It’s unclear what the two billionaires will do with their time after over 20 years at Google, and they’re not saying just yet.
But in 2013, Page made a rare appearance onstage at the company’s annual developers conference. In a freewheeling Q&A session afterward, he offered a rare, raw look into what he might work on next: law and regulation and creating a safe space for unfettered technological and societal experimentation.
“We are deeply humbled to have seen a small research project develop into a source of knowledge and empowerment for billions — a bet we made as two Stanford students that led to a multitude of other technology bets,” Larry Page and Sergey Brin said in a joint letter published on Google’s blog Tuesday afternoon. “We could not have imagined, back in 1998 when we moved our servers from a dorm room to a garage, the journey that would follow.”
Brin and Page were serving as president and CEO of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, before the announcement. Alphabet was created in 2015 with the intention of helping Google’s varied businesses — including self-driving cars with Waymo and drone deliveries with Wing — operate more efficiently. While Google focused on stuff like Search, Maps, and Android, Alphabet was intended to focus on new ventures for Google.
Though both founders plan to remain on the board and, together, retain a majority vote in the company, they are no longer actively managing Alphabet. What the two Google billionaires do next is unknown, but we can glean some ideas as to Page’s next projects from a question-and-answer session he did at Google’s 2013 developers conference, I/O.
One subject Page repeatedly brought up in answering a variety of questions: law and regulation.
Asked by one attendee about Google’s impact on society, he said: “The pace of change in the world is increasing. We haven’t adapted mechanisms to deal with that. Maybe some of our old institutions, like the law and so on, aren’t keeping up with the rate of change that we’ve caused through technology.”
He cast existing laws and regulations as antiquated.
“If you look at different laws we make — they’re very old,” Page said. “The laws when we went public were 50 years old. And law can’t be right if it’s 50 years old. That’s before the internet. That’s a pretty major change in how you might go public.”
Another major subject: having a place in the world to allow for unfettered technological and societal experimentation.
“We haven’t built mechanisms to allow experimentation,” Page said. “There are many, many exciting and important things you could do that you just can’t do because they’re illegal or they’re not allowed by regulation. And that makes sense — we don’t want our world to change too fast.”
Burning Man 2019.
Jim Rankin/Toronto Star via Getty Images
But what if there were a place set aside for “exciting and important” experiments — “an environment where people can try out different things, but not everybody has to go,” Page said. He pointed to Burning Man, the annual Nevada desert gathering Page and other Google execs are known to attend, as an example of such a place.
“As technologists, we should have some safe places where we can try out some new things and figure out what is the effect on society, what is the effect on people, without having to deploy it into the normal world,” he said. “And people who like those kinds of things can go there and experience that. We don’t have mechanisms for that.”