Here is the full transcript of Alphabet’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt’s talk titled “Just Say Yes” at Stanford GSB…This event took place on Monday, April 24, 2017.
Eric Schmidt – Executive Chairman, Alphabet
It’s great to be back wearing my, almost, Stanford red, and I’m excited for you all to graduate. And I’m excited for the first year to make it to the second year, and it’s just wonderful to be here.
I will tell you that in the 14 years I’ve been teaching here, the faculty, I think, has been pretty much the same, and the students just are getting more impressive. All right, so you really are the best, and my guess is that 10 years from now, the students will be even stronger. That’s extraordinary, the statement of what Stanford has been able to do.
What I wanted to do was talk for a few minutes about the age that we’re in and the age we’re going to. And then I thought, since I’ve been here so long and because we talk a lot about these things, talk a little bit about sort of life advice, some of things that we talk about in our class.
And maybe you can debate and disagree or agree on this or anything else, or, perhaps, present your latest startup idea and see how well you do in front of your peers. I’m convinced that we’re actually entering an age of abundance, and that age of abundance is defined by too much information, right?
The first thing was turn off your Twitter feed so that you could actually focus on something. Whenever people say, turn off your phone, I always say, don’t turn off your phone, we’re in the phone business, you get the idea. We clearly have too much food, right, the world is not only capable of feeding itself, but in fact obesity and weight gain, and so forth are becoming major healthcare issues around the world. There are startups and industrial processes that will solve many of the housing problems we have worldwide, and we’re going to have abundant housing, of relatively high quality.
And it looks like we’re going to have pretty ubiquitous transportation, as a service, high quality also, as well. So a lot of the things that we’ve talked about, as we arrive in this age of abundance, look pretty good. But at the same time, it’s pretty clear to me that while we’re going to have the sort of material things in great supply, we’re still going to have religious, nationalistic, and personal conflicts to look forward to.
All right, I think that’s the reality, all right, and speaking as your local technology optimist, we haven’t been able to quite fix those problems yet. People, too much in others’ worlds, too much regulation, too much anxiety, a loss of egalitarianism.
We’ve sort of forgotten the benefits of integration and tolerance. All right, we seem to be sort of backtracking on some of the core values that have gotten us to this august state that Stanford and we all are here today. And it’s funny when you look back at the election, who would have thought that the KGB would be back, through Twitter and Facebook? I mean, that’s not the prediction we made a year ago here at the school, right, and yet it’s very real, so how are we going to react to this?
Are we going to react to this in terms of regulation and suppression, and so forth? Are we going to end up in the equivalent of suburban cul de sacs that are highly protected from this abundance? How are we going to sort this out? I don’t think society has figured this out. The principles that I’ve been operating under, which I would encourage you to operate under, are personal freedom and economic freedom, all right.
And if you look at the history of the world and you look at where we’ve all come from, right, the fact that we’ve got here is because we have those two things. And in fact, it’s interesting, I looked this up, at no point in history have you all had a better likelihood of living a long and fruitful life, just on average and in specific, very interesting. All right, after all the complaining, your expected outcome is higher in almost every category. I don’t know, it’s interesting, a child born today is expected to live about 90 years, all right?
Children born by the mid-century are expected to live at least 100 years, pretty good news. That’s average, right, we all understand averages. And by the way, when you have such a long expectancy, my core advice is that you need to brush your teeth because you’re going to need them, right?
So let’s establish some basic rules here, you have to think about these things. And the world has this interesting way of changing, so when I graduated from college in the 1970s, I graduated as an engineer, an electrical engineer. And there were lengthy studies of the fact that there would never be jobs for engineers in the future. And in fact, I was going into a job market where it was not obvious that engineers would have jobs at all, we might be doing other things.
Of course, we wanted to be engineers, but I pressed forward. The computer that I used in college has as its replacement, in roughly the same building, a computer that is 100 million times more powerful. I went to visit it, right, that’s a lot of change, right, in that period of time.
So if we’re in this sort of age of abundance that I’m describing now, what happens after this, how does this transition? And I’m convinced that the age of abundance leads to the age of intelligence, and I’ll tell you why. It has a lot of implications, probably the defining thing for your business careers and, perhaps, for your personal lives as well.
The technological boom, the parts that many of us have involved with, people here in the room and myself, obviously, have produced the following facts. Computer vision is now better than human vision even if you’re drunk, right, it’s still better, that’s a pretty big deal.
The analytical systems that are being built now can do better planning and analysis for any system that has variable inputs, that is variable supply, and variable demanders, right? Much of the business and dynamic world does that, and you say, well, why is he talking about this? Because that will underpin much of what you do.
In medicine, it turns out, shockingly, we’re all the same, right, all of us, all human beings, right? If you go to enough of us and you do enough analysis of our healthcare outcomes, you can materially improve healthcare. Whether it’s precision medicine or better drug discovery, the technology is such that as the technology that AlphaGo, for example, represents, which is the reinforcement learning that won the game against Go, for those of you who don’t know, it’s a very big deal, is analogous to the kind of technology you would use to look at candidates for doing protein folding to apply to generate new drugs.
So you go from winning a game to, perhaps, winning the real game, which is making us healthier and solving diseases. So what does this mean for you all? Well, lets talk about cars, all right. How many of you know someone who’s had a tragic family loss, somebody died in a car accident? I think that in your lifetimes, and perhaps sooner, we’ll get to the point where cars are as safe as flying on commercial airliners, I won’t make a joke about that, in terms of accidents in the air, all right? Basically, when you get on a commercial airliner today, it’s safer than it is driving to the airport in your car.