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Meet The Mastermind Behind Driverless Cars, Glass And More: Google's 'Chief Of Moonshots,' Astro Teller

Sep 19, 2013, 00:14 IST
Vimeo Astro Teller is Google X's Chief of Moonshots Google X is a department of Google that's based 3 minutes from the search engine's headquarters in Mountain View, California. It is where Google employees quietly hack away at driverless cars, Google Glass, and other "moon shots" - big ideas that will take years to come to fruition.
Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder, spends most of his time working on Google X projects. But the department is headed up by a lesser-known man, Eric "Astro" Teller. Teller is highlighted in Time's feature of a new Google business, Calico, which is trying to cheat death with science. Teller is Google's "Chief of Moonshots." Science is in his genes. Edward Teller, Astro's grandfather, created the hydrogen bomb. Teller has founded five businesses. He also holds a pile of patents and degrees. Teller's companies include I.P. holding company Zivio Technologies, BodyMedia, Sandbox Advanced Development, and Cerebellum Capital. BodyMedia was acquired by Jawbone for $100 million. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in computer science. He also has a Masters in symbolic and heuristic computation and a Ph.D in artificial intelligence. A Stanford friend of Teller's, David Andre, spoke to Chicago Business about his brilliance. He says Teller has the ability to see the future in a way most people don't. "[He thinks] farther ahead in research and business chess than anyone I've ever seen," Andre said. The scientist-turned-businessman joined Google in 2010. Although Google's new death-defying company isn't under Teller's domain, he decides which world-changing ideas Google will pursue. It doesn't just come down to concepts Teller and Brin like. "Google X's moon shots have three things in common: a significant problem for the world that needs solving, a potential solution and the possibility of breakthrough technology making all the difference," Times' Harry McCracken and Lev Grossman write. Teller then tells his team to try and find every possible way an idea won't work before moving full steam ahead. Teller has called his team at Google X "Peter Pans with P.h Ds" and likens the forward-thinking arm of Google to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. The Google X team doesn't strive to improve things that already exist. It tackles seemingly impossible tasks by simply taking a different mental approach. "[Moon shots] matter because when you try to do something radically hard, you approach the problem differently than when you try to make something incrementally better," Teller said at the South by Southwest conference in Texas. "When you attack a problem as though it were solvable, even though you don't know how to solve it, you will be shocked with what you come up with. It's 100 times more worth it. It's never 100 times harder."
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