The Case of the Missing Columnist

I have been conspicuously absent from this column because I started a new job a month after the election. One of the benefits of running for office, even if you lose, is that you become much more employable. I am an operating partner at a firm, Brown Ventures, that provides several services to start ups in Silicon Valley, typically in the field of artificial intelligence.


I hope that suffices as an excuse for my low productivity as a columnist. There aren’t too many Filipinos in AI (except for our revered semiconductor tycoon) so I did not know what to write about. Perhaps I will try anyway.


What is Artificial Intelligence? It is a field of computer science that refers to machines (or computers) that work more closely like humans. That includes the field that is able to upload “real world” data, like images and sounds, and process it. Thus, a growing part of artificial intelligence is allowing machines to be able to see and hear better and negotiate real world surroundings without the need for human intervention. Known as the “Edge” in industry terms, this refers to devices such as driverless cars, drones, smart security cameras, AI assistants, smart watches, robots, and smart phones, among other things. While this is the part of the industry that is attracting the most attention, it is the depth of the mathematical capability that interests me most.


I am not a mathematician; nor am I an engineer. But I do recall reaching the limits of my mathematical capability when I was a student. I could understand math intuitively in three dimensions. Once the dimensions increased beyond that, I could not. There are some human minds that can imagine beyond the number of spatial dimensions we live in. They are writing algorithms or competing for the Nobel Prize. AI neural nets perform calculations using hundreds of dimensions. While the algorithms still have their flaws, they are improving just like all things technology march down a path of innovation. Nevertheless, the crudest neural network is capable of math that far surpasses the human capability. Instead of making decisions using a few variables, we could make them using hundreds as long as we are humble enough to employ the help of a computer.


This leads me to the most obvious statement: competitive advantage in the future will likely be distinguished by those who can employ this technology effectively. Today, while we are in the middle of a rapid AI adoption cycle, we still do many of our real world tasks without the help of math. In the future, it is possible that an intense superhuman math may be employed to guide us through the most mundane aspects of our lives. If we don’t employ this advantage at a personal level, society will, companies will, the government will. Individuals could be at a disadvantage.


On a separate note, I’m looking forward to attending what may be one of the final Sinulog celebrations (for this season) on Saturday, January 26, at Saint Augustine on Callan. I will bring one of the desserts and will spend the rest of my week trying to decide between miniature cupcakes or puto. If only an AI algorithm could decide for me….