In such a scenario, what should a visionary company like Google do? Does it have any responsibility? I am using Google as a metaphor here-replace it with any other huge company that has the guts and the vision to usher humanity into a new era. And lessen some of the pain in the world.
Google has the money and plenty of smart people on board to make a real change in the world. And what has Google chosen to do? Buy Motorola's Mobility business and invest in technology that tracks people and develop driverless cars.
That's why Thiel had this to say to Schmidt in the debate. "Google also has US$50 billion in cash," he said. "It has no idea how to invest that money in technology effectively ... if we're living in an accelerating technological world, and you have zero percent interest rates, you should be able to invest all of your money in things that will return it many times over. The fact is you're out of ideas."
Schmidt argued back saying that the company had no deficit of business models, but instead suffered from real-world constraints.
I think the main thing that companies like Google suffer from are lack of ideas that are underpinned with the love of humanity.
There are dozens of companies that are building mobile phones and tablets and so on. If Google does it too, what is the big deal? How many iterations of a smartphone are consumers going to buy? Ultimately, more phones mean more electronic pollution and junking, and mining of the earth and probably, more diseases.
If Google is such as great company, can it solve the real world problems?
I'll give you just one example. Hunger and wastage of food is a huge problem in today's world. Can Google connect the dots and come up with a technology that can reduce the world's hunger?
I'll give you some figures. There are about seven billion people in the world. There are an estimated 925 million hungry people in the world. This is 13.1 percent of the world's population. It means that almost one in seven people are hungry.
On the other hand, one third of the world's food goes to waste. 'Roughly 1.3 billion tonnes of food is either lost or wasted globally due to inefficiencies throughout the food supply chain', according to a study. In the USA alone, 30 to 50 per cent of food produced for consumption ends up in landfills each year, a loss of about US$1 billion.
Can Google step in and do something to address this problem? Or solve the energy problem so that the American government does not need to fight the so called 'libertarian' wars in oil-rich countries? I bet it can if only it (companies like Google) could look beyond the bottom-line and quarterly reports. This is the tragedy of our times--doing something for the greater good does not make much business sense.
Zafar Anjum is the online editor of MIS Asia, CIO Asia, Computerworld Singapore and Computerworld Malaysia.
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