Video Of The Week: Albert's Talk At Web Summit

My partner Albert Wenger gave a talk at Web Summit about the coming Knowledge Age. Many of you have seen previous versions of this talk which I have posted here. But Albert is evolving the talk as he learns more about some of these ideas.

It’s a short talk, about 15 mins long. I have included the video and the slides below that.


Comments (Archived):

  1. JimHirshfield

    It’s a great talk. Saw it yesterday on his blog.

  2. David C. Baker

    I found the talk very interesting and compelling, particularly because in my own experience I’ve been able to go back in time in the sense that my parents where medical missionaries in a little tribe (San Miguel Acatán) in Guatemala. We lived there until I was 18, and it’s representative of that second phase of historical progression. They have gathered as a tribe of 5,000 people. One family, for example, lives on land that is conducive to growing corn, and so they grow extra and then walk to market day (mercado) every Sunday to trade their extra corn for sandals, for example. I recently went back and the only real differences were two-fold. Now there is electricity, but very little. And there’s a cell tower on the top of the highest hill–essentially they skipped the wired phone generation.They work hard, love their families, and they are wonderful people that I love dearly. I, on the other hand, am a participant in a modern, post-industrialized world. Is my life all that better than theirs? Yes, clearly it is in terms of healthcare, life expectancy, money to travel, the ability to absorb as much knowledge as I want, but am I happier?Human progress is inevitable, but it doesn’t seem to correlate with increased levels of happiness or purpose. I wonder how those are intertwined, and I wonder how a universal income would impact that issue.Thanks for posting this, Fred. It was a good start to the day.

    1. LE

      but am I happier?Defining happiness is like defining intelligence. We probably have a better hold on what is unhappiness than we do happiness.Along those lines having money and living in modern times gives you a way to avoid unhappiness. Money it’s obvious has diminishing returns at least generally.No way to compare it to 400 years ago just like the people in the village don’t know what it’s like to be living as you or I do. So of course they are going to be happy relative to where they are at. And what they know about. And learning to deal with what their circumstance is. If that wasn’t the case we wouldn’t have gotten to this place in time.This entire subject is a rabbit hole. Things that make one person unhappy may very well make another person happy. (I hate sitting in synagogue but others actually like it.)Human progress is inevitable, but it doesn’t seem to correlate with increased levels of happiness or purpose.I can’t say I agree with that. Some people just are always going to complain and not be happy and it has nothing to do with where they are, what they make or how they live. They could be higher functioning or they could have mental issues or some other health issue. They could have believed that money buys happiness in a way that simply isn’t the case (more money = more happiness).Is my cat happy? Is a dog happy? Sure I am guessing. But they aren’t as complex in thought and emotion as a human is. Small and different brain. They can sit around all day and do absolutely nothing and not go crazy or (I assume) get depressed. They get perked up with little things like a meal, a treat or getting stroked. What about a cow in the field? All it does is stand there and graze and take a crap day after day.Likewise people are different. The tribes overseas have developed over the years into getting pleasure from simple things in life (I am guessing this is your expertise not mine). The lady in the small town in Pennsylvania gets pleasure from a pancake breakfast on Sunday with other old ladies at the church (shoot me if I had to do that). Would you spend every Sunday doing that and enjoying it? If so you are not like me.I remember when I was younger I thought having a power boat was the be all and end all (in boating). Then I tried sailing and liked that much more and was much ‘happier’. I would have been fine with power boating until I was exposed to sailing.Bottom line: They have adapted to their world so they are probably happy. We have a different world that requires things that their world doesn’t to avoid unhappiness.

      1. Twain Twain

        Intelligence in AI is generally defined as “information processing / computation that reduces risks by probabilistic and statistical methods.”Elsewhere, intelligence is defined by IQ-EQ / GMAT / high school / national exams.There are differences in definition depending on sectors too. Would we call Picasso intelligent because he was able to do probabilistic and statistical methods?What about the Beatles? Fred Astaire? Michael Phelps? People who speak several languages?Economists have tried to define happiness like so:*

        1. LE

          Economists have tried to define happiness like soI give it the ‘air conditioning test’. [1] If you are thinking or if you are questioning if you are happy you most likely are not.There is probably little question though that the Internet and in particular social media and the easy ability to see what is going on with others (whether true or false; whether in your peer group or not) has led to more unhappiness for many many people.[1] If you put your hand next to the vent and wonder ‘is it working?’ it’s not.

        2. LE

          Of course there is a difference between intelligence and common sense.Nick Kristof could been killed trying to be a hero [1]http://kristof.blogs.nytime…[1] Russell Byers was killed:… (his wife is a customer of ours [2] and I remember when this happened)[2] She opened a charter school after his death.

          1. Twain Twain

            Some AI researchers are trying to teach their version of “common sense” to the machines because the existing versions of intelligence (information processing …etc) are too narrow:*

  3. Vendita Auto

    Agree with the mindset but remember that Americans are way ahead when compared to the global scale. Global warming needs a tsunami / meltdown to focus real & present danger. Unfortunately until we can hot-wire the cortex we are as tribal as ever it was.

    1. jason wright

      The tortoise and the hare.

      1. Girish Mehta

        Can you elaborate ?

        1. jason wright

          Some Americans are way ahead, but as we see from the US election many are way behind. 500 years ago China was the world’s biggest economy, and by recently copying the west’s growth model it will soon be again. the US has stagnated, and if it fails to start a new development phase it may fall behind by mid century.

  4. jason wright

    Does Peter Thiel have a publicly stated view on the idea of guaranteed basic income?

    1. Girish Mehta

      Not that I have seen.

      1. jason wright

        Me neither. I really would like to know.

        1. LE

          I am interested in this. Other than curiosity (which is fine) why in particular does it matter what Thiel or, Warren Buffet, or Bill Gates thinks about UBI? They don’t have any particular expertise that would give them ‘the answer’ and make what they think particularly valuable. They certainly haven’t spent as much time thinking about it as Albert has either. I care what he thinks. They have access to the same information about it as everyone does and they have particular life experience just like many people do. Why assign more weight to what they think (vs. alpha)? Would you care what they think of the Zika virus?(Does search to try and answer question…)What I was just able to find iim is that Gary Johnson appears open to UBI which apparently puzzled many libertarians. So probability wise we could conclude that Thiel would also be against it. Then again he is a contrarian so maybe he (like Johnson) would be for it.What I think? The devil is in the details. I haven’t heard enough details. W/O details I say “working for money is important, even if it’s just raking leaves”. My stepdaughter has managed to make the connection between doing odd jobs (say raking leaves) and making money. I am now able to get her to do other things to earn money around the house. This is a major breakthrough and it also appears as expected that she is happy earning the money (by her reaction) than if it was just given to her.She does have UBI though (we don’t charge her rent..) So maybe Albert is on to something.. I think Albert needs to have a UBI FAQ or cookbook.

          1. jason wright

            from what i read Thiel will be selecting Trump’s policy team. therefore i wonder if he’s for, against, or indifferent to the idea of basic income guarantee. perhaps Albert will be getting a phone call.

    2. Alex Murphy

      no poli please

      1. jason wright

        http://thisweekinstartups.c…22:00 Thiel24:40 basic income44:00 tech and Trumphow does one disentangle society from economy from politics from tech from…..?

  5. LIAD

    albert doesn’t (yet) get the respect or recognition he deserves for the thought leader he is.

    1. fredwilson

      it takes time. he will.

    2. LE

      There are many ways to get respect [1] one is organically [2] and the other is simply to become a brand and package it with the help of a PR firm. (And of course many other ways obviously).Nothing is preventing Albert from doing that and it’s no less valuable or important than having it come magically some other way. As I was told in college “sometimes you have to toot your own horn because nobody else is going to do it for you”. This is contrary though to the way that USV appears to operate as well as what Fred’s philosophy is.[1] Which in the context of what you are talking about means “having many people (and for that matter important people and the media) listen to what you are saying”.[2] Say you’ve won a nobel price, a pulitzer, produced a major motion picture, are in a position of power and a host of other examples to numerous to mention.

      1. jason wright

        Respect requires a second look, and therein lies the problem.

        1. Vendita Auto

          Think tank discussions @ Davos make a difference, philanthropy makes a difference, working in a care home makes a difference.

    3. Richard

      As a first thought, many VCs argue that ideas have no value; but in the same breath tell us their ideas. But more importantly, there are many sectors in the economy where decreases in productivity increase the GDP. One example, is artisan breads. My guess is that the economy will be a balance and high and low productivity sectors. It’s ironic that be biggest issue for Twitter is the low productivity of its labor.

  6. Richard

    Universal income without universal ambition is a dangerous cocktail. Hasn’t history shown us Societies in the world that essentially provided universal income? What contributions have they made to advancing the sciences ? Don’t forget to Package ambition along with that income.

    1. jason wright

      Basic income pays for brain time, something Facebook does not.

      1. PhilipSugar

        See my comment to Rich.

    2. Twain Twain

      There are professors who argue Universal Basic Income isn’t warranted by developments in AI and the knowledge economy.* https://www.technologyrevie

    3. PhilipSugar

      I strongly agree. I respectfully suggest anybody that believes in universal income go to a place that has been gutted. From NYC I suggest a drive to Fulton, NYThey have enough income from SS Disability or Welfare to live. They have a house, they have a car, they are not underfed. They have a basic income.They have time to read, or paint, or study or write or do anything that we so blissfully imagine.They universally do nothing. They sit on the porch and do nothing. Drug use is rampant and the community crumbles.It was not like that when people had to work. It was a vibrant town with people doing all sorts of things to better themselves and their family.Elite people don’t understand the working class people actually resent this basic income. They watch it gut their communities.There are more than 10 million illegal immigrants that don’t have the luxury of this basic income. They work hard and have jobs.I don’t know what the solution is, as LE says maybe it is government work, but your first line says it all.

  7. Twain Twain

    Kai-Fu Lee, former Head of Google China, on Go and AI: “Although these machines are genuinely intelligent, efficient, hardworking, and cheap, they’re not very human. They’re just cold computers and tools. For example, when AlphaGo defeated Lee Sedol in the first Go game, it wasn’t happy, and it didn’t understand our discussions about it. It couldn’t even say how it had won the game. Its thinking is very advanced, but it can’t answer questions like “what does winning feel like?” or “why is Go fun to play?” or even “how do you plan to win today?” Today’s machines are completely incapable of understanding human emotions, values, and concepts like trust and respect. Art, beauty, love, humor – machines are baffled by them. One AI researcher working built a sense-of-humor system and then input a funny article, and the machine said “ha ha” after every single sentence. So today’s machines don’t even equal a two year old child [in that sense]. This is a major challenge for AI researchers.”*…Turing wrote about “uncomputables” which are to do with Quantum Physics phenomena such as conscience and consciousness.That has implications for why.+how AI researchers will be challenged to create algorithmic functions to enable morals, ethics and human understanding (including language) in the machines.

    1. Sebastien Latapie

      As someone who is interested in the application of AI to healthcare, this is something that I think about. I can see the situation where the smart, but non-human computer helps augment the physician who is then responsible for the entire human part of this including morals and ethics you mention. Long way to go before they can actually replace the physicians.

      1. Twain Twain

        Even on the technical side, there’s a difference between logical AI diagnosis and human interpretation.That’s before we even get into areas like how does the Hippocratic oath inform medical ethics.AI’s current limitations — it can do probabilistic correlations and optimizations faster and faster but not understand language or have empathy or have internal mechanisms like concern of guilt — means there’s still a lot of innovation to be done before AI can replace human doctors.*

  8. William Mougayar

    Great holistic thinking by Albert. But I’m struggling with how we box in knowledge. Maybe it’s implied, but knowledge needs to be applied, or its value can’t be well exploited otherwise.

    1. Twain Twain

      I greatly respect that he applies a Confucian approach: he studies the past in-depth to try to connect the dots to the present and the future.https://uploads.disquscdn.c

      1. Alex Murphy

        i like how your image looks like @wmoug:disqus’s hands in his profile pic!

    2. Alex Murphy

      you don’t box in knowledge … thus the third part of the circle, you share it

      1. William Mougayar

        Yes, but you need to apply it for something. Sharing it is passive. Applied knowledge is more active. I think Albert alludes to that.

  9. Twain Twain

    It’s NOT the attention economy we should be aiming for if someone like Trump can game the attention levers via bots on social media.https://uploads.disquscdn.c…I’ve disagreed with the idea of “attention” in AI models since I read Michael Graziano of Princeton’s work:*…Attention is a useful variable in the probability algorithms of the computation because they provide rules for time duration and time-related events, such as in sequence-to-sequence and reinforcement learning of the type applied in AlphaGo.However, I’d argue it’s ATTENUATION we should be aiming for. That’s when and where signal > noise.

    1. PhilipSugar

      No politics please.

      1. Twain Twain

        Not politics. It’s about the quantification and qualification problems in algorithms and biases (weightings that then present information which may not be the whole picture).

      2. Twain Twain

        The signal (qualia) > noise (quanta) problem as it relates to medical data:”First, no matter how good EMR data is, medical data is noisy and biased in most cases. The complex nature of the factors involved in transforming the verbal information exchange between patients and physicians into written information on medical charts and from there to International Classification of Disease (ICD) codes used in EMR data leads to enormous coding errors. In addition, different hospitals have different coding quality standards. The medical claims are the backbone of EMR data, but they are collected for billing purposes, which brings yet another source of bias and noise into the data. Coders, hospital administrators, health providers, payers, and patients have different perspectives and expectations when it comes to the medical data. This multi-faceted nature of medical data makes a big impact on the way data is collected and how it will be mined. Inventing algorithms that measure and quantify the quality of data from different resources, and filtering noise and bias from the data will be an inevitable part of working with medical data.”*…A weakness of computation as it’s currently defined (probabilistic correlations and reductions of risk) also means it can be gamed when we increase the number and frequency of observations.Attention frameworks lend themselves to this quantitative gaming.You’ll notice I didn’t link to the Wired article on Trump but did link to the Aeon article which explores the ideas of attention as it relates to AI and knowledge.

      3. Twain Twain

        The context is that a “Unified Model” is what we’re trying to get to in the Knowledge Economy whereby humans and machines work in constructive symbiosis. For this, the machines need to be able to qualify and quantity THEIR internal decision processes IF they’re to support us in making moral, ethical and “good” economic choices.The agrarian model was one of collective efforts but it was local, linear in purpose (e.g., build a temple) and involved thousands of people within geographic proximity.The industrialization model was one of division of labor per Adam Smith, supported by power efficiency of machines and the invention of Probability which enabled us to project Production Possibility Curves and then all sorts of predictive supply-demand functions — albeit completely omitting the emotional drivers of productivity which is unhelpful for creating a Unified Model.Industrialization was the beginnings of the rise of quant data, in alignment with the Scientific Rationalism of its time where everything observable had to be measured.Now, in Knowledge Age, we need to ask whether quant data and the probability correlations of it is adequate for us to get 360 insights.Attention is a quant factor related to time in AI algorithms. As a quant element in a Bell Curve of event frequencies, it can be gamed.That means the data may not give us the insights we need. This applies in visual recognition, speech recognition and language understanding.So my interest is non-political. It’s about the mix of variables that might get us to a “Unified Model” (quant+qualia) for knowledge, human+machine interactions and coherent economics.

        1. PhilipSugar

          Yes we sponsor the Lego League team of DE. Here is the U.S. Senator at our office. So I just injected politics… 🙂 https://uploads.disquscdn.c

          1. Alex Murphy

            yep … no politics mr sugar (or mrs salt, or mr pepper) :)(and that is awesome by the way!)

          2. LE

            Hey my stepdaughter does that! We have the board (which my wife built) in the home office.

          3. Twain Twain

            Lol, nice, wish I had a sandpit like this!

          4. PhilipSugar

            I call it my playhouse. I say that people that work with me work in the Delaware Asylum have to be committed. We have a bowling alley, cornhole court, and an arcade with 141 games from the mall. Everyone you know.However! Our culture is not because of our environment, our environment is because of our culture. That arcade was built without my permission because of our culture.

          5. jason wright

            i had Lego. one fine day my mother became so enraged by it cluttering up the living room carpet that she boxed it all up and threw it down the building’s rubbish chute (garbage chute). the trauma! naturally i have yet to fully forgiven her 🙂

  10. Maroonblazer

    I enjoyed this talk but I disagree with the hypothesis – that we’re not in an “information age” but rather a “knowledge age”. For his argument to hold would require showing that we’ve only now begun to generate knowledge. That’s clearly not the case. Are we growing knowledge more quickly? Yes, but that’s a trend we’ve been seeing for the last several hundred years. Also, agriculture, industrialization and information are all enabling technologies. Increased knowledge was/is an artifact of all three.Completely agree with his 3 freedoms. The UBI is particularly interesting and seems inevitable. Both inevitably necessary and inevitably possible, thanks to the Information Age.

    1. jason wright

      Isn’t it about *access* to knowlegde?More people have more access to more knowledge than at any other time in human history, and because of zero marginal cost. it’s an exponential change.

  11. Salt Shaker

    Universal Basic Income will frankly be needed to offset hardships created by diminished employment. While the agrarian and industrial revolutions led to job creation, digital disruption to transportation, housing, retail, healthcare, finance, insurance, energy, education etc., while delivering greater efficiencies and important tangible/intangible benefits, and contributing to the labor pool in precise sectors, nonetheless has and will continue to lead, on a net basis, to reductions in labor. So called “societal benefits” is a slippery slope, and not everyone is equipped to learn new skills and compete in the digital age. Without a dramatic reconfiguring of education, training, etc., many will likely increasingly be dependent on social services, or UBI if so enacted. Access to knowledge or information is one thing, knowing how to process either is completely diff and required learning.

  12. Marissa_NYx

    There is an essential ingredient to Alberts knowledge state – the EDUCATION that delivers the learn / create / share method of the knowledge economy and the EDUCATION which delivers the 3 Freedoms , particularly Economic & Psychological Freedoms. If we don’t have the process of developing these competencies through Education then how do we get there ? What’s the point of the world around us changing when our Education system trains our young people to think and be trained to succeed in yesterday’s competencies ? If Albert wants a world where we focus time on developing our purpose in society (and learn, create , and share the products we build in that process ) and in a context where we have economic freedom as an understood and achievable output of our lives (whether or not this involves a basic universal income ) – I would argue that Albert should be investing in the processes & systems – and teams – that delivers these outputs . Or seeing that investment – lots of it – flows in these areas. We have just witnessed the outrage from the grassroots that comes with a world that moves on without bringing its people along with it . We risk becoming another society of Mayans unless the onramps and highways to get to the knowledge economy are in place . The materials which these on ramps and highways are built with is in Education & Health. Luckily for us , Albert has the talent , vision and capacity to drive the investments and construction of these onramps and highways to the knowledge economy.

  13. Ronnie Rendel

    Every time I see the term “knowledge age” on this or other blogs, I have to re-quote Maimonides in the 12th century describing the Messianic Age as “… in that age there will be no more competition and war … as the entire earth will be filled with knowledge as water fills the sea…”Now, I know religion is a major turn off for many (especially Fred), so take whatever you think the religious connotation is, and just take the words at face value. It’s amazing.By the way, think about the meaning of “no more competition”. This is huge, and quite possible today (with micro-services for example). In Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One he describes competition as the result of lack of innovation, meaning that innovation is the answer to competition. Rather then compete with company A, find a complementary value that is not yet offered and go after it. This is something I have been trying to apply both in my startup as well as my day job.

    1. jason wright

      i’ve been thinking about Thiel’s monopoly thesis, and it seems to be correct in just about every way. however, where he seems to get a little bit fuzzy is in how to mitigate the obvious potential for market abuse and social damage a monopoly might ‘inadvertently’ cause. i wonder what regulatory framework he would come up with to police the activities of large corporations with a dominant hold on a sector, product, or service? he’s never really fleshed out that part.

      1. Ronnie Rendel

        I agree with you on the “monopoly” aspect, although I think the term monopoly will change from the old AT&T model, to what I call “micro-monopolies”. Like micro setvices, and API services, you will see companies offering one micro service extremely well hence becoming a micro monopoly for that specific service. This will have very little potential for social evil, and rather then compete on this microservice the next company will identify the next micro service to innovate.

  14. djglasco

    Brilliant speech. Love how he brought it all together at the end saying we should be striving for the Knowledge Age vs. Information Age. Thanks for taking the time to share

  15. Lee Blaylock

    Excellent and thought provoking. I’ll review World After Capital + some of the videos there.Please keep the AVC community informed of more of Albert’s thoughts like I’m sure you will.I esp enjoy the fact that on weekends you sometimes point to other sources when your time is more constrained. Keep it up as it follows his knowledge loop!

  16. Mike Cautillo

    You know, there’s an abundance of quality information for free on the internet. Though understanding what it means for YOU is where the real value lies. I love the future Albert describes, attention is so understated considering the vast amount of input at out fingertips.

  17. creative group

    awaldstein:Do you view many in a position of exclusivity and privilege realizing others seeking the same contributes to that sense of entitlement being threatened?A thought. Not a position for argument.

  18. jason wright

    What makes you think there’s been a rise in r and b globally?