October 17, 2006 5:55 PM PDT

Google CEO: Techies must educate governments

WASHINGTON--Those in the know about technology must spend more time reaching out to governments and helping them understand the Internet's role in society, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said Tuesday.

"The average person in government is not of the age of people who are using all this stuff," Schmidt said at a public symposium here hosted by the National Academies' Computer Science and Telecommunications Board. "There is a generational gap, and it's very, very real."

Of particular importance on the policy front are Net neutrality--the idea that network operators should not generally be allowed to prioritize content that travels over their pipes, or the "revenge of the Bell companies," as Schmidt put it--and digital copyright law. Online-service providers like Google that routinely grapple with complaints about copyrighted content on their properties are adequately protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), but any future changes in that area "could significantly change the way the Web works," he said.

Schmidt said he also doesn't expect arguments over the proper balance between individual privacy rights and government intrusion to die down anytime soon. "There's not a single and simple answer," he said.

The Google chief's half-hour talk capped a daylong series of lectures focusing on how aspects of computer science and telecommunications will look in 2016. Standing beside the podium, his right elbow propped casually on its edge, Schmidt wore a dark jacket and slacks and no tie, and he appeared to be speaking largely without a script.

His speech meandered from his memories of the mainframe age to the growing importance of targeted advertising as a business model to his personal belief, which he mentioned more than once, that the so-called convergence of media will not ultimately result in consumers using "one box that has everything."

"It's clear the number of devices and things we're going to use are going to be very different," he said. He would, however, like to see a world in which he can access the same content on each device, via a single log-in name and password, and have everything be "completely seamless."

One topic that scarcely came up, however, was Google's announcement last week of a $1.65 billion deal for online video-sharing dominator YouTube. Asked by CNET News.com after his speech whether the planned acquisition presented any copyright concerns, Schmidt said he had nothing more to say about the transaction--which he noted has not yet closed--saying only that the company operates under the DMCA and "went into this with our eyes open."

Earlier in the afternoon, Microsoft Senior Vice President for Research Rick Rashid spoke of a future fueled by the rise of "human-scale storage." Translation: Since nearly anyone should be able to afford terabytes of disk space by 2016--even today, one can purchase that capacity for less than $500--new possibilities arise for documenting the world around you.

Viewed another way, it's enough to make a privacy hawk's skin crawl--and Rashid acknowledged that those tensions will always exist. "But the reality is, we will be able to do it," he said.

And there are good reasons why people may want to activate what amounts to a "black box" for humans, he said. He pointed to a study by British researchers showing that the use of such devices (in particular, Microsoft Research's SenseCam) by people with memory loss problems has helped them retain information about past events.

"They can keep their life," he said. And more broadly, people "can go back and say, I really want to get that conversation with my father who passed away, I want to get that time back when my 25-year-old first crawled."

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Who owns the Black Box?
The end of the article opens up a similar debate to the copyright one, and one where politically aware technology people must weigh in very strongly.

The most controvercial part of recent copyright revision is DRM, or the presumption that someone other than the owner of hardware should be in control of that hardware.

As these devices become more personal to us as individuals it should be more and more obvious that it must be their owners who are legally protected, and that third parties should be legally prohibited from control or access without informed consent from their owners.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.flora.ca/documents/digital-ownership.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.flora.ca/documents/digital-ownership.html</a>
Posted by Russell McOrmond (63 comments )
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Teachers and students
So Schmidt wants the techies to "educate" governments, as your headline puts it? This is all very well and good to say from the splendid isolation of the Googleplex or the podium. Did it ever occur to Schmidt that it is as important for "those in the know about technology" to BECOME BETTER EDUCATED about the nature and working of governments as it is to inform others about the Internet's role in society? Did it ever occur to him that the best teachers are the best listeners, rather than the best performers in front of a mass audience? Socrates knew this sort of thing and was very good at it, but my recent experience has shown that techies do not have much time for Socrates. If Schmidt does not watch out, he will find that the adversarial relationship in which he is already engaged will only get more adversarial!
Posted by ghostofitpast (199 comments )
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