Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt begins year as MIT innovation fellow

Schmidt: ‘Most of the things I am interested in are occurring at MIT’

Eric Schmidt, former CEO and executive chairman of Google, will begin his year as an Innovation Fellow at MIT on March 1. Schmidt will be an advisor to MIT Intelligence Quest (MIT IQ), a new initiative aiming to develop the fields of human and machine intelligence.

MIT IQ is a new initiative that aims to put MIT at the forefront of machine intelligence research, with the overall aim to help humanity by assessing and developing appropriate new technologies. In a phone interview with The Tech, Schmidt explained that his role as an advisor was not a well-defined plan but instead a somewhat malleable position that he aims to develop in a direction he sees most fit.

The initiative has many different aspects, such as community outreach and working with partner companies. Schmidt wants to focus his attention on applying what is learnt from MIT IQ to other areas of science, an opportunity he is “particularly interested in.”

“I am very convinced that AI and machine learning, when applied to other fields and industries, will transform them,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt also made clear that he wanted to expand the reaches of these technologies, especially in the core sciences, suggesting that future Nobel prizes may arise from such developments. “I’m going to start [with] the transformative effects of AI and machine learning of the other sciences,” Schmidt said, referring to using AI to improve areas such as biology, chemistry and physics.

With a position that he describes as “evolving,” Schmidt will likely be looking to work with a range of groups at MIT to start new projects in areas of applied computer and data science.

Schmidt stepped down from his position at Google, which he has led since 2001, in January. When asked if he was considering anywhere other than MIT, he was quick to confirm “No! No, [MIT] was my first choice.”

“MIT is a natural next step [from Google],” Schmidt said. “Most of the things I am interested in are occurring at MIT.”

“I remember being an undergraduate,” Schmidt said. Schmidt attended Princeton University, where he majored in electrical engineering, as “computer science didn’t exist at the time.” He then went on to complete an MS and PhD at the University of California, Berkeley.

When asked for advice, Schmidt suggested that students “try to look at applied math … see what can be done using applied math techniques.”

Schmidt will remain as a technical advisor at Google while at MIT. The Google office is just across the street from Kendall Station, so “it couldn’t be more convenient,” Schmidt said.

As Schmidt is also on the Broad Institute’s board of directors, Schmidt was pleased by the location of the buildings he will be visiting often. “MIT did something brilliant, which is putting all the buildings I’m interested in next to each other,” Schmidt said, laughing.

“The Broad has been an amazing study of the power of cooperation,” Schmidt said, which he wishes to take inspiration from while working at MIT.

Although Schmidt is currently scheduled to be at MIT as an Innovation Fellow for only a year, he spoke of possible future connections at the Institute. “Perhaps I’ll get renewed,” Schmidt said. “I’m looking forward to a long affiliation with MIT in whatever way I can.”

“I hope it’s clear that I’m extremely excited about this,” Schmidt continued. “I’m ready to dig in.”