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Creating heat or light: Tom Friedman at World of Watson

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Tom Friedman – Pulitzer prize winner of ‘ Thank-you for Being Late‘ spoke at World of Watson of his optimists’ guide in the age of momentum. Tom chose the title of his book because when you press the pause button on a p.c. it stops, but on humans – it starts. It gives us moments to pause, create and re-imagine.

Tom recalled travelling weekly to DC by car. He had a time stamped ticket and one time checking out, the cashier said “I know you”. The cashier had a blog and wanted Tom to read it. Suddenly a car park cashier had become the author’s competitor. Tom talked with his wife and decided to pause and engage with the cashier. The only way to get back in touch with him was to park in the garage again. Tom asked for the cashier’s email, sent him a message, and offered him a deal. Tom said to the cashier “I’m ready to teach you how to write a column if you will tell me your life story.” They agreed to meet at Pete’s Coffee House in Bethesda where Tom presented the cashier a 6 page memo on how to write a column.

To Tom, the world is a big data problem and his way of making sense of it, is to write a column which he believes has two purposes:

  1. to provoke (heat), or
  2. to inform (light).

Tom poses that our arguments have three bases:

  1. what’s your value set?
  2. how do you think the machine works?
  3. what have you learned about people or culture?

Mix these together and they will produce heat or light.

The book is about what Tom has learned and he spoke about part of it at World of Watson.

How the machine works

The three largest forces on the planet are moving in the shape of a hockey stick – high acceleration over most recent time.

  1. Market – digital globalisation
  2. Mother Nature – climate change, population growth
  3. Moore’s Law – acceleration in the number of transistors in a circuit, doubling every year

All three forces affect each other. These accelerations are not just changing the world, but reshaping it.

Why 2007 is the most important year – ever

A lot of very significant things happened in 2007

  • iPhone
  • Facebook (late 2006)
  • Twitter
  • Hadoop
  • GitHub
  • AndroidAirBnB
  • Google bought YouTube
  • Intel went off silicon
  • Cost of DNA sequencing
  • Total size of cloud computing

life in at time of acceleration

This image shows Tom’s view on where we are in technology over time.

Accelerators – waiting for the other shoe to drop

The reason that 2007 was so significant was the Cloud. Connectivity became fast and free. The price of computing collapsed with cognitive computing becoming fast, free, easy to use, flexible. We can touch people we’ve never touched before and be touched by others.

These forces change power in four areas:

  1. the power of one – what the individual can do
  2. the power of many – what a group can do
  3. the power of flows – opinions can be changed fast. Obama was elected on the marriage of individuals and leaves having achieved it
  4. Changes the power of machines – they have all five senses and can think.

In the game show Jeopardy on Feb 14, 2011 previous champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter were beaten by IBM’s Watson. He passed on the first question, buzzed on the second answering in under 2.5 seconds with “What is a shoe?” Watson worked in natural language – and the world has never been, nor ever will be the same.

The power of cognitive computing is reshaping 5 worlds:

  1. politics
  2. geo-politics
  3. the workplace
  4. ethics
  5. community

The second half of Tom’s book looks at how these might be re-imagined.

How we turn AI into three IA’s

Our workplace is being reshaped, and Tom’s book has a chapter called ‘How we turn AI into IA’.

Intelligent Assistance

AT&T looks at employee’s key skills and partners with Audacity who have created nano-degrees for all the skills an AT&T employee might need. AT&T reviews employees’ skills and creates a social contract with them, offering to pay them to take the courses on the skills they lack in their own time or choose a severance package. If they take the education, they also get first crack at new jobs and promotions. To be a life long employee at AT&T you have to be a life-long learner.

Intelligent Assistants

Buildings can have sensors in every system in the building. Janitors now have insight into all activity, they can move around the building with iPads to locate issues and have at hand the instructions on how to fix issues they find. Janitors are now giving visitors tours.

Intelligent Algorithms

Privilege divides access to education. It’s now possible to take PSAT 11th grade, and use Codecademy to identify which study areas are issues (for example, in maths, right angles and fractions). This can take a student to a site that educates them on just what they need. Another site offers extra education, and from success there – to further education. This will help lift all students above the line.

The three accelerators are blowing up every part of politics. Current political parties were designed to respond to other factors. Now we need political parties who can cope with accelerators and how to get the best out of them.

Tom mentioned we’re facing not one, but three climate changes

  1. Literal climate change
  2. The climate of technology in the workplace
  3. The climate of globalisation

How do we deal with three climate changes?

Tom wondered how we deal with these climate changes? How do we build resilience – take a blow, and propulsion – be able to move forwards.

Who did Tom talk to? Mother Nature. He asked “How do you build resilience and propulsion?”

  • Incredibly adaptive to natural selection
  • pluralization and diversity
  • entrepreneurial – fill the planet with adapted organisms
  • incredibly sustainable – circular
  • Heterodoxy – hybrid, co-evolving, bees/flowers, birds/trees
  • patient
  • laws of bankruptcy – kill failures to nurture successors.

Who will survive?

The culture and company that is closest to Mother Nature, will be the one that thrives.

Mother Nature’s political party would eliminate corporate tax – but place a tax on carbon, bullets and sugar to support the fallout of acceleration. The new geo-political divide is no longer East and West, captilaism and communism, it’s order and disorder – the Mediterranean is the biggest example of this conflict currently.

Is God in cyberspace?

Tom’s chapter on ethics ‘Is God in cyberspace?’ He was asked the question on a book tour and called his rabbi asking “What should I have said?”. His rabbi mentioned that God is described in Biblical and post-Biblical ways. Biblical describes God as almighty and good – so wouldn’t be considered as being in cyberspace. The post-biblical view of God is that he manifests Himself by how we behave. If we want God in cyberspace, we bring Him there by how we behave.

Because we are now digitizing so many things, our experience is moving to cyberspace where we’re all connected but no one is in charge. These accelerators are super-empowering individuals, this is a fantastic time to be a maker, but it’s also a time for breakers. Putting the two together, we are standing at an ethical intersection we’ve never stood at before as a species. We’re now entering a world were one person can kill all of us, and all of us could fix everything. We’ve never stood at such an intersection before.

What does that mean? We’ve never been more Godlike as a species. We must have the golden rule (treat others as we would have them treat us). What everyone thinks matters. How do we scale the golden rule? Naivety is the new realism. What’s really naive is thinking that super-powered individuals are going to be o.k. if we don’t scale the golden rule.

The eye of the hurricane

We need strong families and strong communities – that’s why Tom called the book ‘Thank You for Being Late’. What truly matters are the things you can’t download. You have to upload the old way – schools, church, synagogue, mosque, temple, whichever and family. Anchoring values matter more than ever – the more faster and interconnected the world gets.

The last chapter of Tom’s book is about healthy communities. Tom has a theme song from Bandi Carlyle ‘The Eye’ in his mind:

I wrapped your love around me like a chain
But I never was afraid that it would die
You can dance in a hurricane
But only if you’re standing in the eye

For Tom, the three changes are a hurricane. Some are selling a wall to stop it – Tom believes we need to build an eye that moves with the storm and draws energy. Providing us with a platform of dynamic stability.

Tom hopes the eye people win.

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