Google chief executive Larry Page not only took the stage at the company’s annual developers conference on Wednesday — just one day after he announced that he has a vocal cord condition — he also took the quite unorthodox step of answering open questions from the audience.
In a very soft and raspy voice, Page spoke at some length during the discussion about the conflict between innovation and regulation. Noting that laws have trouble catching up with technological change, Page said the technology industry can’t be governed by older laws that went into effect decades before the Internet took off.
But he also said that companies should also be “humble” when they make mistakes.
“We need to honest, and we don’t always know the impact of changes,” Page said, explaining that it’s difficult for technology companies to assess how a new hardware or software will affect the larger society. Ideally, he said, there would be a “small part of the world” where companies like Google could test things out before debuting them to the world, but there’s no mechanism for technology companies to test things on a smaller scale.
Page, a staunch technology evangelist, spent much of the question-and-answer session talking about how he believes technology can fix the world’s problems.
“Technology should do the hard work so that people can get on with the things that make them the happiest in life,” he said, which is one reason why Google develops such a wide range of products from its Web services to its moonshot projects like self-driving cars.
“Every time we’ve done something crazy, we’ve made progress,” Page said. He said he encourages other companies to work on projects that are outside their comfort zones, because eventually it will help them scale their businesses.
As for one particularly inventive Google product, even Page admitted that he doesn’t know how people will really use Google Glass, the company’s head-mounted computer, and that he wants to see what uses consumers will come up with once they get the device.
While Page was upbeat about how technology can change the world, he seemed less optimistic about how the industry itself functions. He took a couple of shots at the company’s archrival, Microsoft, and others for not supporting open standards, saying they focus too much on competition and “zero-sum games.”
Google itself doesn’t have a spotless record on open standards, but Page said that he’d like to see more companies get behind “things that just work” rather than constantly trying to one-up each other.
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