Allen Lau is the co-founder of Wattpad and co-founder and operating partner at Two Small Fish Ventures, which invests in early-stage technology companies.
Artificial intelligence has been dominating the headlines lately, and with good reason – AI is a transformative technology that can dramatically change how we live, work and play. Although many of the news stories focus on the potential risks and threats of AI, my intent is to present an alternative perspective.
For context, I was the chief executive officer for more than 15 years at Wattpad, an AI-driven storytelling company that was acquired by Naver in 2021. Now at Two Small Fish Ventures, I invest in many established AI companies, such as Ada and BenchSci, as well as emerging generative AI startups, such as Ideogram.
As an engineer-turned-CEO-turned-investor, I’ve been involved in the AI space long enough that I can anticipate where the technology is headed.
Yes, the technology will also create issues. Broadly, they cluster into three categories:
- Security – from misinformation to autonomous weapons.
- Job displacement – the replacement of human workers with machines.
- Singularity – the point where AI might outwit and elude human control.
But I am confident that AI is a transformational technology that will be a net positive for society. Imposing heavy regulation or a pause today seems an unenforceable overreaction and even stifles creativity for potential solutions.
It’s a truism that novel technologies pose new challenges. Yet the remedy for these challenges is typically found within technology itself.
Take security. We’ve seen the narrative play out many times over. In the early days of the internet, people were (rightfully) very concerned about digitally sharing their credit card information. Over time, the widespread adoption of chip/PIN technology, stronger encryption and, ultimately, the birth of an entire cybersecurity industry addressed most of these challenges. Today, there are several technologies that can detect deep fake videos that would otherwise escape authentication systems. It is not hard to imagine that an uber-advanced cybersecurity industry can nullify emerging AI-related threats.
When it comes to the risk of job displacement, this is also something society has been challenged with time and time again. The Industrial Revolution ushered in both job elimination and creation. Yes, automation erases specific roles, but it concurrently births new ones. There is frictional pain and dislocation in the process, and sometimes, the new jobs go to different people in different places, but over time, the total number of jobs actually goes up substantially. Over all, society has thrived, and we’ve all become more prosperous.
AI will help turn humans into superhumans. Just like electronic spreadsheets didn’t sideline accountants but enhanced their efficiency, AI will supercharge worker productivity and output – a key element for economic growth. Plus, the fast pace of innovation will create new jobs that didn’t exist previously, like AI-prompt engineers – a job title that is less than a year old.
Among the outlined concerns, singularity looms largest, primarily because it’s an unknown frontier. But we’ve tread similar paths and crafted tools and innovations surpassing human abilities. And while some of these innovations had complete destructive potential for humanity (think missiles to bioweapons to nuclear arms), their potential for that has been mostly unrealized. In examining any threats from AI, we should be guided by evidence, not irrational fears born out of science fiction.
There will always be opposing forces and bad actors, but we can assume that humans, ironically with the help of AI, can come up with unprecedented solutions to unprecedented problems, just as we have done before.
From the agrarian age to the industrial age to the information age, society has always thrived and flourished amid disruptions. We shouldn’t expect anything different this time.