Google's Schmidt: Arrogance in tech can be channeled

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Eric Schmidt.
Eric Schmidt.

'That self-confidence is necessary' to take risks that change the world

NEW YORK — While arrogance has "never been in short supply" in the tech industry, its leaders are not at risk of the same kind of hubris as those banking sector, because "over time, the scale of what we are doing is life-changing," according to Google executive chairman and former chief executive Eric Schmidt.

Speaking at the FTInnovate conference here Tuesday, Schmidt was asked by Gillian Tett, U.S. managing editor of The Financial Times, whether leaders in the tech sector might believe their own hype to the point they become cut off from the rest of society, like bankers did pre-crisis.

"Arrogance has never been in short supply in my industry," said Schmidt, who added he has been in the industry long enough to see it operate in cycles.

"That self-confidence is necessary to take the kind of risks that they do, which normal people won’t do. Entrepreneurs at this level are very different people – they disagree, and the fact that they see something different allows them to do what they are doing," he said.

"The difference between us and bankers over time is the scale and impact of what we are doing is life-changing."

As an ardent proponent of innovation, Schmidt said that it has the opportunity to solve most of the world’s problems. "Problems are solved in most places by growing economies, and the best way to grow your economy is by creating more innovators."

"If the solution is to invent the future and the jobs to go with it as a matter of public policy, a lot of the world’s problems would be fixed," he said.

The biggest innovation today that will "literally touch us all" is the union between synthetic biology, genetics and machine power, which has the power to transform healthcare, according to Schmidt.

"We are now able to take the analog world – the squishy part of the world, which I wasn’t very good at – and marry it to extraordinary machine intelligence."

Schmidt said that Chromecast, Google’s over-the-top TV plugin, is the most exciting innovation to come out of Google at the moment, because it is a metaphor for how Google is "getting very good at platform strategies, which are much broader than they appear."

The architecture of Google (composed largely of engineers and scientists) and the gross margins it makes enable it to innovate in multiple areas, make long-term investments and have the flexibility for errors, Schmidt said.

Discussing the Internet giant’s wrangles in Europe over tax issues, Schmidt said this was a perception problem all multinationals in Europe face. "Taxes are not optional. We follow the law – if you change the law, we will absolutely pay the taxes."

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