Lots of smart people are concerned about how quickly technology is changing virtually everything it touches in the world, but count Google's Eric Schmidt among the optimists.
Schmidt would agree that technological change has happened so fast over the past few decades that it's almost impossible to appreciate the long-term effects of that change, he told attendees at The Atlantic's First Draft of History Conference Friday in Washington, D.C. But he said he feels that while it's true that such change can be used against the world, it's important to remember that the combination of access to knowledge and cheap powerful computers can also spur people to new heights.
"If you live in a little group of terrorists, you can decide that the whole world agrees with you. (But) the same is also true of optimists and people who want to change the world," he said.
Schmidt touched on a variety of topics during his 30-minute interview, which was streamed live online, with James Fallows of The Atlantic:
Governments could improve their ability to make "gray-zone decisions" by opening up information and debate to a wider circle of voices, Schmidt said. It's so easy in the current world to create "disinformation" that the best way to tackle a complex subject is to have a wide circle of people discussing the possible effects of a decision as to minimize the impact of that disinformation.
The print-based news industry is doomed, Schmidt said, but the silver lining is that an emerging Internet-based news industry could have a bright future because of its ability to sell "products that are highly targetable, and products that are highly targetable are highly advertisable."
"I start everyday by assuming that people don't appreciate how fundamental the Internet is," Schmidt said, when asked about his and Google's efforts to support investment in broadband Internet connections, which is currently being debated in Washington. Fast Internet connections should be a national priority but complicating the matter is the fact that opening up fast connection to the home will negatively impact a lot of existing businesses, such as the cable industry.
Schmidt expressed his hope that the settlement in the Google Books case is approved, but the settlement he referred to will likely be different from the one that will emerge as the parties involved revise the terms of that deal ahead of a status conference next week with a federal judge in New York.
He also expressed support for Arthur Levinson, a Google board member who is also a board member at Apple. Schmidt stepped down from his role on Apple's board earlier this year amid concerns the companies had grown into competitors as well as scrutiny from the FTC. The FTC is still looking at whether Levinson's service on both boards in an issue, but when asked if Levinson would have to step down from Google's board, he said, "I would hope not."