Notes from Eric Schmidt at MIT

After the jump, my notes from Eric Schmidt’s talk at MIT today. I am sure this will be available as a video at some point. I found the the whole exercise a bit pat – he didn’t really say anything new, but there were a few nuggets of interest here and there (and my notes are not complete.)

Update 17. nov: MIT writeup.

MIT Sloan School Dean’s Innovative Leader Series, November 15, 2011

Eric Schmidt:

The way the world’s knowledge is organized, and the future of global. This notion has been around for a long time, but now we finally have some of the technology. The concept of a world brain has a lot more than knowledge, but also a notion of values and facts. We can get to the point where we pretty much know everything. The notion of collective knowledge and action is beginning to become possible.

My generation of executives thought complexity was good, that we could make money from selling complex systems to companies so that their IT departments could terrorize employees. Technology has gotten so much simpler from a user viewpoint, we have broken through the complexity of the technology, everyone can use a computer, otherwise known as a phone. And we do – 2000 Tweets per second… everyone has a phone, hard to get to the bottom billion, but still, 6 of 7 billion will have access.

Last year’s $500 phone is next year’s $130 phone. We can now do research on what people are doing rather than what they are saying they are doing. If you look at the Arab spring, they used Facebook to organize, Twitter to get people out, and YouTube to capture the results. Because we are so interconnected, we are never lonely and never bored. We have gone from a small elite knowing things, to most people being able to know things. 

How are we going to take advantage of this? For instance, online game called FoldIT, used to analyze structure of protein that was a factor in HIV. Seems to me that collective intelligence in analyzing data is very important. How come we are so busy destroying the world and this is not clear to everybody else? Is it because we cannot believe in facts? Maybe we can use the tools to make data available, but also to understand why people work against this.

Talking to Asian politicians and world leaders, was struck by how much knowledge they had, rather than being driven by some sort of ideology. Struck by the humility of them actually not knowing the answer to the question of how to generate growth.

How to deal with this? I think we should demand that the people who make these decisions use data to make them! In God we trust, everyone else brings data. 

In computer science, one of the big trends is Big Data. In Google’s case, we like to do things that are a bit out there. Thereare 30,000 people being killed in traffic every year. You are probably better off having the car driving you, especially if you are drunk or Tweeting. It is only by accident that the self- the self-driving car wasn’t invented first, if that had happened we wouldn’t let people drive cars by themselves.

We need to change behavior – if you give people an energy monitor, they will reduce energy by 10%. That’s cheap!

We took the Stanley prize data and added better maps and more analysis, and then could build the Google cars on top of that.

I am becoming convinced that we are going to see a virtual world and a physical world, a virtual world of connected people. The systems will coexist and influence each other. When they collide, interesting things happen. 50 years ago, in the Soviet Union there was a law that locked the photocopiers at night. Vint Cerf calls the Internet a platform for freedom. The physical system is influenced by individuals and dominated by states, in the virtual world it is the other way. The physical world cannot totally dominate the virtual one – the last gasp of the autocrat is to turn off the Internet, but they are forced to put it back on again, because business needs it. It provides a check and balance mechanism.

Many countries – 40 – significantly censors the Internet. If you don’t like the behavior of people, then regulate the behavior in the physical world. You have to let the virtual and physical fight it out, it will be better, a form of collective intelligence around common morals. I think we will get there.

The next challenge: Everything we do, is track all over. How do we make sure the technology does not devalue the human experience? Need to make sure that technological evolution is not made scary. Technology is our servant and not our master.

Google has principles – organic results, starting to publish algorithms, etc. 16% of searches are entirely new every day. The new generations understand the power of users and the power of making things simple, and the awesome responsibility you have to take advantage of this information. Will happen within 5 years, the mining of this enormous fount of data, to make the world a better place.


Copyright? I am opposed to the laws about copyright. The copyright holders have a legitimate problem, their business models are threatened. The new laws impose censorship. My solution: A lot of the people are are illegally copying are making money from it – follow the money!

What about politics and data? Never trust politicians’ data – they do what their consultant tell them to do. Start with data about something that is knowable, and that is the purview of scientists and then pundits.

What would be the dangers of making machines more intelligent?

The Terminator was governor of California and he was unable to fix it’s economy…

The world will organize itself into what computers are good at and what humans are good at, that will be the separation. The one area on too intelligence has to do with robotics and war, but that is a small and specialized area. In our lifetime computers will be aids.

Do you see a lot of regulation and will this hinder collective intelligence?

Generally support privacy rules, Ok as long as they focus on consumer interest. The thing is, don’t do premature regulation, there is a lot of pressure on the industry to do the right thing.

Less tinkering, how can we maintain physcial intuitition?

Get a trainer, there will be trainers in our future. 

Your idea in the check and balance between virtual and physical world, as well as using data to motivate behavior.

Research project: When you put accurate and good data in front of people, why don’t they act on it? Our job is to find the information, we cannot pass judgment on what people do.