Google's Eric Schmidt sees robots everywhere

Illustration: Matt Davidson.
Illustration: Matt Davidson. 

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said his company is experimenting with automation in ways that will "replace a lot of the repetitive behaviour in our lives."

"We're experimenting with what automation will lead to," Schmidt said Thursday at a conference in Santa Monica, California. "Robots will become omnipresent in our lives in a good way."

Google is pushing ahead with products beyond its core search business for new sources of user traffic and revenue in areas such as mobile and online video. The company also has shown a willingness to make bets on longer-term projects, such as wearable technology, robotics and driverless cars.

"The biggest thing will be artificial intelligence," Schmidt said at Oasis: The Montgomery Summit. "Technology is evolving from asking a question to making a relevant recommendation. It will figure out things you care about and make recommendations. That's possible with today's technology."

Schmidt, who stepped down as chief executive officer in 2011, also called on regulators to spur competition in broadband internet service. Comcast, the largest US cable TV company, agreed last month to buy Time Warner Cable for $US45.2 billion, combining two large broadband providers.

"In plenty of US cities, there's not a competitive market for broadband internet," Schmidt said. "Regulators need to look at what's preventing a second competitor from entering that space."


Buying companies

While Google develops some technologies internally, it hasn't been afraid to pursue acquisitions to add new products or unload them if they don't meet expectations. The company has executed more deals than any company in the world over the past three years through January, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, up from 13th place in the three years prior.

Google last month completed its acquisition of digital-thermostat maker Nest Labs for $US3.2 billion, moving further into hardware.

To bolster its experiments in robotics, Google bought Boston Dynamics in December, adding to several other purchases in the industry last year, and purchased DeepMind Technologies, a London-based artificial intelligence developer, in January.

Cash, Apple

Google, which has about $US60 billion in cash, has ramped up investments as its traditional online advertising business performs well. During the fourth quarter, revenue, excluding sales passed on to partners, rose 11 per cent to $US13.6 billion, just topping projections of $US13.4 billion.

When asked about the state of innovation at Apple and the lack of new products, Schmidt said Google's rival is a "well-run company and I'm sure whatever issues they're facing, they'll solve."

Google is optimistic about its prospects even as users shift to mobile devices where it gets less for advertisements compared to promotions on desktop versions. Nikesh Arora, chief business officer, said earlier that he expects wireless gadgets to eventually outpace the traditional business.

"In the long-term the mobile monetisation is going to be a multiple of desktop monetisation," Arora said at a Morgan Stanley investor conference in San Francisco. "You have so much more information and so many more signals when it comes to mobility, you understand where people are, you understand their social context."



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