RE: Convincing wealthy benefactors to back real AI research

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Fri Apr 27 2001 - 07:26:36 MDT

The inability of tech companies to cope adequately with new technologies is
discussed in Clayton Christenson's classic business book "The Innovator's

This isn't talking about wild new things like real AI or the Singularity,
it's talking about things like the move to 3 inch rather than 5 inch floppy

In the tech industry like anywhere else, people build businesses around
particular products and niches, and then have difficulty thinking about
anything else.

Look what happened to Xerox, a huge tech company. They had the vision to
start PARC, a lab that developed all sorts of fantastic things, but not the
breadth of understanding to work these innovations into their product line.
So they're ailing while others have profited from PARC's innovations.

What about Autonomy, a company that was worth $9 billion and is now worth
around a $600M. They made their business selling document management
software -- search & categorization, basically. Were they ever interested
in incorporating any kind of software intelligence into their products,
beyond simple Bayesian statistics? No. Why not? Because their marketing
people told them that it's not intelligence that sells products, it's
packaging and marketing.

There were of course many visionary people at Xerox, and possibly at
Autonomy as well (OK, I doubt it, but you never know). But to deploy
long-term vision in a business context is hard. Very few people even try.
I tried and failed at that, frankly. I excelled at the vision but failed to
build a workable business around it. I feel I could have if this or that
stroke of bad luck hadn't happened, but that's sort of beside the point, at
this point.... I do feel like I know a lot more now, so that I'd have a
higher chance of success a second time around...

I note that Microsoft has been exceptionally willing & able to think out of
the box and shift its direction radically in response to changes it observes
in the environment. They're not willing to look 5 years into the future,
but at least they're willing to look 1-2 years into the future instead of
just looking at the past. This is part of the reason for their phenomenal
success (obviously there are many, many other ingredients). They rarely
innovate themselves, but they look at what others are doing, guess which of
others' activities have the most future potential, and then buy or steal
others products accordingly. Of course, they also got some exceptional
strokes of ~good~ luck early on...


> Would you say that even of tech companies? Tech people tend to also pride
> themselves on being able to "think outside the box", in fact that phrase
> is a mantra. There's hope yet... as long as they don't all go bankrupt...
> It is a shame that many people, from Wired Mag to everyday
> programmers, seem
> to be becoming more conservative in their outlooks. Now is not the time to
> try to go back to the 1950s.
> (I see in your later post you backed up a bit)
> --
> Brian Atkins
> Director, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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