Alphabet’s innovation lab will solve humanity’s biggest problems, if others help foot the bill

Cost-cutting measures at its parent company have upped pressure on Alphabet’s X innovation lab.

In 2010, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin established X as their company’s most innovative wing, dedicated to “moonshot thinking.” 

A person wearing a button-down shirt, slacks, and a tie turns out their pockets to show they are empty.

As defined, X would:

  • Identify global problems affecting millions or billions of people.
  • Pursue radical ideas that may seem impossible today and make them possible.

Seeking out tech breakthroughs that could “redefine humanity” seems like a tall enough task, but in today’s world, X increasingly requires another: a clearer path to profitability. 

The belt tightens

As parent company Alphabet slims down its ranks — nearing 180k employees, down from 190.7k last year — X, AKA The Moonshot Factory, is now also feeling the pinch. Per Bloomberg

  • X will lay off “dozens of employees.”
  • The lab is seeking outside funding from VCs and other investors to back X projects. 

To be clear: the end goal for X projects has always been independence as strong, self-sustaining businesses. 

  • Self-driving car powerhouse Waymo and autonomous drone delivery service Wing are two of the most famous graduates from X’s R&D lab to become separate Alphabet subsidiaries. 

But as cost-cutting efforts intensify across the company, the runway for developing these speculative bets solely on Alphabet’s dime is shortening. 

What work could feel the heat? 

X’s website shows four active projects, which will face, at minimum, a reduction in support staff: 

  • Chorus: tech to enable better real-time supply chain management.
  • Tapestry: computational tools to untangle the complexities of global power grids.
  • Tidal: an underwater sensor system to aid in more sustainable fish farming.
  • Taara: a plan to increase internet access through beams of light. 

OK, but: as cool as all those sound, X will never be our favorite innovation lab — not when there’s one by Domino’s and Microsoft that’s focused on creating “the next generation of pizza ordering.”

Topics: Big Tech Google

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