I attended a Silicon Flatirons Artificial Intelligence Roundtable last week. Over the years Amy and I have sponsored a number of these and I always find the collection of people, the topics, and the conversation to be stimulating and provocative.
At the end of the two hours, I was very agitated by the discussion. The Silicon Flatirons roundtable approach is that there are several short topics presented, each followed by a longer discussion.
The topics at the AI roundtable were:
One powerful thing about the roundtable approach is that the topic presentation is merely a seed for a broader discussion. The topics were good ones, but the broader discussion made me bounce uncomfortably in my chair as I bit my tongue through most of the discussions.
In 2012, at the peak moment of the big data hype cycle, I gave a keynote at an Xconomy event on big data titled something like Big Data is Bullshit. My favorite quote from my rant was:
“Twenty years from now, the thing we call ‘big data’ will be tiny data. It’ll be microscopic data. The volume that we’re talking about today, in 20 years, is a speck.”
I feel that way about how the word AI is currently being used. As I listened to participants at the roundtable talk about what they were doing with AI and machine learning, I kept thinking “that has nothing to do with AI.” Then, I realized that everyone was defining AI as “narrow AI” (or, “weak AI”) which has a marvelous definition that is something like:
Narrow artificial intelligence (narrow AI) is a specific type of artificial intelligence in which a technology outperforms humans in some very narrowly defined task. Unlike general artificial intelligence, narrow artificial intelligence focuses on a single subset of cognitive abilities and advances in that spectrum.
The deep snarky cynic inside my brain, which I keep locked in a cage just next to my hypothalamus, was banging on the bars. Things like “So, is calculating 81! defined as narrow AI? How about calculating n!? Isn’t machine learning just throwing a giant data set at a procedure that then figures out how to use future inputs more accurately? Why aren’t people using the phase neural network more? Do you need big data to do machine learning? Bwahahahahahahaha.”
That part of my brain was distracting me a lot so I did some deep breathing exercises. Yes, I know that there is real stuff going on around narrow AI and machine learning, but many of the descriptions that people were using, and the inferences they were making, were extremely limited.
This isn’t a criticism of the attendees or anything they are doing. Rather, it’s a warning of the endless (or maybe recursive) buzzword labeling problem that we have in tech. In the case of a Silicon Flatirons roundtable, we have entrepreneurs, academics, and public policymakers in the room. The vagueness of the definitions and weak examples create lots of unintended consequences. And that’s what had me agitated.
At an annual Silicon Flatirons Conference many years ago, Phil Weiser (now the Attorney General of Colorado, then a CU Law Professor and Executive Director of Silicon Flatirons) said:
“The law doesn’t keep up with technology. Discuss …”
The discussion that ensued was awesome. And it reinforced my view that technology is evolving at an ever-increasing rate that our society and existing legal, corporate, and social structures have no idea how to deal with.
Having said that, I feel less agitated because it’s just additional reinforcement to me that the machines have already taken over.
David Cohen and I will be at the Fort Collins Barnes and Noble from 6pm – 8pm on Tuesday 9/10/19 to sign copies of the 2nd Edition of Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup.
Over the next few months, we’ll be doing a handful of public appearances around the book. It’s the first book I wrote and – with David – really learned how to write a book almost a decade ago.
We freshened up the 1st Edition with some new stories, lots of context and history around the evolution of Techstars, updates on where the entrepreneurs highlighted are today, and some other nuggets throughout the update.
When Do More Faster originally came out in 2010, there were three Techstars accelerators (Boulder, Boston, and Seattle) with a fourth about to launch (New York). Today, there are 50 active Techstars accelerators happening each year, located in 13 different countries. In addition to funding 500 companies per year (10 per accelerator), Techstars also runs a number of other activities, including Startup Weekend, Startup Week, a number of corporate innovation initiatives, and a set of Ecosystem Development programs based on work surrounding my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.
Whenever I ponder it, I get great joy from reflecting on how much progress Techstars has made from 2010 and, more importantly, the amount I’ve learned about entrepreneurship through my involvement with Techstars.
If you are near Fort Collins, Colorado on Tuesday night (9/10/19), come hang out with me and David at Barnes & Noble, 4045 S College Ave, Fort Collins, CO 80525.
Over the summer, I’ve been exploring Buddhism. I’m focused on it as a philosophy, not as a religion, but decided that reading a broad survey book that covered the history of Buddhism from multiple angles – historical, philosophical, and religious, might be interesting.
I stumbled up Buddhism 101: From Karma to the Four Noble Truths, Your Guide to Understanding the Principles of Buddhism at Explore Booksellers in Aspen. I grabbed it along with a few other books (something I do every time I enter a bookstore) and observed it sitting on my living room book table over the summer.
When we came back to Boulder, I carried a few books back with me including Buddhism 101. I’d started it and read bits of it but took a few hours on the couch this afternoon after my run and polished it off.
It’s a great survey guide to Buddhism. The chapters are short, very accessible, and remarkably clear. I’m sure some of the historical stuff will drift away from my memory, but the broad arc of the evolution of Buddhism and a reinforcement of the principles against this historical backdrop is now a solid base that I can build on.
If you have a meditation practice, a friend who is a Buddhist, or are just interested in having more than a millimeter deep understanding of Buddhism, this book will get you to two millimeters. And you’ll understand, after reading it, why there’s no value in getting attached to the number of millimeters.
I got the following email from Reid Hoffman this morning.
Inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, I produced a battle rap music video about centralized and decentralized currencies, pitting Alexander Hamilton against Satoshi Nakamoto. I hope the video gets more people talking about crypto and its evolving role in global commerce.
It seemed oddly coincidental with Fred Wilson’s post from yesterday titled Some Thoughts on Crypto.
I’m waiting patiently for someone to start talking about Crypto AI.
I’m a proud investor (and crowdfunding backer) in Misty Robotics. As of today, Misty Robotics has started shipping Misty II to its crowdfunding backers.
The team at Misty Robotics has been hard at working getting Misty in shape to ship. The backers now have a key role in the next step of Misty’s journey, as they get the first crack at Misty II and her SDK in advance of Misty’s general availability in the market later this year.
There have been numerous approaches to a personal robot in the past few years. Most have failed. The team at Misty has taken a different approach, emulating the one that the Apple ][ took around the launch of the personal computer, which is to build a platform that anyone can extend with hardware and software.
Misty has been purpose-built as a developer’s platform, with the tools and docs developers need to easily build robot applications which we refer to as “skills”. Misty is a bundle of serious tech that includes:
While all the hardware is done, some of the software is still in an alpha form, including spatial awareness, video capture, and 3D mapping/SLAM integration. The neat thing is that Misty is “software on treads” so all of this will rapidly iterate as well as be extended by the developer community.
Misty is still available at a pre-order discount, so if you are a developer who wants to explore robotics and become part of the Misty community, jump on board!
I’m an enormous Jim Collins fan. It’s a special bonus that he lives in Boulder.
He just came out with a short monograph called Turning the Flywheel. It’s only 40 pages but stunningly good. In it, he dissects the concept of the flywheel, which he first described in his seminal book Good to Great.
Every CEO in our portfolio will be receiving a copy in the next month as part of our “book of the almost every month club.”
If you are a CEO trying to build an enduring company, get Turning the Flywheel now and read it this upcoming weekend.
We had our share of wildlife in Aspen. By mid-summer, this sign was on the road near our house. And, below is the mama bear that came and visited me almost every day in August.
It took all of my self-discipline to stay inside the house as every instinct I had was to go outside and play with it. Bears are my friend.
Rhinos, on the other hand, scare the shit out of me.
if you mess with the thicc unicorn you get the horn.— The Warax. 🦛💨 (@iAmTheWarax) August 30, 2019
that’s the law. pic.twitter.com/BjKZqS0jBy