Eric Schmidt & Jared Cohen discusses The Impact of Internet and Technology at Stanford Graduate School of Business on March 4, 2014.
Moderator: Dr. Condoleezza Rice
Eric Schmidt – Executive Chairman of Google
Jared Cohen – Director of Google Ideas
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: MP3 – Eric Schmidt & Jared Cohen on The Impact of Internet and Technology
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: We have a chance tonight to talk about an extraordinary book, The New Digital Age which the two of you collaborated in. I am going to start with the obvious question. You’ve said that this is a book about technology but more important it’s a book about human beings. What prompted you to write this book and what prompted the two of you to write this book together?
Jared Cohen: Well, so Eric and I met in Baghdad in 2009. He wanted to see what it was like travelling into a war zone and whether technology was relevant at all. And so we show up there and our security is waiting for us, but Eric’s not moving, because he’s wearing a flak jacket and, before he does anything, he wants a full history of flak jackets. How they’ve adapted, why they work, how they’ve sort of changed since the beginning of time. But after the trip to Iraq we traveled to more than 40 countries looking at the ways in which technology is disrupting autocracies, ways that it’s changing the nature of violence on the ground. And what we realized is, there’s an inherent connection between the Silicon Valley world and the geo-political world that’s really missing.
Eric Schmidt: First, I thank you very much Dr. Rice, Condi for doing this with us. It’s a great privilege to be here. I do have one request which is I want everyone to turn on their phones. We’re in the phone business. We want you using your phone. We make money when you’re doing that. What happened with Iraq was that my daughter Sophie who’s a student here at GSB and I’ve showed up in Iraq and of course we put the flak jackets on and we meet this guy Jared, and she was videotaping the trip for various reasons and we played them back, all we heard was Jared’s voice.
To fast forward, Sophie ultimately took the book that Jared and I wrote and she’s heavily credited with writing it into its current style. So thank you Sophie for doing that.
I’d like you to think about a Secretary of State. Imagine if you’d had a technology arm that could implement technology that would actually fix a problem that was bedeviling you — censorship, communications, empowering citizens, empowering women. Something that was on your mind, and yet all you had were the tools of foreign policy. It just seems like in our industry we should define ourselves with a somewhat higher purpose. Why don’t our industry, the tech industry, figure out a way to solve these problems? I knew very little about foreign policy until I met Jared, right? And thank you for hiring him, I’m sure you sort of beat him into submission at some basic level here. So now he can sort of talk to me and say, look, these are the problems. I was struck by the horrific situation that most people are in the world, which is of governance, the horrific way in which women are treated, the corruption at every level of government. The majority of people, humans like us, don’t have any of the benefits of any person here in the room, and yet our industry spends almost time talking about that.
So the real genesis of the book was, why did we not only identify what’s going to happen to them, but also what the bridges are? After two years of going through this, we ultimately come out in the book, I would claim, with a pretty optimistic message. The world for the well-to-do-world, us, is going to be fantastic in terms of fiber optics, computations and so forth, we’ll talk about that. But for the developing world where you have no connectivity at all, the arrival of the smartphone is a life changing event. Because from this single device you solve illiteracy, you solve empowerment, you get better governance. And these are folks who don’t even have electric power and running water. You solve their business problem, their health problem, all of their needs can be met. And over the next five years, another three or four billion people will join us. The rough number now is roughly 2.4 billion people on the internet. Roughly 3.7 people using, humans using, using phones. Those numbers will go to 5 billion to 6 billion in the next five years.
This transition, transformation is life changing for half of the world’s population, right in front of us.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: And Jared, let me ask you because Eric rightly said you’ve spent time in the State Department and so you know not just foreign policy, but the business of carrying out foreign policy. What Eric has described, is that going to happen in spite of governments? In spite of our government? Or is there a chance that governments could actually help to promote this more optimistic world? And what are the impediments to what’s being done?
Jared Cohen: Well I think it depends on which type of government. So, of the 5 billion people who are coming online, most of them live in countries that are autocratic. And so there’s a race between countries like the United States and those in Western Europe who want to see a global connected citizen re-based on principles of the free flow of information, and countries like China and Iran and North-Korea and others that want to see the world’s technological infrastructure built with trap doors. They want to see dissidents heavily surveilled and censored. And there really is an open question of, who is going to win. Right? So, technology — it’s inevitable that all these people will be connected, but there is a very important need for a human intervention to ensure that the connectivity that they’re getting lends itself towards more democratic principles.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Let me throw out a few country names and tell me how you think technology will impact those countries and the problems that they present for foreign policy. And I’m going to take foreign policy in this sense, not just American foreign policy, but let’s just say countries that are more interested in an open, more liberal, more democratic world. So, not just the United States but countries that would be in that category.
You went to one of the, maybe the hardest case that I can think of, North Korea. What in the world were you doing in North Korea? Did you see Dennis Rodman?
Jared Cohen: He, he, he came afterwards.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Yeah. What was it like?
Eric Schmidt: Yeah, but let’s just establish causality here.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice: Yeah, yeah. All right.
Eric Schmidt: This was Jared’s idea. And I discovered, you know? I have spent a lot of time with Jared. I’ve discovered he’s never been to South Korea. Can you imagine going to North Korea and then never having been to South Korea? So once again Jared and I, my daughter Sophie, we decide in our little merry band to go to North Korea. And my impression was, there’s got to be something that we can do. They have a million cell phones, 22 million people. That’s a very poor country with horrific, horrific governance obviously and, maybe if we could just get them to turn on a little bit about that internet, we could begin to open up the country.
The interesting thing is, and we met and they treated us well especially given it’s a repressive state but, most importantly they let us out and, it’s a country where there’s only one decision maker. And the only way that country will open up without a revolution, which is difficult, is the leader decides that the country needs the information, more than it needs the conflict, that new ideas will bring. I think what we concluded was that all you have to do is to insert doubt. North Korea is a true autocratic state, true essentially. It’s the last one. They really do believe from birth that their leader is god, king, religion, and so forth. All we have to do is get a little bit of doubt in, and that country will fall over. Actually you need to tell them about the weird stuff we saw like the trophies. Typical of Jared, so we go in right? Hang on, hang on all right I have to set it up then you can describe it.