Surviving the future

AI, Infosys and e-commerce’s hour of reckoning

Founding Fuel

[Clockwise from top left: By Gerd Altmann under Creative Commons; Wayang glass painting depiction of Bharatayudha battle by Gunawan Kartapranata under Creative CommonsOFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS (CC BY 2.0) and World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland (CC BY-SA 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons].

My dear friend,

A thought occurs to me oftentimes in the quiet hours of the morning. What if I had more time like this through the day? How will I spend it? What will it be in pursuit of? Will it be in the pursuit of money? Purpose? Or more time like this? There is a stillness in those hours that compels such questions and I can almost watch my thoughts pass by. And I smile as they pass. Because I know they are just that. Thoughts. If I stay obsessed with it, then there is not much I will get done in the hours that I have left.

As it turns out, that is exactly what a lot many people are obsessed with. Because in the years to come, our days are going to be filled with more hours than we ever thought possible. All this on the back of a disruption. It goes by a now ubiquitous name—artificial intelligence. I confess I have no answers to what lies ahead as I write this note. Except that every era is susceptible to disruption. And as humans, we have to accept the inevitable. The finest minds of our times are obsessing over its implications as well. This occurred to me on the back of two pieces.

The first is the sum and substance of a conversation between Nandan Nilekani and Satya Nadella around What to do about Artificial Intelligence. Nilekani is obsessed with Project Aadhar and India Stack, a theme that all of us at Founding Fuel are following avidly. Nadella as chief executive of Microsoft thinks software on the cloud must plug in to the India Stack. Even as they spoke with much passion around how can it be made possible and the benefits, the both of them converged on that artificial intelligence is the way to go about it. And with good reason. Why? My colleague NS Ramnath was a witness to the proceedings and recorded it. If you haven’t seen and listened to Nilekani and Nadella converse, may I urge you to?

Yes, Ramnath had pointed to what Bill Gates had to say about taxing robots last week as well in his note. But I feel compelled to do it once more given the context. I’m not entirely sure what kind of notes Nadella and Gates, the founder chairman of Microsoft, share. But the last few days have raised more than a few brows and sparked off countless debates after he suggested, “You ought to be willing to raise the tax level and even slow down the level of automation.” Here’s a video and transcript of the interview on Qz.com.

Personally, I don’t agree with Gates. I wonder if much the same questions may have crossed the minds of people at the forefront of the industrial revolution when manpower was being “rationalised”. That said, it raises a lot of room for philosophical and moral soul searching. At Founding Fuel, this is one area we intend to keep a close eye on and watch with much interest.

Leadership and what defines it is something we obsess over. That is why, at Founding Fuel, we walk the extra mile to seek thought leaders out to share what it means to them.

On March 2, Indrajit Gupta will engage with some very fine minds on Facebook Live to understand what it means to them. He intends to use the past and the Indian e-commerce business story as a narrative to bind it.

As a precursor, we have curated some articles on the theme from our archives by the hugely popular Haresh Chawla. It follows at the end of this note. He will be part of the discussion as well along with Amit Agarwal, the country head at Amazon India, and Sanjeev Bikhchandni the founder at Info-Edge. Do join us and our partners Boom Live. All it will take is that you click here.

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My very best,

For Team Founding Fuel,

Charles Assisi

Featured Stories

What to do about artificial intelligence

Make it work for the poor, two tech leaders say. (By NS Ramnath. Read Time: 4 mins)

Behind the Infosys brouhaha

Like most people interested in business and entrepreneurship, all of us at Founding Fuel are riveted by the brouhaha at that poster child of Indian IT services business, Infosys. It was seen by a generation as the ticket to all that is possible. Much has been said and written about it in the public domain. I don’t want to add much. But two things I want to leave you with for this week. The first in a gentle nudge to my co-founder Indrajit Gupta’s sharp take on the unfolding “drama”—for lack of a better word. The second is a quote I had saved because it struck me as particularly pertinent: “Letting go of things and not being afraid of being ridiculous or over the top—I think that's the main thing for me to work on.” (By Indrajit Gupta. Read Time: 4 mins)

What Has Our Attention

Whiplash: How to survive our faster future

I started with artificial intelligence. It had me looking for more on the theme and this book got my attention. Its lead author is Joi Ito, one of the foremost thinkers of our times and he argues, “Our technologies have outpaced our ability as a society to understand them.” I haven’t come around to reading the book yet. But there is an hour long talk on all of what is playing on his mind. It challenges all notions current business are built on and argues the world needs a “new operating system”. To cite but one instance, why use old world notions like stockpiling resources when you can crowdsource resources and seed fund to experiment and innovate faster and at dramatically lower costs?

I haven’t come around to reading the book yet. But there is an hour-long talk by him on the theme that can be seen right here: 

Podcast: Brains, bodies, minds… and techno-religions

And while on the theme, how can I not talk about Ben Evans and the podcasts on his site? Again, one of the finest thinkers on technology and investors of our times, his most recent podcast is now out. It embeds a series of provocative questions and is worth investing 45 minutes of your time.

Spare a moment to think of what is on his mind before you take a call on whether or not you want to listen in. My word, you will want to.

“What happens then when illusions collide with reality? As it is, religion itself is ‘a virtual reality game that provides people with meaning by imposing imaginary rules on an objective reality’. Is Data-ism the new religion? From education, automation, war, energy, and jobs to universal basic income, inequality, human longevity, and climate change, (Yuval) Harari reflects on what's possible, probable, pressing—and is mere decades, not centuries, away—when man becomes god... or merges with machines.”

Intrigued? Tune in: 

Must Reads On E-commerce

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About the author

Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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