Deep learning; geek nostalgia; Google’s Pixel phone; and why seeking ‘uncomfortably exciting’ opportunities can bring success.
Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialoguessat down withGoogle’s Dave Burke, an Irishman, who has risen quickly through the ranks. He leads the Android team, with responsibility for the device and developer ecosystem; and Google’s Pixel phone. How did he succeed so fast, and what qualities does he seek when hiring for his growing team?
I interviewed Burke this month for a BBC World Service report exploring Irish identity and success in Silicon Valley. We had a lively and wide ranging conversation full of insights for tech geeks and entrepreneurs alike, so I’m posting the uncut interview for your listening pleasure.
“It’s his ability to intuit a bold vision for the future, and then be comfortable in the abstract and yet push tenaciously forward over multiple years. Successful mathematicians need a similar personality – they have an intuition that a solution exists but initially have no concrete certainty on how to prove it and have to persist, sometimes over decades. Einstein’s story of deriving his theory of general relativity is a good example. This personality trait attracts other smart people… For Elon, the ‘contagious confidence’ extends out to his customers, i.e. many are willing to pay a high premium for a Tesla car and don’t seem to worry about the future viability of this fledgling startup, simply because have confidence in the founder.”Dave Burke, Google
Here’s are some highlights of our conversation:
On the secrets of Burke’s success @00:20
“Seek out challenges that are uncomfortably exciting…there’s always a risk of failure, but if you succeed, you could make a huge impact.”
Why he’s so excited about deep learning @19:23
“The big hot area is deep learning, using neural networks….applying lots of data. You can make machines do incredible things…The potential for deep learning and for AI to make our lives easier is very exciting.”
On Google’s Pixel phone @27:15
“Software pushes the hardware and hardware pushes the software. To advance the operating system, you need to have them working really closely together. It allows Google to have its own product. If you’re a Google user, this is the ideal phone for you.”
On rumors of a new Pixel phone this year @27:54
“I can neither confirm nor deny rumors. Technology moves very fast, the cadence…Typically every year, you try to do something new and exciting…we are very busy, working on a lot of stuff… The reviews have been great…but I see the potential for so much more, in terms of innovation, product quality.”
We also discussed Burke’s “geek nostalgia” for the BBC Micro computer by Acorn (the precursor to ARM); the gravitational pull of Silicon Valley; the three questions you need to ask to discover if someone is “really Irish”; and flying robotic lemonade stands!
Look out for more “Fresh Dialogues Uncut” featuring Elon Musk, Arianna Huffington, Charlie Rose and Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard.
It’s been a stellar year at Fresh Dialogues. Here are our top ten green interviews: from Tesla’s Elon Musk to Google’s Rick Needham. Most are exclusive Fresh Dialogues interviews, but some were special assignments for NPR’s KQED, The Computer History Museum, The Commonwealth Club and The Churchill Club (2013).
1.Elon Musk on burning oil, climate change and electric vehicles
“It’s the world’s dumbest experiment. We’re playing Russian roulette and as each year goes by we’re loading more rounds in the chamber. It’s not wise… We know we have to get to a sustainable means of transportation, no matter what.” Tesla CEO, Elon Musk. Read more/ see video
“I want to see a standard that could bring this country back to international prominence in terms of leaning in to a low carbon green growth strategy, so that we can dramatically change the way we produce and consume energy and lead the world.”Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor of California. Read more/ see video
7. Steven Chu on climate change deniers
“I’d put them in the same category as people who said, in the 60′s and 70′s, that you haven’t proved to me that smoking causes cancer. This is a real issue. We have to do something about it!” Former Energy Secretary, Steven Chu. Read more/see video
8. GM’s Pam Fletcher on electric vehicle adoption
“We need a lot of customers excited about great products. I want to keep people focused on all the good things that moving to electrified transportation can do for customers and for the country.” GM’s Chief of Electrified Vehicles, Pam Fletcher. Read more/ see video
9. Laurie Yoler on why Tesla is succeeding, despite the odds
“You know you’re on to something good when everyone you talk to is a naysayer. It takes a huge amount of courage and tenacity to continue going forth.” Qualcomm executive and founding board member of Tesla Motors, Laurie Yoler. Read more/see video at 11:20
10. Rick Needham on self driving cars, car sharing and Google’s electric car fleet
“It’s not just the car that’s underutilized; it’s the infrastructure, the roads…There’s an enormous opportunity…on the environmental side, on the human safety side, on utilization of infrastructure side.” Google’s Rick Needham. Read more/see video
SolarCity’s CEO Lyndon Rive sat down with Fresh Dialogues last week to share details of the solar company’s business model, rapid growth, and ultimate goal of being the world’s largest energy provider. Yes indeed: this 35 year-old entrepreneur from South Africa anticipates no less than world domination.
Although Rive was tight lipped about the impending IPO expected in Q3 this year, he referred to the $280M investment from Google last year and said, “Our expectation is that companies like Google and other Fortune companies start making similar investments.”
“In order to monetize the full benefits of the solar system you need a large tax paying company. .. might as well use that tax bill to motivate the growth of the renewable industry…” he added. “We are approaching hundreds of Fortune 100 and 1000 companies…and will continually be raising funds, potentially in perpetuity.”
SolarCity is targeting companies that can benefit handsomely from the 30% Federal Business Tax Credit for solar investments. Although Rive wouldn’t name names, Apple Inc. springs to mind immediately. Record profits and enormous tax base? Check. Recently inclined to alternative energy investments? Check. In case you missed it, Apple recently invested in a massive 4.8 megawatt fuel cell development using Bloom Energy technology. Watch this space. We’ll keep you updated.
SolarCity’s innovative model offers a range of solar options. Customers can buy systems outright or pay zero down and lease or purchase the power the system produces. Large investments from partners like Google allow the company to make solar affordable and continue growing rapidly. Rive described the company’s business model thus: “(We) install solar systems for free, so we need capital to pay for that, and take a long term revenue stream on the electricity that we sell. So, as fast as we grow, that’s the business model that we’re in.”
A former NASA advisor who developed technologies to sustain life on Mars, this earnest scientist is now harnessing his visionary skills and a large team of engineers to solve the energy crisis. His ambitious goal? To revolutionize the energy industry, just like cell phones revolutionized the communications industry. His team is developing high efficiency fuel cells to provide a globaldistributed system of electricity supply at low cost and a low (and ultimately zero) carbon footprint. Clients include Google, eBay, Fedex and Walmart. Not too shabby.
Even before opening his doors to 60 Minutes, KR agreed to discuss Bloom Energy’s progress in this exclusive and detailed Fresh Dialogues interview, recorded in 2009. To read the interview transcript click here
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Why is energy the focus of KR Sridhar’s mission?
“Energy is a passport to a better living. For the rest of the world that doesn’t have access to power, to electricity; to give them that is empowering them to a better life. If your solution works and you make it affordable and you distribute it all over the world, then you have definitely changed the world….You give power to the people.”
What’s in the Bloom Box?
“It takes the chemical energy from the fuel and converts that to electrons with no in between conversion. So you are changing your currency only once. It’s an electro-chemical reaction..like a battery…but the big difference is it’s a power generator so you keep supplying the fuel in and you’ll keep getting the electrons out – most importantly without combustion. It’s a one step conversion… high efficiency…you burn less fuel – less greenhouse gases -and eliminate all the combustion related polluting gases.”
What’s the link with transportation?
“Transportation can potentially go in two directions in the future. One is a hydrogen infrastructure for the car, the other one is an electrical infrastructure for the car…plug-in hybrids…Our device can either produce the electricity that’ll charge the car or provide you hydrogen if the transportation becomes hydrogen based. So we’ve sort of become the gas station for the transportation industry.”
There are still many unanswered questions about Bloom Energy, but here are some more clues.
To check out more Fresh Dialogues VIDEO interview segments click here and check for other Fresh Dialogues video interview segments with lots more PRODUCT AND BUSINESS PLAN DETAIL about Bloom Energy.
Robert Ballard, the ocean explorer of Titanic famesat down with me in Silicon Valley to discuss his expeditions, global warming, and alternative energy. This respected scientist spoke candidly about global warming -“I’ll be honest, it’s too late, all the ice is going to melt.” READ the TRANSCRIPT
On the global warming controversy: Natural cycle or Human impact?
“Hey folks: it’s both. Whenever you have a tremendous controversy both sides tend to be right and wrong. You do have the natural interglacial warming that we’re experiencing, but you are increasing the severity of it with the human footprint. The concern most people have is that we can’t do much about the natural cycle, but we can do a lot about the human cycle. ..if you steepen it too much, evolution can’t keep up and you get extinction.”
On being Politically Correct
“Sometimes I see this tombstone that says, “the human race came and went but it was politically correct.” As a scientist I am not politically correct. My job is not to be politically correct. My job is to call it as I see it. And I see that the biggest problem the human race has is that there are too many of us.”
On the need to reduce our carbon footprint (more…)
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I caught up with Vinod Khoslaat SD Forum’sVisionary Awards. In this exclusive interview, Vinod, a pioneer in clean tech investment, describes how in 2000, he started “looking for something new, something difficult and something large to invest in.” He found his first clean tech investment in Bloom Energy and has since gone on to invest and nurture dozens of clean tech businesses including Ausra, AltaRock and Stion
KR Sridharof Bloom Energyintroduced Vinod by saying: “We all need to root for his success, because his success is this planet’s success.”
And Vinod’s recipe for success? The freedom to fail. “The Silicon Valley ecosystem allows me to fail…you get more shots at goal.” Vinod Khosla