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Eric Schmidt at LSE: our takeaways

Last week we had the immense pleasure of attending Eric Schmidt’s talk at the London School of Economics and here is what we have learned.

We always feel proud LSE alumni but especially so when sitting meters away from the man who was the Executive Chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company for just about 10 years. With the audience, being a real mix of LEO engineers, MSc students and City Professionals, Eric Schmidt spoke about how technology is impacting the labour market, law making policies, society, academia and even the occasional ‘But isn’t Apple better?’

1. Technology taking over our jobs

Low skilled, manual jobs being replaced by its fully capable tech equivalent is far from a recent discussion topic. Taxi dispatchers and travel agents have been replaced with a click of a button and there are certainly many more to follow.  With a few provocative questions from the audience touching upon the gray area between law, court decisions and the possibility of AI processing ‘light sentences’ in the near future, Eric Schmidt made a couple of strong points. First, he suggested that

“The last thing that society should be worrying about is lawyers’ employment.”

Since laws are becoming  more sophisticated, he was confident that no tech solution would be able to catch up with the progress in the area. Secondly, he stressed that most people overestimate the level of AI development today and even with Google’s heavy investment in the area, he wouldn’t be a supporter of law implementation moving away from human decision making.

So criminal law students, your heavy book studies should still be worth the effort.

2. Data anticipating your choices

Starting off with a recent airport story, Eric shared experiencing a lengthy cross examination by the security team, which could have been avoided if they simply had more digital information about him. This way he wouldn’t have been profiled in the group of ‘dangerous travellers’ and security could have focused on some more prominent candidates. Following a few laughs from the audience, Eric pointed that more information online, means more transparency, which arguably should make society safer.

Many would say that if there is a single company that knows us better than our closest friends, that would be Google. Just think browsing history and searches across Google Chrome, YouTube, Gmail – the list is broad and honestly, scary. And with our phones&tablets suggesting what news to read,  which shops to browse and which apps to download, based on our interests, the predictability of our online and offline behaviour done by an algorithm poses more than one moral, behavioural or even economic problem.

Just to be on the safe side: Settings>Location monitoring off.

3. British tech scene: Why isn’t it as good as its US equivalent 

With many British academics in the audience, a prominent question was why if the UK is often seen as the pioneer in the Computer Science space, the US companies are the ones who manage to capitalise on each and every tech opportunity. In addition, with reputable institutions as the LSE and Oxbridge having a central role in the tech space, how come there is such substantial funding’s discrepancy between budgets $4.2b (Harvard) vs £1.4b (Oxford).

The answer to both questions was simple – money. With less regulated financial markets in the US, Eric suggested that the flow of venture capital towards tech companies there was incomparable even with London Silicon scene, implying that the UK government should have a say to change that. Respectively, university annual funds collected through donations in the Ivy League outdo significantly its UK equivalents and nothing much beyond culture change can affect that situation.

4. Google versus Apple

You know that you’re at a Google event when mocking Apple is a central topic. Putting the rivalry on the side, there was a great question on Google vs Apple not in the usual ‘But isn’t the iPhone the greatest phone ever?’ way but more on business strategy and structure. As Apple’s growth went through a strong hardware evolution,building an infrastructure in which software and hardware are deeply incorporated, the audience was curious if Google is too much on the ‘soft side’.

Eric Schmidt didn’t think so. With global companies relying heavily on outsourced components (suggesting Apple was using screens directly shipped from Samsung), Eric argued that tech infrastructures nowadays are too complex to be completely self-sufficient.

Google’s approach instead is to build and connect solutions which interlink and support each other effortlessly. Looking back at the Big Data and Augmented reality points, it is no surprise that that Google’s expansion is beyond our mailboxes, eyewear and usual choice of vehicles.

5. What’s the next ‘Big thing’?

With most prospective and current entrepreneurs constantly on the search for the next ‘big thing’, niche markets with huge growth potential are often scarce. While the shared economy, augmented reality and big data are growing investors’ and entrepreneurs’ confidence, Eric Schmidt had a very simple recommendation – look out for the App market.

Who are we to judge!

Stay tuned for more articles in the category 'City People' as we wouldn't stop attending the hottest London talks and share our insights. Want to invite us to an event for our review? You know how to find us.

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