Tag Archives: Big Tent

Dr. Eric Schmidt and Rachel Maddow at the Big Tent (liveblog)

I’m at the Big Tent with Eric Schmidt and Rachel Maddow.  Here’s a liveblog.

Rachel just asked if this is the first internet election.  Schmidt says that it is a developing process, but it’s worth studying.  References the Allen “macaca” incident, which largely occurred on the internet.  The second step is what we see now–the self-reinforcing nature of traditional media meant that a couple of years ago it wouldn’t have been possible to defeat Hillary, but the internet allowed him to come in sideways and do something.

(Continued below).

Rachel asks: I understand how the internet is a bulletin board and a conduit.  What else can it be in politics, and how does Google do it?

Eric: We spend our time figuring out how to live your lives on the internet.  It changes power structures and institutions.  We’re doing a lot of things.  There’s a community–this group–that didn’t have a seat at the table, and this has worked out great.  We’re doing a lot of things–there’s 12 different layers of security and badges, but everyone has access to technology.  We have 3D models, badges, a way to YouTube yourself–everybody wants to be on television, and they can show it to their mom!  And that’s what life is all about.  But even more seriously, we want people who want to vote to be able to figure out where they’re registered.  And all that information is in databases that are on a mainframe, and getting that data collection and putting them on Google Maps and Google Earth is very important.

(We’re then treated to a live demonstration of that endeavor).

Rachel: The idea of making it more difficult to vote has been part of Republicanism, and making it easier is part of the Democratic idea these days.  This might be taken as partisan.

Eric: Voting participation is declining.  People, especially young people, think it doesn’t matter, so it’s better for the country if we can encourage participation.  The right to vote is not negotatiable.

Rachel:  On taking sides: you probably get asked a lot.  In Google land, we live our lives on line.  Google documents, maps, chat, finance, all of which I have used, and therefore, a lot more about me being known.  And on the other side, we have a very aggressive effort by our Government to spy on us.  The fear of these things happening at once is that even if Google isn’t trying to be evil, it may make it easier for the government to be evil than it would if Google didn’t exist.  What’s your responsibility to your customers to be an active force in resisting government efforts?

Eric: The government has guns and we don’t.  So you have to be careful about resistance.  We are required to follow US law, even if we don’t like it, and there can be no other answer.  But the good news about  America is that we have judges and a court system, and if you get an overbroad subpoena for searches that aren’t relevant, you can get it restricted.  Such good things in America aren’t the case in other  countries.  We operate on the first principle of our users’ privacy.  But we worry that our information becomes a treasure trove.  And the scenario you describe, where we know everything you’re doing and the government decides to track you, is worrisome, and it has happened before.  One of the reasons to be optimistic is that in the 40s and 50s, you couldn’t talk about it, but now you can.  So how you know you can trust Google is that if we did something untrustworthy, you would know about it in five seconds and move on to a competitor.

Rachel: Maybe Google has the biggest database  in the world, and maybe I’m uncomfortable about that, but we love the free software, and there’s a tradeoff.  People may compete with you on the grounds of privacy.  How long do you hold information?

Eric: 18 months.

Rachel: Would someone compete with you on that?

Eric: I would welcome that.  Google is not in a position to make a decision about privacy.  That’s a societal decision.  A cultural decision as much as a legal one.  In the UK they have more CC cameras than in the entire rest of the world.  They also have a huge libel office.  There’s a cultural factor there and they made decisions different from the US.  And we have to follow their law.  Google is focused on what end users care about, which is why we have aggressive privacy laws.  We’re talking about making things more restrictive.  We anonymize cookies and we forget logs.

Rachel: One more needling question.  Given Google’s values and reflecting the desires of your customers, what’s going to happen with Google in China?  Will Google always have censored search results to allow you in?

Eric: It’s worth viewing this in context.  There’s a great firewall in China.  China has organized the internet with a set of servers and a foreign firm  has to go through these firewalls.  It is illegal for me to describe the details even if I knew them.  The secrecy laws are draconian and would make anyone upset.  We faced a choice.  1.3 billion people on the other side of it–220 million internet users.  And the question is, would they be better off with Google under that law or better off without it?  And we thought the former.  But the number of censored results–as long as you don’t say the word Falun Gong, you’re fine.  But seriously, when you do a query like that, we publish a link that says “the information was removed” in Chinese.  So what do you think they do when they see that?  I think the very smart Chinese people that I know would use mechanisms that allow them to get to that information.  And now, the local competitors in information do the same thing.  So I’m proud of that.

Rachel: Talking about living your life online, you can also run countries online.  There are national and state governments trying to move their nations into an online framework.  Are you afraid of cyberwar?

Eric: It’s already happening.  There were denial of service attacks against Georgian websites.  There’s a question of who was responsible, but it’s a very real threat.  We worry about this as a community as a whole.  Almost everything is so redundant it would be difficult for larger companies and sites to be affected.  There’s a historic vulnerability for domain root servers.  A few months ago, there was a defect found in one of the main servers.  But the odds of cyberwar really mattering in a major conflict is pretty low.  the tools are pretty good now.

Rachel: I’m reminded of Eisenhower saying that the interstate system was for national security.  This online highway is also part of our security and infrastructure.

Eric: ARCAnet–Advanced Crisis Research Agency–was founded as a national security enterprise, and put various war metaphors around their computer science proposals.  That’s  part of how I got funded.  there’s a large set of examples of that kind of money being used.  In fact, when the original designs were done, they were designed to handle link failure.

Rachel: Is google a defense contractor?

Eric: In the legal sense, no, but we do sell search devices to the government, and governments around the world.

Rachel: In what sense is Google American?

Eric: Interesting question.  If you were outside the US, we would get questions of American hegemony.  The social values–the values we have about free speech and other things we take seriously, aren’t the same values everyone else has.  google is American, but our values would be seen as so biased in favor of American values that it’s almost embarrassing.  There are about 1.5 billion users.  China has more users than the US, and most  people believe that eventually India will be the lead in internet users.  The US is a small component of internet activity.  And our goal is to continue that.

Rachel: I wanted to ask what your first thought was when you heard “series of tubes” Stevens?

Eric: There’s always a person who’s first, and a person who’s last.  We found who’s last.

Q&A: first question from the editor of Mother Jones.  My concern is what Google is doing to Journalism.  Putting information up there without generating a revenue stream for us.  What happens to us under this model?  It’s expensive to produce.  It’s bringing the work we do to a wider audience, but how do we make sure the economic rug isn’t pulled out?

Eric: It’s self-evident.  We have a major national crisis around investigative journalism.  You just worry as a citizen that it’s going away under the economic pressures.  Newsprint is more expensive, and the lack of ad revenue in newspapers is a problem.  We now have a movement from traditional classifieds to online, which Google also does.  We’re working hard to try things and this is an opportunity for experimentation.  google news is successful and drives a lot of traffic.  But the online sites don’t generate as much gross or net as the newspapers they’re replacing.  And there’s evidence this is going to get worse–just ask someone in their 20s how they get news, and the answer is, online.  The idea is to develop online news products with an advertising or subscription component that works.  The other comment I’m going to make about online news is that it’s typically so targeted that you miss the other  function of the newspaper, which is to learn things you weren’t supposed to know.  When you write a blog, you  write about what you care about and I learn  by reading your blog.

Q: Sheryl Conti, Jack and Jill politics.  What do you have to say about those who have raised concerns about diversity about Google’s hiring?

Eric: We’ve looked at this carefully and we’re happy with the way recruiting works.  We have an aggressive outreach program and we measure bias where we can.  We studied male vs. female engineering recruiting, and the ratings we  did about the male engineering candidates was predictive, and the model we had for females was not correlative.  So we had a bias in our system and we corrected that.  We’re good enough to look at practices and outcomes to find systematic biases.  And that’s going to be the standard going forward for most companies.  We’ve done this with women, but it’s harder for African Ammericans and Latinos because it’s such a small set.  You literally have to do special sourcing for those categories.  It’s important for our workforce to reflect the diversity of the world.  You get a better product and a better workplace culture.

On cutting through the clutter on the internet: “Everyone thinks they are Thoreau, but we help you sort out who the real Thoreaus are.”

Is google news the least profitable?  To laughter, “The are no profit.”

Elections verification: can google do anything with google maps to help deal with election protection?  Answer: we can make changes that will make your question a moot point, and those reports have been given to congress and the president and they have to be either paid off, or incompetent, etc.  But people can change that.

I don’t think google is in the business of investigating polling places, we’ll have to let others do that.

What should future administrations do to address the digital divide and what is google doing toward this end?  It is a declining cost issue.  These technologies are getting cheaper.  Physics and science is on our side.  the US is one of the slowest broadband countries.  Number 1) is japan, 2) is france and the us is like 15th o 17th.  The countries with the best broad band have an easier time with business.  That is govt policy.  With the FCC we were able to open up some mobile communications.  We are not ahead in America even having invented this stuff.

As a blogger I have brought google apps to a non profit with your c3 grant.  Where are you looking to take your philanthropy?  We have a group called Google at work: renewable energy is getting lots of attention.  Get the cost of coal up and the equation changes.  We have had a lot of success with ad word grants for non-profits and we are very very proud of this.  

Last question: google bombing, people using tools in ways you did not anticipate?  They are link farms and we decided that when these things occur that when we detect them we don’t allow them.  they have certain signals we can detect and the unusual view is we dont take them down manually.   we want people to talk about them and we want them to be a joke.  We think SEO is against the values of google.

Bonus question: apps.  We provide the tools and help you build the community and the better we can serve you.  Google is beholden to high quality content, people go to find out things they need to know.  

Of Claire McCaskill and PUMAs

If there were any justice in the world, Claire McCaskill would be Presidential material.  So would Barbara Boxer.  As the PUMAs (all 30 or so of them) march around Denver making a far greater ruckus than their pathetic numbers would dictate supposedly on behalf of Hillary Clinton, lost in the drama is the fact that the glass ceiling silently preventing women from achieving the Presidential consideration so far denied to 50% of the population has been far more brutal to the likes of Barbara Boxer and Claire McCaskill.  These remarkable women, absent the latent sexism of our nation, would and should be under serious consideration for the Presidency by the Democratic Party and the United States of America.

Senator McCaskill has been a fantastic and tireless advocate for Barack Obama on the campaign trail, and her speech tonight is yet another example of her charisma, speaking skills, and ability to connect with the average voter.

America’s almost unique relationship with sexism means that unless a female politician can simultaneously project steely toughness and worldliness and a matronly presence that would seem just as at home caring for children and grandchildren while baking cookies and sewing a dress, she is rarely well-liked outside of a few blue-state bastions.  A sense of humor and a good fashion sense is also a near necessity.  Insofar as sexism did play a role in derailing Hillary Clinton’s campaign, it was Hillary’s inability (an at times quite intentionally fostered inability) to demonstrate this “down-to-earth”, inherently conservative quality to many voters.  It’s an unfair fact of American electoral life for women.

Claire McCaskill does have that quality, however.  Introduced prior to her just completed speech at the convention by her three children looking straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, she was the perfect (for the voting public) combination of charisma, resolve, and down-home matronly charm and humility.

She brought up her and her parents’ roots, and tied those humble origins to similar origins shared by Barack Obama; and in so doing, she reinforced tonight’s “One America” meme by showing how, even on very different sides of American life, a black boy from Hawai’i and a white girl from Middle America share the same truly American story: the ability to succeed by reaching out for the American Dream given the equal opportunity to do so.  It was a truly heartwarming and extraordinary speech.

But watching Senator McCaskill, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of irony in seeing this theme of “sameness” and “American unity” and “equal opportunity”.  While both Barack and Claire had the ability to become Senators, there is some question as to whether today’s America would be willing to give Senator McCaskill the same opportunity being afforded to President Obama.  There is no question that Hillary Clinton got as far as she did in large part due to the “Clinton” name; would America give Senators Boxer or McCaskill the same credit based solely on their abilities and the content of their character, without the advantage of the name recognition provided by a former President?

Time will tell.  If the PUMAs are serious about their mission, they will do well to focus not on a misguided campaign for misogynist John McCain, but on promoting the chances of such extraordinary individuals as Barbara Boxer and Claire McCaskill.

Live from Denver

After an all-day drive from Los Angeles to Grand Junction, CO yesterday, and then another 4 hours or so from Grand Junction to Denver, I am finally in Denver and ready for tomorrow’s festivities at the Big Tent.  I didn’t get a chance to examine too much of the setup at the BT–I only got as far as the check-in desk before I had to run to take care of some other errands.  Either way, given the packed schedule being offered by the organizers, I doubt I’ll have much reason to leave.

I was duly impressed by the security surrounding the Pepsi Center.  As this is my first time in a city hosting a Presidential Convention, I really have no way of knowing whether or not this is “normal”–but all the entrances to the arena are effectively closed off by a very visible police presence.  The LoDo area was quite lively today and filled with people with all sorts of passes and badges relating to the convention happenings.

More tomorrow…