NEWS ANALYSIS: Google's Eric Schmidt says that technology is creating a "privileged few" who have access to information, and millions of users around the world who don't.
Germany Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt addressed this year's CeBIT
theme of "managing trust" by pointing out that you can only manage trust
in technology for people who have access to it. In a speech delivered during
the March 7 opening ceremonies of CeBIT, Schmidt speculated about how
good the Web might be if all 5 billion people on this planet had access to
it. Leaving aside that the actual population of the planet is nearly 7 billion
people (according to Google), Schmidt said that the biggest challenge his
company and the people who use information have is that so relatively few
people have free access to information.
said in his talk that more than 40 nations restrict or censor the Internet and
other outside information available to their citizens. But he also said that
mobile technology is overcoming those limitations. To illustrate this, Schmidt
related the spread of the news surrounding a high-speed train crash in China.
The government suppressed the news, but it spread through people using
smartphones, and as a result, the government was held up to public ridicule.
don't need a central hub with a smartphone," said Schmidt. "They can
communicate directly with each other."
Schmidt noted that without a huge growth in the means of communication, the
vast majority of the world's population cannot have free access to information.
The problem, he said, was that access to technology and the means to use it has
created what Schmidt called a "privileged few" who can have the best
networks, the best computers and the knowledge to use the best search and
access to this technology meant that national borders were effectively
eliminated, said Schmidt. People, he said, could do business or have friends
anywhere, and with such things as automated translation, language need not be a
barrier. The problem, Schmidt noted, is that most of the world cannot afford
even limited access to such riches of information.
noted that most of the people in the world are too economically disadvantaged
to even consider having Internet access of any kind, and he said that this
limits them even further, threatening to consign them to falling ever farther
behind the privileged few. Schmidt said that there could be solutions to these
problems, but said that it would require innovation to accomplish that. He
noted that even nomadic tribes have and use satellite dishes. "Why not
smartphones?" He noted that just because most smartphones require a cell
service connected to the outside world, it doesn't have to be that way.
Smartphones can be made to communicate effectively with each other, he said.
said that while technology can be a great leveler, we must avoid a digital
caste system. "We can create a global system of equals," he said.
is correct, of course.
world is already divided between the technology haves and everyone else. The
technology haves own iPhones or BlackBerry devices, and they have tablet
computers and high-speed Internet access everywhere they go. The have-nots don't
have these things. Because the have-nots don't have this access, they are put
at an economic disadvantage in virtually every part of their lives. For
example, how do you apply for a job if the applications are all online? How do
you even look for one if the job listings are all online?
Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.
He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.