Transcript: Eric Schmidt on "Face the Nation," May 10, 2020

Former Google exec says a "reimagining" of the workplace is coming after COVID crisis

The following is a transcript of an interview with former Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt that aired Sunday, May 10, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to go now to the former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt. He is leading a New York commission to reimagine sectors of the economy in light of the coronavirus pandemic. He joins us from Miami this morning. Good morning to you. 

FORMER GOOGLE CEO ERIC SCHMIDT: Good morning. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: We just heard from one of the White House economic advisers that the worst is yet to come on the unemployment front. What jobs, in your view, will continue to exist?

SCHMIDT: Well, a lot will but they'll operate in different ways. We're gonna have to reimagine how the workplace works. We're going to have to figure out how to get people into buildings that they're fearful of. My guess is we'll have more demand for office space, not less, because people will want social distancing. We're going to have to think about hub-and-spoke systems where local people don't travel so far because they don't want to be in public transit for so long. So we're gonna have to really rethink how businesses operate. They need their employees back.

MARGARET BRENNAN: After 9/11 in- in Manhattan, you saw people establish homes outside the city. You saw businesses move and have backup facilities outside of major cities. Is there something that we know is in the works this time around?

SCHMIDT: You can be sure that something like that will happen. If you think of it as an employer, you have a bunch of employees, some of whom are dying to get back to the office, and some people who are afraid that if they go to the office, they will die. They're very concerned about- they're immunocompromised or what have you. So they're going to have to come up with flexible arrangements. So imagine that there are three or four people. One will go to the office. One will stay home. Someone- some will go to some local or near their- near their town working environment. It will change the pattern. We've had this situation where people move to super cities in these incredibly concentrated ways. That will change in the next few years. You don't need to be in the super city in order to participate in the ex- excitement of these super cities. The commission, by the way, is intending to work not just on the city, but also suburban and all the rural folks. We have to be sensitive to the fact that everybody has problems. Everyone has concerns. And they're very different situations.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, corporations are being forced to try to do things in a different way right now. But many of them may use this as an excuse or as an accelerant to make some big strategic shifts. What does the economy look like on the other side of it? What does that mean?

SCHMIDT: One way to think about this is that this one month, two months period has brought forth 10 years of forward change. So all of a sudden, the Internet is no longer optional. It's fundamental to doing business, to operate, to live our lives, all sorts of much higher expectations as a result. For example, we need much better broadband in the rural areas. Another example will be tele-health. 80 percent of the visits to doctors are right now in tele-health. People have been wanting this to happen for years. Now using remote monitoring, we can actually measure everybody and do it remotely. And then only if you have to, you go in to see the doctor. And by the way, that's more convenient for you as a- as a patient. There are all sorts of examples. Another thing that we'll have to do is we'll have to have all sorts of interesting sort of social monitoring of one kind or another to look for these hotspots. So systems will have to be developed to see, oh, my God, there's an outbreak over there. Let's get to it right now before the spread begins.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But one of the things that this crisis has also made obvious is not just income disparity, but- but access to Internet as you just said. If someone doesn't have access to broadband or they don't have the computer, how do you make up for that difference? Who pays for that?

SCHMIDT: Well, we have to- we have to solve that problem. And when the government does another one of these huge stimulus bills, let's put some stimulus into broadband access, especially for rural areas. The cities are in pretty good shape. And then let's figure out a way for people who don't otherwise have access to computers through libraries or whatever, find a way for them to get access. Many people can access through their mobile phones. That's another solution. You can't participate in this new economy without access to the Internet. It's how you're going to learn. It's how you're going to deliver services. It's how you're going to market it. By the way, it's how you're going to sell. Right? So sales people won't be traveling as much. They're going to be doing it with the equivalent of Zoom and other services like that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But it's not just- you're talking about federal funding to build out infrastructure like WiFi. But what we've learned, because of some of these backlogs in unemployment claims with the states, is that their basic infrastructure, their computers are so outmoded, they can't even process the amount of demand right now. Where does that come from? I mean, you're talking about re- not just rebuilding, but, you know, completely remaking how states function.

SCHMIDT: What you're learning through this is that the government at the federal and state level have just terrible infrastructure in the software department. They're still using COBOL systems, which is a pro- system I programmed in 45 years ago. And those systems, you know, the programmers are no longer with us. So we've really got to upgrade these systems. And there are much better technologies that are much more secure, much quicker and so forth. You can see them in the- in the private sector. The public sector has lagged for whatever set of reasons. Because of this will accelerate all of that. If you look forward to it, what you'll do as a citizen is many of your services will be online, your health will be online, much of your education will be online. And then there'll be other systems like we need to figure out a way to de-densify public transportation. People will say it's better if you get on the subway now because it's less crowded, right? Because you don't want to be on a subway when it's full of everybody. These kinds of changes are easy for computer systems to do if they're in place.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning that the Trump administration is in talks with Intel and some other companies to move facilities back to the United States to have manufacturing be here. Do you see that change in the global supply chain happening?

SCHMIDT: Well, we've built in the last 10 or 20 years this extraordinarily efficient global supply chain with many, many steps. We've now learned that it's not resilient. There has been for at least a decade a great concern about our over-reliance on Taiwan in particular for foreign chip manufacturing and there is an initiative within the government which is very important, that we get domestic supply of foundries, literally the places where chips are made. And companies like Intel and Samsung and TSMC. TSMC is the largest foundry. It's in Taiwan, at the seven nanometre level, trying to get them into our country. So we have better control. It's important from a standpoint of- of our own economics. It's also important for national security. We want to make sure that our critical infrastructure is owned and controlled by America, right? Never bet against America. We are the innovators in our world. We should be able to do this well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll leave it on that note. Never bet against America. Thank you, Eric Schmidt. 

SCHMIDT: Thank you. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: We will be back in a moment.