How are the NEW TECHNOLOGIES CHANGING the WORLD? | Moshe Y Vardi | TBCY
Welcome to another episode of The Brand Called You. A vodcast and podcast show that brings you leadership lessons, knowledge, experience and wisdom from thousands of successful individuals from around the world. I'm your host, Ashutosh Garg and today I'm delighted and privileged to welcome a very very senior academician from Texas USA, Mr. Moshe Vardi. Moshe, welcome to the show. Good to be with you. Thank you. Moshe or I should say Professor Moshe is a professor of Computer Science at Rice University, USA. He is an author of two books, and
has over 700 articles to his credit, and he has been recognized, awarded and felicitated globally. So today, Moshe, after such an amazing track record that you have, today will focus on information technology. And let me start by asking you, before I get into this, tell me a little bit about your own background, and what took you to the US. I discovered computers almost accidentally at age 16. There was an advertisement in the paper, but the programming course in a local university. And I don't know exactly what
intrigued me. But I was somehow intrigued because at that point, we're talking about many years ago, there was computers were not on people's mind, they were in a what we call the glass house, you know, big corporation, University as a mainframe. But somehow I was intrigued. And I took this two week programming course. And it was love at first sight, as they say. And so I went in, got my education in Israel. And Israel at the time in particular was such a small country that the feeling was that if you want an academic career, you need to go abroad to broaden yourself, so to speak. Today, it's less necessary because Israel is a powerhouse in computer science. But at the time, it was you need to go abroad. And most people used to go to United
States. So I went to United to do a postdoc. But I went to Stanford, but I met my wife in Palo Alto, and the rest as they say is history. Wonderful. And what made you stay in academics, rather than in business or industry or a startup? So I did go after I did my postdoc, I did, I did go to IBM Research, not only because I was in, I lived in town in Palo Alto, and IBM was just down the road in San Jose and I did part of my postdoc at IBM research. So I apply there and then
I got the job as a what's called RSM research staff members. And then ultimately, I became a department manager there. And then IBM is business talks. And when it would become very clear that doing industrial research is wonderful when the company is very profitable. But when business is very tight, you know, the tightening everywhere and it became somehow it seemed that it was not a good long term bet.
And then I decided after about 10 years in industry, decided it was time to move to academia. And it was one of the my best career decision ever. So no regrets. Fantastic. So now let's talk a little bit about what's happening in the world today. And my first question to you is, what are some of the challenges being faced in the digital age? I would say is that we launch a revolution. And very often people who launch revolution don't realize what they have launched, kind of the accidental revolutionaries. So we saw this is a wonderful invention, this is great microprocessor. This isn't good or internet, this is great. But what we have really launched is an astounding revolution in terms of
depth, right, because we have taken a concept used to be very nebulous information. If you ask people you know, before what is information? It was what information is trying to quantify love, compassion, you know, we have lots of lots of things we can we refer to but we don't think of them quantitatively. Well said and we turn information into something that can be made quantitative, can be measured, and can be processed. Information not can be processed. So today, the phrase information processing is a bit kind of, you know, old fashioned to information processing. But the fact you can pause this information is you get this nebulous concept.
So if we look at kind of what are the, you know, the thing that shaped humanity, then, of course, was that they would develop language. Okay, we don't know exactly when they started, people debated exactly 100,000 years ago, we develop language. And then we develop much closer very recent in cosmic timescale, he would just yesterday, you know, about 6000 years ago, maybe will develop writing. And then in the middle ages will develop, you know, the print. And kind of this is the next and all of these will be huge, huge revolution that change humanity, humanity before money after it's a different thing. And now we are we have launched yet
another one. And we, you know, we have not any better than then other inventor in foreseeing the consequences of our invention, there is a beautiful story that I like about physicist in the early 19th century in Cavendish lab in Cambridge, UK. That is they discovered the electron, beautiful scientific discovery, they have a cocktail party to celebrate it and the toast to the electron, which will never be of any use to anyone. Okay. And now we laugh with them right. But we have not been much different than them. We did not foresee what we are launching,
what we have unleashed. In fact, there is a quote, I think attributed to I think, you know, to Samuel Morse, when invented telegraph, and the first message was sent, which is really kind of part of information processing, we think of inserting we Shannon, but the telegraph, actually. And the telephone will have a way of taking sound and taking information and digitizing it and transmitting it. Right. Shannon showed us how to measure it. But the ideas started before, but I think it was Samuel Morse who said what have we roth? What have we done? You know? And, and now as a society, we are really I would say today, the biggest challenge to society is dealing with this revolution that we launched.
And computer scientists, in particular are having a hard time because we used to think first of all, we think we you know, we're playing games, you know, programming, it's nice puzzles, you know, not cool devices. And we have changed the world for the better and for the wars. I mean, for the better is you and I can sit now on the other two sides of the globe and have this conversation. And it's not quite like being in the same room. But it's, a pretty good approximation. Okay. I mean, think of what would happen with the pandemic if we did not have zoom. Absolutely. And yet, Moshe, when you look at it, while you know, you and I are speaking here, we seem to be continuously moving into a more and more complex set of technologies and I'd love to get your perspective on the metaverse, tomorrow you and I could be sitting and talking and in the metaverse but Metaverse is there, artificial intelligence is there, machine learning is there, robotics is there. How are all these going to change the world? What is your perspective?
Well, I think some of them we have we have lost track of what technology should be about. Okay. And actually the technology was always supposed to help people. Okay, a life needs when he conceived of the reasoning calculus, it will be like glasses for the brain. You know, it was all about really human augmentation. Okay. And some of them we kind of we lost track of this and we became, we fell in love for technology for technology's sake. So now we seem to be rushing into the metaverse and ask wait a minute, what problem, what human problem is trying to solve right now? So you look at a company like Facebook, which is one of the sources I mean, it's been a major player in the current ills of societal yields. And we had we had the leakage of the Facebook papers just a last fall. And we showed that even Facebook know about all the societal damage that they're causing.
But hey, it brings the money so we can't stop it. Okay, you have to continue, because that's what brings the money. Yeah. And so they have instead of telling us look whether metaverse will cure what we have done before. Mayor Culpa, we're very sorry at what we have done. But now we have
ideas to how to repair it, how to mend it. No, now we have more technology. And the answer is, what problem is, what human problem out they're trying to solve, none of that stuff. It's profit driven, you know, and we are all sucker for technology. I'm not better than anyone else. Wow, we let's use it, we'll
figure out the consequences later. And in the meantime, you know, seeing you know, we have the United States, which you can probably describe it the mother of modern democracy. And democracy here is in serious peril. And it's complicated, you know, historian will spend decades trying to analyze what happened to this country. But I think it'd be very hard to not to conclude it, technology played a key role there. And one of the main things technology,
discourses, you know, societal polarization. So, for democratic society to function, there has to be a sense of shared destiny. Okay, we are in it together. Okay. Sorry to interrupt you. But coming back to the metaverse. You know, you give me the example of the cocktail party when the electron was found. And you said that, we don't really know, that time they didn't know what an electron could do. Yeah. Is the metaverse a party that's too early, or do you see
something significant happening in the future? So when are we talking about somewhere, probably maybe 15 years ago, so I don't remember exactly when second life, right. And I was among the people oh, we're going to build a virtual campus. Let's do that. You know, and people will come in, they'll visit the virtual campus. And one of the dissolute I remember a point in which I said Oh, four letter word. A female colleague of mine came to me very disturbed.
Someone on second life drop his pants in front of me. She was almost as disturbed as this has happened in real life. She found it very, very disturbing and realize, you know, what are the rules? You know, at least for example, in real life, okay, in this physical presence if I drop my pants, it's called indecent exposure. It's a criminal activity, indecent exposure.
What happened in the metaverse if somebody dropped your pants? What's going on? We gonna Metaverse policeman. Yeah, we need a Metaverse police, who is responsible? What are the rules in the metaverse? And answer is we don't know. There are no rules. It's kind of the wild west. And so I think we need to really take it a think very, very hard. What is the purpose of the metaverse? What is the purpose other than Google? The Facebook wants to make more money and trying to distract attention from the scandal that we went through, okay? And answer is I have no idea. You know, everybody's telling me we need to go to the metaverse. Wait a minute, what is the rationale? What problem are we trying to solve?
So you know, one of the other things that people talk to me about the metaverse, and I'm not an expert like you. But there is this whole issue of privacy and personal space that each one of us irrespective you and I probably the same vintage. But even the younger people are very fiercely protecting. What happens to privacy in an open platform like the metaverse?
So the paradox of privacy is that we are giving away our privacy. But I keep going to talk about the word the Greek called the Sand Heap paradox. And the paradox was really about failure of induction to say if you take one grain of sand, you put it on front of you. It's one grain of sand, you add another grain of sand. And everybody can say, if something is not a heap and you add one grain, it's not a heap.
But you and I know that if you put enough grains of sand, eventually this will become a heap, right? So when does the heap become a heap? And so we give, we are willing to give away tiny bits of information about ourselves. One bit at a time, it's like imagine that I'm willing to reveal each time let's suppose you say, every time you reveal a pixel of some photograph, you get $1 pixel. Of course, if it was a new evolution, you know, not photograph, and I reveal enough pixels and my nude picture is on the web. Okay? And I don't know,
but you my body is not beautiful enough for me to want it to be on the web. But the point is, because we are giving our privacy one pixel at a time, I click like, oh, what's the big deal? I click like, Okay, I shared every time, every tiny activity, every grain of sand, reveal a tiny bit and epsilon about ourselves. And one of the things it's very hard for the human mind to comprehend is the accumulated impact of very, very small actions, for example, that's why I know very intelligent people, they have a hard time with the concept of human cause, climate change, because they say, you know, okay, I drove to the supermarket, it's nothing, you know, how much can it affect the atmosphere of course, each one of them by itself is a tiny contribution. Okay. Collectively, we have changed over over now, since evolution of about 100-150 years, we have changed the climate, the same way we give away one pixel information, one pixel at a time, one bit at a time. And we have no idea what do they know about us? What picture does emerge? Who knows Moshe Vardi better? Moshe Vardi or Facebook? Because I live in this manufactured reality in myself in stalking my own self image.
Facebook, see everything I do. Okay. So now, what's the other side? What do they do with it, they then influence us by putting advertisement by putting content that they decided we should see. So the influencing us again, one bit at a time.
Each bit of influence by itself is nothing. But when you spend a lot of time on Google on Facebook, and you see what they want you to see, what is accumulated impact? So what happened is we ended up giving away heaps of privacy, and for free, but what we are paying is being exposed to heaps of influence. Very interesting. So now we have a society, that is being polarized, because if your perceived liberal, Facebook wants you to stay engage, they will show you more the corner you like, if you're conservative, you will see the other kinds of content. And so we are creating this what people call filter bubbles. And, you know,
now, the people from the other side are not just well, my esteemed opponents, your opinion of them keeps going lower and lower. And the notion of shared destiny is gradually eroding as we speak. And so I mean, people don't realize how close the United States was on January 6 of 2021 to losing its democracy. Yeah, you're right. It was a small, very small number of people with some bold action managed to stay with disaster. Well said. Well said. So I'm now going to ask you another question. Because, you know, you are a computer science guru, you know, the digital world.
I mean, you're teaching it, you're reading it, you're aware of it. What are the three predictions that you would make that we should watch out for in the digital economy? So I'm much better at looking at the past, reflect about the past and making predictions. There is a thing in Danish expression that says predictions are difficult, especially about the future. Okay. Okay. I think that the other make a prediction, I would say we are now
at a kind of an inflection point, in terms of, we have a disruptive technology. And we also have a huge concentration of power. Yeah. And in some sense, if you look at United States, 1981 was a pivotal year in the history of this country, for three things. Number one, I came here as a postdoc. This is a joke, but more seriously Reagan was elected, was inaugurated as President, was elected in 1980, was incorporated as a president. And the PC was introduced in 1981. And you know, of course the PC before that there were
other computer but the PC was when personal computers went mainstream, business tool, okay. And so we started a wave of technology on one hand. And the same time Reagan introduced or made it the standout the reigning dogma became neoliberalism, which has led the market less affair, let the market decide on everything. Okay, so we've lit no regulation, and exploding technology. And now we are seeing
the consequences of this. Okay. And so now, you know, people are realizing that having on one hand disruptive technology was no words or so to speak, guardrail with no rules. Yeah. Okay. And also allowing huge concentration of power. You know, when you wonder, how did Google become so big,
they have bought dozens and dozens of companies. Because one of the liberalisation was antitrust, okay. You know, in fact, the last serious antitrust action by the government against tech company was Microsoft. And they've lost the case, even though Microsoft have turned
itself after they today, Microsoft considered one of the good players in a big tech. But in fact, if without the lawsuit, even again, Microsoft, Google will not have existed, but Microsoft would have bought it early on. But both Google and Facebook have bought dozens of companies with no government saying, Well, wait a minute, we shouldn't have this concentration of power. So we have disruptive technology, little regulation, and huge concentration of power.
And I think people are realizing this is a very combustible mixture. And there are more and more European Union is a font of trying to regulate it. And it's a large enough market that it will affect and I think more and more, you'll see more and more talk in the United States. Actually, this is one issue that seem to be some kind of a almost a bipartisan agreement.
The too powerful industry is not good for democracy. Now, on the other hand, this is by now a huge industry and currently powerful. You know, I don't know exactly not because the stock market is going up and down. But a couple of months ago, I calculated the market capitalization of the big, we call the Big Five, okay, which is alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook. And market capitalization at the time in maybe around February, was a over $10 trillion. Wow. Okay,
so you have a very large, very large, powerful industry. And they can hire tons of lobby's, they can put tons of money into political campaigns. And who will win, the people or big tech? And I think, yeah, I think this is not one of these, I would say, a pocket struggle really for the soul of democracy, and I would say is from my point of view, it's also a struggle for the soul of the discipline, what is computing about? You know, whom are we serving? Or we ended up leaving academia essentially serving the big tech machinery producing because now most of my students, where do they end up? They end up in big tech. So I'm really producing the cannon fodder for big tech to continue its expansion. And so I think we are in an epic struggle now for democracy, and for the soul of the discipline. And who will win? I don't know, I hope that you know, I hope
that you know, and in the movie, it is much more satisfying when the good guys wins and wins at the end. But also what is the prize? Okay, so World War II, the good guys wanted to end right. Right, we can see oh, there was a happy end because the human toll will just incalculable, incalculable. So this is now an epic struggle. I hope the good guys will win.
But whenever you go to war, you start by digging graves. Absolutely. Right. So Moshe, on that note, I think we have run out of time now. Thank you so much for speaking to me. I would love to just carry on talking to you
because you're such a fascinating speaker and you have such vast knowledge about out the entire technology space. Maybe I'll set up another time to speak to you on some other things. And thank you so much for speaking to me. It's been a pleasure. And good luck in everything you're doing. Thank you, Ashutosh. It was a pleasure talking
to you. Thank you. Thank you for listening to The Brand Called You, videocast and podcast. A platform that brings you knowledge, experience and wisdom of hundreds of successful individuals from around the world. Do visit our website www.tbcy.in to watch and listen to the stories of many more individuals. You can also follow us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Just search for The Brand Called You