Maybe the right way to master artificial intelligence isn’t through the markets, but through open collaboration, pure research, and … (shudder) our governments
One of the most intriguing public discussions to emerge over the past year is humanity’s wrestling match with the threat and promise of artificial intelligence. AI has long lurked in our collective consciousness — negatively so, if we’re to take Hollywood movie plots as our guide — but its recent and very real advances are driving critical conversations about the future not only of our economy, but of humanity’s very existence.
In May 2014, the world received a wakeup call from famed physicist Stephen Hawking. Together with three respected AI researchers, the world’s most renowned scientist warned that the commercially-driven creation of intelligent machines could be “potentially our worst mistake in history.” Comparing the impact of AI on humanity to the arrival of “a superior alien species,” Hawking and his co-authors found humanity’s current state of preparedness deeply wanting. “Although we are facing potentially the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity,” they wrote, “little serious research is devoted to these issues outside small nonprofit institutes.”
Especially among people who haven’t traveled there, there’s still conventional wisdom that China is the land of the cheap knockoff, not just of hardware but of Internet services: Baidu apes Google, Tencent is just Yahoo, and so on. That’s not true anymore and How a Nation of Copycats Transformed Into a Hub for Innovation, by Clive Thompson in Wired, destroys that characterization conclusively.
The tales Thompson tells are very Silicon Valley: educated young adults with an entrepreneurial urge break away from steady but uninspiring positions at established firms to create something new or convince their leaders to try something new. There’s an obsession with speed. Accelerator proliferate. Thompson spies a DO EPIC SHIT sticker on a refrigerator. He explores how phone maker Xiaomi delivers highly anticipated weekly updates to its operating system that are built around user feedback.
As in Silicon Valley, the entrepreneurs Thompson interviews tend to be solving problems like movie ticketing and dating game shows that aren’t exactly world-changing. And China’s repressive political system doesn’t allow for the sort of government-challenging social enterprise that can thrive in other nations. But Thompson reveals a widespread attitude to innovation that’s way beyond the copycat caricature. After years of being accused of stealing product ideas from Silicon Valley, China’s latest success may come from grabbing select Silicon Valley values and grafting them onto its unique culture.
For their second act, the founders of “Total NewCos” are reaching for far more than a payday.
You had a good idea, and you started a company around it. You hired a strong team, nearly killed yourself for years, and despite numerous failures along the way, you made it work. And now you find yourself at the receiving end of our nation’s most fabled business narrative: Your company has been acquired for a princely sum, and you’re wealthy enough to retire.
This seed-stage accelerator looks beyond product to help startups differentiate themselves
The Brandery, a seed-stage accelerator, is utilizing Cincinnati’s unique resources to help startups turn minimally viable products into sustainable businesses. What resources are those? Marketing and branding agencies have grown alongside Cincinnati-based Fortune 500 Companies like Procter & Gamble, Macy’s, and Kroger. As the barriers to entry for starting companies decrease, The Brandery believes startups focused on their brands can differentiate themselves and increase their probability of success.
The accelerator accepts 10 companies into its four-month program each year. In return for a 6 percent equity stake, startups receive $50,000, access to mentorship, pro-bono work from branding agencies, and a chance to work with companies like Procter and Gamble. Those resources have helped The Brandery become one of the top accelerators in the nation. The Seed Accelerator Rankings Project lists The Brandery at the Gold tier, just under Platinum where you’ll find 500 Startups and Y Combinator.
Today’s Top Stories — Venture Capital Investment Heads Downtown: Firms are investing more in cities, not suburbs. — The Human Company Design Manifesto: Sara Holoubek introduces a management approach that creates value by investing in people. — Not Enough People or Not Enough Skills? A new jobs report makes some wonder where the bottleneck to growth is. — Cities, Serendipity, and Other “Spaces for Innovation”: Greg Lindsay on how to engineer for serendipity — The Special Sauce at McDonald’s: Community — A City-Based Visualization of Funding Flows: An analysis of 14 years of city-specific funding data
Venture Capital Investment Heads Downtown When you think of where venture capital firms invest, you might imagine suburban office parks. Don’t. New research from Richard Florida and Karen King finds that investment firms and the startups they fund are increasingly of the city (CityLab). In particular, they find more than half of all startup companies and VC investments located in urban zip codes. These “startup neighborhoods” tend to be more walkable and bikeable than the norm; one-third of all venture-capital investment, they find, goes into neighborhoods with more than 30 percent of workers who walk, bike, or use mass transit when commuting. Suburban “nerdistans” still exist, but there’s a clear shift to dense urban neighborhoods.
Kursty Groves — co-author of the forthcoming Spaces for Innovation with Oliver Marlow — interviewed me about the future of workspaces, cities, and serendipity for their book. Our conversation is reproduced below, and I encourage you to order the book.
What is ‘engineering serendipity’ — apart from a delightful oxymoron?
Recently, organizations large and small have radically rethought company design by embracing human-favorable policies including establishing livable wages, developing creative equity plans, offering paid parental leave policies, and even pulling out of an entire state in protest of discrimination. In addition to sending a strong signal that people come first, these organizations are also making an economic argument to investors that these policies pay dividends in reduced turnover and improved business outcome.
The team behind Viv hopes to change how we interact with just about everything — and build a new economic model for the Internet along the way.
About halfway through a 90-minute exploration of Viv, the recently debuted and much heralded next-generation smart assistant platform, I started to experience a bit of deja vu. Here were two highly intelligent and credentialed founders, animated by a sense of purpose and a shared conviction that there Had To Be A Better Way, extolling the virtues of a new platform that, if only it were to be adopted at critical mass, would Change The World For the Better. It reminded me of my early days covering Apple in the 1980s, or Google in the early aughts. And I found myself believing that, in fact, the world would be a better place if Viv’s vision prevailed.
But that’s a very big “if.” What Viv is trying to create is a platform shift on the scale of Google search or Apple’s app store — a new way to interact with the Internet itself. Yes, the interface is an intelligent agent that you talk to — much like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. But for Viv to truly flourish, the Internet would need to reorganize around a new economic model, one that looks dramatically different than the current hegemony based on the big five of Search (Google), Commerce (Amazon), Social (Facebook), Enterprise (Microsoft), and Mobile (Apple/Google).