I had the privilege of spending the weekend at Stanford University debating the social implications of A.I. with some of the most thoughtful people I’ve encountered on the subject. Four have written books on the topic: Pedro Domingos (The Master Algorithm), Ajay Agrawal (Prediction Machines), Deirdre Mulligan (Privacy on the Ground) and Max Tegmark (Life 3.0.). I recommend all four, but for different reasons: Domingos provides the best overview; Agrawal gives a readable economist’s take; Mulligan does a lawyer’s deep dive into regulatory issues; and Tegmark is an engaging futurist. Also on hand were chess master and democracy crusader Garry Kasparov, Intel VP Naveen Rao, and Mark Nehmer of the Department of Defense. The event was hosted by billionaire entrepreneur Tom Siebel, and attended by his growing stable of talented Siebel Scholars. To top it off, Don Henley provided entertainment.
I came away energized, and further convinced that the ability to collect ever more data from everyone and everything, and to convert that data into intelligence with ever-better machine learning algorithms, will transform society in ways we have only begun to imagine—both for good and for bad. Among the big questions that have to be grappled with:
—How do we realize the full positive potential of data-driven intelligence without trampling on individuals’ legitimate rights to control the spread and use of their own data.
—How do we instill our sense of values, ethics and morality into those algorithms, and purge societal biases reflected in the data that trains them?
—How do we defend against the weaponization of A.I. by bad actors?
—How do we deal with job market disruption as the nature of work is transformed? All the participants agreed new jobs would replace the old, but worried about the massive retraining needed to survive the transition.
—How do we address the inequality that stems from the winner-take-most nature of the digital technology revolution?
—How can democratic societies concerned with responsible development of A.I. and use of personal data compete against an authoritarian regime like China, where many of those concerns are shunted aside?
Interestingly, none of the panelists—with the exception of Tegmark—worried much about the Terminator scenario, in which machines develop their own agency, and do things people don’t want or allow them to do. A.I. will be an unprecedentedly powerful tool, but a tool nonetheless.
Some of the answers to the difficult questions above can and should be provided by business. But some certainly require smart intervention by government. And the one prediction that can confidently be made about tomorrow’s U.S. elections is that this year’s divisive election debate will leave Washington less able to grapple intelligently with complex issues. Neither party is likely to have a clear governing majority, and both will have sunk further into the tribalism that makes addressing the defining issues of our time all but impossible. My Election Day advice: vote for candidates who avoid wedge politics—if you can find them.
Amazon’s headline-grabbing hunt for a second headquarters appears to be entering its end stage. The Wall Street Journal reports that New York City, Dallas and Crystal City in northern Virginia are looking good, while the same can’t be said for Denver, Toronto, Atlanta, Nashville and Raleigh. WSJ
The U.S.’s sanctions on Iranian crude oil exports are now in force, but Iran’s President Rouhani told economists that the country will break the sanctions. The Trump administration has given eight jurisdictions exceptions that allow them to continue importing Iranian oil for a while longer, though they are supposed to phase it out. Japan, India and South Korea are on the list. China may be. The EU is not. CNBC
Xi vs Trump
China’s President Xi told the crowd at the China International Import Expo today that his country would continue down the path of globalization. “As globalization deepens, the practices of law of jungle and winner take all are a dead end,” Xi said, seemingly aiming his words at U.S. President Trump. “Inclusion and reciprocity, win-win and mutual benefits are a widening road.” However, Xi did not announce anything new about opening up the Chinese economy. Bloomberg
SoftBank and Saudi
SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son has defended his company’s extensive ties with Saudi Arabia, in the wake of the Saudis’ killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Almost half of SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund comes from the kingdom. Son: “These funds are important to the Saudi people in ensuring their economy diversifies and is no longer dependent on oil. It is true that a horrible incident happened. On the other hand, we have a responsibility towards the Saudi people, and we must carry out our responsibility rather than turn our backs on them.” Reuters
Around the Water Cooler
Uber has launched a membership program in L.A., Austin, Denver, Miami and Orlando that gives fixed prices to subscribers, rather than putting them at the mercy of surge pricing. The company claims the package will give customers 15% savings on their monthly spending with Uber—and the L.A. package will include e-bike and scooter access at some point. BBC
Chinese memory chip firm Fujian Jinhua has denied stealing intellectual property from the U.S.’s Micron, as the U.S. Justice Department alleges it has done. The state-backed company even accused Micron of trying to “stall or even sabotage” its development. “[We urge Micron] to immediately stop wrongdoings and facilitate the resumption of normal trade and cooperation activities between the two parties,” Fujian Jinhua said. South China Morning Post
The Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody topped the U.S. box office on the weekend—surprisingly, given less-than-rhapsodic reviews for the film, though Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury went down well with critics. The movie took $50 million from U.S. and Canadian theaters, leaving Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms ($20 million) in its wake. Fortune
The pressure for a people’s vote on Brexit is growing. More than 70 business leaders called for such a vote on the weekend, followed by a similar call from over 1,500 of the country’s top lawyers. Those lawyers: “In 2016, the nature of the negotiation process and its outcome were unknown. Voters faced a choice between a known reality and an unknown alternative. In the campaign, untestable claims took the place of facts and reality.” Guardian