Eric Schmidt is worth $8.2 billion, he runs one of the most powerful companies in the world — and he knows what you’re going to do next. Google’s executive chairman tells all.
On the power of connectivity
I would argue that Google and the internet enable people to move up the supply chain. So people, instead of doing rote work, can do more creative work.
More creative work requires more jobs, more fees, and so forth. Agriculture is getting mechanised, which has been true for hundreds of years; people are moving to cities. Cities are more productive than rural farming anyway; they are more connected.
Creativity will drive innovation will drive new businesses, new jobs, and so forth. That’s how economics works. That is the story of the British industrial revolution. If governments stay out of the way and allow this connectivity to occur, the core human creativity, this passion for making the world a better place, takes over.
I’m concerned that we need to fight for our privacy or we’ll lose it and the reason this is a concern of mine is that it’s natural for these tools and technologies to aggregate information about citizens.
You take notes as a journalist. Where do those notes go? If the Chinese had just hacked into the New York Times and had gone through their internal servers, how would you feel if you were a Chinese dissident? You’d be worried. So these are some of the problems that happen when everyone is connected.
Google will always allow for anonymous search. If you choose to be logged in and let us record more information about you, we can provide better service for you, but you don’t have to.
Anonymity is very important, especially for people who have reasons to believe that the state, or others, are going to hurt them.
The internet, in general, has been pretty good about allowing for anonymity.
On Julian Assange
As a matter of historical interest, I wanted to understand what role Wikileaks would play. We met almost two years ago, well before the Embassy, and all this kind of stuff.
He said a number of things which I thought were quite interesting. His core idea is that systematic evil has to be written down and that, if you have a leaking culture in government, the government can’t perpetuate mass evil because the stuff gets leaked before they can do it. That point makes sense to me. The problem is, who gets to decide who does the leaking? Well his answer was himself, and I was never able to determine any providence, god, religion, or so forth, that had appointed Julian Assange to be the person to make that decision.
On the future of media and mobile
Mobile ads should ultimately be more valuable because we have more information about the consumer, because we’re connected to them. We know, roughly, their location. If they choose to, they can share their history with us. They can also target the areas in which they want advertising.
On the Arab Spring
Many Americans wandered around saying somehow “we caused this” and that’s clearly false. Having now visited these countries, they’ve had opposition movements for years, which were were brutally dealt with. For example, Gaddafi had a series of revolutionary groups in Benghazi which he literally roll-tanked and shot every three or four years. The contribution that the internet made was the enabling subset of communication that allowed courageous people to unify. That was the step that they had been missing previously and then it was their courage and real combat that led to everything else.
On Google culture
Since starting at Google we developed a simple rule which is that when somebody makes a claim, someone in the room checks it. When we were going public, a finance person got up and made a claim about an IPO which didn’t sound correct. So I checked it out, typed in the query, figured it out and now I’ve got the answer right in front of me.
On open versus closed - who’s winning?
The technical optimists would say the following: the power of the internet and the power of individual empowerment is so strong that it will be impossible for governments to resist that connectivity. The pessimists would say that intelligent governments, which do exist, that have smart engineers that work for them can figure out ways of breaking the internet.
Here’s how they do it. The term we use in the book (The New Digital Age, by Schmidt and Jared Cohen) is Balkanisation, meaning instead of having one global internet, having your own country internet. North Korea, I now understand, has its own internet. They have people copying the content that the respected leader thinks is OK and they put it on internal servers and they call that the internet. That’s the crudest and least effective strategy, in my view.
Let me give you some examples of what governments could do. There is something called the DNS, which is the Domain Name Service, which is how you get to things, so Google.com, Microsoft.com, guardian.co.uk. If you go in and you programme that in a certain way, you can actually delete things. You can also, at the protocol level, lock ports, so you can block, for example, access to YouTube in its entirety.