One Minute With Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin: I Never Imagined That Our AI Experiments Could Go This Far

  • We caught up with Brin at Google I/O 2024.

  • He defends his role in developing Gemini and is surprised by how it's evolved into Project Astra.

  • Google Glass was Brin's broken dream. Now, he’s seeking redemption.

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Sergey Brin is back, and we had the unexpected opportunity to meet him in person. It’s not every day that you get to meet one of Google's cofounders, but during Google latest I/O event in Mountain View, we had a chance to chat with him for a few minutes. It wasn’t a planned interview but rather a coincidental one. During our casual conversation, he confirmed that the reason he's returned to Google has a name: Project Astra.

Reporters were receiving a private demonstration of Astra when Brin opened the door. He was about to say something to the two Google engineers who were explaining how the new multimodal AI works. When the Xataka team noticed him, we introduced ourselves and asked him about his new role at Google.

Brin Lets Himself Be Seen at Google I/O

The billionaire entrepreneur, who co-founded Google along with Larry Page, has been making frequent appearances lately. Google I/O provided an opportunity for everyone to witness his renewed focus on Google, particularly on the Gemini project.

For several months now, Brin has been collaborating closely with Google CEO Sundar Pichai, as well as with DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis. Brin is actively involved in promoting AI as a key element of Google’s new strategy.

Google is undoubtedly proud of Project Astra, which garnered the most attention among the many announcements at this year’s Google I/O. In our chat, Brin said he found it particularly surprising that they were able to achieve this using the original work for Gemini.

It’s kind of mind-blowing that we can use the same model for multiple applications without even any specialization or anything,” Brin explains. He’s referring to the use of Gemini, which was initially intended for text, for different applications such as Astra, which is capable of speech or video recognition.

Brin casually mentioned that he was involved in creating the original model, although he didn't take credit away from the rest of the team. This is how he put it: “To be perfectly honest, this model was originally developed as just part of sort of a test series of models, for scaling. We weren't actually expecting our experiments to be used for this that, but it turned out to be way beyond our expectations.”

What started as a DeepMind experiment has now become a cornerstone of the new Google. “So here we are, plugging it into so many different of products and just keep discovering new use cases every day,” Brin said. They initially added Gemini to a chatbot, and it has since been integrated into several platforms, including Google's search engine, Gmail, and Maps. Soon, it'll be integrated into millions of Android phones.

If there’s one device that fits perfectly into Project Astra, it’s the glasses. Dave Burke, the company's vice president of Android engineering, has hinted that no new hardware devices were introduced at Tuesday's I/O because there will soon be a Google event dedicated to augmented reality and mixed reality. Should the event take place, many expect the tech giant to present a pair of smart glasses designed to be used with Project Astra. This is similar to what Meta already does with Ray-Ban Glasses.

And what do these glasses have to do with Brin? To understand, you have to go back more than 10 years. Brin was one of the main forces behind Google Glass, a project that was canceled despite multiple attempts by the company to sustain it.

Perhaps the technology came too soon. With Project Astra, Google has an opportunity to revive its smart glasses project, which gives Brin with a chance to redeem himself. Given that Google’s cofounder is once again involved in the company’s new projects, he seems to be excited. While it may be a coincidence that he crossed paths with us, it’s not coincidental that it happened while we were learning about the multimodal AI that will power its new glasses.

It's a new era, but it's filled with old dreams.

Related | Google’s Project Astra Is Its Own Version of ‘Her’. It’s a Virtual Assistant You Can Chat With Using AR Glasses

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