“Politicians have yet to wake up to the impact of the internet, which will expose them to online “truth predictor” tests and affect the outcome of general elections, the head of Google said yesterday.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Eric Schmidt, the chairman and chief executive of the most popular internet search engine, said his speech to the conference of the UK’s Conservative Party on Tuesday was part of a global mission to educate political leaders.“Many of the politicians don’t actually understand the phenomenon of the internet very well. It’s partly because of their age… often what they learn about the internet they learn from their staffs and their children,“ Mr Schmidt said. The current “TV generation” of political leaders had learned to “switch on” and perform in front of the cameras and most were now aware of the internet’s importance, he said. But he argued they had yet to grasp the technology’s implications, not least in terms of the power it hands to voters, posing the question: “If television created this generation of politicians, what will the internet do to the next generation of politicians? “The internet has filled a role of funding for politicians… but it has not yet affected elections. It clearly will,” he forecast. This electoral impact would manifest itself relatively quickly in Britain, where, he said, the internet was “exploding”. He added: “Given the take-up rate of broadband and the number of people online – it will happen here.” He forecast that, within five years, “truth predictor” software would “hold politicians to account”. Voters would be able to check the probability that apparently factual statements by politicians were actually correct, using programmes that automatically compared claims with historic data, he said. Politicians “don’t in general understand the implications” of the internet, Mr Schmidt argued. “One of my messages to them is to think about having every one of your voters online all the time, then inputting ‘is this true or false?’ We [at Google] are not in charge of truth but we might be able to give a probability.” Mr Schmidt hailed George Osborne, shadow chancellor, as the “voice of the new generation” – an accolade that will be seen as adding to the coup the Tories scored by persuading the Google boss to address their conference. Google is an apolitical company and Mr Schmidt’s address to the Conservatives’ seaside gathering was not an endorsement of the party, he stressed. Mr Schmidt pointed out he also enjoyed a “very nice meeting with Tony [Blair]” in Downing Street on Monday during what was literally a flying visit to the UK – Mr Schmidt piloted his own Gulfstream jet to Bournemouth. The Silicon Valley leader’s praise for the section of Mr Osborne’s address that contrasted the Tories’ youthful leadership with the older Labour cabinet gilded a rhetorical point that the shadow chancellor had already made to delegates. Citing the prime minister’s reference last week to the “Google generation”, Mr Osborne boasted: “This week, the Google generation got the guy who runs the company to come and speak to us.” Mr Schmidt declined to be drawn further into commenting on domestic politics. He was asked by the FT about the technological awareness displayed by John Prescott this summer when the deputy prime minister said: “I think it’s called the internet or something – blogs is it? – I don’t know, I’ve only just got used to letters.” The Google boss was diplomacy personified, stating: “Not knowing him, it sounds like a great opportunity for us to go visit him.”
Mr Schmidt had earlier won thunderous applause from delegates, injecting much-needed excitement into the conference by portraying Google as being “built around wow moments” – a dynamic the Tories would love to replicate.” in Financial Times. 04.10.06