Eric Schmidt talks tech

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Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

During his talk on Monday, Eric Schmidt taught UT students to make their dreams a reality sooner rather than later.

Schmidt, CEO of Google from 2001 to 2011 and current executive chairman of Alphabet, Inc., the parent company of Google and Google Fiber, focused on technology and entrepreneurship. 

He discussed a variety of topics, including how entrepreneurs and leaders succeed and the future of technologies such as cloud computing, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Austin, once dubbed “Silicon Hills,” is home to a host of startups and tech companies. Schmidt said Austin has built an ecosystem that enables this success. He advised that students move quickly when developing prototypes for startups and seeking funding. 

Michael Webber, UT mechanical engineering professor and co-director of the Clean Energy Incubator at the Austin Technology Incubator, said UT is a favorable environment for aspiring entrepreneurs.

“If you have an interest in being an entrepreneur, UT-Austin is a great place to be and there’s a lot of resources on campus,” Webber said. “The main thing people learn when taking entrepreneurship classes is that they can be an entrepreneur — it’s not something magical, it’s a skill you can pursue and develop.”

Schmidt also highlighted some of the traits that are desirable in a founder.

“Most of the great founders are divas in the sense that they can aggregate energy, and they’re sure and clear — they also generate an enormous following,” Schmidt said. ”Try to find someone who’s a diva, somebody who’s incredibly smart, somebody who’s smarter than you are.”

Joshua Baer, founder of Capital Factory and co-founder of Longhorn Startup, moderated the event. He asked Schmidt about Google Photos’ facial and object recognition that allows the program to “machine learn,” which is when computers can learn something without being given explicit programming. Schmidt said he personally uses Google Photos to organize thousands of his own family photos, and discussed the potential future capabilities of machine learning. 

“Imagine a situation where machine learning begins to build a narrative, so the machine learns what’s in the picture and explains to you what was going on at that time,” Schmidt said. “To me, the picture is just a stack of representations. When you look at a picture of your life, what you really wanna know is, ‘How did I feel?’ It doesn’t do that but it can certainly reconstruct that sense of time that great novels and great writers can do.”

Webber said students can learn from Google’s strategies as a technology company.

“Google has shown that just managing information and having information puts you at an advantage and can be a very comfortable business plan,” he said. “Other industries such as energy, water and transportation have started using more data and in some respects Google has shown the way.”

After the talk, students asked questions about topics ranging from what book Schmidt was currently reading to the future of artificial intelligence. One student asked about how tech companies can ensure that their innovation is socially responsible. Schmidt said that Google has taken a stance against federal overreach into users’ data, and that the company places importance on protecting user privacy.

During his response, Schmidt also said technology can help those disenfranchised by globalization and automation. 

“It would be great if an entrepreneur here in the audience built something using machine learning or AI that could help a middle-income worker being displaced by globalization to maintain their income or to get a new job,” Schmidt said. “In other words, socially responsible innovation that actually helps people.”

Regardless of their field, Schmidt recommends that all students pursue their interests. Students should aim to create something, whether it be music or software.

“It’s the joy of discovery that propels you to do something significant as an adult,” Schmidt said.