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AI: Pavlov’s Dogs Innovators Zombifying Humanity

Perhaps you haven’t noticed the investor class getting all gung-ho these days over Artificial Intelligence (AI). Only a couple of decades ago, these same people dismissed AI because it wasn’t very useful yet. But that’s all changed due to advances in machine vision and learning, and now VCs, hedge funds, and most of the rest of the usual big-money suspects are salivating over prospects of automating most of the rest of the economy, even including agriculture.

Thanks to its clot of institutions of higher learning, Boston—my fair city—is littered with tech startups and factories that churn them out. They and the Hub’s cloud of serial investors have created a knot of compressed energy, the nexus of which one can find at a suite in Kendall Square—epicenter of Boston’s tech scene, featuring outposts of Google, Oracle, Facebook and Amazon, pharma firms like Merck and Novartis and a host of biotechy startups fed by MIT’s biomedical research complex, augmented by its AI and Media Labs—where every Thursday evening prime movers get together for suds and savvy strategizing at private oasis called Venture Café.

Even when I was searching for a job in tech, I couldn’t bring myself to show up at a Café Night—an obvious venue for me to press flesh—fearing I would barf my beer after hearing one too many starry-eyed kids pitching bagmen to seed their laundry concierge app startup. But I keep reading about their antics and viewing their video tips and testimonials just to keep abreast of this solipsistic scene, marveling how these whiz kids and their big daddies never seem to grasp the consequences of that which they so earnestly aspire.

Venture Café’s latest offensive concerns ways and means of exploiting AI. They pitch it this way:

According to to CB Insights, investors have invested $22B in artificial intelligence (AI) startups over the last 5 years and a host of traditional and non-traditional firms are getting in on the game. Just this week, IBM announced a $240M investment in the MIT AI Lab. If you need to get up to speed on who and what’s shaping this exciting space, we will pull back the curtains to reveal the mysteries of robotics and AI later this month with Robotics Connect. We are bringing in IBM, Mintz Levin, Neurala, Inc., Lola Travel, Dragon Innovation, Draper, Mass Robotics, and others to talk about the latest developments that will shape generations to come.

In case you might want to sign up, this is what’s supposed to happen at Robotics Connect:

Robotics Connect 2017

Save the date for Venture Cafe’s Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) mini-conference, “Building Markets for Artificial Intelligence”, taking place on September 28, 2017.

From ground, sea, and air, explore Boston firms solving real world challenges and developing the robotics market. This special ‘conference night’ event seeks to bring together the brightest minds who are building, funding, and innovating in the Greater Boston area’s robotics and AI communities.

Come prepared to not only hear the best ideas and see the latest technologies but also to participate in building Boston’s robotics innovation.

Oh, the urgency! Take a bunch of hypercompetitive entrepreneurs and VCs, mix well with Silicon Valley envy and craft beer, and soon half the country will be on the fast lane to the unemployment office, as numbly noted by the referenced CB Insights article (actually from Inc 9/11/17), an op-ed, by Lisa Calhoun, a partner at Valor Ventures:

Tech Isn’t the Biggest Driver of Artificial Intelligence Acquisitions. This Is.

Why John Deere, Qualcomm, NASDAQ and more join ranks of big companies snapping up AI.

Up top we read:

Last week, for example, agriculture leader John Deere offered $305 million to acquire a 60 person AI startup that sprays herbicide. … This summer, companies like Lyft, Hubspot, NASDAQ, Qualcomm, Workday, Meltwater, and ServiceNow bolted on new AI companies.

Scan the headings and you’ll see why AI is being shoved down our throats:

The soaring price of proven AI talent

It’s not just the tech, but also the talent, that’s driving deals. …

People still solve problems, even artificial intelligence problems.

Companies are also using AI acquisitions to help research extending their core business. …

…Finishing with (emphasis mine):

It’s just the beginning of the artificial intelligence funding wars.

There are several fronts. In recruitment, the top 20 AI recruiters already spend upwards of $650 million a year looking for AI talent, according to recruiter Paysa. In finance, there is almost $700 million invested in undeployed private equity scheduled to be invested in the next handful of years, much of it trained on strategic tech acquisitions, according to Pitchbook. In politics and economics, Vanguard’s chief global economist Joe Davis recently predicted 47% of jobs will be automated away. Governments are grappling with protecting workforces and GDP even as some top global economists are saying automation makes GDP irrelevant.

Only thing is certain: before many of the promises of artificial intelligence are realized, more heroic sums will be spent paving the way and hopefully, protecting the many whose jobs are directly affected.

Sweet of this venture vulture to worry about the poor workers, whom government will have to wipe off the pavement after capital sweeps them out the door. Because it’s inevitable that AI will take over all sectors of the economy. Oh yeah, robots too.

Inevitable in the sweep of history or inevitable because all that matters is financial ROI? As smart as these people are, they seem oblivious to their Pavlovian response high-tech innovation. Having been conditioned to salivate at the smell of money that capital dangles before them, they become addicted to serial entrepreneurship. Their boosting and boasting flim-flams the media and market- and decision-makers, who in turn brainwash we the peeps into believing this is good for us, that we truly look forward to having our jobs and brain functions rendered redundant as soon as in/humanly possible.

Given that AI is already going viral, we need to protect ourselves. Why doesn’t civil society have an autoimmune reaction to the software phages capital is incubating to eat out our brains? Why isn’t AI classified as a dangerous drug? Won’t any innovators emerge with antibodies to make us resistant? There’s still no app for that. Oh the humanity!

Geoff Dutton is a reformed geek turned columnist, novelist, and publisher hailing from Boston who writes about whatever distortions of reality strike his fancy. Turkey Shoot, his novel interrogating the lives and times of members of a cell of terrorists in Europe, recently received an award for Courage in Fiction. You can find more of his writing here and at Progressive Pilgrim Review. He welcomes correspondence at geoff-at-perfidy-dot-press.

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