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Microsoft is building its own Google X team, because attempting the impossible is great PR

AP Photo/Eric Risberg
New management, new strategies.
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Microsoft is building a team of elite engineers to cook up “disruptive technologies”—just like the folks on Google’s secretive “X” team who brought us the self-driving car and are hastening the day that robots take over.

Veteran Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley dug into job postings and her trove of anonymous sources to confirm that the company is working on a “Special Projects” division within Microsoft Research—which already employs 1,100 engineers spread across 13 labs—to create “disruptive next-generation technologies for Microsoft.”

It doesn’t look like these engineers will be working on space elevators or face-based computers like their competitors at Google. Instead, they’ll be working on the sort of things Microsoft Research has always been tasked with: “systems, networking, distributed computing, UX design, devices, cloud, mobility, ML/AI, big data, and datacenter technologies,” according to Foley.

If Microsoft’s “Special Projects” division is just more of the same from Microsoft Research, why build the team at all?

It could be as simple as a rebranding—and that’s not a frivolous move, especially when it comes to the employees themselves. As many have noted, one key to motivating employees is to make them feel like they’re working for a purpose-driven organization. Googlers love to talk about how Google is all about “changing the world.” What do people think of as Microsoft’s purpose? Making it easier for America’s middle-managers to track payroll?

A special division within Microsoft Research—which actually employs some of the world’s most brilliant engineers but has languished in relative obscurity for most of its existence—could be just the thing Microsoft needs to fire up the troops, not to mention show the world that Microsoft is no less about changing the world—or at least the face of IT infrastructure.

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