Over the weekend, Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page sat down for a rare joint public interview with venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, in which the three billionaires reminisced about how Brin and Page nearly sold their groundbreaking search technology to Excite for $1.6 million in 1999 (Google's market capitalization is now $392.7 billion), speculated on how self-driving cars could change the way we live (there are "policy risks," said Brin), and discussed how Google rewrote the rules on mission creep ("ideally, the company would scale the number of things it does with the number of people in a linear fashion," said Page).
But why isn't the company devoting more of its innovation firepower to the wildly inefficient U.S. health care industry, which hogs about 18% of GDP? Brin explained:
Generally, health is just so heavily regulated. It's just a painful business to be in. It's just not necessarily how I want to spend my time. Even though we do have some health projects, and we'll be doing that to a certain extent. But I think the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.
Page echoed Brin, and then speculated that if researchers were allowed to anonymously mine medical records "I imagine that would save 10,000 lives in the first year." That can't happen, noted Page, because of rules imposed by the 1996 federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Later in the interview, an audience member asked the co-founders if government makes it more difficult for them to engage in long-term planning. Page responded by offering some perspective on how regulation that "increases without bounds" is likely to lead government "to collapse under its own weight:"
I was trying to reduce the complexity in Google. I was thinking, "We're getting to be a bigger company. Let's take our rules and regulations. Let's make sure they stay at 50 pages, so people can actually read it." But the problem that I discovered about that was that by reference, we include the entire law and regulation of the entire world, because we're a multinational company. We operate everywhere. Our employees, what they do affects everything. In some sense, we'd have to read the hundred million pages of law and regulation that are out there.
The entire interview is below. A transcript is here.