A Big-Think Talk With Eric Schmidt and Dick Costolo

The heads of Google and Twitter had a fascinating big-think discussion about the impacts of technology on democracy and society ealier this month. In the interview, moderated by Steve Jobs author and Aspen Institute* CEO, Walter Isaacson, Dick Costolo revealed the future direction of Twitter and Eric Schmidt reflected on both the good and evil uses of technology, especially for struggling democracies. Below a video recording of the interview, we’ve included highlights from each speaker.


“What is the next phase for Twitter?” asked Isaacson. Costolo responded saying that Twitter isn’t great at dictating how people use Twitter, but rather making it easier to follow discussions and events through streamlined curation, a rare nod at the future direction of Twitter.

One such (hilarious) example that guides their thinking was a tweet and response between Sarah Silverman and Mia Farrow (Woody Allen’s ex-wife):


In a discussion about how Google responds to government censorship policy, Schmidt offered up a self-critical reflection on their attempt at engaging with China.

“China is a long story, which I’ll summarize as ‘we tried and it didn’t work’,” he admitted. Explaining further,

Basically we, and I in particular, felt that it was better to engage, rather than be estranged. That’s I think a proper philosophy…Our theory was that we would create something which was so incredibly valuable that the citizens of China (because in our arrogant view we provide great value) that the government will be forced to, over time, open this [Internet] up… We did that for 5 years. The censorship got worse, not better. And, then after the Chinese government, or its proxies, attacked us for a month, and stole a bunch of stuff (and we have since corrected that, and we publicized that), and after they engaged in a very long and severe campaign monitoring the gmails of human rights activists and other people around the world, we said is enough is enough.

Interestingly, Schmidt says the Chinese government is often concerned with just covering up trivial missteps, like if a mayor’s son is arrested. “It’s things which are personally embarrassing to the leadership.”

Check out the rest of the video for a discussion on education, immigration, and politics.

*Disclosure: I work with the Aspen Institute on a separate government innovation-related conference