Great, thank you very much, Mr. Chair. It's a pleasure to be appearing before the industry committee again. I'm super excited to discuss Google's approach to experimentation, innovation, and discovery with you today.
Last week, officials from Industry Canada suggested how to identify and define disruptive technology using descriptors such a rapid technological breakthrough with broad global application, significant economic impact, and importantly, significant social impact. That certainly describes disruptive technology but it doesn't begin to capture its potential.
Plentiful computing power can result in improved decision-making. Cheap sensors can produce more frequent and more accurate measurements in a number of fields. Robots can speed manufacturing processes and even improve surgery outcomes. These all have the potential to disrupt how we conduct our business and live our daily lives, which naturally makes us all a little uncomfortable.
Truly transformative change often requires vision and ambition. Transformative change is the difference between making things 10% better and making them 10 times better. As a researcher, a business leader, or a policy-maker you're often tempted to focus on the incremental change. You inevitably build from the existing solution, relying upon existing tools and framing your challenge with insight and assumptions informed by your personal experience. This naturally limits the impact of your work.
It seems like a logical approach, apply a little more effort, find some extra money and dedicate more resources to the problem. With hard work you will find efficiencies perhaps even arrive at insights to inform further work. We can all recognize this is a careful, measured approach to change.
At Google, however, we approach change in a number of ways. As a company founded and run by engineers we understand the impact of data science, massive computing power, and insights into consumer behaviour. These inform how we develop new products and improve existing products. For example, consider Google Maps and how it has changed and affected how we search for addresses, shops, and even property investments in the years since its launch in Canada in 2007.
At Google we naturally have a nuanced understanding of business risk but we also appreciate that sometimes you have to set audacious goals. When you aim for a tenfold impact you energize your workforce. Sheer ambition demands that they examine a challenge with a fresh set of eyes and that they aim for outsized technological, economic, and social change.
Ambition and investment at this scale can light a fire in the hearts of employees. It encourages them to believe that other seemingly impossible goals may also be possible. We refer to some of these projects as “moonshots”. In fact, we have an organization dedicated to ambitious goals: Google X. As Astro Teller, the head of the program, describes it, “Moonshots live in that place between audacious projects and pure science fiction.”
We've always had a focus on investing in the future. Our founders made this clear early on in their 2004 letter to initial investors. Here is just a short quote, “Do not be surprised if we place smaller bets in areas that seem very speculative or even strange when compared to our current businesses.” I think you'll agree that we've kept that habit and that inclination over the past 12 years.
More bluntly, Larry, our CEO, has said that, “If you’re not doing some things that are crazy, then you’re doing the wrong things.”
There was some discussion last week of the Canadian appetite for risk, of what might be slowing investments by Canadian businesses in ICT, or maybe the key to our slow-paced commercializing of both basic and advanced research.
I'd just be speculating on the reasons for this. The officials you heard from last week have a far firmer grasp on the statistics, but I can tell you that western society conditions us from an early age to be cautious, even risk adverse. Think of the advice we've received from parents, coaches, and cut-rate business books: walk before you run, slow and steady wins the race, and horribly, under-promise and over-deliver.
When Google considers moonshots we aim to tackle big problems, big as in dauntingly huge, seemingly ageless in their existence, or of global impact. Our team of engineers, researchers, user experience designers, and other professionals attempt to identify and shape a solution to these big problems, a radical solution. Importantly, the science has to be there or at least the promise that the science will eventually arrive at a solution. There has to be evidence that with enough creativity, passion, and persistence we can arrive at a solution in the next decade or sooner.
In practice, what does this mean? It means smart contact lenses that will help diabetics monitor their glucose more seamlessly and painlessly than ever before; self-driving cars that will reduce injuries on the road, reduce road congestion, and even improve mobility for the elderly and disabled. It will mean novel ways to deliver the Internet to billions in the developing world without developing a 100 years' worth of disputes around poles, land rights, and conflicting technology; and—even I would say that this is audacious—creating a company whose explicit mission is to tackle aging.
There's always a reason for not setting audacious goals. SMEs think that these goals take money and resources that they don't have. Large companies shy away from the risk. Governments feel a pressure to use scarce resources to deliver demonstrable results, usually on short-term problems. Academics love long-term thinking but have largely defined their role as publishing and propagating ideas, not building the solutions themselves.
What's the danger inherent in this behaviour? Well, aside from continuing disappointment in our slow economic growth, we do not question the status quo. What do I mean by status quo? I mean that 110 years ago, cars were the toys of the wealthy. Forty years ago, computers were the size of a house and were purely a business tool. Twenty-five years ago, mobile phones were big, bulky, and expensive. Twenty years ago, Internet access was expensive and glacially slow. Ten years ago, video calls were expensive and difficult, and four years ago, we thought standing on a corner and waving our hand in the rain was the only way to get a taxi.
While we feel pressured by the rapid technological change that's enabled by the growth and power of the Internet, it's important to remember that this is an almost generational pattern, and every time society struggles to adapt to the social and economic impact of technological change. Almost as regularly, we attempt to apply existing regulatory frameworks to mitigate the perceived risk of new habits, new technology, and new solutions to previously intractable problems.
Preparing ourselves for emerging opportunities means embracing that uncertainty, not running away from it. Canadian companies are having an impact. Importantly, these sorts of technologies shouldn't be characterized as disruptive. They're being innovative, and at scale. These products, services, and platforms are attracting users and customers from around the world in markets that didn't exist five years ago, and were the stuff of science fiction 15 years ago.
As you continue this study, please remember this point. Truly transformative change demands an increased tolerance for risk, from researchers, from managers, from regulators. We need to provide innovative companies with room to explore, to develop new ideas, and to experiment with new products, while being protected from regulatory and business moves driven by risk aversion, uncertainty, or even pressure from existing stakeholders.
Thank you again for the invitation to appear today, and I look forward to your questions.