Eric Schmidt, who was Google’s CEO between 2001 and 2011 and served on its board until last year, has reinvented himself as a technology adviser and investor in the US defense community. The New York Times has published a new profile on Schmidt’s work since leaving the company where he made his name, and it’s well worth a read if you’re curious about how the ex-CEO now spends his time.
Schmidt has long advocated the use of technology and AI in defense work, and now he’s advising the government and investing in businesses to make that happen. According to the NYT, he now sits on two government advisory boards that promote the use of technology at the Defense Department and has also invested his personal wealth in military tech startups.
Mr. Schmidt is pressing forward with a Silicon Valley worldview where advances in software and A.I. are the keys to figuring out almost any issue.
He portrayed himself as a successful technologist who did not believe in retirement and who owed a debt to the country for his wealth — and who now had time and insight to solve one of America’s hardest problems.
A key area of interest for Schmidt is using technology to reduce the monotonous work done by military personnel:
“The way to understand the military is that the soldiers spend a great deal of time looking at screens. And human vision is not as good as computer vision,” he said. “It’s insane that you have people going to service academies, and we spend an enormous amount of training, training these people, and we put them in essentially monotonous work.”
While some of the tech solutions he’s proposed have reportedly been relatively simple — like replacing an arduous whiteboard planning process with a software solution — in other areas, his proposals have been grander, which has conflicted with the slow-moving nature of the military.
Mr. Schmidt acknowledged that progress was slow. “I am bizarrely told by my military friends that they have moved incredibly fast, showing you the difference of time frames between the world I live in and the world they live in,” he said.
Some of these technologies have been controversial. Since leaving Google, Schmidt invested in Rebellion Defense, a startup that analyzes video filmed via drone. There are obvious similarities here to Project Maven, a project that saw Google help the Pentagon develop software to automatically analyze drone footage. Google declined to renew the contract in the face of employee protests.
Schmidt’s involvement in advisory committees has also faced criticism over fears that there could be a conflict of interest with his ongoing links to Google parent company Alphabet. Although Schmidt has left its board, he still owns $5.3 billion in Alphabet shares and still technically draws an annual salary of $1 from the company to act as an adviser. Critics claim the ex-CEO could use his influence to push organizations toward Alphabet’s tech, but Schmidt says he follows rules on avoiding conflicts of interest.
It’s an interesting profile that sheds light on what one of the highest-profile figures in the tech world has been up to since he departed the company where he made his name. It’s well worth reading in its entirety.