Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Eric Schmidt on disruptive technologies

McKinsey (free when you register) has posted an interesting interview with Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, on disruptive technologies - those "likely to have the greatest impact on economies, business models, and people." (You can also read a transcript if you prefer.)

Schmidt points out that the main issue is the explosion in knowledge technology:
We’re going, in a single lifetime, from a small elite having access to information to essentially everyone in the world having access to all of the world’s information. That has huge implications for privacy, communications, security, the way people behave, the way information is spread, censorship, how governments behave, and so forth.
The McKinsey editors focus on four areas of Schmidt's discussion:

1. Biology is going digital - in the past few years, much of what was analog in biology, like how proteins are folded or how DNA works, can now be modeled. Proteins are one example - proteins have complex structures that are hard to predict. (If you haven't seen it, the website foldit challenges users to find the best way to fold different structures and predict the most like structure of a particular protein.) Digital tools in biology should improve health care, though medical care is likely to continue its rapid change.

2. New materials, new ways of manufacture - Schmidt points out that new materials can now be manufactured at a large scale, and new means of production, like 3-D printers, are rapidly becoming available. He's not making specific predictions, but the general statement he makes is compelling:
So that revolution, plus the arrival of three-dimensional printing, where you can essentially build your own thing, means that—during the rest of our lifetimes, anyway—it’ll be possible to build very interesting things from very interesting, new materials, which have all sorts of new properties.
This might be both good and bad - there have been reports recently of guns made using 3-D printers - but it is worth thinking about.

3. Using computers to support decision-making. We can think about using computers in all sorts of ways beyond gaming and communicating. Schmidt talks about different interfaces (Siri, anyone?) but captures the essence when he says this:
And the ultimate model is that the computer does what it does well, which is these complicated, analytical needle-in-a-haystack problems, and has perfect memory. And humans do what we do well, which is judgment, and having fun, and thinking about things. The relationship is symbiotic. The computer is making suggestions that are pretty good, they’re pretty helpful, but you’re ultimately in charge.
4. Education is important - machines are taking over what low-wage workers once did - Schmidt's example is supermarket checkouts. That leaves plenty of formerly low-wage workers without jobs. They need better education, Schmidt argues. He follows that with a pitch for more immigration of high-skilled workers. "'[Y]ou want an unfair share of highly educated people."

It's an interesting interview and a great starting point for thinking about the issues Schmidt raises. What do you think of his points? My examples?

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