In the age of smart phones, tablets and laptops, the Internet is more than just a source of information. In front of a packed Statler Auditorium Thursday evening, Eric Schmidt, executive chair of Google, called the Internet a platform for social change and encouraged students to use the web to solve the world’s most daunting challenges.
“You [as students], have an innate mastery of technology, an ability to find and foster connections that nobody would have believed before,” Schmidt said. “Technology can solve many of our world’s problems … It is a responsibility that you carry.”
In a brief introduction to Schmidt’s talk, President David Skorton lauded the burgeoning relationship between Google and Cornell. In May, Skorton announced that Google would offer CornellNYC Tech the use of 22,000 square feet of its headquarters for free while Cornell’s new Roosevelt Island campus is under construction.
“Here at Cornell, we have noted another characteristic of Google — its enormous generosity. As we develop our New York City tech campus … Google has provided us with office space in the heart of Manhattan,” Skorton said. “This is an enormous help as we undertake this new venture.”
Schmidt’s lecture, titled “Our Connected Age,” was the thirty-first annual Robert S. Hatfield Lecture — an address delivered by the Hatfield Fellow, which is the highest honor Cornell bestows on corporate leaders, according to the University. The event was so well-attended it necessitated an “overflow room” in an adjacent auditorium, which organizers set up to allow people to watch the lecture live on screen.
Schmidt opened his lecture with a question: “How many of you have used Google in the last 24 to 48 hours?” Nearly every member of the audience raised his or her hand.
“Maybe I should have asked the other side of the question,” he said.
Delving quickly into more serious topics, Schmidt spoke about the importance of spreading technology and Internet access to developing nations, which he said will enable them to progress socially, economically and politically.
“1.5 billion people live on less than a dollar a day and hundreds of millions of children go to bed hungry at night … The rights we all enjoy are a rarity, not a norm,” Schmidt said. “But in this century, there is a chance for change on this horizon. I would tell you to connect the world is to free the world.”
While some fear that society is becoming dominated by television and computer screens, Schmidt hailed the Internet as a powerful tool of connectivity for the younger generation.
“The fact that we are connected [technologically] is a blessing, not a curse … with it, we can fix all of the world’s most pressing problems. We have gotten ourselves into some weird sort of semi-depressed state about life with a dependence on technology,” Schmidt said. “Computers can do amazing things … They contain power that your parents would never believe.”
Schmidt also described the positive impact that technology has had on communication — language translation, for instance.
“People have searched for universal language translation for thousands of years. Wars have been started and fought, lost and won over the fact that people could not communicate,” he said. “In a few years, we solved that problem and no one gives us credit as computer scientists … Here you are at Cornell, you have got some loopy professor who has got some assignment to translate something, type it into Google [Translate], and you are done.”
Schmidt spoke about the distant future of technology as being more “user-friendly.” He said that one day, technology will seamlessly become a part of every aspect of daily life, from pills to monitor one’s health to self-driving cars.
He added that his vision for this future cannot happen without hard work and collaboration.
“The one thing that [technology] does not have is a heart,” Schmidt said. “You will provide the pulse [for the] technology of our future. It is ultimately up to you, the users of technology, to change our world.”