We’ve made friends and swiped lovers we never would have met. We’ve learned more about our world and found strange pockets full of weirdos to call home. We’ve truly connected with new ideas and been harassed by nazis with anime avatars who we never would have known existed.
The internet has given us so much. But now that era of global connectivity and togetherness may be coming to an end.
That’s according to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, a technical advisor to (and former CEO of) Google’s parent company Alphabet. In the coming decades, Schmidt suspects there will be two major internets out there — the one we know and love/hate, and a new, more heavily-censored one built by the Chinese government.
CNBC reported the event, which was held last Wednesday in San Francisco and organized by Village Global VC, an investment group that invests tech giants’ money in startups. Economist Tyler Cowen asked Schmidt whether he thought the internet would fracture into multiple, separate networks within the next 15 years. Here’s what Schmidt had to say:
I think the most likely scenario now is not a splintering, but rather a bifurcation into a Chinese-led internet and a non-Chinese internet led by America.
If you look at China, and I was just there, the scale of the companies that are being built, the services being built, the wealth that is being created is phenomenal…
If you think of China as like ‘Oh yeah, they’re good with the Internet,’ you’re missing the point. Globalization means that they get to play too. I think you’re going to see fantastic leadership in products and services from China. There’s a real danger that along with those products and services comes a different leadership regime from government, with censorship, controls, etc.
Schmidt’s concern for the dangers of online censorship is a direct contrast from the views of his successor, current CEO Sundar Pichai. As CNBCmentioned, Pichai is excited for the chance to further develop partnerships with the Chinese tech industry.
Even after the internal and public backlash against Project Dragonfly, the Chinese government-approved search engine that would make widespread censorship simpler than ever, Google’s leadership is holding onto this neutral, opportunistic stance. Chinese activists may once more be on their own when it comes to disseminating information that the government doesn’t want out there.
A separate internet with which the Chinese government can do whatever it wants means a lot more than separate Google search results and restricted social media. Firewalls can be penetrated and servers can be hacked, but a separate internet altogether would cut Chinese people off from the rest of the world, and the rest of the world from its people.