Episode 244 - Singularity Economics
Published February 9, 2016
SPECIAL GUEST: Calum Chace. We're rejoined by author/entrepreneur/businessman Calum Chace, to talk about the future of world without work and the possible impacts of automation and robotics. Calum's new book is called The Economic Singularity (due later in 2016), and will be tackling this problem directly. And on a lighter note, we talk a bit about what these new AIs will be called, in the world of the future. Recorded on 2/7/2016.
Mike & Matt's Recommended Reading:
Calum's website, Pandoras-Brain.com
Calum on Twitter
Episode 210 - AI Survival Guide, our previous episode with Calum (published 10/1/2015)
Review The Future Episode 64 - Calum Chace on Is it Time to Start Worrying About AI?
More coming soon...
Alpha: Welcome to another episode of Robot Overlordz, episode #244. On the show we take a look at how society is changing, everything from pop culture reviews to political commentary, technology trends to social norms, all in about thirty minutes or less, every Tuesday and Thursday.
Mike Johnston: Greetings cyborgs, robots, and natural humans. I’m Mike Johnston.
Matt Bolton: And I’m Matt Bolton.
MJ: And joining us again on this episode is Calum Chace. Callum, thanks for joining us.
Calum Chace: That’s my pleasure. Good afternoon, gentlemen.
MJ: So since you were last on with us in episode #210, which I think we recorded actually in September and it was our October 1st episode, for the November meetup of my science fiction and fantasy book club, we actually picked your fiction book, “Pandora’s Brain,” as our reading. So, I just wanted to kind of start with that, just because the group really enjoyed the book. So, kudos to you for turning out some quality fiction.
CC: Oh, that’s great to hear, I’m glad they enjoyed it.
MJ: Yeah. Well, and the topic obviously is one that, you know, is pretty popular on Robot Overlordz here, that of AI. So, are you working on a sequel to that? Did I catch that correctly sort of at the end of the book?
CC: You did, and, in fact, I’ve written the first draft, but it needs a lot of work and I’ve gotten distracted. I’ve gotten distracted into non-fiction. As you know, I wrote a book called “Surviving AI,” which is about the technological singularity, and now I’m writing a prequel. I don’t know if non-fiction books can have prequels, but that has got one, or will have one, called “The Economic Singularity,” which is about the consequences of the likely technological unemployment that’s coming our way. And I’m hard at work on that, might finish the first draft of that maybe March, maybe April, and then a couple of months to knock it about and get it out. So, I can’t even look again at the first draft of the sequel to “Pandora” until the second half of the year. It’s called, “Pandora’s Oracle,” and it carries on Matt’s adventure. Matt is the main character in “Pandora’s Brain,” and so “Pandora’s Oracle” continues his adventure.
MJ: Okay, fantastic. With “The Economic Singularity” then, your next non-fiction book, from what I got from your website, you’re looking at that being published this year, in 2016, correct?
CC: Yeah, very much hope to do it round about the middle of the year.
MJ: And I don’t remember if I asked you last time, do you work with a publisher then on your books, or are they more self-published? I’m just curious, because we talk to a lot of authors, and I’m always curious which route they go.
CC: Yeah, no, it’s all been self-published. Many years ago, I was published by Random House, which is the biggest publisher in the world, a couple of books, the main one was “The Internet Startup Bible,” which was fine. And back in those days, self-publishing wasn’t really possible, it was vanity publishing. So having been used to that, when I wrote “Pandora’s Brain,” I worked hard to get a publisher. And I got an agent, which is supposed to be the hardest thing, and it’s also a necessary thing these days, because certainly for fiction, the big houses won’t really look at a new writer unless it comes through an agent. So I got an agent, he’s a good agent, and he worked hard to get it placed, but it didn’t happen. So I was pretty unhappy about that, but he said, “Look, you know, self-publishing these days is perfectly respectable, lots of people do it, the world has changed.” In fact, since this isn’t really a family show, I can say specifically what he said. He said, “Ten years ago, self-publishing was like masturbating in public, whereas today it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do.” So, comforted by that, I went ahead and self-published it, which was interesting. There was a lot to learn about that, and I probably couldn’t have done it without the help of my absolutely wonderful cover designer. If anybody out there needs a cover designer, the person to go to is Rachel Lawston, she’s done a terrific job on both of my books so far, and she helped me a lot, and the various other places I got information and advice from. It turns out that writing a book, you have to do three jobs in one, because you have to write the thing, and that is a lot of work and a lot to learn, and then you have to publish it, ditto, and then you have to market it, ditto. So, there’s three big jobs all in one.
MJ: Yeah, that sounds like a lot to bite off. [laughs]
CC: Yeah. And so far, I’ve really enjoyed being self-published. If you’re self-published, you basically don’t get into book shops, but you have full access to Amazon, and Amazon, bless them, don’t distinguish between published and self-published books, so people don’t really know, when they go on Amazon, whether a book is published or not unless they really look for it. It gives you more of a level playing field. So, you know, the sales have gone well, I’ve been very pleased with sales, and Amazon’s great because you can see exactly how it’s doing and you can tweak the way that it’s described on their website and so on. So it’s been a great experience, I’ve really enjoyed it.
MJ: I’ve had really good luck personally with the self-published authors that I’ve read. Not that there’s anything wrong with authors at publishing houses, but it seems like they have a much more direct connection to their readers, there’s a lot more diversity of voices maybe than you’ve gotten historically. I’ve become a little bit of a fan, actually, of self-publishing, so I was kind of curious which area you were in.
CC: Yeah, actually I think from your point of view, as podcasters, the self-publishing revolution must be great because you can go direct to the author without having to go through the publisher. Self-published authors are much more clued up about the need to talk to audiences, and you guys are a fantastic way to do that. So, from your point of view, I should think self-publishing is great. From the reader’s point of view also, there’s a lot more good stuff out there. Now, it also has to be said that there’s a lot of bad stuff which wouldn’t get through a publisher. Publishers, you know, there might be the odd spelling mistake in published books, but very few, and copy editors have usually had a pretty good go at it. So, you know, a traditionally published book isn’t necessarily better, but it’s likely to be of a certain standard, whereas a self-published book can be very—they cover a very broad range, from excellent books to really not very good books. So it’s an interesting world, it’s an interesting and much more varied world now.
MJ: Well, and I think there’s a certain authenticity that comes through that sometimes, as much as the mainstream publishing houses polish things up, they also “squeeze the juice” out of it. [laughs]
CC: I guess so. That wasn’t my experience when I was published. I had a brilliant editor at Random House who was just nothing but helpful, really professional, and added value. It did slow the whole thing down, it really took a lot longer than it does self-publishing. But other than that, it was good.
MJ: Okay, so to turn back to your current book, could you I guess from a high level, kind of, again, refresh our listeners on what the economic singularity is?
CC: Sure. Well, I didn’t event the term “economic singularity,” I think it was used by Robin Hanson a long time ago, but he didn’t really use it for this. It seems to me that the changes that are coming under the heading of technological unemployment are going to be so massive, and the change is so hard to foresee, that it does deserve the term “the singularity.” And so it seems to me that this century we’re going to have two singularities: the economic singularity in 20 to 30 years probably, and then the technological singularity when we get superintelligence further ahead, perhaps 50 to 70 years—I mean, some people think it’s 2045, but it seems to me to be a bit further out than that, although who knows. So the economic singularity is about will we get technological unemployment, will most jobs be done by computers rather than humans? By machines? And what will be the impact on humans if that’s the case? I’m pretty persuaded, and I suspect probably a lot of your audience is pretty persuaded, that machines will do most of our jobs. Some people think that we will find new jobs to do. It seems to me unlikely, but we don’t know. Some people say, well, if you look back at the jobs that people did 100 years ago and look at the jobs they do now, our great grandparents would not have understood what we mean when we talk about social media marketing and website design and so on. But there’s a guy in California called Gerald Huff who did an analysis of the jobs that existed in America in 1900 and the jobs that exist now. 80% of the jobs that exist now also existed in 1900, and 90% of the people doing the jobs are doing jobs which existed in 1900. So, the rise of new jobs hasn’t been as great as you might think. Most people are still doing things like being lawyers, doctors, working on roads, working in factories, working in warehouses, writing books, whatever; they’re still doing things that were done 100 years ago. Now, it might be that we all end up being virtual reality experience designers or something new, or dream wranglers or something. But it seems unlikely to me. It seems to me that the jobs that need doing will be jobs that we understand today and they’ll be done by machines, and even if we do invent a whole lot of new jobs, they will probably be done by machines. So, it seems to me we are heading to a world where humans don’t do jobs, and that’s the economic singularity. Now it could be, like the technological singularity, very, very good for us, or very, very bad for us. Very, very good is the economy of radical abundance: machines do all the work and humans get pampered by machines, all our needs are provided for by machines, and we play. So, we chat with friends, we play sport, we read, we write plays, we do all the things that we do in our leisure time, and we’ve got an infinite amount of leisure time, which is great! Who wouldn’t want to live in a society like that? I’d like to live in a society like that. But the bad possible outcome is somehow we fail to design the economy so that everybody gets enough to live on. Somehow the machines, which create all the value, end up in the hands of a minority of people who just hang on to all the output. And perhaps they sort of feed out scraps so that there’s not riots, but not enough to make everybody happy, so we have a pretty unhappy future. There’s a film called “Elysium,” which I’m sure a lot of people have seen. I thought it was a pretty terrible movie, but it is one of many depictions of a dystopian future where a minority have hung on to the means of production and exchange and allow the lives of everybody else to be miserable. I think that’s pretty unlikely. I think that the elite, which are likely to end up owning the assets, are people like Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, and they seem to be people of good will and I don’t think they’re going to want everybody else to be miserable. Not so sure about the Wall Street bankers, but you never know. The people who own everything in an economy where machines can produce huge abundance, they’re not going to allow everybody else to starve or be near starvation. But even so, if there is private ownership and there’s AI capital in the hands of a minority, I think we can end up having a social breakdown, a breakdown into two or more classes. One of my favorite authors is a chap called Yuval Harari who wrote a brilliant book called “Sapiens,” and he talks at the end of that, and in a TED Talk he did, about becoming a division of humanity into two species—not just two classes, but two different species, and he calls them the Gods and the Useless. I do think that is the big threat, I think that is the big danger ahead of us if we don’t get the economic singularity right.
MJ: Well, and speaking of that division, I noticed that, I think it was at Davos, that the whole topic of technological unemployment seemed to be at least on everyone’s mind, and at least the overall kind of view of it that seemed to come out of that, at least in the pieces that I read about it, was that, “Oh, no, robots and automation aren’t taking jobs, they’re actually creating jobs.” It seemed like a pretty positive take on it. And I know, just in kind of looking around at the level I’m at, I know still a lot of people that are struggling from the 2008 financial crisis, a lot of people that do jobs that seem like they could either be replaced by machines, or if they’re not, they’re certainly dependent on people buying things that would be replaced by machines, you know? Whether it be middle class or even lower class people that are buying things like carpet, for example, or electronics or things like that. That the jobs of, say, your social media manager, your website designer for the companies that do those services, it seems like there’s certainly a relationship there between some jobs that would get taken over by automation. It seemed, to me anyway, that the Davos conversation maybe was a little naive.
CC: Yeah, it’s interesting, the subject of technological unemployment is on everybody’s lips these days, it’s a big issue, and it’s probably true that the majority of people still think, “No, really when you get down to it, it’s just the luddite fallacy all over again.” Automation in the past has always raised the level of economic activity, and after perhaps some difficult adjustment, the people who lost their jobs went on to get better jobs—safer, more interesting, and better paid jobs—and that that’s going to happen again. We’ll need to up our game in terms of education, and there might be some tricky adjustments, but it’ll be okay, we’ll all end up doing more interesting jobs. And one of the ideas that people put forward is that we’ll be centaurs, which is taken from the world of chess, where after Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov, no human could beat the best chess computer, but a human plus a chess computer beats a chess computer, and also beats the best human. Now, personally I think that’s a temporary state of affairs, but some people say, “No, that will carry on,” and you can read that across into the economy. So, you could have a machine which, for instance, diagnoses disease. Will those machines which diagnose disease go on to replace all of the diagnosis that happens, or will we still need doctors to do some of the diagnosis? And will doctors work with the machines to produce the best possible diagnosis? To my mind, I don’t see why the doctor is still going to be necessary. Not in the next 5 years, but in 15, 20, 25? I’m not sure that many doctors are going to be needed. Maybe a small minority, but I think most of the diagnosis will be done by machines, because frankly they do it better. Last year was a really interesting tipping point, when deep learning enabled computer systems to be almost as good, and in some cases, better than humans at recognizing images, and understanding speech, and doing natural language processing. And when they can do those things considerably better than us, and they will, then most of the things that we do in jobs… When you break jobs down into tasks in the way that McKenzie says we should quite rightly, more and more of the tasks in each job are going to fall to the machines, they’re going to do it better than us. And of course, as soon as a machine can do a job as well as you can, it will replace you because it doesn’t need to go to sleep, and it doesn’t get drunk, and it doesn’t need a pay raise and so on. Although at the moment the majority of people probably aren’t even starting to think technological unemployment, of those who are, probably most people think it won’t really happen because we’ll find ways to keep working at jobs, paid jobs. But I think the people who’ve been thinking about the future tech for longest, people like you, I think it’s fairly obvious to us that, frankly, jobs are going, machines will do them better than us. But, you know, our job is to make sure that works out well and that we’ll get the happy economy of radical abundance and not any of the dystopian alternatives.
MB: It’s a question that I’ve always had about technological unemployment, and I’ve brought it up in the past… All these jobs, the thought is that obviously they’ll get replaced by machines. The only problem is, at least from my thinking, machines don’t buy anything. If everybody’s poor and waiting around for handouts from the 1% or from government, people aren’t going to be buying expensive things, which means there’s going to be no need to make expensive things. So, all the robots in the world making things, or the artificial intelligence doing all these jobs, to me it just seems that you can only do that so much before you reach a point where nobody’s buying those things. If you can make a million iPhones a day and you can make them for a nickel, but if there’s nobody out there who can afford them, it doesn’t really matter that you’re making… Does that make sense?
CC: Oh yeah, no, absolutely. It’s a very important objection to the idea of a post-work, post-jobs economy. You’ve put your finger on a very important thing. You can’t have this new world with the existing economy. It wouldn’t work. Because if I’m unemployed and will never work again because I can’t do anything that a computer can’t do better, I won’t get any money. And if I don’t get any money, I won’t spend any money. And if I don’t spend any money, I’m not contributing to the economy. And multiply me by 50% to 75% of the population, the economy stops, as you say. There is no economy if nobody is buying anything. There’s the story, which may or may not be apocryphal of Henry Ford going around the factory with the head of a union and showing this guy all these new machines he’d bought, all these new robots, and saying to the head of the union, let’s call him Gus, “So Gus, how are you going to organize a strike when I’ve got all these robots?” And Gus says, “Yeah well, that’s interesting, but how are you going to sell cars to all these robots?” You’re right, we need a new economy. Now I find this a very unpleasant conclusion to have arrived at and to be unable to escape from, because I’m a businessman, I’ve been in business for 30 years, and I don’t like the idea of saying capitalism has got to go. But it’s the conclusion I can’t avoid, I think we need a new economy. A lot of people, and particularly I think this appeals to people on the political left, think, “Well it’s okay because we’ll just have universal basic income and that will sort everything out.” So, the government will hand out money, and that will solve the problem of the economy not working because I’ll have money to buy a car, and you’ll have money to buy a car because the government will give it to us. I don’t think that’s the answer, and I don’t think it’s enough. We will need universal basic income, but I think it’s a stepping stone towards the next type of economy. The reason why I don’t think universal basic income is enough is that I don’t think we’re going to be comfortable just living off the good will of a government or a group of people who own all the AI and therefore own pretty much everything else. We’re going to feel extremely uncomfortable about that and we’re going to be very vulnerable to them. It would probably be a very inefficient system. I’ve never yet come across a government organization which is particularly efficient, and I don’t trust a government to hand out incomes, to be responsible for everybody’s incomes in a fair and efficient way. I don’t think they could do it. So, I think universal basic income is going to be a necessary intermediary step, and the fascinating thing is that the new type of economy that we need, we’ll need it in probably 30 years, maybe more, maybe a bit less, and we haven’t a clue what it looks like! It won’t look like current models of socialism or current models of communism, it’ll look like something else. It won’t look like “Star Trek,” either. Everybody thinks, “Oh, the Star Trek economy…” But “Star Trek,’ although wonderful fiction, is very inconsistent about the way it works. They say there’s no money in “Star Trek,” but actually there is, because they try to buy some tribbles, and Jean-Luc Picard apparently owns a huge vineyard, so private property is alive and well. We just don’t know what this new economy looks like and we need to start thinking about it.
MB: Yeah, no, I agree. I think it’s going to be a while, and it may even take some experimentation in order for us to get that right, because it is going to kind of affect everybody.
CC: It is, and there will be experimentation because there’s, whatever there are, 200 different countries in the world, and within many of those countries there’s lots of different states which are semi-independent, so there will be different ways of doing things. But experimenting with economies is dangerous, because if you get it wrong, people die, and if you get it wrong, it’s difficult to get it back right on track. So, it does seem to me that a lot more effort needs to be going into thinking about this, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m writing the book. The thing that annoys me is that I haven’t got all the answers, but that’s me being a bit ambitious. [laughs]
MJ: Calum, with the way that the world’s economies are now all interconnected, does it seem like somewhat the whole economic system has become almost a runaway train, that you can’t even have these areas of experimentation because they’re all interconnected to kind of our larger system, the way it is, and it seems like it’s got certain ideas and values encoded in it that we’re just not even really able to think outside of?
CC: Well, yeah, any one country struggles to completely change their economy, because, unless they’re North Korea, they are involved and engaged with everybody else. But that said, there’s lots of different models of economics. Take Russia, for instance. It’s a dirty great big petrol station with a flag on top run by a crook. That’s one economic model. Take American capitalism. It’s very different from German or French capitalism, but all three are pretty successful. Their people live pretty well—there’s exceptions, but they live pretty well on the whole. Take China. That’s another very successful economy in the sense that it has lifted a huge number of people out of abject poverty over a 30-year period, but it’s done it in a very different way than America and Britain and France did it. So there are different ways of running economies, and to some extent they’re designed, and to some extent they grow organically. The thing that I suppose worries me is that over the course of a generation or two, we need to steer or find ourselves in a radically new type of economy, a really different type of economy, and we don’t know what it looks like, and we certainly don’t know how to get there.
MJ: Yeah. Well, and sort of the dystopia you described that they portrayed in “Elysium,” that looks an awful lot, to me, of the Long Tail Curve that Kevin Kelly first wrote about, where you kind of have movies, and publishing, and music and all that, where you have these superstars that now kind of eat up the lion’s share of the big pie and then you have this infinitely long tail of everyone else that’s now able to participate and before had been shut out. But the mid-list people, that’s really where they kind of got hit the hardest, it seems like.
CC: Yeah, it’s hard to tell, isn’t it? In the music industry, it does seem like there’s fewer people making a decent living out of music. I don’t know that, but that’s the impression I get. In writing, which is an industry I know a bit better, I don’t think that’s true. It was always the case that there were stars who made lots of money, and then most other people really didn’t. I think very few people made a living out of writing books. most people subsidized their writing by doing other things. There is now a group of people, and I think particularly in the States, who are making a pretty decent living by self-publishing, and they’re doing it because they’ve worked out how internet marketing works. I don’t fully understand this, because I grew up in a world where the web didn’t exist. I was working for 20-odd years before the web was created, and even the internet was pretty much unknown when I started, so I’m having to learn about internet marketing now that I’m doing this new career, and it’s fascinating, and a huge learning curve. I think I’ve more or less mastered Twitter—I think. But Facebook is a foreign territory, I don’t get it at all; and Instagram, I’ve never been there. [laughs] So there’s tons to learn. But there’s quite a decent number of people, particularly writers doing genre fiction—science fiction, crime, romance—who are making pretty good livings because they’ve worked out how to build an audience and then how to retain that audience and keep communicating with that audience in a way that you can’t do if you go through a traditional publisher. The impression I have is that there’s actually more people now making a pretty decent living out of writing than there were, and maybe that will replicate across other sectors, who knows.
MJ: Do you think that reflects somewhat a shift from maybe a scarcity model of thinking to abundance thinking? Because I know I notice in authors particularly on Twitter and on the internet, just in the way they market, they are, like you said, very engaged with their fans, very open, and it just seems like that’s more of an abundance mindset. They’re also more willing to help each other, even. That doesn’t seem to yet really exist in the music industry, they all still seem very “These are my fans and I’m not going to share them with anyone!” That’s maybe more of a scarcity mindset.
CC: That’s interesting, I’ve never thought about that. That may very well be right, yeah.
MJ: Well, that touches on one of my frustrations, I know Matt’s heard this several times. Just in general, I notice within my social circles people that I know, they’re very reluctant to share things that their friends are doing. It seems to me that they’re very willing to share things that are already popular, that are like your BuzzFeeds, or Upworthys, or some of the things that are already viral. And yet if they have a friend who’s maybe recorded their own album and self-published, or self-published a book, they’re a little bit more reluctant, and I think that, certainly author's’ fans it seems like, they’re very willing to share the things that they love.
CC: That’s certainly been my experience. It must be that writers, authors, and readers are just much nicer people.
MJ: Okay, well, I don’t have a whole lot more. Is there anything we’ve missed, or Matt, did you have anything that you wanted to jump in with?
MB: Not really.
CC: We’ve hammered the economic singularity to death, have we?
CC: I’ve got a question for you guys, because you talk to people about this a lot and you think about it a lot. One of the things—it’s not a big thing—but one of the things that fascinates me is you know Siri and Cortana and Google Now and so on, and Amazon’s Echo, obviously those are all going to get much, much better, and they’re going to become our essential daily assistants, and they’re going to help us navigate our way through the world. What do you think they’re going to be called? Because at the moment, we don’t really have a name for them, but I suppose you would call them a digital assistant or an AI voice or something. The names we have for things that we use all the time usually are one syllable or two short syllables, so “car,” “phone,” “house.” What’s the name for the descendants of Siri?
MB: That’s a good question. A lot of people I think use the term Siri as just kind of a generic—it’s almost becoming like Kleenex or something, where it’s that generic term of a digital assistant.
CC: Yeah you’re right, it could be that, it could be that. So, Siri, which comes from Sigrid, it’s a Scandinavian name. Maybe that’ll be like the Hoover or, as you say, the Kleenex and so on. I think Microsoft and Google are going to fight like cat and dog to stop that happening.
MB: Oh, absolutely.
CC: So actually they should be in the business of inventing a generic name for them. So I’m going to help them: I think we should call them Friends. I think we’ll end up saying, “My Friend.”
MB: Yeah, I could see that! Mike and I just got done watching—this is sort of related, I think—there’s a TV show called “Dark Net,” and the very first episode had this group of people in Japan that have this virtual thing that they date, it’s a female…
MJ: It’s a love game, I think.
MB: A love game that you can download on your phone. I mean they talk about taking this thing out on dates and doing all these weird, you know…
CC: Like the movie “Her”?
MB: Yeah, exactly! I mean, it’s obviously not as technologically advanced, but you can put this thing in different outfits, and like I said, they take it out on dates and stuff. But yeah, I could see Friends, or some variation that there’s a difference between actual friend and virtual friend or something. I also think Google needs to come up with an actual—what’s Google’s called? Google Now, or something?
CC: I think so, which is odd isn’t it? They haven’t given it a name yet.
MB: Yeah, at some point I think they need to come up with a name, because you do have—you have Cortana and Siri and Echo, so you would think…
CC: And Facebook has M.
MB: Yeah, you would think at some point Google would say, “Alright look, call it Betty…” or something, give it some kind of a name, because Google Now doesn’t roll right off the tongue.
CC: No. Maybe they’re hoping we’ll call it Google, but I’m not sure we will.
CC: And Google already means something else, anyway. “Google” means to search.
CC: And actually, thinking about it, that might be their clever strategy, because quite possibly these “Friends,” or whatever they end up being called, will take over search. You know, you won’t type into Google, “Find me the restaurant.” You’ll just say it to your digital assistant, your Friend. It will be just like saying, “Hey Google, where’s the best restaurant near here?”
MB: We’ve talked about it slightly, but there’s a company, the company is called SoundHound, they’re working on a digital assistant that is light years ahead of what Siri and Cortana can do. You can actually ask it questions kind of in a row, like, “Hey, I’m going to go to Geneva and I need a hotel. Tell me the best hotels. I’d like a hotel with a window, a view of the mountains.” So, you can go through all these things and it’ll actually filter it down for you.
CC: Have you tried this thing out?
MB: I haven’t. It’s actually still in beta, but they have—you can go and test it.
CC: And is it as good as they say?
MB: Yeah, from the trial that I did with it, it was as good as they say. It was much more accurate. I’ve never had real good luck with Siri.
CC: No, it’s not that great, but then Apple isn’t really in the cutting edge—well, it’s near the cutting edge—but it isn’t as advanced in AI as Google and Microsoft and perhaps IBM, because those guys have got the best AI talent. You know, Google keeps buying AI groups, and Microsoft just bought SwiftKey, which is a great British AI company. That is where the best AI is, and the best AI talent likes working in places which are open, and Apple isn’t open, open is the opposite of Apple culture. So they are allegedly struggling to hire the best AI talent. To get really good AI, you need two things: you need really, really good engineers, people who understand deep learning really well, and it’s a hard subject; and you need data. Google and Microsoft and IBM and Amazon are the people with the data—oh, and Facebook; sorry, I should have mentioned Facebook, they’re the other really cutting edge AI company. Facebook and Google are probably out in front, followed closely by Microsoft and IBM I’d guess, in terms of both having really top AI talent and having oceans of data. And I struggle to see how startups can ever get as good as them, because they don’t have those two things. The best AI talent earns football star salaries, and the data that Google and Facebook have is really hard to replicate.
MB: Yeah, well that SoundHound company, they’ve been around for several years, but they do—you’ve heard of Shazam, right?
MB: Well, SoundHound does the same thing as Shazam, so I think what they did is they took their technology from identifying music and just tried to take it one step further. Now, I don’t know what the back-end looks like, if it uses Google to do all these searches or how they do that, but the actual voice recognition and the different layers, that you can keep asking it questions and it keeps narrowing your search or giving you different results, is actually quite impressive.
CC: Yeah. Well, you know, none of us know, but I would bet money that the best “Friends,” if that’s what they’re going to be called, will come, at least for the foreseeable future, from Google and Facebook and Microsoft and IBM.
MB: Yeah, especially IBM, because I know they’re doing a lot of work with Watson…
CC: What they’re doing is interesting because they are pushing very aggressively into making their AI available to companies. And also they are very good at marketing. I mean, the marketing prowess of beating Garry Kasparov at chess and then beating Ken Jennings at “Jeopardy,” that is genius marketing. A lot of people say Watson really isn’t anything—the Watson that they’re marketing at the moment—isn’t anything like the Watson that was used to win “Jeopardy,” but they’re very good at marketing. And they’ve taken it very seriously, it’s a very important part of their future as they see it. The other question like that is self-driving cars. What do you think they’ll be called? Because they won’t be called self-driving cars in ten years.
MB: Autonomous? I don’t know…
MJ: Autonomous is way too long I think, or complicated for most people. I definitely agree, Calum, that it’ll be a shorter word, but does anyone know what the Google car, that short stubby one that has no steering wheel, was called?
CC: I think it’s just called a Google Car at the moment. I don’t think it’s got a separate name. It may have, I’ve never heard of it.
MJ: Maybe they’ll be called an Uber.
CC: Ah yes, well, again, like the Hoover thing, or the Kleenex. [laughs] How about “Autos”? “Auto Cars.” “Autos.”
MJ: I could see that making a comeback, because really most people don’t—it’s not like anyone really uses automobile particularly anymore. I could see autos making a comeback.
CC: Yeah. So there you go, I reckon the digital assistants will become “Friends” and the self-driving cars will become “Autos.”
MB: Yeah. Unless, like I said, there is a company that comes up with some kind of a catchy name and then it just kind of becomes a generic term, which is a very good possibility.
MJ: An “Ask Jeeves” or something. [laughs] Okay, well, Calum, if people are interested in learning more about the forthcoming economic singularity, where can they go?
CC: My website is Pandoras-Brain.com.
MJ: Okay, well, thanks so much for joining us today.
CC: Thanks for having me on the show. It’s good fun, as always.
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