how do projects in Microsoft Research and Google Labs get initiated?

a cursory review of the stuff they publish suggests no clear connection between a lot of the projects they have in the pipeline and the current business strategy of the company. At least, not a “it will make any difference within 3 years for anything other than the people’s involved citation count” type of connection.

Well, so what exactly is their process of coming up with and launching these projects? Why do they allocate budget money and employees’ time to this stuff and not to some other stuff they could conceivably be doing instead?

Next question is, how hard is it to hack this process? Let’s say the evil Zionist conspiracy decides that it would be nice to draft Google Labs’ talents to implement their latest “communicate with the Reptilians 2.0” gadget. How would the shapeshifters go about that?

I read somewhere recently (sorry, that’s the best cite I can give you :slight_smile: ) that at Google, employees can spend 20% of their time on whatever idea or project interests them personally - because the Google brain trust wants to encourage random creativity, confident that eventually they’ll be able to turn a buck on it.

News article on 20% time. In a broader sense, these things can just be thought of as R&D – something that most tech companies need to stay competitive and innovative.

(Speaking as a layman:) “This stuff” sometimes turns out to be wildly popular: Google Maps, Docs, Scholar, and others all started out as Labs projects (full list of Labs graduates) and are now used by untold gazillions of individuals and also academics and enterprises – some of who click on ads, others who pay license fees, all who become more and more of a captive audience, spending time on Google’s services instead of Microsoft’s or Yahoo’s or Altavista or Webcrawler or Netscape or AOL or any of a myriad other companies that Google’s world domination scheme helped obliterate.

Other Labs experiments (Google SMS’s location-aware search, Google 411’s voice recognition, Goggles, translation things, Froogle/Products/Shopper, Places) contributed to the Android platform (and to ChromeOS in the future), helping make Android become the world’s #1 mobile OS, with Google’s mobile advertising system piggybacking directly on it. Though free to end users, these services all help contribute to Google’s consumer mindshare, making it that much more attractive to Google’s ultimate customers, the advertisers.

Taken individually, some of these projects seem pointless, but I suspect at least SOME of them helped play a role in Google’s rise to godhood.

I’m not as familiar with Microsoft Research, but I’ve seen many cool projects come from them… which unfortunately rarely seem to get marketed very well after the research phase. I’d blame the rest of MS for their glacial product development/release pace; they still function like a 90s tech giant, too bureaucratic and slow to keep up with the others. It’s also harder to see their impacts because a lot of their research is aimed internally, whereas much of Google’s is meant for public consumption.

…and I just realized I only answered the “why” part, not so much the “how”. Sorry.

I don’t know how Google does it exactly but I am familiar with the basic concept of innovation driven within large companies. There are a few Dopers like me who have worked for a very famous psycho-accoustical company and they were also extremely dedicated to R&D. The whole company culture was set up so that anyone could submit an idea for a multi-million dollar project and it could be taken up if it was feasible even if the market wasn’t known. In fact, it was enforced. Every single employee had to submit an innovation idea once a year or something like that which went up for management review and was part of your employee review. You didn’t have to propose a new way to send people to Mars but it was supposed to be something unique that could be accomplished in your general area of expertise. Some of the best ideas were picked up and funded every year as well. They always kept new ideas in the pipe-line and spent big dollars to see if they could make them work.

Even though it is mainly a sound company, someone proposed a new way to build car suspensions using the same principles as noise cancellation and they have been working on that for well over a decade and still are as far as I know.

You might also be interested in DARPA which is the Pentagon’s R&D wing. They are the ones that pick up the truly futuristic and bizarre projects that may or may not work based on ideas submitted. The internet itself is the most famous of its long-term successes but they also study things like invisibility cloaks for soldiers and other things that just barely seem possible.

In short, the companies and government agencies that do pure R&D don’t worry about the direct business impact of each new project. The goal is to keep enough good ideas in the pipeline so that they hit a few blockbusters over time.

After Microsoft failed to market their touch surface concept back around 2004, then Apple wildly running with a related concept back in 2007 until now, and looking at the overall trend line of MFST price for the last 10 years, I really don’t see Microsoft surviving the next 10 years. The research and development projects are cool, just that it seems the management is completely incompetent to excite the market and bring to fruition things that people care about.

Another way both Google and Microsoft have produced amazing new technology is by buying companies that invent them. Google Earth, for instance, was a project of Keyhole, Inc., which Google acquired in 2004. In 2007, they bought GrandCentral, and the result was Google Voice.

I also work for a tech company, and one of my yearly objectives by which I am reviewed is to come up with some kind of innovation or invention related to my work. The company gets dozens to hundreds of them every year; quite of few of them are started and some of them are made into major projects.

In the case of Microsoft Research, Nathan Myhrvold got a blank check to hire anyone he wanted. I’m not familiar with other fields, but at one point he had a dozen of the best people in Computer Graphics working for MS and they produced a whole rash of brilliant, innovative research. As others have pointed out, they don’t seem to be able to turn that into products (I weep for the damage caused by Photoshop that could have been prevented if Altamira Composer had been marketed well).

well, DARPA is definitely not up my, err, the Zionist cabal’s, alley. The skillset for coming up with 40K lines of code type of projects that make normal people happier (e.g. I have been thinking about a more powerful database diff tool than what Red Gate is selling and similar “low key” hacks) is wildly disjoint from the skillset for selling multimillion dollar futuristic projects to big government bureaucracies.

Nathan Myhrvold reputedly has switched gears to make a living from patent trolling (at least that’s Slashdot thinks of him, AFAIR). But I guess the larger point is that hacking these institutions would involve hacking those executives who got promoted from the engineering floor. Quite a challenge, I guess, but something to think about.