Artificial Intelligence: Elon Musk, Neural Lace and the Apocalypse

If it was anyone besides Elon Musk expressing sincere concerns regarding the threat of Artificial Intelligence achieving the singularity within the next five to ten years, the sentiment may be dismissed with a recommendation to stop watching reruns of Battlestar Galactica.

However, Elon Musk isn’t just anyone. He’s not even just any genius. He’s founded SpaceX, OpenAI, Tesla, SolarCity and X.com (which eventually became Paypal). So, when celebrated technologist Musk advises that care should be taken with regards to AI, elaborating that “with artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon,” it’s worthwhile to stop and listen. Musk identifies several concerns about humanity and AI’s interconnected future;

  • In the wrong hands, AI could become a tool for governments and individuals (including “evil dictators”) in the pursuit of power and could contribute to bad ends, such as oppression and war.
  • If robots become too “human-like” in appearance, they may be used for deception.
  • Leading AI companies are overconfident in their ability to “shape and control the digital superintelligences,” and may fail to “prevent bad ones from escaping into the internet.”

So, how does Musk intend to prevent a future where an AI administrator of a company computer network – a Master Control Program (MCP) – plans to pwn the Pentagon and the Kremlin?

Elon Musk

Musk’s solution is more Cylon than Tron: the creation of an “AI – human symbiote” using neural lace. The lace would constitute a digital layer that taps into certain neurons, most likely entering through arteries and veins. Once infused with the digital layer, limitations to the thinking part of the human mind (the cerebral cortex) would be lifted; and hybrids would be able to think both in the virtual place within their brain as well as on the cloud, free of bandwidth constraints. Ultimately, in merging humanity with AI, and creating a “neural link between your cortex and your digital extension of yourself,” technology would be democratized.

However, if worse comes to worse, the neural lace may make it easier to file paperless requests with our robot overlords.

Partnership on Artifical Intelligence to Benefit People and Society

Of all the modern demands on Artificial Intelligence, “open the pod bay doors” is arguably the most infamous. Years after Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, you can ask your own pocket AI. Unlike Siri, HAL 9000, the fictional AI who kept the pod bay doors closed, is a revealing reflection of humanity’s anxieties regarding technology created in one’s own image.  

Perhaps the same shared, underlying unease that caused HAL’s misbehavior to still resonate to this day is partly behind Google, DeepMind, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM banding together to police the development and implementation of AI.  Notably absent are OpenAI (Elon Musk’s research project) and Apple. The group’s chosen name, “Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society,” is fairly self-explanatory, if not clunky and slightly sinister. As stated on the Partnership’s website, the group was formed to leverage the “great promise” of AI “for raising the quality of people’s lives” and addressing “important global challenges such as climate change, food, inequality, health, and education.” However, many of the Partnership’s stated goals seem geared towards shaping the future public attitude towards AI via knowledge and reassurance.

  • Advance public understanding of artificial intelligence.
  • Create standards for future research.
  • Support best practices.
  • Create open discussion.

Further, some of the Partnership’s eight tenets listed on its website almost directly address public concerns regarding AI and its logical conclusion, robot uprising. In general, the tenets involve the following principles:

  1. As many people as possible should be benefited and empowered by AI.
  2. The public should be involved in the development of AI.
  3. Development will be held accountable to “a broad rage of stakeholders.”
  4. Research and development should be conducted with transparency, and systems’ reasoning should be equally transparent, but also explainable.
  5. Development will seek public feedback and address public questions.

The Partnership’s formation, as well as its focus on transparency, public involvement, and ethics, is notably near to the White House’s series of workshops and groups on AI’s risks and benefits. The government’s workshops addressed complex policy, safety and security questions, and also revealed fears that jobs will be lost to AI, and behavior will be unpredictable and uncontrolled.

One must wonder whether the Partnership is less an exercise in selflessness than a strategic maneuvering to control the AI conversation.  Arguably, presenting solutions via the Partnership would potentially discourage government regulation, and in so doing avoid regulatory speed bumps to company growth.

Are you a Freelancer, an Entrepreneur or a Salesperson?

Many people enter the world of entrepreneurship and freelancing work because:

  • Opportunities are available and our culture encourages it,
  • They want to be their own boss,
  • They have the skills that the work requires, or
  • They’ve heard success stories that make them believe it’s possible.

However, many people who go into business for themselves have no real business management experience or other relevant training. They also don’t realize until they’ve begun their business journey that having some type of sales skills are crucial to the work.

The sales process consists of several key steps.

  1. Having or gaining business knowledge,
  2. Prospecting,
  3. Approaching the potential client,
  4. The needs assessment,
  5. The presentation,
  6. The close, and
  7. The follow-up

Every sale we make, whether we intend to do it or not, follows this process. Sometimes it just happens naturally. Sometimes, (especially online), customers walk themselves through their own sales processes.

Most experts believe that customers buy for emotional reasons and also because they trust the seller. You will find many marketing gurus, think-tanks and agencies trying to sell you ways to earn potential client trust; many of which are expensive, time-consuming and being done by everyone.

Large brands and companies with good funding resources can afford to invest in substantial marketing campaigns. However, for most freelancers and entrepreneurs, this type of investment is impossible.

Salesperson

How then can you build customer trust and make sales quickly and easily?

Researchers Thomas Travisano and William Brooks stumbled on an interesting fact about the emotional triggers that compel people to buy. They interviewed all types of B2B decision-makers and consumer buyers to figure out what makes them buy some products and services and not others for their book – You’re Working Too Hard to Make the Sale!

They learned that customers buy most frequently from people and brands they feel understand them.

Many sales professionals learn to approach the sales process by finding out what the client’s needs are, and then, telling them how the features of the product or service they sell can meet those needs. Though this is often an effective approach, the researchers found it was more effective to couple this with a sales process carried out by a person that understands the buyers underlying emotional needs. The seller that best understands those needs is the seller that also shares them now or shared them at one point in his or her career or life. An office manager turned sales rep, therefore has a good chance of making sales to office managers that are decision-makers and purchasers of office equipment and so on.

On a personal level, think how much easier it is to take restaurant recommendations from someone you know enjoys the same foods that you do. Similar people have similar pain points. Understanding and addressing pain points are a huge part of making any sale.

Artificial Intelligence – moving humans forward

Ever since we figured out how to put a computer in every home, someone has been asking the question “will robots or artificial intelligence replace humans in the workforce?” The answer, of course, is yes. They have and will continue to do so as we find areas where a robot can do the work better or where a job is unsafe for a human to do. But the typical robot doing a repetitive job is not necessarily “intelligent”. Artificial Intelligence, on the other hand, is something entirely different.

The theory that computer systems and applications can someday replace humans has been held in both fear and awe. Applications for artificial intelligence, however, continue to drive forward and at a faster pace than ever. As development companies collect user data and build smarter applications, algorithms using that data can make the applications gain abilities making them appear to learn, grow and adapt to surroundings and circumstances. The data can be applied using these algorithms to serve nearly any industry.

Merriam-webster dictionary defines Artificial Intelligence as, “an area of computer science that deals with giving machines the ability to seem like they have human intelligence.”

This means that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not limited to robots or some sort of android type of computer. Pretty much artificial intelligence is a set of code that learns over time. So does this mean AI can really advance to the point where it takes over our daily lives and takes the place of humans in every way? The answer is possibly.

For years we have all worried that we would be replaced by robots and to some extent that has come to pass. So why shouldn’t AI replace us in some fashion in the future?

A few of these jobs might look something like this:

  1. Order Clerks
  2. Data Entry Operators
  3. Library Technicians
  4. Photocopy Operators
  5. Tax Preparations
  6. Telemarketers

PC Magazine published a list of 20 Jobs Likely to Be Replaced by Robots.

But what if instead of removing the need for human knowledge worker, AIs actually enhanced the workplace and made more jobs for humans in the long run. Machines running programs have taken much of the human error out of documenting many types of information and doing precise tasks.

But the need for a human to somehow enter this information into the program still exists. So even though artificial intelligence is capable of “learning” quickly. How do you replace a life time of intuition that a human accumulates in a short amount of time?

Some areas where a life this life experience will still be valuable are:

  1. Recreational Therapists
  2. Occupational Therapists
  3. Healthcare social workers
  4. Physicians and surgeons – even though robots are being used extensively in this field the human touch may still be needed
  5. First-line supervisors of police and detectives
  6. Elementary School Teachers – this may be a grey area also, some technology will move into these jobs but there is still some need for humans.

There is no stopping the progress of this technology and who knows what will happen in the future. We just need to restructure and educate our workforce to compensate so humans and Artificial Intelligence can be put in areas where each are best suited for the job at hand.

Recently, TechRepublic concisely noted some of the most exciting trends in the field even beyond robotic factory workers and driverless cars. Application of AI into customer service, data processing, and even our children’s toys mean that we will see AI in our personal lives and in our work to a greater extent.

Walk through any big-box retailer and observe everyday items connected to the Internet – our cars, our refrigerators, our televisions – the tech companies at the forefront of AI are gathering data on us and how we live, what we like or dislike at heightened speeds and with greater capacity. Using this data, companies can improve our customer experience at a deeper level when computers adapt to understand emotions by listening to the tone of voice and using facial recognition looking for subtle changes in expression.

At the core of our understanding and use of artificial intelligence remains discovery into the ethical issues surrounding the topic. Is it right to replace workers? How much data is too much? Are there risks to continuing this trend? Some of these questions would have highly personal answers. How we respond as a collective may influence the direction this trend takes in the future.

Here is an interesting video from ColdFusion TV – What is Artificial Intelligence Exactly?

Lessons Learned from a Lifetime Dedicated to Entrepreneurship

If you’re planning to start a business or a startup, it’s valuable to learn about life and the flow of business from people who have navigated their own paths to success. Though it’s true, no matter who you learn from or what college you attend, ultimately, everyone has to make his or her own way to success. However, no one can make it without borrowing a proven effective strategy or two from someone else.

David Turner Morgenthaler died in June of this year after achieving great success with his venture capital firm, Morgenthaler Ventures.

Turner, known as a successful investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist will also go down in history for his instrumental roles in amending ERISA legislation and lowering the US capital gains tax to 28% from 49%.

Small Biz Trends contributor Scott Shane shared some of the valuable business lessons he learned from Morgenthaler over the years.

What Can Entrepreneurs, Startup Founders and Investors Learn from Morgenthaler?

On Startup Founding and Success

  • Startup success is challenging. Most of the factors that contribute to a startup’s success aren’t factors founders can control. In fact, Morgenthaler equated startup success to, “making lightning strike the bottom of a swimming pool on a sunny day.”
  • Startup investing isn’t a guaranteed money maker. Startup investments only produce returns about 10% of the time. Investors should be prepared to lose money often.

On Investing, Entrepreneurship and Business Strategy

  • Successful investing can come from doing adequate research and knowing everything about a company’s management, their organization, their market and their industry.
  • However, the most important element in the equation is the entrepreneur or management team. The right person/people can change organizational factors and create success. In fact, he felt most startups and entrepreneurial endeavors failed because the business owners and founders, (the people), made mistakes.
  • Successful business heads gather in places where realistic success is plentiful. They leave dead places where new business and investment can’t flourish. This is why you see so many entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.

On Intelligence

  • Intelligence is not the same thing as getting a lucky break and profiting from it.
  • It’s not being an intellectual snob and discounting the input of everyone around you with a good idea; and
  • Good ideas must also be provable. They must be possible. They must conform to the standards of natural laws like gravity etc.

Manager-Employee Relationships: 6 Ways to Take Growth to the Next Level

As negative experiences with supervisors constitute the number one reasons employees leave companies, it is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of maintaining positive relations between managers and employees. Particularly important in small, Startup businesses where managers and employees tend to work extremely closely, building and maintaining strong relationships forms an important part of the company’s foundation.

Here are six simple steps how managers can build mutual trust and respect with their employees, ensuring long-term dedication and retention.

  1. Listen: Taking employees seriously shows respect and encourages communication. Opening the doors for communication dramatically improves the manager-employee relationship as employees know their voices are heard, their opinions matter, and they have a say in their jobs.
  2. Cut the Crap: Say what is true and needs to be said. Flattery, rumors, avoiding real issues, and other kinds of unnecessary word-play do not fool anyone.
  3. Appreciate: Take the time to thank employees for a job well done. Not only does this demonstrate attention and involvement, it inspires them to keep up good work, knowing that it does not go unnoticed.
  4. Work Together: Projects that result in more interaction also result in mentoring and growth on both sides. The obvious result is employee growth, but other benefits include building mutual respect and rapport, sharing the work-load.
  5. Feedback: Positive or negative, employees sometimes need an outside voice to give feedback before they can fully understand their performance. Managerial input offers them the chance to understand their work from a new and necessary perspective.
  6. Growth: Managers who provide purposeful opportunities for growth for their employees are investing in both the employee and the company — a fact that is not lost on the employees.

Following the basic strategies of listening, honesty, being appreciative, purposeful mentoring, consistent feedback, and strategic growth opportunities sets up a positive atmosphere of communication and respect by demonstrating interest in the employees’ productivity and their overall work experience. With time and commitment, building these traits can change the atmosphere of a workplace, securing dedicated employees and building strong and effective teams.

Keep Your Startup Pruned to Achieve Optimum Growth

Necessary Endings

In his book, Necessary Endings, the management guru, Dr. Henry Cloud, creates an analogy between growing a prize-winning rose bush and developing a successful business. Per Dr. Cloud, one of the keys to success in both endeavors is to “prune” or cut away parts of the rose bush or the business to focus all energy on the strongest and best branches. A startup can follow this advice through all stages of its growth to develop a viable and long-lasting business structure.

Prune the Deadweight

Pruning focuses on eliminating the three parts of a business that can prevent it from achieving its maximum potential. First, and perhaps most obvious, a business needs to cut its deadweight. A Startup, in particular, cannot afford any non-functioning parts that drain resources from a business structure. An entrepreneur may find it difficult, for example, to jettison an idea that catalyzed some part of a startup, but if that idea has stopped bearing fruit, it needs to be discarded in favor of the concepts that are working. The same holds true for employees or partners who may have been around to help a startup at its inception but who are no longer contributing to the startup’s growth.

Prune non-functioning branches

Second, a startup needs to eliminate those branches that are showing signs of sickness with no chance or ever recovering from that sickness. A once-great idea that got a startup off the ground can lose steam as competitors begin to latch onto an idea that the startup might have created. Instead of focusing on a sick or dying branch, cut it off and preserve the startup’s energy for newer and more powerful ideas.

Prune the good ideas, focus on the best

The third and perhaps most difficult part of a startup business that should be pruned are healthy ideas that may be good, but otherwise are not the startup’s best ideas. A rose gardener will prune healthy branches that have two or three buds in favor of the branches that have seven or eight buds. Entrepreneurs are fond of great ideas, but too many ideas can threaten the focus of a startup company. Focusing on the best idea and cutting the remaining good ideas will give the startup the best guarantee of long-term success.

Every entrepreneur will benefit from stepping back from her startup to assess which ideas will give the best chances of future growth, and which other ideas have died or show signs of slowing down.

Great Accelerators and the types of Startups they work with

In many ways, founding a startup is more challenging than starting a traditional business. Of course, entrepreneurs want to make money when they start a traditional business. However, startup founders must prove that their idea will grow into a large corporation. This is quite a bit of pressure.

For this reason, startup founders are a unique breed. Luckily, there’s also a unique source of help if you alone or you and your team are brave enough to say, “One day this concept or product will be as big as Facebook.”

There are many startup accelerators that offer startup founders access to

  • Financial assistance,
  • Specialized business training,
  • Counseling,
  • Legal guidance, and
  • much more.

Most accelerators like to focus on one type of startup. For example, some only work with tech startups. Others work with startups that have a certain structure, like team-based startups.

What to Expect

Most accelerators will offer you mentorship, workspace, operational support and access to funding via introductions to angel investors or outright payments. Program durations run anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Many programs are quite competitive and only accept 2 to 10 startups a year.

Startup Accelerator

Here’s a list of great accelerators and the types of startups they work with.

Tech, Web, Mobile, and Science Accelerators

  • For innovators that plan to combine technology with entertainment to create brand new experiences, Disney is interested.
  • Blue Startups in Honolulu, Hawaii, works with companies focused on technology. Blue pays special attention to startups that want to do business in both the US and Asian marketplaces.
  • StartFast in Syracuse, New York works with startups in the web, mobile and software industries.
  • The Illumina Accelerator program is geared toward scientists in the progressive fields of genomics, clinical research and applied sciences.
  • LightSpeed Innovations in Southern California works with startups in the aerospace industry.
  • Luma Launch, located in Santa Monica, CA seeks to works with startups that combine content presentation with technology.
  • VentureOut in New York City works with technology startups.
  • The SaltMines Group in Vero Beach, Florida works with startups that have designed innovative social media products and mobile apps.
  • The Yield Lab located in St. Louis, Missouri offers help to agricultural technology companies whose product offerings and business concepts encourage sustainability.

Women, Minority, Social Change and Team-Based Accelerators

  • MergeLane in Colorado focuses on women-based startups and the challenges those founders face.
  • Startup52 is a New York City-based accelerator program. This program only works with startups with a strong and diverse team of founders.
  • Capria in Seattle, Washington looks for startups with a product or business concept that focuses on making a global impact, especially in developing countries and emerging markets.
  • Cofound Harlem in New York City has the goal to launch 100 new Harlem-based, community impactful companies by 2020.
  • Gener8tor has locations in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. The accelerator works with startups that have a strong team of founders.
  • The Sixers Innovation Lab, a JV between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Kimball Office, is looking for promising startups in any industry. The Innovation Lab wants to stimulate startup community growth throughout Philadelphia and New Jersey.

Product Design

  • Matter in New York City and San Francisco is looking for startups that have designed a product that the accelerator can quickly bring to market.

Marketing

  • The Brandery in Cincinnatti, OH offers $50,000 in outright funding and works with business in the marketing, branding and design fields.

Retail and Consumer Goods

  • XRC Labs in New York City is great for startups in the consumer goods and retail market.

As you can see, advancing technology and science, working with others and working towards social change can give your startup a really big foot in the door with many accelerators. However, there are accelerators that fund good startups in all industries. You just have to know where to look.

In addition, for further guidance, Startup Next is a pre-accelerator program that will help a promising startup in any industry get into a top accelerator program.

Startups Case Study: Why SpoonRocket Shut Down

SpoonRocket

Although the on-demand industry is highly popular, not all businesses remain successful. Recently the food-delivery service SpoonRocket announced it was shutting down. Prior to closing, the business accomplished meal sales at a profit, but the cost of operations exceeded the funding they were able to raise. In addition, their business model of cheap, quickly delivered food did not draw in the customer base required to sustain it – many customers reported dissatisfaction with the quality of the meals, preferring to spend more money for tastier alternatives. The management attempted to organize an acquisition instead of terminating the business, but the deal ultimately failed.

Sprig, a strong competitor of SpoonRocket, has attracted many of the customers and ex-employees of the closing business. The SpoonRocket management team actively recommended Sprig as part of their closing announcement, offering discount coupons for SpoonRocket customers who chose to transition. Despite Sprig’s service being slower and the cost higher, many customers find its quality superior and its sustainable, organic sourcing appealing.

Several additional alternatives exist for ex-employees or customers of SpoonRocket. Caviar, a service that partners with restaurants in over a dozen major cities, allows customers to order from their favorite locations. For people who prefer to cook, DoorDash permits customers to order groceries from local suppliers for delivery in less than 45 minutes. Another option, Postmates, is headquartered in San Francisco, and aims to grant customers access to goods from any local store or restaurant.

Regardless of the reasons why food-delivery startup SpoonRocket shut down, the on-demand industry remains strong and its opportunities promising.

About Entrepreneurship worth knowing

Entrepreneurship is not all glitz and glamor like the movies would have you believe. Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurs don’t work hard for 6 months and then become an overnight success. There is a huge amount of effort that is put forth and sustained for years before success happens.

Even though there are few things in this world that are more satisfying, challenging, and financially lucrative as entrepreneurship, it’s not for everyone. Everyone is not willing to put forth the effort or sacrifice what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur. Here are few thoughts about entrepreneurship that everyone should know.

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It takes a long time to become successful

When a successful entrepreneur is highlighted, it is usually their success and money that is at the forefront of the story. This leads readers to falsely believing that these tech billionaires and super successful entrepreneurs are merely “lucky”.

What they don’t highlight is the struggles and years of hard work and labor. Startup website Funders and Founders highlights the hardships of some of the world’s most successful billionaire entrepreneurs.

One infographic on the site, “Too Late to Start?”, highlights the fact that most of these successful entrepreneurs started their journeys between the ages of 35-39.

There are a million failures before a single win

Another common aspect of the entrepreneurial journey that people seem to ignore is the fact that the most successful entrepreneurs have failed a million times before getting it right. It take an incredible amount of perseverance to continue in the face of failure.

Many entrepreneurs sacrifice having a social life

Another extremely important aspect of being an entrepreneur is having to sacrifice a social life. You don’t realize how much time it takes to nurture friendships, marriages, and relationships with children until you become an entrepreneur. All of this has to sometimes be sacrificed for a certain amount of time to give your business the life it needs to survive.

If you read the stories of the world’s most successful billionaire entrepreneurs, you’ll see that being a successful entrepreneur is anything but easy. Yes, everyone wants to have the money and accolades of successful entrepreneurs but not everyone is ready to do what it takes to get it.

What do you have to say about entrepreneurship? Are you one? How is your story so far?