Mobile

Eric Schmidt sees next decade as age of "augmented humanity"

Eric Schmidt may not be chief executive of Google for long (he turns that title over to Larry Page on April 4). But he isn’t going to stop sharing his vision for the future.

The chairman of Google talked about the next decade and how it will be a time when we are the masters of technology, and not visa versa. You could think of it, he said, as the era of “augmented humanity.” If you’re looking for a roadmap of what to prepare yourself or your company for in the future, Schmidt’s vision is as good as any.

His view of the next decade is interesting because he has spent the past decade as CEO of one of the few companies that is trying to touch almost everything in the digital world. Schmidt has given this kind of speech before, but he is fleshing out his vision with each talk. It was the first big talk he gave since announcing he would turn over the CEO title to Google co-founder Larry Page last week. (He preceded the speech by announcing Google would hire 1,000 employees in Europe in the coming year).

“Technology will finally serve us,” he said in a speech at the close  of the Digital Life Design conference in Munich today. “In my whole career, I always felt like I had to serve the computer. It was me who had to fix the computer. We can all relate to that. Finally, I think we are at the point where they do what we want.”

Schmidt said sales of smartphones will exceed sales of PCs worldwide within two years, and he called smartphones “the device of our time.” The mobile web is growing about eight times faster than the PC web at an equivalent point of its development.

Imagine the wonder, he said, of going online via a smartphone after being limited to getting information in an unconnected village for your whole life.

Every company, Schmidt said, should adopt a “mobile first” strategy to get ready for this era.

“I would argue that devices not connected to the internet are not interesting anymore,” he said. You should expect that every device with a microprocessor will be connected to the network.

Schmidt said some estimates place the number of internet-connected devices at 35 billion. At some point, we’ll stop counting, he said, because everything will be connected.

Schmidt said he was particularly encouraged that mobile carriers are now deploying Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks across the world. LTE is supposed to carry data at speeds as high as 50 megabits a second. In effect, the rated actual performance is around 8 – 10 megabits a second in the real world. Actual service plans will likely give one or two megabits a second of service to users.

That’s certainly fast enough to do your email at maximum efficiency, but it takes about 10 megabits a second to do two-way video calls with great quality.

Schmidt noted that, on the ground, Australia is planning to bring fiber-to-the-home for 93 percent of Australians. That could give users gigabit-per-second speeds in their homes. Such speeds would eliminate any obstacles to providing digital bits to people, whether they take the form of 3D games or high-definition video.

In the next decade, the last major piece of the puzzle — cloud computing — will come into its own. He noted that 1,000 computer servers can form the back-end system for voice translation software, which allows you to speak into the phone in one language and have your words come out in another language for the person on another phone.

“It seems to work like magic,” he said, noting that Google is testing the technology.

The changes that these technologies will bring about are mind-boggling, Schmidt said. The phone becomes not just a phone, but a phone connected to a bunch of supercomputers.

“You can sit in the airport and then use your phone to imagine that you’re skiing downhill virtually in Vancouver,” he said.

You don’t have to get lost anymore, with things like Google Maps. He noted that one blogger was arrested in Tunisia and he let people know about that through his phone and Google Latitude. He was rescued during that country’s revolution. Schmidt noted that satellite images of war-torn Sudan can show whether armed forces are building up in certain areas of disputed territory.

More cool and useful technology awaits, such as cars that can drive themselves, and technology that gives you suggestions of what to do when you’re waiting for something — like errands that you can do at places nearby.

The devices to make this all happen are being put in place now, he said. He said that Google Android phones are being activated at a rate well above 300,000 devices per day. There are 145 models of Android phones from 27 manufacturers being sold by 169 carriers in 96 countries.

The people who will reap the most benefits of this coming era are our children. He said that if you have a child, “the child is asleep or online.”

Disclosure: The Digital Life Design conference paid my way to Munich so I could moderate a panel. VentureBeat’s coverage of the conference remains objective and independent.

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