Zeit·geist = spirit, essence of a particular time

A collection of food-for-thought posts and articles on technology, business, leadership and management. 

The Second Arms Race: Artificial Intelligence

The second arms race is actually the third. The first one was the naval race during World War I, followed by the Cold War between United States and the Soviet Union, scaling up nuclear weaponry right after the end of World War II. 
The human race has been able to manage the prisoner's dilemma inherent to these competitions so far, and now faces a new test with the advent of a new technology breakthrough: Artificial Intelligence.
This is a series of articles on the topic providing a vision toward an artificial intelligence explosion in the context of current economic changes supporting a shift in our economy toward an altruistic model. 

The Intelligence Explosion & the Singularity: 

The Arms Race in Artificial Intelligence & The 4th Sector of the Economy

Ed Fernandez @Efernandez Palo Alto. California.


  • Technological singularity seems plausible and recent advancements in machine learning and AI suggest the ‘intelligent explosion’ event is within reach in this century.


  • A n arms race of narrow AI entities will happen in the framework of today’s traditional economy. Strong intelligence or AGI will eventually emerge followed by an explosion of intelligence.


  • New globalization processes driven by technology are fueling the sharing economy, as well as the 4th sector where public, non-profit, social and mission oriented enterprises are converging.

  • The 4th sector is poised to grow and thrive enabled by the sharing and collaborative economy; mission driven enterprises will have more resources enabling them to play a key role shaping the right path for AI evolution.

  • The AI arms race will provide ‘good’ and ‘bad’ entities in the context of existing and new economy environments (traditional and altruistic economies)


  • We, humans, as a species, can succeed managing the risks of a superintelligence event as we did in the past overcoming other technology threats (i.e nuclear)

We have the capacity to anticipate the future with a certain degree of precision.  Our prediction accuracy is lower as we increase the time horizon we aim at.

It’s pretty straight forward for us to predict short term events, those more likely to impact our survival chances; mechanical or physical, like anticipating when a car is going to cross at the juncture we are on, or, more long term and qualitative, anything related to replicating our gene pool, for instance the chances to date a specific person of the opposed sex.

However, when we look further ahead in time, and, because of our brainpower limitations and the effort required we struggle to foresee all potential possibilities and combinations.

Our brains, during evolution, developed a pattern-based approach to efficiently solve this problem. Identifying patterns allow us to see the big picture of a possible future, although we remain unable to predict the smaller details within (stacking up to conform to the pattern).

The Singularity, as defined by Ray Kurzweil, arguably the biggest ambassador of this concept in our times, is a period of time in future where technological advances will evolve so rapidly (exponentially) that humanity will not be able to keep up with them.

This definition needs to be broad because is a concept coined after careful analysis of the evolution of many technologies. It looks into historical data and speed of change rather than specific events themselves (although Singularity is mostly associated to the dawn of a super-intelligence entity capable of self-improvement).

We say can’t see the forest for the trees referring to short term events clouding our ability to see the big picture. The opposite is true for forward-looking statements.

With sufficient historical data we can develop patterns (and see the forest) but we will remain clueless about details (trees).

To state the analogy, let’s have a look at a practical example, a piece of technology we are all very familiar with, our phones.


Wireless phones (smartphones) have undoubtedly been the protagonists of the technology revolution in recent times.


The way smartphone technology has been adopted is well described by the diffusion of innovations theory (Everett Rogers - 1962), expressed graphically by an S curve (logistic function) or the widely popular bell curve (derivative of the S curve).

The process is well documented using available data from smartphone manufacturers (sales of devices over time) to the point we can track and predict with a certain degree of accuracy what the future will be for this particular technology.

The graph for US smartphone adoption, now above 70% penetration (Horace Dediu – Asymco), follows accurately the bell curve pattern to the point we can predict overall sales volumes in the years to come (this would be the forest in our analogy), but we are unable to predict which manufacturer will get the greater share in the same way we couldn’t predict Apple’s iPhone explosive growth since 2007 (those are the trees).

Thus, in a competitive and evolutionary environment as the current economy creates, with sufficient historical data, these well known patterns allow us to anticipate how technology breakthroughs will penetrate the markets and impact the population as a social group.

Details (trees) remain hidden though. We can’t predict which species (corporations) will be winners or losers; however, the scope and length of the ‘race’, market size and time span can be forecasted with fair accuracy.

The social aspects of technology adoption, with increasing mobile computing and ubiquitous Internet, are shrinking adoption cycles.

The number of new technology breakthroughs is also increasing over time. The intuitive idea of a singular future with unlimited wonders driven by technology makes more sense than ever.

This vision has fuelled Sci Fi literature and movies since the 50ies. The concept of Singularity, a future time where technology outwits human capabilities, may be now perceived as stating the obvious, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The question is when.


But, not so fast…. First, let’s ‘take a selfie’ of the present and look at today’s status quo.




Next: An End to Moore's Law [...]

WebCongress US: Why Superman wears his underwear outside his pants? - Tech trends & patterns

Actually this is a presentation about technology trends, patterns and mobility but, given the audience at WebCongress held in Miami James L. Knight center I had to look for a catchy title. Head on to slide 32 for a wonderful graph on Smartphone adoption where you can see where the world is at today compared to US and EU 5 countries. Thanks to analyst Horace Dediu of Asymco.

[slideshare id=28014475&doc=webcongressmiami2013whydoessupermanwearhisunderwearoutside-online-131107133803-phpapp02]

The deck is 51 slides long but there are another 50 in the original draft, pretty much covering everything I could find from real experts around tech. More importantly, at the end of the presentation, slides 46 onwards, you'll find what this means to people, and their reason behind the rising new generation of entrepreneurs.

As a summary, this is the new context we face:

  • New paths in Maslow’s pyramid
  • ‘truth’ is a tweet, photo or video clicked & sent away
  • New definitions of ‘success’: money may not be in
  • Access to luxury more important than owning luxury – Rise of sharing economy
  • Self-realization and self-actualization online
  • (Win)^3: You help me, I help you, we help others
  • Klout score in your resume
  • Managing man-machine symbiosis, key competencies.
  • Global network, global thinking, global objectives. A collective intelligence arising (Singularity)

Consequence of historical events:

  • Reduced sense of security since 2001 terrorists attacks
  • Destabilized economy since Global Financial crisis 2008
  • High unemployment levels – ‘Evil’ corporations
  • Increasing perceived fiscal pressure – need to self sustain or get out the system
  • Pervasive & cheap computing everywhere
  • Tech-entrepreneur heroes – Dorsey, Zuckenberg, Larry, Sergey
  • All tools you need in the web: crowdfunding yourself (kickstarter)

Loss aversion decreased dramatically for new generations, a 'nothing to lose' context fosters entrepreneurship. We'll all meet there.


We can predict the future, it is just a question of computing power.

"...Future can be seen? Come on!, this is just another headline purposely made up to draw attention on ads or something else" Yes, it is, and I carefully selected the words in this tweet before posting it to trigger that sort of rejection, and, as I predicted... It happened.

Therefore, based on this simple logic, future can be predicted to a certain extent, although with many limitations, but, it is a fact.

My brain could predict reactions from my twitter audience to that original statement, however, because of my own brain computing power limitations, I cound't predict who of my 2700+ followers would be the first to deny and reply my tweet.

Being said that, it's just a question of thorough analysis of my followers, their profile, interests and activity, that I could come up with an statistical prediction of who could have responded back first. With more computing power I could tweet, predict reactions and estimate who would reply and even what he or she would say.

Haven't you ever been in a situation with your other half or an old friend knowing exactly what she or he was going to say, think or do?.

Similarly, in the wireless industry for instance, we very much apply a 'reverse engineering' management approach both to competitors and other parties, tracking down actual offers, prices, market shares, and extrapolating the top-down objectives of those companies which, in turn, help predict market behaviour and leads to a fact based sales forecast.

The more data you have, and the more you analyze and compute, the better forecast accuracy.

So, more data (Big Data) +  more computing power (Moore's Law) =  better accuracy in future predictions, and this is exactly the point.

The web, internet, cloud or whatever you may want to call it is growing exponentially in terms of available digital data (big data), storage, infrastructure, and intelligence (interconnected apps and services) all converging in our personal portable communication devices (smartphones), and all of these glued together will give us increasing and pervasive computing power, with nearly infinite data points to help us predict the future.

If we extrapolate and apply this rationale to physics, considering it is all about matter, and matter components down to individual atoms, moving around forming our past, present, and future [*forget about time, it is just an illusion we humans build up as part of our limited perceptions to understand matter behavior] then, if we only could have sufficient computer power, we could probabilistically build all potential future scenarios of matter formation and determine statistically the most likely ones, based on historical patterns, carefully reverse engineered.

I need to work in that super-cloud-machinery, but first, I'll make sure we all get our hands on a smartphone ;-)

#SmartEmpathyPhone Empatía en movilidad

Impresionante video conceptual acerca del futuro ya cercano, y las redes sociales empáticas. La idea es sencilla, combinar sensores biométricos capaces de medir ciertas emociones humanas con las comunicaciones a través de redes sociales, leyendo nuestras reacciones a tweets, facebook posts o news feeds. Importante el detalle en el interface de resaltar el cambio de emociones (previous status vs currrent/new emotional status). Fijaros en el histórico gráfico de emociones, dentro de tus contactos, puedes ver en que momentos de las comunicaciones sociales ha habido más alegría o nerviosismo, asociado a la interacción social.

En dos palabras, impresionante.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XI687YFvNk&w=420&h=315]