The following is the full text of the interview:
1. About culture and innovation
Q: what do you think of post resumption, remote work, mandatory wearing of masks, virus detection and so on? What do you expect to see in the coming months?
Pichai: our business philosophy is that the working mode will be more flexible in the future. We firmly believe in the power to bring people together, which is our original intention of buying a new office building in New York recently. We roughly developed the so-called “3-2-2” model to help balance traditional work and remote work. In this mode, employees can work in the office for 3 days, work remotely from home for 2 days and rest for 2 days a week. We hope that over time, about 20% of our employees can work completely remotely. After January next year, we will only tell people to make decisions according to the local actual situation, and there is no need for central decision-making, because different parts of the world are going through different trajectories.
Q: how do you work now?
Pichai: I work every day this week, but I usually work about two or three days a week.
Q: whether working in the office or remotely, how can you create the culture you want and need so that everyone feels like a part of it?
Pichai: we are investing more. We are re imagining physical space and trying to create more collaborative space to make people feel more interesting when they get together. When our New York office reopened, we allowed employees to return voluntarily, but now 50% of employees have returned. Last week, there was a long line in front of our cafe for the first time. So the vitality of the office is about to recover, and people seem to be really happy to be back!
Q: is Silicon Valley different in becoming a technology center? Is technology everywhere now? Has Silicon Valley lost the centrality of some technology jobs?
Pichai: there are strong signs that Silicon Valley is still doing amazing things and is likely to get the best talents. But there are more activities and attractions elsewhere than ever before. This is a growing cake. It will no longer just invite Silicon Valley. You’ll certainly see that other places are doing well, and I think it’s good overall. But silicon valley still has something special.
Q: you had a war of words with Google employees. Now many employees support the establishment of trade unions. Between these events and the challenges of telecommuting, how do you deal with cultural concerns or objections within the company?
Pichai: we give our employees a lot of power. I think this is the advantage of the company at a high level, so that employees are so involved and deeply concerned about the company’s actions. Sometimes we make decisions, but employees may disagree. We must treat our decisions clearly and transparently. This is a new normal, and we are used to it.
Q: one of the biggest news this week is dealing with the special program of comedian Dave Cappelle and the dissatisfied employees. This is a new tool for today’s CEOs. You must learn how to deal with employees’ outspokenness. If you don’t agree, will you fight back more bluntly?
Pichai: when running a big company, you need to make sure the company is doing the right thing. This brings a sense of responsibility, which I always think is a major advantage of the company. We have invested and people can raise their concerns in these ways. It is important that the two sides also engage in mutually respectful dialogue. But CEOs need to accept the fact that in a modern workplace, employees want to have a say in where they work, which is also crucial.
Q: under your leadership, alphabet performed very well. You are sometimes criticized that alphabet is no longer as innovative as before. Is that fair?
Pichai: over the past five years, we have invested more than $100 billion in R & D. The challenge I bring to the company is how to use this investment to build useful functions, and I see evidence of this every day. If you are typing with Gmail, smart compose can save you time. In our upcoming pixel phone, see how voice typing works, or how you talk to another person in different languages, and how translation is done in real time on the device. For me, innovation is to make life easier for people who rely on these products. There will be greater leaps in the future, but these will take time.
2. About privacy
Q: as you know, there is a heated debate on privacy. What is the difference between the change of privacy concept and Google’s business model? Does the business model need to change itself?
Pichai: People’s expectations for privacy are changing, and we’re working hard to stay ahead. Most of the data we save today is to protect the interests of users. We support our products through advertising. We need very limited information to ensure that advertising is relevant to users and that enough people think advertising is effective. We have a clear roadmap to do all this in a way that ensures privacy and security. But it requires trust and we will listen to feedback. One of the biggest changes we announced was the automatic deletion of user activity data by default. For more than 2 billion accounts, by default, we will automatically delete data after 18 months.
Q: hacker attacks and other negative things are worse than ever. What is the reason for this?
Pichai: the online world does not have the norms and conventions we have established in the real world. On a multilateral basis, governments need to put it on a higher agenda. I call for a global framework. You will need it in areas such as network security, just as we do in the real world.
Q: you have been trying to solve different regulatory problems in different parts of the world. Should there be the same privacy standards everywhere? If so, what should it look like?
Pichai: I think it helps to have a common framework. I think the EU’s general data protection regulations is a good foundation. I really want to see similar federal privacy standards in the United States. I’m worried about the patchwork of state regulations, which adds a lot of complexity.
Q: YouTube recently announced that digital ads purchased on its platform will not contain content that denies climate change. In a way, when you have to make such a decision, don’t you become a publisher?
Pichai: we have a firm commitment to freedom of speech. We fight for it all over the world. We are trying to balance the interests of content creators, users and advertisers. There are many brand advertisers on YouTube. They don’t want their ads close to what they think is negative. You can discuss some things on youtube, and we’ve always seen a lot of debate. We must respect where advertisers want to spend their money. After all, if they quit, the creators will also be affected. As a company, we are motivated to do the right thing, even from a business perspective.
Q: however, some controversial remarks must be protected beyond the imagination of advertisers.
Pichai: as a company, the way we treat it is that we have been ranking in order to provide high-quality information in search results. In the past four years, we have adopted this approach on YouTube. The answer is that many times, authoritative information will be put forward. We are also trying to find expert organizations that people are willing to accept. It’s always harder than you think. In some countries, the public health sector is regarded as an authoritative source of information. In the United States, this is more controversial. We are trying to find the right balance.
3. On cooperation with government agencies
Q: should the U.S. government support some types of technological research in a closer public-private partnership, with funds or in-depth ways?
Pichai: the government has limited resources and needs to focus. But we all benefit from the basic investment 20 to 30 years ago, which is the basis of many modern technological innovations. When I see the development of next-generation quantum computing, the government can play a key role in policy, allowing us to introduce the best talents from anywhere in the world, or cooperate with universities to create longer-term research projects. I do believe that public-private cooperation in this area can be a good template. I am heartened that both parties have a common interest in ensuring that we consider this issue in the long run. (reviewed by Tencent technology / Jinlu)