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Google’s Schmidt: ‘Global mind’ offers new opportunities

With knowledge and data, a smarter world will divide work between computers and humans, search engine executive chairman says.
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt gives a talk at the MIT Sloan School of Management on Tuesday.
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt gives a talk at the MIT Sloan School of Management on Tuesday.
Photo: Justin Knight

A “global mind” comprising humans and computers offers huge opportunities for informed decision-making, democratization of information, and world-wide problem solving, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said at the MIT Sloan School of Management Tuesday.

Schmidt said the rapid accumulation of data will push people to find better ways to solve global problems, with new, faster technology to back them up.

“The world will organize into things that people are good at and things that computers are good at,” Schmidt said. “Think of them as aids. They’re our best friends, our best help. They know where we’ve been and they’ll make suggestions for where we go.”

A good thing?

Schmidt said such a human-computer relationship would ultimately be positive for society, except in the case of “robotics and war.” In response to a student’s reference to the movie “The Terminator,” Schmidt said that fears of computers becoming too powerful or too intelligent are overstated. Instead, he said, people will continue to harness the power of collective information to make better decisions, whether in business, politics or their personal lives.
Throughout his talk, titled “The Future of the Global Mind,” delivered before a capacity audience at the Wong Auditorium, Schmidt committed himself to the idea that evolution of and access to technology will benefit humanity. Discussing world leaders’ approach to the global economic crisis, Schmidt said that many world leaders he has met are extremely well-informed about the issues, and can offer thoughtful interpretations of the relevant facts and data.

“Technology is not really about hardware and software any more,” Schmidt said. “It’s really about the mining and use of this enormous [volume of] data” in order to “make the world a better place.”

That same accumulation of data can provide technological advancements once appearing only in science fiction.

For example, cars may one day be able to drive themselves better than a human could, Schmidt said. Google in the last year has been testing a self-driving car in Nevada and California, a project that is bolstered by an accumulation of collective information, including significant mapping data.

“To me, what you want to do is find a way to let this play out between the virtual world and the physical world,” he said. “Ultimately, I think society will get there. It will be messy, but we’ll get there.”

Spring forward

Schmidt pointed to the Arab Spring revolutions as an example of forward movement springing from shared information and access to technology, saying the combination of planning on Facebook, execution through Twitter and the recording of events on YouTube created a “user-empowerment model” that led to successful uprisings.

The increasing speed of knowledge-sharing may be the most significant technological development since the invention of electricity, Schmidt said. At 2,000 tweets per second and 48 hours of YouTube uploads per minute, the world, he argued, is getting smarter. And the thirst for new information is overwhelming: On a daily basis, 16 percent of Google searches are new search terms, he noted.

“You’re never lonely. You’re never bored,” Schmidt said. “You can know everything.”

Schmidt’s talk was part of a day of events marking the fifth anniversary of the MIT Center of Collective Intelligence, which considers ways humans and computers can connect to act more intelligently. The talk was also part of the MIT Sloan Dean’s Innovative Leader Series, which brings some of the world’s most influential business leaders to campus for lectures and discussions with students.

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