Act now to prevent 'digital caste system' says Google's Schmidt

Google's Eric Schmidt told the Mobile World Congress that technology could be a great leveler.

Story highlights

  • Google's Eric Schmidt says web "still a scarce resource" for majority of world's citizens
  • Schmidt: "For most people the digital revolution has not arrived yet"
  • Isolated communities need peer-to-peer data-sharing networks, he says
  • Schmidt: "Technology is a leveler, and those with nothing will have something"

The world must act now to prevent a new digital caste system from emerging, Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt told the world's largest mobile phone gathering in Barcelona, Spain.

In his keynote address at the Mobile World Congress, Schmidt said for the "aspiring majority" of five out of seven billion global citizens, "the web is still a scarce resource."

"The first future belongs to the early adopters, the lucky few. For this group the future offers only the limits of science and ethics," he said.

"For most people the digital revolution has not arrived yet. Every revolution begins with a small group of people. Imagine how much better it would be with another five billion people online," he said.

Schmidt predicted that in the next decade there would be many improvements to connectivity; but there is a limit to the amount of new infrastructure that would be laid by 2020, he said.

"Smartphones are part of the solution, but having a smartphone is not enough to get you online."

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He suggested that isolated communities could share data in peer-to-peer or "mesh networks," describing them as a "digital watering hole."

    Anyone with solar equipment can set up a network, he said. "Even modest amounts of connectivity changes lives."

    In this new world it will be easier for people to mobilize against dictators, as the uprisings in the Arab World had shown, he said.

    Some governments would try to control access to the web and new technology, but he said he believed they were going to fail.

    "Citizens will demand a more ethical deal. There will still be elites, but technology is a leveler, and those with nothing will have something."

    "Everyone is blessed with creativity and imagination and the capacity for innovation. In every person there's an even better company waiting to get out. Let us commit ourselves to building a world where everyone has a chance to be connected," he said.

    In his 2010 keynote at the MWC, Schmidt proclaimed Google's new strategy of "putting mobile first." The following year he gave an update on the rise of Android and emphasized the importance of cloud computing to the future of new mobile services.