Intel CEO Craig Barrett expounds on education

Intel Chief Executive Officer Craig Barrett may claim to be "just an engineer," but his leadership of the chip giant has seen the company evolve from a tech-centric microprocessor player to a company driving many of the industry's current hot initiatives -- from home networking to location-aware systems.

At the same time, Barrett has been passionate about using the power and influence of Intel, at a macro as well as a micro level, to push the benefits of education and use whatever influence he could muster to make a difference. In this interview with CPI editorial director Dave Reeder, he explains why.

Why is education so important?

I think it's pretty clear we're now entering a world of knowledge-based economies, even though some are still based on natural resources. Those resources are finite, of course, so those economies too will have to participate in this century's economies. In the future, the individual is the resource and the primary responsibility of government lies in preparing the citizen for a productive life through education.

How does a knowledge-based economy differ? And how does this relate to IT?

Having a good knowledge base will make you competitive. The acquisition of knowledge, acting on knowledge and analysis of information is what education is about -- it's also what ICT is all about too.

But education on its own means little. Surely you need a context?

Oh, yes. One of the challenges we face in today's Internet world is searching out real knowledge. Reality used to depend on trusted advisors, but that's changed. Of course, I'm a bit of a skeptic -- one of my great observations in life came in the seventh grade, where I had two rulers and one was an eighth of an inch longer than the other! So knowledge is also about trust -- trust in your sources. Especially in a world where information density is increasing phenomenally

Such as?

Well, if you pick up -- say -- a copy of The New York Times and look at the editorial pages, you'll find a different perspective on different pages. The truth is somewhere in between and one of the reasons to educate is educating people to think. If you're going to have access to information, you need the right thought processor! One of the strengths, I think, of being an engineer, as I am, is that you're taught to analyze and question.

As a philosophy graduate and a journalist, I'd have to agree! But tell me why Intel the company rather than Barrett the man supports education and how much you think you can achieve.

Well, there's a limit to what any company can do and though our focus is on education, that's such a broad topic. A lot of companies put energy into community-based projects and we selected education as our extracurricular activity -- so we're involved in everything from training teachers to supporting science fairs and so on. Now, it's important to realize that we can only supplement what governments should be doing -- we supplement as a value-add, augmenting curricula with technology. This is something we can do well.

You're also focused on increasing 'Net usage too, right?

Look, everything we do is around the Internet and everything we do is about information access and transfer. The Internet is the great democratizer -- because it offers real-time information access, it has the power to break down barriers. So do we promote communications and information access? Yes, of course. Does that perhaps frighten some governments? Yes, perhaps. But the reality is this: The world is on a trend to break down barriers, whether they're trade or territory-based.

But in some territories -- here in the Middle East, for example -- those barriers against open access appear strong.

My belief is that information transcends borders, just as CNN does, just as the Internet does. Look at China: There's now 1.3 billion people gaining access to the free-flowing information system of the world -- that's going to bring change. I'm not saying, of course, that it's happening everywhere at the same speed but I think, in terms of the kinds of issues you're talking about, that we're looking at a series of small speed bumps, that's all.

How appropriate is it that a multinational should come in to a particular region and do all this? Shouldn't regional players be taking a role too?

I believe that we facilitate smaller companies in the region, such as system integrators, so there's almost a leveling of the playing field. Of course, local companies can participate and I think this will help them grow, in the Middle East and elsewhere. However, if we're looking at the growth of economic and industrial bases, there's a need for a long-term commitment to education and, frankly, this is such a big issue that even the participation of local players won't obviate the necessity for Intel to continue to participate. I mean, even the U.S. isn't doing such a good job!

We're seeing ICT hubs grow in the Middle East -- Dubai, for instance, based on infrastructure and marketing skills, or Jordan, based on human resources and IP (intellectual property) development. What prospects do you see elsewhere in the region?

I'd look at both Egypt and Lebanon as places with real potential. But really anywhere is possible provided you have an educated and IT skilled workforce and the right government policy with a free trade in information goods and services. The challenge put on government is this: how to create the right environment.

As part of the kick-start to development, Intel could place a fab in the region, possibly linked to Dubai Silicon Oasis. Any comment on that?

We build one factory a year and currently some 200 countries want one. Our message to any country is simple: Your chance of gaining an Intel manufacturing plant is negligible. Instead, we'll cooperate on K-12 teacher training, we'll start science fairs to produce better-educated kids, we'll work with key universities to develop laboratories, we'll also stand ready to provide venture capital for bright young engineers and we'll support local entrepreneurs. We can help create a hub, but you still need the right people.

We're not trying to rush you out of the door, but when you retire from your current position at Intel will you stay involved with education?

Most assuredly, personally and professionally, I'll stay involved in some capacity.

What role do you see in cooperating with larger entities -- UN agencies and so on?

We have looked many times at working with larger bodies, but to date we've driven programs mostly on our own. The reason? As a company, we're results driven, we can move rapidly and we can use the Intel brand to promote these things. Frankly, we don't want to get bogged down in bureaucracy with people who have different agendas to ours. We're engineers -- we don't have to wait, we don't have to ask permission.

How do you focus in on those areas you're involved with?

Education is such a diversified entity and we try to demonstrate success and say, "Look, this is what you can do." We're not trying to solve the whole problem and we're not trying to cure illiteracy. Sure, we're guilty of focusing on only part of the problem but we make sure we can chew and digest what we can do.

Turning to Intel itself, the focus of this fall's IDF (Intel Developer Forum) was really drawing a line in the sand between the old gigahertz-obsessed, incremental-product-oriented Intel and a new face based on solutions. In your view, why was that change of marketing emphasis important?

There was brand clutter certainly, and an overabundance of brands can be a challenge. But now, as a company, we're really moving -- we had a wonderful ride with the "Intel inside" campaign, but that really worked when the PC was a stand-alone entity and now the PC is part of a wider, connected world. The difference is that, sure, Intel is an ingredient brand but it's the platform that's become more interesting -- the Centrino platform, or the digital home. As the industry has matured, as technology has matured, it was time for us to step up to the next level -- the platform not the component. Today, technology changes continually but the differentiator in the market is capability and Intel's capability lies in delivering the building blocks. And we see no technical limits in the short term.

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