It seemed to be a meeting like any other: brownies and fresh apple cider for refreshments, professionals engaged in conversations, and a frenetic sense of purpose filled in the air. That is, until Google CEO Eric E. Schmidt walked through the doors to the room.
On Wednesday afternoon, Schmidt visited the Google Boston office to “check it out” and answer a wide range of questions from 25 media personnel, which included reporters from The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, the Associated Press, as well as The Tech. Schmidt’s topics ranged from GoogleWave project to areas in science that need to be better studied in the next decade.
Schmidt was all praise for MIT and President Hockfield’s leadership. When asked why they had chosen to place Google Boston in the heart of Kendall Square, he replied, “We like cities with extremely good technical universities, if you get my drift.”
In describing his vision for science in the next decade, Schmidt cited the need for increased research in three areas: biotech, clean tech, and advanced manufacturing. Given the current abundance of “problems,” Schmidt urged the future generation to strive to become leaders in these three areas.
His appreciation for MIT’s dedication to the sciences was not only limited to the work presently being conducted. “Big projects are happening at MIT … we need leaders in these sciences and MIT is one of the industries that has been doing a brilliant job in this area.”
Of the three sciences that Schmidt discussed, advanced manufacturing was the one he hoped students at institutions like MIT would pursue. Advanced manufacturing is, in Schmidt’s words, the “manufacturing of new things that are being produced in very small volumes — nanotech, batteries, material sciences.”
Schmidt painted a bleak picture of America’s manufacturing sector: “The traditional complaint about America is that we’re losing all of our manufacturing jobs. We are losing the low-paying high-volume jobs to countries that have lower wages and greater distribution. Advanced manufacturing has a viability to change this.”
On Google’s Vision
Much of the roundtable discussion focused on Google’s seemingly increased presence in a variety of industries. There is the health records initiative, where Google could help manage people’s health records in line with a “tantalizing possibility” to treat medicine on an individual rather than an aggregate basis. Then there is Google’s new brainchild, Wave, which is a revolutionizing tool for real-time communication. And then there is Google Navigator, GPS navigation software whose advanced database and pristine graphics are gaining positive reviews from consumers and tech junkies alike.
Defending Google’s wide reach, Schmidt said, “Google is all about helping people in scale. The more people we can reach, the better. We don’t do things because our competitors do them. We do things because we like to solve problems. If Google weren’t doing them, somebody else would be.”
“Search” and “control” problem
In recent years, the amount of information being put on the Internet has burgeoned. In 2003, 5 exabytes (1018 bytes) was generated. This was a historically significant figure. In 2009, 5 exabytes of information was generated every two days.
This extraordinary increase in information on the Internet has put made search a much harder problem. The crux of that problem is taking words that are entered into the search box, deciphering the meaning, and producing relevant search results.
To compound this problem, Twitter’s real-time output of statuses and the rankings of these statuses pose many algorithmic challenges. However, Schmidt assured those present that even though Google has not mastered all the mechanics of indexing this type of content, there are “lots of new improvements coming along.”
There were also concerns that Google censors too much user-generated content. A special emphasis was placed on Google’s removal of political content from YouTube.
Schmidt defended Google’s actions by referencing the publicly available Terms of Service, which is written with respect to laws in different countries. “We follow the laws of the countries we operate in. Contrary to popular belief, we do not see ourselves as a country.”