Google CEO Eric Schmidt has a great way of making public statements that are at once frank, unorthodox, thought provoking – and a little frightening. This weekend The Wall St. Journal ran an interview with Schmidt that offered tidbits like that on a wide range of topics. One statement in particular, that Schmidt thinks teenagers should be entitled to change their names upon reaching adulthood in order to separate themselves from the Google record of their youthful indiscretions, is something worth stopping to take note of.
Earlier this month we ran our own original coverage of Schmidt statements at a conference where he said that “people aren’t ready for the technology revolution that’s going to happen to them” and that absolute privacy would prove too-unsafe in the future. His latest comments seem both more and less reasonable.
On What Comes After the Search Era
First, Schmidt believes that the dominance of search will give way to recommendation technology. That’s something we’ve argued for years as well: that recommendation has the potential to outgrow search because it’s like the search you didn’t even know you wanted to perform, offered to you automatically. That requires a lot of targeting and artificial intelligence, both Google sweet spots.
“He predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends’ social media sites.”
“We’re still happy to be in search, believe me,” Schmidt told the Journal. “But one idea is that more and more searches are done on your behalf without you needing to type….I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions. They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.”
Google and Your Permanent Record
“I don’t believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time,” Schmidt said again in this interview.
Holman Jenkins, Jr., a member of The Wall St. Journal editorial board and the author of a strong opinion piece last week in support of Google’s alleged backing away from Net Neutrality, summarizes the key Schmidt statement in this week’s write-up:
He predicts, apparently seriously, that every young person one day will be entitled automatically to change his or her name on reaching adulthood in order to disown youthful hijinks stored on their friends’ social media sites.
That’s Schmidt’s proposed solution to the increasingly online lives we live and the dwindling of our privacy, embodied more by his company than any other in history? That seems… crazy. Maybe he was simply observing that such policies were likely to take shape in the future. But if they do, the company he runs will be the primary cause of it.
Perhaps parents should start giving their children short-term names then, which they’ll be less attached to. Save your favorite name for adulthood, kids, because you’ll need to change it. Google says so.
Perhaps it’s a good idea, even. But it’s probably far more a fantasy scenario to chew on than anything tied to reality. It demonstrates an unusual understanding of privacy, freedom, indiscretion and consequences: as tied to the line between youth and adulthood more than the basic human experience. You could call it a cop-out by the CEO of history’s greatest privacy-killing machine.
I have long contended that people who are concerned about convincing young people to consider the long-term consequences of their actions and expect Internet companies to solve that timeless problem – are being unfair. But I still can’t help but shake my head at a suggestion like Schmidt’s.
What do you think of Schmidt’s vision of the future? What does it mean to you to hear the CEO of Google make such a suggestion about adulthood, responsibility and the internet?