Video Of The Week: Albert Wenger on AI and Attention

This is a talk my partner Albert gave at an AI conference in Berlin last month. Although he gave it to an AI conference, it is really about where we are in our society and what we need to do about it. It is about 20mins long.

#machine learning

Comments (Archived):

  1. Barry Houldsworth

    Breaking the cycle is not going to be an easy task. Many people that would benefit the most from watching this would never make it through that video without being distracted and pulled off to something else (cat videos?) I found myself multi-tasking (which almost no one really can do) watching this and had to scroll back because I missed things. At the moment, if you gave people UBI, most people would use that time to endlessly watch videos. How do we get started on breaking the addition to our phones?

    1. Holly Hester-Reilly

      Check out Nir Eyal’s new book, Indistractible. It is a great guide for thi !

  2. William Mougayar

    Good talk. It makes you think. Although they are related, Albert conflates attention with priorities.Maybe if we stopped feeding our data to those that are making it their model to reuse it and take away more of our attention,- it might be a good start. Of course, there’s a new generation of Apps that aim to just do that: give you similar experiences but without taking your data at the same time. These include the likes of DuckDuckGo, OpenBazaar & others.We need to learn how to value our data privacy more.

  3. Mike

    The idea that human societies have moved through periods of food, land and capital scarcities and now find themselves in a time of surplus, a surplus that is in many ways being wasted, and perhaps not really needed, is pretty bold. Can we move to a place where we can displace traditional supply/demand models that have been used for resource allocations for thousands of years to allow us to address more important long tail issues and live more sustainably? If so, I would think this would be a multi-generational evolution of political and economic systems. To start, there is a large portion of the current global population in emerging markets that might take issue with the conclusion that food, land and capital scarcity has been solved for them personally. Thanks to Albert for sharing his ideas and look forward to seeing the book.

  4. Richard

    The greatest threat to Humanity is not gdp and climate, it’s war and crime. War and crime are rooted in under productivity not over productivity. The prevention of war and crime in part requires more than a strong military – it requires a strong US dollar and continued US economic liberty.Make America Smart Again

    1. JLM

      .The driver of war is ideology. Ideology creates forced divisions between and among peoples.The wars break out where these divisions rub up against each other.Wars are started by old men — not the citizenry — who ante up the lives of young men to determine the outcomes.Wars are always a failure of diplomacy. Sometimes diplomacy is not deployed.Crime is driven by stuff. The professional criminals go to the wealthy neighborhoods and take their stuff.Violent crime is driven by anger and envy.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. Mike

        In addition to ideology I would say economics and economic interests play a role as well as a driver of conflicts.

        1. JLM

          .No disagreement, but the economy is defined by the ideology. It is defined by how the leader deploys the ideology.Socialism — state controlled allocation of resources — sucks.Capitalism — individual controlled allocation of resources driven by markets — rocks.See this.http://themusingsofthebigre…In 20 years, socialism wrecked Venezuela — the richest country in South America sitting on the world’s largest proven oil reserves.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          1. Matt A. Myers

            Ideology merely allows people to be taken advantage of easily by bad actors – because it’s not concretely understood by those parties, they haven’t developed their critical thinking to understand in real-time what’s going on.Without going deeply into it, I hope you can agree socialism and capitalism could be put on either end of a spectrum – and the extreme of either end isn’t good, has pitfalls.Also, there’s a lot more at play than simply saying socialism wrecked Venezuela – that’s a very shallow statement, it could have in fact been capitalism, greed, and bad actors that worked towards dismantling Venezuela – tyrants trying to corrupt a territory, for as you say, they saw as the richest country in South America. Because they didn’t have proper protections in place, which includes knowledge and security services to counter behaviours of bad actors or larger economies taking advantage of their economy – doesn’t mean socialism is bad, it just can’t necessarily defend against capitalistic mindset if you’re not prepared for it.It’s all part of the yin-yang balance. Seeing capitalism and socialism at play, the different ends of spectrums unfolding, developing, evolving, is educating a whole new generation of people with superpowers at the tips of their fingers – and a worldwide communication network that allows us to access anyone, and anyone who feels an important need anywhere in the world to instantly access us. I’m grateful to be able to engage with you on here, because it gives me fodder, gentle triggers that I am becoming better at directing into words, to understand others’ perspectives of the world – and refine my own by doing so.Also, a good leader doesn’t deploy ideology – they stand with true beliefs they have that they have thought through critically to understand the holistic impact of those beliefs; it’s true that a hateful tyrant may truly believe what they believe, and that then is the ego mind, selfishness, close-heartedness, control because of fear, and greed at play – and perhaps bad parenting, as a joke, however the environment and support or lack thereof you have when you’re born and grow up of course influences your path completely, tied to your natural constitutions of how well you cope under stress.

          2. JLM

            .The saga of Venezuela is not a theory. It has really happened, so the theoretical aspects and conjecture of your comment can be either supported or refuted by the facts on the ground.What we do know is this –1. Venezuela was once the richest country in South America.2. Venezuela sits atop the largest proven crude oil reserves on the planet.3. Chavez attempted a coup and then gained control over the country.4. Chavez was a self-declared socialist and was supported by others of the same ilk — Cuba, Russia, China.5. Venezuela is now a basket case with rampant violence, an inability to feed its people, an inability to provide water, a failed electrical system, and a failed economy.6. More than 5MM people have fled — their “best and brightest.”Whatever has driven this dramatic transformation cannot be “good.”In the face of despotism, it doesn’t make any difference what the people think. They have no ability to make that happen at the ballot box.Yesterday, Putin jailed 1-2,000 dissidents whose crime was they engaged in a public display of protest against him and his regime in Moscow.These protesters held a view, but SO WHAT? Putin isn’t influenced by public opinion other than to lock up dissidents.Ideology always comes with an element of leadership driving it. In the case of Venezuela the leadership element was BAD. Chavez conducted a failed coup before he conducted a crooked election and rode public discontent to the presidency which he refused to relinquish with a series of corrupt sham elections.He is not and never was a “good leader.” So, your lament that a “good leader doesn’t deploy ideology” (which I don’t agree with) never made it to the debate. There was no debate on ideology. There was a violent act.This is no different than the Russian Revolution, the seizure of China by Mao, the seizure of Cuba by Castro, and the seizure of Venezuela by Chavez. There are a number of other examples.Socialism doesn’t come with any controls or a steering wheel, while capitalism comes to the public square driven by free markets. They are not remotely comparable.One imposes its will on the people, while the other draws its power from the crowd and markets.The course of history, the fortunes of mankind have always been driven by fear and greed — and always will be.The facts drive this debate.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          3. Matt A. Myers

            I wasn’t comparing – socialism being on one side of spectrum and capitalism on the other means exactly that, that they aren’t comparable – though on same spectrum. My points stand though re: socialism, capitalism, and the need for mechanisms, systems that can counter the bad actors of any government, as well as the late stages of capitalism – which otherwise would suffocate everyone to death incentivized towards pure efficiency without being counterbalanced.

          4. Michael Elling

            Didn’t unfettered capitalism lead to unfettered socialism which wrecked Venezuela; along with the cultural and social hierarchies and tensions? Why not analyze Germany; arguably a free market system with socialist elements, no?

          5. JLM

            .What happened to Venezuela was a thug named Chavez. Here is the timeline. I have a reason to know a bit about Venezuela.http://themusingsofthebigre…JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          6. Michael Elling

            Not arguing with you about Chavez.We live in a society 50 years on from the Great One of LBJ where people have no skin in the game. Everyone feels entitled, from those on welfare lines to those in board rooms and c-suites all the way to Capitol Hill. Few feel real responsibility to society or those around them.Hand-outs without incentives backfire. Institutional structures that shield decision makers from taking responsibility for their actions also aren’t sustainable.My point is that regardless of the economic system, network effects rules over everything. And it’s time we start rethinking how we build our networks. See my comment elsewhere in this thread.

          7. JLM

            .Completely agree with you about the lack of skin in the game and the perverted culture of victimhood. You must be channeling me on the issue of skin in the game.http://themusingsofthebigre…There is no economic system or network effect when you can’t get food, clean water, and electricity in a tropical climate.The real Venezuela has left — 5MM refugees, the ones with money are gone.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      2. Richard

        The US has been at War fromRoosevelt to Carter to Reagan to Obama – crosses ideology. War is a about minimizing harmful tail events. Crime is mostly about narcotics and lack of education.

        1. JLM

          .Not disagreeing with you, but a lot of wars are caused by mistakes wrapped in ideology.Vietnam is the classic — Domino Theory please meet the Tonkin Gulf squall line. Voila — a two decade long war.Graveyard of Empires Narco State please meet a 9-11 “you can start two wars” credit card.You are right about the narcotics.For education, insert a skill — electricians do not start wars.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  5. gmalov

    Interesting take, and thought provoking…AI is a very broad topic but in context to Albert’s presentation: i think there is one clear distinction to make; in the current technological revolution, the commodity or “product” that produces or drives economic and social change has drastically changed/shifted – we’ve moved from physical assets to human assets. From food, land, factories, rails, autos, and computers to now people, time, data and information.The power of AI, is in its ability to reach immediate scale over distributed networks, and automate at nearly zero marginal cost. This poses great opportunity but also potential risks to our way of life. Of late, it’s pretty clear to see what model has been created when there is no formal governance to a process where people are the product in a primary way, and they pay no fee for service usage other than with their personal data. It’s really good and then it’s really bad.I may not agree entirely with Albert’s POV but I’m glad he s raising the issue and focused on important dialogue – we need to value our data/information and how we want AI to shape our future.

  6. JLM

    .Albert’s talk is barely about AI. It is about his book and the ideas therein. He has provocative ideas worthy of a bit of thought if for no other reason than to just keep one’s brain nimble.We are all ultimately defined by the decisions we make — the little ones and the big ones. This has been true since Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden.If you decide to spend all of your time on the Internet playing Fortnite, then you will have a different outcome than someone who is reading good literature or studying history or learning about business using Kindle.This is simple mother wit. If you doubt it, ask your mother. She is very wise and she has known you since you were born.Different decisions as to how to use the same device, the same amount of time. The outcomes will be wildly different.If you go to college and study English, you will need some real luck to land a job as a poet. If, however, you go to college and study computer science or civil engineering — you will find ads on Indeed that are looking for you.I have never seen an ad for a poet on Indeed.Different decisions, different outcomes.I like poets. Nothing against poets. One of my best friends is a poet. He lives in a shitty house, drives a shitty car, wears shitty clothes, but he is happy. He owes me money.Humans are paid in more than just cash — they also receive ego enrichment and self-esteem nourishment.Labor doesn’t translate to only stuff. It also delivers intangibles: success and success feeds one’s ego and nourishes their self-esteem. Success also brings love. Love makes the world go around.Can we be honest? The beautiful women (taking a traditional unwoke view of things here, I know, but we are being honest, right?) will want you to provide both babies and stuff. It is how the world works. Nobody wants to live in a cave with a poet without any stuff.A bad idea held by a majority is still a bad idea. Things like the UBi have been tried and they do not work. It is a bad idea.There is not some great idea waiting to be found by somebody getting $1000 per month. $1000 is not going to unlock the cure for cancer, but capitalism just might.There is a tendency to over complicate things — make good decisions. Good decisions will create good outcomes. You will like good outcomes better. Then, write poetry.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. Rick Mason

      I’m not sure that Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a belief held by a majority of Americans but it definitely is trending. I’ve observed there are two types of people, optimists and worriers. I grew up with a lot of worriers who felt that some day the world would end in a series of nuclear explosions. While I supposed that it was possible I spent little or no time worrying about it.Now even the worriers have moved on. Today they are concerned that artificial intelligence will bring about the end of most jobs and to protect civil society we must do something about it. This is an age old worry, well in 1899 Charles H. Duell, the head of US patent office, proposed that it be closed because everything that could be invented had already been invented.There will be a transition period where a lot of people at the end of their careers will be out to work. New jobs will get created and they will be better than the old ones they replaced. That very artificial intelligence will enable us to do things that we can’t even imagine today.Who is going to create all these jobs? The optimists of course ;<). Leaving the worriers to be consumed by I don’t know – global warming maybe?

      1. JLM

        .UBI has been tried in several well-designed experiments and abandoned when the results have not met expectations.Nobody can make the numbers work on anything even remotely an application in the USA.Communism falls into the same category — an “idea” that doesn’t work when the field trials are held.There is no doubt that the advance of technology will change the workplace. That has been happening for a century.What will also happen is that mankind will adapt. It is not the tech that will disrupt lives; it is the failure to adapt.If you make bad decisions, you will have bad outcomes.The people who go into the right fields of endeavor will be able to write their own ticket. That has always been true.Except for lawyers. Lawyers are like cockroaches and feed upon themselves.A single lawyer in a small town starves to death. A second lawyer moves in and they both make a handsome living.It’s all going to be fine. We just need to use some real intelligence with our artificial intelligence.The guy in 1899 was WRONG. There are a lot of people today who are also wrong.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

        1. Rick Mason

          If you study Karl Marx (and I have) you will find that his generation of intellectuals believed society wouldn’t advance beyond where it was presently. So he scripted exactly where capitalism was going to collapse – only it didn’t. My grandfather predicted to his friends in the early twenties that Soviet communism would ultimately fail. He just wasn’t certain how long it would take.So now you’ve got some very smart people in tech who believe we’re at the point where technologies advancement ends and the machines take over. They’re making the very same mistake as Marx. Man and capitalism can and will evolve. Leaving their predictions looking very stupid. Pessimists all.

          1. JLM

            .Smart comment. Well played.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    2. Matt A. Myers

      Re: Fortnite – I used to daily Twitch and had my favourite gamers to watch, as I’ve been healing the pain I have with stem cells my focus and time I can concentrate has gotten longer and longer, reducing the need for mindless entertainment. A pattern I noticed that is what it is, though would be worth while trying to influence, is that young gamers develop massive crowds of young followers – who then they become role models too. Unfortunately the streamers thoughts and understanding of complex systems is limited, likewise emotional maturity may not be great.Re: UBI – I can’t disagree with you more than you’ve ever disagreed with yourself. You’re just flat out wrong. Also, UBI will exist inside capitalism – that you’re gatekeeping trying to separate the two to try to win an argument point is funny. Unless you dive into the suffering of daily life of regular people and how great of an impact $1000/month will have on people who are succeeding at life, and how big of an impact it will have for those who fell through the cracks and couldn’t keep their head above water because of whatever trauma they experienced or environment they were born into – it will provide them the resources to pay others to help them, and there are already helpers who voluntarily do this – they too would then be getting $1000/month if they didn’t have income.And then you talk about overcomplicating things – taking a dividend from the most efficient companies automating away “everything” and then redistributing $1000/month to every adult American is as about as uncomplicated as you can get, and you can’t even argue that’s making the “government bigger” – because it’s not going towards funding government services, jobs, contracts – UBI should be a conservative’s wet dream – money given directly to citizens to decide what to do because government is generally bad, inefficient, corrupted when it comes to managing money.

  7. Michael Elling

    This focus on UBI and things that empower or free the individual eschews the importance of the network and an understanding of networks and network effects. When we don’t focus on the latter we enslave the individual; rather than liberate them. A network is a system of incentives and disincentives that clear supply and demand and reduce future risk. Well structured networks (and internetworked ecosystems) that equilibrate the geometric value captured at the core with the linear (and highly marginal or differentiable) costs at the edge are both sustainable and generative. They are the best way to clear marginal differences (think pareto and bell curves) while ensuring the vibrancy of the system and rights or opportunities of the individual. When we apply this thinking to our current situation (misshaped pareto and bell curves due to global digital network effects) we understand that we need to rethink how our socio-economic and political networks are built and operated.