Singularity Institute

Given my recent almost obsessive interest in the coming Artificial Intelligence revolution I don’t know how I missed hearing about the recent Singularity Conference in Palo Alto, let alone missed hearing about the Singularity Institute.

Thankfully they’ve recorded all the talks so I’ll participate virtually when those go online.

I’ve been wondering why there has been so little fuss about the implications of a robust AI entity, since it seems fairly obvious to me that it will quickly dwarf our feeble human intellectual capacity and therefore usher in a new and very promising era of efficiency, hindered only by the human tendency to be skeptical of key innovations.   My working assumption based on talking with (mostly highly educated) folks is that AI “detractors” fall into two basic groups – the first is by far the largest and composed of those that are basically ignorant about how technology has affected human development over the past few thousand years.    They simply have not spent much time reflecting on how technology has been the key driver of humanity, especially over the past century as the industrial revolution and globalization have been the dominant forces shaping our economic, political, and societal landscapes.    The second group are those that are more familiar than I with programming and technology, are generally very accepting of how technology is revolutionizing the world, yet remain skeptical of the implications of the coming conscious computing and robust AI revolution.     I’m still puzzling over this but think it may be related to a failure to understand the limitations of human biology and neuroscience.   Even a brilliant computer programmer can be a prisoner to the notion that the human brain and human intellect  somehow remain “outside” of normal mechanistic explanations.  Programmers, especially those with religious leanings, may find it hard to accept the insignificance of our human intellects until the machines are already making this abundantly, and sometimes painfully, obvious.

The good news is that unlike previous sea change technologies a massively smart AI will be able to lobby for and explain why the innovations it will bring to the table are in the best interests of humanity, and presumably will quickly gain the wisdom needed to “outwit” those who will immediately and irrationally argue against human interaction with machine intelligences.

C’mon Yahoo, C’mon Yang! This investor is still optimistic!

WSJ’s recent Yahoo story does not sound very optimistic about Yahoo’s potential to recapture the former glory Yahoo enjoyed in terms of stock price. The gist is that new CEO Yang is not going to “overhaul” the company, especially in the area of advertising sales where Yahoo clearly has enormous potential for bigger profits, and even a shot at eventually co-dominating the online advertising landscape.

It is this potential that interests me as a YHOO investor. Google’s done a fine job of monetizing internet activity in the search space, and GOOG’s capitalization of some 160 billion dollars reflects this fact. Yahoo was arguably too early to the PPC game with the purchase of Overture – the early leader in the PPC space. My assumption is that this kept Yahoo from innovating aggressively and allowed Google to sweep in with their contextual matching brilliancy and eat Yahoo’s PPC profit lunch. This feast continues despite the fact that Yahoo retains a significant portion of total online search activity and also remains in a position to monetize a large amount of other types of internet traffic.

Also, Yahoo’s making great strides in the Web 2.0 space thanks to a kick-ass developer team. Yahoo’s Flickr remains the best photo sharing application with a huge community. If Yahoo could use their 2.0 cleverness to crack the nut of better monetizing the traffic spawned by Flickr and even other non-Yahoo online communities like Myspace or Facebook it would be helpful to the bottom line.

Yahoo remains capitalized at a small fraction of Google – about 20%. This is consistent with the pessimism expressed in the WSJ article but does not seem consistent with Yahoo’s profit potential in the exploding world of online advertising.

There used to be a game where Yahoo employees would sneak into the Google lunch room to eat a free and delicious Google lunch. Jerry Yang, how about providing a free lunch at Yahoo and then focusing the employee’s attention on taking back all those free and delicious PPC profits?

Less glibly I’d suggest you focus on the Yahoo Publisher Network evangelism and monetization. So far Yahoo has failed – fairly dramatically – to gain publisher interest and loyalty in this lucrative sector of online advertising. Google adsense publishers are ripe for change and innovation in this space. Make it so!