Artificial intelligence will radically change our lives, just not in the ways you might think.
You’ve been made to believe that AI will take your job, when the truth is, AI will deeply change the nature of work itself and lead to the creation of jobs that don’t yet exist.
Terence Tse, Mark Esposito, and Danny Goh are the authors of The AI Republic. They’re talking to us today about how AI is not an all-seeing master, but rather, a functional tool that must be combined with the intelligence we possess in order to be effective.
Mark Esposito: We started working together on an AI company project. Terence and I came from another book with Scribe on the mega trance, and one area of the book was on the rising role of terminology in our life. We happened to meet and work with Danny, who was already in the technology field. Danny already had several ventures within his portfolio, and he was leading the technology from direct experience.
One conversation led to another. As cofounders of the company, we thought, why not just capture all of this into something we could use for training, for academic work, and for events?
We wanted to offer something to engage the number of people that follow us with some tangible piece of work. Something that we could use as a way of leveraging our messages. Also, making sure that more people are getting informed about the potential of this technology, rather than just the negative side, which has been a predominant rhetoric in the media.
Terence Tse: A lot of people have different interpretations of what AI is and some people still think AI is Terminator stuff. That idea pushed us to look at writing a book that could help people understand what AI really is. In Europe, a lot of companies are still really struggling with how to put AI into their business operations and activities.
We want to get ourselves, one, to where the company’s known to the European markets, and two, more importantly, to get them to be more comfortable with AI – what it is, how we can put it into use, and what are the results that they can achieve. What kind of impact AI would create on a society?
All of these ideas caused us to push ourselves to write the book despite all three of us facing quite a busy schedule.
Danny Goh: Apart from what Mark and Terence have explained, the biggest reason for me is we have been having problems about how to explain science to the commercial world. I do realize that this technology is a big breakthrough in terms of what it can do to mankind. However, there is a big risk in what we can create in the lab and what is actually needed by the commercial world.
Simply, science cannot be created in a lab without the interpretations of the commercial sector.
Having known Terence for quite a long time, I’ve always felt that this book is the best way for us to bring AI out into the commercial world, to the business people. We are not talking about tomorrow, we are really talking about how we can help the business world today to improve their operations, through how to help businesses run better, and how to create innovation.
An Upgraded Computer
Rae Williams: How would you explain AI to an entrepreneur or someone new to business who is fearful of it?
Danny Goh: To me, AI is simply an upgraded version of a computer. First, humans created a machine to help us do things better—a computer. But a computer requires manual input to create a desired result. An AI machine is simply an upgraded version of a computer that can create the input automatically in a much easier, faster, and more precise way, in order to create the desired output.
So, for example, we use a computer to create a car by using a factory production line and let’s say, it takes one hour to produce a car. AI would help that to happen in a lot faster way because within the process, a computer can’t create a lot of different automation tools, like drawing out a design or coming up with an easier way of creating the quality tests. AI actually helps to speed up the process. It’s just an upgraded version of a computer.
Terence Tse: I fully agree with what Danny is saying, it’s an upgraded version of a computer. I think I would even see it as a more glorified, a little smarter version of a machine. Because after all, AI is like all machines. They’re fine as long as they work.
However, when machines are not working, you would really want to actually talk to a human being. So, in many ways, AI is very good at one thing that humans used to do and that is predication. They can detect patterns to predict something.
It’s still rather limited or at least not as powerful as the media likes to portray it.
There is nothing to be scared of when it comes to AI, because as we argue in the book, there is really no intelligence in artificial intelligence.
Mark Esposito: In the subtitle of the book we talk about intelligent automation, and I think that is another mission that has served our needs. But a lot of what we call intelligence is nothing more than just a deck, which Danny considers as nothing more than an upgraded version of a computer.
Technology itself is just transactional. I think AI just transacts things faster and better, and it can be a wonderful technology if you’re able to narrowly define what you want it for.
But again, talking to AI scientists, those people who are behind the algorithm, they will say that there is no intelligence in AI, as Terence said before. It’s just a wonderful technology, but this is not what people think about it. One of the major reasons why this book became so important for us is because we think we have a role in advocacy to educate people about what AI really is.
Terence Tse: I have one more example to give. If we compare a computer and an AI, which reflects back to my statement of an AI being an upgraded version of a computer, a computer has a static input and a static output—a desired result. For example, with a software program in a computer, we need to give it very clear instructions of one plus one, and the output is definitely a two.
However, in an AI machine, instead of a static input, it is actually a dynamic input. With these different dynamic input, which could come in different forms, whether it’s a voice, graphics or images, we still need to be able to have the desired output. The intelligence that comes from this dynamic input, in its various forms, is being able to manage these differences between the data, which previously required humans to prepare it, and still able to give the desired output.
That is the biggest difference between a computer and an intelligent machine today. Being able to recognize a face and rather than recognizing the face by my own eyes and then I input it as Mark or Terence, AI machines will be able to recognize that this is Mark and this is Terence automatically, and then create the automation that we want to achieve.
The whole result is simply a lot faster and a lot more precise.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
Rae Williams: In the book, you guys talk about the fourth industrial revolution. What is that and how does AI play into it? How will that help us in business, in our future, and everything we do?
Danny Goh: Technology suddenly became much more integrated in things like digital, biological, and physical arenas. I guess the difference from the previous revolutions is that we had a true revolution, in the sense that we were replacing certain ways of creating value with some form of automation or mechanization to improve the way we were doing things.
If you were replacing physical labor with the machine, that was clearly an improvement from what people used to do before. Therefore, you have transformed that job from physical to something else. In the fourth revolution, not only this happens, but it has been primarily in cognitive areas, such as white-collar jobs. The integration of technology was very powerful.
Clearly, it redefines opportunity, but this revolution also challenges profoundly what could be considered the tenets of our society. Things about labor – many countries are founded on the principles of labor, but what does it mean to work in a society where some of the most repetitive jobs now tend to be done by software?
I think the fourth revolution simply exposes us to conversations that we never had before and that clearly are now important for us to consider. It’s the opportunity for us to redefine what could be our global governance, in light of the fact that this technology is here, and it can be used for good purposes.
But the name is an unfortunate name. The fourth industrial revolution does not necessarily follow the third, but I think it’s just an easy way for us to consider it. We can all conventionally understand “revolution,” in that there is a major disruption.
Terence Tse: The way that job scopes change together with this technology is actually quite significant. Say, for example, in this form of AI technology, we have an Apple Watch, and we have a tag that detects that we have certain physical problems. With this technology, you will be able to notify the closest hospitals, an ambulance will come and pick you up, and you can be treated before the physical problem gets worse.
The current process of calling the hospital—consider the different jobs within the supply chain of those actions, and AI would change the whole process drastically. The availability of this technology basically improves how businesses can deliver its services to consumers—how faster and easier for us as consumers to receive services that we need.
That is the advancement of more convenient services, as well as the time it takes, and the quality we receive. The expectation with this technology is it will change drastically in the next couple of years, and that’s the reason why business should be looking into this technology in a very serious way. It fundamentally changes how a business is providing their products or services to consumers.
The Fear of AI: Make it or Break it
Rae Williams: What happens to businesses and our development in general if we’re not embracing AI technology and if we’re treating it as something to be feared?
Terence Tse: I think in a short term, there wouldn’t be that much of a problem. Simply because the current system of using people to do the task—they are okay, they’re not necessarily cheap, they’re not necessarily efficient, but they do the work. Having said that, I think going forward, it will be like companies that are designed to keep on using fax machines and not going into email. One way or the other, when all the other rivals start to actually take on more and more intelligent automations using AI, the other companies will actually fall behind.
The question here is, how complacent do companies want to be? They should not be. They should start thinking about it. A lot of companies out there, they’re doing a lot of homework in order to prepare themselves and take AI more seriously when it comes to putting this technology into improving their business operations.
Danny Goh: I completely agree with Terence. I have the opportunity with a few traditional businesses that have existed for hundreds of years, who really feel the heat of all these startups that are promoting that they can do the same things in a lot faster way. My role was to basically help them to identify and provide solutions about how they can keep up with the competitors, while still having their competitive advantage in other areas, like branding and the trust that they have built.
The businesses definitely understand that it is a must for them to look into AI. But, they are so big, so stagnant in what they are doing, and run by modern people, not by the real vision of the company that started in the beginning. They are trying very hard to understand and embrace AI, but it is not easy.
Take banking, for example. There are all these FinTech startups, and consumers can apply for a bank account within seconds. Why do consumers need to go back to the brick and mortar banks to wait for days or weeks to apply for a bank account? This is a very drastic comparison between how technology can help a company and if they don’t change in the next few years, they will not exist anymore.
I had a call from the chief of staff of a large global bank and he told me that he really feels that in the next five years if they don’t innovate and change, they will be non-existent. Consumers will not tolerate or accept the bank’s ignorance in terms of the services that the bank can provide.
Mark Esposito: Before, you could argue that there were always elements that were disrupting organizations and sooner or later the disruption would have become either fatal or severely reduced their business. I think the same will happen with the adoption of AI in the future. I don’t think that we will have major earthquakes from one day to the other, but there will be the gradual penetration of this technology around the world. There will be those organizations that won’t be able to adapt quickly.
Because they are never taught about AI, because their supply chains are too analog, because they never really started the process of digitalization, because they always shifted this over to an “in the future” decision, eventually they will be disrupted. This will make them less and less competitive on the global level.
The same principles can be applied to countries. You could argue that what brings investors to a country is the fact that the country is attractive.
If you have a country that doesn’t have potential with this technology, it will be difficult for this country to attract investors to participate in trade. We see this as one of those make it or break it technologies that will not necessarily change everything overnight, but has the potential to be as disruptive as other inventions, such as the telephone or the internet.
Today, we cannot survive without the telephone or without the internet. The same will be true for the level of automation that we think AI can bring to business.
The Next Generations
Rae Williams: In the book, you guys talk about how to prepare our children for the world of AI. How do we do that and why is that so important?
Mark Esposito: The first thing we have to disclaim is that we no longer have the ability to forecast what their future will look like, before we can actually spoon feed them a lot of really good advice. In the conversation that we had before about the fourth industrial revolution, this technology changes not only the way we do things, but it changes us, and how will we relate. So, in the book we talk about the fact that we would like them to become more and more creative.
More communicative, more able to be problem solvers, less dependent on yes or no answers or right or wrong, and not afraid of complexity. Capable of trying and failing, trying and failing, and never feeling stigmatized for that. I think we can’t necessarily answer your question directly by saying, “Oh, let us put them through a school of codes or data camp.”
The idea is to create a different kind of human being capable of working with technology, without feeling that technology and people have to be a tradeoff. We like to imagine the symbio-intelligence, rather than having this idea that robots will take over. One of the things that always annoys us more and more is when people introduce us and others say, “Will robots take over?” That is the wrong conversation to have.
The question is how will we build the generation that will be able to co-work with robotics and artificial intelligence? They will have to deal with different kinds of problems, such as, having five generations at work and how to reconcile that. We’ll need to work with five generations, plus the roll out of technology. This is a way for us to adapt to different kind of skills.
Terence Tse: Exactly. Like what Mark is saying, there is no way we can actually predict what can happen in the future. In my father’s generation, we remember vividly that he wanted me to go into either investment banking or become a lawyer. But back then, my father had the luxury of knowing exactly what types of jobs there would be in the future when I grew up. Now, I cannot say the same thing for my two very, very young kids.
The only thing I can do for my kids is basically try to instill the necessary confidence that they will need in order to survive the future. They need to learn to make mistakes. As a matter of fact, a lot of mistakes. They need to learn how to handle failure. They need to learn how to go through trial and error, because only by falling down and then being able to pick themselves up again, can they actually be on the path into the future.
It is more about what kind of competencies we should be providing them with, rather than what kinds of jobs or even skills they will be needing. Parenting is very, very different with kids these days. We as adults, we as parents, really need to actually think over more, rather than just complaining about what the schools are not doing.
I think it is an entirely different conversation right now.
Danny Goh:I totally agree. I like to use myself as an example—back in the late 80’s when everyone was still using typewriters on their office desks, that was the first time that I got an opportunity to actually get in touch with a computer and play games. That basically started the journey of my curiosity into the world of computing systems. But at that time, no one could teach me. Even my parents didn’t know what the capability of computing was, but they knew that this was something that was going to change the world.
This built up my capability to identify problems and be able to build solutions using any technology that I had at that time. For example, using the computer to create certificates or to type something and print it out, rather than going to a print shop to actually print something—a business card for my dad, for example. If we can implant this curiosity into our kid’s minds and with the possibility of the technology, AI can help them to go forward to the next decade.
For example, my kid simply doesn’t know what a keyboard is. He doesn’t use a keyboard – everything he sees is touchscreens, and he will touch anything that has a screen, thinking that this will create an action for him. In his mind, it is not about a typewriter. He has never seen a typewriter before. He knows that the computer exists in the style of an iPhone, an iPad, or touch screen. Even a laptop that has a keyboard is an outdated form to him.
I think it is our responsibility to build that type of curiosity and capability of what technology could become—what the world could become in the next five to ten years, in order to prepare them with the ability to actually identify the problems and create the solutions using the technology that could be present to them in the future.
An AI Challenge for All
Rae Williams: If you guys had to issue a challenge to the people who will be reading your book, to the future users of AI, and people who are just interested, what would that challenge be?
Danny Goh: In my mind, there are actually two things with today’s situation, with the technology still at its new stage—one is simply to clearly identify the problem that we have today in a very detailed way. What exactly do I want to improve in my life to be better than yesterday? This is number one, and number two is the ability to understand the capability of this technology.
Although these two statements are very broad, they exactly display the challenge in today’s big landscape of AI understanding. People think of AI as big robotic automation machines, but it is actually not, because it is still at its infant stage where nobody can clearly define what AI can do. That means if I have a client, I cannot exactly carve it out in a contract what I would exactly do, nor can the client identify in a very detailed way what the solutions are that can help them.
However, in a pure mutual collaborative research mindset, we are able to identify, for example, a problem, a repetitive task that a person is doing. He’s been doing this repetitive task every day and he would like to change that situation. The person that understands the capability of today’s AI technology would then be able to say, “Maybe this is something that AI can help me do better,” and then be able to engage a professional or scientist to solve that problem.
Terence Tse: To me, if there is one challenge that I would challenge people to it is this – try to have a deeper understanding of what AI can do. Our understanding of AI is still very superficial. What we need is to have a deeper understanding of the social impact of AI.
The problem with AI, like with many technologies, is that we can easily come up with a lot of benefits. But ultimately, a lot of the time what we have seen with past technologies is that they ended up creating a lot of unintended consequences. AI has the ability to do things that other machines could not do before. It also has a bigger potential of producing a lot more unintended consequences. Automation, for instance, whether it is AI or a basic algorithm, we have seen that in many ways it is already automating injustice or discrimination.
So even if we do not really have a very deep knowledge in the technical side of AI, such as how to actually build AI models, as members of society, we should really think about the social impacts that this technology can have in our lives in general.
Mark Esposito: I’ll be brief, because Danny and Terrence have already shared a lot. I think the challenge I would actually raise would be how do we use the skills of AI to build even more humancentric societies? One of the things I see is that AI has made it more visible how unequal our society has now become. This is not because of technology only – there are many factors to this.
However, it is easy to look at technology as one of the factors. We have the ability, with data, to see things that we might not have been able to see before. I think if we could raise a challenge, it would be – how do we make sure that we’re redesigning our governance structure to be much more humancentric? Because that is what AI has the unintended benefit to do.
Because of this technology, we can improve conditions for people, not deprive them. This goes back to the educational role that we would like to have.
Terence Tse: I totally agree with Mark in this regard, because this technology gives the opportunity to governments, companies, and people to actually rethink how we can build our lives for tomorrow. However, at the same time, it also gives a challenge to those people who are content with what they have today. How they can improve themselves to fit with tomorrow?
Rae Williams: How can people contact you if they want to learn more?
Terence Tse: As Mark mentioned in the beginning, the three of us actually have a company called Nexus Frontier Tech. We are happy for people to contact us through our website, or they can reach us individually on our LinkedIn network.