Living up to his billing as an inventor/visionary, Ray Kurzweil kicked off an engineering conference in Detroit this week by imagining what might power cars of the future. Sure, he mentioned the self-driving cars his employer Google is working on, but a more interesting response was to a question […]
Posted on May 12, 2015 at 8:18 am
Posted on January 11, 2015 at 6:35 pm
The infrequent visitor to this blog might be puzzled by the an apparent lack of coherence found herein. In the ‘Digest’ section I share many of the timely articles/stories that have captured my attention – all more or less speaking to the scale and scope of profound disruption, the forces that are ever faster shaping our existence. Elsewhere in ‘Posts’ one will find the sometime chronicling of my journey over the past few years, and my thoughts on the changing nature of leadership. Still elsewhere, the diligent reader will see that I’m applying myself to the challenge and reward of establishing a CEO Forum to better explore ways of building 15 or so exceptional businesses though peer mentoring and collaboration.
Sadly, the coherence is to be found in the shadow of the tragedy we’ve all just witnessed this past week in Paris, where the forces of ignorance struck out at a society wrestling with just the initial consequences of profound politico-socio-economic disruption driven in turn by exponential technological growth. I have previously observed that orthodoxy generally can be regarded as a reaction to change – be it in our religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism etc.), our cultures, our legislatures, our institutions, our organizations – and our businesses. As the complexity of the world becomes more indecipherable to some, many within our societies are clearly falling back on simpler answer sets for comfort and guidance – a disenfranchised (or perhaps more accurately unenfranchised) population that is growing at an alarming pace. That this is happening speaks to a leadership deficit that is equally alarming – in our religious leaders of course, but so to in the leadership of our politicians, our community leaders and our business leadership. When young men (and now women) take up arms against their homeland, there are a great many ‘leaders’ who have failed them, and more to the point, their victims.
If you’ve read this far, you must – MUST – take a few minutes to watch Jeremy Howard’s recent TEDx talk in Brussels – The Wonderful and Terrifying Implications Of Computers That Can Learn. If you do so you will see that the stuff of science fiction is shaping our world much, much faster than most of us realize – with the attendant consequences (good and bad) on the entities that we lead. It is not hard to imagine that those seeking a simple and simplistic understanding of life and their role within it will join the ranks of the ignorant to our collective peril. In short, if we want a world where each human has the opportunity to be a constructive and participative citizen and is motivated (and incented) to be the best ‘them’ they can be, we need a leadership cohort that is much, much better at making sense of their environments, with the consequent capacity to apply enlightened leadership to the reality of profound disruption.
And who provide the greatest numbers to the global leadership cohort? Those who run businesses. Those who are responsible for inventing things, making things, making things better, organizing things, creating employment. Like it or not, our businesses have been given a societal license to create and distribute wealth and power a prosperous, healthy world. Our businesses, like it or not, are the engines of societal growth. On the whole – and as a cohort – we’ve done a pretty inadequate job, taking refuge in the laissez faire POV that ‘it’s not my job’ to think of the bigger picture. “My job is to run my business”. The reality is, if we as a society are to realize the benefits – for all citizens – of profound disruption, then its our business leaders who need to step up and assume the responsibility of true leadership, or else inevitably others will (that societal license I referred to is ‘use it or lose it’). And where product life-cycles are increasingly measured in months, successful businesses are adapting to a world of constant flux – something government and public sector leadership are structurally prevented from doing.
Simply put, to defeat ignorance we need to create happy, healthy societies that engage their populations – failure to do so will have terminal consequences.
What does it mean to be such a leader? I have no idea. But I do know that it’s less about where you look for answers as much as it is with whom you frame the questions, and share in the exploration and discovery of objective solutions. I know that leadership isn’t found in the self-serving ‘how to be a winning CEO’ lists/articles we are all subjected to, but rather that leadership is nurtured from within. And I do know that the place to start is at the ground floor – within the businesses that drive our societies. Every business has the capacity to be an incubator for equitable wealth generation and distribution. Every leader has the capacity to be an exemplar of enlightened leadership – accepting that when they seek the mantle of leadership they are joining a global community of world makers – who are party both to the defeat of ignorance and the victory of enlightenment.
We are all Charlie.
Posted on January 11, 2015 at 10:17 am
We might complain that it’s 2015 and we’re still waiting on our hoverboards. But if Nikola Tesla were alive today, he’d probably wonder where the hell our fuel-free, super fast airplanes were. And who could blame him? Fuel-free planes aside, he actually predicted a lot of 21st century technologies quite accurately.
The January 30, 1926 issue of Collier’s magazine included an interview with the legendary inventor. In it, Tesla relayed his amazing predictions for the future — a world of flying machines, wireless power, and female superiority. Some of the predictions were spot on. Others, not so much. […]
Posted on July 31, 2014 at 8:53 am
From talking forks and smart clothes — the future of technology as seen through the eyes MIT Media Lab scientist David Rose is about making the computer personal. Decades after their invention, computers look roughly the same. Though they’re smaller and more portable, we still click, type and stare at flat screens.
But not for long, Rose argues in his new book, “Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire and the Internet of Things” (Scribner), which supplies his own research to argue that people desire direct interaction with technology. […]
Posted on June 3, 2014 at 5:31 pm
Ray Kurzweil is teaching computers how to read better—one more step in the march of technological progress. The 66-year-old inventor and futurist thinks that by 2030, computers won’t only be able to understand ordinary spoken language but will show emotions too. Next to arrive will be the “singularity”—a term he popularized nearly a decade ago for the point at which humans and computers will merge as one. That will happen in 2045, he predicts, when human intelligence will be enhanced a billion-fold thanks to high-tech brain extensions. […]
Posted on March 31, 2014 at 12:17 pm
Ray Kurzweil. If you don’t know his name, you soon will. He is one of two individuals who proved to be agents of my ‘landing’ (the second to be revealed in my next post).
As I undertook my scan of techno-trend literature last year, I became aware of a quickening pace of change that was greater than the also astonishing breadth and depth of it. It was the speed. Then I remembered a name I kept coming across, and the shoe dropped.
Ray Kurzweil first was seen on Fred Allen’s ‘I’ve Got A Secret‘ TV show in 1965, when at the age of 17, he built a computer that convincingly authored classical music. Within a decade or so he was the inventor/driver/catalyst of the optical character recognition (OCR) and voice recognition suite of technologies – and the inventor of the first music synthesizer able to mimic grand pianos and other instruments. By the 1980’s Kurzweil was one of America’s most successful inventors/entrepreneurs, and the accolades have since only accelerated (click here for his detailed wiki-bio). He was also then, and remains today one of the world’s most controversial futurists.
I suspect and intend that through the life of this blog, we will repeatedly explore the detail of Kurzweil’s work. However, for our purposes today there are 3 points worth illuminating. The first is that Kurzweil conceived of the Law of Accelerating Returns, a POV that stated that as technological capability doubled every X time increment, its cost halved – and that critically, the time increments kept halving in exponential fashion, from 100 years to fifty, to 25, to 12.5 and so on. As he is wont to say, if you take 30 linear steps you get 30 steps, if you take 30 exponential steps (2,4,8,16…) you get to a billion. There is a tremendous amount of substance (and controversy) to consider in this ‘law’ but the bottom line is that information processing speed, bandwidth and storage capacity, all of which have been significant inhibitors to our businesses over the last two decades of the Internet, are about to – for all practical purposes – become free/unlimited.
With staggering consequence.
To illustrate, the cost of processing a gigaflop (a thousand million calculations per second) of data cost (in inflation-adjusted dollars) $8.3 trillion in 1961 vs. $0.12 in December of 2013 (yes – that’s 12 cents). Likewise, over the last 20 years the speed of our most powerful computers has increased from 124.5 gigaflops in 1993 (124,500 x 1,000,000) to 34 petaflops (34,000 x 1,000,000,000,000). More to the point, the doubling/having is accelerating, meaning that the application of information processing is expanding into every facet of our life – from ubiquitous instant facial recognition to the Internet of Things. Indeed, Kurzweil argues that by 2015 we will have a computer that will surpass the ‘brainpower’ of a single mouse, and that by 2023 (eight years later) it will surpass that of a single human, and that by 2045, that of ALL humans of ALL time.
Here’s where it gets ‘odd’. For when a computer has the capacity to access all human knowledge of all time, Kurzweil argues that transcendence will occur – that is the machine will become sentient and self-aware, and arguably, much more than the sum of our human parts. This point in time is know as ‘The’ Singularity – the pivot point where Man becomes something much more than Man – very, very, VERY quickly (remember that exponential trillion times a trillion kind of gains?), with the not-unimportant consequence that humans will achieve immortality. Needless to say, there is fierce debate about the likelihood of such an event or its timing (or of course the ‘rightness’ of it). But curiously, I have not found a pervasive view that argues much against the ‘fact’ of change up to the event. Certainly, amongst the digerati there are those that argue passionately that X won’t happen until Y, but the delta is very rarely materially different from Kurzweil’s prognosis.
The second point worth noting is who Kurzweil works for (or perhaps more accurately, with). As of 2012 Kurzweil became Google’s Director of Engineering. It seems a misnomer because he really seems to be the Director of Singularity for the most powerful company in the world. It is evident that Kurzweil has at minimum been a catalyst for Google’s acquisitions of late – evidence that Google expects to take a commanding lead in such areas as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and healthcare (focus on ‘longevity’ – remember the immortality thing?) to name a few. This is not a conspiracy theory. Many very smart and well intentioned people have placed a very big bet on Kurzweil’s vision of the future. There is even Singularity University, a Kurzweil initiative co-founded with Peter Diamandis, billionaire inventor/entrepreneur in his own right (and founder of the Xprize), and supported by Google, Genentech, Autodesk, Nokia and CISCO, with its campus located on NASA’s Ames Research campus in Silicon Valley.
The question to ask one’s self is – what do they know/suspect/intend that you/we don’t? I think that a view of the future is forming and is being made real that is quite literally not understood or appreciated by the great, vast majority of the rest of us. A community is coalescing that see’s the next 20-40 years as being the evolutionary pivot point for Personkind – a period that will thereafter see the course of evolution set possibly forever. I think though that the debate over The Singularity is a BIG red herring. I believe its more helpful to focus on the Pre-Singularity – the time leading up to the pivot point that most thoughtful observers more or less agree on. THAT world promises so much change and disruption that to prepare for just that seems almost impossible beyond our reckoning. But it must be. In this very fragmented and rapidly empowered and empowering world, not changing is not an option – especially if one expects to be at the leading edge of change rather than a consequence of it.
Which takes me to my third and final point. The discussion guiding the Pre-Singularity age rests almost entirely in the hands of the scientists and engineers who are making it possible. They are joined by a business elite who for the most part employ a worldview and leadership style that is the result of the post war/cold-war era. An elite who for sure are responsible for much of what we have to be thankful for, but also who must bear responsibility for many of our collective shortcomings. Just as I am convinced of the inevitability of an Age of Pre-Singularity, I am equally convinced that a new leadership style MUST emerge to both direct and to the extent possible, manage our transit to and through it. A cohort of leadership who manage to, by example, literally leverage the best that free(r) markets can and should provide, building businesses who are literally enablers of a greater society. The learning labs for this new mindset are to be found within the millions of businesses seeking to find their North Star for the coming times.
They just need a little help. I think I know where to find it.
Posted on March 29, 2014 at 1:11 pm
As an expert on cutting-edge digital displays, Mary Lou Jepsen studies how to show our most creative ideas on screens. And as a brain surgery patient herself, she is driven to know more about the neural activity that underlies invention, creativity, thought. […]
Posted on December 13, 2013 at 2:18 pm
Bill Gates in his foreword to Edison and the Rise of Innovation writes: “Edison consciously built on ideas from predecessors as well as contemporaries. And just as important, he assembled a team of people–engineers, chemists, mathematicians, and machinists–that he trusted and empowered to carry out his ideas. Names like Batchelor and Kruesi may not be famous today, but without their contributions, Edison might not be either.” […]
Posted on September 20, 2013 at 4:21 pm
Here’s one thing economists can manage to agree on: It takes innovation to make economies grow. It takes other things too, things like entrepreneurship and capital and a somewhat supportive tax structure, but at the end of the day, you need sparkly new ideas to move the global economy forward.
That’s how it has gone for a few centuries now: From the invention of the steam engine through to the development of the Internet, the generation of new ideas and processes has allowed the world to house and feed more people and produce more than anyone could have imagined a measly couple of hundred years ago. […]
Posted on September 9, 2013 at 5:29 pm
You shouldn’t give up on flying cars or hoverboards just yet. As technology continues to march on, everything will go into development sooner or later—as demonstrated by the existence of these things, which we’ll almost certainly see within our lifetimes.
Inventors have long sought an underwater breathing apparatus that doesn’t store oxygen, but extracts it from the water the way gills do. Israeli inventor Alon Bodner has come close. […]