Google Chairman Eric Schmidt brought his vision of an
evolving collective Internet consciousness -- and conscience -- to the National
Press Foundation awards dinner in Washington Wednesday night. He advised
broadcast journalists to "hang out" with their audience on Google
Plus, and took aim at Web site filtering and blocking, points Google has pushed
for months in Washington on the issue of online piracy.
Speaking briefly about his vision of an Internet-connected
future, Schmidt evoked Star Trek
(original and "Next Generation"), talking about a future of
holographic technology that would allow people to visit places remotely
"as if they were there" and of the World Wide Web as "more than
a network of machines," but instead a "network of minds" that is
evolving into a collective, global conscience, a "Borg" for good, as it were.
He pointed to the way people came together after the Japan earthquake.
"With information comes power, and with power comes
choice," he said. "Smarter, resourceful citizens will demand more
ethical, responsible behavior for all of us."
But Schmidt said there are going to be some obstacles to the
collective good he envisions. The Internet is not a utopia, he said. "It
reflects humanity, the good as well as the bad." That is the point he has
made on Capitol Hill in defending the fact that pirated content sites show up
on Google searches for movies and TVs. That, he has argued, is showing the
world as it is.
He made that point to the media companies in attendance
Wednesday night in detailing some of those troubles in the digital paradise
that could be. "I worry about governments filtering information they fear
or they inhibit."
He said it was easy to see their logic, but asked where the
line gets drawn. He cited Egypt's attempts to close down the net, and
subsequent in other countries to build walled Internets, a balkanized Web that
shows different people different information and nobody knows what they don't
He said it is better to find the criminal than block his Web
page, the argument Google was making in battling the Website-blocking
provisions in antipiracy legislation Google helped block in the last Congress.
Schmidt warned that if filtering technology will only get
better: "I think there is a very real possibility that we could end up
living in a society that silently deletes our voices, our thoughts and our
He said cybersecurity is another one of those troubles in paradise.com.
"The Internet was built without criminals in mind," he said, so vulnerabilities
in the net's design will exist for another decade.
The third problem has to do with privacy. "The fact
that there is no delete button on the Internet forces some very difficult
decisions we never really imagined." He said the principal tension in the
privacy debate is between the public's right to know and the "very
important" right of individual privacy.
Schmidt ended on a positive note, saying the truth would
ultimately win out. "The future can be delayed," he said, "but
it cannot be denied." He ended with a pitch for broadband deployment,
asking the journalists in the room to commit to helping get to a connected
future faster, and fight for information as an inalienable, global birthright.
Asked after the speech how surfers could be attracted to
journalism on the Web rather than the online gaming and socializing that seems
to dominate, he said education, learning how to read and think, is the best way
to counter the "interrupt-driven" world that he conceded he has
helped create and that is "taking us away from deep reading and deep
He also put in a plug for Google Plus, Google's new policy
of treating account users as a single entity across its various platforms, a
move that has raised data sharing concerns on Capitol Hill. Asked how
journalists could make best use of Google Plus, he pointed to "hangouts,"
which are ad hoc video networks. "If I were a broadcaster here, I would
try to figure out a way to do hangouts with my fans."