Gene Chalfant's blog
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A Vision of the Future

Building new shiny things

Here’s a dangerous topic. Extending current trends into the future is mostly wrong and probably futile. Nevertheless, it’s fun to daydream, and since I’m free to write anything I want, here goes…

I currently work at the nexus of Artificial Intelligence, Web3, and Strategic Marketing. Connecting these fields requires visualizing possibilities and synergies not yet widely recognized. These areas of research are developing and growing at blinding speed.

The end of the 1800s was a time when the Industrial Revolution matured and the world changed. Airplanes, electricity, instant communication, movies, plastics, created thousands of follow-on inventions. That era looks a bit like today; it rhymes. Our novelties can seem incremental - we still travel on airplanes and cars, and communicate instantly anywhere in the world, just as we did a hundred years ago. The most widely available of modern inventions, the internet, is itself maturing and spawning its own ecosystem of life-changing inventions and applications. This time, though, it is distributed. Via smartphones and packet data, the barriers to opportunity are lower than ever before. It is truly revolutionary.

Our world, in spite of epic shifts due to a global pandemic, climate change, political turmoil, and questionable monetary policies, is poised on the brink of a new epoch. We are, as they say, fast approaching a singularity after which everything will be different.

Will "different" be better? I hope so. I think it depends on what we build and how we grow throughout the upheaval.

The points at which technology and computational systems touch the real world are where we see change. This includes robotics, VR, identity proof systems, voice-control, and the Web. This is the face of the computer revolution. Few will care much about what's under the hood, but everyone will want to be in the driver's seat, looking and driving. The trick, and the opportunity, lies in connecting the human experience with the capabilities of the machinery behind the scenes, the back end, or the wizard behind the curtain.

Modern Artificial Intelligence came onto the scene around 2012 when AI systems became stunningly capable of recognizing things like cats in a photo. Ten years later, after enormous effort, these systems have found many useful applications. Some are invisible, perhaps catching fraudulent finance. Other systems are listening to your every word, at home or in your car. AI makes interacting with technology more 'natural'. I can simply ask for directions, or the weather forecast, or maybe for a picture of a panda on Mars - no typing (or even moving a finger) required. We are returning to pre-technology methods to control our world. These are truly mechanical servants.

Intelligent systems are, of course, already connected to the digital world. They have an enormous bandwidth advantage over us. When they begin to control and interact with the physical world we live in, they will use the same built environment that we developed, over time, for ourselves. Self-driving cars already operate in a road system designed for humans to use. Humanoid robots using our tools should become affordable and popular. With time, they become indispensible. These robots, controlling and monitoring this universal and ubiquitous interface, should quickly become interchangeable, and will likely perform better than humans.

Returning to the more immediate future, Web3 is an overloaded and overhyped term that describes new ways to interact with others (both people and groups/organizations/institutions) online. In essence, just as Web2 gave every human (or bot) on the planet a free and unlimited printing press/TV station with global distribution, Web3 gives everyone their own institution. That’s a strange concept to all of us that have grown up in the world of institutions and authorities over the last 500 years. It's difficult to visualize a return to the decentralized power and self-reliance of medieval guilds and cottage industries. Again, a return to the past - but different.

For an example, look at the particular institution that is a consumer retail business. The decentralized version looks less like Wal-Mart and more like eBay. What does this mean to marketing and advertising? The ‘Mad Men’ style of corporate advertising, slick and alluring, is designed to capture your attention and stir up desire. It works. Global brands are grown this way. So, what exactly is a brand? It’s an intangible trust marker, a symbol of reputation. When partly decentralized, it’s your ratings and reviews on eBay. It’s your provenance and reputation, organically built by your earlier happy customers. These customers form a community of fans.

Now, these three fields can finally tie together. Communities are the repeat customers of a business, and the promoters and word-of-mouth pull-advertisers of products. Web3 enables the aggregation of authentic communities with common interests and values, even with their own currency and governance if desired. Automation allows these long-tail communities to be small, focused, and affordable at scale. And AI enables easy-to-use, near-human services, also at scale, to help build, discover, and secure these communities.

This is going to be huge. Something big is happening. Again. This time, it will take years rather than decades. Although, as I said at the beginning, what actually happens will be far more nuanced and full of surprises than anything we can imagine. Hang on for the ride!

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