Dr. Jur, CEO and founder, Your Chat Ltd.
The AI revolution will not, in all likelihood, be brought to your devices by absurdly large internet companies. Such a view is no longer exclusively the preserve of sanguine spectators; the population at large are fast tiring of relentless digital monopolies creating monoliths that dominate our entire online experience.
Case in point: OpenAI retains just 375 full-time employees while Google’s DeepMind dedicated workforce has bloated to 1,500. As the former’s much lauded ChatGPT continues to make waves worldwide, for being very, very cool and immensely useful, DeepMind faces no obvious route to finding returns on significant investment made in the 9 years since Google acquired it.
Boldness inherent in startups cannot be ignored. Nor do they often lack courage and diligence, with not-yet-eroded passion and idealism within their ranks. Strong incentives further exist to upturn existing orthodoxies and disrupt industries and this is particularly salient with regards to artificial intelligence; this is a technology where there is not necessarily an inbuilt impetus to extract as much money as possible from users.
Contrast this with a megacorporation like Google, riven with conflicting interdepartmental interests, personal ambition and office politics, to name but a few obstacles to realizing innovation for true human benefit. OpenAI and other upstart firms in the space enjoy the freedom of relatively small teams pulling towards a singular goal and there is no underlying concern for how progress on the AI front will affect other business elements, such as profitability on a search engine.
There is thus a strong case that deep and meaningful benefits to humanity from artificial intelligence will be driven largely by disruptive startups. I would further argue this presupposes the building of a better, freer internet; not one marked by the wild west of the early days, nor one marked by mass data harvesting (and brokerage) seen in Web 2, but somewhere in between.
Humans Progress, Business Advances
Artificial intelligence seems certain to reach far and broadly across industries and, as a consequence, most business leaders are going to be bounced into making crucial decisions. Those most proactive and with the greatest understanding of how the tech can be implemented will be best positioned to take advantage of the new paradigm.
Scores of new, AI-powered products that provide entirely novel solutions — on top of a fantastic effort to benefit ratio for both companies and users — can be expected to emerge. But it needs to be integrated with an existing business strategy, in some cases used to change direction and discover new paths. We’re on the cusp of sweeping changes yet to be fully understood; investing in AI technology, tools and infrastructure might be a way to gain a competitive advantage and improve efficiency right now; in the future it could be an absolute prerequisite to competing at all.
In the world of business, particularly for tech, we’re all continuously learning. In the current environment this will include the development of a long-term strategy involving substantial investment in AI talent, or in the plausible event this is found to be in short supply, working to develop the skills of existing employees.
Reskilling those workers at risk of being displaced by artificial intelligence is another hinge by which leaders need to protect the interests of the workforce, and by extension the interests of their own businesses; it’s no secret that an obsession with the bottom line is in many cases detrimental to the future success of a company. Retaining good employees by redeploying them within the context of world-changing AI should mark the next phase. Unfortunately, this ideal is unlikely to be followed by all, despite the huge opportunity for growth to be shared at all levels.
A Beneficent, Free Internet
Web 3 as a whole — perhaps now led by strides in AI tech — promises much for the internet, at the end of an era commonly termed Web 2 and defined by the emergency of super-entities such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, where data is a primary currency and users the product.
A central tenet of another of the lauded Web 3 technologies, blockchain, is decentralization. Artificial intelligence is not so naturally led by the same principle, yet in the right hands (read: not in the control of already-dominant corporations) there is unbridled potential to put power back into the hands of users by allowing them to take creative control of how they use the tech, rather than being siloed into one company’s solutions, ideology and mode of operating.
In the digital economy there are advantages to being a smaller company; technology scales rapidly and at a relatively low cost, while innovation can often be found more readily in the absence of suffocating corporate interests and management.
More pertinently, incentives to ruthlessly monetize a user base are considerably reduced where there are not entrenched corporate structures making this the business model’s apex. Should a blockchain startup succeed in delivering a mostly decentralized, scalable and inexpensive solution they will change the world of finance overnight, handing many of the benefits directly to the average consumer. AI could do the same, especially if it comes from a user-focused startup.
The specifics of this outcome are unclear. But we can expect our data to be better protected from corporate interests, our freedom to explore the digital world bolstered (who else remembers when you’d actually browse the internet, rather than visit the same few websites?) and the information economy to boom without most of the money heading in a familiar direction.
No sane humanist wants hundreds of millions of people to lose their jobs to artificial intelligence. Corporations hold no such compunction: the prerogative of these companies is profitability, the more the better. The year is 2023 and we are living in an historic moment. The decision is ours where we take our business and, ultimately, how Web 3 shapes the near and far future of the internet.
For a free and good internet beyond what’s on offer today, there are intrinsic social consequences. Who’s to say increases in efficiency couldn’t lead to a four-day working week and universal basic income? AI can deliver untold transformation to societies worldwide, but the motives behind those leading the charge is of paramount importance.