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Insights by Hal Varian

February 3rd, 2009

McKinsey has published this terrific interview of Hal Varian, the Chief Economist of Google. (Why does Google need a Chief Economist and what does he do?!) The whole thing is worth reading, but I’ll highlight two quotes that I esepcially enjoyed.

First, he has a nice way of highlighting how digital distribution has reshaped the economics of intellectual property:

Back in the early days of the Web, every document had at the bottom, “Copyright 1997. Do not redistribute.” Now every document has at the bottom, “Copyright 2008. Click here to send to your friends.”

No longer is the Internet about ‘browsing alone’–the value comes the social activity of sharing.

Second, he validates my decision to go back and get a PhD (or at least the portion of the time that I spent studying statistics):

I keep saying the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians. People think I’m joking, but who would’ve guessed that computer engineers would’ve been the sexy job of the 1990s? The ability to take data—to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it—that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades, not only at the professional level but even at the educational level for elementary school kids, for high school kids, for college kids. Because now we really do have essentially free and ubiquitous data. So the complimentary scarce factor is the ability to understand that data and extract value from it.

Unlike computer programmers (who are valuable for creating programs), statisticians are valuable not for creating new statistics algorithms but in the ability to apply statistical analyses to business problems.

I hope that Hal is right!

Via Aleks Jakulin

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