Last night, Glenn had a fascinating hour-long sit-down with some of the greatest technological minds in the world today – Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, and Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas. Schmidt and Cohen’s new book, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business, explains how the face of the internet is about to change, and Glenn hoped to use that as a jumping off point to get a better sense of where they believe the world is headed. On radio this morning, Glenn reflected on the conversation.
“Yesterday I did an interview with Google chairman Eric Schmidt and head of Google Ideas,” Glenn said. “I don't know about you, but I was shocked at how much Eric was denying in his own book. It was incredible.”
One of the things Glenn found most surprising about the interview was the way in which Schmidt and Cohen addressed the technology Google is working on. Glenn is very interested in the work of futurist Ray Kurzweil, who is a director of engineering at Google, and he asked Schmidt and Cohen about some of the bold predictions Kurzweil has made. Their answers, however, seemed to downplay the possibility of actually achieving these goals. That frustrated Glenn and Pat, who had hoped to hear more of a philosophical debate about the role of technology, but Stu was more open-minded.
“You guys seem extremely… disappointed in the interview or disappointed in them. I always find, Glenn, when you interact with people like this, to be really interesting because these are guys that are in the world of doing this on an everyday basis, and… they do think about it different than Ray does,” Stu explained. “But they're smart enough to bring a guy like Ray in because they are trying to move this along. I don't know that they've considered all the things – I'm sure they've considered them and they've obviously written to some extent, but they don't live in that world. And I think that's the issue you tried to bring up with them over and over again: You have to live in that world.”
Glenn wasn’t convinced.
“You know what? They do live in that world,” Glenn countered. “The name of the book is The New Digital Age. Just listen to the title: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business. And so this is a dynamic and terrifying book, and this is what they say is coming. I'm reading the book.”
Interestingly, Glenn revealed that following the interview, Schmidt told him that of the hundreds of interviews they have done for this book, Glenn is the first person they encountered who actually read it.
Throughout the interview, Schmidt and Cohen sought to assure Glenn that Google has no ill intent, and they operate well within the law when it comes to collecting data. With that in mind, Glenn asked what would happen to Google if it was suddenly run by people that didn’t share their same mission and vision of making the world a better place.
GLENN: You guys walk out of this studio, God forbid you're, you know, hit by a bus, which could happen here in New York. Somebody -- somebody evil, sinister takes over Google, and you want certain things from the government. What stops you? You are far more powerful than J. Edgar Hoover ever was. Ever.
SCHMIDT: One, we've not engaged in any of the illegal activity that J. Edgar Hoover did sanction while he was FBI director in the 30-plus years he was. From a Google perspective, it's not going to happen for a bunch of reasons. The governance of the company, the culture of the company, even if you somehow replaced the senior leadership, the people were brought in to do one thing, they're not going to switch just without a huge riot inside the company. It's not going to happen.
It was this rose-colored glass view of the world that concerned Glenn most.
“It is so funny because Ben McPherson works for the Dream Labs. He was [at the interview], and I had dinner with him last night, and he was like, ‘All the way through all I kept thinking was, everything is awesome,’” Glenn explained. “How true.”
“That is their attitude,” Pat agreed. “Everything is awesome. It can never happen. Nothing can go wrong.”