BBC interviewer found himself on sticky wicket with Google CEO | John naughton
LLast weekend, in what the BBC clearly saw as important news, the company announced that its media editor, Amol Rajan, had secured an interview with Sundar Pichai, the current CEO of Alphabet (this which basically stands for Google). It has been billed as “the first in a series of interviews with world figures”. If the boss of Google counts as a global figure, one wonders who else is on the list, the CEO of ExxonMobil?
And the takeaways from watch this meeting? Simply this: Mr. Pichai is a nice guy. He comes from a humble background in India, left Stanford the traditional way, has an MBA from Wharton and has worked for Google since 2004. He has been CEO of Google (and Alphabet, its holding company) since 2015.
So sometimes nice guys end up first? In this regard, Pichai looks a lot like Tim Cook, the boss of Apple, who was the unlikely successor to mercurial Steve Jobs. What the two men have in common is that they held relatively obscure roles that were absolutely essential to ensuring the meteoric success of their respective employers. Cook was the man who built the manufacturing and logistics systems that enabled Apple to consistently create and deliver exceptional products, on time and on budget. Pichai, for his part, has overseen or been involved in the development of Google Chrome, Chrome OS, Google Drive, Gmail, Google Maps, the Android operating system, and the Chromebook. The two have also overseen the growth of their businesses into multi-billion dollar giants.
The interview was a classic mainstream media production. Rajan had done the kind of homework that great reporters do, even reading Henry Kissinger’s thoughts on the subject of artificial intelligence. “I want to know,” he said at first, “who he [Pichai] is, in fact, to apply close scrutiny to the power of Google and understand where technology is taking us all. It turns out that he and Pichai both have family in Tamil Nadu and are obsessed with cricket. In the end, they even managed to organize a game of cod cricket in which Rajan attempted to googly at the boss of Google. So they’re both nice guys, got along like a house on fire and didn’t tell us anything.
As I said: classic treatment of technology by mainstream media. The BBC media editor wanted to know “where technology is taking us all”. So he’s a native speaker of the story of technological determinism – the idea that technology drives history and that the role of society is simply to clean up after the fact and adapt to the new reality. This is also, incidentally, the narrative that tech companies have diligently cultivated from the very beginning, as it usefully deflects attention from embarrassing questions about human action and whether democracies might have any ideas about what types of technology are tolerable. or beneficial or not.
A second feature of the mainstream media’s approach to the industry is the valuing of big business bosses, which fits well with the “founders’ cult” which is an article of faith in Silicon Valley. . Now that some of the founders of the tech giants (Jobs, Gates, Bezos, Page and Brin) have resigned or left the scene, we find ourselves with their more low-key successors (Cook, Satya Nadella, Andy Jassy and Pichai, respectively). These look more like normal human beings than their predecessors but, in a strange way, are more difficult subjects to interview because they more easily deflect difficult questions.
In this regard, Pichai has proven to be an accomplished drummer. Asked about the meaning of “AI” (interpreted, as usual, as a polite term for machine learning), he said it was like fire or electricity and that he would play a ” fundamental role in almost every aspect of our life ”. When asked for examples, he said he could come up with “the perfect playlist for you”, allowing you to “be your own DJ”. Oh, and that might help radiologists look for things like tumors, too. Rajan nodded approvingly.
It just happened like that. Q: Do tech companies hardly employ anyone for their huge income? A: Ah, yes, but think of all the small businesses that we allow. And the ex-Googlers have created over 4,000 businesses. Q: Can Google be too big? A: It often helps to be tall because then you can do bigger things. Regarding tax evasion, Rajan mentioned that in 2017 Google transferred $ 23 billion through a Dutch shell company to Bermuda (where taxes are zero). Would Pichai now commit to no longer resorting to tax havens? Pichai: “We no longer use this tax structure and we have moved our intellectual property [intellectual property] already out of Bermuda.
As the show ended with a friendly exchange between the two men, you could almost hear the Google PR team say, “Well, that went well, didn’t it?” while back in Shepherd’s Bush (or wherever the BBC hangs out now) it would have been triples all around. Good job; now for the next “global figure”. But back on his humble ranch, this license fee payer wondered: when are we ever going to have a “close scrutiny” of the companies that now dominate our networked world?
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