tv Amol Rajan Interviews BBC News July 22, 2021 1:30am-2:00am BST
sundar pichai, can be said to embody two. born to a modest, middle—class family in south—east india, pichai is globalisation made flesh. the personification of both the indian and the american dream. and as the boss of alphabet, the parent company to google and youtube, he is uniquely qualified to detail the promise and the peril of technology in our time. valued at over $1.5 trillion, his california—based company pioneered the internet we have today and is a global leader in both artificial intelligence and quantum computing. google delivers a vast range of products and services, from google maps and docs to gmail. pichai's total pay ranges hugely, from $7 million last year to $281 million in 2019.
sundar pichai has given interviews before, but rarely as much time as this. there are no agreed questions and nothing is off limits. sundar interview, take four. a mark. b mark. sundar, let's start by talking a bit about this moment in history. in my work for the bbc over the last few years, i've been arguing that we're living through a kind of epoch shift. technology is central to that. when you think about your career, when you think about the pandemic we've just been through, the transformations to come, where do you think you would put us? where do you think we are as a species in the long story that is humanity? wow, it's a big question... we'll start big, and we'll get narrower as we go along. look, i've always felt there is this constant progress which comes with technology, and it almost happens whether or not humans actually want that level of progress. i go through these thought experiments and i ask,
what must it have been when the printing press was invented or during the industrial revolution? but i do think the change is accelerating, if you will. and just when you're getting used to something, things seem to be moving on beyond that. you said to the new york times in 2018, "technology doesn't solve humanity's problems. it was always naive to think so." what did you mean by that? technology is an enabler, so i think it's a powerful enabler. but i don't think it has answers to the deeper or more meaningful questions. it can shine a light on things, it can make some things better, it has a dual side to it, it can make things worse. i'm incredibly energised by what technology can do. i've felt it through my life. and even through covid, looking at the vaccine
technology, the fact that we could solve vaccines ina year. it's an incredible feat, so i look at those things but it still is not going to solve making sure the entire world's population gets vaccinated. you know, that's where it's up to humans and society and policy—making to solve problems like that. you've now been in the us forjust over a quarter of a century, and in that time there's been a revolution. the internet has transformed every aspect of our lives. one of the things you're paid to do is to think long—term. as you think about the next quarter of a century, how do you think a, artificial intelligence, and b, quantum computing are going to compare with the internet in terms of a total transformation of our lives? the progress in artificial intelligence — we're still in very early stages, but i view it as the most profound technology that humanity will ever develop and work on. and we have to make sure we do it in a way that we can harness it to society's benefit. but i expect it to play
a foundational role pretty much across every aspect of our lives. on the plane over here, i read an essay on artificial intelligence by henry kissinger. it was in the atlantic. the headline was, "how the enlightenment ends." and the sub—headline was, "philosophically, intellectually, in every way, human society is unprepared for the rise of artificial intelligence." do you think he's right? partly. you know, i think people always underestimate human potential, i think. humanity�*s worked through... i put myself in what would it have been to be in the 1930s? they've gone through world war i, spanish influenza, you're going through a depression, and world war ii's about to happen. so, you know, i do think today is far better than that time. and so we work through a lot of challenges. so, i'm optimistic that way.
but he's right in the sense that this is a bit different than most things we have dealt with in the past. take climate change for example, we're all concerned about it now. who would have predicted something like the paris agreement, people coming together — pretty much countries from around the world. there's still a lot of work ahead, but you can see the right conversations beginning to happen and you feel the urgency, and so i also see evidence that humanity rises to the occasion. right? so, i think it will play out a similar way. isn't ai and climate change fundamentally different in this sense? if someone dumps dumps some carbon in the sky, it's bad for you and it's bad for me, so we should make a deal to get that carbon out of the sky. isn't the point about al that the different needs of different societies in different nations will use ai for different ends, and so because of that, artificial intelligence isn't a sphere of cooperation, it's a sphere of competition.
and so, are people right to worry... for instance, do you worry that if google, america, doesn't take control of the future of ai, china will? look, i definitely think there'll be a competitive aspect to it. there'll be national security aspects to it. and those are all important questions. but where i draw the parallel to climate change is — ai is profound enough that you're going to reach safety on a unilateral basis. you know, because the world is connected and so, for you to to really solve peaceful coexistence with al, you would again over time need global frameworks and constructs, and everyone will get affected the same way, just like climate. and i think that's what will draw people together. nothing is a given. we have to get there. but i do think as the world becomes more prosperous — when there is economic growth, everyone wants the same thing at the end, to some extent.
people want to do well, they want peace. so, you build on those ideals and connect places together. in preparation for this interview, you'll be pleased to know, i spent many hours studying quantum computing — mostly on youtube, actually, which you're ultimately responsible for. and as i understand it from my student days studying physics, at the quantum level, the subatomic level, particles aren't necessarily particular states of matter. right? so, computing today is based on this binary distinction between zeros and ones. in quantum computing, that's going to be based on the idea you can be both zero and one and all the states in between at the same time. does what i've just said make any sense at all, and if it does, how is that going to transform our lives? i think you did a good job of quantum computing 101. i think it's perfectly accurate. and what it does is, now you can simulate, you can capture the complexity, because you can keep track of many more states at once rather than just zero and one. a single qubit compared
to a classic bit can take on a many more possibilities. so, that's what gives us that computational advantage to better simulate and better understand the world. an example of what i talk about is the way we develop nitrogen fertiliser. this process now counts for 2% of all energy consumption. it's brought tremendous benefit to the world, but in nature, you know, it happens much more efficiently. and we still don't quite understand how. but for us to be able to better simulate that, quantum computing one day can offer us the chance to do that. so, we can design better batteries, maybe we can simulate the weather better and hence predict adverse events better, so the possibilities are endless. 18 months ago, google announced it achieves quantum supremacy. in other words, that your quantum computer carried out
a calculation that would take atraditional computer around 10,000 years to complete, let alone a human being. 18 months on, how much more progress have you made? and what sort of advances have you made from that first milestone? i'm very excited at the progress. it is a long—term thing. what we are looking to do next is to build something called an error—corrected quantum computer. all that means is we have shown it can work, but we have to show that it can be stable enough. quantum computers are very fragile. so, we're just trying to design stable quantum computers, which is probably still a decade away. we're building the state—of—the—art labs and we have a clear goal, and hiring people and working towards making progress.
let's turn to some of the controversies and criticisms that you face as a company. and i want to focus on three broad lines of attack with which you're familiar — privacy, capitalism and what you could broadly call the health of our public domain, so our culture. first of all, privacy — ijust think it would be really valuable for people to hear from the boss of google, the boss of alphabet, whether or not you think privacy matters for human beings? does it? absolutely. i think it's foundational to everything we do, it's an important human right. i'm glad as a society we are regulating and thinking about comprehensive privacy rights in the context of the digital age and digital economy we live in. i don't think we would be able to do what we do without users trusting us in important moments. we understand that. and it's something we have to earn all the time. and so, we've always felt we are stewards of people's data. we give them control and choice.
but they have to ultimately trust us to do it right, yeah. for people who think of google as essentially a company that has built very detailed profiles on all of us and uses that and sells it to advertisers, what would you say to those people who think that the way you get rich is by profiling them? i think most of the data... let me answer it in two parts. most of the data today we store is in products like gmail and photos, so that we can give that information back to you when you want it. for advertising, if you think about it, we just need limited contextual information. if you come and type "digital cameras" in google, understand you're looking for digital cameras, we're able to get you that right commercial information. we may need to know your location so we can give you relevant information next to you, and that's what users expect. so, in some ways,
this is misunderstood. the privacy "sandbox" will prevent an individual�*s web browsing being tracked and will use a new set of tools to allow digital advertising to be targeted. some of your colleagues in europe tell me that this idea of this thing called the privacy sandbox is going to be a really critical moment in allowing google to do what it does without needing so much users�* data. can you just explain how much
of a leap privacy sandbox is and why it should reassure some people? because as we'll get onto, there are others that worry it will actually consolidate your power further. like i gave the example around federated learning and google keyboard, i think we can invest in privacy preserving technologies which still allows us to give users the benefit they want, allows business models to exist on the internet which keeps it free and open, which people value. they tell us they value that. they deeply value their privacy as well. so, in some ways, it's the balance we are trying to strike by creating the next set of privacy preserving technologies. and yet, the uk's competition and markets authority highlighted concerns about the potential it has to undermine competition in digital advertising, and as they put it, "entrench google�*s market power". why are they wrong to worry? there are times we work in ecosystems where there
are many players with differing views. as a company, we are making the best decision, we want to operate in a construct in which we can make the best decisions for our customers, and it works for us as a company. but i'm glad, we want other people to look at that and validate it. i do think, and the uk competition authority is looking into this, there are times there are good issues at the intersection of privacy and competition, and i think they are legitimate questions and important questions, and we would welcome clarity in some of these areas, too. so, we want to engage constructively because it'll give us sometimes certainty around which way the regulator would prefer us to do it. so, you accept that there is a possibility that you are going to end up entrenching market share and you want this scrutiny because you want an almost independentjudgment on it? we do our internal reviews to make sure it's pro—competitive and pro—innovation oriented. but we want others to validate it. and i view it as a conversation. those who call you
surveillance capitalists... you may be familiar with the work of shoshana zuboff. she wrote a book called the age of surveillance capitalism. a simple version of her argument is that you guys are the richest spies in history. i know you guys would refute that, but the more complex version of her argument operates on a couple of levels. first, we have today the richest companies in human history who've gotten rich by tracking our behaviour online. and the second part of her argument is we have today the biggest asymmetry of knowledge in history. do you think any of that is fair? there's a lot to unpack here. as i said before, we use information to provide services back, which is why we give users the choice. in fact, by default now, we automatically delete data after 18 months, and they can choose it to be shorter timeframes. i think if you go back to various periods in history, i think there was more asymmetry. very few people had access to knowledge.
i genuinely think we are radically improving access to information. we may be taking it for granted, but it doesn't change the fact that today there's more access to information at someone�*s fingertips than at any point in humanity's history, too. but there are people who say, and i'll be interested in what you say about this, that when it comes to inequality, you guys are the problem. in the first three months of this year, alphabet posted revenue of $55.3 billion, up 34% from a year earlier. net profits more than doubled to 17.93 billion. injust three months, this company grew by the entire gross domestic product of mali, a proud african nation of 20 million people. let me ask you, director, to what extent are you guys the causes of inequality? we've always had this construct in a capitalist system, and people who do well at the top really make a disproportionate share. as a company, though, i think we track the economic
activity we impact. remember we're helping businesses, particularly small and medium businesses, get online, establish themselves, reach users and grow their business. and we measure that, we measure it in many countries we operate in. i am 7'6" tall. i weigh 260le. my brain is bigger than yours. you're facing this extraordinary suite of anti—trust measures which is an an attempt to say google is too big. in your view, can google ever be too big? sometimes you need scale to do the kinds of things which others can't do. it's big companies which can develop mrna vaccines in a short period of time, so there is clear value. at the same time, we need to make sure small companies can emerge and innovate,
and i think that's equally important to society as well. google invests in many start—ups. googlers, we call them xooglers — people who have left google and gone out — have i think started more than 2000 companies in the last decade, and many of them a re successful. and i sit here and i look at all the newer products and services that have emerged in the last few years. people worry that scale gives you disproportionate power. i mean, that's the basic issue. for people to understand, as we sit here today, i was looking up your market capitalisation, alphabet�*s about 1.6 trillion. that would make you the tenth richest country in the world. on a parallel with south korea. richer than australia, spain, mexico, indonesia, the netherlands, saudi arabia, turkey, switzerland. never before in human history have a few companies had greater clout than whole nations. isn't that alarming? i think we shouldn't confuse annual revenues
versus gross domestic... i mean, ithink about it differently. you know, ifeel we're accountable in every country, to governments, to regulators, to society, to our customers. and we are more than... i wouldn't overthink this. i think about are weinnovating enough so that we're relevant ten years from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from now? i know the work that goes into it to earn that every year. we have to re—earn it. genuinely, i look at my kids, at the choices they have, i look at what they consume — we worry about being relevant. how worried are you that today the internet seems to be splitting into different domains? where we have a californian internet and increasingly a chinese one, and the chinese one might be in the ascendant? it's more a step back, and i think the free and open internet has been a tremendous force for good and i think we take it for granted a bit.
i worry that there... within each country, there's a debate about what speech is ok and what should be allowed. in some ways, i think we have pulled back from the bigger picture where many countries around the world are restricting the flow of information, and i think we are drawing much more rigid boundaries. and i hope there are stronger voices. big companies do advocate for it. google has proudly stood for freedom of expression and the flow of information in a free and open way. but i do think the model is being attacked. does that mean... given you want google to be a global company, will you consider going back into china even while its authorities insist on surveillance and control? none of our major products or services are available in china. we have no plans to bring them in. and if we ever decide to do that, we would do it in an open way. this is the kitchen
of tomorrow. a press—button dream coming true for mrs housewife. all sorts of wonders are hers at the push of a button. a friend and former colleague of yours i spoke to in advance of this said previous industrial revolutions in the �*50s, �*60s and �*70s, where we think about cheap airline travel or domestic appliances, which emancipated many people from their home. what do you say to the charge that today we have great technological innovation, but it's not changing lives as quickly or as much as it should? i think people have a high bar. we get used to all of the things that are happening around us. and i think technology is constantly impacting us profoundly. i give the vaccine example. the mrna technology would turn out to be foundational for many more things over time. so, we take that for granted now that it happened. we take it for granted that you can turn around and ask for information and just have
it at your fingertips. so, i think technology's profoundly influencing everything we do. i want to end by asking a couple of big picture questions about the future. what do you think is the biggest challenge facing us? i would define climate change as a clear thing we can all focus on because it's something we are leaving behind for the next generation. i think our generation will navigate through it, but it's what we leave for the next generation. so, it weighs on me. so ways in which you need to act early, before the warning signs fully appear. and they're appearing now. before the actual events play out. like covid, except you had to make all the right decisions many years before it actually hits you. and so i think it's one of the more important challenges of our lifetime. people always want to know about the personal technology habits of those who run big technology firms. i'm going to ask you about some of your habits. what time do you wake up in the morning? it varies, but typically 6:30am—7am.
do you still read a physical newspaper? i do. the pandemic interrupted the flow of the physical newspaper, but i look forward to picking it back up. which one? the wall streetjournal? wall streetjournal is what i've always picked up. it's been a long—time habit. i've almost moved... 90% of my consumption is now online. i read more than i'd care to admit here from across the world. is your google home speaker always switched on at home? yeah, it is, but it only listens when i address it, so i know that. and how often do you delete all your personal data? you know, i have auto delete settings for certain of my products, and it depends on what i want. and i'm glad google gives me the control to design it the way i want it to be. how often do you change your passwords? i use two—factor authentication, so i don't need to change my passwords that often because i have multiple protections in place. ok, i'm going to end with some quickfire questions. are you indian or american? well, i'm an american citizen,
but india is deeply within me so it's a big part of who i am. favourite sportsman? i would say, since you're a cricket fan, tendulkar. sachin tendulkar. more so than sunil gavaskar? now you're making it very difficult for me. lionel messi or cristiano ronaldo? lionel messi, no doubt. dickens or shakespeare? dickens. dickens? favourite meal? dosa, it's a south indian crepe. person you'd most like to meet in the world today? today, i wish i'd met stephen hawking before he passed away. person from history you'd most like to meet? alan turing. when did you last cry? seeing the morgue trucks parked around the world through covid. and seeing what's happened in india over the past month. my final question, what advice would you give to someone
we are still in the middle of this heatwave, or actuallyjust pastored, some thunderstorms on the way to in the coming days, which should break the heat. but it certainly has been hot in northern ireland. it was wednesday hotspots and co to run. 31.3 degrees. a provisional record for northern ireland, only beating saturday's value bike just 0.1 degrees. on the satellite, we can see some cars to the west of our neighbourhood. it is an developing area of low pressure, it will move forward and bring some slow—moving thunderstorms. we will talk about that in just a second. i still have to mention the met office warning of extreme heat for the south—west of the uk and for northern ireland lasting into friday, and this is to highlight also the high temperatures overnight, not just by day. in fact, you can see how warm it is still through the middle of the night on thursday —18—20 celsius across some parts of the
country. through the night, into the early hours of the morning, it is clear skies, may be a bit of cloud first thing in northern and eastern scotland, perhaps the north—east of england. it should mostly clear through the afternoon, but the temperatures will be skyrocketing, and in fact hot enough for some local downpours and thunderstorms to develop across some central parts of the country. notice the wind is mostly an easterly, a very light easterly, so it is pushing the heat further towards here, so the highest temperatures on thursday could be in northern ireland. we could well beat another record, thatis could well beat another record, that is yet to be seen. for most of us it will be in the mid to high 20s. not necessarily a very hot day after that, necessarily a very hot day afterthat, but necessarily a very hot day after that, but warm enough. temperatures into the mid—or high 20s. notice some blue, some rain here, some thunderstorms bring to the south—west of us. this is an area of low pressure that will
drag and pressure, atlanticare, and push the hot air towards more eastern parts of europe. these could be very slow—moving thunderstorms, and very slow moving thunderstorms can bring an awful lot of rainfall in a short space of time, and that is to come this weekend — saturday and sunday — especially across the southern part of the uk. something to bearin part of the uk. something to bear in mind. and validate it.
hello and welcome to bbc news. these are our top stories. flooding in china kills at least a 25 people following the heaviest since records began. commuters have had to force their way out of the subway train. translation: we broke half a windows _ train. translation: we broke half a windows so _ train. translation: we broke half a windows so air _ train. translation: we broke half a windows so air could - train. translation: we broke half a windows so air could getj half a windows so air could get in otherwise we would have choked. �* ., , in otherwise we would have choked. �* , , ., choked. america's senior general _ choked. america's senior general acknowledges i choked. america's senior| general acknowledges the taliban now controls half the districts in afghanistan as us forces prepared to complete their withdrawal. a shock defeat for the us women's football team as action starts in tokyo ahead of the official oh pinning ceremony on friday.