yesand sees him exultant. Sundar Pichai (Madurai, India; 49 years old), CEO of Google and the highest paid executive in the world, is still fresh from the mass bath that took place at the company’s developer conference in Mountain View (California), a couple of years ago. of weeks. “My favorite day of the year,” he confesses. A year marked in gold.
Artificial intelligence, applied to the entire galaxy of Google products and applications, has given the best technological harvest in its history, with dozens of improvements and novelties in the search engine and in the vast ecosystem that revolves around it —Android, Maps, Youtube, Gmail, Chrome, Drive, Pay, Meet…— powered by a new algorithm that is a thousand times more powerful than the previous one and that is making translation, conversation and augmented reality systems progress at full speed. It is, he says, the most important revolution since the company, which was founded in the days of the desktop computer (1998), made the leap to the mobile phone.
There is no celebration without a hangover and Google, after all, a North American corporation that bases its power on the value it extracts from its users’ data, has a lot to lose in Europe, which upholds digital sovereignty and they are making it difficult . Pichai, in an unprecedented initiative, has summoned a dozen of the main European media, only one per country, to an exclusive meeting. XLWeekly has been chosen by Spain. And he has answered all the questions. Without conditions.
XLWeekly. You state that Google’s mission, since its founding, has been to organize the world’s information and make it accessible to everyone. However, the era of borderless data seems to have come to an end. Do you think that the pact that Google makes life easier for us in exchange for our data is still valid?
Sundar Pichai. As the Internet matures, it makes sense for countries to think about protecting their citizens and complying with national laws and regulations. Hard work is being done on a new privacy shield that protects European citizens, but also ensures the cross-border passage of data. And I think it is very important to do so. The world benefits greatly from having an open and interconnected Internet. And this is largely based on data flowing in an open space.
“We are very open to collaborating with Europe. But at the same time it is important that we make sure that the Internet is not prevented from working well”
XL. Recently, Facebook threatened to leave Europe. However, Google bets on more Europe. Do you accept the new conditions or is there still room for discussion?
SP We are very open to collaborate. But at the same time it is important that we make sure that the Internet is not prevented from working well, because a connected world is a source of peace and prosperity. And for us as a company, it’s important to preserve that. A balance is needed.
XL. But the announcement of its new tools to make it easier for users to delete sensitive information coincides precisely with recent European legislation and legal setbacks in Spain. [donde Google ha sido multada por la Agencia de Protección de Datos por no respetar el derecho al olvido]Austria, France…
SP. Many people use our products. Let’s say you are in Madrid and Google a restaurant. If we don’t find that search, the feedback will be overwhelmingly negative. What we have done over time is to establish a principle, which is to be transparent when giving the user the opportunity to choose and to have control of the data. And two years ago we made a momentous decision, which was to let users delete their data themselves. And the default option is that the data is deleted after 18 months.
XL. Do they do it because they have no choice or is it the result of strategic decisions?
SP We are aware that new laws and regulations are coming, including those that complete the General Data Protection Regulation of the European Union. As a technology company, we take anticipating and being prepared for regulation very seriously. We want to comply with the rules. So many times what you will see is an intersection between the demands and our willingness.
XL. What do they propose?
SP We are deploying machine learning techniques, which allow us to build our models without the data leaving the user’s device. These are amazing advances. Artificial intelligence will help improve privacy. But it is also that, much earlier, we had already shown an interest in being respectful of the data, even before the legislation could keep up with the pace of our launches. For example, Google Takeout already allowed the user to download personal data from our applications.
“The term we manage to have quantum computing operating reliably in Google Cloud and open to the public is five years”
XL. In Europe, Google has also been accused of hindering competition and the authorities have tightened the legislation. What is Google’s position regarding European companies?
SP At Google we have been building ecosystems for websites, applications… The vibrant Android community is a good example for a long time. We have thousands of engineers developing free, license-free, open source systems. The vast majority of developers who end up using them pay nothing. But we have to support Android to be able to compete. We trust the laws. Sometimes we agree and sometimes we don’t. They are complex issues. But we always dialogue and try to come up with solutions that work.
XL. Android operating system [propiedad de Google] is the world leader in mobile telephony. However, a small Israeli company, NSO, found vulnerabilities to install the Pegasus spy program. Do you see it as a weakness? Are you doing something about it?
SP Android is open source. For this reason, if you see more reports about security breaches, it is precisely because of our transparency. It’s the same with the Chrome browser. The Android architecture is very secure. And our Pixel phones have also proven to be very robust. That said, there are always people trying to break in and us trying to stop them. We are improving our protections. But I will be clear to you, most of the risks come from the carelessness of the people who compromise their accounts. We are now implementing two-factor authentication by default. But this is a work in progress. Over time, I believe that governments will have to join forces and will have to sign something equivalent to conventions and treaties to guarantee the security of the Internet.
“A global effort is being made to enforce the sanctions against Russia. We have suspended almost all commercial activities in the area”
XL. Elon Musk has taken advantage of the purchase of Twitter (if he doesn’t back down) to announce that he intends to make it more permissive, as opposed to Google and Facebook, which have been more restrictive in recent years. Can this free speech debate affect Google, including changing its policies on YouTube?
SP. We are a company that believes in freedom of expression. It is one of our pillars. But we have some guidelines for coexistence. You must ensure that your platform works for everyone: users, creators, advertisers… Spam, for example, is a problem. But I assure you that guaranteeing freedom of expression is a fundamental principle in all our products. And we’re not going to make any changes.
XL. Three months ago Russia invaded Ukraine. YouTube removed more than 70,000 videos of the war for violating its guidelines. And its subsidiary in Russia went bankrupt after the Russian government seized its accounts. How do you manage censorship and freedom of information?
SP A global effort is being made to enforce the sanctions and there is also strong pressure from the European Union given the seriousness of the situation. We have suspended almost all commercial activities in the area and our goal is to ensure the flow of reliable information and give visibility to high quality sources on YouTube; and at the same time combat disinformation by checking the content of what is published.
“We are investigating how to use artificial intelligence to develop applications that help in the early detection of diseases such as cancer”
XL. Google is investing a lot of money in the development of the quantum computer. When will we see quantum computing implemented in Google apps?
SP It’s one of the hardest things we’re working on. And we are making progress. The term that we manage to have quantum computing operating reliably in Google Cloud, in such a way that we can even begin to open it to the public, is five years. With technology you have to be humble, but it is what I would like to see.
XL. What are Google’s plans in the field of health?
SP We focus on three areas. Medical information is one of the most requested both in the search engine and on YouTube, so we strive to make it of quality. The second is that we are investigating how to use artificial intelligence to develop applications, with our partners, that help in the early detection of diseases such as cancer. And the third is to promote devices for monitoring physical activity, sports, healthy habits… And Fitbit is going to play an essential role.
XL. At the developer conference they demonstrated a new smart glasses with impressive features, but reminiscent of Google Glass. A product that failed, that was not spoken of again for years and that seemed buried. Is this your idea of immersion, more sober as opposed to Facebook’s metaverse?
SP. We have thought a lot about how to apply artificial intelligence in all our services to elevate their performance. It’s been around for a long time live view in Maps, the immersive vision… You can enter a store, take out your mobile and find, if you are allergic, nut-free bars. That’s augmented reality experiences, mixed, whatever you want to call it. Helping people in the real world with the information they need is what drives us. That’s what glasses are for. You go into a restaurant, you see a wine and you want to know a little more.
XL. Why do you think that this time people will be willing to buy them?
SP. Google Glass came too soon. But not all the teachings were lost; it was a powerful concept, albeit way ahead of its time. The magic of augmented reality comes when technology doesn’t get in your way or take you out of the real world. And I can think of a thousand examples in which it makes sense to wear them. Now there are many people who travel by bicycle and if you need information it is not advisable to take out your mobile. Or a doctor or a nurse checking a list before an intervention. I’m not worried about arriving early. Long before the iPad, Apple released the Newton [que fue un fracaso]. Ideas arrive when they arrive, the important thing is that they contribute to progress. And that in the end they become something that is useful for people.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism