Host Tom Ashbrook was on stage with Google CEO Eric Schmidt, asking him about some of the biggest technology and business issues of our time.
It was part of an MIT event held on Thursday, Nov. 5, to commemorate computer science professor Michael Hammer, who died in 2008. Here’s video of the full interview, courtesy of WBUR.org:
Among other things, Schmidt said the possibilities of the unfolding revolution in technology are greater than many people even realize. “Think about a world of an infinite amount of new sources of information, an infinite number of digital devices, all GPS-located, attached to people,” he said. “Imagine the scale of the kinds of questions you could ask that you could not ask before.”
We’ll pull out a couple of excerpts here.
Tom probed Schmidt on the business scale of Google and on fears that it is getting too big:
TOM ASHBROOK: Google is enormous. We see a lot of your strengths. On the front of vulnerabilities: Do you see your major vulnerabilities as economic or political? And in particular when it comes to scale, Christine Varney is President Obama’s new antitrust chief – I know we all saw the Fortune article “Obama and Google: A Love Story.” But their bottom line was that your scale has become such you may well be a target of antitrust attention by the federal government. How do you look at that? Are you an out-of-control monopoly, sir?
ERIC SCHMIDT: (laughter) I can’t think of the appropriate response, aside from “no.” (laughter)
TOM ASHBROOK: Christine Varney will review the tape later, but go ahead. (laughter)
ERIC SCHMIDT: That’s right. There’s a number of different sort of ways of approaching that subject. We get a lot of criticism as a company, I think, fundamentally because we’re disruptive, and also because we are a scale company, as you said. And then finally, because people care a lot about information. So we’re used to that side of the issues, and I don’t think that’s going to go away. What we do believe is that as long as you are on the side of the consumer, you’re pretty much on the right side of all these debates. And that there’s a lot of sort of hem and haw, going on and on and on and on about it. But the fact of the matter is – and people will review what we do and so forth – but as long as we’re consumer-focused, we’ll be fine…[Google co-founder] Larry Page in fact wrote a memo which, early in our years as a company, that said, “If we were to become big, what were some of the principles that we would establish?” And we’ve established those. And one of the most important ones is that you own your own data. So, we don’t trap end users. So if you, for example, decide that you’re unhappy with Google services we make it easy for you to take the data that we have of yours, and you can go to a competitor or whatever you want to do. We recently announced the oddly named “data liberation front” group at Google, whose sole job was to make this actually happen. So we’re real serious about this.
And Tom asked Schmidt about the physical side of Google’s operation:
TOM ASHBROOK: Give us a sense of the scale of Google’s own infrastructure at this point. We’re hearing about server farms the size of cities, or maybe that’s just in our imagination. Give us a sense of that.
ERIC SCHMIDT: Well, people like to imagine all of that stuff. We benefit from centralization. So we have some number of relatively large data centers which are attached very near to power dams, literally hydro, water systems because we need a constant supply of base load to power these things. And we don’t say the exact number, but think that we benefit from Moore’s Law, and we build our own essentially super computers out of p.c. components. Connected with them is a fiber-optic network that we own and control, which we bought…Remember everybody built all that fiber and it was all cheap? Well, we bought a whole bunch of it. Technically, we bought. It was a great deal. Trust me. And we span the globe with that. And we needed to do that in order to move all the data around. When you look at the scale of YouTube, had we not done that, with the growth of YouTube, YouTube would have taken Google out, simply because of the amount of video and audio and so forth that is used. And again, those of you who are scientists can do the math in your head. But imagine that number of video streams, even with compression, and yet we’ve been able to handle it. So we engineered Google in the same way that Michael [Hammer] would have, with a notion of scale. And when you imagine the next set of applications that will be real time intensive, data intensive, maps intensive, we’re ready for that.