I recently attended a very enlightening topical dinner to discuss advances in technology and in particular Artificial Intelligence (AI). This was somewhat unexpected since I do not work in technology and aside from watching my daughter build a Kano computer I am not particularly tech-savvy. Nevertheless, my friend Azeem, who curates the blog, The Exponential View (EV), invited me. The Exponential View explores “exponential change: technology, business models, political economy & society.” (Subscribe here: https://www.getrevue.co/profile/azeem). Azeem hosts these modern-day “salons” to discuss developments in technology, and I was the lucky recipient of the invitation after a last-minute dropout. It was mostly a gathering of sci-fi enthusiasts, futurists, programmers, gamers, big-data miners and AI developers. I was one of the odd-ones out, and was joined in my outsider status by a poet/baker.
As one of the other dinner guests who is pioneering the development of advanced AI systems said to me as he was leaving, “We have absolutely nothing in common, but it was very nice talking to you.” Indeed.
This dinner invitation was propitious in the sense that I had been discussing with my husband that I wanted to start a blog … about what I wasn’t sure… the world in general, I guess. I wanted to feel like I was doing something to make sense of the vast amount of uncertainty that I sense all around me. For myself, and anyone else who would want to listen. And then I attended the dinner and I learned a few things about technology.
For example, I learned that men and women seem to have different feelings about technology. Perhaps because we have children, or are more protective of our privacy, the women in the room all described a greater sense of apprehension and discomfort about being tracked by big data, for example. It also seemed like the women were more nervous about advances in AI. I wondered if there were many women developing AI, which seems like a male-dominated field? And I was intrigued by the real interplay between sci-fi predictions and the reality of tech advances.
I also learned that there is just a lot that I do not know about what is going on in the world of technology and I realised that this is not good. It is feeding into my sense of general unease, and taken to its extremes, is one of the elements fueling populist political phenomena like Donald Trump in the U.S. Not understanding how technological developments are impacting our lives, not understanding what is going to happen next, and not knowing whether anyone in the universe has a handle on what is going on makes me (and surely many people) feel very powerless, even desperate. These issues affect the way we live our lives, our jobs (and whether we will have them in the next decade), our privacy, security and our sense of well-being. These issues are also changing the world in which my children are growing up. Some people’s response to these challenges is to turn to a strong-man, populist politician. My response is to start educating myself and start this blog.
I also wanted to start this blog because another thing I learned at the dinner was that my experience living internationally and working for more than 20 years in Emerging Markets finance and sovereign debt means that I understand some of what is going on in the world outside of tech, in particular debates about economic and financial issues, pretty well. This is particularly the case in this era dominated by sovereign debt crises and economic uncertainty. Technological advances affect finance, the economy and politics in obvious ways, but there are surely subtle ways that these sectors intersect as well. I hope to explore some of these issues and find connections and trends to help make sense of the world.
And then there is Art. I think that one role of the artist is to capture the mood of an era. Often artists are most successful in identifying trends and defining the moment. Are today’s artists doing that? How is technological change represented in art and how is technology changing what art is? So that is yet another reason for this blog. I want to find out how today’s artists are capturing the unique challenges we are facing, and understand how the study of art history will be impacted by art that may only exist in virtual reality, for example. This may be an elaborate excuse to get out to the galleries and exhibitions.
A few practical points: I want to create a glossary of terms for my readers that takes the mystery out of the jargon used in tech and finance – terms like blockchain and dark pool, and acronyms like CDS and CDO (explained well in “The Big Short”). What do they mean and why should we know or care? Some of this I already know, but a lot of today’s jargon is a mystery to me so this will be a learning process for me as well. The blog will be a combination of my own thoughts and articles and publications by various experts. In other words, this will be a partially curated blog. My main themes will be technology, economy, politics and culture, but I may end up raving about the stresses of being a North London mother on a bad day. I have no idea how often I will post. I know that everyone, including myself, has too much to read so I will try to keep the posts brief.
I hope that by starting this project, I gain an understanding of the critical issues of our time and as a result feel more in control of my future and that of my children. And I hope to meet many like-minded readers and contributors on this Journey to the Future….