I have noticed successful CEOs share an uncanny ability to lay bare a company’s strategy while simultaneously leading you down a false path. Steve Jobs was a master at this. I learned from watching Jobs it was always best to remove my expectations, toss aside my biases, and focus strictly on what he was saying and what he was showing. Only then was it possible to divine his intentions.
The same skills are required to decode the words of Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. This recent joint interview tells us a great deal about each man and the direction of Google.
Expect still more big, bold bets, more run-ins with the law, more jarringly bad incursions upon our privacy, more encroachments upon everything tech, possibly upon everything man made. That’s how audacious Page and Brin are. Indeed, it’s audacity mixed with a belief in fate, I suspect. Page and Brin appear to embrace the notion it is right and just and good they have so many billions, so many smart employees and a company of such immense, transformative power — only they can rightly and profoundly change our world.
Of course it’s hubris. They are billionaire techies, after all, highly successful since at least their dorm room days, and worth more money than they could spend in multiple lifetimes. But it’s also daring, inspiring, the kind of stuff that enables Silicon Valley to lead America and which enables America to lead the world.
Page And Brin On Record
Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were interviewed recently by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. The interview is relaxed, even clubby, but quickly becomes revelatory. We learn, for example, Excite nearly purchased the Google tech back in 1999. For $350,000.
We learn Page, who sounds awful, is clearly interested in healthcare as well as healthcare regulations. I would not be surprised if Page secretly believes his billions and Google’s work on life extension, artificial intelligence and computer-enabled consciousness will enable him to achieve near-immortality.
This will fail, of course, though many will likely benefit from Google’s work. Which is a theme in this interview, from Page, especially. He is committed to using Google’s money, brainpower and computing brute force to make a better world.
Some insights based on my analysis of the interview [direct video link]:
- Page does not seem to particularly care what Brin has to say.
- Page is obviously committed to Google — the corporation — but also to Googlers, the employees.
- Google is undefinable, even for Page, the CEO. Google is search, obviously, and those elements clearly linked to search, such as location. But Google is much more than that, even if Page fails to fully distill this into words. Google is artificial intelligence, machine learning, a gift to the world, a transformative engine of innovation.
- Page intends to remain at Google indefinitely.
- Brin may not be at Google quite as long. It’s clear Page is in charge of Google Inc. and equally clear the Google X skunkworks efforts captivate Brin. It may be best for everyone if he takes his work outside Google.
Did you watch? It’s quite useful if you are interested in Google. Here is my take on the important bits:
0:50 Forget the laughter, Brin is still peeved that “PageRank” was not called “BrinRank.” I am not sure hyper-competitive people have any idea how hyper-competitive they are — about everything.
1:48 I realize Sergey Brin is not wearing a wedding ring.
2:20 Brin re-tells the origin story of Google and how it was nearly sold to Excite. This is thoroughly discussed, I suspect, because Google believes it is destined to do great — insanely great — and tales of how it nearly died merely reaffirm their manifest destiny. (At 4:15, Page joins in this discussion)
5:00 Page’s throat muscles appear stressed, damaged. I cannot stop myself from speculating on his health.
6:05 Page states most companies are “short term focused” and clearly is pleased that Google thinks bigger, longer. At 6:50, Page notes most companies are measured quarterly and most CEOs have no better than a four year tenure. He states solving “big problems” are easy when the leader has a 20 year horizon. Bottom line: Expect Page to helm Google well into the next decade at least.
8:00 Brin states Google has no “critical” opportunities to focus on as a “critical” opportunity would suggest an inherent vulnerability. The implication, of course, is Google can only be un-done by the future, but that won’t happen as Google intends to build the future. This sentiment is especially telling because Google has repeatedly missed opportunities, including social, text messaging, apps, streaming and more. It would be interesting to peer inside their minds to understand how they reconcile their manifest destiny visions with the incessant disruptions percolating from 7 billion humans.
8:50 Brin is clearly excited about the potential for the autonomous cars — a “big bet.”
9:40 Page finally and briefly mentions Android, which he believes is important to Google over the next few years. This is the sole statement regarding Android. Indeed, the interview is surprising for how little the two mention any actual Google products.
10:05 Page offers important insight about search, access to content, navigation, and the expanding notion of what “search” means, which includes knowing the question before the user asks it.
11:05 Page decries the current “bad” state of today’s computers — desktops and smartphones — which require far too much effort and deliver far too little benefit. I start to wonder what amazing gadgetry he has inside his home.
12:20 Brin leads several minutes of animated discussion on Google’s current and long range “machine learning” efforts. He believes Google, unlike all those in the past, can make artificial intelligence — thinking machines — a reality.
14:20 It requires a question from Khosla to force the two to consider how these machine learning efforts will impact jobs, labor, equality, economy and people. Sadly, this mostly leads to joking and a discussion on America’s agricultural past. It’s never been more clear than now just how removed Page and Brin are from the daily realities of nearly the entire world.
16:10 Page states the basic needs of the world can and should be easily provided. Ours is a world of abundance, he tells us. We should focus not on jobs per se, but on abundance and leisure time. Again, Page seems wildly out of touch here, despite any positive intentions. At 18:25, Brin interrupts Page, who then quickly interrupts Brin and it’s now crystal clear the two men have different views on the near term economic and social harm of technology. This is the first clear break between the two. Regrettably, neither possesses the answers to solve these problems.
21:20 Khosla appears to realize Page and Brin have no real answers for current issues re: work, employment and inequality. He leaps to a speculative question “forty years” into the future.
24:15 Brin speculates on who will make the company’s self-driving cars, Google or “partners.” The only thing we learn is the implication the self-driving car market is many, many years off.
25:25 “My view about this has changed quite a bit over the years.” That’s what Page states about Google being involved in too many projects. Page says he used to discuss this idea with Steve Jobs, who insisted Google did too much. Page, however, says much of what Google does is interrelated. He also notes the various projects give employees an opportunity to grow and be creative.
26:45 “Sergey can do that and I don’t have to talk to him.” “That has almost nothing to do with our current business.” This is what Page says about Google’s driverless car efforts — which Brin is responsible for.
27:40 Brin discusses Google X. He reveals X is focused on “atoms, not bits,” an insight I had not previously considered. Cars, internet balloons, Glass, etc. are all hardware first, software second (at best). Unfortunately, Brin does not state exactly why he chose to focus on atoms, not bits. I suspect it is because then Page would keep his distance.
29:00 A discussion on Google’s interests in health services begins. At 29:50, however, Brin states healthcare is so “heavily regulated” that such efforts, at least for now, are not a priority. Page agrees with Brin’s assessment.
30:45 Page, again revealing his tone-deafnesses over current social norms, discusses the potential of using data to improve health. He notes allowing “medical researchers” to search your medical data is a big win for society and likely the individual. Except, Page remarks “maybe” your name is removed from the research. This is shocking. Page seems genuinely focused on leveraging Google’s capabilities to make the world a better place. That said, time and again he seems literally unaware — or simply uncaring — of how actual human users may be harmed or frightened.
34:20 The co-founders dodge the question of whether or not they have ever “fundamentally disagreed” on an issue.
37:15 Page is displeased with how government is “illogical” and how its complexity increases over time.
38:30 Page says he was talking recently with the president of South Korea. Might there be more expansive tie-ins with Samsung?
40:00 Page provides sage advice to entrepreneurs regarding who to hire.