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Last week, former Google and Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt, MIT computer science professor Daniel Huttenlocher, and retired political advisor and diplomat Henry Kissinger (yup, that one) co-authored an editorial for the Wall Street Journal. The headline announced that “ChatGPT heralds an intellectual revolution” which the authors compare to the historical Age of Enlightenment.
If it’s been a bit since you brushed up on your world history, the Enlightenment was the intellectual and philosophical movement that took place across 17th and 18th Century Europe, which included major advancements and innovations like René Descartes rationalist philosophy, Newtonian physics and mathematics, Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations,” and pretty much all of the political and social ideas which informed both the French and American Revolutions. In other words, comparing anything to the Age of Enlightenment is a big claim. The authors further compare generative AI applications, specifically OpenAI’s ChatGPT, with historical developments on the level of Gutenberg’s printing press, and argue that its significance “transcends commercial implications or even noncommercial scientific breakthroughs.”
Rather than basing the bulk of their argument on data, or any kind of specific observations about the way ChatGPT currently operates, the authors make a more philosophical, even metaphysical, case. They write that, because software like ChatGPT works by drawing connections and patterns between a vast number of sources and primary texts, “the precise sources and reasons for any one representation’s particular features remain unknown.”
For Schmidt, Huttenlocher, and Kissinger, the mystery is the key. That, even the humans that built ChatGPT can’t ever fully understand exactly why the program issued its specific responses, as opposed to variations based on different source materials, the authors argue, represents an entirely new kind of thinking and cognition. “AI,” they claim, “when coupled with human reason, stands to be a more powerful means of discovery than human reason alone.”
This may ultimately prove accurate, of course, but the authors are largely taking it on faith. They offer fanciful future predictions about generative AI like this one: “It will alter many fields of human endeavor, for example education and biology. Different models will vary in their strengths and weaknesses. Their capabilities—from writing jokes and drawing paintings to designing antibodies—will likely continue to surprise us.”
While it’s true that no humans are picking about the full predictive maps of all patterns and sources that ChatGPT uses to respond to each query, it’s not exactly the unknowable mystery box that the authors imply. The app makes sense of human writing by reading thousands upon thousands of examples, then works out how to compose original sentences via guesswork, using math to “predict” which words should appear one after another in which order, with the explicit purpose of mimicking human speech. It doesn’t understand what it’s saying contextually at all, and making the implication that the software is capable of “writing jokes” comes right up to the edge of being actively misleading. Can you write a joke if you don’t understand what you’re saying, or why things are funny?
Schmidt, Huttenlocher, and Kissinger aren’t alone in extolling the wonders of AI and looking ahead to a promising future for the technology. In fact, this seems to be the only story a lot of publications are eager to tell about AI. A quick Google search for the latest news about AI apps, particularly if you add the secondary keyword “predictions,” produces a bevy of hopefully optimistic results promising everything from improved digital assistants to fully functional driverless cars to 90% of Hollywood content being designed by bots.
Even when raising potential red flags around the technology, a lot of press reports start out with some basic assumptions. Namely, that artificial intelligence is already here, it’s going to very quickly get much much more sophisticated, and therefore will prove a significant potential threat to jobs and cybersecurity and social equity and our sense of self as humans and possibly even our very lives.
This, of course, echoes some of the statements made by OpenAI co-founder Elon Musk close to a decade ago. On CNBC’s “Closing Bell” in 2014, Musk said he keeps a cautious eye on AI development due to concern about “scary outcomes,” name-checking James Cameron’s “Terminator” franchise. (That’s the one about a future in which artificially intelligent defense system SkyNet declares war on humanity and sends robots through time to kill off our leaders.) In 2017, two years after starting OpenAI, Musk tweeted that the primary aspiration for those working with the technology is “to avoid AI becoming the other.”
As anyone who has seen one of those Boston Dynamics demos, that’s a scary thought. No one wants to fistfight a machine. Still, there’s another story about OpenAI and ChatGPT and these latest developments which isn’t getting nearly the same level of coverage as their peak decade-plus moonshot potential or even their inherent dangers when fully realized. Viral apps like ChatGPT, Microsoft’s new AI-assisted Bing search engine, and OpenAI’s DALL-E image generator may be fascinating and useful, but they don’t actually represent “artificial intelligence” as most readers have come to understand the concept.
For all that they're thrown around on the 2023 Internet, terms like “machine learning” and “artificial intelligence” haven’t been clearly defined and aren’t used in any kind of consistent way. When some app developers or computer scientists say “artificial intelligence,” what they really mean is any kind of mechanical or digital application that can perceive, synthesize, and infer information. Some technologies that meet this definition have been around long enough to become relatively mundane. Take optical character recognition, in which a computer can scan a handwritten letter and turn it into a text document. That meets the definition of AI but you’re not trying to have a conversation with your scanner.
But when a lot of laypeople use or read the term “artificial intelligence,” they’re thinking of something specific. Very likely, many of them are thinking of what’s known as “Artificial General Intelligence” or AGI, which is basically a digital mind that’s capable of the same kinds of understanding as a human (or, in some cases, an animal) brain. Many academics and researchers consider this the same thing as achieving true consciousness and self-awareness, though there are some nuances and distinctions here that are too complicated to get into here.
When Elon Musk frets on TV about SkyNet, it’s actually AGI that he’s worried about. Ideas about artificial general intelligence also tend to get caught up in notions about The Singularity, a hypothetical point in the future when technology becomes capable of self-innovation and humans entirely lose control over our creations. This may all very well be coming down the road one day. But we’re not there yet. A 2022 survey of experts in the field of technology and AI research found that around 50% believe high-level machine intelligence will occur by 2059, long after future humans will have become bored with trying to get Bing search to tell them a joke or call them a racial slur.
But for the most part, the technology press seems more interested in cheerleading, exchanging wide-eyed predictions about our automated future for cheap clicks. Rather than helping readers to understand where AI development is now and where it could one day go, breathlessly excited headlines extoll the wonders on our doorstep and invite misleading comparisons between sophisticated prediction algorithms and sentient computers.
Chatbots have certainly come a long way since their debut in the 1960s and ‘70s, and it’s easy to conceive of scenarios in which they can be expressly helpful. But they are not alive and they do not have feelings, and it’s basically impossible for this development to even occur in their current form. Giving them names like “Sydney” and posing queries that encourage them to go off-script and have seemingly-emotional reactions to prompts can make them feel “alive” but it’s only an illusion. ChatGPT is far closer to Clippy 3.0 than Samanta the sexy operating system from “Her.”
It’s understandable of course why founders and entrepreneurs would be interested in selling the public on the grandest possible vision of AI and what it can do. When OpenAI CEO Sam Altman tweets about “the amount of intelligence in the universe” doubling every 18 months and his personal plans for AGI, he’s got a company to promote and investors to please. It’s traditionally been the role of journalists and the media to step in and actually clarify where we are and how close we’ve actually come to achieving those goals, so the entire world doesn’t get completely carried away by the hype.
According to a Forbes report last April, both the viewership and dollars behind women’s sports at a collegiate and professional level are growing.
In 2022, the first 32 games of the NCAA tournament had record attendance levels, breaking records set back in 2004, and largely driven by the new and rapidly growing women’s NCAA tournament. WNBA openers this year saw a 21% spike in attendance, with some teams including the LA Sparks reporting triple-digit ticket sales growth, about 121% over 2022’s total. In 2023, the average size of an LA Sparks crowd swelled to 10,396 people, up from 4,701 people.
Women make up half the population, but “also 50% of the folks that are walking into the stadium at Dodger Stadium, or your NFL fans are just about 50% women,” noted Erin Storck, a panelist and senior analyst at Los Angeles-based Elysian Park Ventures.
Storck added that in heterosexual households, women generally manage most of the family’s money, giving them huge purchasing power, a potential advantage for female-run leagues. “There's an untapped revenue opportunity,” she noted.
In the soccer world, Los Angeles-based women’s soccer team Angel City FC has put in the work to become a household name, not just in LA County but across the nation. At an LA Tech Week panel hosted by Athlete Strategies about investing in sports, Angel City head of strategy and chief of staff Kari Fleischauer said that years before launching the women’s National Women’s Soccer League team, Angel City FC was pounding the pavement letting people know about the excitement ladies soccer can bring. She noted community is key, and that fostering a sense of engagement and safety at the team’s home venue, BMO stadium (formerly Banc of California Stadium), is one reason fans keep coming back.
Adding free metro rides to BMO stadium and private rooms for nursing fans to breastfeed or fans on the spectrum to avoid sensory overload, were just some of the ways ACFC tried to include its community in the concept of its stadium, Fleischauer said. She noted, though, that roughly 46% of Angel City fans are “straight white dudes hanging out with their bros.”
“Particularly [on] the woman's side, I'd like to think we do a better job of making sure that there's spaces for everyone,” Fleischauer told the audience. “One thing we realize is accessibility is a huge thing.”
L.A. Tech Week has brought venture capitalists, founders and entrepreneurs from around the world to the California coast. With so many tech nerds in one place, it's easy to laugh, joke and reminisce about the future of tech in SoCal.
Here's what people are saying about the fifth day of L.A. Tech Week on social:
#LATechWeek has been on 🔥🔥🔥. Yes the events are super cool at amazing venues. But, I’m blown away by the people. I’ve met so many founders building generative AI companies from the ground up. I’m so bullish on LA right now🥳. LA is for builders #longLA
Thanks @rpnickson 📸 pic.twitter.com/B6rT2jJYIs
— Dr. Kelly O'Brien (@Kvo2013) June 8, 2023
Successful LatinxVC Avanza Summit 2023 in LA! It’s been an amazing few days near the beach w great company. Thank you to our panelists & participants.
Huge thanks to our incredible sponsors SVB, Chavez Family Foundation, Annenberg Foundation, PledgeLA, Fenwick & West, Countsy! pic.twitter.com/oVuGIgFurk
— LatinxVC (@LatinxVCs) June 9, 2023
30+ gaming startups presented at the A16z Speedrun Demo Day in LA yesterday. Great thanks to the @a16zGames team for an awesome day of events! #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/DKq8IFo5QZ
— Grace Zhou (@graceminzhou) June 9, 2023
📣🤩 What’s the buzz? It’s #LATechWeek from @TechstarsLA & @TechstarsHealth joint demo day with the #Techstar HC team where our @fyelabs founder/CEO Suvojit Ghosh mentored both cohorts! #TechStars demo day highlighted 12 amazing emerging #startups in #healthtech #innovation. 🩺 pic.twitter.com/0RXClCtfDQ
— FYELABS (@fyelabs) June 9, 2023
Another successful Coffee On Slauson in the books for #LATechWeek.
Special thanks to the good people at Pledge LA, SVB and @GundersonLaw for the ongoing support and the @findyourhilltop staff for providing the space, eats & vibes. ♻️ pic.twitter.com/51cMDoEn30
— Slauson & Co. (@SlausonAndCo) June 9, 2023
The perfect combo to start #LATechWeek Day 5: pastries, coffee, and great convos with industry founders ✨
Fireside chats with @enriquealle, @wp, and @robynpark pic.twitter.com/booYPdekVV
— Tech Week (@Techweek_) June 9, 2023
Of course @designerfund has the most amazing pastries at their event. #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/PjyWlGTQI4
— Jesse Pickard (@jessepickard) June 9, 2023
My favorite event from @Techweek_ has to be "Modern Storytelling & Business Building." Hosted by @STHoward #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/SV1eexMJ4k
— JonnyZeller (@JonnyZeller) June 9, 2023
And the finale of the night was courtesy of the one and only @zedd for an unforgettable end to the "City of Games" party! Hosted by @a16zGames and @100Thieves #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/hliI9yLKse
— Tech Week (@Techweek_) June 9, 2023
Excited to be at the @a16zGames Speedrun Demo Day! Loved the energy and excitement from the companies that pitched there. It was also great to see @Tocelot and @ndrewlee at this amazing #LATechWeek event pic.twitter.com/NfLQO5lR27
— Andy Lee | andypwlee.bit (@andypwlee) June 9, 2023
Thank you to everyone who joined the Sony Venture Fund US team at #LATechWeek for our screening of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Last summer, we started building a presence in LA. Today, it's exciting to host such an event with the @Sony family and the LA VC community. pic.twitter.com/wdDm6qtHdL
— Sony Innovation Fund (@Sony_Innov_Fund) June 9, 2023
Time to eat, connect and build while @remi_rodney provided the vibes. 🙏🏽#LATechWeek @BuildOnBase @developer_dao @WeAreRazorfish pic.twitter.com/QIPh1gjvoA
— Hola Metaverso-Blockchain & New Web Tech Events 🎪 (@holametaverso) June 9, 2023
@Lux_Capital at #LATechWeek advancing the impossible to inevitable, from..
..defense primes partnering with cutting edge defense tech startups, to..
..hardware x LLMs improving mental health.
From the rich and diverse LA ecosystem stems generational companies: pic.twitter.com/v5S5r8JtbU
— Shahin Farshchi (@Farshchi) June 9, 2023
LA Tech Week has been a blast! Met some amazing creators, founders and investors from all over the world! #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/AAh9JFELhe
— Chris Germano (@netslayer) June 9, 2023
Had such a blast at LA Tech Week and hosting events for @brexHQ
Top highlights were collabing with @pulley on an Emerging Managers / Founder mixer at the @poplco House, rooftop event in Venice, creator panel with @thechangj & proper Korean food with in KTown.
Exhausted is an… pic.twitter.com/mGQnSYGPdg
— Τyler Robinson (@TyyRob3) June 9, 2023
Did you have fun at @sophiaamoruso’s launch party for @trustfundvc? #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/gbrbXRQ9Xx
— Kay (@KaySnels) June 9, 2023
y00tilty in every city with @KaylaLor3n & @cryptochrisg813.
Welcome to the LA @y00tsNFT fam! #LATechWeek #3XP week. pic.twitter.com/6wWKlsTacx
— VanG0xH (@CryptoVanGoghs) June 9, 2023
Really enjoyed #LATechWeek. Here are some observations I made 👇
— s.personal.ai (Suman Kanuganti) (@SumanPersonalAI) June 9, 2023
Thank you @TheKofiAmpadu for including me in #demoday with the latest @a16ztxo cohort! It was a real full circle moment to witness the brilliance of both @ChrisLyons & @ZMuse_ & #PledgeLA very own. She’s why we’re #LongLA 🚀💕 #LAtechweek pic.twitter.com/itkKXMxQRb
— Qiana Qiana! (@Q_i_a_n_a) June 9, 2023
@upfrontvc Gaming Founders Podcast #iLOVELA #LATechWeek @Techweek_ @KatiaAmeri @mucker @fikavc @bonfire_vc @TenOne10 @WatertowerGroup @ganasvc @IAmRobRyan @john_at_stonks @eva_ho @dereknorton pic.twitter.com/LCbaGXCoW7
— Sean Goldfaden (@seangoldfaden) June 9, 2023
Hosts Kevin Zhang, Partner at @upfrontvc, and Eden Chen, CEO of @pragmaplatform, interviewed two special guests from @raidbaseinc Stephen Lim, Co-Founder & Product Director, and Trevor Romleski, Co-Founder & Game Director. 🎙 #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/hxHEAoELZ6
— Tech Week (@Techweek_) June 9, 2023
Kicking off @a16zGames @100Thieves City of Games party at #LATechWeek 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/zQcZedG15f
— Jon Lai (@Tocelot) June 9, 2023
Yesterday at @socinnovation I got to have this AWESOME conversation with @iamwill — musician, producer, technology entrepreneur, and Founder & CEO of https://t.co/D60y1e2JOu #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/KBxK6rXyTG
— Anna Barber (@annawbarber) June 9, 2023
I absolutely love this game. Proud moment for the team @investwithatlas. #LATechWeek pic.twitter.com/fPZvKXU7TC
— Tobias Francis (@TobiasFrancis) June 9, 2023
Had a blast at LA Tech Week this year with @brexHQ
From hosting & moderating my first creator panel featuring @BlakeMichael14, to a fun rooftop night in Venice, and to attending some amazing events such as Watertower’s emerging manager panel and a VC/founder tennis tournament pic.twitter.com/udjfmLHE0L
— Jonathan Chang (@thechangj) June 8, 2023
At Lowercarbon Capital’s LA Tech Week event Thursday, the synergy between the region’s aerospace industry and greentech startups was clear.
The event sponsored by Lowercarbon, Climate Draft (and the defunct Silicon Valley Bank’s Climate Technology & Sustainability team) brought together a handful of local startups in Hawthorne not far from LAX, and many of the companies shared DNA with arguably the region’s most famous tech resident: SpaceX.
Here’s a look at the greentech startups that pitched during the Tech Week event, and how they think what they’re building could help solve the climate crisis.
Arbor: Based in El Segundo, this year-old startup is working to convert organic waste into energy and fresh water. At the same time, it also uses biomass carbon removal and storage to remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in an attempt to avoid further damaging the earth’s ozone layer. At the Tech Week event Thursday, Arbor CEO Brad Hartwig told a stunned crowd that Arbor aims to remove about five billion tons of organic waste from landfills and turn that into about 6 PWh, or a quarter of the global electricity need, each year. Hartwig is an alumni of SpaceX; he was a manufacturing engineer on the Crew Dragon engines from 2016-2018 and later a flight test engineer at Kitty Hawk.
Antora: Sunnyvale-based Antora Energy was founded in 2017, making it one of the oldest companies on the pitching block during the event. Backed by investors including the National Science Foundation and Los Angeles-based Overture VC, Antora has raised roughly $57 million to date, most recently a $50 million round last February. Chief operating officer Justin Briggs said Antora’s goal is to modernize and popularize thermal energy storage using ultra-hot carbon. Massive heated carbon blocks can give off thermal energy, which Antora’s proprietary batteries then absorb and store as energy. It’s an ambitious goal, but one the world needs at scale to green its energy footprint. According to Briggs, “the biggest challenge is how can we turn back variable intermittent renewable electricity into something that's reliable and on demand, so we can use it to provide energy to everything we need.”
Arc: Hosting the panel was Arc, an electric boating company that’s gained surprising momentum, moving from design to delivering its first e-boats in just two years of existence. Founded in 2021, the company’s already 70 employees strong and has already sold some of its first e-boats to customers willing to pay the luxury price tag, CTO Ryan Cook said Thursday. Cook said that to meet the power needs of a battery-powered speedboat, the Arc team designed the vehicle around the battery pack with the goal of it being competitive with gas boats when compared to range and cost of gas. But on the pricing side, it’s not cheap. Arc’s flagship vessel, the Arc One is expected to cost roughly $300,000. During the panel, Cook compared the boat to being “like an early Tesla Roadster.” To date Arc Boats has raised just over $35 million, according to PitchBook, from investors including Kevin Durant, Will Smith and Sean “Diddy” Combs.
Clarity Technology: Carbon removal startup Clarity is based in LA and was founded by Yale graduate and CEO Glen Meyerowitz last year. Clarity is working to make “gigaton solutions for gigaton problems.” Their aim? To remove up to 2,000 billion pounds of carbon from the atmosphere through direct air capture, a process which uses massive fans to move chemicals that capture CO2. But the challenge, Meyerowitz noted in his speech, is doing this at scale in a way that makes an actual dent in the planet’s emissions while also efficiently using the electricity needed to do so. Meyerowitz spent nearly five years working as an engineer for SpaceX in Texas, and added he’s looking to transfer those learnings into Clarity.
Parallel Systems: Based in Downtown LA’s Arts District, this startup is building zero-emission rail vehicles that are capable of long-haul journeys otherwise done by a trucking company. The estimated $700 billion trucking industry, Parallel Systems CEO Matt Soule said, is ripe for an overhaul and could benefit from moving some of its goods off-road to electric railcars. According to Soule, Parallel’s electric battery-powered rail vehicles use 25% of the energy a semi truck uses, and at a competitive cost. Funded in part by a February 2022 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Parallel Systems has raised about $57 million to date. Its most recent venture funding round was a $49 million Series A led by Santa Monica-based VC Anthos Capital. Local VCs including Riot Ventures and Santa Monica-based Embark Ventures are also backers of Parallel.
Terra Talent: Unlike the rest of the startups pitching at the Tech Week event, Terra Talent was focused on building teams rather than technology. Founder Dolly Singh worked at SpaceX, Oculus and Citadel as a headhunter, and now runs Terra, a talent and advisory firm that helps companies recruit top talent in the greentech space. But, she said, she’s concerned that all the work these startups are doing won’t matter unless we very quickly turn around the current trendlines. “Earth will shake us off like and she will do just fine in 10,000 years,” she said. “It’s our way of living, everything we love is actually here on earth… there’s nothing I love on Mars,” adding that she’s hopeful the startups that pitched during the event will be instrumental in making sure the planet stays habitable for a little while longer.