A View of the Unimaginable Future (Amongst Other Things)

Any trip to SXSW is a trip away from the daily grind and into what the future may hold.

The dominant narrative was around AI – “we’re obviously in an inflationary hype-cycle” on that topic as one speaker put it – and I’ve also picked out some other themes worth a ponder.

1. Unimaginable: the world in 2050 powered by AI

Open AI founder, Greg Brockman’s answer to his interviewer’s question, “Fill in the blank, what does a world powered by AI look like in 2050?” was … “unimaginable”. 

Why? AI will drive progress at a rate much faster than Moore’s Law. It will expand the concept of what it means to be human and what we are capable of as human beings.  It will drive unimaginable change/ progress in the 21st century. It could be utopian or dystopian – likely somewhere in between.

The bright side: 

– a new frontier of personalised media through generative AI leading to much more engagement 

– you’ll have a legion of AI assistants that will constantly be doing knowledge work for you 24-7-365 – improving your emails, researching projects, developing hypotheses, freeing you to be a curator, editor, thinker

– you’ll have an AI chatbot embedded in your head and a whole generative AI creative studio at your disposal – you will literally be able to make your dreams come to life

The dark side:

– The end of truth

– Deepfakes – number of deepfakes online doubling every six months. Mostly being used to put women’s identities stolen from around the web into pornography – obviously highly abusive, vindictive and unpleasant practice and also currently mostly not illegal. How will lawmakers keep pace with AI powered changes?

– 2024 predicted to be the last ‘human’ election in the US, thereafter it will be an entirely AI driven nightmare – what’s real, what’s not, who said this vs what’s fake

– The machines take over – end of story

– Bad actors using AI for bad means – the issue when so much AI is open source

2. Hacking the brain

Two ways of hacking. 

First, the natural way: the body of evidence on the benefits of micro-dose usage of Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) on making people nicer, reducing violence and helping people break the shackles of addiction is growing. Could be a game-changer that we’re all using within a few years.

Secondly, through tech: the development of assistive or enhancing tech that can hack the brain to enhance what it’s capable of is speeding up e.g. embedding AI chatbots, being able to control prosthetic arms with tech in the brain. But, raises big questions, what do you do if the company behind the AI chat bot (or other embedded tech) in your head goes bust? Meaning no service available when it starts to glitch and you can’t extract as would cause brain damage. 

3. Leadership in the machine age: humans have superpowers too

Yes, AI is a game-changing technology that will expand the concept of what it means to be human and what we are capable of as human beings. But, humans have superpowers that AI won’t ever be able to replicate, said Dr Nick Chatrath.

For example, an AI cannot replicate the quality of attention you can give in this moment, right now, to the person you are interacting with. Pay attention to someone and show you care. 

Also, an AI can’t be playful – so be playful in your leadership in a way that machines can’t be. Extend that to the way you learn as a leader – run some experiments yourself/ on yourself: riff, try stuff, see what happens. 

4. Collaboration a must in the age of radical interconnectedness

What unites the Wu-Tang Clan and Sikh philosophy?

A belief in the power of active collaboration. The power of subjugating the self in the service of whatever it is you collectively are trying to produce, as The RZA put it “the collaboration effort supersedes everything and serves the purpose of the film/ album/ song/ thing you’re trying to produce”. 

The build from Sikh philosophy is that, we are whether we like it or not a radically interconnected species and would benefit from recognising this and actively seeking to be more radically connected. He quoted CS Lewis “True humility is not thinking less of yourself it’s about thinking of yourself less” – which is a good start-point for more active collaboration.

5. Identity or identities 

There was definitely less chat about the metaverse (phew); this is a phase of building the foundations of it – but, it / they are a way off, was the general view.

That said, an interesting question was posed by a talk hosted by Conde Nast: when the metaverses do come will you have one consistent identity across all (one “metaversonality”) or experiment with your identity and have a different one in each? 

This article first appeared on Little Black Book here.