Google's Eric Schmidt: 'The math is that the American economy is doing well'

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet Inc., speaks during the New York Times DealBook conference in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Despite political discord, the American economy is doing well, Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said Thursday.

"I think the math is the American economy is doing well, and the unemployment situation is [going] well, and if you're confused on that, visit Europe," Schmidt said.

Schmidt spoke from the DealBook Conference in New York City, hosted by CNBC anchor and New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin and the editors of the Times. The conference focuses on "playing for the long term" in a business environment that's shackled to quarterly returns and compressed news cycles.

After an election cycle that stoked arguments over the shrinking middle class and widening inequality, Schmidt addressed the role that information played in the political process.

"My conclusion is you have a couple of things going on. You have immense amounts of information coming to people but they don't feel they have the tools to address them," Google's former CEO said. "You also have the pervasive insecurity of their perception of an uncertain future."

While unemployment has ticked steadily down since the recession, people have remained upset about the job market, Schmidt said. The solution, he said, is to foster entrepreneurship and use artificial intelligence and technology to broaden the scope of information that people receive.

"How people get their information — what they read and what they don't — I think is a project for the next decade," Schmidt said.

The mainstream media has faced broad-based criticism in the wake of Donald Trump's election, after polls indicated that Democrat Hillary Clinton would likely win by a comfortable margin. Schmidt said that amid data scientists, he's not sure what went wrong, but he pointed to issues with data collection. For instance, mobile phones and online polling haven't caught up with traditional landline polling, he said.

"It's still a new science," Schmidt said. "There's awful lot of people that I know that are sitting there trying to figure out what was wrong with the models. … I'm sure there will be significant engineering thinking about this."

But Schmidt said Google has taken its role in the political process seriously. He said it is possible for artificial intelligence to filter out bots, trolls, harassment and a rising flood of misinformation online.

But artificial intelligence has faced backlash, both within the political process and the technology community. Tesla's Elon Musk, for instance, has warned that robots will become the workforce.

"Manufacturing jobs are infinitely safer today because robots do the dangerous work. We take that for granted," Schmidt said. "Computers in manufacturing eliminated … the [tasks] that humans don't want to do. The jobs that are routine are going to be replaced by technology. ... Those same tools make an average person smarter."

Over the past year, Google publicly set its sights on the artificial intelligence market. In its annual founder's letter, CEO Sundar Pichai set a vision for artificial intelligence that "can help us in everything from accomplishing our daily tasks and travels to eventually tackling even bigger challenges like climate change and cancer diagnosis."

But to foster continued innovation in America, Schmidt said the tech sector's day-one ask of Trump is H1-B visa reform. Schmidt said Google has brilliant engineers who are languishing in condos in Canada waiting to get to work.

When we kick out highly educated foreign engineers, "they go and build competitors to our companies," he said.

Another high priority for the incoming government should be cybersecurity, Schmidt said. He said disclosures from WikiLeaks and insiders like former NSA analyst Edward Snowden will become ever easier.

"An obvious thing that the next president should do is have a division that audits the security of the data of our citizens," Schmidt said.

Given the focus on Cinton's email during the election, Schmidt emphasized the importance of two-factor authentication.

"I strongly recommend that you don't use your own private email server. … I strongly recommend you use Gmail," he said. "There's going to be an ever-increasing set of problems for people who use just a password."

Though Schmidt admitted to being on Clinton's "side," he said he was a fan of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who openly supported Trump, despite backlash in the tech community.

"I think he's a brilliant entrepreneur," Schmidt said. "I like him personally and I like a lot of things that he says, my personal view. And I think we want a culture where people can speak what they think. I admire what he did."