To hear Eric Schmidt say it, the world will one day — perhaps as early as five years from now — have to contend with the dystopian reality it has two internets – one for the United States and the rest of the world and the other for China.
Schmidt should know what he’s talking about given he was once CEO of Google and former executive chairman of its parent company, Alphabet, Inc. Retired from Alphabet since last year, Schmidt is doing the lecture circuit sharing his knowledge and insights about all things tech with whoever will listen.
In one such event held recently in San Francisco, Schmidt expounded on the possibility two internets might soon be the norm. One of these internets will be led and developed by the U.S. while China will have its own version defending its own peculiar political and economic system.
At this forum, Schmidt was asked about the possibility of the internet fragmenting into the different sub-internets subject to different national regulations and having limited access between them. Schmidt answered the most likely scenario now is not a splintering, but rather a bifurcation into a Chinese-led internet and a non-Chinese internet led by America.
He said that if one looks at China, which he recently visited, the scale of the companies that are being built, the services being offered and the wealth being created is phenomenal. He revealed that the Chinese Internet accounts for a greater percentage of the GDP of China than the United States.
Globalization means that China gets “to play, too,” meaning that China has clout when it comes to the internet. He thinks the world is going to see fantastic leadership in products and services from China. There is, however, a real danger that along with these products and services comes a different leadership regime from the government, with censorship and controls, among others.
Schmidt, however, glossed over the most pressing issue confronting his former company, which is “Project Dragonfly.” This Google project pushed by Schmidt’s successor, Sundar Pichai, is aimed at creating a dedicated or censored version of its search engine for use in China.
Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Google employees signed a letter saying Project Dragonfly raises “urgent moral and ethical issues” and must be discontinued by Google. In his reply, Pichai said Google has been “in an exploration stage for quite a while now,” and is considering “many options,” but is nowhere near launching in China.”
Tech pundits are interpreting Pichai’s reluctance to cancel Project Dragonfly as a tacit admission the project is still in the works.