Google’s Schmidt, Cohen laud new digital age

Eric Schmidt, right, and Jared Cohen talk tech at Sixth & I. Photo by Bruce Guthrie
Eric Schmidt, right, and Jared Cohen talk tech at Sixth & I. Photo by Bruce Guthrie

Jared Cohen, Google Ideas director, looks to technology to make the world a better place.

“In order to solve the world’s problems, we need to focus on Internet users,” he told an audience in the District on Feb. 27.

Cohen, along with Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman and former CEO, spoke of users and how technology is changing privacy, security, diplomacy, revolution and war, during an hour-long talk to a full house at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. The two explored the same topics in their book The New Digital Age: Transforming Nations, Businesses, and Our Lives, which was released Tuesday in paperback.

One doesn’t have to be an expert to know what’s happening with the revolution in Ukraine, thanks to social media, Cohen said. Because of technology, revolutions are easier to start and harder to finish.

When it comes to Syria, Cohen and Schmidt agreed that both technology and its absence pose a problem. Everyone who uses social media is monitored by the Syrian regime and those who are caught posting anything about the opposition are executed, claimed Cohen.

“With Syria, the biggest problem is not understanding what problems look like through the eyes of the Syrian people,” he explained. Schmidt added that there is a limit to what other countries can do to aid Syria, partly because the Syrian people are unreachable through technology and there is no conversation happening.

The two were upbeat about the growing role of women in the technology industry. Marissa Mayer, president and CEO of Yahoo!; Isabelle Olsson, lead industrial designer for Google Glass; and Jess Lee, CEO of Polyvore, are a few examples of those who have made it to the top.

“Women are that good,” Schmidt said. “They’re really good.”

The next generation of women can achieve personal objectives, he continued, adding that they’re providing examples of career paths that others can follow.

In order to have a company that’s high performing, morally right and interesting, diversity is the key, Schmidt said. “[In the] next decade, you’ll see a shift.”

Technology is also helping women who are oppressed, Cohen said. In Pakistan, he met a group of women living in a house together who were victims of an acid attack by the Taliban. Being horribly disfigured, the women carried a stigma that prevented them from living normal lives. Cohen discovered they stayed optimistic by learning technology together. On the Internet, they weren’t defined by their scars.

As for what the technology sector can teach the public sector about women, Schmidt responded simply with, “start promoting them,” adding that discrimination doesn’t produce a knowledge economy.

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