How does one prepare for a meeting with some of the most powerful men in the world? Men who, theoretically, can see what you are searching on the Internet, emailing your friends, and saving in your Google Drive? Who may even “know you better than your intimate partner does” in the near future?
Before meeting with Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and its Director of Ideas Jared Cohen for an hour on his television program Monday, Glenn Beck decided to at least take the precaution of writing all of his notes and questions by hand.
Referencing the book recently published by Schmidt and Cohen, The New Digital Age: Transforming Nations, Businesses, and Our Lives, Beck primarily focused on the future of the tech giant.
The multimedia personality asked if it would be possible — under different, more sinister leadership — if the company could be turned against the American people, or even become more powerful than sovereign governments. After all, Beck said, who is willing to stand against someone who knows all of their secrets?
But both Schmidt and Cohen asserted that such a scenario could never happen, saying the company is committed to making the world “a better place for each and every citizen.”
“Even if you somehow replace the senior leadership, the people were brought in to do one thing,” Schmidt said. “They’re not going to switch without a huge riot inside the company. It’s not going to happen.”
But Beck continued to press the innovators on issues like artificial intelligence, asking how, for instance, they would define life.
Schmidt said with a smile that it is generally understood that “ultimately consciousness is the unique thing that humans have.”
“So if you can make a robot conscious, it’s life?” Beck asked.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Schmidt responded. “We’ll have to decide. But consciousness is more than an analytical process; it’s more than a verbal process. It’s something that is not understood. It’s never been understood by philosophers and scientists today cannot explain [it].”
But Schmidt objected that it would be “many, many years” before they could simulate what Beck described.
“2030, according to the guy who works for you,” Beck countered, referring to Google’s Director of Engineering Ray Kurzweil.
Schmidt said he would be more “pessimistic,” and that Beck was asking the “deepest possible questions.” Before such a product would be unveiled, he added, there would be countless conversations, meetings, tests and product reviews to ensure the product would be beneficial.
“Here’s what I’m trying to ask you,” Beck said. “The world that you guys are projecting … is a wildly different and possibly dangerous world, unless we all have these conversations [now] and say, ‘what is life?'”
Before broaching the subject of the NSA’s domestic surveillance program, Beck directly asked Schmidt and Cohen, “do you guys even believe in the Constitution?”
“Of course!” they responded.
“Is there any time that you think, 4th Amendment, and we won’t turn these things over and we … will not get into bed with governments?” Beck asked. “‘Our information is our information, period?'”
“We are strongly in favor of the 4th Amendment,” Schmidt said. “From Google’s perspective, when the NSA got information from GCHQ without our knowledge about traffic between our data centers, we were really quite upset. We have since changed our systems to make it essentially impossible for that to occur, and we think that’s the right thing.”
At one point during the interview, Beck sighed and said: “I really thought we would have a more, I don’t know, a more philosophical conversation.”
Schmidt said his issue was that Beck was asking about a future that took a lot of “guesswork” to get to, though both agreed the world will be dramatically different even ten years down the road.
“As a philosophical matter, computers should be in the service of humans,” Schmidt remarked. “The information and services that we’re building should service us, and not the other way around. And I think ultimately that’s how society will make these decisions, and it won’t just be Google or any other tech company.”
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