Last Updated: May 1, 2008: 4:57 AM EDT
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Larry Page (pg. 3)

By Andy Serwer, managing editor

So you think that geothermal and solar thermal could solve our energy problems?

Yeah, probably either one could generate all the energy we need. There's no discipline to actually do this stuff, and you can also see this vested interest, risk-averse behavior, plus a lack of creativity. It sort of conspires. It's also a timeliness thing; everyone said Sam Walton was crazy to build big stores in small towns. Almost everyone who has had an idea that's somewhat revolutionary or wildly successful was first told they're insane.

Whose obligation is it to make this kind of change happen? Is it Google's? The government's? Stanford's? Kleiner Perkins'?

I think it's everybody who cares about making progress in the world. Let's say there are 10,000 people working on these things. If we make that 100,000, we'll probably get 10 times the progress.

And then you compare it with the number of engineers at Exxon (XOM, Fortune 500) and Chevron (CVX, Fortune 500) and ConocoPhillips (COP, Fortune 500) who are trying to squeeze the last drop of oil out of somewhere, and all the science brainpower that's going to that. It's totally disproportionate to the return that they could get elsewhere.

What kind of background do you think is required to push these kinds of changes?

I think you need an engineering education where you can evaluate the alternatives. For example, are fuel cells a reasonable way to go or not? For that, you need a pretty general engineering and scientific education, which is not traditionally what happens. That's not how I was trained. I was trained as a computer engineer. So I understand how to build computers, how to make software. I've learned on my own a lot of other things. If you look at the people who have high impact, they have pretty general knowledge. They don't have a really narrowly focused education.

You also need some leadership skills. You don't want to be Tesla. He was one of the greatest inventors, but it's a sad, sad story. He couldn't commercialize anything, he could barely fund his own research. You'd want to be more like Edison. If you invent something, that doesn't necessarily help anybody. You've got to actually get it into the world; you've got to produce, make money doing it so you can fund it.

Are you consciously hiring people who can look at these issues?

Those people don't really exist. You can't hire them. People usually have careers where they stay in pretty fixed areas.

Some of the VCs are forced to be a little more general in how they evaluate things, and that's been good. But they still go wrong. Look at VC investment in clean energy. What caused that to happen was two things: the price of oil going up and global warning. It's mostly the price of oil going up.

But think about it. Most of the money is going into companies that will produce electricity - and the price of electricity is based on the price of coal, which hasn't changed. So the question is, Why didn't we do all this investment 10 years ago? That was a huge mistake. It's obviously easier if oil's more expensive, but there's no particularly good reason we didn't do a lot of it sooner.

Are you more or less optimistic about the future than you were three years ago?

I'm hugely more optimistic because now we have a conceptualization of the problems that makes some degree of sense to a fair number of people. Look at the things we worry about - poverty, global warming, people dying in accidents. And look at the things that drive people's basic level of happiness - safety and opportunity for their kids, plus basic things like health and shelter. I think our ability to achieve these things on a large scale for many people in the world is improving.

Jia Lynn Yang contributed to this article. To top of page

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