Text body - interviews
Interview with Garrett Johnston
link to Forum 2010 video with Garrett Johnston
The technological singularity is basically a point in time when the speed of growth of artificial intelligence overtakes the speed of growth of biological intelligence or human intelligence, in this particular case. Even artificial intelligence is built which passes what’s called the Turing test. The Turing test was a test to determine whether or not an artificial intelligence had become truly human-like or not: if you’re speaking with an artificial intelligence, do you know, can you sense, can you feel, whether or not you’re speaking to a human being?
Singularity is basically the point in time when that level of intelligence, so – the level of intelligence predicted by the Turing test, is realized in a completely artificial way. Theoretically, such intelligence could reproduce itself in micro-seconds. So, from that point on, artificial intelligence just goes like this (up), and human intelligence is still going like this (horizontally).
Cataclysmic event – you had pre-humans, so, on the Darwinian scale: quadrupeds, like this (the sound of chimps: “hu-hu”), now you have human beings, and then you have post-humans: a combination of artificial intelligence and human intelligence. People already have artificial hearts, and artificial limbs, and so on.
Various people have given various data as to when the singularity will happen. Many people say it will never happen because they say that recreating the human brain is something that no artificial intelligence will ever be able to do, or that its effect will be so staggered, that it will not feel like an event arising.
I think it’s more like in 2050-ies, and the 2020-ies to the 2030-ies… I think it will come, but it won’t come all at once, it will come gradually, but if you look backwards at that gradual happening, and you look at it from a macro perspective, where a decade is like this (a centimeter), it will seem like one event.
What we’ve tried to do is – we’ve recognized, in our business at least, we’ve recognized that we’re selling internet capacity, we’re selling minutes of traffic, minutes of voice traffic, or text messages. As a commoditizing business – with its price revolts all the time, we are still making further profit, because the entry barrier wasn’t high, but the entry barrier isn’t going down. Even, it’s suicidal to focus only on our core tent relations products! We’re trying to understand the reasons why people consume minutes of traffic and text messages. I was speaking to somebody outside. I said: we’d be like Coca-Cola, yet not focusing on the drink, but focusing on why people get thirsty, or trying to create ways that people get thirsty.
The real question about the consumer is: Does he have to be creative? I think the only creative consumers are consumers who haven’t really thought about what’s available or what could be cool. It’s even better: most of the “marketing industry” has been built on the promise that you have 3, or 4, or 5, or 6 variations of something. And that’s it. But if you have consumers who are being recommended things that are so rare that they would never be on a shop shelf, you can never go to a physical shop and buy them, because it’s like they occupy a place under 3 million, or million and 22 thousand on the best-seller list, but they’ve been sent directly to you, then you become much more demanding in terms of what you want. So, it’s just a question of making the choice easier and more accurate for the consumer, because that actually is more profitable for the other side. They’re not giving discounts to people who do not need discounts; they can forecast how many dog-food packages they need in the shop, because they’ve thought about the customers, so you know how the dog-food they have to sell is just gone at the end of the week. That works for everybody, I mean – it reduces friction.
We had a meeting in MTC about a year ago, and there was a big discussion going on about whether MTC, as a mobile operator, should get into the music business, and the discussion seemed to be going like yes, MTC should, MTC should enter the music business, with its own ground. And after that I said: How many people in the room know the difference between SMS and MMS? And, of course, everybody put up a hand. I said: OK, how many people in the room understand the difference between deep house and electric trance? And nobody did. In the room. Well, if we don’t know the difference between deep house and electric trance, then I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to get into the music business.
The crisis, right? The so-called crisis – we can see that in this crisis, companies who have learned to talk, even in a very primitive and un-precise level, to the segment of one customer, are doing very well in the crisis, and the companies that have not learned to do that, are not doing well.
I drive down “Prospect Mira” in Moscow, in December, and they have this huge banner across the roadway, saying: “2009 Jaguar, for sale, 20% discount”. Why is the Jaguar for sale at 20% discount? Because it’s a colour that nobody wants. Why did they make that colour that nobody wants? Because they messed-up on forecast. Would it not be better, if they were able to build a car quickly that never needs to be on the sale price, because it’s, right down to the last detail, exactly what you wanted. Consumer is happier, manufacturer is happier, everybody is happier.
And the retailers that can understand or even forecast what you might like are going to take a lot of the work from the consumer to try to, himself, forecast what he likes or doesn’t like. And if you knew, for example, the consumer doesn’t want to bother to forecast what he likes or doesn’t like. It’s amazing. Now, I do bother to forecast in music what I like and I don’t like, and I know quite a lot about music, and I was still amazed at some of the stuff that came through – I would have had no interest in it whatsoever, I started listening to it, and I got hooked. You understand then that you’re (or you see that you become) a person whose tastes and interests actually may be quite different from other people’s, you are not as much of a standard or the person you thought to be. It will drive a whole new generation of consumer thinking that says: “I’m different.” There’s something very powerful in that.
So, I think for the very advanced consumer, the person who has already been to Rome and Paris and knows their preferences, knows themselves very well and talks to themselves a lot, even for those people that can “throw up” amazing things, for the lazy consumer or the uncreative, whatever you wanna call him – it’s a Revolution! And that’s something you can see today, already, for sure!
A guy comes up to your apartment in Moscow, presses the door bell, downstairs in the apartment. You are inside Africa – you are not home. He is a burglar and wants to see if anybody’s home. What it does, it takes the door bell press, converts it to a mobile call, sends it back to you inside Africa – now you can answer, and for the guy, he doesn’t know if you’re into the apartment or not. If he is a legitimate visitor, I can allow him into the apartment. I can see him on the camera, a very cheap camera, but still I’d love to see if someone’s there or not. If he’s in the apartment, like a tradesman or whatever, and – I can make sure the door is locked and I can reset the alarms, actually, and I can do all this from inside Africa.
Time travel. The crazy thing is that it has already been done. They put up an SR-71, an American very, very high speed jet aircraft – they put an atomic clock on it, and they put another atomic clock on the ground, and they measured the passage of time on board the aircraft versus the passage of time on board the ground. And they found the time had slowed down on the aircraft. So the first, yeah, but that’s already happened – the measurable time travel has taken place. Does that mean people will do time travel? May be, may be not. But it’s happened!
There’s a lot of progress going on in all these areas at the same time. And then works are getting faster, the ability of the brain-scan to be non-invasive is getting more sophisticated, the range of thoughts and emotions that we cover – a little wider, the devices are getting smaller, and the communication network is going cheaper and more powerful. I mean, it’s all happening at the same time.
So, for me, things like that become more a question of “when”, than “if”.
And should it become a tradition? – I think it’s good – any form that allows people to meet outside their home country: we are in Switzerland at the moment, and interact with lots of nationalities, as we see here, and discuss things that are of very high importance, you know, both morally and economically, I think that’s a good thing to do.
And if I wanted to make this a really unique event – I would make it something that has more attraction to people who are outside this narrow sphere of communication.
So, I wouldn’t call it “Communication on top”, I would call it “Communication on the bottom”, because communication is in the neighbourhood that allows all the better stuff to happen.