Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt on Thursday predicted the end of the Internet as we know it.
At the end of a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where his comments were webcast, he was asked for his prediction on the future of the web. “I will answer very simply that the Internet will disappear,” Schmidt said.
“There will be so many IP addresses…so many devices, sensors, things that you are wearing, things that you are interacting with that you won’t even sense it,” he explained. “It will be part of your presence all the time. Imagine you walk into a room, and the room is dynamic. And with your permission and all of that, you are interacting with the things going on in the room.”
Concluded Schmidt: “A highly personalized, highly interactive and very, very interesting world emerges.”
The panel, entitled The Future of the Digital Economy, also featured Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and others.
Earlier in the debate, Schmidt discussed the issue of market dominance. The European Union has been looking at Google’s search market dominance in a long-running antitrust case, and the European parliament late last year even called for a breakup.
“You now see so many strong tech platforms coming, and you are seeing a reordering and a future reordering of dominance or leaders or whatever term you want to use because of the rise of the apps on the smartphone,” Schmidt said Thursday. “All bets are off at this point as to what the smartphone app infrastructure is going to look like” as a “whole new set” of players emerges to power smartphones, which are nothing but super-computers, the Google chairman argued. “I view that as a completely open market at this point.”
Asked about his recent trip to North Korea, Schmidt said the country has many Internet connections through data phones, but there is no roaming and web usage is “heavily supervised.” Schmidt said “it’s very much surveillance of use,” which he said was not good for the country and others.
Sandberg and Schmidt lauded the Internet as an important way to give more people in the world a voice. Currently, only 40 percent of people have Internet access, the Facebook COO said, adding that any growth in reach helps extend people’s voice and increase economic opportunity. “I’m a huge optimist,” she said about her outlook for the industry. “Imagine what we can do” once the world gets to 50 percent, 60 percent and more in terms of Internet penetration.
She cited women as being among the beneficiaries, saying the Internet narrows divides.
Schmidt similarly said that broadband can address governance issues, information needs, personal issues, women empowerment needs and education issues. “The Internet is the greatest empowerment of citizens … in many years,” he said. “Suddenly citizens have a voice, they can be heard.”
During another technology panel at the World Economic Forum on Thursday, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries and others answered questions on the need to regulate privacy standards on the Internet and for tech companies following the Snowden case, the Sony hack and the like.
Mayer said that the personalized Internet “is a better Internet,” emphasizing: “We don’t sell your personal data … We don’t transfer your personal data to third parties.” She said users own their data and need to have control, adding that people give up data to the government for tax assessment, social services and other purposes.
Fries said Liberty Global subscribers view billions of hours of content and generate billions of clicks, but added that “today we do nothing.” He explained: “We generate zero revenue from all of that information.” But he acknowledged that big data was big business for a lot of people.
Both executives said transparency was important to make sure users know privacy standards and the like.
Gunther Oettinger, a conservative German politician serving as the European Union’s commissioner for digital economy and society, said on the panel that “we need a convincing global understanding, we need a UN agency for data protection and security.” Asked what form that “understanding” should have, he said he was looking for “clear, pragmatic, market-based regulation.” Explained Oettinger: “It’s a public-private partnership.”
Fries said such a solution was likely not to happen in the near term, given the size of the EU. “I think it is going to take several years,” he said, adding that some countries’ parliaments would likely take a stab at it.
But he warned that a joint solution would make more sense. “We don’t want Germany to have its own Internet,” Fries said. “Some countries may build their own Internets” and “balkanize” the web, he warned.
Mayer said on the issue of regulation: “I like Tim’s idea better of the beneficent marketplace.” She spoke of fellow panelist and computer specialist Tim Berners-Lee, known as the inventor of the World Wide Web.
Asked how Yahoo stores and handles client records, she said the online giant “changed the way we store and communicate data” after Snowden and also changed encryptions between data centers. And the company protects users through encryption methods, she added. Mayer said that trust and confidence of Yahoo users has rebounded since.
Mayer was also asked what happens if a government asks for a user’s data, a question that has new significance after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, which have led some to call for increased surveillance powers of the Internet for governments. Mayer said Yahoo always assesses if such a request is reasonable. “We have a very good track record for standing up to what’s not reasonable,” she said.