Advances in information technology tend to come at a rapid pace. The computer revolution is barely 80 years old, yet we now have computers in our smartphones that are many times more powerful than machines that once filled rooms. Now, in early 2023, the changes are coming so fast that it is literally dizzying. It seems like nearly every day there is an article about some new AI capability—be it ChatGPT, Dall-e 2, or Stable Diffusion. It appears that humanity is on the cusp of creating super-intelligent machines that are smarter than all of us combined.
This did not really happen overnight. Bob Muglia, a long-time Microsoft executive, former CEO of Snowflake, and currently a tech investor, explains what brought us to this moment in his new book, The Datapreneurs: The Inventors and Innovations that Enable the AI Future. Muglia takes the reader on a journey from the early days of computing and describes how a succession of data management and analytics technologies have helped build today’s economy and society. Muglia tells his story in part by describing some of the inventors he has known, including famous ones like Bill Gates and Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, the reator of ChatGPT, and others that are not household names—yet, anyway—but could help change the world.
The book is part memoir, part exploration of ingenious people and inventions, and part call to action.
Muglia calls this journey through time and technology “The Arc of Data Innovation.” Each advance on the arc, which he lays out in graphic form in the book, represents one of the key data innovations that have led us to today, where we seem to be on the verge of achieving artificial general intelligence (AGI), producing machines that will be as intelligent as people. He expects this monumental shift to come within the next ten years. Further on, futurists are predicting mass deployment of machines possessing AGI throughout society, when we will be able to harness universal computer intelligence, accelerate innovation, and rapidly address many of today’s seemingly intractable challenges. Muglia believes that the combination of human and machine intelligence could create an era of progress and prosperity where all the people on Earth can have what they need and want without destroying our natural environment.
At several points in the book, Muglia summons the spirit of Isaac Asimov, his favorite science fiction author, whom he calls a prophet of our times. Starting in the late 1930s, Asimov foresaw the era of machine intelligence and robots that is now upon us. He laid out guidelines for governing machine intelligence in his Laws of Robotics. Muglia builds upon Asimov’s thinking, exploring the moral, ethical, and legal implications of today’s smart machines.
Ultimately, The Datapreneurs is a call to action. AGI is surely coming. Bob believes that tech business leaders, ethicists, and policy leaders must collaborate to seek answers to the short- and long-term questions raised by its emergence. And he argues that we had better get going, because advances are coming so fast that society risks getting caught flatfooted—with potentially disastrous consequences.