Google’s Eric Schmidt: Apple and Google are tech’s top companies

March 16, 2015, 9:27 PM UTC
Photograph by Shannon Stapleton — Reuters

Who are the top tech companies right now? Apple and Google, in that order, according to Google chairman Eric Schmidt, speaking to a packed crowd at the SXSW conference today in Austin.

In a broader conversation focused on innovation with biographer Walter Isaacson, and US Chief Technology Officer and former Google exec Megan Smith, Schmidt explained that Google and Apple have very different models for innovation. Isaacson, who authored a biography of Steve Jobs, recalled Jobs telling Google co-founder and now CEO Larry Page that Google should focus on a few things rather than tackling everything – as it has done in recent years.

Schmidt’s response was that the two models work for each company and Google’s model was innovation at scale, with no limits on what problems can be solved. As a side note, Schmidt was noticeably using an Apple MacBook on stage to answer questions from the audience via Twitter, not a Google Chromebook laptop.

Schmidt also shared his view that we are still in the early days of really understanding artificial intelligence, but that artificial intelligence will be one of the greatest forces in history because it makes people smarter. Google (GOOG) has placed its own bets on the technology, acquiring AI company DeepMind in 2014 for $400 to $500 million.

Machine intelligence is a key future digital trend because companies that are using this technology to evaluate large data sets can become far more efficient and intelligent. But he cautioned that while there are a set of things that computers can do better than humans, including infinite memory, computers lack a key emotional attribute: judgement. Schmidt quipped, “I’m a utopian, not a dystopian.”

Tackling the issue of scaling innovation beyond just the tech world, Schmidt said the top three barriers to innovation, are the lack of educational opportunities, lack of broadband, and the “stupid policies” in the U.S. surrounding immigration. He added that there are three things that can be the solution to almost every problem: innovation, entrepreneurship, and broadband.

(The author of this story has previously worked for Google)

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