The Tinkerer’s Apprentice

19. January 2015

Date: 19-01-2015
Source: Project Syndicate
Schmidt.jpg
ERIC SCHMIDT

Eric Schmidt is Executive Chairman of Google.

BERLIN – The best inventions are never finished. When the German engineer Karl Benz invented the first petroleum-powered automobile, he did not just create an engine with wheels; he set in motion an industry that revolutionized the way society was structured. Similarly, the English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee did not only build the world’s first Web site. He laid the groundwork for the World Wide Web. Neither could have anticipated the impact of what he was doing.

If there is one lesson that economic policymakers should heed in 2015 and beyond, it is this: Just as invention is dynamic, so are the industries it creates. As we learned in 2014, it is a lesson that has yet to sink in entirely.

When Google was launched, people were amazed that they were able to find out about almost anything by typing just a few words into a computer. The engineering behind it was technically complicated, but what you got was pretty rough: a page of text, broken up by ten blue links. It was better than anything else, but not great by today’s standards. Read the rest of this entry »


The Google Formula for Success

29. September 2014

Date: 29-09-2014
Source: The New York Times

Can Google’s winning ways be applied to all kinds of businesses? The authors of “How Google Works,” Eric Schmidt, Google’s former chief executive, and Jonathan Rosenberg, a former senior product manager at Google, firmly believe that they can.

How Google Works“How Google Works” is filled with instructive anecdotes of Google lore.

The critical ingredient, they argue in their new book, is to build teams, companies and corporate cultures around people they call “smart creatives.” These are digital-age descendants of yesterday’s “knowledge workers,” a term coined in 1959 by Peter Drucker, the famed management theorist.

But the new breed is a far cry from the staid, organization men of the past. Smart creatives, the authors write, are impatient, outspoken risk-takers who are easily bored and change jobs frequently. They are intellectually versatile, typically “combining technical depth with business savvy and creative flair,” the authors note.

“They are a new kind of animal,” Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Rosenberg write. “And they are the key to achieving success in the Internet Century.”

Their book, written with Alan Eagle, a speechwriter and communications employee at Google, is filled with instructive anecdotes of Google lore. One early story, from 2002, is presented as a distillation of Google’s distinctive culture. Larry Page, the co-founder, was chagrined at how terrible the ads were that were being served up alongside many searches — random and irrelevant. He printed out the searches with the offending ads, marked them, and wrote on top, “THESE ADS” STINK. He pinned the pages to a bulletin board in the company kitchen, and left for the weekend.

Five engineers worked on the ad program over the weekend, without any direct prompting, and solved the problem. That became the essence of Google’s “ad relevance score,” which presented search-related ads based on their relevance rather than how much the advertiser was willing to pay or how many clicks the ads received. The five “problem-solving ninjas,” the authors write, were not even on the Google ads team.

It’s a neat and telling story. But it’s also true that similar stories of smart, creative entrepreneurial teams solving thorny problems are nothing new. Read the rest of this entry »


Google chief warns of IT threat

24. January 2014

Date: 24-01-2014
Source: The Financial Times

A broad range of jobs that once seemed beyond the reach of automation are in danger of being wiped out by technological advances, Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, warned on Thursday.

Speaking in a briefing at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he said that an acceleration in technological innovation made this one of the biggest problems the world faces in the next 20 to 30 years.

“The race is between computers and people and the people need to win,” he said. “I am clearly on that side. In this fight, it is very important that we find the things that humans are really good at.”

Mr Schmidt’s comments follow warnings from some economists that the spread of information technology is starting to have a deeper impact than previous periods of technological change and may have a permanent impact on employment levels.

Google itself, which has 46,000 employees, has placed big bets on automation over some existing forms of human labour, with a series of acquisitions of robot start-ups late last year. Its high-profile work on driverless cars has also led to a race in the automobile industry to create vehicles that can operate without humans, adding to concerns that some classes of manual labour once thought to be beyond the reach of machines might eventually be automated.

Recent advances in artificial intelligence and mobile communications have also fuelled fears that whole classes of clerical and research jobs may also be replaced by machines. While such upheaval has been made up for in the past by new types of work created by advancing technology, some economists have warned that the current pace of change is too fast for employment levels to adapt. Read the rest of this entry »