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The New Digital Age: Authors Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen in Conversation with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg at CHM


On March 3, 2014, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen (co-authors of The New Digital Age) engaged in a stimulating conversation with Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg.  The event took place at the Computer History Museum (CHM) as part of the museum's Revolutionary series (see description below).  This very interesting and wide ranging discussion, was mostly related to the promise and perils of the digital revolution, especially the Internet as it impacts the developing world. 

Eric Schmidt is the Executive Chairman and former CEO of Google. Jared Cohen is the Director of Google Ideas and a former adviser to Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.  During the opening remarks, Schmidt jokingly said to Sheryl Sandberg:  "You've done all right for yourself since leaving Google."

The New Digital Age's release in paperback provided the impetus for this CHM program.  This event was part of the CHM's acclaimed Revolutionaries speaker series, featuring renowned innovators, business and technology leaders, and authors in enthralling conversations often with leading journalists.


There is good and bad in the many ways online technology is changing life around the globe, according to Schmidt.  The Internet empowers people in developing countries that mostly use smart phones for (wireless broadband) access, providing new opportunities for education, business, entertainment, news, etc.  But there are very real problems with regulating its use.  "With no central leaders in the world today, the Internet causes a huge control problem for free speech, morality and copyright protection," he said.   "When does the Internet stop (i.e. get turned off) and bad stuff happen in countries like Syria and Ukraine/Crimea that are engaged in civil war?"

Cohen said that smart phones were confiscated by the military regime in Somalia and a friend of someone he met there was shot and killed for having pictures unfavorable to the regime on his smart phone.  More details in a bullet point below.

Here are a few key points made by the speakers:

  • On-line privacy talk may come before the sex talk for future generations of children.
  • Digital data permanence may spark the need for identity insurance and that's somewhat scary.
  • Cyber-safety is a responsibility we bear globally for all, especially the non-tech savvy users.  Cyber-security requires agility and should not be compromised.
  • Schmidt: Suggests WiFi towers (with broadband backhaul) be built in 3rd world countries to provide ubiquitous Internet access and empower individuals living there.  That would have a positive impact on economic growth in the developing world.
  • Schmidt: There is a race between technology and humans, but humans are still debating last decades problems.
  • Schmidt: Technology has reduced the number of jobs, contributing to higher youth unemployment.
  • Schmidt: Displacement of manufacturing jobs by technology is an enduring trend which is a threat to current workers that have repetitive jobs (which might be done by a machine/robot).
  • Schmidt: We need some "social safety net" for displaced workers.  Todays solutions are not good enough!
  • In the future, a totally automated home -with many artificial intelligent devices- will likely happen.
  • Sandberg:  Women are 25% less likely than men to be on line, which puts them at an economic disadvantage.  (It wasn't clear if that was for the U.S., developing countries or the entire world).
  • Sandberg: Micro-lending in the developing world has money managed by women.  They need smart phones to do that as there may only be wireless Internet access.
  • Sandberg: Giving inexpensive smart phones to women would solve many family problems.  Hundreds of millions of women would be empowered on-line.  Men would not be able to block women's economic advancement in that case.
  • Cohen: In Syria, a wave of online videos couldn't immediately stop repeated chemical weapons attacks on civilians. He also said troops have operated armed checkpoints where they forced people to turn over their cellphones for review.
  • The Google execs said that Internet technology made it easier for people like Julian Assange of Wikileaks and former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden to turn government secrets into public controversies. That's not always desirable, the authors say, arguing that governments need to keep some secrets for national security.
  • Schmidt: There are near monopoly Internet service providers in the developing world and competition is needed to get cost effective Internet access.
  • Schmidt: Getting wireless networks upgraded for faster access, lower cost per user and capability to carry more traffic is a big challenge for developing countries (especially when there is no competition to drive that transition).
  • Schmidt: Maybe there are limits to what the Internet can do or be.

Backrounder: The New Digital Age:

In research for their book, Schmidt and Cohen traveled to more than 35 countries, including some of the world’s most volatile and repressive societies.  There they met with political leaders, entrepreneurs, and activists to learn firsthand about the challenges they face. They tackle some of the most interesting questions about our future: how will technology change privacy and security, war and intervention, diplomacy, revolution and terrorism? How will technology improve our lives? What new disruptions can we expect?

For the new paperback edition, Schmidt and Cohen added a new "afterword" to address a number of events, including the wave of revelations about government spying on Internet users, that played out after the book was first published in April 2013. The new section also responds to criticism from Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who accused the co-authors of uncritically embracing U.S. foreign policy and of glossing over the threat that vast centralized databases pose to individual privacy and freedom.

Addendum: Most highlighted passages from "The New Digital Age" 


"On the world stage, the most significant impact of the spread of communication technologies will be the way they help reallocate the concentration of power away from states and institutions and transfer it to individuals."

Civilizational advance

"By 2025, the majority of the world’s population will, in one generation, have gone from having virtually no access to unfiltered information to accessing all of the world’s information through a device that fits in the palm of the hand."


"Identity will be the most valuable commodity for citizens in the future, and it will exist primarily online."


"The Internet is the largest experiment involving anarchy in history. Hundreds of millions of people are, each minute, creating and consuming an untold amount of digital content in an online world that is not truly bound by terrestrial laws."

Loss of privacy

"The impact of this data revolution will be to strip citizens of much of their control over their personal information in virtual space, and that will have significant consequences in the physical world."

Dissonance between technology and geopolitics

"In the months following our [Schmidt and Cohen's] trip [to Iraq], it became clear to us that there is a canyon dividing people who understand technology and people charged with addressing the world’s toughest geopolitical issues, and no one has built a bridge."

Virtual reality

"In this book we aim to demonstrate ways in which the virtual world can make the physical world better, worse or just different."

Personalization and customization

"The key advance ahead is personalization. You’ll be able to customize your devices—indeed, much of the technology around you—to fit your needs, so that your environment reflects your preferences."

Humans, not machines control our destiny

"This is a book about technology, but even more, it’s a book about humans, and how humans interact with, implement, adapt to and exploit technologies in their environment, now and in the future, throughout the world. Most of all, this is a book about the importance of a guiding human hand in the new digital age. For all the possibilities that communication technologies represent, their use for good or ill depends solely on people. Forget all the talk about machines taking over. What happens in the future is up to us."

Don’t say (or type, or "like") anything you don’t want on the front of the NY Times

"Since information wants to be free, don’t write anything down you don’t want read back to you in court or printed on the front page of a newspaper, as the saying goes. In the future this adage will broaden to include not just what you say and write, but the websites you visit, who you include in your online network, what you "like," and what others who are connected to you do, say and share."


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