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10 Jul, 2023 - 8 min read

Insights And Highlights:
A Recap Of Our Q2 Quarterly Briefing Session

Business Insights event for people wanting to stay informed beyond the headline grabs.

Each quarter, our Founder and CEO Frances Valintine runs a Quarterly Briefing session, which provides up-to-the-minute analysis of the intersection of tech and business, and their impact on our everyday lives. Frances curates these insights from global research, trends and signals to provide us with a high impact session on the big shifts we need to prepare for.

As we gear up for next quarters session on the 11th of August 2023, check out a recap of the key takeaways from Q2.

Brave New World

Frances began the briefing session by discussing some of the more hostile aspects of AI development, including the ability of ‘bad actors’ to manipulate the public in various ways. She also commented on the pace of change, which is accelerating. 

While the Coronation of King Charles III was a spectacular event, with drone technology contributing to the excitement in colourful, highly coordinated aerial displays, Frances noted how the flipside of tech advances was also on display. The distribution of deep fake images of the royal family in make-believe after-party scenarios were unconvincing only because of their natural dissociation with royal life, but otherwise believable in every way.

In the last briefing Frances discussed the overnight game changer, ChatGPT. In the three months since its launch, the generative AI has already gone through a further three iterations, becoming exponentially more powerful with each turn. 

The training dataset size for ChatGPT has leapt from 117 million parameters in the first iteration to 1 trillion parameters in its fourth. The AI can now accept up to 25,000 words prompts.

It is also the fastest-growing consumer product in history, yet it’s clearly capable of lying and outsmarting people. There are already products on the market aimed at helping students do better on exams - among other ethical grey zones.

Voice mimicry is another big area to watch for - algorithms need only three seconds of a person’s recorded voice to produce a convincing rendition. The implications for everything from scammers to fair future elections are concerning.

On the home front, parents may want to take note of the fact that social media platforms are adopting AI chatbots - Frances highlighted an experiment in which she posed as a 12 year old girl asking for advice on dating an older boy on Snapchat, with disturbing results. AI is even sneaking into the military sphere, with Australia’s air force now using autonomous fighter planes and weapons.

Time to shut AI down?

Tech executives are sounding the alarm on AI with an open letter calling for a pause on all development. Even Google’s former AI Czar Geoffrey Hinton stepped down from his role so that he could speak out about its dangers, particularly military applications, including the potential for killer robot soldiers to be developed. Despite being cynical about our ability to put a stop to this type of development - it is too useful - the message was that hard conversations must be had and guardrails must be established.

Others think this doesn’t go far enough, though, Frances notes.

Because planning and management of this sort isn’t happening, some now consider the likelihood of technology falling into the hands of untrustworthy actors to be very real. Almost weekly papers in the academic literature are coming out with warnings about the increasing powers and threats posed by AI. Left to chance, AI may be able to outsmart, outnumber and replace us due to the exponential nature of its abilities and some even believe it can become self-aware or develop feelings. 

Calls for not only pausing development, but shutting it down entirely, are emerging.

Social Media fragmentation

Increasing investment in AI is one of the contributing factors to what Frances observes is our waning interest in social media. This is reflected in decreasing advertising revenue on major platforms like Facebook which saw a drop of 4.6% in January and Instagram which has seen a 10.8% drop year-on-year. Twitter has recorded a 32% decrease in the number of people who can be reached by advertising and may be on its way out.

And as concerns about the effect on social media continue to grow, it seems people are turning away from it and considering its downsides more. Public hospital discharges in Wellington between 2010 and 2023 show an increase of 183% in girls admitted for intentional self-harm, and boys are not far behind. If nothing else, Frances says we have to try to understand what we are doing to young people by giving them access to these platforms. The parenting it takes is really tough, she says.

Australia is banning mobile phones at school state-by-state, which Frances says is the best idea she’s heard in a long time. While she used to be an advocate for phones as learning tools in schools, she says that isn’t how they are being used. However, the same conversation is not happening in New Zealand, an early indication that we won’t be doing a phone ban here. How can we have this debate, she asks?

Money is flowing into AI, however. ChatGPTs biggest competitor Anthropic just raised $300 million of a company valuation of $4 billion and IBM has made noises about 7,800 jobs being under threat, to be replaced by AI.

Along with social media fragmentation, this doubling down on investment into AI is shifting focus away from other tech trends like the Metaverse or Cryptocurrencies, Frances notes, with even early stage businesses getting the types of funding we’ve never seen before. Generative AI has taken all of the money out of the Metaverse market..

For example Metaverse real estate prices have plummeted. Disney has pulled out completely and said it is moving right away from the Metaverse, and Frances thinks it’s unlikely to have a resurgence anytime soon.

In the world of Crytpos, meme coins seem to be the new thing, particularly one called Pepe which saw seven-day growth of 827% in April with a market valuation of $1.7 billion - growth which is pushing Bitcoin growth down.

AI and youth culture

Technology continues to have a strong influence on young people, digital natives, who are at home with technology and can interface with it almost seamlessly, as Frances points out. This is the demographic driving demand for generative AI products.

Canadian rapper Drake’s voice was mimicked in a song by an AI artist called Ghostwriter, testing copyright laws that have no way yet of responding to this development. Some artists, like Grimes - former wife of Elon Musk and avowed transhuman - is embracing it. She insists that AI can take her voice and create new music, as long as the royalties are shared 50:50, Frances notes.

Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTS) are tanking, Frances says, with numerous NFT marketplaces all chasing consumers, in a race to the bottom. The power of tokens to induce behaviour among DGENs (young people who trade on these marketplaces) is decreasing and NFT subculture is starting to lose momentum as it devolves from marketplaces to a peer-to-peer perpetual lending Wild West.

ESports and VRSports (immersive environments) continue to go from strength to strength with young men the main market. Tournaments attract millions of people to watch games and real life conventions like Gamerfests attract people from all over the world. It’s an enormous market, and one famous player is followed by 18.5 million followers. Powerful stuff, says Frances.

What’s happening in the real world?

Falling fertility is becoming a major concern and some countries are facing replacement population challenges, particularly South Korea, which has taken over from Japan and the government response is to incentivise having kids. China is now investing a lot of money into IVF programmes.

The ageing population is likely to have far fewer people to support it in coming years. For New Zealand the implications are enormous. Births are dropping in New Zealand too. Since 2010 births have dropped from 2.17 to 1.61 per person, beneath replacement rate. That’s a decline of 26% in ten years, and speeding up. This will mean we need to rely heavily on immigration to pay the taxes needed to pay for an ageing population, Frances observes. 

The Edelman Trust Barometer, a survey of 32,000 people which doesn’t include New Zealand, provides key metrics for understanding trust in society. Frances noted what she considered a very scary development under the heading Distrust Breeds Polarisation, in the survey: Very few would help, live near, or work with someone who disagreed with their point of view, and only 30% would help them if they were in need, 20% would be willing to live in the same neighbourhood and only 20% would be willing to have them as a colleague.

The survey shows that trust in government is now the lowest among people, followed by trust in media and NGOs. People seem to trust business the most, she said - but even within businesses, people want to work with others who are just like them. How will these changes impact us?

The most severely polarised countries Frances notes are Argentina, Columbia, the US, South Africa, Spain and Sweden, while countries in danger of severe polarisation include Brazil, France, UK, Japan, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Mexico and South Korea.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Work report, however, indicates that people aren’t understanding these changes, including how the levels of automation taking place and how fast things are changing, may come home to roost, she says. 

For those after a regular source of inspiration, here are a few of the podcasts that were mentioned by Jade and Frances at the briefing:

  • Hard Fork

  • Radio Davos - Future of Jobs Report Episode

  • South by Southwest (SXSW)

  • Your Undivided Attention

Don't miss the next one.

The Q3 briefing is happening soon, on the 11th of August. Register to join us here.