Tom Simonite

A View from Tom Simonite

Google's Boss Envisions a Utopian Future

The firm’s CEO discusses phones that translate speech and “autonomous” search engines.

  • September 28, 2010

Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt played make believe and sketched out his vision of the future on stage at TechCrunch’s Disrupt event in San Francisco today.

“It’s a future where you don’t forget anything…In this new future you’re never lost…We will know your position down to the foot and down to the inch over time…Your car will drive itself, it’s a bug that cars were invented before computers…you’re never lonely…you’re never bored…you’re never out of ideas.”

Schmidt filled in his vision with concrete examples of Google’s immediate future and strategy. “What we’re really doing is building an augmented version of humanity,” he mused before going on to talk about how smart phones, “the defining iconic device of their time,” can become real-time translators for speech.

Credit: Dave Getzschman/TechCrunch

“We can now demonstrate and are getting ready to ship products that let you speak in English and have it come out of a phone at the other end in German,” said Schmidt.

Cloud servers convert the speech to text–a core feature of phones with Google’s Android operating system–after which the tech behind Google translation service generates corresponding German text that can be spoken aloud by the recipient’s phone. Schmidt echoed the feelings of many when he said “for me this is the stuff of science fiction.”

Search remains a focus for Google, though, he said and it is set to get even smarter. “Where do we go next with search? You’ve got personal context. With your permission, and I need to say that about 500 times, we can make all these answers so much better.”

That context could include your search history as well as that of your friends, as well as your other information stored with Google, as long as you allow it. Given enough information search engines could become “autonomous,” said Schmidt, helping you at all times without your even typing a query.

“I’m interested in history, as I’m walking down the street in San Francisco I want my mobile device to tell me about the history here, think of it as a serendipity engine,” said Schmidt. He went on to say that Google is working to figure out what people really want when they search. For example a query for the weather may be fundamentally motivated by your wanting to know whether to wear a jacket or to water the garden. A smart search engine should be able to answer such questions when you search for the weather in your city.

But despite hints of greater social features, and the value of the data they could provide, Schmidt dodged a question about Google Me, calling it a “rumored product I won’t comment on.”

He was more forthcoming when asked about what it means when Google promises to be open. “The easiest comparison to do today is the Apple model,” he explained, “you have to use their development tools, their hardware, their software, when you submit an application they have to approve it. That would not be open. So the inverse would be open.”

Schmidt finished with a claim that the technology augmenting humanity would be more inclusive than that which came before. “This is a future for the average person, not just the elite. Because of technology, because of internet access, this is a market for one billion now, two billion soon, and in our lifetime five-to-six billion altogether.”

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