Google Co-Founders Talk Regulation, Innovation, And More In Fireside Chat With Vinod Khosla

Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page sat down for a rare long-form interview with technology venture capitalist Vinod Khosla at Khosla Ventures’ latest annual summit, and the video from the event was posted on YouTube this past week.

It was a relaxed and wide-ranging discussion touching on everything from machine learning, to the shifting job landscape, to new horizons for health tech, to their 16 year relationship as co-founders, and much more. You can watch the whole 42 minute chat in the video embedded above. It’s a good Sunday afternoon watch.

Especially interesting were their remarks on the future of health, given Google’s recent moves in the space. At about 29 minutes in the video above, Khosla asked, “Can you imagine Google becoming a health company? It may be a larger business than the search business or the media business.”

It’s clear that both Brin and Page are keenly interested in medicine and health, but feel a bit put off by the current hurdles presented by the regulatory environment in the United States. Brin answered:

“I think it ‘s for sure a larger business, and we do have [products like] the glucose monitoring contact lenses… but generally, health is just so heavily regulated, it’s just a painful business to be in. It’s not necessarily how I want to spend my time. Even though we have some health projects, we’ll be doing it to a certain extent. But I think the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high, I think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.”

Page continued:

“…I’m really excited about the possibility of data also to improve health, but that’s, I think like what Sergey’s saying, it’s so heavily regulated, it’s a difficult area.

I can give you an example: Imagine if you had the ability to search people’s medical records in the U.S., and any medical researcher could do it. Maybe they’d have the names removed. And maybe when the medical researcher searches your data, you get to see which researcher searched, and why. I imagine that would save 10,000 lives in the first year, just that. That’s almost impossible to do, because of HIPAA. So, I do worry that we kind of regulate ourselves out of some really great possibilities that are on the data mining side [in medicine.]”

Later on at minute 37, Page shared similar sentiments about how complicated regulatory structures impact the efficiency of both governments and corporations:

“I do worry that when I look at governments, our interaction with governments… it becomes pretty illogical.
… The complexity of government increases over time. If you just look at all our democracies over the world, the amount of regulation and law we have increases without bound…

One thing I propose, I was talking to some government leaders, actually the president of South Korea, and I said, ‘Hey, why don’t you just limit your laws and regulations to some set of pages. And when you add a page, you have to take one away.’ And she actually wrote this down, which was great. I do think that otherwise, the government is likely to kind of collapse under its own weight, despite the people being good and well meaning. Just because of that one issue of complexity increasing. I just don’t think it’s reasonable.

When [Google] went public, the laws were from 60 years ago. If you took a random law professor and locked them in a room, and told them to rewrite those, you’d have something much better come out. But we’re not doing that.”

Given the obvious amount of time they’ve spent thinking about such topics, it will be interesting to see if Brin and Page concentrate more on changing the way that things work at the regulatory level in the years to come.