Artificial intelligence is basically the ability of machines to learn, react to things and generally behave just as good as humans. The biggest fears is that with advancements in AI, machines will become more like rational agents with ability to perceive their environment even better than humans. Two of the leading entrepreneurs that are on two sides of this argument. I have been following keenly. On one hand is Mark Zuckerberg who says that AI is a good thing and people should not fear it. Elon Musk on the other hand is one of main people who argues that AI should be closely monitored, if not it could lead to human extinction as we know it.
In this post I summarize their arguments.
In an interview with president of Y Combinator, Sam Altman, Mark explains why he is passionate about AI. The interview is here. He says that AI is already with us especially with the onset of self-driving cars. In addition, with more advanced machine learning the doctors will continually have more power to easily and quickly detect diseases rather than the current process of continuous tests. This is a good thing. His basic argument is that AI could end up helping even more people and therefore instead of being scared by it, it should be embraced.
In another interview with Axel Springer Zuckerberg explains that history shows that people always tend to be worried about a new technology and it has turned out okay afterall. In the above interview, Mark says that there are two types of learning: supervised and unsupervised learning. Supervised learning is that we all have grown up by. For example, telling a kid this is cat and the kid knows this is cat. It’s about pattern recognition. But now with AI, there is unsupervised learning. That is learning through refining something in your head and making a model and working it out and expect it to happen in the world based on your action. AI will help us do that. Therefore instead of building machines that eventually harm us, Mark thinks that unless the software engineers mess something really big, we should be able to control the machines. In any case, machines are built in accordance to human knowledge. Even today there are machines that can do more than human but they were built with that intention. So this is the same case with AI. Similarly, he says that just because we can build machines that can do some things better than humans does not necessarily mean that they can learn new domains and connect different types of information. In essence machines can still be controlled. He gives a good example of someone building the airplane in 1800s. If they thought about safety of planes crashing before even building the actual planes then they could not have been able to invent the aeroplane in the first place. This is same case with AI. Build fist and then think of safety measures, not the other way round.
The points raised by Mark are the exact reasons why Elon says we should be careful with AI. In this clip appearing on fortune magazine , Elon says that the problem with AI is not that it will not follow the will of the people who built it; it will follow the will but if it not well thought out it could have a catastrophic outcome. This has led Musk to be on the forefront in founding a nonprofit, OpenAi that ‘aims to democratise AI’ so that it is not used for wrong reasons. Musk says that AI will create machines so powerful that humans will find it hard to keep up. He even goes ahead to suggest that machines will be god-like creatures and humans will need to implant ‘neural laces’ in order to keep up. Science fiction stuff!.
All in all, we are already living in a world with AI in simpler forms that are set to develop with time. Ai is being used to comb personal information you feed on places such as search engines to predict patterns,marketing recommendations, financial information etc. This is based on a report by Bank of America on AI. In fact, Google is already using machine learning techniques to refine search engine results. Furthermore, Google Now and Cortana on Android and Windows are like virtual assistants that help in finding useful information. This is spreading to driverless cars-Google, Uber and Tesla (autopilot). Retailers such as Amazon could also be able to detect what you need before you need it based on your past shopping patterns.
The Kenyan government has spent a lot of money trying to solve youth unemployment. One of the main steps taken is through giving funds to young people to start businesses. Billions have been spent so far but there is little success. One of the ways I believe is through establishing business hubs in various locations within the country. A keen look at Silicon Valley shows that it is not so much about the location but building a culture. It is the way it is because of the culture that has been cultivated in the area. For a nation to establish successful startups, potential founders need to be in an environment that is not toxic to startups. This means that majority of people surrounding you need to be doing something similar. There is some bit of craziness and ‘outlierness‘ in a startup environment that is not necessarily present in all areas. This type of environment can only be created by a bunch of people trying to create business within the same location with resources and support. Of Course some will fail, in fact, most will fail but over time they few that succeed create synergy for others to follow. I think that there is a way in which YEDP can be modelled to play a better role. How about we find a way of bringing these people together so that learn from each other and create that ‘startup culture’. For example, the government funds 100 business but then they are incubated/accelerated in one environment for a period of like 3 months. In this period, they try to build viable businesses while learning from each other and also frequent advice from mentors, or even other established entrepreneurs. This is replicated in various locations based on environment that is most likely to support them.
This might require seed fund partners that can provide the know-how and the abc of biz. The nature of businesses currently funded through Youth fund projects are mainly non-technical in nature. Therefore after the money is advanced to those who qualify, they can go work on their business while at the same time comparing notes, getting advice or other type of support. This can be done even without incubation as long as the funded guys are within the same locale, say a town. They could meet once a week within the period of building their enterprises to share the challenges they are facing and receive some support and advice from investors or other appropriate individuals. I think can reduce the chances of failure. There is really a no straightforward way of knowing which businesses will succeed and which ones that will fail at the initial stages. This is the model used by many startup incubators such as Y combinator. We could have some centres in various locations that support people who are funded through Uwezo Fund or other Youth programmes. Offering feedback on weekly basis can enable these funded startups to track their growth from among peers, etc. For a startup ecosystem to work, there needs to be a lot of people trying to do business and stick around for long and hopefully succeed. The few that succeed can pay forward by supporting others that come up. slowly, people can start to believe and many more could be created.
As Paul Graham (Y Combinator) says, other countries do not lack entrepreneurial experience but many examples of people who have succeeded doing startups. To achieve this, fund as many startups as possible and make sure they stay close to each other other, at least in the early months of founding. It is easier to attract investors, partners, etc when they are within the same locale.Information and knowledge also flows easily and can be of benefit to founders. Randall Stross says “encouraging everyone to start a business is healthy and harmless. The problem is giving significant amount of money to start unproven businesses”. This is where angel investors and government come together, the little amount given by government can be used as start fund of some sort and then the startups are guided to see if they can make sustainable businesses.On a larger scale a startup ecosystem from one location would still be necessary. This entails a combination of universities, investors, service providers and people. This is is still necessary to build silicon savannah.