Byron Reese, Speaker, Author, Entrepreneur

Artificial Intelligence: A Year in Review

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Byron Reese, tech entrepreneur and author of 'The Fourth Age', joins BNN Bloomberg to talk about how far we've come with artificial intelligence in 2023 and what comes next.

Jon Erlichman: This is Bloomberg Markets. I’m Jon Erlichman. In the year since the AI Chatbot Chat GPT became a household name, everything from AI excitement to AI anxiety has made the headlines. That interest has also played out in the markets. You’ve seen stocks, like Nvidia get a major boost this year based in part on where we go next. And we wanted to think about where we’re going next. Byron Reese has been tracking developments in AI and robotics for several years. He’s the author of The Fourth Age, and joins us now to talk through what was obviously one of the biggest subjects this year Byron, when it comes to the market when it comes to broader society. What was your biggest takeaway from the AI learnings in 2023?

Byron: I’d say a couple of things, first, there seems to be a lot more fear around it than hope. And that’s disappointing. You know, I think technology’s gotten here. And there’s so much you can do with it, but people seem to be really afraid of it. 

And what do you think is driving that fear?

A lot of it is around potential job loss. And I think that’s natural in a way, because it’s always easy to see what it’s going to destroy, but nobody has the imagination to see what it’s going to create. The internet was like that in the early days too, everybody was like, oh, this is bad for the stockbrokers and the travel agents and the yellow pages, and the newspapers. And they were right. But nobody said, oh, there’s going to be eBay and Etsy and AirBnB and Uber and all of that, you can only ever see half of the equation, and it’s the bad half.

And it seems to me that while yes, people were talking about the fear of job loss over AI this year, they’ve been talking about that for several years. What about the specific quick adoption of Chat GPT, as something that all of a sudden gave people this tangible understanding of something that might be usable, by just about everybody and the excitement surrounding it? What were your observations on that?

Well, I was surprised how good it was. And that’s the thing about exponential growth. When it gets along to a certain point, and it starts doubling again, it’s a big deal. So it came fast, even people in the industry were looking at each other, like wow. And then I think the idea that this was an actual technology people could use, I mean, it’s a productivity tool, it helps people do more, and the productivity tools are always good for people. We know that because if you don’t believe that, then you should advocate for a law that requires everybody to work with one arm tied behind their back, and you would create a lot of jobs, because you would need more people to do anything, but you just destroyed productivity. So these tools don’t really replace people as much as make them more productive. I think we lose half of all jobs every 50 years, I think that’s been going on for 250 years. And I don’t think this is any more or less. I can’t think of a single job that’s been lost in the last five years, not one.

What was also interesting, though, in the Open AI case, specifically, is that, you know, late in the year, we saw the CEO, Sam Altman, essentially shown the door by the board of directors, and then all of a sudden investors and employees protested that, and he has returned. But that story seemed to at the heart, be about internal tensions over the promise of the technology and the business case for the technology, and the dangers of the technology, or at least the state of the technology today, and whether it is ready for prime time. What did you make of that?

I think you’re exactly right. I think everything’s all of a sudden gotten real. And people are looking at it. And in the AI world, there’s always a real awareness of the moment. I think the only other corollary to it is like the Manhattan Project, they knew they were doing something that had worldwide consequences. And I think the people that I know in the AI world, have that kind of gravitas about the work they’re doing, and nobody knows what’s gonna happen with it. Nobody knows. And that is very frightening to people, not being able to see into the future, but of course, it’s always like that. And so I think we see that playing out on the corporate side, as well as the technology side.

You’re more excited than fearful heading into 2024?

Absolutely. I mean, what we are doing is we’re finally building a knowledge base for the whole planet, a single source, single repository of all human knowledge and that is going to just enable us to… all of our advances in the past have and almost always lined up to our ability to obtain more information, whether it’s speech, our brains, or printing and this is about the biggest of them all.

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Lori Nelson