Tuesday, September 12, 2023

"Google's former CEO is leveraging his US$27 billion fortune to shape AI policy"

From Bloomberg via Singapore's Business Times, September 10:

ERIC Schmidt isn’t shy about his wealth and power: The former Google CEO recently won an auction for a superyacht seized from a Russian oligarch, he owns a big stake in a secretive and successful hedge fund, and he spent US$15 million on the Manhattan penthouse featured in Oliver Stone’s sequel to Wall Street.

He has also leveraged his US$27 billion fortune to build a powerful influence machine in Washington that’s allowed him to shape public policy to reflect his world-view and benefit the industries in which he’s deeply invested – most recently, artificial intelligence (AI). When senators meet this week to hear from tech executives and experts about how AI should be regulated, Schmidt will be at the table. 

In his previous comments to Congress on AI, Schmidt has delivered a relatively simple message: The US needs to keep both public and private money flowing to innovative companies to counter China’s technological advancements. Behind his testimony, he has complex layers of connections to drive that message home.

There’s the Special Competitive Studies Project (SCSP), a private think tank he founded in 2021 and funded with an initial US$2 million. Located roughly a mile from the Pentagon and modelled on a Cold War-era initiative, SCSP focuses on how AI and other emerging technologies could upend the US economy and national security. It has sent experts this year to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee and advise the House committee studying the US’ “strategic competition” with China. At the think tank’s emerging technology summit later this month, Schmidt and his associates will once again share the stage with senior Biden administration officials. 

Then there’s Schmidt Futures, his initiative to support scientists and entrepreneurs, some of whom have gone on to work for governments around the world. Politico reported last year that Schmidt Futures indirectly paid the salaries of some White House science office employees.

And Schmidt himself has been on high-profile advisory committees under the past three presidential administrations, including the National Security Commission on AI – mandated by Congress – which he led from 2019 to 2021.

“For decades, there’s been a hollowing out of the federal government’s expertise and capacity, and that hollowing out has helped create an opportunity for Schmidt – who would always be an influential person under any scenario – to be just mind-blowingly influential,” said Jeff Hauser, head of the Revolving Door Project, a non-profit that scrutinises government appointees. “He just has the capacity to generate almost every mouth that is in the ears of policymakers in Washington.”....


He's not buying the Russian's yacht. He might buy the next U.S. Presidential election though.