Twenty-four years ago, a young Indian engineer named Sundar Pichai boarded a plane for the first time, to fly to Pittsburgh. Thursday, he returned to Pittsburgh as CEO of Google, and announced plans to give away $1 billion.
The money will go to projects that offer training and career coaching to people short on skills for a rapidly digitizing economy where businesses and their workers need fluency in coding, mobile apps, and social media to compete. Google says it has already given out $100 million of the total to nonprofits, including $10 million to Goodwill, for a program offering digital-skills training. A “Grow With Google tour” will spin up training events staffed by Google employees across the country, after Pittsburgh comes Indianapolis.
“The nature of work is fundamentally changing,” Pichai said in a blog post today. “It’s a big problem and, at Google, whenever we see a big problem, we ask how we can make it easier for everyone to solve it.”
It’s arguable that Google might have seen this problem coming—services like its search engine, smartphone software, and video platform YouTube are contributing to those changes in work. Google’s philanthropic dollars are arriving just as policy makers and regulators previously favorable or indifferent to tech companies are beginning to take a more jaundiced view of the sector.
Google’s new initiative has echoes of earlier giveaways that pledged philanthropic dollars towards helping people adjust to changes wrought, in part, by Google.
The success of Google’s search engine and its associated ads have come at the expense of traditional media publishers, who’ve seen their own ad revenue plunge. Some publishers, particularly in Europe, have clashed with Google over how the company features their content in its web and news search products.
In 2015, Google announced it would give €150 million to European journalism projects and newsrooms, for training and reporting projects. In September, Google announced further philanthropic support to journalism. It is supporting a scheme called Report for America that will cover 50 percent of the salaries of 1,000 reporters in local newsrooms across the U.S. in an attempt to improve local coverage.
The scope of Google’s ambitions suggests the company may before long widen the scope of its philanthropy still further. It’s working on technology that can perform some work of ophthalmologists, and doing robotics research that could lead to new forms of automation in manufacturing and the service sector.