Google Ideas Director Talks Technology, Global Demands

Heather C Liu

As a part of the Leadership and Internet Series at the Center for Public Leadership, Jared Cohen (right), the director of Google Ideas as well as the former advisor to Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice talks with Nicco Mele, an adjunct lecturer in public policy, about 21st century statecraft.

Google Ideas Director Jared Cohen discussed the way that changing technology has affected how governments handle social issues at the Harvard Kennedy School on Monday.

“In the last ten years we have seen an explosion of technological access,” Cohen said. “This means that tech will be part of every problem in the future.”

The event was part of the Center for Public Leadership’s “Leadership and Internet” lecture series.

Cohen “has a massive vision for change,” said Kate Krontiris, a graduate student at the Kennedy School who has worked with Cohen at Google Ideas, a technology-oriented think tank.

The first part of the event, which was moderated by Kennedy School adjunct lecturer Nicco Mele, focused on Cohen’s career and work for Google.

Cohen has worked as an advisor to both Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, helping to draft the State Department’s 21st Century Statecraft policy. After leaving the State Department in 2010, Cohen joined Google Ideas as its new director.

For Cohen, the transition from the public to private sector was natural. “I have been working on the same issue since 2004,” he said, referring to his commitment to encourage governments and other institutions to employ new technologies in their work.

When asked how he would describe Google Ideas, Cohen said “I don’t know exactly what you would call Google Ideas, but I like to think of it as a think/do tank.” The team at Google Ideas is a small team that works in a “democratic fashion” to try to solve issues facing the world, Cohen said.

Google Ideas is a small offshoot of Google that seeks to aid fragile states and counter violent extremism and illicit trafficking networks.

Cohen said that “working at Google Ideas is like working at a startup without having to work in a garage or take out the trash.”

Cohen specifically addressed the undergraduates present, saying that he is “envious of people in school right now, as they have an innate technological expertise.”

If students do not take advantage of this skill, Cohen added, “they’d be shooting themselves in the foot.”

Cohen said that he feels confident in our future because technology will continue to evolve and grow to meet society’s demands.

“There is no greater driver of innovation than necessity,” Cohen said.

As the discussion concluded, Cohen stressed the importance of using advanced technologies to tackle the major issues facing the world.

“The intersection of technology and geo-politics will have a profound impact on today’s world,” he said.