Be Aware: The Singularity is Near

Artificial intelligence would exceed human intelligence. Elon Musk once said that AI would grow vastly smarter than humans. Musk pointed out that AI would overtake the human race by 2025. In contrast, some experts say the rise of artificial intelligence would make the most of us to be better off over the next few decades, not replace, nor make humans extinct.

The singularity is a conceptual and meta-physical term. When it comes to a technological jargon, the singularity is often described as a point in time when innovation reaches critical mass. At critical mass, new innovation must be widely adopted. Technological growth explodes and shall be kept self-sustained at the singularity.

This connotation of reaching the singularity is sometimes articulated along with a bit of negative nuisance. For example, some says that technological growth becomes so big at the singularity to the extent that technologies become uncontrollable and irreversible. AI would have many positive impacts, but it could also result in unforeseeable negative changes to the human race.

We have to cope with AI. There is fear, uncertainty, and mixed feelings. AI, robots, and other innovations may put millions of us out of work in a few years. If we adapt well and if highly intelligent systems are well within the scope of our purposes, the future could be promising. We can rather focus on what humans are truly good at.

Raymond Kurzweil is one of living legends. He has had many great inventions. He also started an alternative education institute called Singularity University in 2008 along with Peter H. Diamandis, a founder of X Prize Foundation. Singularity University aims to educate, empower, and inspire leaders to leverage exponential technologies to solve humanity’s grand challenges. Two co-founders believed that exponential technological advancement could give anyone at anywhere the ability to create a positive impact.

For reference, Raymond Kurzweil has picked an example and argued that the technological advancement in medicine such as gene therapy and bio-informatics would help humans to continuously repair and replace defective components in our bodies and prolong life. Medical advancement would allow people to protect their bodies from the effects of aging and make life expectancy much longer.

The singularity comes with an important notion of self-directed learning and self-sustainable attribute. Superhuman intelligence is about to be invented through the amplification of collective human intelligence and the power of artificial intelligence. Superhuman intelligence is a good thing as it would bring many positive outcomes. Superhuman intelligence powered by AI would help humans solve complex problems and keep our inventive skills and creative souls to become more effective.

At the singularity, AI may have fundamentally different cognitive qualities and abilities than biological human intelligence. There are things that humans can do, but AI can’t. AI will be more capable, but still, there are things that AI can’t easily copy such as making moral decisions or inventing something on their will.

The idea of creating human-like technology has a long history to trace back. This idea emerged during and after World War II when scientists like Alan Turing, a British mathematician, discovered that machines could become more than just computing systems. The Turing Test is one of the most important philosophical cornerstones of artificial intelligence and modern computation.

During wartime, technology creted by mathematicians and scientists like Alan Turing helped to break the Nazi’s codes that were regarded unbrekable with human computation skills. It was unfortunate to lose one of the most innovative thinkers in the 20th century from accidental poisoning. His sexual orientation as a gay man was violating laws during that time to the extent putting him not only under stress but also to a criminal charge.

Turing’s story inspired many people to pursue their careers in artificial intelligence, make movies like the Imitation Game, and establish the Alan Turing Institute, one of largest national institutes for data science and artificial intelligence in the United Kingdom. It is a joint venture with leading universities including Oxford and Cambridge with initial £600M investment. The specific role of the Institute is to provide the expertise and fundamental research into data science and artificial intelligenceg that are needed to solve the complex real-world problems.

Perhaps, true artificial intelligence doesn’t exist yet. The word, the singularity, doesn’t stick to one specific meaning, elther. Scientists have laid down principles that have molded the historical record of the relationship between humans and the machines to solve the problems. It may all depend on the context. But, the singularity describes a future that technology growth is reaching out to a new level of massive advancement at one point.

Now, the notion of the singularity leaves the question whether we can control it or what not. Will we ever control the world with our minds or can we even take control of our future? Perhaps not. However, the consequences of the singularity and its potential benefit or harm to humans have been vastly debated over and over. Many tech companies like Google throw their weight behind a new school like the Singularity University or the Alan Turing Institute. That will help forerunners prepare for a future when machines become smarter than humans. We just don’t know when, but it will surely come.

The singularity Is near. In a few years, AI will help significantly speed up complex decision-making and make people more productive. AI will make humans smarter and more efficient. The singularity at the core may not be the ultimate no man’s land. Many researchers would agree that current forms of AI cannot have their own emotions, but they could mimic it. Hence, human Intelligence should also relate to adaptive learning and experience like machines do. There are many qualities in humans that AI cannot easily replace at any point in time, though.

One of the most important prerequisites for the singularity is education. We shall invest in education to train people for a new future. MIT alone invests $1 billion into a new school devoted to AI. Tech leaders spend nearly $20 billion on AI per year. There is no downturn in sight. If we understand what AI is capable of and understand the this domain well, we can start make further discernment of what AI can truly do, not that we just fear about it. More precisely, we must lead it.

École 42: Learning How to Learn

École 42 is unlike any other school in France. When it first started, people could have laughed about it. École 42 has now more than 15,000 students in over 25 countries with 42 campuses. It is recognized as one of the best coding schools in the world. École 42 operates as a tuition-free non-profit computer coding school. Applicants ages between 18 and 30 get admitted through a competitive entrance procedure as only 4 out 100 applicants are admitted. It could take 2 to 4 years to complete the program. However, most of École 42 students can’t finish the program because they land a job before the end of their program. Good quality developers that employers really need are in short supply and there is a huge digital skill gap that École 42 tries to address.

École 42 aims to inspire and educate the future digital generation with an innovative, accessible, and affordable learning experience. École 42 is motivational and entertaining for people who have an appetite to learn. The learner’s reaction has been very positive. Now, it operates globally and tries to keep up with the same level of quality all across the world. École 42 has no teachers, no scheduled classes, and no books. There is a team that carefully designs the gamified curriculum and with an effective pedagogical plan. Curriculum is deeply rooted in project-based learning that is best suited in a collaborative peer-to-peer learning environment.

École 42 encourages people to learn how to learn. It means developing skills to stay relevant and curious about challenging questions in our generation. Learning how to learn helps learners build up confidence and brain muscle for any challenge coming their way. Curriculum is fun to follow as long as learners are willing to tackle a quest after quest. Learners get points when they complete projects in the curriculum. It gives a sense of achievement and also unlocks more projects in the specialization tracks. That way, learners can quickly master different skills and build their portfolio as their tangible achievement to show to a potential recruiter. Learners can also figure out where they stand by comparing their levels in the cohort.

Once admitted, there is a mandatory experience that you have to participate in called Piscine even if you can start anytime. Piscine in French means swimming pool. Piscine helps learners dive into coding and learn how to swim out from this deep water with help from your peers. Piscine is like a four-week long boot camp. During this period, learners will discover the basics of coding from scratch, but it also filters out those unwilling to progress. Piscine is an intensive process and, therefore, it is not possible for learners to engage or spend time on other commitments or jobs simultaneously. No prerequisites of any kind are required. No degrees, nor prior coding training are needed. There is no fixed limit of applicants. So, if you make it, you make it.

Xavier Niel, the man behind École 42, is a French entrepreneur and self-made billionaire. He is a partner of Delphine Arnault, a daughter of Europe’s richest man, Bernard Arnault of LVMH. Mr. Niel also spearheaded the creation of Station F, the world’s largest startup incubator at la Halle Freyssinet, an old rail freight depot apart from his founding work and major ownership of Free, second-largest Internet service provider and third largest mobile operator in France. He also owns significant shares of Le Monde and sits on the board of KKR (Kohlberg Kravis Roberts) and URM (Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield). His modest upbringing was the inspiration behind his education venture, École 42. He has emphasized on the need for a school that allows anyone to start out on an equal footing. He believed that anyone could become a great coder if they possess only two things: logical thinking and their will to pull through.

In the creative economy, a diploma is not something that you can objectively judge somebody whether they can do a job or not. Diploma is evidence showing that those who have earned it have followed the rules well. In contrast, entrepreneurs are rule breakers as entrepreneurs are always trying to find ways of doing things differently and they often say that any conventional rules shouldn’t apply to them. Pedigree has no meaning to them in today’s context of the technocracy. Engineers and advocates of the lowest-ranked castes from India, for example, say that tech industries don’t care about caste and haven’t discriminated against anyone as long as they are capable of delivering the result. École 42 also breaks all the rules for educating software engineers.

Thirst for an exciting and lucrative career is a powerful motivator. Career aspiration drives the market for education of many types from a competitive kindergarten to elite university. This is simple and enriching to hear this “if you are in, you’ll be a success.” École 42 sounds like a compelling and alternative route to become a successful software developer. Though, coding is not a job. The requirements among employers could vary and individual positions would require different skills. Employers still value conventional credentials. They may call for sophisticated or specialized skills like advanced mathematics or the entire life-cycle of software development with specific and proprietary tools that can be rigorously obtained in higher education. Partner companies could apply for real-life challenges to be included into the curriculum but knowledge foundation and archives created or accumulated by leading institutions are crucial ingredients for a holistic learning experience, too.

Quite recently, I am thrilled to engage with a new education venture in Wales much inspired by École 42. Wales is a country in Great Britain that has a distinctive culture including its own language, customs, politics, festivals and music. Their rich history, culture, and heritage can be combined with the latest digital technologies as it can be enjoyed by a broader audience with no limit. Welsh culture is full of traditions and legends. In Wales, heritage is something that refuses to be contained in museums or dusty books. Wherever we turn, we will appreciate a rich and complex history from the remains of grand estates built by aristocrats and industrialists. Wales was the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution and many great modern inventions were created there. Wales has adopted many new cultural artifacts, but it is like a well-kept secret with its identity and many local traditions that can be a cradle for the powerful new creative economy. Innovative education can bring in talents and opportunities to this beautiful country. We must invest in education as education could solve a complex puzzle and inspire positive social changes. 

HARVARD IS FREE

What if Harvard is free? To be specific, Harvard tuition is literally free to students from low income families. Harvard University renewed its efforts and announced the plan a decade ago that undergraduate students from low-income families would pay no tuition. For families who earn between $65,000 and $150,000, the expected contribution is somewhere between zero and 10% of families’ annual income. That said, if families earn below $65,000 per year, students won’t pay anything. The goal is to bring the most promising students to Harvard and ensure that any admitted students could afford their full Harvard experience with no burden on their shoulders.

Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale live up to images of elitism, exclusivity, and excellence. Attending one of these schools is a dream for many, but the cost of attending is dreadful. Attending Harvard, for example, costs upwards of $51,000 in tuition fees. In addition, room & board and other university fees bring up the total price tag more than $80,000 per year. Yet, this is not the most expensive one. Columbia University in the City of New York, for example, could add another $10,000 to Harvard’s tuition. To sum it up, a Harvard degree can cost more than $300,000 per student if they have to pay the cost in full. 

An Ivy League school degree is more than just a social cachet. It paves the road to a great-paying job or more advanced post-graduate degree program. Many parents think that Ivy league education is an amazing investment by nearly any measure. But, it does not always come cheap. Harvard claims that its admission process is entirely need-blind and it is willing to support students and reduce their cost burden. On average, $53,000 was disbursed to students and more than half of the students enrolled at Harvard receive need-based scholarships. As Harvard is committed to diversity and inclusion, it aims to invite top students with different social backgrounds. Harvard admission is completely based on merit, not money. 

Harvard is a well-funded school by its prestigious endowment program that has scaled up to $53.2 billion. Harvard Management Company returned 33.6% on its investments in fiscal year 2021. This is a monumental financial gain of over $11 billion just in one year. The endowment receives philanthropic gifts donated to support specific aspects of Harvard’s teaching and research. Without doubt, these gifts connect scholars and students from diverse backgrounds and make them land on an opportunity at Harvard. In the 2021 fiscal year alone, $597 million was granted to students in financial aid and scholarships. The endowment is a critical pillar of any funding needs at Harvard, making up more than one third of Harvard’s revenue. 

Any major university endowment is structured to exist in perpetuity. Universities shall continue to rely on the endowment’s earning potentials. Any excess or value appreciation is retained in the endowment so that it can continue to support future generations. The endowment is carefully managed and guided by the principles of intergenerational equity. The majority of 14,000 funders behind the Harvard endowment have specified that their gifts must support a particular cause such as endowed professorships. The sole purpose of the endowment should belong to students and scholars who will shape the future. 

Higher education is a costly endeavor. Most parents will give everything to ensure their children are well educated to succeed. Any external resource would help them to cover the cost of expensive education. The endowment is often misunderstood as a free checkbook, though, but that is not how the endowment is supposed to operate. The endowment has blossomed but it has to continue seeding fairer admissions and making education more equitable. Elite schools have amassed huge wealth and also enjoyed a tax-free nature of a university endowment. Hence, many argue that elite schools like Harvard have a moral obligation to prioritize egalitarian education opportunities even if it could impact their bottom line.

In 2016, Ron Unz, a tech entrepreneur and political activist, organized the “Free Harvard, Fair Harvard” campaign seeking for free tuition fees at Harvard and greater transparency in the admissions process even if he didn’t make it to the board. Claims persist that this free tuition proposal would raise awareness of Harvard as an option for students who may not have considered the Ivy League before. Others also argue that college education should be free with government support. Germany tops the list of countries where one can pursue higher education at no cost. Federal financial aid and scholarships help students afford college. Otherwise, rising tuition costs would bury students or supporting families in debt, raising questions about college’s true value. The economic downturn is poised to worsen the college affordability crisis and widen the opportunity gap between low and high-income households. 

Harvard, like many elite Ivy League universities, has used financial incentives and diversity goals to stimulate the admission of students with high intelligence and potential from modest backgrounds. We’re obsessed with high-status winner-take-all sentiment. Few at the top often get so much more than the rest. I won’t harp on the many themes of exclusivity on Ivy League experiences as college education is not a must-have for wealth and success anymore. However, elite institutions like Harvard continue competing for talent because Harvard lives up to its reputation of admitting the best students and nurturing them to do great things. Harvard has demonstrated this through holistic review in its admissions process as the key to unlocking a diverse educational experience. This is an extremely privileged phenomenon in college admissions reserved for elite institutions with excessive resources required to evaluate college applications and offer ‘almost free’ education to the best of the best in a very thoughtful way. Minds can change and institutions will grow over time. Harvard could be completely free in the talent age as money shouldn’t be an issue to recruit highly talented future leaders.  

LEADING FOR THE FUTURE: POLICY ENTREPRENEURSHIP

2021 was an unforgettable year. Covid-19 pandemic has left many of us with a great deal of uncertainty. We’re all different in how much uncertainty we can tolerate in life. Do our life and work situations look uncertain? Let’s be honest. They always are. We need to look within ourselves to find the certainty we need. 

Leaders are not born, but made. Leaders need skills in planning for the unexpected. Leaders must demonstrate a spirit of purpose and optimism to reinforce the idea that we could have a better future out of any uncertainty. 

Leadership cannot be taught. But, leaders must learn how to deal with growing uncertainty and complexity in the world by anchoring the experience in other leaders’ personal leadership stories. Developing the next generation of leaders is critical to the success of further education at all levels. Leading for the future can be only achieved from what we learn and practice today.

Personal development is the process of learning and self-improvement, which focuses on building up my own awareness, knowledge, and skills, as well as an overall sense of self-identity. Some activities could include anything from developing a new talent or fulfilling personal aspirations by improving health conditions and lifestyle or learning a new skill, instrument, or foreign language. 

To me, personal development refers to the learning of professional or academic credentials in a form of annual study retreat, which can be achieved independently, or gained along with a cohort within the workplace or academic setting. I continue to embark on studying for a new degree, gaining a professional qualification, or attending conferences and events. 

I am already in my mid 40s but I am still passionate about learning something new. However, learning goals without specific actions are only wishes. In addition, without a group dynamic, learning is mostly useless to me. I take each learning goal seriously from my own assessment and write down the necessary action plan to fit into my personal leadership development plan. That is my annual ritual at the beginning of the year. 

I try to ensure that I identify potential impediments as well as resources – such as key people in my network or targeted leadership training programs that could help me to learn with the like-minded as well as a group of diverse people with different perspectives. Learning aspirations should also fit into the timeline for goals in my leadership development plan. So far, my learning goals have been fairly well integrated in my professional and personal life over years. I am content but I still feel hunger for learning.

Leadership is in demand. The complex challenges that come after teams, organizations, and societies are demanding new ways of thinking about how to shape the future. The starting point for people who want to constantly develop their leadership qualities is an insight into what’s going on inside my own unconsciousness. Without that no one will be able to understand what goes on inside anyone else, let alone the complexity of behavioral consequence that follows that. 

Perhaps, digging into the emotions and unconsciousness has not been central to leadership development up until now. It is difficult and uncomfortable especially in formal business or political leadership settings. Especially in Asia, we’ve been taught to suppress our emotions and not disclose them to others if they irritate us or frustrate us. We often tell people “I’m fine” or “I’m ok”, when we are not ok. We often hide our feelings and thoughts from other people. We feel awkward as a result, but these hidden feelings and thoughts also drive our behaviors. 

That said, leading for the future is not about the latest technologies that we currently develop, but about the ability to notice our own feelings, emotions, and motivations and to read and sense the same in other people. Some might have called this mindful leadership. Being mindful helps us to detach ourselves from situations and specific circumstances rather than being immersed in mindless conflicts or arguments. Ultimately, with this mindful approach, we could better take control of our own destiny and influence the outcomes of our team and organization.

This coming year, we will see that new leadership takes shape and faces as many complex assignments as the position would allow. By the end of the presidential term, I hope to see that they say that they have gained tremendous knowledge and built lasting relationships which could go the extra mile beyond their presidential term or political career. I would like to elect someone who could train and mentor others, not weigh down people with different ideas. 

I also want that new leadership acts like a policy entrepreneur. Policy entrepreneur is an energetic actor who engages in collaborative efforts in and around government to promote policy innovations. In recent years, major challenges have become a major driving force for designing innovation policies for the nation. 

The societal-challenge of innovation, often labeled as transformative innovation, has exposed the limitations of the existing government to deal with such challenges, resulting in a call for new policy approaches. 

Directionality is important. Directionality is often acknowledged as an essential component of contemporary innovation policy-making. Questions have been raised about how and by whom the directionality of innovation policy is supposed to be set. Despite considerable attention on this matter, contributions have not reached the critical mass of the policy process of directionality. We haven’t fully examined empirical cases to investigate directionality in practice, either. 

Over 20 years of leadership experience investing, operating and scaling companies as an entrepreneurial venture capitalist, I’ve learned that venture capital is all about bringing in new management and helping change direction at a pivotal moment. To attract the best policy talents after the election is complete, it’s important to have a clear point of view beyond just making best wishes for economic prosperity or selling a vote-winning political agenda. What new leadership is supposed to do as a policy entrepreneur is to align with the nation’s grand vision with a clear sense of directionality. That is what I will vote for.

M-Commerce, a War On A Tiny Screen 

5.5 inch. That’s the size that we’re talking about as the average size of smartphones. It tends to grow by 0.1 inch year over year. The boundary between smartphone and tablet devices might be blurring. Tablet market sees modest growth as a tablet has a much longer refresh cycle than a smartphone as newer models only offer nothing more than minor spec upgrades lately. 

Mobile game development is a profitable industry. All game developers and publishers are striving towards making the next big success. Developing and monetizing mobile games are getting more complicated. Game development method is a complex process. Putting game plays on a tiny little screen requires more simplicity while customer expectations are high as they long for more immersive experiences and sophisticated visual impact on a tiny little screen. 

There is no doubt on how advanced mobile apps and the digital ecosystem in China have contributed to set the nation on a right path towards a swift growth of mobile Internet.

Over 90% of digital e-commerce sales are now done through mobile devices in China versus approximately 50% in the U.S. Smartphone users in China are approximately 930 million while the U.S. totals 270 million. The U.S. smartphone penetration is over 80%, but China has more room to grow as its smartphone penetration rate is yet only above 60%. China is on the fast track to become a mobile first nation faster than anyone else bypassing the PC-based Internet era.  

Alipay and WeChat are known as de facto standard super apps in the Greater China. Other popular apps such as Meituan (food) and Didi (ride-hailing) are quickly joining this circle of superpower.

As Apple and Google have done with their App Store and Play Store, the main app acts as a window accessing the world of mobile Internet and contains many sub apps or mini programs developed either by the main app operator or a third-party partner. 

Super apps essentially act as a single best route to a wide range of ‘mobile first’ lifestyles. You can chat and socialize with friends, read news, learn a new hobby, buy stuff, pay bills, make investments, book a taxi, order food, check COVID-19 health status, or make donations. People can do everything they can think of with super apps and see less reason to be on a mobile web browser or sit in front of a computer. You may get a new computer once every 5 to 6 years, but the smartphone replacement cycle is much shorter than that. Smartphone’s computing power and data capability will surpass personal computers soon.

Consumers want convenience and simplicity. Like a mobile game, mobile commerce service providers should make their user experience simple and frictionless on a tiny little screen. Consumers want their goods to be delivered as quickly, safely, conveniently and cheaply as possible.

Consumers’ overall mobile experience would play a critical role to convert prospects into leads. Primary product purchase decisions are made within their tiny little screen, rather than a store or a wide computer screen. So visual design, images, headlines and functional information are all important to communicate the brand’s personality and attractiveness, but all their communications have to be optimized for mobile audiences to be fully engaged and to make them willingly pay for products and services. 

Alibaba achieved $84.5 billion in sales over the Singles Day shopping festival campaign. Growth rate this year was much lower (8.5%) than the previous years due to tightening regulation of tech companies in China. 9 out of 10 shoppers joined this shopping spree at their own comfort on their palms.

People speed swipe on shopping apps for different reasons. The majority of decisions to stay or not were made in a second based on looks and attractiveness of the deals offered by brands or retailers. Again, a large sum of shopping was all done on a tiny little screen of their smartphones in their pocket anywhere and anytime.

Live commerce and short form video social networks are also transforming online shopping into more interactive, fun, and entertaining experiences and that’s what social commerce is all about. Sales from live commerce sales have already reached $157 billion. Again, they were mostly done on a tiny little screen. 

Therefore, let’s forget any content production method that belongs to the old legacy e-commerce era if you really want to play the long game in the mobile age. What could have worked for PC-based e-commerce won’t be relevant anymore for next generation mobile consumers.

Retailers would find a way to survive by offering excellent customer service and different experiential elements that physical retail can only offer. Retailers will increasingly put more emphasis on people on the move and give more incentives to those who are willing to reveal their footprints throughout their customer journey across the border between on and offline.

It is not really about how much money people would spend but how much time and attention span brands and retailers could win over on a tiny little screen. So, let’s think of how to win over the war on a 5.5 inch screen, all else is not necessary.