The Future According to Eric Schmidt


Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt took the stage at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this afternoon to talk about the role of technology in the “world we live in today” and how it will shape the societies of the future. Schmidt, for example, noted that the number of people who use smartphones is still very small, but “think how amazing the web is today with just 2 billion people” and what will happen when another 5 billion get online.

The Future According to Eric Schmidt

In Schmidt’s vision, societies will be split into three strata in the future and will be divided by how they use technology and how much access to it they have.

The privileged few, the hyper-connected, are likely to face a future that will only be limited by what technology can do. They will have access to unlimited processing power and high-speed networks in most major cities.

In Schmidt’s vision, this group will soon be represented by robots at multiple events at the same time while sitting in your office. For them, technologies that once looked like science fiction, will soon be available. Driverless cars, for example, will soon reduce accidents. At the same time, though, technology will actually become much easier to use and ideally just disappear.

Besides these high-connected folks, though, another group, which will also be well-connected but less so than the first group, will form the new global middle class in Schmidt’s future. This group, though, will use cheaper technologies for its work – though its members will focus less on building new services and products – and maybe use simpler technologies for telepresence, but still use technology effectively to do their jobs. This group, in Schmidt’s view, will also be made up of more sophisticated consumers and those who will be smart about using the Internet to organize politically.

A third group, though, will have no or only limited access to the Internet. This “aspiring majority,” as Schmidt calls them, will likely have some form of access to technology, but it will look different from what we expect today. Maybe, though, they will use mesh networks to create local networks that isn’t even connected to the wider Internet. For Schmidt, it seems, mesh networks represent the easiest and cheapest way to get these underprivileged users at least partly online.

What this will make possible, too, is for these users to share their experiences with the rest of the world, whether that’s a political uprising or a famine.

There will, however, in Schmidt’s view, still be elites and this digital divide will likely exist for quite a while. Technology, however will enable “the weak to get stronger and those with nothing will have something.”

Technologists will have to act now, though, to ensure that everybody will be able to participate in this future where everybody will be connected.

Ice Cream Sandwich and Chrome for Android

Very little about today’s keynote was focused on specific technologies, with the exception of Chrome for Android and the latest version of Android.

Talking about Ice Cream Sandwich, the most recent version of Android, Schmidt noted that he thought Google finally got the user interface right ‘for a global audience’ and stressed that most reviewers agreed with him. Implicit in this, of course, is an acknowledgement that earlier versions of Android weren’t quite as polished.

Schmidt was joined on stage by Hugo Barra of the Android development team at Google. Barra provided a demo of Chrome for Android, the mobile version of Chrome the company announced a few weeks ago. Schmidt used this opportunity to take a brief jab at other mobile operating system by calling Android “a real mobile operating system.” Barra demoed a number of the browser’s top features, including pre-loading, link preview, syncing between mobile and desktop, as well as the fact that Chrome doesn’t limit how many tabs you can have open at the same time.


10:14 am

Eric Schmidt at LeWeb


During LeWeb in Paris this afternoon, Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt took the stage together with Loic Le Meur to discuss a wide variety of topics, including the state of local and mobile development, the state of Google Android and the role of technology in society. Talking about politics, for example, Schmidt noted that the idea of “social, local and mobile has been around for thousands of year,” but while technology can enable political movements, it won’t provide societies (like Egypt) with new leaders.

After demoing the Ice Cream Sandwich release of Android, including face unlock, people cards and some of the built-in Google+ features, Schmidt and Le Meur talked about virtually all of Google’s business areas in an office-hour like conversation that sometimes lacked focus but made up for that by covering such a broad range of topics.

Talking about Android, Schmidt argued that it’s important to remember that phones are not so much about features but about communication and being social (and argument that Microsoft would likely also make about Windows Phone, by the way). “There was a time,” Schmidt said,” where we thought phones were all about features.” With Ice Cream Sandwich, Google aims to focus on making communication easy and allowing its users to be social (centered around Google+, of course).

Governments and Internet Access

Talking about the role of governments in providing connectivity, Schmidt argued that they have to make sure that all of their citizens have wired and wireless access to the Internet. This will then, in his view, almost automatically lead to the creation of new jobs and innovation.

Looking forward, Schmidt noted that we will all soon have multiple IP addresses attached to us in some form. Computers, Schmidt said, will continue to do the things they do very well, but won’t replace human intuition and creativity.

Building Scalable Platforms

Talking to the developers in the room, Schmidt noted that, going forward, “the most successful companies will build scalable platforms that will scale amazingly fast.”

European Startups

As far as startups in Europe go, Schmidt argued that the competition among major centers like Paris and Berlin is a good thing. If their local governments don’t support them, he said, they should just move to another center or, to the U.S., where “they will then not get a visa because we are idiots.”

Consolidation of Google’s Products

Asked about the recent consolidation of Google’s product lineup, Schmidt reminded the audience that Google is now focussing mostly on seven product areas, including search, ads, commerce, Chrome and others. We should not, however, think that Google isn’t still committed to innovation, but within the context of these seven major areas for Google.

Driverless Cars

Asked about Google’s advanced projects, Schmidt noted that he first thought a project like driverless cars weren’t an idea Google should be interested in. Now, however, he thinks that it’s a very useful project that Google itself may not be able to productize, but that Google can help other companies turn into products. In his view, most of the cars on the road will be driverless in our lifetime.



1:59 pm