Liz Gannes

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Interviewing Tech’s Best Multitaskers: Sebastian Thrun and Jack Dorsey

Charlie Rose aired a pair of interviews this Wednesday with Sebastian Thrun and Jack Dorsey, two tech guys who have much in common: massive ambition, unparalleled juggling skills, and a lot of things recently going their way.

Sebastian Thrun

Thrun wore his Google Glasses prototypes through his interview — as he says he does all the time — and talked about that project, Google’s self-driving cars, Google X in general, and his new online education start-up, Udacity. Dorsey talked Twitter and Square, as well as his angel investment in Instagram.

Both videos (each less than 20 minutes) are worth watching, but here are couple of comments that stuck out for me:

Of Google’s glasses, Thrun said, “People talk a lot about augmented reality — looking at objects and faces and finding information — but the compelling use case for us is the sharing experience.”

What does that mean? Taking pictures and sending them to Google+ (via the press of a button and a quick nod, as Thrun demonstrated), phone calls, notifications, email dictation and email reading.

Portrait of Charlie Rose, taken with Google Glass prototype by Sebastian Thrun

Google X has been “overhyped,” Thrun protested somewhat halfheartedly. He said it’s a research group like at any other company, with a slightly different focus — it’s “not for the sake of writing research papers, but for the sake of impacting society.”

For instance, the Glasses project was based on hiring University of Washington professor Babak Parviz and giving him all the resources and engineers he needed to build something interesting over the past two years, Thrun said.

Meanwhile, when asked to describe the next era of technology, Dorsey said it was tools that disappear from sight when they’re irrelevant and only reappear when they’re relevant — like push notifications.

He also spoke a little bit about the myth of the founder, and told Rose it’s not a bad thing that none of Twitter’s founders are the CEO anymore.

“You can have a very shallow view and you can say there were three founders, only at the beginning. But the truly great companies have multiple founding moments through their history, and the truly great companies are constantly reinventing themselves all the time with the people they bring in, with the ideas they have around the table — and with Twitter, with our users. A lot of what you see in Twitter today was invented by our users.”

Dorsey also had some interesting and telling comments on Instagram, in which he was one of the first angel investors — and which Twitter had also made moves to buy, before Facebook acquired it for $1 billion.

“It makes sense that Facebook would pick it up,” Dorsey said. “Facebook’s core competency is photos, but Facebook is known for the past tense. Photos are in the past, they’re in albums, they’re something that you have to maintain; you have to maintain relationships. Instagram represented the now, it represented the present — it represented a lot of the ideas that Twitter brought to the world. Even in the constraints — [Twitter has] a constraint of 140 characters, Instagram has the constraint of the square.”

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle