The Road To Superintelligence And What It Means For Business

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During Social Media Week New York, we hosted a roundtable debate with partners Accenture and Salesforce to ask the question:  how is artificial intelligence transforming business and how we work?

Hosting the discussion was Robert Harles, Group Managing Director for Accenture and Bruce H. Rogers, Chief Insights Officer at Forbes.  Joined by senior executives from Accenture, including Kristopher Bober, Senior Manager, Social Media, and Aneesh Desikan, Social Media & Collaboration Practice Lead, North America, as well Fortune 500 companies, startups and experts in the fields of machine learning and artificial intelligence, including Sonny Caberwal, Founder and CEO of Bond, Dennis Mortensen, Founder and CEO of, Dan Tochini, Founder and CEO of The Grid and Katherine Von Jan, Strategic Innovation Executive at

Kicking off proceedings, Toby Daniels, Founder and Executive Director of Social Media Week introduced the guest speaker for the morning, Tim Urban, Co-Founder at Wait But Why and author of The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence, a two-part, ten thousand word article that was recently picked up and shared by Elon Musk.

Artificial intelligence (A.I) has of course been around for years. Hollywood has painted a terrifying and utopian picture of the future through films like Terminator and more recently Her.  Today though, A.I is already playing a centrally important role in our lives, whether we know it or not, and in many individuals’ view, we are just at the beginning.

The subject has also been the topic of conversation and concern among industry titans and scientific luminaries such as Bill Gates and Steven Hawking, who recently warned us that A.I “could spell the end of the human race”.

So we thought, we should probably talk about that!

Tim Urban kicked things off, and he was brilliant, inspiring and terrifying at the same time. He started the morning discussing where we are today in regards to human progress

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and what it feels like to be standing where we are right now

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He explained that in order to think about the future correctly, we need to imagine things moving at a much faster rate than they’re moving now.

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Tim classified today’s A.I as Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), which specializes in one area. “There’s A.I. that can defeat the world chess champion in chess, but that’s the only thing it does. Ask it to figure out a better way to store data on a hard drive, and it’ll look at you blankly.”  Next, there’s Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), sometimes referred to as Strong A.I., or Human-Level A.I., which refers to “a computer that is as smart as a human across the board—a machine that can perform any intellectual task that a human being can”. After AGI comes Artificial Superintelligence (ASI).  Tim referenced Oxford philosopher and leading A.I. thinker, Nick Bostrom, who defines superintelligence as “an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills.”

In his view “Artificial Superintelligence” ranges from a computer that’s just a little smarter than a human to one that’s trillions of times smarter—across the board. ASI is the reason the topic of A.I. is such a spicy meatball, and why the words “immortality” and “extinction” will both appear in these posts multiple times.

In summary, Tim talked about the fact that as of now, humans have conquered the lowest caliber of A.I.—ANI—in many ways, and it’s everywhere. The A.I. Revolution is the road from ANI, through AGI, to ASI—a road we may or may not survive, but either way, it will change everything.

Tim left most of us speechless, breathless and in a mixed emotional state of wonder and awe at what the future holds.  Bringing us back to earth, albeit brief, Toby Daniels then introduced Sonny Caterwaul, founder and CEO of Bond, a startup which uses robots and A.I to learn your handwriting and send handwritten notes to colleagues, friends and loved ones.  In his talk, Sonny described Bond’s mission to use technology to make communication more personal.  In his view, A.I. is an essential part of how they tackle the problem, but the goal is be more human, rather than less.

Following Sonny, Dennis Mortensen, CEO and founder of xa.i, another startup which is using A.I. to “magically schedule meetings”.   According to Dennis “ is a personal assistant that allows you to use email to schedule meetings. You speak to [email protected] as you would to any other person – and you can have her do all the tedious email ping-pong that comes along with arranging a meeting.”  One of the most interesting discoveries that Dennis has made since launching the company was that people need A.I. to be more human if it is going to mimic behaviors that are usually reserved for actual human beings.

The final presentation of the morning was delivered by Dan Tochini, Founder and CEO of The Grid, which uses A.I. to revolutionize web design.  In his talk, Dan demonstrated the product, and walked us through their dashboard. The Grid pulls content from the web, and then builds web pages automatically while making core design choices and decisions in regards to font, color, gradient and layout.

Following the presentations, the group launched into a 45 minute debate that attempted to make meaning of everything we had just learned and seen, and what it all means for business, society and culture. For now, A.I. is not quite mainstream. Our industry reads about it, but the majority of the world is not even thinking about it yet. This will eventually change, though. Just as social media and analytics were foreign to marketers, so too is A.I. to businesses and society. Right now, we know who the leaders are in social analytics, real-time data, and innovative technology in marketing, but that all took time. It took years. The A.I. renaissance has not arrived, but when it does, it will be one of the greatest shifts in culture and society we’ll ever see.

SMW would like thank everyone who participated in this discussion and the hosts Accenture Interactive, Salesforce and all the speakers and guests.

Social Media Week