India’s struggle with COVID made me cry, says Sundar Pichai

Google CEO also talks about attacks on internet freedom, quantum computing, worries over technology, and why he’d envy Jeff Bezos

Sundar Pichai
“I am an American citizen but India is deeply within me. It's a big part of who I am,” said Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet.

“I am an American citizen but India is deeply within me,” said Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet and Google, in a recent interview. The COVID onslaught on India, he said, made him cry.

In his interview with BBC, Pichai also cautioned the world on ‘attacks’ on internet freedom. “Free and open internet is under attack” in countries worldwide, he said. Several nations are curbing the flow of information, he said, adding that the “the model is often taken for granted.”

“None of our major products and services are available in China,” he pointed out when asked if the Chinese model of internet based on surveillance is on the rise.

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Space vision

Virgin Group head Richard Branson just made a space visit. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is going later this month. Is Pichai tempted by space travel?

He would certainly want to “see Earth from Space”, said Pichai, quipping that he is even a bit jealous of those who did.

BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan asked the Google boss if his kids were allowed YouTube screen time. They were, said Pichai. “I think this generation needs to learn to adapt to technology, it’s going to be a big part of their lives. So, I’ve encouraged them to develop boundaries on their own but I approach it as a journey of personal responsibility,” he said.

The worry over technology and its impact is but natural, Pichai observed. “Look, I think we should worry, and I’m glad there are experts looking at areas like mental health, and all that, but I would also say that throughout history we’ve always been worried about technology,” he said.

Remembering roots

When Rajan asked him if he was Indian or American, Pichai said: “I am an American citizen but India is deeply within me. So, it’s a big part of who I am.”

Also read: Richard Branson, the space visitor with ‘Tamil roots’

Asked when was the last time he cried, he replied: “Seeing the morgue trucks parked around the world through COVID, and seeing what’s happened in India.”

To a query on quantum computing, Pichai said it’s “not going to work for everything”. “There are things for which the way we do computing today would always be better. But there are some things for which quantum computing will open up an entire new range of solutions,” he said.

On artificial intelligence (AI), he said: “I view it as the most profound technology that humanity will ever develop and work on. You know, if you think about fire or electricity or the internet, it’s like that. But I think even more profound.”

Tax trouble

Google, among other leading tech companies, has been ensnared in tax disputes in several countries. But the company has been a meticulous taxpayer, said Pichai. “We are one of the world’s largest taxpayers. If you look at, on an average, over the last decade, we have paid over 20% in taxes,” he told the interviewer. “We do pay the majority of our share of taxes in the US, where we originate and where our products are developed. I think there are good conversations and we support the global OECD conversations figuring out what is the right way to allocate taxes, this is beyond a single company to solve.”

Does Pichai worry about security on the web? The Google chief replies that he encourages everyone to adopt ‘two-factor authentication’ when it comes to passwords. This would ensure multiple protection, he said.

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