In this episode of the Wait Wait… We use Google to search for just about everything, so we’ve invited Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt to play a game called “Try Googling that, Bigshot.” We’ll ask him three questions about things that cannot be found.
Schmidt, who served as Google CEO for 10 years, is the co-author of the new book The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business.
Listen to the Story
PETER SAGAL, HOST: And now the game where very important people answer questions about very unimportant things. It’s called Not My Job. Speaking of important, Google, one of the most valuable companies in the world, is how we search for things in the internet or use email, talk on the phone, find our way to places, shop for things, watch videos online, basically everything we do. So let’s be sure not to annoy Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google. Eric, welcome to WAIT WAIT…DON’T TELL ME!
ERIC SCHMIDT: Thank you very much.
SAGAL: It’s great to have you. So I mean, I use Google for everything, I use Google Chrome, I use Gmail, you know, everything. How much do you guys know about us?
SCHMIDT: Well, as much as you’ll let us know. We keep information about your searches for 12 to 18 months, and then we forget everything.
SCHMIDT: Yes, really.
SAGAL: I’ve been to Googleplex in Mountain View?
SCHMIDT: Mountain View.
SAGAL: Mountain View. And they’ve got this screen up that shows, like, Google searches right now, things that people are typing into the search engine, so you know. If you wanted to, could you just flip a switch on your office computer and just, like, read my emails just for the hell of it?
SCHMIDT: Yes, and I would lose my job, be fired, and be sued to death.
SAGAL: If you admitted it.
SCHMIDT: Someone would find out, trust me.
SAGAL: Because they’d Google you, and they’d find out.
SAGAL: So your story is is that Google, as we know, was founded by these two grad students at Stanford who came up with this search thing. They were very young men at the time, and they founded this company, and you were brought in to provide adult supervision, as they said in the day. Is that about right?
SCHMIDT: That’s roughly right.
SAGAL: And so, what was Google like as a company when you showed up? What did you have to teach them to do, like guys, you’re going to have to wear pants to work. I’m sorry. This is a business?
SCHMIDT: Well, we actually had to have a rule, we had to have two rules. The first rule – these are both rules I enacted. The first is that you had to wear clothes to work.
SAGAL: The first rule, you have to wear clothes. What’s the second rule?
SCHMIDT: Well, the second rule is that you have to have fun. You can be serious without wearing a suit, and we wanted to invent the future.
SAGAL: Right. And you did, and here it is, and it’s nice. So speaking of the future, everybody’s excited about Google Glass.
SAGAL: And I don’t know what it is exactly. What is it?
SCHMIDT: Well, in fact, think of them as glasses that have a little screen that looks like a monitor that’s right above your right eye.
SCHMIDT: Look up and you see this monitor that looks like a computer monitor, and you can sort of, of course, see videos and pictures and so forth. But it’s also got a camera in it, and it will talk to you. So you say Google Glass, and it says hello, and then you ask it a question, and it gives you an answer.
SAGAL: So you’re trying to destroy the very last semblance of actual human interaction.
SAGAL: What would you use it for? Tell me what you’d use this amazing invention for.
SCHMIDT: Well, we don’t quite know yet. We have maybe 2,000 of these. We’ve shipped them out to developers, and we’re seeing what they develop. There’s obviously issues, shall we say, of appropriateness of how people are going to use these things. There’s a right time to have Google Glass on, and there’s a right time to have it off, if you take my drift.
SCHMIDT: So kind of watch and see what people do with it and then decide what to do.
SCHMIDT: It is a technical achievement that’s of extraordinary scale.
SAGAL: I’ve been to the Googleplex, your headquarters in California, and it is amazing. There’s volleyball pits and there’s an amazing cafeteria that has everything but a cash register. And there are classes all day – there’s yoga, there’s a ball pit. There’s a ball pit for grown-ups. How does any work ever get done?
SCHMIDT: Free breakfast, lunch, and dinner, massages, you name it, bring your dog to work, bring your other pets. We had one employee decide that the policy allowed him to bring his boa constrictor to work.
SAGAL: How’d that work out?
SCHMIDT: We have revised the policy that you have to wear clothes if you do not bring your boa constrictor to work.
SAGAL: Really? That’s in the rules now?
SCHMIDT: Boa constrictor.
CHARLIE PIERCE: On the other hand, it made the ball pit interesting.
SAGAL: Just imagine, like, this was your job. I mean, it was like you’re sitting there, you know, in your suit, trying to do the business, and it’s like: Mr. Schmidt, there’s a boa constrictor. Could you come down and tell him not to do it? You’re like, all right.
SCHMIDT: They did catch the boa constrictor.
SCHMIDT: There is a person that you can hire in New York City who will, in fact, catch boa constrictors that you lose.
SAGAL: So you mentioned that you’ve invented this thing, Google Glass, and you don’t know how exactly people are going to use it. You do that a lot. Don’t you have this thing we’re you’re supposed to spend, like, 20 percent of your time at Google?
SCHMIDT: Yeah, that’s another one of our ideas is that engineers should spend 20 percent of their time working on whatever they find interesting. Now, before you get too excited, remember, engineers are not that interesting (unintelligible)…
SAGAL: Right, right.
SCHMIDT: …but they understand very well.
SCHMIDT: And a lot of the Google inventions came from engineers just screwing around with ideas. And then management would see them, and we’d say, boy, that’s interesting. Let’s add some more engineers.
SAGAL: So give me an example of something that came out of that.
A simple one would be Google Maps.
Google Maps came out of that process.
BRIAN BABYLON: I have a question on internet etiquette. How do you feel or have you ever gotten someone’s email, and they had a AOL (unintelligible) at the end? Do you feel sorry for them?
SCHMIDT: Well, AOL is one of our largest partners, so we’re very happy if you’re using AOL.
SCHMIDT: AOL is welcome.
SAGAL: Well, let me ask you another question which is Google’s slogan is famously, don’t be evil, right? How did you guys come up with that?
SCHMIDT: Well, it was invented by Larry and Sergey. And the idea was that we don’t quite know what evil is, but if we have a rule that says don’t be evil, then employees can say, I think that’s evil. Now, when I showed up, I thought this was the stupidest rule ever, because there’s no book about evil except maybe, you know, the Bible or something.
So what happens is, I’m sitting in this meeting, and we’re having this debate about an advertising product. And one of the engineers pounds his fists on the table and says, that’s evil. And then the whole conversation stops, everyone goes into conniptions, and eventually we stopped the project. So it did work.
SAGAL: Really? I love the idea…
SAGAL: …like, you’re coming in, like, you’re a businessman who’s been successful in all kinds of Silicon Valley business. And you come in, and you’re like this thing about not being evil, that’ll never work in American business.
SAGAL: What, are you crazy, kids?
SAGAL: Eric Schmidt, we’re delighted to have you with us. We’ve invited you here to play a game we’re calling…
BILL KURTIS: Try Googling That, Big Shot.
SCHMIDT: I am (unintelligible).
SAGAL: Google, as we know…
SCHMIDT: I’ve kept (unintelligible).
SAGAL: Yeah. It seems to find everything, so we’re going to ask you about three things that cannot be found, at least as far as we know. Answer two questions correctly, you’ll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl’s voice on their home answering machine. Bill, who…
SCHMIDT: There’s nothing that cannot be found through some search engine or on the internet somewhere.
SAGAL: Oh, so you say, sir.
SAGAL: So you say. Bill, who is Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, playing for?
KURTIS: Ashley Burden of Columbia, Missouri.
SAGAL: All right. Here’s your first question, Eric. For more than a century, people have been looking for what in the deserts of Southern California: A, a fungus that can cure baldness; B, a treasure ship from the 19th century; or C, the real killers?
SCHMIDT: The fungus.
SAGAL: The fungus. Oh, from your mouth to god’s ears, but actually, it’s the treasure ship. For more than a century, there have been legends of a wooden ship filled with treasure somewhere in the desert south of the Salton Sea. How did it get there? They say a big wave somewhere.
SCHMIDT: By the way, am I supposed to be using Google during this thing or not?
SAGAL: Well, you’ve got it hardwired into your brain (unintelligible).
SCHMIDT: I’ve got a browser up here, I’m running Chrome, you know.
SCHMIDT: If I could just type your questions in, I’ll get the answers right.
SAGAL: I don’t know. Sometimes Chrome, you just end up with some strange site that doesn’t help. Now I’m not saying – I don’t mean that. I don’t mean that.
SAGAL: Don’t turn it off. This is a test of your knowledge, I’m just saying, not the world’s knowledge, your knowledge. Next question, the town of Rennes-le-Chateau, France, because of an enduring mystery is regularly overrun by whom: A, people looking for Amelia Earhart; B, fans of The DaVinci Code; or C, mongooses?
SCHMIDT: The first one.
SAGAL: The first one, people looking for Amelia Earhart are going to Rennes-le-Chateau, France?
SCHMIDT: No, the third one.
SAGAL: The third one.
KURTIS: I’d go to that Chrome.
SCHMIDT: I’m trying to type the question in you’re asking me, so I need to use Google Voice Search here.
SAGAL: Do it. Actually, at this point, I think we best better let you use the crutch, so go on.
SAGAL: Rennes-le-Chateau. We’ve never tried this. You’re the chairman of Google, you get to use Google, go ahead, see if you can answer the question.
SCHMIDT: The pure society, the Free Masons, the (unintelligible), I mean, you know, there’s lots of information here.
SAGAL: I know.
SAGAL: Meanwhile, we got Bill Gates on the other line. He used Bing, and he got it.
SAGAL: He’s waiting to win. I’m kidding, I’m kidding. So all right. So what do you think?
SCHMIDT: And the answer, of course, is the DaVinci Code according to Wikipedia, so there.
SAGAL: So there.
KURTIS: Yes, yes.
SAGAL: So there.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: It is. Back in the ’50s, a restaurant owner started spreading stories about hidden treasures, and the priori that launched all these other stories, many of which Dan Brown used in his book which is why these people are coming to Rennes-le-Chateau and really annoying the natives. All right. So you’ve one more chance, and you have the vast power of the internet via your own company, so let’s see if you can answer this one.
Another great mystery is the Lost Dutchman Mine, a valuable gold mine somewhere in the Superstition Mountain area of Arizona. Many men have died searching for the mine. One prospector, James Cravey, was found dead in the mountains, and the coroner ruled that there was no foul play despite what: A, he was found with a dented cook pot near his broken skull; B) There was a guy next to him who told the searchers, yep, I shot him just a little while ago, that was me; or C, his head was found 30 feet from his body?
His name was James Cravey. That’s C-r-a-v-e-y.
SAGAL: Lost Dutchman Mine, you just go ahead. I play Angry Birds on my iPad. Go.
SAGAL: Let me know when you’re ready.
SCHMIDT: We’re searching, we’re searching, and we’re reading…
SAGAL: I find this hilarious.
SCHMIDT: Lost Dutchman Mine. It’s amazing the amount of information that’s on the internet.
SAGAL: It’s true.
SCHMIDT: His head was 30 feet from his body.
SAGAL: Did you just find that on the internet?
SCHMIDT: No, I’m just guessing.
SCHMIDT: I’m still reading about all the other deaths.
SAGAL: Well, you’re right. His head was found 30 feet from his body. The coroner says…
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: …this according to one Lost Dutchman website we found, no foul play. How his head got 30 feet from his body on its own, we don’t know. Bill, how did Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, do on our show?
KURTIS: Eric got two right…
KURTIS: …playing for Ashley Burden.
SAGAL: Eric Schmidt is the executive chairman of Google and author, along with Jared Cohen, of the book, “The New Digital Age.” Eric Schmidt, thank you so much for joining us.
SCHMIDT: Thank you, all.
Source: Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!More Series for You: