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Dr Eric Schmidt called for a return to a “Victorian” approach bringing “art and science back together”.
In the MacTaggart lecture prepared for the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival last night, he was expected to called for education to “reignite” children’s passion for science and technology.
He praised British television as a success story, but warned that without continued ambition and investment, the country’s achievements could be overtaken.
“If I may be so impolite your track record isn’t great,” he said.
“The UK is home of so many media-related inventions. You invented photography. You invented TV. You invented computers in both concept and practice. It’s not widely known, but the world’s first office computer was built in 1951 by Lyon’s chain of tea shops. Yet today, none of the world’s leading exponents in these fields are from the UK.”
Giving the keynote lecture at the weekend festival, he added: “Think back to the glory days of the Victorian era. It was a time when the same people wrote poetry and built bridges.”
He said he was “flabbergasted” computer science was not taught as standard in UK schools, adding: “Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made. That is just throwing away your great computing heritage.”
He complained of a “drift to the humanities” in the UK.
“Even worse, both sides seem to denigrate the other – to use what I’m told is the local vernacular, you’re either a ‘luvvy’ or a ‘boffin’. To change that you need to start at the beginning.”
He also warned that British business needed support to become world leaders and said otherwise the UK would be the place “where inventions are born – but not bred for long-term success”.
Dr Schmidt is the first non-broadcaster to give the landmark lecture which is dedicated to the memory of actor and producer James MacTaggart.
It has been delivered by several of the biggest names in broadcasting including Jeremy Paxman, Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch.
Among the luminaries at this year’s festival are Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt, comic Ricky Gervais, Miranda Hart and Brian Cox. Controllers from the major channels, including Danny Cohen (BBC1), Peter Fincham (ITV1) and Jay Hunt (Channel 4), will be discussing their channel highlights.
Dr Schmidt argued the internet was “fundamental” to the future of television. He admitted Google, which owns video sharing site YouTube, had faced criticism and been accused of “trying to take over the world” but laughed off claims it was going to make “content on a large scale”.
He said: “Trust me, if you gave people at Google free rein to produce TV you’d end up with a lot of bad sci-fi”.
The internet was empowering people everywhere, making the world more open, fairer and prosperous, he said.
And he countered years of complaints that Google simply relayed content created by newspapers or broadcasters.
He said: “Last year we shared more than $6 billion with our publishing partners worldwide, including newspapers and broadcasters.
“In the UK, we have invested in deep relationships with Channels 4 and Five and many other partners to provide catch-up services on YouTube.”