Intelligence in Robots vs. Humans

Ryan and I were chatting about a new formula for intelligence by Alex Wissner and discussed a potentially overlooked part in the equation unique to humans. Simply, we must fulfill underlying needs before we can optimize future freedom of action meaning a given individual may have a different starting point with a series of unique challenges. There is an incredible range an individual may start from before reaching her full potential.

It takes a very different type of intelligence to optimize opportunities over the long-term than the short-term. If we limit the opportunities we have today, for the sake of long-term potential, is that an "intelligent" decision? Let's take the following two scenarios.

One: Intelligence is often used to optimize monetary resources, that can then be used to purchase opportunities.  Much of the investing we do is based off this concept - but in a temperamental manner. People buy when it's expensive & sell when it's cheap. To go against the norm and make a big bet on something while everyone else is running away is noted as "stupid" (at the time). If it does pay out there's a foot-in-mouth moment and they're revered as genius investors. I often found these scenarios a bit skeptical because it only takes one outlier case (or "luck") to catapult someone (no matter the intelligence) into infinite future opportunities.

Two: In the opposite scenario, "street smarts" is a specific form of intelligence related to instincts or thinking on your feet, often more essential to increase near-term opportunities. We also associate this intelligence with individuals in lower socioeconomic environments. Alex's theory assumes near-term realities for many of these individuals are nonexistent in order for his theory to work - we live in a industrialized society and increased the standard of living to a point where the lower tiers of Maslow's Hierarchy is assumed. As such, intelligence related to optimize these lower tiers isn't as valuable and absent from Alex's theory. 

Let's use this individual, Annie, that grew up in a low-income household, school district, and culture.  A robot can play a game where everyone is guided by the same rules and tools whereas Annie has very unique restrictions than other individuals her age. The robot Alex cites in his work is able to systematically optimize future freedom of action because it functions in the highest level of Maslow's hierarchy. Humans, on the other hand, do not live within these exact conditions. As such, there are more immediate needs humans must satisfy before reaching their intellectual potential.

A recent Brookings report made waves trying to understand why high-achieving low-income students don't apply to top colleges when these institutions often end up costing less for low-income students. Alex's theory adapted to Annie assumes she isn't intelligent enough to leverage her academic success for the greatest future opportunities. Yet, it's less that Harvard isn't valued as a great way to increase future opportunities; going to Harvard just isn't in Annie's realm of possibility. Today Annie needs to think about how she's getting home from school, finding something to eat, and fulfilling her social or belonging needs. Annie must balance her unique set of short vs. long-term constraints and opportunities.

Fortunately, the U.S. has inserted a somewhat consistent public education system for all students. By attending school, Annie consumes food as well as an education. The public education system is a way for us to equalize the start point for individuals. More and more we are trying to provide the lower rings of Maslow's hierarchy in the hopes that everyone can focus on maximizing their future freedom of action. 

In a similar way, Annie must go against what her environmental norm is - everyone else is synchronized in their decisions to optimize future opportunities in the same way. She needs to act out of the norm of her direct surroundings and make a potentially controversial decision. The coveted yet unlikely rags to riches story or "American Dream" is a unicorn that we don't even bother to incorporate into our own models of intelligence. 

Minorities should play to win

Imagine a Fortune 500 company with an all-female board or a woman that's paid 30% more than her male peer.

If the black:white ratio is 13:78 in the general US population but 13:468 at Google, indicating there are 6x more white employees proportionally to black than there are in the population. What if we expected more and aimed for 6x more black Googlers than white ones?

Equal pay, 50% board seats, and all the "goals" out there for minorities don't really look like goals. As an individual, what are our goals? To be average, the median or as good as your peer? No, it's to be the best. So why aren't feminists advocating for 100% board seats and double the pay of men? What if we called it black supremacy instead of racial equality? *witch cackle - anarchy and chaos ensues*

It's unorthodox to ask for more than you "deserve". Especially as a minority. But aspirations aren't meant to be realistic today. They're about going after the biggest thing you want no matter how far you are from obtaining it. 

Sheryl Sandberg's campaign to eliminate "bossy" as a female adjective exemplifies how we play not to lose (avoid put-downs) rather than playing to win (associate positive terms with women). Yet in her personal life she's rocking the COO job at one of the biggest tech companies. Instead of imposing average goals on half of the population, let's aim to be the best.

As individuals - female, hispanic, low-income - we aspire to be the next CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Why shouldn't have the same goals for the larger groups we're a part of?

Home

My flight DL4493 landed in LAX yesterday. I stood outside Terminal 5 waiting for the Westwood FlyAway to meet my sister who works at an elementary school in the area. Sat around for over an hour, thinking I missed the bus, reading The Goldfinch, hoping my phone didn't die.

Once I got into my sister's car, we drove over to Larchmont, picked up a several dozen cupcakes for a wedding she's organizing, had a dramatic moment where coffee spilled all over her dress, proceeded to temper the situation with water, and makeup, then got dropped off at the Vermont / Beverly metro stop. Met my mom at the North Hollywood stop and finally entered my home.

I haven't lived at home since going off to college 6 years ago. Over the years I notice more of the idiosyncrasies that I took for granted growing up. Narrow doorways, low sinks, two desks in our bedroom, the weird creak of the kitchen drawer, my mom's mild hoarding habits. 

Sitting around over coffee in the morning, my aunt, mother, and neighborhood friend chat in korean about my eyebrows to my eyelids to my nails to the girth of my thighs. Then we get on the topic of boys, lack thereof, weddings, and then I turn the conversation to taxidermy-ing our dog, Smoothie, once she dies.

My dog's about 12 years old now, which seems crazy. She seems fatter and unusually aggressive during our hike at Runyon Canyon. We stream past could-be actors and actresses, families speaking in Spanish, dog poop, and exercising bootcampers. 

I take in every experience and reflect on how it impacted me and my life and who I am. There's rarely such a static environment you can go back to, to reflect on the past self that absorbed it all. 

Privacy vs Desperation

If you haven't noticed already, I like to compare things. Most times, there are a few ironic inconsistencies in life that we can zoom in on and wonder how they co-exist.

Exhibit A: While Wired touts our ability to trust each other a separate media frenzy revolves around the lack of privacy and NSA-hackings. There's a conversation on USV that argues the sharing economy is a result of shrinking bank accounts, not because we're shifting culturally. Once the economy gets better, we'll all go back to our non-sharing ways.

Wrong. Hellz naw am I ever going back to a hotel over an exquisite little cottage on the beach with handmade soap and a fully stocked fridge (no matter how many dolla dolla bills I have)

Now something a little more controversial...I'm insensitive to privacy concerns for 2 reasons:

  1. I'm not worried anything I do is worth picking out yet. Because companies and our government are collecting data (n=all), I assume anonymity.
  2. I'm a martyr giving away my data in the name of science (jk). We need everyone's data to discover accurate correlations.

I'm a reflection of how internet users are acting - comfortable with letting people into my home and signing up for all kinds of services in exchange for my data. We're not being handcuffed into doing it, we genuinely enjoy the experience and willing to be the guinea pigs until suddenly a lab scientist kills us all.

just sayin'

When Developing your Business Relationships is all about Developing People

I've been helping Venture for America the last month assess candidates for the program. I've also been on the flip side recruiting companies to hire these fellows once they've been accepted. Keeping both goals in mind, I'm often asking myself while reviewing applicants, are they going to kick-ass at their job and make the company that hired them want more? 

Most of the Fellows have already given strong examples of grit, intelligence, and focus so I'm more partial to the individual's personality and character knowing they have the basic skills to succeed. Minimizing bias, I also try to understand the diversity of culture, role, and structure that Fellows might be placed in.

Now, this is a very similar strategy to Universities. Their alumni base needs to go out, kick-ass at their jobs, and build a reputation so more companies hire from their universities. 

So, then, why does VFA work so differently from universities? 

VFA's long-term goal is for its alumni to be the employers themselves rather than a cog in the machine. Universities try to funnel as many of their students to join large Fortune 500 companies. 

It's an oversimplification of the difference but also telling. It impacts:

  • Recruiting: As mentioned with VFA's process, after getting a good sense for grit, it's about looking for leaders. Universities also look for excellence.
  • Development: Universities rarely have a concept of "customer service." As a student, you just kind of deal with it. Recent light on sexual harassment issues is an overture to others tucked under the mat. On the other hand, VFA collects quarterly surveys to improve every aspect of their program. It's young and hungry for feedback.
  • Exit: Go be a cog vs. a leader

At the basic level, if the expected output is X, then that's probably what the machine's going to be built to do. VFA's development process is around empowering you to solve problems and the theory is that out pops leaders. Let's hope they're on to something.

Building something real

I subscribed to 5 Intriguing Things a few months ago after talking to Glenn at Upfront. I just read this article today,

Crabapple: I totally agree. The flipside is that working-class jobs where people used to make things are largely outsourced, and those jobs are being replaced by service jobs. What you’re selling, in addition to your labor, is your ability to project certain sorts of feelings, to smile and pretend that you like it. On both ends, you’re far away from building anything real.

Oh, to think the entire developed world is left in a hopeless cycle of non-creation.

Create more than you Consume

We read Medium. We watch Downton Abbey. We drink Blue Bottle coffee. We read emails all day. We consume constantly.

As often occurs at the end of the year, we take a moment to look at the year's data in congregate. How much weight did we gain? What goals did we hit? Who did we meet?

At the end of 2013 I noticed 2 things:

  1. I consume too much.
  2. I create too little.

Let's break down consumption. I wake up to my iPhone alarm, browse a few emails that streamed in overnight, turn on NPR while I brush my teeth, make some Nespresso, eat some Fage mixed with granola, walk my dog, ride my Sole bike to work, make some Keurig coffee, open my Macbook, bang away on Gmail, edit a doc in Word, browse Techcrunch, Tweet, hear someone talk in a meeting, for hours, bang away at another email, jump on a conference call, sip on some Fiji, use the restroom...and it continues when you finally get home, gnaw on some leftovers, watch TV. (and all my consumption makes me a pretentious prick)

The difficulty in separating consumption from creation is that one can often be mistaken for the other. For discussion's sake, let's define creation where the value is increases because you interact with or add to it versus consumption where the value decreases because you interact with or take from it. (Draft 1)

Now, let's measure creation. As an investor (of investors, ie Fund of Funds), you're mostly just a service provider. So, by taking someone else's money, sticking it in somewhere you think it'll grow, then walking away, by definition you are not the creator, you are the person that finds the value-adding firms and passes over the cash. Ironically, most of the finance industry isn't creating anything (ie hedge funds), but they get paid the most. VCs today are doing some interesting things where buzz words range from "capital efficiency" to "value-creation." Andreessen, for example has a slew of Talent Recruiters that source and place talent in their underlying portfolio startups and USV has a General Manager that helps productize and guide its companies. In that sense, some VCs have a true thesis revolving around value creation. But...

let's get to the point. I am at a huge deficit of consumption > creation. 

For example, when I attempt to create things I suck at, it takes a lot of energy. Blogging, woodworking, among others, are difficult for me. But trying something new is also difficult and no matter how steep the learning curve, becomes easier with time. It's a matter of finding your core skill(s) that you want to optimize so that you can produce more efficiently than everyone else and create a positive-sum game. It's not just about specializing; it's about specializing in something that matters. Imagine how many "specialists" exist in large corporations that have honed their skills but are mere luxurious cushions to the corporate structure. Fuck that. Be the Elon Musks of the world and make sure you're putting more of yourself out there rather than letting others define who you are. It's the alternative to immortality.

Grit

 

Paul Tough has a great book on grit coming out that Emmy Liss (from McKinsey #VFAbootcamp) and I discussed earlier last week. 

“The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure. And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.”

In the same vein, there’s a great article by William Deresiewicz on The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

I’ve been interested in the topic of grit ever since I saw Paul Tough speak at Georgetown a couple years ago. A reason why I wanted to go into education but it continues to be relevant as I reflect on the implications it has on my character.

As an entrepreneur, will I have enough grit to succeed?

My track record seems to indicate otherwise. I’ve never really failed. I was always in magnet/honors/AP/other high-level academic environments and failed to fail. Did I stumble, slow down, lose traction, disappoint myself, and struggle to get up? Sure. But what were the stumbling blocks, barriers, and disappointments that caused me to falter? Were they significantly difficult or more appropriately, did they seem difficult? 

From what I can tell, I am my biggest obstacle. So, am I now going to immerse myself in bad situations just to say that I’ve struggled? Probably not, but I need to take myself out of environments where people assume I’ll succeed or won’t allow me to fail. I need to only rely on myself and persist through my own strength without the support of others.