Live Episode: Eric Schmidt and Tyler Cowen on The Future of Technology and Society


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This is a special episode of Venture Stories recorded in front of a live audience in San Francisco, featuring Tyler Cowen (@tylercowen), professor of economics at George Mason University and Eric Schmidt (@ericschmidt), former executive chairman and CEO at Google/Alphabet.
Cowen talks to Schmidt about a wide range of topics, from Schmidt’s college years, to his time as an intern at Bell Labs, to working for Scott McNealy at Sun Microsystems, to the early days of Google, to today.
Cowen asks about Schmidt’s formative intellectual experiences as a young person and we hear the story of Schmidt studying as an architect prior to entering into a computer science program. After graduation, Schmidt interned at both Xerox PARC and Bell Labs. He recounts stories of his time at the research labs and discusses to what extent the lab model does or doesn’t work today. Cowen astutely points out that Schmidt is one of the few people around whose career spans several significant eras in the history of computing.
They move on to talking about the early days at Google, where it turns out that Schmidt was hired to run the company after a skiing trip with Larry and Sergey, whose first concern in hiring “adult supervision” was to find someone they enjoyed hanging out with. Schmidt says that he initially assumed that search wasn't very important and that Google’s ads didn’t work. He reveals that during his first year he was so terrified that their "ruse would unravel" that he made anyone who wanted to spend money come to him personally on Fridays at 10am to justify the expense.
Cowen asks about Schmidt’s insights on hiring and managing talent. Schmidt explains that in the beginning Larry and Sergey primarily hired their classmates and friends, but over time Google’s hiring became highly structured. He tells the story of interviewing a single candidate 16 times and explains the logic of why initially they were so focused on school and GPA, rather than industry experience.
Cowen and Schmidt also talk about in which areas even Schmidt himself has been surprised at the extent of technological progress and where he'd like to see more innovation. They discuss social media and why Schmidt says that it amplifies human weaknesses rather than strengths. The two of them also talk about transforming cities, including Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs project in Toronto and the Bay Area's housing crisis.
They of course also have a round of rapid-fire “overrated vs. underrated,” covering subjects like Antarctica, Picasso, effective altruism, Yellowstone and North Korea. Cowen also asks his signature question about the Eric Schmidt "production function" and how Schmidt is able to be so productive.
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Venture Stories is brought to you by Village Global and is hosted by co-founder and partner, Erik Torenberg. Colin Campbell is our audio engineer and the show is produced by Brett Bolkowy.

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