in Digital & Tech

Mediabrands Arena TED-Style Talk on Past, Present and Future of Humanity

A fun TED-Style talk I gave at the Mediabrands Arena, which we hold monthly at our office in Amsterdam to share ideas and inspire new ways of thinking. Its a fun but ruthless environment where talks have a hard cut at 10 minutes… Watch this talk to understand where we came from as humans and where we are headed.

What does our future hold?

And here is a blog on this story if you prefer to read…


When you ask me to prepare a TED style talk on chatbots, you can be pretty certain, that the last thing I am going to talk about, are chatbots. In this blog I will talk to you about our past, present and future and how technology is really driving the change we are witnessing. And if the past and present are any indication, our future promises a world of cognitive augmentation.


As we embark on this journey, lets start at this point in human history…Who knows what happened on this date?


September 4, 1998.


Google was born…But there’s one key button on the Google homepage which is still there to this day that changed the world forever…Can anyone guess which one?


I’m feeling lucky. The founders’ Big Hairy Audacious Goal that one day, we will get it right… on the first go. And until that day, we will make the most mistakes the world has ever seen. You see, we have been part of one big experiment, well, trillions of experiments really… and all this time Google has been learning.


Almost to the day, one decade later … who knows what happened on this date?


September 23, 2008.


Android was launched…Did anyone stop to google what “Android” means?



“A robot with human appearance” – Science fiction is becoming science fact.


In 2015, ex-machina was released. Who has seen it? The Android creator in the movie is a mix of both Google founders: Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
I sometimes make the jock that by 2050, Google will be an Android humanoid walking around this office. We will have lunch with it…engage in conversation while enjoying our soup, while Google feeds of the information we give it … similar to what is happening today. Except this android, will also have the collective knowledge of every human and computer on this planet.


We are really trying to build our 5 senses into computers, from touch (touchscreen), to hearing (microphones), to sight (cameras). Except this time the brain is AI. A set of algorithms that make decisions based on data. Similar to how humans work.


Humanity will change more in the next 20 years than in the previous 300 years. But it’s not us as human beings that are changing. We have been the same for 1000’s of years. It is our collective beliefs, that’s influences culture and drives behavior that is changing, and it’s driven by our addiction to technology.



For millions of years we were hunter gatherers. And tools, which is what technology is (a tool) helped us meet our basic needs. Food, security, shelter…etc. But the future belonged to farmers.


For thousands of years we were farmers in an agrarian age. And tools made us stronger and more productive. Our intelligence helped us domesticate animals and crops. But the future belonged to industrialists.


For hundreds of years we were industrialists in an Industrial Age. And technology helped us build factories and increase production. Corporations were born. But the future belonged to information seekers. We sometimes call these people nerds.


For decades we were nerds in an information age. And technology helped us build cooperative networks to mobilize and monetize information. IBM, Microsoft, and Apple were born. Data became the oil. But the future belongs to the augmented nerds. Nerds who know how to program machines in order to augment humans cognitively.


Welcome to the Augmented Age. In this new era, your natural human capabilities are going to be augmented by technology that help you think, consume, create and connect with a world far beyond your natural senses.


Let’s start with cognitive augmentation. How many of you are augmented cyborgs? Part man, part machine? I would actually argue that we’re already augmented. We all carry around our smartphones like they were some sort of new appendage, and in a way, they are. It’s our second brain.  Imagine you’re at a party, and somebody asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to. If you have one of these, in a few seconds, you can know the answer. Its your second brain. And its connected. Solving a problem…that we don’t know everything, and we forget. But this is just a primitive beginning.


You see, in the early 50’s we built huge computers, and programmed them to solve real world problems… Like playing tic-tac-toe. And when we won we were happy.


Then, 45 years later in 1997, we programmed machines like Watson’s deep-blue who beat the world champion at chess. This time there were mixed feelings.


In 2011, Watson went on to defeat the smartest people in the world at jeopardy, a highly complex game… and Watson did not have an Internet connection… that was deemed unfair. This time, we were smiling for the camera, but were scared shit less within.


Then last year, Google’s AlphaGo beet the world champion at Go… the most complex game we have. There are more moves in this game them atoms in the universe.


And we were not amused.


And this year, another program beat 4 world champions repeatedly at poker….a strategic game primarily built on bluff… The algorithms creator was very happy…
The players…well…ready to take him out back for a lesson in playing poker.


You see, technology grows exponentially….we don’t. It means we should never try to become technology….we should use it to augment ourselves.


Here is the exponential growth of computing intelligence. The green dot is the launch of the iPhone in 2007. Computers had intelligence of an insect. The blue dot is now. Computers have the intelligence of a mouse. The pink dot is when researchers predict that a computer will have the intelligence of a human brain. They call this the singularity. Its expected to happen somewhere between 2022-2025. By 2050, a computer is expected to have the intelligence of all human brains on earth.


So we are digitizing our world…


And we are connecting it…


For the purpose of understanding human behavior.


We call this the global brain. A connected world where data is being used to target ads.
But soon we will have conversations with it. Because this brain will manifest itself in the form of a harmless digital assistant.


And that is how it starts…a conversation.


For us…. It looks like this….we’re in control….or are we?


Or this…?


Or this…?


Or this…?


Or this…?


It helps us re-order our favorite drinks with ease…


It helps us eat our favorite foods on the go…


It helps us book our favorite hotels in an instant…


It helps us order an uber when in conversations with friends…


It helps us book, check-in and board our favorite airlines…


And it even allows us to speak to it like a conversation over the counter…


But before you embrace this future and stampede towards fortune and glory…remember this:
  • Technology starts of as magical … Steve Jobs walking out on stage announcing the magical creations he brought our universe…and we all want one.
  • Then it becomes manic… hyper connecting us and pinging us from every which way, taking our time and attention away from the important things in life.
  • Then it becomes toxic… when we are sitting around the dinner table with family or friends and staring at our screens….or when we are out of work because a robot has automated us out of a job… or we have become slaves to the technology that seduced us with its promise of power and glory in the first place.


Technology is a wonderful thing. Use it wisely.


Thank you.


Leave a Reply