Spanning from Silicon Valley to Upper Manhattan and everywhere in between, it seems this country is overflowing with tech-optimists. As you know — a techno-optimist is someone who is generally optimistic about the current state of technology and its potential future. These people believe that technological developments will do more good for humanity than harm — and that our technological future is very bright.
Why are There so Many Techno-Optimists?
These Techno-Optimists may believe that technology has the power to solve major crises, like global climate change, or believe that machine learning and AI will enable us to reach incredible new heights in humanity. They also tend to envision a technologically rich future, with science fiction-inspired gadgets and capabilities in the hands of average people. And why not dream this way?
This is a perfectly legitimate view of the future (and of technology in general). But it’s the dominant view of the future – yet, techno-pessimists, by contrast, are rarely heard from.
Why is this the case? And is there an issue with this persistent optimistic philosophy?
A Lifetime of Problems and Solutions
Part of the origin of today’s techno-optimistic climate is a sequence of many decades’ worth of widely accepted technological advancements. It stands to reason that few people would be afraid of technology harming us or destroying our culture when no such technology has managed to do so in the modern era.
Can Tech Destroy Us?
The closest we’ve come to destroying ourselves with technology was with the 1945 deployment of atomic bombs in World War II. Scientists, politicians, and average citizens alike, all over the world, saw the destructive power of nuclear weapons technology at Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and wondered if we’d invented the tool that would kill us all.
During the Cold War, techno-pessimists were much more common – with people wondering whether it was only a matter of time before the world was going to be destroyed by some superweapon (and if not by nuclear weapons, by some other, similarly violent force).
Compare that to the past few decades of technological advancements. Instead of developing bigger and more destructive weapons, warfare has shifted to occur without violence; it’s more common for countries to launch attacks by interfering with elections and hacking into computers than dropping bombs or chemically attacking civilians.
On top of that, we’ve seen a multitude of major problems get solved, sometimes instantly, with new technologies. Solar power is economically viable.
CFCs became obsolete long ago – and the hole in the ozone layer they caused has almost entirely self-repaired. Today’s business owners can take a new idea and turn it into a website with limited experience within just a few minutes of time.
Tech is Kind to Us
It’s easy to be optimistic when the past few decades of technological advancements have been, for lack of a better word, kind to us. We don’t live in fear of obscenely destructive weapons; instead, we get to sit back and enjoy the fruits of innovation.
The Gifts of Moore’s Law
We also need to think about the impact of Moore’s Law on our thinking about technological advancement. Moore’s Law was an informal rule that speculated the number of transistors on a chip would be able to double every two years (due to advancements in technological precision and cost-efficiency).
The transistor chip essentially made our rate of technological progress exponential; every two years, we’d get access to faster, better computational technology – and reliably so.
The Pattern Chart
If you chart this pattern forward, the heights of technology are hard to fathom. From 1990 to 2020, just 30 years, we went from only wealthy computer nerds having dial-up internet access to almost the entire nation’s population having high-speed internet on dozens of devices.
In another 30 years, our modern view of the “internet” may be rendered entirely obsolete, in favor of something fundamentally new.
But experts believe that Moore’s Law may be over; the rate of technological progress is slowing.
Obviously, we’re still innovating, inventing new gadgets and breaking ground in new areas. But our days of exponential growth in the digital world may be coming to an end.
Sneak Previews into the Future
The information era also lends itself to techno-optimism, due to how information easily and quickly circulates. We’re constantly exposed to scientific studies, speculation about the future, and teases of new ideas – long before they’re actually ready to launch.
A decade ago, we were hearing about the emergence of self-driving vehicle technology, with some journalists speculating that autonomous vehicles would soon be flooding the streets. As it stands, autonomous vehicles are still having trouble getting to the “mass rollout” phase.
It’s easy to see stories of new technologies on the horizon and think that we’re already living in a kind of techno-utopia. But the path to development is often longer and more challenging than it first appears.
Good Press from Tech Startups
Similarly, we see a lot of good public relations (PR) strategies from tech startups. Tech innovators, entrepreneurs, and developers make tremendous efforts to market their latest products and future plans.
They want the general public to believe in their ideas, so they emphasize all the potential benefits and gloss over the weaknesses, risks, and challenges standing in the way of full-scale development.
To complicate matters further, a lot of up-and-coming technology is still being kept under wraps. We might see a hint of a new, powerful AI that can change the way we work and live – but we don’t see its inner workings or get details on how it works.
The Role of Science Fiction
There’s no shortage of science fiction stories (including books, movies, and other media) depicting a world that has been destroyed or corrupted by a technological development gone wrong. But these dystopian stories have an interesting side effect for techno-optimists: they make us feel more in control.
For example, take a story like The Terminator, wherein an AI system gains consciousness and decides to wipe out humanity. A techno-optimist can look at a story like this, point out its shortcomings, and summarily dismiss AI risk in general – because it would never be like what you see in the movies.
Tech Risks are More Complex
In reality, technological risks are much more complex, and the true dangers of AI have nothing to do with humanoid machines exterminating our race just because they feel like it.
If we wrote and publicized science fiction stories based on the most pressing, realistic dangers of technology, they would be boring – so they tend not to get made. Meanwhile, optimistic sci-fi works also have the potential to get popular – and they fill us with optimism that our high-tech future is beautiful.
Part of our persistent techno-optimism stems from a tendency to play true to the expression “sweet lemons,” the opposite of sour grapes.
A proverbial “sweet lemon” is something harmful that’s deliberately considered as something positive; for example, the pizza you ordered may have been burnt, so instead of facing the downsides, you focus on something positive, like the money you saved on the pizza with a coupon.
Social Media Says It
It’s best to understand this in practice with an example: social media. There’s no debating that social media has had massive downsides for our society; cyber-bullying is pervasive, self-segregation into echo chambers has led to political polarization, and a combination of envy, FOMO, and isolation has left us feeling lonelier than ever.
But to a techno-optimist? Social media’s power to connect us is the real focal point.
It’s Nicer to Be Positive
Here’s something else to consider: it just feels nicer to be optimistic. It’s not fun to think about the possibility of the world getting destroyed or humanity being hurt by a new technology gone wrong.
It’s much more pleasing and reassuring to think about all the ways that technology could make our lives better. It’s no wonder techno-optimism is so appealing.
Does the Optimism-Pessimism Spectrum Matter?
Techno-optimism is pervasive, and as we’ve established, there’s plenty of contradictory evidence to favor techno-pessimism. Does this tech philosophical spectrum matter? Does it impact the rate of progress?
We need both techno-optimists and techno-pessimists for a healthy rate of technological change in our society. Without eccentric techno-optimists, we wouldn’t get to see the development of many new, sometimes crazy technologies. But without cautious techno-pessimists, many of the dangers and risks of new technologies could be overlooked.
Our current balance leans in favor of the optimists. If we’re going to advance in a healthy, sustainable, and risk-managed way, we need to keep our expectations in check and ensure that we don’t lose sight of the negative possibilities of technology as well.
Image Credit: mantas hesthaven; pexels; thank you!
Fintech Kennek raises $12.5M seed round to digitize lending
London-based fintech startup Kennek has raised $12.5 million in seed funding to expand its lending operating system.
According to an Oct. 10 tech.eu report, the round was led by HV Capital and included participation from Dutch Founders Fund, AlbionVC, FFVC, Plug & Play Ventures, and Syndicate One. Kennek offers software-as-a-service tools to help non-bank lenders streamline their operations using open banking, open finance, and payments.
The platform aims to automate time-consuming manual tasks and consolidate fragmented data to simplify lending. Xavier De Pauw, founder of Kennek said:
“Until kennek, lenders had to devote countless hours to menial operational tasks and deal with jumbled and hard-coded data – which makes every other part of lending a headache. As former lenders ourselves, we lived and breathed these frustrations, and built kennek to make them a thing of the past.”
The company said the latest funding round was oversubscribed and closed quickly despite the challenging fundraising environment. The new capital will be used to expand Kennek’s engineering team and strengthen its market position in the UK while exploring expansion into other European markets. Barbod Namini, Partner at lead investor HV Capital, commented on the investment:
“Kennek has developed an ambitious and genuinely unique proposition which we think can be the foundation of the entire alternative lending space. […] It is a complicated market and a solution that brings together all information and stakeholders onto a single platform is highly compelling for both lenders & the ecosystem as a whole.”
The fintech lending space has grown rapidly in recent years, but many lenders still rely on legacy systems and manual processes that limit efficiency and scalability. Kennek aims to leverage open banking and data integration to provide lenders with a more streamlined, automated lending experience.
The seed funding will allow the London-based startup to continue developing its platform and expanding its team to meet demand from non-bank lenders looking to digitize operations. Kennek’s focus on the UK and Europe also comes amid rising adoption of open banking and open finance in the regions.
Featured Image Credit: Photo from Kennek.io; Thank you!
Fortune 500’s race for generative AI breakthroughs
As excitement around generative AI grows, Fortune 500 companies, including Goldman Sachs, are carefully examining the possible applications of this technology. A recent survey of U.S. executives indicated that 60% believe generative AI will substantially impact their businesses in the long term. However, they anticipate a one to two-year timeframe before implementing their initial solutions. This optimism stems from the potential of generative AI to revolutionize various aspects of businesses, from enhancing customer experiences to optimizing internal processes. In the short term, companies will likely focus on pilot projects and experimentation, gradually integrating generative AI into their operations as they witness its positive influence on efficiency and profitability.
Goldman Sachs’ Cautious Approach to Implementing Generative AI
In a recent interview, Goldman Sachs CIO Marco Argenti revealed that the firm has not yet implemented any generative AI use cases. Instead, the company focuses on experimentation and setting high standards before adopting the technology. Argenti recognized the desire for outcomes in areas like developer and operational efficiency but emphasized ensuring precision before putting experimental AI use cases into production.
According to Argenti, striking the right balance between driving innovation and maintaining accuracy is crucial for successfully integrating generative AI within the firm. Goldman Sachs intends to continue exploring this emerging technology’s potential benefits and applications while diligently assessing risks to ensure it meets the company’s stringent quality standards.
One possible application for Goldman Sachs is in software development, where the company has observed a 20-40% productivity increase during its trials. The goal is for 1,000 developers to utilize generative AI tools by year’s end. However, Argenti emphasized that a well-defined expectation of return on investment is necessary before fully integrating generative AI into production.
To achieve this, the company plans to implement a systematic and strategic approach to adopting generative AI, ensuring that it complements and enhances the skills of its developers. Additionally, Goldman Sachs intends to evaluate the long-term impact of generative AI on their software development processes and the overall quality of the applications being developed.
Goldman Sachs’ approach to AI implementation goes beyond merely executing models. The firm has created a platform encompassing technical, legal, and compliance assessments to filter out improper content and keep track of all interactions. This comprehensive system ensures seamless integration of artificial intelligence in operations while adhering to regulatory standards and maintaining client confidentiality. Moreover, the platform continuously improves and adapts its algorithms, allowing Goldman Sachs to stay at the forefront of technology and offer its clients the most efficient and secure services.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Google DeepMind; Pexels; Thank you!
UK seizes web3 opportunity simplifying crypto regulations
As Web3 companies increasingly consider leaving the United States due to regulatory ambiguity, the United Kingdom must simplify its cryptocurrency regulations to attract these businesses. The conservative think tank Policy Exchange recently released a report detailing ten suggestions for improving Web3 regulation in the country. Among the recommendations are reducing liability for token holders in decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and encouraging the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to adopt alternative Know Your Customer (KYC) methodologies, such as digital identities and blockchain analytics tools. These suggestions aim to position the UK as a hub for Web3 innovation and attract blockchain-based businesses looking for a more conducive regulatory environment.
Streamlining Cryptocurrency Regulations for Innovation
To make it easier for emerging Web3 companies to navigate existing legal frameworks and contribute to the UK’s digital economy growth, the government must streamline cryptocurrency regulations and adopt forward-looking approaches. By making the regulatory landscape clear and straightforward, the UK can create an environment that fosters innovation, growth, and competitiveness in the global fintech industry.
The Policy Exchange report also recommends not weakening self-hosted wallets or treating proof-of-stake (PoS) services as financial services. This approach aims to protect the fundamental principles of decentralization and user autonomy while strongly emphasizing security and regulatory compliance. By doing so, the UK can nurture an environment that encourages innovation and the continued growth of blockchain technology.
Despite recent strict measures by UK authorities, such as His Majesty’s Treasury and the FCA, toward the digital assets sector, the proposed changes in the Policy Exchange report strive to make the UK a more attractive location for Web3 enterprises. By adopting these suggestions, the UK can demonstrate its commitment to fostering innovation in the rapidly evolving blockchain and cryptocurrency industries while ensuring a robust and transparent regulatory environment.
The ongoing uncertainty surrounding cryptocurrency regulations in various countries has prompted Web3 companies to explore alternative jurisdictions with more precise legal frameworks. As the United States grapples with regulatory ambiguity, the United Kingdom can position itself as a hub for Web3 innovation by simplifying and streamlining its cryptocurrency regulations.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Jonathan Borba; Pexels; Thank you!