Schmidt did not make any reference to the controversial changes in his keynote speech at the opening ceremonies. Instead, he warned against creating a “caste system” around access to technologies and urged greater expansion of networks that allow communications and applications to transform organizations and society as a whole. Managing trust, in this case, was about trusting the IT industry to live up to the company’s “do no evil” motto.
“Technology does not produce miracles, but connectivity, even in modest amounts, changes lives,” he said, predicting that advances in big data analytics will help predict future economic crises such as the one facing the Euro zone today, and an acceleration in smart phone adoption that will empower disenfranchised citizens in hostile regimes. “In times of war, it will be impossible not to hear their cries for help. Dictators will have fewer places to hide.”
While what Schmidt called the “privileged few” of early adopters will continue to enjoy unlimited speed and processing power, there will be “connected contributors” who become a sort of IT middle class, followed by millions of others who might get only basic access to technology.
“There will be elites, but they won’t have monopolies on progress,” he said, adding that while in some ways technology will make us more equal, “the gaps will persist.” Schmidt noted that 40 countries continue to engage in some form of online censorship, something he described as a futile activity. “The Internet and technology are like water. They will always find a way through.”
This year’s CEBIT “partner country” is Brazil. Its president, Dilma Rousseff, told CEBIT attendees her government will undertake significant measures to boost its local IT industry this year, including the construction of a 31-mile fibre optic network covering half of the population and the development of 4G wireless. Brazil is already the third largest market for PCs around the world, she said, and 61 million people there have Internet connectivity. Like Schmidt, she railed against the possibility that the fruits of IT investment would not be spread equitably.
“Digital exclusion sharpens social exclusion,” she said.
German chancellor Angela Merkel extended the idea of “ managing trust” to urge the rest of the world to have faith that the European Union would sort out its financial difficulties, but also expressed hope that CEBIT would demonstrate the power of what individuals and organizations can do with the resources available to them.
“It’s always been more of a trade fair,” she said, speaking in German which was simultaneously translated, “characterized by focusing on how (technology) can be used by small, medium and large enterprises . . . The more you take (technology tools) for granted, like electricity from a wall outlet, the more important it is that you can rely on them.”
CEBIT runs until the end of the week.