Alphabet Inc.’s Schmidt touches on AI, ethics, and Trump in HUBweek discussion
Just hours after featured HUBweek speaker John F. Kerry berated President Trump for withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, Eric Schmidt — executive chairman of Alphabet Inc., parent of Google Inc. — offered his own less-than-glowing review of the current administration.
Speaking at Thursday’s MIT IDE Inclusive Innovation Challenge Celebration, part of Boston’s HUBweek festival, Schmidt described the Trump administration as “largely not at the table” on many issues involving technology and science.
“The current administration’s policies are going in the wrong direction,” Schmidt said. “And I’m not sure how to fix that.”
Asked what he might want to convey to the 45th president, Schmidt replied: “That science matters, that climate change is real.”
In a wide-ranging, fireside-style conversation with CNN senior technology correspondent Laurie Segall at City Hall Plaza, Schmidt addressed several issues related to the tech industry and its future. He talked about artificial intelligence and the automation of jobs, as well as the ethics involved in giving more decision-making authority to machines.
Schmidt also told the audience he was encouraged by what he described as an increase in the number of female college students pursuing jobs in the tech industry.
And he briefly discussed sexual harassment in the workplace, referencing — though not by name — former Google engineer James Damore, who earlier this year was fired after writing a controversial memo on the company’s gender diversity.
“We fired him because you can’t have such people in your workforce,” Schmidt said. “You can’t work in a prejudiced environment.”
In addition to Schmidt, featured speakers at Thursday’s event included Care.com founder and executive chairwoman Sheila Marcelo, Sama Group and LXMI chief executive Leila Janah, and Mignon Clyburn, a commissioner with the Federal Communications Commission.
The primary purpose of the evening, however, was to name the winners of the Inclusive Innovation Challenge, part of MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy. Launched in 2015 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, it rewards organizations making technological advances available to all.
Over the past few months, the group’s judges whittled about 1,000 initial for-profit and nonprofit participants to 16 finalists, judged in four awards categories: skills development and opportunity matching; income growth and job creation; technology access; and financial inclusion.
From those 16, four grand prize winners received $150,000, while the remaining dozen received $35,000 apiece.
LaunchCode, which offers job seekers free coding instruction and helps match them to apprenticeships, was named winner of the skills and matching category. In the technology access category, AdmitHub won with its artificial intelligence “virtual assistant” that provides students personalized support in an effort to reduce dropout rates, particularly among those from underserved communities.
EFL claimed top prize in the financial inclusion category for its efforts to connect lenders with loan applicants to promote financial inclusion.
Finally, the income and jobs category was won by Logistimo, which uses “demand aggregation, load/route/schedule optimization, and fulfillment tracking” to get essential goods to rural frontier communities.
HUBweek, an innovation-themed festival founded by Harvard, MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital, and The Boston Globe, is now in its third year.