Keen On… Smart Machines: The Next Big Thing For Smart Human Beings

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Send In Your Questions For Ask A VC With Spark Capital’s Bijan Sabet And Trinity Ventures’ Patricia Nakache

Average is over“, says economist Tyler Cowen in his new book of the same name. And success and failure in a world dominated by digital technology, he says, will be defined by our relationship to smart machines. If our skills “complement” smart machines, Cowen writes in Average Is Over, we are likely to be successful; if not, he warns Luddites, “you may want to address that mismatch”.

But Cowen isn’t a dystopian and he doesn’t believe that smart machines are taking jobs from human beings. ‘The smartest and most successful people in the future, he believes, will manage the smart machines. And as these smart machines become more central in how we manage our education and healthcare, he says, “human psychology” – the art and science of motivation – will become increasingly valuable. This is what he calls “the next big thing.” In the future, Cowen insists, power will lie with the humans who partner with rather than own the algorithm. And in this age of the smart human/machine partnership, traditional algorithm-centric companies like Google will be old businesses – “like GM”, he predicts.

“Marketing”, Cowen writes in Average Is Over, is the “seminal sector for our future economy.” But Cowen’s intriguing definition of marketing lies in figuring out how to motivate people and to get them to feel better about themselves. Everyone in the future economy – from doctors to educators to entrepreneurs – will be coaches. But who is going to own the operating platform in the age of the smart machine? That’s the trillion-dollar question which even Tyler Cowen isn’t smart enough to answer.