Below is Adam Cowart’s third Emerging Fellows post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Ah, the entrepreneur. Nothing is more real, more visceral. 100 years ago, the image of the entrepreneur was a man with greased back hair, an impressive handlebar moustache, a three-piece suit, standing solemnly beside some heavy piece of blackened machinery. Fast-forward to the 90’s, and it was young, awkward white boys, doing their best to look cool but not quite pulling it off. And now today, a moderately more diversified group of men and women, usually not quite facing the camera, more turned to the side, as if the camera has just caught them in the act of doing something extraordinarily innovative, something just outside the frame. What’s consistent across all these images is a certain twinkle in the eye, as if communicating to the viewer across time and space, “Hey, I can see the future. Can you?”
The sustainment of a real economy requires not only the ongoing production and consumption of existing products but the creation of new products. These new products are developed and produced by both large and medium-sized companies, along with small and new businesses. Entrepreneurs are considered critical for a healthy and dynamic economy. They provide infusions of new ideas, disrupt old business models, and create new areas of growth and opportunity.
But are entrepreneurs going the way of the Dodo? While much has been written on how entrepreneurs and big business are, and will, use AI to change the world and the economy, less has been written on how AI will disrupt the disruptors. New business and product ideas are, after all, essentially the output of synthesizing insights, developing and testing prototypes, procuring capital for production and expansion, and then running the business. When will we start seeing entrepreneur bots? Autonomous product and service creation programs who generate business ideas and then go out and make the business a reality?
Consider how advanced programs have disrupted market trading, in particular, the well-known story of high-frequency trading. Minute market fluctuations are exploited by advanced algorithms. Take this same rapid response approach to the real economy and AI bots, who could be perpetually scouring global markets for tiny opportunities and move rapidly to capitalize on those blips in the market to make a profit, before the blip disappears and the markets return to “normal”. Along with online sales, the concept of the “pop up shop” could become incredibly ubiquitous. An AI Entrepreneur identifies a local opportunity in, say, Winnipeg Canada. A generic pop up store is procured, a product is developed, rapidly prototyped, market tested in minutes by customer-composite bots, specs sent to other manufacturing bots, the product is created and on the shelf (and available online) within a day. Within a week, the opportunity has been exploited, and the store closes down. Perhaps inventory lingers online for a brief period of time.
In this Blog column, we have been considering whether the real economy will, in fact, be real in the future. A vertically integrated AI product and service creation network could function largely independently of humans. With the capability to generate and produce new products and services far faster than humans can possibly consume them, does this follow the conceptual trend of hypercapitalism? Will the speed and intensity of economic activity continue to accelerate? Forget about getting irritated by a new iPhone every year – with our entrepreneur and product-creation bots, we could have a new iPhone once a week. Perhaps even once a day.
Of course, the next logical step for humans, overwhelmed by choice and upgrades, is for us to outsource our consumer decision making to our own bots. B2B (Business to Business) models will gradually shift towards an AIB2B model, and then eventually to an AIB2AIB model (Artificial Intelligence Business to Artificial Intelligence Business). While most sci-fi movies imagine a dystopian future of nuclear wars caused by a “woke” robot, would the invasion be far less innocuous? Whoever controls the economy controls everything. But is this economy still real?
© Adam Cowart 2018