Google CEO Sundar Pichai says naive to think technology can solve humanity’s problems

By: | Updated: November 9, 2018 8:50 PM

The optimism that struck Sundar Pichai when he arrived at the Silicon Valley still exists for him, believes the CEO of Google at a time when his own company is facing its most challenging phase in its two-decade history.

Speaking on an array of issues, Pichai reminsced about his childhood days in Chennai, spoke of the different ambience and facilities at Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur and Stanford University, and also touched upon cases of sexual harassment, propaganda and misinformation.

The optimism that struck Sundar Pichai when he arrived at the Silicon Valley still exists for him, believes the CEO of Google at a time when his own company is facing its most challenging phase in its two-decade history. Pichai firmly beleieves that it is as naive to expect technology to solve all of humanity’s problems, must as it is wrong to blame technology for everything. Pichai, who joined Google in 2004, says technology is only an enabler and it is for humanity to deal with all its problems.

“I think we are both over-reliant on technology as a way to solve things and probably, at this moment, over-indexing on technology as a source of all problems, too,” Pichai told New York Times in an interview.

Speaking on an array of issues, Pichai reminsced about his childhood days in Chennai, spoke of the different ambience and facilities at Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur and Stanford University, and also touched upon cases of sexual harassment, propaganda and misinformation.

Chennai days

Pichai vividly talked about growing up in Chennai. He spoke of how the simple, non-opulent lifestyle helped him enrich his wisdom by providing more time to study and read good books. He said there was “kind of the totality of life” and he never felt “lacking for anything”.

Difference between IIT and Stanford

Pichai had pursued his B.Tech in metallurgical and materials engineering from IIT-Kharagpur. He then went on to complete his M.S. in Engineering and Materials Science from Stanford University in the US. Pichai observed that the exposure to technology was less in IIT and that access to the computer was “rare”. He said that when he arrived at the Stanford University, he had access to computer labs and could program. “It was a big deal for me.”

Hate speech vs freedom of speech

Talking about propaganda, misinformation, he wondered what is the difference between freedom of speech on something where you feel you’re being discriminated against by another group, versus hate speech. He said that videos, which are termed as ‘hate speech’, have been allowed in the US. He also said that everyone is using human reviewers but human reviewers make mistakes, too. “One of the things that’s not well understood, I think, is that we operate in many countries where there is censorship,” Pichai remarked.

Speaking of Google’s approach in China, Pichai said that to comply with “right to be forgotten” laws, Google does strict censoring of search results.

On sexual harassment protests

Google is in the midst of massive protests from its employees over the firm’s handling of sexual harrassment charges. When asked what his message for employees would be at this time, Pichai said that Google has established channels by which people can report issues. He, however, conceded that these processes are harder on people going through that he realised. “We’re acknowledging and understanding we clearly got some things wrong. And we have been running the company very differently for a while now. But going through the process, you learn a lot.”

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