AI’s Transition Problem


Photo by James Fitzgerald on Unsplash

Recent successes in deploying AI point to a crucial challenge the field is facing

I read Martin Wolf’s wonderful essay about the challenges facing government in the light of significant labour displacements. Last week there were two relevant, but distinct, announcements from Babylon Health and OpenAI. I aimed to connect the dots between these in the latest issue of my weekly newsletter Exponential View. (Read the issue | Subscribe)

First, Babylon: the company announced that their AI-based chatbot had performed better than the typical British GP (a GP is a generalist physician rather than a specialist) on the qualifying exams run by the Royal College of General Practitioners. Babylon’s bot scored 81% on a test where humans averaged 72%, although there are some methodology issues. You can read a news story here, and the research paper, which I’ve skimmed, here.

The Royal College of General Practitioners responds with two key points: one silly, the other less so.

Read More

Nation State At the Crossroads


Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Whither thou goest, I will go

There is a notion worth revisiting: are nation states nearing their end as our preferred scale of the political and socio-economic organisation? This idea lies in contrast with the “end of history” theory of modernity, first posited by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama.

I’ve found the question of evolving the nation-state fascinating since the early 1990s when I first came across ideas of decentralised forms of organisation enabled by new electronic networks (and was contemporaneously studying political institutions and models of governance).

Read More

AI Isn’t Magic. It’s Just Math.


NewCo Shift Forum 2018 — Signal P&G Talks

Jana Eggers on why AI shouldn’t be feared, and must be understood.

Jana Eggers, CEO of Nara Logics, during NewCo Shift Forum 2018

Jana Eggers, CEO of AI startup Nara Logics, wants everyone to understand AI. In her five minute Signal P&G talk at Shift Forum, she explains that in the end, it’s just math and a lot of data — and that data increasingly will be coming from businesses of all stripes, not just the big tech platforms.

Jana Eggers: Wow! What a day it has been. I’m nervous to stand up here in front of you all because of all the greatness that has been shared on the stage. Thank you for taking a few minutes with me.

Read More

Efforts to Nationalise AI, and Why We Need to Stop Calling it “AI Race”


Photo by Ciprian Pardău on Unsplash

Much of the work done in AI is of the intangible quality, and will drive spillovers

French President Emmanuel Macron announced his intention to make France an AI leader and avoid “dystopia”, supported by €1.5bn in investment. France is not the first country to surge ambitiously towards establishing itself as a “leader” in AI. Putin famously stated that “whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world”. China has a three-year action plan to establish itself at the top. Canada’s Trudeau discussed on multiple occasions the consequences of automation, and the opportunities of artificial intelligence. Macron demonstrates nuanced understanding of the opportunity — both technological and social — of artificial intelligence in this must-read interview.

This sort of thing can only help capitalise on the value of these technologies. I do believe that cultural and intellectual diversity (and France has those when arrayed with China and the US) can only help in the development of appropriate AI systems. The equivalent UK number is only about £75m (€85m), which is a pity considering the nation’s intellectual heritage across both humanities and technology domains, and bottom-up appetite for the Internet over the past 30 years. More importantly, few world leaders have expressed such adroitness with this sea change than Macron has.

Read More

What Comes After The Cloud?


Newco Shift Forum 2018

As CTO of Adobe, Abhay Parasnis oversees the company’s technology strategy, and he’s betting big on narrow but deep AI.

Now that every business worth its stock price has moved to “the cloud,” creating massive technology winners like Salesforce, Amazon, and Google along the way, the technology industry finds itself searching once more for a metaphor that can drive its seemingly endless cycle of identifying and building the “next big thing.” And while it seems almost too obvious to identify artificial intelligence, or AI, as that next thing, Abhay Parasnis, CTO of Adobe, makes a strong case for why the received wisdom may yet prove true.

Famous for betting the company on the cloud five years ago (and winning big), Adobe is making an even bigger bet on a certain kind of AI — what Parasnis calls “narrow AI.” Adobe’s goal is to leverage narrow AI across its core suite of products in creativity, marketing services, and business services, in the process simplifying them and making them accessible to a magnitude of order more potential customers. Forget Terminator references, where a generalized AI takes over the world, Parasnis told me at the recent NewCo Shift Forum. Think instead of the magical world of Harry Potter (minus Voldemort, of course). Below is the video and full transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity.

Read More

Work of Art


Esko Kilpi photo

Ancient societies took it for granted that skills would be handed down from generation to generation. Developing one’s talent as an artist or a craftsman depended on understanding and following the principles of earlier masters. Art and craftsmanship may suggest a way of life that waned with the birth of industrial society, but this is misleading. The future of work may resemble the history of work, and this is because of our newest, most advanced technologies.

The corporate system is transforming into a maze of fragmented tasks and short-term gigs. Although the modern era is often described as a skills economy, most companies have a short-term focus, which means for a worker that when her experience accumulates, it often loses institutional value.

Read More

(Digital) World in Crisis: Five Must-Read Pieces Chosen by Zeynep Tufekci


Photo by mahdis mousavi on Unsplash

I was honored to have Zeynep Tufekci, a technosociologist whose work I find crucial in helping us understand public discourse in the digital age, take a lead at guest-curating my newsletter this week.

Here are some of the articles Zeynep shared in her Exponential View:

1. Useful in thinking about the near future of Bitcoin, and the crisis coming their way.

This essay depicts the story of the internet we imagined, and the internet in its reality. It is a worthy lesson for the future of crypto technologies.

Why the Hidden Internet Can’t be a Libertarian Paradise

2. Hackers and mischief makers are coming for machine learning.

Read More

Five Must-Read Pieces on Automation and Inequality


Photo by Brian Sugden on Unsplash

This week’s selection involves research into demographics, cities, social services, and “raising” better bots

I dedicated this week’s issue of my newsletter, Exponential View, to the ongoing and necessary conversations about inequality and bias in automation processes. Here are five pieces I recommend you read on the topic this week:

1. Research on demographics, automation & inequality

Bain, a consultancy, published results of their research into demographics, automation and inequality, warning of increasing volatility. Interesting and challenging times ahead: “faced with market imbalances and growth-stifling levels of inequality, many societies may reset the government’s role in the marketplace.” EXCELLENT

Labor 2030: The Collision of Demographics, Automation and Inequality

2. How inequality is evolving, and why

Read More

Big Money Hits Apple In The Nose


Money Quote, Jan. 8 2018

AI buys smarter, Tech policy goals, more Facebook, and Google hits CES.


If 2017 was the year tech got called out, it looks like 2018 is the year it gets punched in the nose, then the gut, and then gets its lunch money stolen. Oh, and kicked while bleeding on the ground. Here’s your first Money Quote of the year. I’m going to try to do about two or three of these a week. And for those of you who read, responded, and recommended my Facebook piece from Friday, thanks. It felt like ten years ago, when folks used to read posts and engage thoughtfully with them again. It kind of swamped my predictions post, so if you’d like to review that (so as to call me out when I’m proven wrong, naturally), head here.

iPhones and Children Are a Toxic Pair, Say Two Big Apple Investors

Read More

18 Predictions for 2018


Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

18 areas to watch attentively in the new year

Last week I wrote about the books that helped me make sense of 2017.

This is the first year I am presenting predictions for the coming year. I’ve received some incredibly helpful comments from readers via Twitter. This has encouraged me to stick my head above the parapet.

Read More