Brin immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union at the age of six. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland, following in his father's and grandfather's footsteps by studying mathematics, as well as computer science. After graduation, he moved to Stanford University to acquire a Ph.D in computer science. There he met Larry Page, with whom he later became friends. They crammed their dormitory room with inexpensive computers and applied Brin's data mining system to build a superior search engine. The program became popular at Stanford and they suspended their PhD studies to start up Google in a rented garage.
The Economist magazine referred to Brin as an "Enlightenment Man", and someone who believes that "knowledge is always good, and certainly always better than ignorance", a philosophy that is summed up by Google’s motto of making all the world’s information "universally accessible and useful" and "Don't be evil".
Early life and education
Brin was born in Moscow to Russian Jewish parents, Michael Brin and Eugenia Brin, both graduates of Moscow State University. His father is a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland, and his mother is a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
Childhood in the Soviet Union
In 1979, when Brin was six, his family felt compelled to emigrate to the United States. In an interview with Mark Malseed, co-author of The Google Story, Sergey's father explains how he was "forced to abandon his dream of becoming an astronomer even before he reached college". Although an official policy of anti-Semitism did not exist in the Soviet Union, Michael Brin claims Communist Party heads barred Jews from upper professional ranks by denying them entry to universities: "Jews were excluded from the physics departments, in particular..." Michael Brin therefore changed his major to mathematics where he received nearly straight A's. He said, "Nobody would even consider me for graduate school because I was Jewish. At Moscow State University, Jews were required to take their entrance exams in different rooms from non-Jewish applicants, which were nicknamed "gas chambers", and they were marked on a harsher scale.
The Brin family lived in a three-room apartment in central Moscow, which they also shared with Sergey's paternal grandmother. Sergey told Malseed, "I've known for a long time that my father wasn't able to pursue the career he wanted", but Sergey only picked up the details years later after they had settled in the United States. He learned how, in 1977, after his father returned from a mathematics conference in Warsaw, Poland, he announced that it was time for the family to emigrate. "We cannot stay here any more", he told his wife and mother. At the conference, he was able to "mingle freely with colleagues from the United States, France, England and Germany, and discovered that his intellectual brethren in the West were 'not monsters.'" He added, "I was the only one in the family who decided it was really important to leave..."
Sergey's mother was less willing to leave their home in Moscow, where they had spent their entire lives. Malseed writes, "For Genia, the decision ultimately came down to Sergey. While her husband admits he was thinking as much about his own future as his son's, for her, 'it was 80/20' about Sergey." They formally applied for their exit visa in September 1978, and as a result his father "was promptly fired". For related reasons, his mother also had to leave her job. For the next eight months, without any steady income, they were forced to take on temporary jobs as they waited, afraid their request would be denied as it was for many refuseniks. During this time his parents shared responsibility for looking after him and his father taught himself computer programming. In May 1979, they were granted their official exit visas and were allowed to leave the country.
At an interview in October, 2000, Brin said, "I know the hard times that my parents went through there, and am very thankful that I was brought to the States. A decade earlier, in the summer of 1990, a few weeks before his 17th birthday, his father led a group of gifted high school math students, including Sergey, on a two-week exchange program to the Soviet Union. "As Sergey recalls, the trip awakened his childhood fear of authority" and he remembers that his first "impulse on confronting Soviet oppression had been to throw pebbles at a police car." Malseed adds, "On the second day of the trip, while the group toured a sanitarium in the countryside near Moscow, Sergey took his father aside, looked him in the eye and said, 'Thank you for taking us all out of Russia.'"
Education in the United States
Brin attended grade school at Paint Branch Montessori School in Adelphi, Maryland, but he received further education at home; his father, a professor in the department of mathematics at the University of Maryland, nurtured his interest in mathematics and his family helped him retain his Russian-language skills. In September 1990, after having attended Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland, Brin enrolled in the University of Maryland to study computer science and mathematics, where he received his Bachelor of Science in May 1993 with honors.
Brin began his graduate study in computer science at Stanford University on a graduate fellowship from the National Science Foundation. In 1993, he interned at Wolfram Research, makers of Mathematica. He is on leave from his Ph.D. studies at Stanford.
Search engine development
During an orientation for new students at Stanford, he met Larry Page. In a recent interview for The Economist, Brin jokingly said: "We're both kind of obnoxious." They seemed to disagree on most subjects. But after spending time together, they "became intellectual soul-mates and close friends". Brin's focus was on developing data mining systems while Page's was in extending "the concept of inferring the importance of a research paper from its citations in other papers."> Together, the pair authored what is widely considered their seminal contribution, a paper entitled "The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine."
Combining their ideas, they "crammed their dormitory room with cheap computers" and tested their new search engine designs on the web. Their project grew quickly enough "to cause problems for Stanford's computing infrastructure." But they realized they had succeeded in creating a superior engine for searching the web and suspended their PhD studies to work more on their system.
As Mark Malseed wrote, "Soliciting funds from faculty members, family and friends, Sergey and Larry scraped together enough to buy some servers and rent that famous garage in Menlo Park. ... [soon after], Sun Microsystems co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim wrote a $100,000 check to “Google, Inc.” The only problem was, “Google, Inc.” did not yet exist—the company hadn’t yet been incorporated. For two weeks, as they handled the paperwork, the young men had nowhere to deposit the money."
The Economist magazine describes Brin's approach to life, like Page's, as based on a vision summed up by Google's motto, "of making all the world's information 'universally accessible and useful.'" Others have compared their vision to the impact of Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of modern printing:
- "In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg introduced Europe to the mechanical printing press, printing Bibles for mass consumption. The technology allowed for books and manuscripts – originally replicated by hand – to be printed at a much faster rate, thus spreading knowledge and helping to usher in the European Renaissance. . . Google has done a similar job.
The comparison was likewise noted by the authors of The Google Story: "Not since Gutenberg . . . has any new invention empowered individuals, and transformed access to information, as profoundly as Google.
Not long after the two "cooked up their new engine for web searches, they began thinking about information that is today beyond the web", such as digitizing books, and expanding health information.
In May 2007, Brin married Anne Wojcicki in The Bahamas. Wojcicki is a biotech analyst and a 1996 graduate of Yale University with a B.S. in biology. She has an active interest in health information, and together she and Brin are developing new ways to improve access to it. As part of their efforts, they have brainstormed with leading researchers about the human genome project. "Brin instinctively regards genetics as a database and computing problem. So does his wife, who co-founded the firm, 23andMe", which lets people analyze and compare their own genetic makeup (consisting of 23 pairs of chromosomes). In a recent announcement at Google’s Zeitgeist conference, he said he hoped that some day everyone would learn their genetic code in order to help doctors, patients, and researchers analyze the data and try to repair bugs.
Brin's mother, Eugenia, has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. In 2008, he decided to make a donation to the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where his mother is being treated. Brin used the services of 23andMe and discovered that although Parkinson's is generally not hereditary, both he and his mother possess a mutation of the LRRK2 gene (G2019S) that puts the likelihood of his developing Parkinson's in later years between 20 and 80%. When asked whether ignorance was not bliss in such matters, he stated that his knowledge means that he can now take measures to ward off the disease. An editorial in The Economist magazine states that "Mr Brin regards his mutation of LRRK2 as a bug in his personal code, and thus as no different from the bugs in computer code that Google’s engineers fix every day. By helping himself, he can therefore help others as well. He considers himself lucky. ... But Mr. Brin was making a much bigger point. Isn’t knowledge always good, and certainty always better than ignorance?"
Brin and his wife run The Brin Wojcicki Foundation.
In November, 2011 Brin and his wife's foundation, The Brin Wojcicki Foundation, awarded 500,000 dollars to the Wikimedia Foundation as it started its eighth annual fundraising campaign.
Censorship of Google in China
Remembering his youth and his family's reasons for leaving the Soviet Union, he "agonized over Google’s decision to appease the communist government of China by allowing it to censor search engine results", but decided that the Chinese would still be better off than without having Google available. He explained his reasoning to Fortune magazine:
- "We felt that by participating there, and making our services more available, even if not to the 100 percent that we ideally would like, that it will be better for Chinese web users, because ultimately they would get more information, though not quite all of it."
On January 12, 2010, Google reported a large cyber attack on its computers and corporate infrastructure that began a month earlier, which included accessing numerous Gmail accounts and the theft of Google's intellectual property. After the attack was determined to have originated in China, the company stated that it would no longer agree to censor its search engine in China and may exit the country altogether. The New York Times reported that "a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, but that the attack also targeted 20 other large companies in the finance, technology, media and chemical sectors." It was later reported that the attack included "one of Google’s crown jewels, a password system that controls access by millions of users worldwide."
In late March, 2010, it officially discontinued its China-based search engine while keeping its uncensored Hong Kong site in operation. Speaking for Google, Brin stated during an interview, "One of the reasons I am glad we are making this move in China is that the China situation was really emboldening other countries to try and implement their own firewalls." During another interview with Spiegel, he added, "For us it has always been a discussion about how we can best fight for openness on the Internet. We believe that this is the best thing that we can do for preserving the principles of the openness and freedom of information on the Internet."
While only a few large companies so far pledged their support for the move, many Internet "freedom proponents are cheering the move," and it is "winning it praise in the U.S." from lawmakers. Senator Byron Dorgan stated that "Google's decision is a strong step in favor of freedom of expression and information." And Congressman Bob Goodlatte said, "I applaud Google for its courageous step to stop censoring search results on Google.com. Google has drawn a line in the sand and is shining a light on the very dark area of individual liberty restrictions in China." From the business perspective, many recognize that the move is likely to affect Google's profits: "Google is going to pay a heavy price for its move, which is why it deserves praise for refusing to censor its service in China." The New Republic adds that "Google seems to have arrived at the same link that was obvious to Andrei Sakharov: the one between science and freedom," referring to the move as "heroism."
Awards and recognition
In 2002, Brin, along with Larry Page, was named to the MIT Technology Review TR100, as one of the top 100 innovators in the world under the age of 35.
In 2003, both Brin and Page received an honorary MBA from IE Business School "for embodying the entrepreneurial spirit and lending momentum to the creation of new businesses...". And in 2004, they received the Marconi Foundation Prize, the "Highest Award in Engineering", and were elected Fellows of the Marconi Foundation at Columbia University. "In announcing their selection, John Jay Iselin, the Foundation's president, congratulated the two men for their invention that has fundamentally changed the way information is retrieved today." They joined a "select cadre of 32 of the world's most influential communications technology pioneers..."
In 2004, Brin received the Academy of Achievement's Golden Plate Award with Larry Page at a ceremony in Chicago, Illinois.
In November 2009, Forbes magazine decided Brin and Larry Page were the fifth most powerful people in the world. Earlier that same year, in February, Brin was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, which is "among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer ... [and] honors those who have made outstanding contributions to engineering research, practice...". He was selected specifically, "for leadership in development of rapid indexing and retrieval of relevant information from the World Wide Web."
In their "Profiles" of Fellows, the National Science Foundation included a number of earlier awards:
- "he has been a featured speaker at the World Economic Forum and the Technology, Entertainment and Design Conference. ... PC Magazine has praised Google [of] the Top 100 Web Sites and Search Engines (1998) and awarded Google the Technical Excellence Award, for Innovation in Web Application Development in 1999. In 2000, Google earned a Webby Award, a People's Voice Award for technical achievement, and in 2001, was awarded Outstanding Search Service, Best Image Search Engine, Best Design, Most Webmaster Friendly Search Engine, and Best Search Feature at the Search Engine Watch Awards."
According to Forbes he is the 24th richest person in the world with a personal wealth of US$18.7 billion as of March 2012.
Brin is working on other, more personal projects that reach beyond Google. For example, he and Page are trying to help solve the world’s energy and climate problems at Google’s philanthropic arm Google.org, which invests in the alternative energy industry to find wider sources of renewable energy. The company acknowledges that its founders want "to solve really big problems using technology."
In October 2010, for example, they invested in a major offshore wind power development to assist the East coast power grid, which may eventually become the first "offshore wind farm" in the United States. A week earlier they introduced a car that, with "artificial intelligence," can drive itself using video cameras and radar sensors. In the future, drivers of cars with similar sensors would have fewer accidents. These safer vehicles could therefore be built lighter and require less fuel consumption.
They are trying to get companies to create innovative solutions to increasing the world's energy supply. He is an investor in Tesla Motors, which has developed the Tesla Roadster, a 244-mile (Expression error: Unexpected < operator. km
) range battery electric vehicle.
Brin has appeared on television shows and many documentaries, including Charlie Rose, CNBC, and CNN. In 2004, he and Larry Page were named "Persons of the Week" by ABC World News Tonight. In January 2005 he was nominated to be one of the World Economic Forum's "Young Global Leaders". He and Page are also the executive producers of the 2007 film Broken Arrows.
In June 2008, Brin invested $4.5 million in Space Adventures, the Virginia-based space tourism company. His investment will serve as a deposit for a reservation on one of Space Adventures' proposed flights in 2011. So far, Space Adventures has sent seven tourists into space.
He and Page co-own a customized Boeing 767–200 and a Dornier Alpha Jet, and pay $1.4 million a year to house them and two Gulfstream V jets owned by Google executives at Moffett Federal Airfield. The aircraft have had scientific equipment installed by NASA to allow experimental data to be collected in flight.
Brin is a member of AmBAR, a networking organization for Russian-speaking business professionals (both expatriates and immigrants) in the United States. He has made many speaking appearances.
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