Final Countdown. Daniel Petre

Attended a thought-provoking Florence Guild talk at Sydney Work Club on 2 June.

Daniel Petre (from a 2009 bio in The Age) ‘If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, then you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life (Maslow).’

I’ve been aware of Daniel Petre since the early 90s and his success as Microsoft’s first non-US VP) his work in the early days of e-Commerce, read one of his books (The Lucky Country?), his philanthropy and that he now works in the innovation/ funding/ startup space. While that ‘light’ take is essentially accurate, the thought of hearing Petre’s thoughts was enough to make me choose this talk over Mike Jay’s Media Social gig at Taylor Square at the same time. And that was a big call.

This isn’t a full recount of Petre’s talk, I wanted to listen and engage, not report.

Petre sat right back by the window, at the back of the presentation space. Just him, on a stool, and a handful of notes.

It turned out the the talk was essentially a take on the ‘Rise of the machines’, and so notes would have been redundant for the bulk of the session, but a couple of points below (paraphrasing for future reference, in the absence of notes):

  • People are pretty lousy at forecasting and understanding what’s going on, especially with technology (e.g. McKinsey projected a total 990,000 mobiles in the US in the 90s, wrong by an order of magnitude)
  • Elon Musk (the only man to have founded three billion dollar companies), Stephen Hawkins and (Petre’s old boss) Bill Gates have all said mankind has let the genie out of the bottle with technology, especially AI
  • There are a number of advanced robotics programs in existence (and it seems they all live on YouTube. Petre commented on some, not all of these)
  • Read Nick Bostrom’s ‘Superintelligence’ for a non-Kurzweil non- technologist take on our AI and SI future
  • It’s unclear what changes will be but (approx.) 30-50% of jobs lost to technology will not be replaced ‘one to one’
  • The ‘West’ will be hit hardest – let’s face it, if you’re in Africa on a tiny income, a reduction is going to impact your way of life less vs. our leveraged, technology-centric, consumer society
  • People will need to get – literally – smarter to compete – grow their individual (and collective) IQ
  • When employers give credit to Coursera qualifications to the same extent as traditional univeristies, the latter will be in big trouble
  • Qualities of critical thinking, creativity and empathy will be the ones to endure/ cultivate (Petre sees a larger role for human carers, post automation (Autogeddon?)
  • There may well be a ‘right-sizing’ in terms of human population

Petre is aware of (and I think) supportive of UBI and cited an example of where a social experiment favoured UBI but was quashed by a (let’s call it) a conservative backlash. Very few of the FG audience seemed aware of UBI, with one person calling out, ‘Work for the dole’

I had to leave before the Q&A finished as Eve arrived early for a trip to the Vivid lights, but it was Petre that was the more illuminating in the end

Work Club Video interview from the same day and Soundcloud podcast