Google recently hosted an invite-only event called Solve for X, a "gathering for experienced entrepreneurs, innovators and scientists from around the world... focused on proposing and discussing technological solutions to some of the world's greatest problems." Since then, it has launched a related Google+ page, as well as a Website called WeSolveForX.com -- which is a "forum to encourage and amplify technology-based moonshot thinking and teamwork."
Sounds noble, right? Well, yes. But it also sounds familiar.
For starters, some people have pointed out the similarities between Google's Solve for X and TED.com, which posts TED Talks from its invitation-only conference. Google is doing the same with a feature called "Solve for X Talks." Clever! (Here's an example of one from Nicholas Negroponte called "Learning by Themselves.")
So, there's that. But in addition to posting TED-like Talks, Solve for X sounds eerily similar to a proposal Google received (but didn't select for funding) during its Project 10^100 contest.
Some Internet Evolutionaries may recall a somewhat silly video we ran in 2010 in which a Project 10^100 participant, Warren Hultquist, described his proposal for "The Quantum League," which he said would "organize, host, and fund global-scale competitions focused on solving the largest, most complex problems facing the world today."
At the time, Warren's main gripe was that his efforts went to waste, seeing as Google completely dropped the ball on running Project 10^100 effectively and put the competition on hold for two years. Could it be possible that Google is taking some of the ideas it received and passing them off as its own?
In comparing Solve for X and the proposal for The Quantum League, many similarities emerge, with the main difference being that the Project 10^100 proposal seems more thought out than Solve for X. Both are forums where people share ideas on solving the world's greatest problems, but though The Quantum League was suggested as "a web-based, self-funded, perpetual league to organize, host, and market global-scale competitions focused on solving our meta-problems," Google hasn't yet indicated plans on how to carry these Solve for X ideas out or whether it'll commit any funding to solving problems.
(In other words, it sounds like Solve for X could be as effective as Project 10^100 itself. In other words... not effective.)
I reached out to Google requesting more information about what the company is doing with the Project 10^100 ideas it didn't choose as winners, whether Solve for X was inspired by one of those ideas, and what else is in store for the forum, but at the time this piece was published, I hadn't heard back.
We can't say for sure that the premise for Solve for X came out of the Project 10^100 pile, but it's worth considering, largely because, in this post-Project 10^100 era, Google is sitting on a large stack of ideas it didn't generate. The company received more than 150,000 proposals on how to help the world. It only selected a handful to commit funding to, but it would be all too easy for Google to take some of the ideas it didn't select, doctor them up, and pass them off as the company's own.
Any efforts by a large company to help the world are welcome, but it's hardly comforting to think that Google's ideas aren't only unoriginal, but possibly co-opted without credit.
Or, as Warren Hultquist put it in an email to me, "I'm excited to see something happening on this front, but conflicted about how this is unfolding."
— Nicole Ferraro , Editor in Chief, Internet Evolution