Google’s Schmidt preaches tech utopia to the choir

Google chairman Eric Schmidt
Google chairman Eric Schmidt

Google(s GOOG) chairman Eric Schmidt is a passionate advocate for the technology industry, and he laid on the charm in an hour-long appearance at Mobile World Congress that was part Chrome commercial, part techno-utopian vision, and part high-brow version of Reddit’s Ask Me Anything. Here’s what he said:

On future wireless networks: “Smartphones don’t have to talk to a central hub, they can just talk to each other.” Schmidt spent a few minutes on the concept of wireless mesh or peer-to-peer networks, like the ones being set up by The Serval Project. Such networks would be much more difficult for authoritarian leaders to shut down as to squelch protest, he said.

On the digital divide: “The gap between the top and the bottom will be larger, not smaller, because of the technology I’m describing.” A lot of people think technology will bring the world closer together, but because of the speed at which technology is developed and its cost when first released, those at the top of the food chain will get farther and farther ahead, he said.

On enforcing intellectual property claims in China: “Google’s been willing to take on China pretty well,” Schmidt said, curiously referring to the company’s move in January 2009 to stop censoring its Chinese-language search engine and remove search servers from mainland China: a decision he opposed. But given that Chinese regulators are currently evaluating whether or not to approve Google’s purchase of Motorola(s MMI), Schmidt danced around a question regarding whether he would enforce violations of Motorola’s intellectual property in China.

On Chrome: “If you don’t like speed or security, it’s free.” Google demonstrated the version of Chrome it created for Android at the beginning of Schmidt’s talk, having unveiled it a few weeks ago.

On ITU control of the Internet: “Be very careful about moves which seem logical but have the effect of balkanizing the Internet.” Perhaps Schmidt’s strongest words were saved for a question about the International Telecommunications Union angling for a stronger role in managing and regulating the Internet. He doesn’t think it’s a good idea.

On a mobile future: “Why don’t you just buy a smartphone?” Schmidt’s flip remark to a questioner who wanted to know why Android isn’t on feature phones was designed to make the point that feature phones as we know them will likely go away as smartphones get cheaper. The better question is when smartphones will cost as much as feature phones, and that could happen next year, he said.

On helping resistance in Iran: “In prison, it’s like, there’s no bandwidth.” Schmidt sympathized with a questioner who wanted to know if Google would introduce some of its products in Iran in order to help dissidents organize, but said his hands were tied by U.S. laws putting sanctions on Iran, and that Google wasn’t going to violate U.S. law.