for a lengthy interview. During the relaxed and informal discussion, the co-founders discuss their company’s early days, its current projects, and its future, questioning societal constructs that keep us working five-day weeks and saying that the US health industry is so heavily regulated that it’s difficult for a technology to succeed in the sector.
Page and Brin, who rarely take the stage together for interviews, start the 40-minute session by reminiscing with Khosla about Google’s aborted sale to search engine Excite in 1999. Khosla, who helped found Sun Microsystems, was an investor in Excite at the time. Page and Brin say they eventually pulled out of the deal — worth either $350,000, according to Khosla, or more than a million according to the co-founders — because Excite lacked the “passion” for search that the nascent Google embodied.
Google was almost sold to search engine Excite in 1999
Fifteen years later, and the co-founders’ company has grown so large that they have to question what Google’s role now is. Page says he still thinks the amount of time people spend at their computers is disproportionately large given the amount of information they get out. Google’s job, he says, is to fix that. He pinpoints the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button as an early way to reduce the time spent trawling through results, but says that it didn’t work as expected. The company’s Google Now auto-complete function was a more successful response to the issue.
But with monumental success under its belt, Google has clearly grown beyond search. The company has a range of vastly divergent projects currently in development, including internet-enabled balloons, glucose-measuring contact lenses, and self-driving cars. Brin, who heads the Google X department managing many of these projects, talks about the self-driving cars the company recently demonstrated to the public. He suggests that they might change both standard car designs, and the world itself, by reducing the amount of land cities need to devote to parking.
Brin and Page are also asked to speculate on the future of Google. The pair discuss the company’s progress in the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence. They point out that Google X’s self-driving car uses technology that can “see” and adapt to the world around it, but also speculate that a more general intelligence that can reason and think is coming someday. The company’s acquisition of DeepMind suggests it wants to be at the forefront of such developments.
Even with Google’s wide-ranging projects, there are some sectors Brin and Page say they want to steer clear from. Technology companies are battling with each other to release wearable devices and health sensors capable of tracking our fitness, but Brin says that the health industry in the US is “so heavily regulated that it’s just a painful business to be in.” That doesn’t necessarily mean Google will avoid the industry entirely, though — the company last year launched Calico, a company aimed at extending human lifespan.
Towards the end of the interview, the two turn their attentions to society at large. Page says government is inefficient in its current state, and says work time for employees could easily be reduced as “it’s not that hard for us to provide things to keep us happy.” Brin questions his argument for a second, but the two quickly agree with each other. Later, a member of the audience asks if the co-founders of one of history’s most successful companies ever have fundamental disagreements. Both say no. “We’ve gotten to think a lot alike,” says Brin.