The inability to have a real debate about the surveillance programs in the U.S. is a threat to democracy. That's what Larry Page, Google's CEO, told journalist and TV personality Charlie Rose in a wide-ranging interview at Wednesday's TED 2014 (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Vancouver.
During the interview, Page shared his opinions on the National Security Agency (NSA), Internet surveillance and Google's focus going forward. Page talked about his company's interest in working on big ideas like Project Loon, which aims to bring "balloon-powered Internet" to isolated areas of the world, and wearable tech, according to reports.
Page also has an interesting idea about what he wants to happen to his billions when he dies. The search giant's CEO said he would rather give his money to Elon Musk -- a man with big ideas -- than charity. Musk, the owner of Tesla and SpaceX, is a well-known entrepreneur whose massive business ventures Page would want to support.
Numerous companies in the technology sector have taken a public stand against mass Internet surveillance but some, like Google and Facebook, have had particularly strong opinions. Additionally, the day before Page’s interview, whistleblower Edward Snowden appeared at the event via a telepresence robot. Snowden has made it clear that it is up to the tech community -- individuals and companies -- to change the way data is protected.
In his interview with Rose, Page criticized the size and scope of the federal government's surveillance programs, which he said threaten democracy. The decision by the U.S. not to be upfront about the programs is one of the primary things that concerns Google’s CEO. Page's opinion is that it is difficult for a democracy to function when companies and individuals are trying to protect themselves against such secret programs.
"We need to have a debate about [the spying] or we can't have a functioning democracy; it is just not possible," Page said. "For me, it’s tremendously disappointing that the government sort of secretly did all these things and didn’t tell us."
As important as the NSA situation is to Larry Page and Google, the company is still primarily focused on new products, and in recent years, those have become remarkably unique. Google’s plans for some of its acquisitions and projects are still open-ended, like DeepMind, a London-based artificial-intelligence company acquired by Google earlier this year for a reported $660 million. Page talked about DeepMind at TED.
“What's really amazing about DeepMind is that it can actually learn things in this unsupervised way, and it started with video games,” said Page. “Imagine if this kind of intelligence was thrown at your schedule. Or your information needs or things like that. We're really just at the beginning of that.”
The potential for smarter computers to enhance the lives of human beings is of utmost importance to an Internet-based company like Google. Larry Page’s enthusiasm for big, adventurous projects provides hope for the future. In closing out the interview, Page encouraged other companies to think big as well.