The African Enterprise (27/09/2021)

Going light or going heavy, Grid or Battery approach, Moravec's paradox, the Human mind.

Hi friends,

I published an essay last week: The Age of Implementation: 11+ people in 5+ countries produced, published, or patented the idea of a glowing filament in a bulb of glass. All before Thomas Edison. Yes, he did invent the light bulb, but what he did better than everyone is turn his vision for the bulb into a practical reality. The space between the idea and its practical representation of meaning to us is the need for Implementation.

Also, the world didn't have any form of real-time connection and communication until the transatlantic telegraph cable of the early 19th century. The victorian internet, as it is called, ushered in a new world of information sharing and collaboration. While this is good for the overall development of ideas and technologies - like AI - it also means that ideas refuse to be in limbo a lot less. The unprecedented pace of knowledge and information sharing means entrepreneurs, creators, and policymakers need, perhaps more than anything else, to focus on execution. A focus at the center of the idea for Minimum viable products.

Read the essay here.


Coolest things I learned this week

“Going light” or “Going heavy”

As described by Kai-Fu Lee in AI superpowers, these terms refer to how involved an internet company is in providing goods or services, and the extent of vertical integration as they link up the online and offline worlds.  

In Modern Monopolies, Alex Moazed and Nicolas Johnson write about the rise of platforms as a business model. As the world becomes more connected, what a company owns matters less than the resources it can connect to. So, they scale by cultivating external networks on top of their business. 

Internet-driven businesses - platforms - harness and create large scalable networks of users and resources that can be accessed on-demand. They create communities and markets that allow users to interact and transact. Light or Heavy is the extent to which they get involved in the interactions and transactions. 

Businesses that take the light approach focus on information sharing, closing knowledge gaps, and connecting people digitally. Most of the businesses we know and use tend to use this model. We can buy on one platform, pay through another, then receive through another. With each one focusing on connecting us to the other.

On the other hand, are those that take the heavy approach. Mostly popular in China with the rise of super apps. Businesses do not just focus on building the platform, they recruit the sellers, handle the goods, run the delivery team, supply machinery, repair machinery, and also control the payment.

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Grid or Battery approach

AI has been described as the new electricity so there is the issue of how this electricity is distributed across the economy to create value. Even more so as it becomes a larger part of Business management. 

The issue is divided into the Grid approach and the Battery approach.

With electricity, the grid approach means using an interconnected network for electrical delivery from producers to consumers. Electrical grids can cover whole countries.

While the battery approach is more siloed. Using a device to store energy in small batches which then provide electricity to do work.

With a grid, what happens to one happens to all. It's more abundant but if there is a problem, everyone has a blackout. In contrast, with the battery, It's more limited but then I can consume the content of my energy silo how I like.

In commoditizing AI, The grid approach turns the power of Machine Learning into a standardized service that can be purchased by any other company or enterprise and accessed via cloud computing platforms. The cloud computing platforms act as the grid while the companies that manage it manage the grid and collect utility fees.

On the other hand,  In battery approach, the power of the ML is siloed and sold.

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Moravec's paradox

Hans Moravec, Robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, discovered a "fundamental truth" by combining his work on artificial intelligence and robotics. The paradox is, 

Contrary to popular assumptions, it is relatively easy for AI to mimic the high-level intellectual or computational abilities of an adult, but it’s far harder to give a robot the perception and sensorimotor skills of a toddler.

You can give a robot adult-level performance on intelligence tests or playing a game, but it is difficult, impossible even, to give them the skills of a one-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility.

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The human mind

Charlie Munger had this to say of the Human Mind (excerpt from Confidence game by Christine Richard):

The human mind is a lot like the human egg, and the human egg has a shut-off device. When one sperm gets in, it shuts down so the next one can’t get in. The human mind has a big tendency of the same sort.

This kind of shut-off for the mind means that while we can stay open amidst a barrage of views we already hold, we shut off from the flow completely as soon as ones we don't already accept come into play.

This inability to accept new ideas had stymied even the most brilliant physicists.  It literally took a new generation of thinkers who were less brain-blocked by previous conclusions to move the field forward.

Moving forward requires the ability to accept the possibility of previous conclusions being wrong.

If you make a public disclosure of your conclusion, you’re pounding it into your own head. Many that are screaming at us aren’t convincing us, but they’re forming mental change for themselves, because what they’re shouting out [is] what they’re pounding in. 


That’s it for this week.

If you have any thoughts or questions, hit reply and we can have a chat. And if you enjoyed it, share with friends.

Till next week,

Kelvin