Eric Schmidt: Do What Computers Aren't Good At

If you want to have a job in a decade, consider getting good at what computers suck at.

"The characteristic of great innovators and great companies is they see a space that others do not," Google CEO Eric Schmidt tells Yale. "They don't just listen to what people tell them; they actually invent something new, something that you didn’t know you needed, but the moment you see it, you say, 'I must have it.'"

This continuous invention, Schmidt says, is a constant--and part of the reason that the roster of leading companies is so inconstant. If you took a look at Microsoft 15 years ago, he says, you would have thought they would stay the leader until today, while Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and of course Google have emerged to their prime post.

That's the stuff of New Digital Age, Smith's new futurist text, co-authored with Jared Cohen, which the New York Times gave the off-handed compliment that it's more "prescient and provocative than it is silly." But what certainly is prescient--and not at all silly--are the insights Schmidt has about the roles of human and computer.

"I've come to a view that humans will continue to do what we do well, and that computers will continue to do what they do very well, and the two will coexist, but in different spaces," Schmidt says, sounding at least a little bit like a Blade Runner character.

What are computers good at? They have perfect memories, Schmidt tells Yale, and with that remembering everything, they can readily handle needle-in-a-haystack problems. Like in these hundred photos or facts, what's different? Computers don't break a sweat finding those needles--and mastering that search is path of high-end data science. On the other hand, humans have a terrible time with spotting differences amid haystacks, as any reader of Highlights would know.

But humans are still good at some things, Schmidt admits, like judgement, emotion, and creativity. Those unquantifiables are still hard to simulate, even for Siri. "That may change over the next decades," Schmidt says, "but for the moment, the separation of powers means that computers will sit around and help you."

So what are we to do?

The Bottom Line: Take advantage of your emotional intelligence while you can. It's part of embracing the whole new mind.

Hat tip: Yale School of Management

[Image: Flickr user Karoly Lorentey]

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3 Comments

  • Lucas Terra

    In order to comprehend that idea the best, one shall read Domenico de Masi's (italian social scientist) thinkings about the Ócio Criativo, which is all about leaving mechanical thinking to computers in order to leave the creative part with us, humans. Though it might seem too forward-thinking and impossible during the reading it is worth spending some time to study his ideas.

  • The Phelps Group

    Great article - we love thinking about innovation and the meritocratic side of business. Just wanted to point out a typo: The name 'Smith' is used in place of 'Schmidt' early in the article - we had to ask ourselves, 'Wait, who's Smith?'

  • Breean E. Miller

    Exactly! I just read that Dan Pink book. It's fantastic - I can't believe he had the foresight to write that so many years ago.