When Sundar Pichai was growing up in Chennai, south-east India, he had to make regular trips to the hospital to pick up his mother’s blood-test results. It took an hour and 20 minutes by bus, and when he got there he would have to stand and queue for an hour, often to be told the results weren’t ready.
It took five years for his family to get their first rotary telephone, when Pichai was 12. It was a landmark moment. “It would take me 10 minutes to call the hospital, and maybe they’d tell me, ‘No, come back tomorrow’,” Pichai says. “We waited a long time to get a refrigerator, too, and I saw how my mom’s life changed: she didn’t need to cook every day, she could spend more time with us. So there is a side of me that has viscerally seen how technology can make a difference, and I still feel it. I feel the optimism and energy, and the moral imperative to accelerate that progress.”