Google CEO Sundar Pichai is calling on the U.S. government to create an equivalent to the Geneva Conventions for cyberwarfare, in the wake of increasing attacks from Russia, China and other countries targeting the U.S. and its allies. Pichai made the statement during an interview with the Wall Street Journal at the publication's WSJ Tech Live conference on Monday.
"Governments on a multilateral basis … need to put it up higher on the agenda," Pichai said. "If not, you're going to see more of it because countries would resort to those things." Pichai suggested universal standards of engagement and practice for cyberwarfare could help prevent or slow down some of the more aggressive attacks of late, such as those targeting Microsoft's Outlook software and other products earlier this year.
Pichai's interview was wide ranging, covering not just cybersecurity, but also the transition to remote work during the pandemic, employee activism at Google and more broadly in Silicon Valley, and tech regulation. For instance, Pichai pointed to Europe's GDPR as a model example of informed tech regulation that benefits the whole industry.
"I think the GDPR has been a great foundation," Pichai said. "I would really like to see a federal privacy standard in the U.S." Pichai said the patchwork of state laws "adds a lot of complexity... larger companies can cope with more regulations and entrench themselves, whereas for a smaller company to start, it can be a real tax."
Pichai also spoke at length about the need for the U.S. government to invest in foundational technologies for the future, such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and semiconductor development, to stay competitive with China and other rivals, as it did in decades past to help build the internet and create universal technology standards.
"The government has limited resources, and it needs to focus... but all of us are benefiting from foundational investments from 20 to 30 years ago, which is what a lot of the modern tech innovation is based on, and we take it for granted a bit," he said. "Public-private partnerships here can be a good template. This is an area where there's bipartisan interest in making sure that we are thinking about it for the long term."