Larry Page, Google co-founder, gave a talk at the Annual Meeting of American Association of the Advancement of Science, on 16 February. You can also watch the lecture on video if you download it in ram format. Page has not quite finished his PhD on Computer Science in Stanford yet, so he is a rookie scientist in a way besides being a mature entrepreneur. Larry’s core claim was, that “Science has a really serious marketing problem and nobody pays attention to that since none of the marketers work for science. If all the growth in world is due to science and technology and no one pays attention to you, then you have a serious marketing problem.” That’s why, he highlighted, entrepreneurship is necessary for science, and “You need to have the right attitude about it, and you need to think that business and entrepreneurship are important parts of science.” When, at the age of 6, he read the autobiography of Tesla, he cried at the end because it basically is a failure, he couldn’t fund his research, and was struggling hard to commercialize that stuff. He decided, he doesn’t want to be like Tesla, he wants a real impact, and for that the scientist needs integration with business, engineering and other areas. So Larry doesn’t really separate science and engineering, and he is absolutely right. If we, scientists really want our scientific work out there, and would like people to understand it there should be some mix between the activities. In Larry’s case it was obvious, since according to him “there is no computer science, it is just computer engineering and computer engineering is something else.”
He highlighted the early history of Silicon Valley, when in 1939, David Packard and William Hewlett established their firm in Packard’s garage with an initial capital investment of $538.
On the other hand scientific thinking hugely benefits most jobs. So at Google they try to hire a lot of scientific and tech oriented people even in positions they wouldn’t normally be on.
Additionally, scientists are really great citizens in Larry’s opinion, and he wants to have people in power, who understands things. His example was Abdul Kalam, the president of India, a rocket scientist by profession, who also apparently knows much about how Indian languages are encoded for web-display. This idea reminds me a little bit of Platon’s argument on the philosopher kings of city-states in Book VII of The Republic. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee, that an excellent scientist, who is a very smart man by definition, will naturally become a good politician.
Talking about education he mentioned that at Stanford, he watched many of his lectures on videotape in a lot more convenient way, so he didn’t have to go to class. He envisioned a one-button lecture watching Google service, I have a UC Berkeley Biology Videos like material in mind. When talking about a big robot building competition organized by Segway inventor Dan Kamen, Page insisted that there has got to be other educational models than the ones currently used.
Representing both Google’s proactive philanthropist attitude and creative technologist approach he talked about transportation possibilities (the only transportation tool, which based solely on computer is the elevator) in the developing world, alternative energy sources like solar and wind energy, climate change, issues of clean water, pharmaceuticals. He said:”In the developing world the U.S. should spend a lot more on “making friends”.
On artificial intelligence from Blogoscoped: “My theory is that, if you look in your own programming, your DNA, it’s about 600 Megabytes compressed… so it’s smaller than any modern operating system. Smaller than Linux, or Windows, or anything like that, your whole operating system. That includes booting up your brain, right, by definition. And so, your program algorithms probably aren’t that complicated, it’s probably more about the overall computation. That’s my guess.”
But besides this DNA quote and a joke on the real scientific food which is genetically modified, there is not a word on biotechnology, and not a hint to any aging problem or life extension possibility, which would be a natural complement of the problem list, mentioned by Page.
Page emphasized concerning scientific publishing that “We got to unlock the wealth of scientific knowledge” in consonance with the mission statement of Google on making all information accessible. Google Scholar, Google Books are examples of Google’s efforts in scholarly literature.
Warning: Concerning the form the lecture and the video is not really a high quality job. Unfortunately Larry is not the best presenter, during the first half of the lecture he kept an intimate relationship with his papers but not with his audience. Later that changed and in the discussion section Page became much more relaxed. The video was shot from one angle and we could not see Larry’s slides just him. Nevertheless his line of thought, his argument is excellent, and it is more important than just watching a great performance. Larry is a 100% nerd, not an actor or Steve Jobs.