On November 30th Eric Schmidt paid Austria a 1 day visit in which - among other things - he met members of the government, gave a speech and finally met a group of approx. 10 startups and researchers to discuss AI, policy and deep-tech.
At the beginning the discussion focused on policy making, a field where EU companies and startups often feel at a disadvantage versus their peers in the USA or China.
However, Mr. Schmidt was quick to point out that regulation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Actually, smart and flexible regulation can become a competitive advantage, especially for smaller countries like Austria who are often able to enact special regulations quicker than their larger neighbors.
Specifically, Mr.Schmidt gave the recommendation for regulatory sandboxes, which could not only act as a boost for local companies, but also incentivize international players to bring R&D to Austria. Federal Minister Schramböck was quick to point out that similar plans are already in place for FinTec startups and that she would consider AI as the next topic.
The topic of competitiveness wasn’t only discussed from the angle of policies „Europe is moving too slow, especially compared to China and India“, built also in context to the talent shortage in Austria. Schmidt summarized the status quo as „you don’t produce enough software people“.
„You don’t produce enough software people in Austria“
Austria would be wise to use its existing strong networks in Eastern Europe to attract talent - especially considering that Europe‘s borders are still relatively open when it comes to skilled migration.
Many of the questions from startups revolved around on how to enter the US market generally, or how to get in touch with Google specifically. While there is no panacea for both, Schmidt thinks openness and visibility are key to get noticed. Possible ways to achieve this can be either by providing solutions as a platform or via an API.
„We get flooded with requests on a daily basis. A startup in Kansas City has the same difficulties as an Austrian startup“
Minister Schramböck took this an opening to suggest an Austria pitch day at Google to Eric.
Near the end of the dialogue a rather interesting exchange on the future of AI ensued. When Eric Schmidt asked the audience regarding their expectations for driverless trains and pilotless airplanes during their lifetime, it was only him who didn‘t believe to witness this development. This believe was based on the observation that human labor tends to stick around in certain jobs, well past its necessity, just for the sake of accountability.
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