Today, we sit down with Alex Bates, the managing director of Neocortex Ventures, to discuss his background in AI, what he’s doing in the AI space right now, and how he sees life after AI.
What is your background in AI?
Alex: I founded a company called Mtell in 2006, which implemented machine learning technology in the manufacturing space. We brought AI to the forefront of the industrial market and applied it for impact. Our technology could predict and prevent catastrophes by harnessing sensor data from different machines, so we could accurately identify when a machine might fail and injure people. After spending a decade on the front lines building machine learning systems, I started working closely on the adoption side with human users. That experience ultimately led to my book Augmented Mind, which explains a lot of the complicated ideas from this arena in simple terms.
Let’s start with which aspects of life AI will impact the least?
Alex: I don’t totally buy this question, because the mature AI systems of the future are going to impact everything. They’ll free us to be more spiritual, but I don’t think it’s going to change spirituality — consider Ram Dass’s analogy of “changing the channel to a higher level of awareness.” AI is going to unlock us. It’s going to make us more human, but it won’t change the definition of humanity.
Generally, what’s will change the most?
Alex: It’s going to make us more self-aware and imbue us with more self-knowledge. Just like learning the syntax and grammar of a foreign language, AI will teach us what it means to be human. This is going to lead to widespread changes in our work and personal lives, and I believe we’ll see the extinction of the conventional 40-hour workweek. We’ll be free to pursue more creative and fulfilling pursuits, following whatever piques our curiosity.
What do you predict will be our new version of ’normal?’
Alex: It’s going to be completely normal for us to have an army of AI agents researching things, running experiments, gather data and historical info, and exploring creative lines on our behalf. This technology is going to be a force multiplier for any intellectual work we might have to tackle, and like using a hammer for a nail, it’s going to be our go-to tool.
What role will virtual assistants play in our life?
Alex: Siri today is a disembodied voice with amnesia. It’s a novelty with some useful scope, setting reminders and accurately responding to questions with factual answers. But it’s hardly an emblematic precursor of what’s to come. For that, we’re going to have to imagine a Siri-like technology that’s more like a team member, cofounder, collaborator, or board member. This technology is going to meet us at the strategy level to help make us more effective in whatever pursuit we’re engaged in.
Will our abilities be enhanced? How?
Alex: AI is going to automate low-level cognitive work down to nothing, so we’ll have more time to figure out what we’re passionate about. It will augment different facets of our intellectual and creative faculties, enabling us to dive deeper into that. We’ll have enhanced memory and perception — things will be indexed, so we won’t have to memorize as much. They say experts in a given topic need a brain with 300 million pattern detectors and 100,000 shunts of information within a certain sphere. AI is going to blow that out of the water. It will be the greatest intellectual partner we can imagine.
What would you tell someone who is skeptical of AI’s benefits?
Alex: If we’re talking about synthetically replicating human intelligence within a computer, then I agree with that skepticism. But if the conversation is about augmenting human intelligence with technology, then there’s no question in my mind that that’s the best path to a positive impact on humanity’s future — I think it’s the only possible path.
What are you doing in the AI space right now?
Alex: I’m connecting with different stakeholders and organizations working on augmented intelligence. I invest in and build technologies in this space. My investment fund Neocortex Ventures is aimed at narrow AI applications in particular, because my thesis is that these are the best opportunities for a return today.
For more information, visit: https://www.neocortexventures.com/