The Solve for X gathering, which we co-hosted with Eric Schmidt, is a place to celebrate a concept we champion internally and that we believe will inspire many others: technology moonshots. These are efforts that take on global-scale problems, define radical solutions to those problems, and involve some form of breakthrough technology that could actually make them happen. Moonshots live in the gray area between audacious projects and pure science fiction; they are 10x improvement, not 10%. That’s partly what makes them so exciting.
Moonshots can come from anywhere—people of all ages and places, companies, academia, inspired experts, enthusiastic newcomers, and often from accidental discoveries. Take this Solve for X talk by Adrien Treuille, a professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. He proposes that going forward significant science and technological advances will come from individual contributors—independent of their official affiliations or training. It sounds implausible, but he makes the case by discussing EteRNA and Foldit, scientific discovery games where individual gamers are lapping the best computer programs in DNA folding and RNA nano-fabrication problems. Rob McGinnis, co-founder of Oasys, suggests in his Solve for X talk that fresh water could be produced everywhere in the world at less than one-tenth the energy input or cost to the environment of what’s possible today. It sounds too good to be true because the world needs fresh water so very desperately, yet Rob is exploring dramatic technological breakthroughs in desalination to make this moonshot into a possible reality.
You can watch these videos and others on our site now, and we will add more in the coming week. Just wait to hear Mary Lou Jepsen’s Solve for X talk on how it may literally be possible to take pictures of the mind’s eye! The potential impact of this technology on the way we communicate, preserve memories and understand ourselves is staggering. Or consider Daphne Preuss, a leading geneticist who moved from academia to pursue plant genetics in order to help make the planet healthier and find ways to feed more people. She doesn’t plan to take on her moonshot herself, but she has a strong vision for what it would take to get it done and why it’s so important.
Our gathering last week brought together a group that is already practiced at moonshot thinking to propose specific solutions. At least a few times a year, we hope that people will take a few hours or a day or two out of their busy schedules to dare to push the boundaries, and to consider moonshot approaches to some of the world’s many unresolved challenges. Solve for X isn’t about developing a new business line or building an investment portfolio. Rather, it aims to be a forum where technology-based moonshot thinking is practiced, celebrated and amplified. We invite you to come collaborate with us at www.wesolveforx.com.
Posted by Astro Teller & Megan Smith, co-hosts of Solve for X