The Singularity Is Here

Singularity is a tongue-in-cheek, of course. Read this if you’re unfamiliar with the idea.

Ok now start here with Thiel vs Schmidt. I’ll just blockquote Alex Tabarrok with the meat of the debate and the deathblow from Thiel:

PETER THIEL: …Google is a great company.  It has 30,000 people, or 20,000, whatever the number is.  They have pretty safe jobs.  On the other hand, Google also has 30, 40, 50 billion in cash.  It has no idea how to invest that money in technology effectively.  So, it prefers getting zero percent interest from Mr. Bernanke, effectively the cash sort of gets burned away over time through inflation, because there are no ideas that Google has how to spend money.ERIC SCHMIDT: [talks about globalization]

The moderator repeats Thiel’s point:

ADAM LASHINSKY:  You have $50 billion at Google, why don’t you spend it on doing more in tech, or are you out of ideas?  And I think Google does more than most companies.  You’re trying to do things with self-driving cars and supposedly with asteroid mining, although maybe that’s just part of the propaganda ministry.  And you’re doing more than Microsoft, or Apple, or a lot of these other companies.  Amazon is the only one, in my mind, of the big tech companies that’s actually reinvesting all its money, that has enough of a vision of the future that they’re actually able to reinvest all their profits.

ERIC SCHMIDT:  They make less profit than Google does.

PETER THIEL:  But, if we’re living in an accelerating technological world, and you have zero percent interest rates in the background, you should be able to invest all of your money in things that will return it many times over, and the fact that you’re out of ideas, maybe it’s a political problem, the government has outlawed things.  But, it still is a problem.

ADAM LASHINSKY:  I’m going to go to the audience very soon, but I want you to have the opportunity to address your quality of investments, Eric.

ERIC SCHMIDT:  I think I’ll just let his statement stand.

ADAM LASHINSKY:  You don’t want to address the cash horde that your company does not have the creativity to spend, to invest?

ERIC SCHMIDT:  What you discover in running these companies is that there are limits that are not cash.  There are limits of recruiting, limits of real estate, regulatory limits as Peter points out.  There are many, many such limits.  And anything that we can do to reduce those limits is a good idea.

PETER THIEL:  But, then the intellectually honest thing to do would be to say that Google is no longer a technology company, that it’s basically ‑‑ it’s a search engine.  The search technology was developed a decade ago.  It’s a bet that there will be no one else who will come up with a better search technology.  So, you invest in Google, because you’re betting against technological innovation in search.  And it’s like a bank that generates enormous cash flows every year, but you can’t issue a dividend, because the day you take that $30 billion and send it back to people you’re admitting that you’re no longer a technology company.  That’s why Microsoft can’t return its money.  That’s why all these companies are building up hordes of cash, because they don’t know what to do with it, but they don’t want to admit they’re no longer tech companies.

ADAM LASHINSKY:  Briefly, and then we’re going to go to the audience.

ERIC SCHMIDT:  So, the brief rebuttal is, Chrome is now the number one browser in the world.

And now for Bryan Caplan:

Schmidt is pretty clearly stumped. Here’s what I would have said if I were in his shoes:

The reason we’re not investing more in new technology isn’t that we’re out of ideas. It’s that we’re out of ideas that we think will make money. Why are we out of ideas that make money? Because millions of people keep giving away incredible innovations to everyone for free!

Challenge for the audience: Think of something you want. Now use Google to locate whoever’s already providing it for free. I could do this all day.

Google’s “problem,” in short, is what I call consumption-biased technological change:

Sure, high-skilled workers’ incomes have risen a lot faster than other people’s over the last forty years. But iPods, Google, Twitter, and much of the Internet demand virtually zero workers of any skill level. From this perspective, “skill-biased technological change” is a major misnomer. A much more accurate description is consumption-biased technological change. Firms are figuring out ways for small numbers of workers to create tons of value – then give it away to consumers for pennies or less. And as far as I can tell, the CPI totally ignores these benefits.

CPI bias: Now worse than ever. Quality of life: Now better than ever.

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