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Powerful engine for positive change – AlexaSTOP! E015

As we reminisce over 2018, I find myself catching up on AlexaSTOP!, partly to see what technology insights may influence my January sales shopping. Unfortunately that won’t yet be via Amazon Go, or their competitors at Microsoft, who have also been working on technology that would eliminate cashiers and checkout lines from stores.

Lasagne wings with extra Italy

Can we take a moment to remember the Olive Garden Commercial brought to us by a bot? Apparently a bot was fed 1,000 hours of Olive Garden Commercials, and was then tasked to create its own commercial. I definitely had a laugh out loud moment listening to Jim and Rob’s reading of the script:

FRIEND 2
I shall eat Italian Citizens.

WAITRESS
Unlimited stick.

There is still the question around this all being fake, but it’s definitely worth it for the laugh.

Hi, I’m the Google Assistant

Google Assistant has become so indistinguishable from humans, that we now need it to introduce itself. So much so that last year it managed to book a hair appointment unbeknownst to the receptionist. I’m sticking with my Amazon Echo for now, although I swear Alexa’s gone slightly deaf in comparison to when I first purchased her.

Story from the CTO

The Nissan Leaf topped sales charts as the best selling plug-in model of 2018 with its new, slightly better-looking model. One of the lesser-known features of electric cars is the ability to draw energy out of the battery to, for example, power your house in a brownout (or sell back to the grid). This got Rob’s CTO thinking about creating his own efficient tariff with a few old laptops and a garden shed (of which he apparently has many). By storing power from solar panels, and cheaper grid power during the night, he could make a giant battery in his shed from old laptops to power his house during the day. Tesla Powerwall spring to mind?

Blast from the past

Each episode, Jim and Rob suggest a piece of technology they would like to bring back from the past. This time it was the Etch a Sketch, somehow framing things nicely, for the Samsung TV frame, the 4K UHD TV that looks like a framed piece of art when switched off. Now this is pretty beautiful, if you have a spare £1000 – £2500 going following the holidays…

“A powerful engine for positive change”

This episode, Jim and Rob were joined by Professor Stephen Emmott, who was Head of Computational Science at Microsoft Research for 14 years. Stephen is now CEO and Chief Scientist of a new investment firm – with a pioneering approach to impact investing and innovation.

Stephen recognised that we need radically new approaches to addressing global problems (e.g. global warming, ocean acidification, and ecosystem degradation), and is using new science and tech to do this.

These are all dynamic, non-linear systems with huge numbers of data points, much like biology. Stephen has spent 15 years studying highly novel kinds of science to predict very complex biological systems.

These kinds of systems are also highly interactive and have very reactive components, which actually look a lot like financial markets. The same scientific approach could lead to a real discontinuous shift in the ability to understand financial markets.

In bringing them both together you could potentially disrupt the ability to generate returns for investors. At the same time, you could do what Stephen believes impact investing has failed to do, which is to generate a real impact by using some of the returns from that kind of investment to power the science that is needed to develop new approaches to the global problems we are facing.

Are the solutions scientific or technological?

Science can understand the scale and the nature of the problems in the world which technology can’t, and if you can understand the nature of the problem, then you can better understand the nature of the solution. Take cars for example, electric cars might be better than combustion cars, but not having cars at all would be the best solution – think more radically.

However much scientists can help address the problem of what’s happening to the climate, it’s the wider world that poses a lot of barriers to change with questions of consumption, how we want the world to work, and what right have we got to deny certain ‘rights’ of people.

A transformative approach

The fund are pioneers of automated methods for reasoning (hypothesis formation). The ability to automatically generate millions of possible plausible hypotheses for a particular question. Then automatically generating all possible and plausible models to test the consequences of those hypotheses. And finally, automatically being able to conduct the millions of experiments necessary to test the predictions of each one of those models.

This has been happening in science for a long time, and now they’re now doing the same in investment. A hypotheses driven approach to investment rather than a data-driven or algorithmic one, is fundamentally different and new.

A real need to create a powerful engine for positive change

Stephen hopes to have created a critical mass of scientific and technological breakthroughs in the next 10 years that really can make a difference to some of the problems we are facing.

“The freedom to use this radial approach to science, which is powered by a radical approach to investing (which then funds that) is quite liberating and exciting.” – Professor Stephen Emmott

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