Google's chairman Eric Schmidt took the stage at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this afternoon to talk about the role of technology in the "world we live in today" and how it will shape the societies of the future. Schmidt, for example, noted that the number of people that use smartphones is still very small, but "think how amazing the web is today with just 2 billion people" and what will happen when another 5 billion get online.
The Future According to Eric Schmidt
In Schmidt's vision, societies will be split into three strata in the future and will be divided by how they use technology and how much access to it they have.
The privileged few, the hyper-connected, are likely to face a future that will only be limited by what technology can do. They will have access to unlimited processing power and high-speed networks in most major cities.
In Schmidt's vision, this group will soon be represented by robots at multiple events at the same time while sitting in your office. For them, technologies that once looked like science fiction, will soon be available. Driverless cars, for example, will soon reduce accidents. At the same time, though, technology will actually become much easier to use and ideally just disappear.
Besides these high-connected folks, though, another group, which will also be well connected but less so than the first group, will form the new global middle class in Schmidt's future. This group, though, will use cheaper technologies for its work – though its members will focus less on building new services and products – and maybe use simpler technologies for telepresence, but still use technology effectively to do their jobs. This group, in Schmidt's view, will also be made up of more sophisticated consumers and those who will be smart about using the Internet to organize politically.
A third group, though, will have no or only limited access to the Internet. This "aspiring majority," as Schmidt calls them, will likely have some form of access to technology, but it will look different from what we expect today. Maybe, though, they will use mesh networks to create local networks that isn't even connected to the wider Internet. For Schmidt, it seems, mesh networks represent the easiest and cheapest way to get these underprivileged users at least partly online.
What this will make possible, too, is for these users to share their experiences with the rest of the world, whether that's a political uprising or a famine.
There will, however, in Schmidt's view, still be elites and this digital divide will likely exist for quite a while. Technology, however will enable "the weak to get stronger and those with nothing will have something."
Technologists will have to act now, though, to ensure that everybody will be able to participate in this future where everybody will be connected.
Ice Cream Sandwich and Chrome for Android
Very little about today's keynote was focused on specific technologies, with the exception of Chrome for Android and the latest version of Android.
Talking about Ice Cream Sandwich, the most recent version of Android, Schmidt noted that he thought Google finally got the user interface right 'for a global audience' and stressed that most reviewers agreed with him. Implicit in this, of course, is an acknowledgement that earlier versions of Android weren't quite as polished.
Schmidt was joined on stage by Hugo Barra of the Android development team at Google. Barra provided a demo of Chrome for Android, the mobile version of Chrome the company announced a few weeks ago. Schmidt used this opportunity to take a brief jab at other mobile operating system by calling Android "a real mobile operating system." Barra demoed a number of the browser's top features, including pre-loading, link preview, syncing between mobile and desktop, as well as the fact that Chrome doesn't limit how many tabs you can have open at the same time.