Flip The Switch Episode 56: Alex Bates
PAT: Today on Flip the Switch, the guys sit down with author, business owner, angel investor, Alex Bates. Alex is currently the technology chair at an incubator in San Diego called the “sandbox,” as well as the managing director and founder at neo-cortex ventures.
We discuss AI’s role in the evolution of humanity, from deep learning to neural networks. If you’re at all interested in AI and what it can do for businesses and people alike, this is the episode for you.
Let’s get into it.
01:02 AUSTIN: Welcome to Flip the Switch presented by Power Digital Marketing. This is episode number 56. Our Shawne Merriman episode
01:05 PAT: Was he number 56?
01:06 AUSTIN: Lights out.
01:07 PAT: Lights out baby. Flip the Switch.
01:08 AUSTIN: According to USA today… John’s doing the motion. I think everybody in San Diego knows Shawne Merriman. He was probably the most electric charger ever.
01:09 PAT: Wow. Look at you with the wordplay today. Happy Friday everybody.
01:13 AUSTIN: I’ve got it. I don’t know. I might have to retire now. That was probably the best pun or play on words I’ve ever had.
01:19 PAT: That might be true.
This was also probably one of the most interesting interviews that we’ve ever had.
01:24 AUSTIN: Definitely.
01:25 PAT: So just so everybody knows… We had Alex Bates on the show. Discussed some really some really interesting stuff today.
01:31 AUSTIN: Yeah, Alex is a very interesting guy because of not only his business practices but because of the way he thinks and what he’s attempting to do basically with his life, and what his passions are. And that is to optimize humanity in certain ways. So augmentation through AI is really what we’re talking about here.
And this is just trying to make us and society more efficient. So it’s not any sort of negative way… We talk a lot about this… It’s not about robots taking over the world and what’s associated with that in a lot of derogatory ways.
This about what can we do to get rid of the mundane, or the inefficient. So that humans can focus on the stuff that we like to do. And get better at the stuff that we like to do. And maybe become a better version of ourselves.
So Alex is going to tell you all about that in a much more detailed manner, so please buckle up. It’s going to be a wild ride.
02:25 AUSTIN: All right with us today, we have Alex bates, who is the technology chair at Sandbox San Diego. An incubator down here.
And also the managing director and founder of NeoCortex Ventures, which he does angel investing out of.
Alex, thank you so much for coming on the show. Really excited to have you.
02:43 ALEX: Really great to be here.
02:44 AUSTIN: I think this is going to be one of our most exciting just in terms of technological advancements. And we’re going to be talking about AI and a lot of futuristic stuff that we don’t typically get to talk about here. But I think it falls in line with digital marketing, and kind of the direction we’re going is machine learning, so it’ll be right up our alley.
02:59 PAT: Yeah, we were really excited to have you on. Just to give our listeners a little bit of background on yourself… Could you kind of just give a quick synopsis of who you are, where you come from and sort of what you’re all about?
03:11 ALEX: Yeah, definitely. Well, grew up in Oregon. And had this long standing kind of obsession with the mind and brain. And got into this field called neural networks. And ended up doing some early research, and some DARPA funded research neural network modelling. One thing was underwater mine detection. And other applications.
And over the years, got into kind of a path through big data, and did a startup here in San Diego and now looking to grow an eco-system.
03:38 PAT: That’s awesome. What was the startup?
03:42 ALEX: Yeah, so my last major startup was MTEL, which did machine learning for machines. So we used machine learning to learn patterns that could predict failure for heavy machinery. So imagine like drilling rigs out in the Gulf of Mexico, where a failure could lead to environmental devastation, loss of life… We were trying to predict and prevent those kinds of things.
04:01 PAT: Was that at all impacted… Not to rabbit hole and that… But was that at all impacted by the BP oil spill? Did that come as a result of that type of thing? Where you saw the need for that type of business?
Or were the timelines a little bit different than that?
04:15 ALEX: Yeah, that was a key kind of watershed moment for us. We weren’t really focusing on the upstream segment of the industry at that point, but we did focus after that. And ended up going into that. And adding our software as kind of a protection layer.
But I think that was a wake-up call for the whole industry where before that it was kind of “wreck it, buy a new one.” and after that it was “we better get a little bit more proactive.”
04:37 PAT: Seriously. And they’ve never… No one would have had to face public backlash the way they did after the BP oil spill in the past. Just like the prevalence of social media, and technology… The way that it’s moved to date. That bad news was pretty widespread, pretty quickly. So that’s… I guess, a very opportune time for you guys to step in and kind of offer a solution there.
05:01 AUSTIN: I’m definitely curious about how you ended up in San Diego. I know a lot of VCs and that type of angel investing world is up in Silicon Valley, and especially I’m assuming a lot of this technology is up there as well.
What led you down here? And what’s kind of the story of San Diego?
05:16 ALEX: Yeah. I had visited once. I was looking at 3 cities. London, Austin, Texas, and San Diego. And San Diego topped my quality of life index. And I ended up finding this big software company called Terra data that was one of the pioneers in big data, and jumped in there doing analytics on some of the world’s largest databases.
But loved the city. Still have a passion for it. And I think it has a rich history in kind of neural computing and AI that a lot of people don’t necessarily recognize, and so now I’m hoping to spread the word.
05:45 AUSTIN: I don’t think that’s something that we know a lot about or are very aware of. What is kind of the history of San Diego’s involvement in that?
05:51 ALEX: Yeah, it’s really interesting. When people think about deep learning, they don’t necessarily realize that a lot of the kind of founding fathers of that were here. Including Terry Sejnowski, and even Geoff Hinton. They’re some of the professors that helped launch this whole deep learning revolution, which has propelled this resurgence in machine learning and AI.
So San Diego had a lot of that research coming out of UC San Diego. And one of the world’s most successful AI neural network commercial companies was called agency software founded here in San Diego. And they did neural network for credit card fraud. So whenever you’re out traveling and get the phone call “hey, did you make this purchase?” that’s them. I think they monitor 2.5 billion accounts worldwide. And they grew the company out of IPO I think in ’93. Sold for close to a billion dollars. And led to this whole kind of growth… A bunch of AI companies spun out of the people that that moved on from that.
So that that’s been part of the founding of this this whole area
06:52 PAT: You’re clearly very passionate about the field that you’re in and technology in general. Could you give us a little background into I guess where that passion initially comes from for you? When did you realize you had that aptitude or propensity towards that?
07:05 ALEX: Yeah. I used to visit my grandparents in New York and kind of steal books off their bookshelf. And my uncle was a mathematician. So we would debate these topics about the mind and brain and philosophy. He was kind of a physicist and a mathematician and yeah… I think it just really sparked my curiosity.
And then at some point I encountered this book on neural networks, which was this emerging field at the time. It was really early stage, and I just somehow got obsessed with it. And ended up the local university library. Kind of taught myself to code. And just never could shake it.
07:40 PAT: Taught yourself to code?
07:41 AUSTIN: Casually.
07:43 yeah. Slip that one in there really nicely.
07:44 AUSTIN: Yeah I’m really curious about kind of the day-to-day of working in big data. I think that that’s a term that most people these days are probably aware of, but don’t really understand what it is you’re actually doing maybe 9:00 to 5:00 or kind of what the company is. What does it look like when you say maybe you’re coding for big data or maybe when you go to work at a big data company, what does your job look like?
08:02 ALEX: Yeah. I think a lot of people… So big data, it really is the fuel for machine learning and AI. And it’s been amazing to see this spread, where just the plummeting cost of storage and growth and big data has really been the enabler for a lot of this resurgence that we’ve seen.
And so at Teradata when I was back there, it was still a very expensive solution that was primarily used by three-letter agencies and big financial institutions. Now everyone is storing data. Even oil rigs where they recognize the immense value of it and so that that kind of shift and thinking has been has been key.
08:40 AUSTIN: And then just kind of getting into I think the human centered AI. And that’s a bit of the philosophy that you bring to the table. I think that’s a pretty big part of your book that we’ll definitely get into, but we’d love for you to kind of just walk us through what that means to you and kind of just unpacking what the goal is of that?
08:54 ALEX: Yeah, so this book has been a really exciting project. Cause I had formed this kind of AI mastermind group of global participants that were doing a lot of this cutting-edge research. And a lot of applied people that had built and sold AI companies. And so in the real world you have these kind of messy situations. And humans are always involved. And you really see outside of necessarily theoretical realms the role humans play.
And what I saw and kind of validated in this group, was that the human component wasn’t really recognized or understood on a broad level.
So I embarked on this project to look at number one kind of recognizing the role humans play, and finding out how we can use AI to augment our unique kind of gifts. Things like these intuitive epiphanies and eureka moments, where things like the Manhattan project, the Apollo program… These human kind of triggered breakthroughs. We haven’t seen that with pure AI, and what I saw was that combination was where we can really get the fastest advance.
09:54 AUSTIN: And what does it look like when you’re doing research on these situations and kind of trying to understand what went into maybe that genius moment? How do you basically make that tangible? Or something that you can look at and either find a problem and then solution from that?
10:09 ALEX: Yeah. It’s really interesting. I mean, this term “centaurs” was coined for human/AI pairs. And what I saw is that people that were just pushing the boundary in any particular field–pick healthcare, pick one of the top doctors–where they look at all the data and your symptoms, but they factor in these complex human factors, that is very difficult for AI systems to do. They don’t always have the human context. The context of stress in your life, and so many variables that interact. And so really I tried to look at about 10 different examples of centaurs in things like healthcare. Even art and music. Certainly math and physics.
And find out for the top performers in that field–or really for anyone–what could augment them and make them do their work better?
10:55 AUSTIN: Interesting. And then I think I’m curious too to know kind of how the application comes into play with this. So what is kind of the goal of getting this data? Who use it and what’s kind of the end desire for you to change either the world or the way that humans interact?
11:11 ALEX: Yeah. My perspective is in the news you hear a lot of this really kind of dark perspectives about job loss and a lot of people that have these fears and concerns about they read sixty percent of jobs could be eliminated in twenty years. And they worry what is the human role in this coming age? And in my expiration, what I discovered is it looks like a much different picture of really this augmented kind of awakening. Where humans actually become more central and we actually get to do more of the things we’re better at. And get to do less of the things that are kind of these soul-crushing menial type of tasks, that distract us from the areas that we could make a breakthrough.
So I think the key realization was it’s actually this exciting chapter that’s coming up. It’s not at all this thing that’s gonna diminish our role. In fact, quite the contrary.
12:01 PAT: That’s such an interesting take. And it kind of makes sense when you think about the role that AI can play. But I think that people… As human beings we kind of have that predisposition to going towards the worst case scenario first. So, like, “this is gonna replace me. Whatever.”
A lot of people too are genuinely afraid… They think it’s like robots. They think of like iRobot or all these type of like apocalyptic like robot movies.
12:25 AUSTIN: To put it in layman terms.
12:26 PAT: Yeah, exactly… I’m trying to think about it some other way to say that. I mean… And basically just what you’re saying is quite the opposite. It should have a positive effect on human life.
What do you think is the main reason that people don’t initially think that? And don’t think of AI as a tool initially?
12:46 ALEX: Yeah, it’s really a deep question. And I spent almost a whole chapter getting into actually mythology, religion, and science fiction in Hollywood. Because I think that sort of informed some of our thinking about what’s coming. And morality. And fear. And going back to religion, the tree of knowledge led to immediate loss of immortality and innocence. A lot of mythology–Icarus got his wax wings, flew too high, and they melt and he plummets to his death. So every time we kind of reached up to augment to maybe superhuman levels, it never ended well.
And then in Hollywood really dystopic visions. And I think there’s a bias probably. If you pitch a movie to Hollywood about this utopia, they would laugh at you. Because we kind of need some tragedy and the hero’s journey and the arc.
But the issue is it really kind of biases us towards these negative perspectives. And what I saw is really a much more uplifting path ahead. Where it’s gonna free us up to some of these other areas.
13:48 AUSTIN: I think for people that work in data and as a digital marketing agency we do have quite a lot of numbers flying around. Either in Google analytics or just from clientele CRMs. Just digging through data.
And the idea that we could potentially streamline a lot of that. And spend less time trying to maybe put together the pieces. And spend more time optimizing for the business is something that I think is really exciting. And that idea is easy to sell, I think, to people in tech. But it might be a little bit more difficult to someone that’s just not in tech. Or maybe that’s not necessarily super-familiar with data.
How would you sell it, if you had a chance to sell it to America? To get in front of people and say that this is our future. What would you say?
14:29 ALEX: Yeah, well starting with a concrete example we saw at MTEL, where we had these AI systems of agents that could detect these patterns that people just weren’t able to see. But where they kind of needed help was understanding the context and the people were these incredible intuition machines. They’d worked in a facility for 20 years. They knew these environmental factors that we didn’t even have data for. And when we merged the two together, we got these amazing moments where the people would have these insights and combine it with a pattern recognition. And we’d get these breakthroughs. And they’d have their hero moments.
And looking at things like marketing, we are these incredible intuition machines. And I even got a chance to go into a little bit of the neuroscience behind these eureka moments. Where these interactions between our conscious central executive network, and this sort of subconscious network. And sometimes when we have an epiphany it seems like it comes from beyond. And it really is that interplay. And that’s this mysterious thing that we’re so far from having in these synthetic AI systems. And in fact, I think a lot of our education system isn’t oriented towards embracing those kind of gifts and looking at this next chapter–whether you’re in digital marketing or whatever–if we were able to hone that and augment it with AI systems that complement it–kind of the sky’s the limit.
15:44 AUSTIN: Yeah and we get to live and breathe a little bit of that by working with Google. Of course their machine learning algorithm that is constantly updating itself and I think I’ve gained a lot of respect for kind of what that machine is. That constantly powers our world. Whether you know of it or not. You’re probably using Google. Everybody is.
And you don’t know it, but their algorithm is what gives you the most relevant answer at all times. Every single moment it’s constantly learning and teaching itself.
And that is what makes me excited for what can be applicable to the entire world, right? Is that concept of the constantly learning, relearning, and optimizing in real time to make a better product so that we can focus on other things. And that alone, I think, is easy to sell and repackaged and maybe repurposed for whatever the point is.
That’s what I love about that and what I think will make all of our lives a lot easier moving forward. That wasn’t really a question, but definitely agree with you.
16:35 ALEX: Yeah. And I think Google can look at data that no human could. But again it could then deliver things that a human could augment. So it’s still a very synergistic thing.
16:45 PAT: I think it’s pretty interesting too–you said something that really kind of struck my attention. You talked about… And you kind of breezed over it–but you said in the education system as it is now, you don’t really learn to embrace those types of intuitive gifts that human beings have.
What do you mean when you say that? What do you mean by that?
16:59 ALEX: Yeah, I think a lot of our learning… We go through these rote learning and memorization and even in math. If you go as a math major, you learn to do proofs, but it’s not really oriented towards discovery and it’s more oriented towards learning things that have already been discovered. And I feel like maybe in the next chapter when learning and memorizing a massive field of knowledge maybe becomes a little bit less important. And harnessing your intuitive gifts becomes more important. And there’s probably things to work out in terms of how that would evolve, but I think it probably end up being different than this current system.
17:34 PAT: I think it’s really interesting that you say that. Because that’s something that I personally have some opinions about as well. I found that during my schooling, a lot of the times I was just like cram studying. Trying to memorize things before a test. Regurgitating it. And an hour after the test I wouldn’t remember it anymore. And I kind of started a question especially towards the end of like my college career. Kind of what value does that bring to me? How much smarter am I for having done that endeavor? For studying those six hours? For making all those flashcards?
And I think that’s an exciting piece that you bring to the table too. And an application for AI isn’t just on the business side, or in the private sector. But there could be a way to augment the current education system as well. To teach kids to be more in tune with their intuition. And to understand their kind of subconscious gifts, so to speak. To be able to tap into that a little bit more. Is that kind of what you’re saying?
18:21 ALEX: Yeah, yeah. And I mean I think… I had a chance to look a little bit about the people that had these really breakthrough epiphanies in different fields. And there’s many studies like Malcolm Gladwell’s outliers where they find their… Kind of the 10,000 hour rule of becoming an expert. So sort of a decade three hours a day. Or maybe you can shorten it if you spend more time but…
No one ever has a major breakthrough without putting in the hard work. But I think the type of work maybe we learn in school isn’t oriented towards that. So you do need to have some degree of specialization, but I don’t think a lot of people have the opportunity to specialize in what they would actually be best at. Because they’re kind of channeled into what maybe they think is going to be the best economic outcome. So maybe changing that where we’re a little bit freed economically to pursue things would lead to more of that.
19:09 PAT: It’s pretty interesting you bring that up too. Because that’s a trend that we’ve heard in just talking to a lot of people that are successful. We’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of those individuals on the show. And a few of the things that they always discuss they say “I’m not good at a lot of things, but I’m really good at this one thing.”
And I think that this almost gives you the freedom to explore that more. As opposed to “okay, I need to concentrate on getting better at maybe math, science… Stem, right? Things that I don’t have a natural aptitude for. I need to work extra hard to spend a ton of time just to be where other people who are gifted there might be.”
Whereas maybe my aptitude is towards English. And I would be a great writer or a great radio personality or something like that…
But you know what I mean. And it kind of gives you the ability to concentrate in the areas where you can capitalize the most. And lean into your strengths. As opposed to compensating for some of your weaknesses. I think that’s a really interesting point that you bring up.
19:58 ALEX: Yeah totally. And I mean the humanities have as a major… Have been on a decline I think about ten percent over the last decade at most universities. And I think a lot of it is there’s a perception that there’s not as much economic viability to go back and pay off your college loans. But so that’s maybe one example where maybe we could be free to pursue where our actual strengths are, so…
20:19 AUSTIN: And I imagine that you spend all day thinking about this type of stuff. And what pops into my head is kind of the fantasy side of it. And I know I saw the word superhuman I think, or superhero part of your book. Can you kind of talk a little bit about that and what’s the application there? Kind of your dream that involves super humans or superheroes.
20:37 ALEX: Yeah, that was really interesting because I think this sort of backdrop of discomfort with augmenting ourselves to maybe superhuman or even maybe godlike capability–we’re obviously very uncomfortable with that if you look at mythology and religion–and so I decided to kind of approach it head-on about this is an opportunity… And really not just superhuman intelligence, but what about superhuman emotional intelligence, or superhuman creativity, or superhuman fulfillment. Or relationships.
And so it’s not even just a pure kind of intelligence thing. A lot of us gets stuck kind of in these ruts. And if we were augmented with a system that could actually find out what is most fulfilling for us, and help us move towards, that would be really exciting. So the superhuman part was a way to explore that kind of exciting vision.
I think a lot of times in technology the vision you cast is what we build towards. And so important to cast a sort of uplifting thing that we’re gonna target, as opposed to something very dystopic.
21:41 AUSTIN: Yeah, and I think there is a lot of negativity with the future of our country and maybe where we’re going. Because of just we’ve been wasteful with resources. And it may not be a leader that we like. And those type of things that kind of mar that.
So it is nice to hear that maybe this is something that could be adopted for us as a population to kind of work towards. I think that that’s really exciting.
And also you might have had your movie idea. Right there. So you already got it right, because you got to overcome adversity to become a superhuman, and you’re using AI to tie everything together. Becoming emotionally intelligent. You could save humanity.
22:16 PAT: That’s true.
22:17 ALEX: I would need a lot of augmentation together.
22:21 PAT: Alright. One question that I did have for you is switching gears a little bit there. But kind of along the same vein. You’re also a lead inventor on three patents that are in the area of sensor networks and machine learning. What does that mean?
22:33 ALEX: Yeah. So some of that gets into a technical realm of what’s called the IOT or internet of things, which is this… Over the last couple of decades we’ve had this really huge expansion in sensing instrumentation. Almost they call it “ubiquitous sensing.” and some of that has really fueled the growth in big data. And so with that becomes this whole need for governance. And metadata. And keeping track of what sensors correspond to what entities in the real world. And we came up with some patents about how we can connect to these different business systems that all have subsets of the data… Kind of data silos… And map things together.
Because with machine learning and analytics, you need to make sure you’re looking at the right data from the right thing so you don’t kind of confuse things. And so the patents had to do with some of that.
And then with some approaches to machine learning. What we call “transfer learning” across populations of similar machinery. So we could learn signatures not just on one pump at a whole fleet of similar pumps. And so it got into some of those areas too.
23:34 AUSTIN: That’s really interesting.
23:37 PAT: Mind blowing.
23:38 AUSTIN: Yeah. And then I know the patent process can be long. And may be competitive. What was kind of your experience with going through getting a patent? And is it still maybe pending? What is the situation?
23:47 ALEX: Yeah. Well those three were all issued. We do have some more pending. They took sort of between three and four years on average. And some we did a provisional. Some we went straight to a formal application. And with the current backlog, I think that’s about the average. You can file for expedited filings. There’s pros and cons to that approach.
But yeah we were able to get those through. And there’s several more in the queue now. And so yeah that was kind of process.
24:13 AUSTIN: Do you have a rival AI machine learning company that’s like maybe nipping at your tail? They’re kind of running parallel to you guys?
24:19 ALEX: There’s a lot more funding now in the IOT and machine learning. We’re seeing a lot more companies. There’s a couple new unicorns that are out there.
At the time when we were really going to market, a few years ago… I’d say we usually went head to head with IBM and GE. And so I think we were so laser focused we were able to actually do quite well against them. Because they, of course, were spread across a lot of things. And it’s been crazy to see even the changes with some of those big companies hitting some challenges recently. And again, a lot of the startups doing quite well.
But yeah, that’s kind of competition.
24:57 AUSTIN: And I imagine there’s so many thoughts flowing through that company and entity because they’ve gone so many different directions with their technology. And they’re old and maybe it can be harder to relearn things. If you’re not acquiring maybe a new business.
And they might have been acquiring, but still for you guys the passion was there. And it’s kind of like a grassroots thing, I think. So you’re there from the beginning and I imagine that gives you a leg up on something that’s incredibly difficult to understand and work through. So that’s exciting. We’re definitely pulling for you guys.
25:24 ALEX: Yeah. Thanks. Much appreciated. I think we were really laser focused on machine learning. And the bigger companies–as you say–a lot of times they have legacy product infrastructure and it’s actually harder to pivot, because you get concerned about cannibalizing other products.
25:39 PAT: Sure. Yeah, I’d imagine too in a little bit of a bigger corporate setting too if they’re trying to adopt these things… You guys have a little bit more versatility… You have a smaller team that’s leaner and can adapt make pivots more quickly.
Whereas they might be a little bit stuck in their ways, in a sense, because there’s a lot of red tape blocking them from making any type of impactful change to the technology that they have in place. So that existing infrastructure I see that it could probably be a benefit to an extent, because you have all these past learnings that you can pull from.
But at the same time I do see it being a little bit of an inhibitor, because if it’s been proven to be successful in the past, you have a lot more people saying “why change that?” or really need to over justify the changes they need to make. And I’d imagine in AI and machine learning you need to be able to pivot really, really quickly. Has that kind of been your experience?
26:23 ALEX: Definitely. I mean it’s a double-edged sword–like you say–having infrastructure and a bigger customer base is helpful on the one hand. But on the other hand especially in the area like machine learning and AI, where the pace of change is accelerating so fast it actually becomes a little bit less relevant. And I’m a huge believer in startups and the power and pace of innovation and change. And I think that’s becoming even more the case with this change.
26:51 PAT: Absolutely.
26:52 AUSTIN: Yeah, and I kind of wanted to stay on that a little bit and talk about kind of MTEL’s experience with acquisitions. And kind of the business side of this. That’s something that I’m curious about. Kind of just the general direction of the industry and is it really heating up? I imagine there’s a lot of funding coming in.
But what was kind of your experience with being acquired by another company? And how does that change the culture or vision of your startup?
27:14 ALEX: Yeah it’s an extremely involved process. I think the due diligence lasted about three months. The conversation was about six months, but formal due diligence after we signed what’s called a letter of intent was about three months. And it’s all confidential but it almost is a full-time job. And the tough part is you have to do a full-time job of fulfilling information requests and due diligence while not taking your eye off the ball. Because if they see starting to slip, that can kill the whole process.
So it’s both challenging and also extremely rewarding when you get to the finish line. I remember the final day we started at 6:00 a.m. And we’re tasked with bringing breakfast bagels which we’re happy to do. And there was a 12-hour process we had to run through. Extensive batteries of tests–side-by-side tests of compiling our software, installing it and just verify all the final checklist. And by 6:00 p.m. I think we’re all about ready to crash out and sleep for 48 hours.
But we were able to consummate that. And working with this team at aspen tech–incredibly bright team–it was a great chance to learn from them. They spun out of MIT think in the early 80s.
28:26 PAT: And they’re traded on NASDAQ, is that right?
28:27 ALEX: That’s right, yeah. NASDAQ traded company. And really a leader in this process optimization. But now expanding to a lot of these other industrial markets.
28:37 PAT: That’s awesome. And I guess kind of what benefit did they bring to the table for you guys? Was it the infrastructure? Was it kind of like a game plan? Was it funding? Kind of what did that dynamic look like I guess?
28:48 ALEX: A little bit of all those elements. I mean, as a publicly traded company of course they expanded our infrastructure for pretty much everything. Sales, QA, customer service. A lot of the areas that we ran very lean on.
But on top of that they had a key depth that was highly complementary. Our focus had been machinery, so we would look at a pump or a compressor. And aspen tech had a depth in the in the process, which is how these machines work in concert kind of to produce a product. And so the exciting thing was like if we could combine our strengths and their strengths, that was really a unique thing. And I think we’ve seen that borne out in the last couple of years that we’ve been combined.
29:27 PAT: That’s awesome. All right, pivoting kind of at the end here, I wanted to ask you about your about neocortex ventures. It’s your latest business endeavor is that right?
29:35 ALEX: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, it’s just a new entity.
29:39 PAT: That’s awesome. I’d love to just kind of understand a little bit more of kind of what it’s all about. We discussed it a little bit at the beginning–the angel investing side of it–but you explain it better than Austin does.
29:50 ALEX: Yeah, so there’s a couple things. So neocortex ventures is an entity where I can help people who have an idea that they want to commercialize in the artificial intelligence space. So I can do that by investing. I can do that… I have a team of data scientists and engineers on staff–so I can help you build it. And there’s a number of ways to go about that commercially.
Once you have a product already built and you really need to take it to market, that’s where the sandbox comes in. We can plug you into the incubator. We have a whole network of mentors and kind of support, legal resources, and things like that.
And so those are kind of how those two work in concert.
30:28 PAT: That’s awesome and was this borne at all or correlate at all with the book that you wrote?
30:32 ALEX: Yeah, very related. I think the book was a way to provide a focus on the augmented path. And actually a number of these companies are really focused on augmenting human gifts. And so, yeah, the two definitely tie together.
30:46 PAT: That’s awesome. Well we’re super excited about that.
30:49 AUSTIN: Yeah and I think on the topic of the book we’ve kind of implicitly talked about it and a lot of stuff we have talked about is in the book. But we’d love to hear kind of from your mouth the purpose of the book. And what you’d like readers to get out of it.
31:00 ALEX: I think there’s a couple key things that I’m hoping to convey. One is really this uplifting age we have coming. We kind of called it the “augmented age” or “awakening.” and I think there’s a number of exciting things that are imminent that are really going to radically improve our lives and the way we interact with the world and economics. And even things like fulfillment, curiosity, creativity, human leadership.
And so one was to make sure that that we see that uplifting message. And can start to build towards it.
And the other part–there was a little bit of a call to action–that a vast majority of the funding in AI is what I call replication of human intelligence. And a very small amount is focused on augmentation of human intelligence. And so one of the call to actions was maybe to more explicitly focus on that for both investors. For entrepreneurs, technologists and even from a terminology perspective to get consensus on the term “augmented intelligence.”
There’s a lot of bits and pieces of this out there, but there’s like over 20 terms people use. “Human centered machine learning.” “human-in-the-loop AI.” well “centaurs.”
32:15 PAT: That’s an interesting one.
32:16 ALEX: Centaur. Yeah,
32:18 PAT: That’s kind of funny.
32:19 ALEX: They kind of go out to Greek mythology. Yeah. And “guardian angels.” and so trying to get a common term. And then we can kind of see who’s all working on this. That kind of thing.
32:25 AUSTIN: And replication versus augmentation. That’s kind of what you’re saying is maybe… Money’s going towards just making the brain… Just a copy in some way? But you’d rather it be going towards making a better version? Or can you kind of break those terms down a little bit?
32:39 ALEX: Yeah, definitely. And to be clear, I’m not certainly advocating that we stop or slow down or halt the current AI research and development on replicating human intelligence. Or all synthetic intelligence.
But I’m just advocating more focus and funding on the augmented approach. Where it’s more explicitly acknowledged. And augmenting is just saying “humans are gonna be a core part of this and how do we augment that?”
As opposed to just looking at let’s just take a bunch of data and solve a problem.
33:08 AUSTIN: Okay, gotcha. And then your book obviously is it’s out in stores correct? Or is just coming out?
33:13 ALEX: Yeah, we did a digital launch as kind of this new approach where… Like in scientific papers you publish an archive and then you publish formally. So we did a digital kindle launch and the paperback, hardback is coming out in a couple of months.
33:25 AUSTIN: Great. And then you’re just telling us you’ve got a soft launch this weekend right? And then you’ve got kind of a bigger book launch coming up?
33:32 ALEX: Yeah, we’re doing a small-scale event this weekend. And then a bigger one coming up in q1 probably around March, April timeframe. So stay tuned for that. We’ll definitely put out some news on it.
33:43 AUSTIN: Definitely. Yeah, we’re excited about that one coming out. This has been Alex bates. His book is “augmented mind.” check it out. It might even blow your mind? Is that okay to say?
33:53 PAT: Yeah, we can say that. Alex, thanks for coming on.
33:55 ALEX: Thanks so much for having me.
33:58 PAT: Very special thank you to Alex bates for joining us on the podcast today. What an interesting line of work that he’s in. And an interesting part of… Kind of business and humanity that a lot of people don’t even really think about is that augmentation piece. The piece of AI. And at least for me I found this to be a really interesting interview–one of the most interesting that we’ve had, because I don’t have a very much experience in this at all. Which you could tell from some of my questions.
34:22 AUSTIN: I don’t think anybody does.
34:25 PAT: Yeah. Well hopefully nobody noticed either.
And second of all, I really thought that it was an interesting viewpoint that he has on the role that AI can play.
34:31 AUSTIN: Yeah, it’s nice to hear kind of the other side of it and maybe not such a Hollywood point of view which I think he brought up a few times. Is this maybe it’s like the robots versus human side of this…?
34:40 PAT: Very dystopian at times…
34:42 AUSTIN: Yeah, dystopian. That’s a great word to describe kind of the mantra behind it. And the point of it and why people care about it is what he talked about. Is its efficiency, its optimization of human life, and what we can get better at that we don’t enjoy so we can spend time on things we do enjoy. And working on bigger problems that we haven’t been able to solve a society. That really have come into play in the 20th and 21st century. And this is gonna free up some of our time for great minds and great thinkers to do that.
And then also at the education level, we hope that this can influence the way that we learn right? And the way that kids grow up and how their mind works and how they’re molded to become great members of society. We hope that that can become efficient. And machine learning and augmentation could really be a big part of that.
So I think a lot of that. There’s definitely a lot to unpack there. So I’m curious about your thoughts when you reach out to us. Tell pat and I what you think on this one I know it’s a hot topic.
35:37 PAT: Yep. Definitely reach out with all of your questions. Again, very special thank you to Alex bates for joining us today. That wraps everything up for us here on episode 56 of Flip the Switch podcast presented by Power Digital Marketing. Thank you so much for joining us.
Join our forum page. We have a forum page on Facebook called flip switch podcast that is Flip the Switch podcast forum. Austin is waiting right by his computer to approve you guys the second that you want to join. And we’re really looking forward to bringing guys some more great content next week. But until that time this has been Pat Kriedler, Austin Mahaffy, John Saunders and Joe Hollerup signing off.