Google's chief executive officer on Wednesday called for the federal government to invest in green technology and a national computer infrastructure to help create jobs and spur the next wave of American innovation.
During a speech sponsored by the nonprofit New American Foundation, Eric Schmidt, a member of President-elect Barack Obama's transition team, advocated a "smart" power grid that uses two-way communications and advanced sensors to deliver electricity more efficiently. Schmidt indicated that Obama favored such an approach.
Schmidt also urged more investment in wind, solar and geo-thermal technologies, particularly for connecting alternative energy sources to the existing power grid. The inability to secure that connection has thus far hampered efforts to harness those energy sources.
The Google CEO repeatedly stressed government's critical role in creating the framework upon which technological innovations can flourish.
"Let's take this economic crisis and deal with it as an opportunity to get our infrastructure right," Schmidt said, comparing such an initiative to Franklin Roosevelt's efforts to bring electricity to rural areas and the creation of the national highway system under President Eisenhower.
The government should open up the spectrum of frequencies available to television and other broadcast mediums to allow more innovation, Schmidt said. He also cited the fact that only 55 percent of Americans have access to broadband and lamented that the United States, which invented the technology, was 15th in the world in terms of its availability.
He did, however, laud the Federal Communications Commission for "remarkable courage" in its efforts to expand access to bandwidth. He called for a universal broadband strategy designed to give all Americans access to high-speed Internet by increasing competition among carriers.
"The alternative is Ma Bell," Schmidt said. "They fought opening [the phone industry] for 20 years, but opening up enabled huge reductions in prices."
He also called for greater investment in research, noting that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency furnished grants to study computer networking in the 1960s and 1970s that eventually led to the creation of the Internet.
"Why should the government fund research and development?" asked Schmidt, a recipient of one of the DARPA grants. "Because no one else does."
Obama's pledge to double grants is promising, Schmidt said. He also advocated increasing aid for students willing to pursue graduate studies in math and science, and said he was dumbfounded by immigration policies that allow students to come to America for education but force them to leave after graduating.
"Explain to me why we don't want the best and brightest working here to cure cancer…it's disgusting," he said.
The incoming administration's use of technology could have a profound effect on the way citizens share their views on policy issues, Schmidt noted, citing Obama's first weekly YouTube address and the resulting online discussion as an example.
"Traditionally legislation is done by bright young staff members in corners….but now a lot of people want to participate," said Schmidt. "We want to encourage debate. The basic information the government uses is still not public...it's not searchable or indexed."
Schmidt said agencies should consider streaming all meetings live on video and providing data in open formats that would allow other organizations and stakeholders to view and use it.
"The government still has not embraced the tools we use every day… blogs, video etc." Schmidt said. "It's time to do it right…there's examples but it's nowhere near where it needs to be."