Google's glasses may one day whisper in your ear an old acquaintance's name when you unexpectedly bump into them at a party.
Google's car will drive itself in years — not decades.
And what if Google's search engine could predict a question you should have asked but didn't?
"We have a product we're working on now, which attempts to answer interesting questions," Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said at The Economic Club of Chicago on Thursday morning. "It starts by trying to figure out: Where is your home? And where is your work? And on its own, it figures out how long it takes you to get from home to work, and then it tells you if you're late."
Schmidt, 58, is swinging through Chicago on a promotional tour for his new book, "The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business," which he co-wrote with Jared Cohen, 31, a former State Department official and director of Google Ideas, the company's think tank.
In an interview conducted by Chicago investor J.B. Pritzker, Cohen and Schmidt displayed the rapport they have built while visiting more than 25 countries to gather research for the book, which focuses on the potential aftershocks of an estimated 5 billion people joining the Internet in the next five to 10 years, mostly from the developing world.
Pritzker began with a question about Schmidt and Cohen's trip to North Korea in January.
The airline they took from Beijing to Pyongyang "is the least safe and lowest-rated airline in the world," Schmidt said. "The country is very, very poor. It has some legacy of its rich past. The buildings are very pretty. But there's no heat. There's no power. So you're frigid."
Schmidt said there are more than 1 million cellphones in North Korea — all as capable as American phones, but the government won't turn on the Internet. Those in Schmidt and Cohen's travel party were forced to leave their cellphones in Beijing.
"I predicted that after two days Eric's thumbs would start twitching," Cohen joked.
Schmidt described North Korea as "very, very bizarre." Their visit, Cohen said, was all artifice, a combination of a Broadway play and the movie "The Truman Show." Once the tourists leave, the subway stops going back and forth between two stops, for instance. The Java programmers they met in a computer lab weren't programming at all, and it was unclear if they could.
"The thing that was most disturbing is that of all of the places I've been — and I've been to East Germany and was in Russia as it fell — we would talk to the people (in those places) and we would get a sense of doubt," Schmidt said. "They kind of knew they were in an irrational system that made no sense, and the people were jokers. Here, I had no sense of that. It's one of those things, if 22 million people can be that sheepish or that frightened, until that problem is solved, we're not going to make any progress with North Korea."
Schmidt and Cohen see the free flow of information online as an empowering and democratic tool. Still, North Korea could turn on the Internet only to have it function as a massive wiretap. And even worse, terrorists or enemies could use it as a cyberweapon.
Google has had firsthand experience with Chinese-based intrusions, including those attempting to steal user passwords and monitor Gmail accounts.
"How do you know the Chinese are not wandering around your company right now, in your internal email?" Schmidt asked. "We were surprised they were inside of Google, and we've since increased our defenses a great deal."
America is constructing two foreign policies, Cohen said, one for cyberspace and one for the physical world. The relationship between China and the United States in the physical world is complex and multifaceted. In cyberspace, though, it looks as adversarial as America's relationship with Iran, he said.
"But at what point does an attack from China in cyberspace become so serious and so severe and inflict such consequences that it requires a physical-world response?" Cohen asked. "We treat these two domains as separate, but eventually they become intertwined."
Here are excerpts from J.B. Pritzker's interview with Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen:
On keeping America's technology edge:
Schmidt: "The technology edge is easy. Let's let foreigners that we teach in our universities stay in the country and form companies ..." The loud applause drowned out his answer for a moment. "On a list of stupid policies in America, which there's a long list, this is literally the stupidest. Because these foreign students, with their Ph.D.s in computer science, physics and math, will go outside the country, will create companies, and those companies will become competitors. I'm happy to compete with American firms. I'd rather have the competition be here in America, where the laws are all coherent."
On raising children in the digital age:
Schmidt: "The day you post the sonogram of your child is the day you identify his or her digital identity. At that point, the game is on. And for the rest of their lives, people will be talking about them, their digital identity will be formed, and they'll have less and less control over that identity as they age, as people describe them (online)."
Cohen: "One of the other things we say about parents in the book is that you have two types of parents. Some that are very Type A want their kids to have an extra edge. And they'll give their children names that are unique as possible so as to enhance their discoverability online."
On Google's car:
Schmidt: "We can recognize red lights, and we have this laser that knows exactly where you're going. And we're having a little trouble when a policeman runs over in front of you and goes like this," Schmidt said as he put out his hand as if he's stopping traffic. "The car goes right over the policeman."