Tag Archives: artificial intelligence

📰 Tomorrow’s Fake news and Quantum risks🔥🔥

Fake news is the least of your problems and it has taken too long to recognise the issue. Bigger problems are on the horizon. Read more below.

Spot the fake

Fake news has seen a meteoric rise in awareness this past year along with the rather predictable result of any news that someone doesn’t like being called fake.

It took too long to recognise the problem but has now led to a major commitment from companies like Facebook, Twitter etc to deal with the problem.

Performance is still patchy though and none of it solves the underlying issue of increasing access to information creating more polarised societies.

Fake news is going to seem small in comparison to what is to come though.

Believing what you see and hear is something we take for granted. When you can no longer trust your senses what can you trust? The world becomes a more dangerous place when you close up and don’t interact with the wider world.

Yet that is about to happen – you can train a computer with just a minute of your voice (or anyone else’s) before it will speak anything you like back at you in your own voice. Go and have a go.

Artificial Intelligence can – not completely transparently to the human eye but not far off today – change an object in a video into something else. The video above shows a horse changed to a zebra. There are also examples of dogs being turned into cats (because clearly cats are better?) and more.

In the same way as CAPTCHA systems were developed to prevent computers completing forms online, we will need an authentication system to validate content and its true origins.

To give comfort it needs a level of encryption difficult to break and would require modification right down to the hardware level of cameras, including becoming part of mobile phones in the future.

Quantum Leap

Authenticating content is of course not the only user of encryption online. As each year passes, encryption is used more and more widely. E-commerce makes up a huge 1,115 billion dollars globally this year and without encryption little of that would be possible. The use of encryption in messaging is the bane of authorities globally but is also seeing increasing use.

This is all possible thanks to maths and the way our computers calculate things. Quantum computing approaches solving these problems in a different way and will eventually mean that a whole new form of encryption is going to be necessary as current approaches would be able to be broken quickly. The bitcoin architecture relies on cryptography and would also need an overhaul.

Google and IBM are the current leaders in this space, but Microsoft recently announced a virtual quantum computing platform allowing anyone to create a virtual quantum computer at home with up to 40 qubits.

Think of qubits as a measure of how powerful a quantum computer is – but it isn’t directly comparable to other quantum computers that have been announced as Microsoft is taking a different approach, which it believes has an error rate 1,000-10,000 times better than the competition.

The pace of innovation is increasing and we are finally on the cusp of quantum computers that can outperform a classical computer for specific tasks. We are still not close to a general purpose quantum computer for the consumer but getting much closer to  specific purpose quantum computers for academia, businesses and governments. With a hefty price tag to match.

🔮 The future of innovation, startups and the world. That’s all.🔮

The end of the year approaches and with it comes tales of the future and past.

I’ll reflect on both in the next week or so I suspect but this week’s newsletter looks at innovation, the business of looking into the future, how Google is trying to reinvent it and why startups succeed even against the largest of companies and all the resources at their disposal.

The future is..

The world exists as it does because people make it so. Without people’s imagination of what is possible we would still be stuck in a cave somewhere.

Large companies dominate industry and yet for the most part, they come and go as the world changes around us.

Large companies of course don’t willfully disappear and are continuously looking for ways to stay relevant. They fail because the change happens just outside their perspective of the world. The new way is being adopted by people they just don’t see in their day to day running of the business. If they do happen to see it, it is too small, irrelevant, not our market.

With great information comes.. timing.

With the increasing amount of information available, there is an increasing ability to see these new potential markets (and the companies attacking them) before they get too large to be disruptive.

This suggests that large companies should focus on honing their current market and watch for new potential markets that either threaten or expand their current offering.

The issue becomes more about timing. Buy a company in a new market too early and it will wither on the vine, wait and it becomes too expensive to buy and risk becoming the dodo yourself.

The increasing trend in accelerators, which back early stage companies that show potential, has increasingly seen backing and sponsorship from large companies as it provides information about market traction outside a large companies typical view.

All of this protects and potentially reinvents your existing business. In theory. Buying companies is a messy business and can take years to see results. This therefore slows down innovation rather than accelerating it. So if you bought the company too early, the market moves on leaving the now acquired company behind.

X marks the secret lab.

Whilst Google has also adopted the above approach for their core businesses. They also have Google X, Google’s secretive labs, which takes a completely different approach to driving innovation. It aims to build entirely new businesses distinct from the existing business and in completely new areas.

It is also kept separate from the existing business so culturally different – though at this early stage, it is unlikely to be a culture which leads to successful businesses so as a project shows potential, Google spins it out of the lab.

Timing is again important.

This is something Google seems to have got right as each phase of a business requires a culturally different approach. For years, Microsoft was great at filing patents and less so at turning those patents into successful businesses.

Nevertheless, it is rare that an idea itself translates immediately into a successful business. Often, ideas circle around a big new opportunity from different angles. Finding your way to that successful opportunity is often a journey filled with hard decisions that are so risky that only those completely blinded by love for something or whose startup’s very survival is on the line can make.

The early success of Waymo, Google’s self-driving car suggests this is not always the case though.

For a deeper look into Google X, its successes and failures, the Atlantic has a deeper look and is well worth a read here.

Declining innovation?

The Atlantic article also looks at creativity and suggests it is in decline in the USA  due to a massive reduction in R&D and a smaller numbers of labs like Google X. The numbers certainly show a huge decline, but I would interpret it differently.

In this case, I think the world has changed from a place where secret labs, universities and governments create most innovation to an ecosystem supportive of startups (both from government, academia and large companies) that in turn now drives most innovation. An industrialisation of the corporate lab.

That doesn’t mean labs either in industry (with companies hiring academics as is typical now in the US) or within universities themselves (as typically happens here in the UK) should no longer be funded. Attacking innovation from different angles is also important.

I have a preference for the UK approach as it allows both greater interaction with future academics and also gives access to a wider range of companies. The US approach sees much better funding for academics though.

The future is bright.

The next decade is going to see astonishing transformation on our lives. Greater I believe than the decade just past.

Just a few of the big things coming include AI, which will transform how we interact and use technology; virtual (and augmented) reality, which could disconnect our kids completely from the real world but also make information even more accessible and usable; human augmentation and gene manipulation which is going to open up a whole range of ethical questions but make us live longer and better lives; robotics, which hopefully will not turn us into a sedentary race and quantum computing that might allow computers to be creative (which should be challenging) but will certainly deliver capabilities that are impossible today.

🤖Automating away your job and Elon.

This week looks at the challenge automation is bringing right here and now before highlighting an in-depth article on Elon Musk, someone at the forefront of automation.

Hello world.

Illustration by Amanda Wray

For the last few years as AI has risen in prominence there has been plenty of talk about the coming job apocalypse and how society is going to get through it.

Some are positive some are negative. We will of course muddle through it all somehow – but the scale of this is going to require some preparation, which whilst it lacks urgency of course does seem to be happening.

It has been argued that the underlying issues already hitting the workforce has directly led to the election of Trump in the USA and Brexit here in the UK. That may slow down the automation but it will be impossible to stop.

Scott Santens has written up an article about the oil and gas industry and how the collapse of the oil price forced them to become more efficient.

Initially that meant losing a huge number of people inside the industry but then when the industry expanded it did so with automation. The graph below says it all.

It suggests 220,000 jobs have been lost and not recovered.

Similar graphs have been around for years in manufacturing thanks to automation.

Over here in the UK, Ocado, the online grocery, has been the most advanced of the supermarkets when it comes to its automated warehouses. It can now put together a 50 item order in 5 minutes – something that would require many many people to do at the same speed. There is a deeper look on this and the broader opportunity this capability gives to Ocado here.

For the people involved, this is life transforming and not in a good way. At the very least they are going to need to be retrained and for some that may prove to be impossible due to no fault of their own.

At the macro level, the numbers are lower than those 220,000. In fact many people in that situation have found low skilled work and led to ultra low employment numbers. That is not a great outcome for them or society as a whole.

On the positive side, those “iron roughnecks” have to be created and iterated upon and even disrupted themselves creating jobs and whole new markets. Increased efficiency means lower prices and an increase in demand creating further jobs if done right.

But as Scott’s analysis shows, new companies are delivering more with less employees.

So the issue is not really the top line jobs number, it is the displacement of skilled people across sectors.

A repeat of UK history when the coal mines were shut down on a much larger scale.

The article drills in much deeper and is well worth a read.

Will it end with the break in a link between income and work as Scott suggests – I think a redefinition is definitely required and it is worth repeating his conclusion that automation should not be viewed as as curse.

Reducing the need for people to work is a good thing. Now we just need to find a way to ensure everyone can still have a fulfilling life. Whatever that is.


One of those people driving a few successful new companies is Elon Musk.

He is likely – if not already really – to be held up in the same breath as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. His ability to deliver and just push the envelope further out than others is now well known.

Surely adding to the hype but trying to deliver some real insight into the guy, Rolling Stones takes a stab over nine months of reporting on him. Well worth a read here.