Ex-Google CEO and chairman Eric Schmidt says he's invested "a little bit" of money into cryptocurrencies — but for him, the most interesting part of blockchain isn't virtual currency. It's Web3.
"A new model [of the internet] where you as an individual [can] control your identity, and where you don't have a centralized manager, is very powerful. It's very seductive and it's very decentralized," Schmidt, 67, tells CNBC Make It. "I remember that feeling when I was 25 that decentralized would be everything."
Web3 is a name coined by some technologists as a new kind of internet service that's built using decentralized blockchains. The idea, at least in theory, is to build a system where it's much harder for a few companies — like Google, which Schmidt helped transform from a Silicon Valley start-up to a global tech behemoth — to control large amounts of the internet's data and content.
Schmidt served as Google's CEO from 2001 to 2011, overseeing one of the company's largest and most notable periods of growth. He stayed on as executive chairman until 2017, and technical advisor until 2020. Currently, Schmidt has a net worth of $20 billion, making him the world's 80th-richest person, according to Forbes.
But if he were just starting out as a software engineer today, he says, he'd want to work on AI algorithms or Web3.
Schmidt says his interest in Web3 involves a concept called "tokenomics," which refers to the specific supply and demand characteristics of cryptocurrencies. Schmidt also notes that Web3 could come with new models for content ownership and new ways of compensating people.
"[Web3's] economics are interesting. The platforms are interesting and the use patterns are interesting," Schmidt says. "[It] doesn't work yet, but it will."
For Schmidt, part of the problem with today's blockchain technology — specifically referencing bitcoin as an example — is that the majority of time people spend on those systems is dedicated to "making sure that nobody's attacking them ... they're incredibly wasteful."
Schmidt didn't name any specific cryptocurrencies he currently owns, noting that he's just "starting" to invest in crypto. Since leaving Google, he's spent most of his time on philanthropic efforts through his Schmidt Futures initiative, where he funds core research in fields like artificial intelligence, biology and energy.
"The hard stuff. The really difficult stuff that hasn't been solved," he says.
Last year, Schmidt co-wrote the book, "The Age of AI," as a roadmap of what that technology's future could look like. In December, he also became a strategic adviser for San Francisco-based research initiative Chainlink Labs, which uses blockchain technology to build "smart contracts" that encourage "economic fairness, transparency and efficiency," according to the initiative's website.