Google CFO: We want to fix 'broken' world

Google CFO: We want to fix 'broken' world

Summary: Patrick Pichette says technology can and should change a "broken" world for the better, and its engineers are constantly concocting "crazy ideas" to fix the problems seen around them.


SINGAPORE--The world as we know it is already "broken" and Google, with its global reach and talent pool, is looking to make a difference on a daily basis by developing solutions using technology to fix the "big problems" such as traffic flow and Internet connectivity.

CFO Patrick Pichette says he enjoys being in the position to be able to "change the world" through tech innovations introduced by Google. (Credit: Google)

Patrick Pichette, senior vice president and chief financial officer at Google, said in a fireside chat held at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Friday that technology can and should be used to change the world.

Citing Google's self-driving car project as an example, Pichette said there is "no sense" for human beings to be driving on the roads as we are too prone to error and inefficient, thus causing accidents and massive traffic jams in many places around the world.

"Technology can solve this problem and it's quite easy to solve," he said.

In order to get the right talent on board and grow the project team from scratch, the CFO said the search giant ran a competition around the problem of driving and picked the top four teams in the competition to join the company. This way, it built up a critical mass of like-minded people passionate about the issue and who have the right network of connections to foster innovation, he explained.

The self-driving car project begun in 2010 and Google tested its prototypes on public roads, clocking up over 300,000 miles of testing without yet being involved in an accident while under computer control. It always has a driver present while the public road tests were carried out though, and it remains to be seen whether these prototypes will eventually become commercial products.

Wanted: "Completely nuts" ideas

Asked by one of the participants how Google sought to sieve through all the ideas thrown up by employees to focus on, Pichette said these tend to be "crazy" ideas that are "completely nuts" and will have to satisfy the question of, "Will 1 or 2 billion people use this?"

He said that because of Google's immense scale and reach globally, to be a "Googler" means to constantly want to change the world around them. "It's no point having a 10 percent or 15 percent incremental change," he stated.

The CFO cited its mobile operating system, Android, as an example of a big vision becoming reality. He said when the idea of creating a new mobile ecosystem while bypassing the operators was deemed by many as crazy and impossible, the company and the team running the project relished the challenge.

He also used the same example to highlight how many of the bets Google undertake are small in scale and not costly gambles. "Android started with four people initially, and even when it started to really take off, there were just 150 people working on it since it's software," Pichette recalled.

The executive added his job is made easy when the time comes to pull the plug on unsuccessful projects. He said Google engineers all want to win and because they are so invested in their ideas, they can sense, emotionally, when their ideas are not working or need to be reworked.

"As CFO, I just throw back the facts at them and let them decide if they want to burrow on or move on to the project next door which has a better chance of accelerated development," said Pichette.

An Ovum analyst had praised Google for being a company that excels at good failures. Carter Lusher, research fellow at Ovum, said in 2011 the search giant has the ability to fail fast, cut losses, learn from the experience and move. He added failure is not a bad thing in itself, but failing to fail in an effective manner is.

Google undertook a few rounds of streamlining its product development portfolio in 2012, with services such as iGoogle and Google Mini as well as functionalities around picture editing software Picasa, among others, being shuttered.

Topics: Emerging Tech, Google, Tech Industry

Kevin Kwang

About Kevin Kwang

A Singapore-based freelance IT writer, Kevin made the move from custom publishing focusing on travel and lifestyle to the ever-changing, jargon-filled world of IT and biz tech reporting, and considered this somewhat a leap of faith. Since then, he has covered a myriad of beats including security, mobile communications, and cloud computing.

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  • Google are part of the problem

    Google are PART of the broken world, with their gross and deliberate tax-evasion depriving governments of due funds and forcing the rest of us to pick up their tab.
    Tim Acheson
    • "We want to stick our nose wherever your privacy is."

      Google message translated.
    • google is antoher Umbrella
    • "You break it, you buy it"

      Looks like what Google's been doing of late.
      William Farrel
    • Proof of Concept: tax once laws are used to tax not at all

      Intended consequence of Google's inspired use of tax loopholes is closing tax loopholes for money laundering banks. The Swiss can't be pleased.
  • Google's arrogant corporate propaganda

    Google, please stop trying to present yourself as the saviour of humanity.

    You are an evil corporation, indeed one of the worst in human history.

    The selfless "cool stuff" routine is wearing thin. You've barely innovated anything for the real world since search.
    Tim Acheson
    • What planet are you living on?

      You're right... self driving cars and wearable computers (google glass) are clearly not as big of an innovation as anything Microsoft has done in the last decade...
      • Google's reputation for innovation is a myth

        Google have barely innovated anything for the real world since search.

        "self driving cars"

        "wearable computers"

        "anything Microsoft has done in the last decade"

        You're not familiar with Microsoft's innovations over the past decade are you. They include hardware like Kinect (the world-record for the fastest selling gadget of any kind of all time), game partnerships like Halo Reach, OSs like Windows 7 (fastest-selling OS of all time) and Windows Phone, and of course Windows 8 and Surface, and indeed hundreds of other examples both real-world and academic.
        Tim Acheson
        • Yes, we are VERY familiar with those

          Kinect is the only one that counts as innovation. The rest is pretty mundane and barely evolutionary.

          But looking over you recent posts, you are clearly and firmly in the MS shill camp, so we do not need to take anything you post seriously.
          • Exactly

            Only kinect can be said to be innovatory, the others are incremental at best.

            Tim, you're sounding more and more like a shill with every post, try and keep some level of impartiality otherwise your rants about google apologists just look pathetic.
            Little Old Man
    • Worst in human history?

      Really? And what great crimes has Google committed that should cause its CEO and directors to rot in prison for the rest of their days?
      John L. Ries
      • Simple

        Google is meeting the IT needs of users better than MS in more and more situations, and it drives MS shills crazy.

        The MS shills are starting to look more and more like aggressive and ignorant bullies, and they are making me want to distance myself more and more from MS. I do not like to be associated with a company that attracts the likes of the MS shills here.

        They are torpedoing their own mission, but that is their right.
        • I'm not sure the shills care...

          ...but it's apparent that MS' management cares a lot.

          The shills would just communicate the party line, no matter what it is.

          Mind you, I couldn't say with any degree of specificity who is a shill and who isn't (except for a few whose posts are to stupid for any sane PR manager to pay for), and even if I could, I think accusations serve no useful purpose.
          John L. Ries
        • Doesn't that also work the other way?

          "Google is not meeting the IT needs of users better than MS in more and more situations, and it drives anti-MS shills crazy.

          The anti-MS shills are starting to look more and more like aggressive and ignorant bullies, and they are making me want to distance myself more and more from other alternatives. I do not like to be associated with a company that attracts the likes of the anti-MS shills here.

          They are torpedoing their own mission, but that is their right."

          Are you catching on? You don't have to personally counter everyone who says they like this MS product or that as "I think you're shortchanging yourself, your MS product purchase is probably better served by something else from another company".

          Talk about the arrogance of knowing what’s best for everyone else, that people in general aren’t smart enough to know what they like, and why they like it; that they're just lying to themselves.
          William Farrel
          • So just out of idle curiosity...

            ...who do you think pays the anti-MS shills and what do you think the sponsors get for their money? I do post my own opinions free of charge, but I doubt I'll convince you of that.
            John L. Ries
  • Google are nothing but thieves

    These hypocrites talking about "changing the world".....

    "...of Google's immense scale and reach globally, to be a "Googler" means to constantly want to change the world around them.. "

    - What a boat load of sh*t...
    • google are thieves?

      what has Google stolen exactly? i'm interested to hear because you and you buddy tim stop at nothing to find every google article and bash them every day. it's kinda sad really that you have nothing better to do with your time.
      • Google stealing ideas

        Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the numerous cases, such as the fact that Android is in fact essentially just Java used without permission (hence the famous law suit by Oracle). I thought this was all common knowledge. Why offer opinions on a topic if you know little about it?
        Tim Acheson
        • OK, you (and the other Microsoft lovers) are confusing me...

          firstly you all claim that Android IS Linux (with all the attendant faults you claim that has), now you're saying that Android IS just Java used without permission - so which (if any!) is it??
          • Whichever best fits today's argument

            Little Old Man