Martin Wezowski, Chief Designer and Futurist for SAP’s Innovation Center Network & Chief Innovation Office, on Hollywood movies, the next Marie Curie and the merge of Humans with machines.
Thank you Martin for joining us and answering some questions. First one: Is science fiction a question, a source of inspiration for you and what example of a positive novel or movie do you have?
Great question. Of course, science fiction is a source of inspiration. I think science fiction allows us to imagine. Many science fiction movies touching all the layers of society, business, everything in humanity. So, there is always something to get. Even if you talk about pure business or pure technology or pure human behavior. There is always something that can inspire us at first. Yes, watch more science fiction of any kind. When it comes to the positive ones there are a few. There is a reason for that. Hollywood have a monopoly on scaring us and we love it. It is very entertaining to be scared. They work with the Amygdala you know. And you know it is very human to attach ourselves to these adventures that are scary. But if you look at, for example, star trek. They took another road. Let’s take people on an adventure, on a journey and it can be scary and it can be difficult, but it always comes up on this positive side. We are here to explore “the final frontier”. As they say. What is next? And if they have nothing left to do, they just go in many of the episodes ‘Umm? There.’ And they pick a direction. And that’s a very positive human adventure, embodiment in one piece of work of Gene Roddenberry, the founder, the father of star trek, that I think everybody should see.
Okay, so star trek is your advice. Critics fear that the use of AI only serves the purpose of profit maximization, optimists that AI will solve big human problems. What is your opinion?
I am an optimist. Because there is no use to be anything else. By the way, if you say ”I am a realist.” Well, that’s not so useful because then you always stick in the reality. Future is not about reality, the status quo. It’s about what we might imagine is impossible and then make it possible through science for example. And any imagination. I think AI is an amazing tool that can be used for anything. You probably heard it before, but I think it’s worth to compare that with fire again. We managed to control fire. We managed to start fire many, many thousand years ago. And look where we are today. Not everything is burning and there is not a war everywhere just because we know how to start a fire. Actually, the opposite. The world is a better place to live in almost all aspects than ever in human history. Okay, end of story, that’s a fact. There is a book about it, called ‘Factfullness’ by a Swedish scientist. And so goes with AI. What do you want? What do you hope for? As I said in my speech, if you hope AI to maximize your profit, you probably can use it for that. If it maximizes your profit it probably does that because you are relevant. Otherwise people wouldn’t use your AI. Who you are relevant for? Well, for people hopefully of a reason and they are relevant to you. So you build a relationship. Therefore I see AI as a tool for absolute positive relationship building. And today we already see AI in doing really good in, for example diagnostics, health care, safety and security and so on. Different kinds of automations and intelligent systems drive all the planes you guys fly in business, almost all the time. So I don’t see anything else than us leading into a positive future with AI.
You see the super humans coming, but can be there 8 billion super humans or is the world threatened by a small elite and the others are just billions of losers?
That is also a tough one. Obviously, I hope for the 8 billion, or 9, or 10 billion of super humans. And I think we are getting there. I think we connected 3.8 billion people to internet so far. It took us all homo sapiens history to get there. Next five years we will connect another 3 billion. This is how fast it is going. So a kid in Bangladesh ten years from now, or seven years from now, can have a device that connects her to knowledge that was only institutionalized for very, very few just decades ago. So she can then start a company, she can start an adventure or solve problems we couldn’t imagine should be solved even. So that liberation of tools. So I believe that with that and hopefully modernization of learning because educational systems - again they are owned, they have the monopoly of spreading knowledge one would think sometimes. They don’t, they will not have any more. That Bangladeshi young girl can look up quantum mechanics on YouTube today if she can afford, let’s say, a cheap smartphone or get one somewhere. That was impossible. She is probably the next Marie Curie. Right? And by the way, statistically the next Marie Curie will not come from Salzburg, or from Bonn. She will come from India, Africa. And somewhere in one of the countries which are developing and leapfrogging with the new technologies. So I believe in this completion. Instead of competing with each other - the elite and the not-elite. We will be able with the liberation of tools, the power and the autonomy that technology gives individuals circumvent anything we think is irrelevant. If schools are irrelevant, governments are irrelevant and you as a company are irrelevant. We will invent something new and move on in our own speed and in our own perception of what is needed out there. And that is why I am on the positive side of the story.
Okay and how can we ensure that everything is technically positive possible will be done?
Well, if it’s possible technically we will probably do it. And someone will try it out. That’s for sure. Then the question comes: is this the right thing to do? So, if technically possibility of doing things right. On, this works, let’s make it. That’s experimentation. So, what are the right things. What do we need? And that goes back to the purpose why are we here. Technology is just a tool. So we have solved this dilemma, this sort of double-trouble here. It can be done. Should it be done? Well, we are thinking about that right now. We have a problem. The technology is exponentially faster. We can make genetically enhanced humans. We can merge with animals. We can make new species that will live with us on this planet. We will have a hacker, a biohacking community, that actually is existing already today. Maybe these questions are more moral, ethical and philosophical. Who are we? Is it okay to not be homo sapiens anymore? If that’s okay, if that’s the right thing to do, then we know how to do it. Doing things right. Technology is already there. Which brings us back to the philosophical point of view on life that we should have had much earlier. Why are we here? What’s good? What’s the relationship we want to have? And the rest will follow. Actually, the rest is easy.
So, what in your opinion will be the biggest ethical challenges of the digitization of artificial intelligence in next let’s say 30, 50 years?
That is the big question. I think it comes back to the same thing. What do we want? What can we let go? Is it ok to not be human anymore? Can we be less ego centric and proud? This false pride. I am homo sapiens. I own the world. Maybe there will be other species here that we create. Other kind of entities that think differently. These are the ethical questions. How can build this - as I call it - empathic symbiosis between human ingenuity and machine intelligence? Empathic symbiosis as mutual understanding and needing each other. How can we augment technology with human ingenuity and human wishes until we are technology?
And social networks and other digital tools are changing our communication behavior and social interaction already. Critics now speak of an emotional and mental fracturing. Are the super humans of tomorrow only superficial hedonists?
Superficial, I don't think so. What I see is, with the power of automation, this autonomy, this decision power and the liberation of thoughts. I can do business autonomously without going through some third party. Machine learning, blockchain and other technologies, they give us not only new possibilities to explore in the world and the businesses and the relationships we have. They give us time to think and ask different questions. A boardroom maybe starts to think, why are we doing this? What is our role in this? Not only how do we monetize on because that’s maybe already suggested for them. How the value exchange could be relevant for other peers. That’s the autonomy of the network. Hey, you can be relevant for that person. Deliver that service. And by the way do you want to do this? You should and you're really good at it. Then you can think "so I really want to be good at it?" So these are deeper questions or broader philosophical questions and ethical questions as you suggested before. I think that is spreading, the more time we have, the more time we spend with art, curiosity, each other and emotional exchange. Rather than transactional relationships. Like “Do you have the money? Will you come at 9 o'clock?” This will be solved. I think we will dive deeper. We will become more artful essential beings than before. Maybe we are now in the era and social networks are representation of Technology that is hitting us so fast. So now we are just doing whatever we could. We are just reaching out for our lives just as we did for decades. Look, I have a diamond. Look, I am successful. Look, I am pretty. Maybe that is just because that is the mentality now. That mentality will change because that will may be abundant , so nobody cares that you actually look great, because you do. Maybe they will care “What do you think?” Maybe they will? And that will maybe grow up. This is what I hope for.
It's quite a positive view on the future you have, but how do you make sure the people, human beings in small villages in Germany and elsewhere in the world will also share your positive view and not be, "Oh! There is something coming on and I don't know and I'm afraid of it and change is always a bad thing."?
One tough problem we have here is how we bring everybody together on the positivity of change? Change is always there, it's unstoppable, that is actually the evolution of this planet. We are here because of change, not despite of change. And that is hard to hear because it is a fact. And as you know facts don’t work. We have noticed that in the last 5 years. Emotions work. So we need to start to ask these questions, why do we want to change? How do we want to change? Instead of asking who are you, we should ask, who are you becoming? And where are you headed? I don't want to go anywhere. Then maybe we should ask, "Well, why not?” And if you don't, can you be comfortable here and still have a meaningful life for a long time because you will probably live until you are 100 or 120 years, whatever. We need to start to have these discussions. I think these discussions must be in small units around kitchen tables, in families, in schools, workplaces and your teams rather than the big discussions. Because as soon as you more than 20 people, you need a megaphone and then the discussion breaks down. So, that is important. Another path, as you noticed through the interview, we can bring any scary scenarios as you wish about technology. Fire is the same thing, we can drown, we can get burnt, we can end up in a crash. Hollywood has a fantastic way of making death entertaining. They know that our Amygdala, our fear, our fight and flight center responses very fast to the stimuli that they give us and we are entertained. I love it, by the way, all the terminator movies and so on. Now since they are doing such a great job, we don’t have to. The job has already been done and it is still being done greatly. Let’s do the other part of the job that they don’t do. Being absolutely Utopia. Imagine this, let’s go to the moon, let’s go to Mars, let’s be superhuman. These stories must be told, also in small communities and then with the question. “How would you like to change in that direction? What would you like to do if you had this and this capability?” So, I am positive because exactly of that dilemma. We are leaving the positivity to some few and the rest is spread through negativity, through Dystopian futures because they are entertaining. We need to wake up to the balance there.
Maybe the basic income can be a solution to the people because many fear that they might lose their jobs. It’s just a short-term solution?
Short-term solution basic income. Unconditional basic income is a very interesting model. I think it is a very nice curious experiment. So let’s keep it like that, it is very important and so that could be one answer to the question, but it is little bit interesting than that. I think that most of us, at least statistically through history, made other stuff to do when we did the task that were automated for us, disappear from our daily chores, so it seems so that the homo sapiens is very curios. As soon as we’re are still in a status quo, we make stuff up, we paint new art, we listen to new music, we have new conversations, we invent new technologies, we create new business models to be relevant indifferently on a market, we don’t stand still, we never do. So, I believe in human ingenuity, curiosity and purpose driven, sort of, seek for something, as soon as it is quiet we enjoy that. This was good. I am making money, that company is running, I am bored, let us do something else. It is not about taking jobs, it is about taking away the tasks, that shouldn’t be human.
The future needs optimists
Despite all of Hollywood’s horror scenarios, Martin Wezowski is staunchly optimistic about the future.