I wear two hats – one, as a fintech startup founder and the other as a well-trained professional accountant. I used to believe immersing myself in busy work schedules would set a good example to my team, bring meaning to my life, and serve as a kind of fulfillment. But two years ago, the institutional investor for my startup said, “Katherine, to think, learn, and strategize, you need to take a 2-day break every week. New ideas will come – this is the secret recipe for a startup’s success.”
I finally followed his advice and spent my 2 day break at the EO Global University Learning Program. The program, hosted at Singularity University in San Francisco from October 18th to the 19th, invited the experts from high-tech and science fields that San Francisco is famous for as keynote speakers. Here I’ll share some thought-provoking insights learned from exponential growth models, advancements in neuroscience, and developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Exponential Thinking Primer –
Future-Proof Your Organization, Community and Yourself by Pascal Finette
Today’s world changes every day, and is constantly disrupted by new ideas and technologies. As Pascal Finette says, ‘For the first time in human history, we are at a point in time where technology, combined with human ingenuity and empathy, can solve humanities most vexing problems.’
Most of us are familiar with the concept of exponential growth, but what exactly does it entail? In his presentation, Pascal presented a model mapping the development of human history. The model showed that while it took a few thousand years for the industrial revolution to truly raise standards of living, the next technological revolution (the internet) developed over a mere 200 years. Based on this, he hypothesized that in a few years, potentially within 10 to 20 years’ time, there will be another revolution driven by super-computing powers, AI technologies and neurosciences.
Pascal indicated that this exponential curve means we will soon be faced with over-supply, even abundance, with many things in the world. Entrepreneurs should therefore keep this in mind when building a successful business. He suggests two tracks that are sustainable – the development of a platform that connects goods to consumers, or two, the innovation and offering of a very unique product. I found his take very valuable, and it reinforced my current beliefs on the importance of e-commerce and innovation.
Pascal’s presentation continued to explore the effect of this exponential trend on all aspects of science, and introduced the following 2 speakers (amongst others).
Intro to Pascal: Pascal is Co-Founder (and enfant terrible) at radical Ventures and Singularity University’s Chair for Entrepreneurship & Open Innovation. His work focuses on the intersection of technology, global impact, and culture; inspiring, educating and empowering entrepreneurs. He’s the author of the published book “The Heretic – Daily Therapeutics for Entrepreneurs”. (Website: www.finette.com)
Application of Tech: Neuroscience by Dr. Divya Chander
Neuroscience is at the cutting edge of decoding the human brain, and recent advances make it possible hijack the mind’s circuitry.
During her speech, Dr. Chander described how deep brain stimulation surgery offers patients with movements disorders such as Parkinson’s disease the opportunity to regain fine motor control. In the therapy, surgeons implant an electrode into the patient’s brain. Patients are then able to exercise control over their tremors by turning the electrode on and off manually.
Neuroscientists can also apply similar tactics to assist quadriplegic (parazlyzed) patients. Electrodes implanted into quadriplegic patients’ cortexes allow them to convert thought into utility. For example, a woman paralyzed from the neck down, with the help of electrode implants, used her thoughts alone to successfully command a robot to serve a cup of coffee.
Dr. Chandler also shared how patients suffering from blindness could use their tongue to “see” and how some treatments can avert the cranial intrusion altogether, simply using the electric signals around the skull to carry out similar treatments.
These mind-blowing technologies, though not market-ready, indicate that our forecasting should include faster-paced technological advances. Other speakers discussed advancements in food technology (making an entire beef burger out of a single piece of beef) and face recognition technology (a technology similar to google glass that recognized a higher than expected number of criminals). It just goes to show, many technologies that seem like a joke today may be a reality in 5 years, and our forecasting should try to accurately reflect this fast-paced development.
Intro to Divya: Dr. Chander is a physician and neuroscientist who trained at Harvard, UCSD, UCSF, and the Salk Institute. She has been on the Anesthesiology Faculty at Stanford University since 2008. Her postdoctoral training in ontogenetic technology was conducted in the laboratories of Karl Deisseroth and Luis de Lecea at Stanford, where she used light-activated ion channels inserted in DNA to study sleep and consciousness switches in brains. (LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/divyachander)
Core Capabilities: Artificial Intelligence & Robotics by Dr. Hod Lipson
Over the last year in China (indeed, in most business-focused parts of the world), AI technology-related entrepreneurs, investors, and tech teams are quite common. CanCan Cloud Services, my fintech start-up, is, in fact, serving a few AI technology-related clients – one in Shanghai, two in Hong Kong, and one in Beijing. The EO Global learning event in San Francisco offered a fantastic opportunity to refresh on some of AI’s fundamentals and learn about the latest advancements in the industry. To experts, my description may look elementary, but I’ve tried to keep the information accessible for people who haven’t been exposed to these new technologies.
AI is divided into two separate categories: Rule-based systems, which store and manipulate knowledge to interpret information; and machine learning systems, wherein computers make predictions using data and statistical techniques.
When looking at the history of AI’s development, we notice a very slow growth in the past decades (I remember learning AI fundamentals when I was studying at Schulich Business School MBA in 1992 more than 25 years ago). Even as recently as 2011, AI was in such a stage of infancy that it could not tell the difference between a dog and a cat. At this stage, the technology was considered impractical and often overlooked by society. However, in the past few years, AI has experienced exponential growth in facial recognition ability, and is even making driverless cars plausible. This sudden growth was largely powered by the increased computing speed of computers, investments poured into the industry, and also an annual, industry-wide competition amongst tech teams that serves to improve the accuracy of face recognition.
It’s worth noting that in the upcoming years, the AI boom will not slow. AI will have an impact on people’s daily lives in a transformative way. Dr. Lipson describes one manifestation of this transformation, stating in Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing: ‘3D printing is already shaking our age-old notions of what can and can’t be made.’
Intro to Hod Lipson: Hod Lipson is a professor of Engineering and Data Science at Columbia University in New York, and a co-author of the award-winning book “Fabricated: The New World of 3D printing” and “Driverless: Intelligent cars and the road ahead”. His work on self-aware and self-replicating robots challenges conventional views of robotics and has enjoyed widespread media coverage. Lipson has co-authored over 300 publications that received over 14,000 citations to date. (Website: www.hodlipson.com)
I admire the inventors, scientists and everyone else in this ecosystem making these advancements happen. Compared to the cutting-edge technologies I have seen in EO Global University, we know CanCan看看™ still has a lot of ground to cover. The exponential growth target is fast approaching, even faster than originally thought.