Google Chairman Eric Schmidt speaks at the U

Schmidt spoke about the future of Google, cloud computing, and scrapped products.

Megan Nicolai

About 150 members of MinnesotaâÄôs tech community filled the Cowles Auditorium at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs Wednesday to see Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google.

The University of Minnesota was one of the first institutions to start using Google Apps in everyday instruction. The UniversityâÄôs 90,000 user base is second only to Arizona State University, said Robert Jones, senior vice president for system academic administration at the University.

Schmidt was the CEO of Google for over 10 years, until April 2011 when co-founder Larry Page took over the position. Schmidt is valued at more than $6.2 billion, making him the 136th richest man in the world, according to ForbesâÄô list of billionaires for 2011.

Wednesday morning, Schmidt spoke and answered questions about the future of Google and technology at large.

Steve Kelly, Director of Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs: GoogleâÄôs been reliant on ad revenues from [itâÄôs] search page. In this day and age, [itâÄôs] probably safe to say you canâÄôt always count on that. What is Google thinking about as a revenue model?

 âÄúWe would argue that advertising, when itâÄôs targeted, is a value to the user. The long term goal would be to show you exactly one ad, which is exactly the right one that you would always click on, and you would always buy the product. But the targeting is done based on what youâÄôre looking at.âÄù

 

Kelly: Do you see potential for revenue from extension or figuring out ways for non-search to generate revenue?

âÄúWeâÄôre very interested in the general, sort of cloud computing area, and itâÄôs particular impact on businesses âĦ When you use Google Docs âĦ itâÄôs stored in our data centers, itâÄôs backed up heavily, itâÄôs safer with us âÄìâÄì if I can be blunt âÄìâÄì than it is with you, given your propensity to back up your hard drive âĦ It seems obvious what cloud computing is, but itâÄôs really something different. ItâÄôs really about collaboration in general, and out of that, there could be some very considerable revenue opportunities. âÄù

 

Kelly: Dr. Jones mentioned Google as an innovation organization. What are the internal and external challenges that you see Google facing to maintain a pace of innovation and a spirit of innovation in the company?

âÄúItâÄôs a standard problem in a larger organization. This University maintains innovation âÄî frankly itâÄôs because of the students and grad students. Young people go through the various programs within the University, and then the openness of the University brings ideas in like that. WeâÄôve tried our variant of that, called 20 percent time, and the idea is that employees can spend 20 percent of their time on something that theyâÄôre interested in. It serves as a check and balance on the power trips that managers get in corporations. The employee can sit there and say, âÄòGreat. IâÄôm going to work really hard on your problem 80 percent of my time.âÄôâÄù

 

Kelly: Given this pace of innovation and new products being generated, are there occasions when you donâÄôt release because you see ethical or other social issues related to the product?

âÄúAll the time. IâÄôll give you an example. So, IâÄôm sitting in a room where all decisions are made, and this 23-, 24-year-old walks in to demonstrate his new product. And heâÄôs built a product that will run on your mobile phone that will track where your friends are, and will predict when youâÄôre going to meet them and where youâÄôre going to meet them using live, real-time tracking. If you think about it, it could be subpoenaed, it would break a bunch of privacy laws âĦ We have a whole team that goes through these products and sees if weâÄôre ready. Another example is that we did a very, very high-quality face-recognition system.

It worked like this âÄìâÄì you took a picture of the room, and it told you, whoâÄôs everybody in the room. Well, it turns out that if we get a straight-on shot of your face, we have a 50 percent shot of identifying you accurately within the first page of a set of results if you have roughly 13 pictures on the internet âĦ We decided not to release that product, we decided to wait.âÄù

 

Kelly: As the government moves more and more to web-based systems to make things more convenient, in the United States and in some other countries, itâÄôs very hard for low-income people and people of color to get access to those forms.

âÄúIf you look at the math of mobile phone adoption, we have about 4 billion mobile phones in the world, thereâÄôs roughly 7 billion people in the world, and weâÄôll probably get to 6 billion mobile phones âĦ IâÄôm very, very proud of this. I mean, these are voices who weâÄôve not heard, in languages very few people understand, we donâÄôt really know what they care about. Do they fundamentally care about Lady Gaga as much as we do? You know, we donâÄôt know. Maybe they do, by the way. My point is âÄî the arrival of another couple billion people into the human conversation is really something.âÄù