Tech

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt believes biology is the next frontier in computing

Key Points
  • Former CEO Eric Schmidt said biology is in a "golden period," making it perfect for tech.
  • Schmidt said data from human eyes will generate new algorithms.
  • He also said computing and biology need each other now more than ever.
Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Brain inserts and carbon-absorbing bacteria aren't just the fantasies of Silicon Valley's richest executives, they're also a part of a larger hope to advance artificial intelligence and computing efforts.

"Biology will undoubtedly fuel computing" in coming years, former Google CEO and current technical advisor Eric Schmidt said at a conference called SynBioBeta in San Francisco Monday. "Taking biology, which I'd always viewed as squishy and analog, and turning it into something that can be digitally manipulated, is an enormous accelerator."

Schmidt's comments come as Silicon Valley's seeming obsession with biology attempts to move beyond fascinating projects and into more serious investments that could help modernize tech processes.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this year announced he and his wife Priscilla Chan would donate $68 million to support the mapping of all the cells in the human body. Facebook also recently acquired a company called CTRL Labs that lets you control computers with your mind. And Neuralink, a start-up once backed by Elon Musk, announced its brain-computer will start trials on humans next year.

"I'm always interested in the question: What is changing the fastest right now? Because whatever that is determining the history of next year," Schmidt told the crowd. "There's lot of evidence that biology is in that golden period right now."

He gave examples of vision data aiding computing advances and smart assistants bolstering biological research and medical cure advances. "The way the eye and the vision works and so forth, will undoubtedly generate algorithms that are very powerful that we don't fully understand right now," Schmidt said.

Under Schmidt, Google's made several early vision-related investments and most faced snags. Alphabet's life sciences company Verily tried creating smart contact lenses, which aimed to measure blood sugar levels in tears. It has also filed patents for eye-tracking and, of course, who can forget the infamously defunct Google Glass.

"It's easy to come up with movie recommendations or YouTube recommendations, because we have millions of data points of people like you," Schmidt said. "We don't have an analogous amount of data in biology yet."

Schmidt said he'd like to marry the two worlds as quickly as possible. At one point, he asked the crowd to "build bacteria that absorbs CO2," adding "We need it at scale and we need it in the next 10 to 15 years."

VIDEO5:4905:49
These Amazon-backed smart glasses are the best yet—but they don't do enough