Schmidt ’76 discusses machine intelligence, technological advancement, education| Apr 30, 2015
Technology will transform societies in big and small ways, but harnessing the distinctive intelligences of men and computers is key to materializing a better future, explained Eric Schmidt ’76, executive chairman of Google, at a lecture on Thursday.
We are in the era of apps, Schmidt said, citing whimsical mobile gadgets like Am I Going Down, Swearport, and SitorSquat that calculates odds of a flight crashing, translates curse words into foreign languages and locates proximal bathrooms in all corners of the world, respectively.
With apps capable of predicting tomorrow’s hair conditions and automating text messages, it is foreseeable that in the near future, an intelligent alarm clock will be able to tell the user that he or she can snooze for eighteen more minutes because his or her boss is running late.
He said that credit for the blossoming of modern technology must be due in partto Vannevar Bush, a lifelong engineer who advocated for increased science research funding in the postwar era, ultimately leading to the creation of the National Science Foundation.
With this stimulus, the government and private sectors collaborated together and witnessed unprecedented progress for the military and the public, Schmidt explained, fostering industries that are still growing very quickly.
But perhaps they are changing too quickly, he said, noting that while many people have just begun making websites, the current generation has already moved on to mobile apps.
The impacts of technological advancement are far-flung across disciplines, he said.
Improvements to photovoltaic cells, carbon dioxide processing and even the realization of automated driving are within our reach, Schmidt said. He added, however, that he is aware of the job losses triggered by technological progress, recalling that elevator operators a century ago were replaced by a few buttons in the elevators.
It seems that the current platform revolves around machine intelligence, Schmidt said.
“Computers will do their best and we will. We are creative, we have emotions. Computers have far, far better memories than we do and can repeatedly perform the same difficult task,” said Schmidt. “This is called a division of labor: this split will occur naturally and globally.”
Schmidt suggested that in the future, the University may have to offer a course on power dynamics between computer and humans.
The implications of government policies are enormous in an age of technology, especially the government’s enthusiasm for scientific funding, Schmidt said. Because the government has monopoly power to this extent, he said a society is needed that encourages new innovations.
The degree to which the government encourages or discourages open communication may also create significant disparities among various populations, he said.
Ultimately, Schmidt pointed to the importance of teaching entrepreneurship and increasing areas of experimentation.
“American universities are at the center of [the future],” Schmidt addressed the audience. “You as a collect group can [allow us to] move forward with incredible implications. I want you to make this happen and this is extraordinarily exciting.”
Schmidt delivered the lecture, titled “Computers and Humans Will Each Do Their Best” at 5 p.m. in McCosh 50.