Google CEO on global technology

Wednesday 22 May, 2013

Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, together with Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, has written a book, The New Digital Age, Reshaping the future of People, Nations, & Business, about how technology is affecting global business. He was in Chicago to talk with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs about it.

He started investigating the role of technology in Iraq around Thanksgiving & found they used their mobile devices to keep up to date on how their families are doing amidst all the chaos as cameras on cell towers watch IED’s go in the ground. The technology has empowered citizens for the greater good. 5B people will be accessing the internet for the 1st time in the next 5-10 years, many of them via mobile devices. These people will be bearing witness to great changes in societies. This is epitomized by the battle between governments which want to be big brother to their citizens & citizens that use the internet to report on what governments are doing. Citizens are pressing governments to change. Mubarek turned off the internet in Egypt for 4 1/2 days but was ultimately overthrown. In Afghanistan, it was only when the Taliban took the Afghan’s phones that they fought back to retrieve them. Fisherman in coastal Asia use SMS messages to keep their fish fresh in the water. Schoolgirls use Google maps to avoid bandits on the way to school. North Korea is the worst example of lack of a technology strategy. They have crossing guards on large boulevards with no cars as well as no conception of YouTube or even the internet.

Talk of technology policy results in silo’d conversations. China & the US are ostensibly allies in the physical world, while virtual enemies in the online world. Google Earth in Iran happens to depict the Middle East with no Israel.

The 1st shots of war will be shot in cyberspace in the future. There will be more munitions & noise, but fewer deaths.

Terrorists have leveraged technology in the past, but access to the internet also gives extremists reasons to doubt their leaders too. If we had the internet 20 years ago, perhaps we could have avoided the genocides in Rwanda.

Living life online will have implications even before some children are born.  Women in Saudi Arabia have been endangered by information that has been posted online.  A girl was killed as an honor killing because of what she submitted in an online chat session.

China is the world’s biggest computer hacker-we should assume this is a permanent state.  It’s important to realize that most technology infrastructure is not yet built:  the question becomes “Will that look more like the US or China?”  Thankfully American values are embedded in the internet.

In Myanmar/Burma, mobile communications is fueling a democracy, while the internet doesn’t work there.  It felt like East Germany after the wall fell, but there are no incentives for those in power to give up power.  They’re considering a bill to limit press freedom.  The constitution guarantees 25% of the seats in government to the military, which has little tolerance for the 35% of the population that are minorities.

Cell phones contributing to the media leads to more citizen journalism.  The traditional media will continue its role of verification & analysis, & perhaps help figure out which Twitter feeds to trust (& get over America’s obsession with celebrities).


Personal privacy is still protected on the internet because we can’t lose that trust, no human sees private data, & there are incentives for companies to protect data.

Technology can lead to reductions in unemployment with improvements in education.  The next 5B internet users will be using smart phones to access information which should lead to improvements in their critical thinking.

Google has not become too big & powerful because it was founded on strong principles & that culture will not change.

Unfortunately there is no systematic way to deal with author’s rights.  Books published before 1920 are OK.  50% of the sales of their book are digital & 50% are in hardcopy.

Schmidt defended former Google employee/present Yahoo President Marisa Miller’s edict to ban working from home.  Virtual halogen images of people simply do not get the same results or output as when people work physically together.

Teachers are actually becoming more important along with the digitization of education rather than less, so the human element is not being lost in digitization.  Students are learning to make fact-based arguments rather than emotionally-based ones.  In the 30 countries that they visited, they saw a number of educational disasters, but we need to focus on education to compete with Asians.

Digital architecture & infrastructure is changing as data moves to the cloud & access is enabled through handhelds & tablets.


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