Eric Schmidt's vision of a better world

Google boss Eric Schmidt believes that, despite the abundance of bad news in the press, humanity as a whole is entering an age of abundance, which will lead to an age of intelligence.

Eric Schmidt's vision of a better world

"I’ve come to this conclusion through decades of working in the knowledge industry and I’ve come to believe that science and critical thinking really do matter, even more so now," Schmidt (above) told an audience at Viva Technology Paris yesterday. 

The executive chairman of Google owner Alphabet said that his experience has taught him to believe in the possibility that an invention can change the world, to have faith that the abundance of information is a good thing and that an era of infinite communications will change society – in most cases, for the better.

He said: "Let's take one example. About 15% of emissions that cause climate change is related to cows. Imagine if you could have naturally grown beef, without the cow. That tech is available today. What about the housing shortage? We could 3D-print buildings and, suddenly, they will be plentiful and common. People struggling for housing can afford it." 

Schmidt disputed that humanity is entering a worse era. 

He added: "Incumbents resist change and this desire drives everyone. The president of Western Union once said the telephone had too many shortcomings to ever take off. The Ford Model T was dismissed as a fad and rail travel at high speeds was assumed to kill people of asphyxiation.

"My favourite one is by [former Microsoft chief executive] Steve Ballmer, who said in 2007 that there's no chance the iPhone is going to get any significant market share," Schmidt grinned. "I know we're worried, but we're not going into a darker era."

So what does the near future look like to Schmidt?

Pointing to the advances made by Google, he deems translation to be a "solved problem". "Pretty soon, an English-speaker and a French-speaker will be able to talk and have their speech dynamically translated," Schmidt said. 

Deaths and accidents on the roads will also decrease as self-driving cars become more prevalent, he continued. Eye and skin diseases, too, will be diagnosed, more accurately, by computers. 

As for the fear that artificial intelligence will result in jobs getting replaced by computers, Schmidt cited a study presented by McKinsey that morning. While most jobs can be automated, fewer than 10% of them can be automated by as much as 90%. 

"It will be you with a computer, not a computer instead of you," Schmidt said. "And I believe that, as populations age and the number of those able to work grows smaller, they will need automation to be productive enough. I believe that we're heading for an era where there is a shortage of workers, not jobs."