No. 211: Exposing disadvantaged folks to AI

One of the things that keeps me up at night is the thought of underrepresented minorities and poor people not being at the table as the latest AI developments emerge. So, I was through the moon when I listened to this interview with Tara Chklovski, founder of Iridescent, a nonprofit committed to exposing disadvantaged families to AI.

Check out the interview to learn more about their work.

No. 203: Tackling Gentrification | Fourth Industrial Revolution and Africa | Kathryn Gould – OG VC

Chris Tyson Is Smart About Cities (Protege Podcasts)

Protege Podcasts host Rory Verrett and East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority CEO Chris Tyson had a fantastic conversation that eventually moved to focus on gentrification and what to do about it. Tyson argued that the “buy the block” efforts pushed by the late Nipsey Hussle, Jay-Z and others is not going to move the needle in keeping neighborhoods affordable for folks. His position is that policies that have boxes poor people and minorities out are what need to be dealt with in order to move the needle on housing avoiding the bad effects of gentrification.

I agree that we have to deal with policy and believe that the “buy the block” mantra is a key part of pushing policy. Policies going back to redlining and other discriminatory policies did not emerge in a vacuum. Certain powerful individuals lived and invested in certain neighborhoods they wanted to keep a certain way for themselves and their friends. This reality shaped the policies they wrote or influenced. Similarly, while folks like Nipsey invest in neighborhoods leading the charge for other black folks to invest in their neighborhoods policymakers like Randall Woodfin can shift policies to ensure folks don’t found themselves boxed out of the neighborhood they grew up in. Moving the needle on keeping neighborhoods inclusive and affordable for folks requires massive effort at the individual or group and policy-level.

Artificial Intelligence, at Africa’s Door (UNESCO)

Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice Chancellor at University of Johannesburg, discusses what the rise of the fourth industrial revolution means for Africa. The fourth industrial revolution is essentially where we will see major breakthroughs in technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and biotechnology.

Marwala points out the importance of the private sector and policymakers in Africa paying attention to developments with industrial robots and data gathering. He also pushes the importance of African countries participating in the development of technology and figuring out how to develop their manufacturing capacity.

Two of the many realities of the future face African policymakers. Industrial robots will shift the appetite manufacturers have for labor costs. African countries need to craft environments for enormous job creation for their ballooning populations. These are only a sampling of the factors that have opened an opportunity for African business leaders and policymakers to take a creative approach to handling these issues.

While Marwala suggests leaders create plans like China’s Made in China plan or AI strategy, and I think it’s key leaders avoid copying and pasting while pushing themselves to really think outside the box to find the levers that might swing Africa from trying to catch up to being in the thick of the global competition to shape the future.

The Kingmaker in the Background: Kathryn Gould (Strictly VC)

I stumbled across this fascinating interview with the late Kathryn Gould, clearly a rockstar in the venture capital world for decades beginning in the 1980s. A great quote from the interview:

You also hear VCs talk about how one company in their portfolio will be a huge winner, two or three will be also-rans, and the rest will be write-offs. Well, that’s bullsh_t. I didn’t go into a deal unless I thought it was going to be a winner. All 10 had to win, that was my attitude. A lot of VCs run and hide, but I worked hard, I was a good fixer, and I earned my money.

No. 200: Ozwald Boateng x Harlem

Ozwald Boateng put on an incredible fashion show today at the Apollo Theatre. I loved that he called the show AI for artistic intelligence. Africa flows through his designs and the combination with the title struck me as a strong statement of the confidence with which black folks must carve out our role in shaping the future.

Boateng’s designs were full of complex simplicity and boldness – two characteristics that I believe are core to black design – chicken and waffles, kente cloth, and hip hop sampling are just a few examples. We can bring the same design ethos to the shaping of artificial intelligence. I’m sure in a lot of ways we already are.

Kunle Olukotun through his development of Afara Websystems, changed the game for server rooms back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, increasing their ability to avoid power outages. Over the past couple years, he has been building a new company developing a platform on which artificial intelligence applications can run.

The thing that bothers me about this example is that the intellectual property Olukotun and his team is developing is in the U.S. The use of mobile phones across Africa is still pointed to as the primary example of leapfrogging. I think the next wave of leapfrogging has to take place at a foundational level – African countries figuring out how to remix how commercialization of advanced research takes place.

In order to accomplish this, what education looks like across Africa needs to be a primary focus. How do we make sure students are getting all the exposure and resources they need to maximize their curiosity from elementary school through college and that there are resources that can support them even if they do decide to study at a Stanford, CalTech or Harvard. How do we create an environment where an incredible researcher like Olukotun feels like he could be really productive in Nigeria. Even if it doesn’t make sense to conduct research on the continent, researchers should be confident they can look to countries across Africa for support.

My thinking here is still pretty rough and I’m writing this with very sleepy eyes. I’d love to engage with folks who have a point of view on this.

What do you think is key to Africa participating in the development of artificial intelligence?

No. 199: The Coming AI Upheaval

This is a fascinating conversation between Fei Fei Li, a computer science professor at Stanford and co-director of their new Human Centered AI Institute, and Yuval Noah Hariri, a historian and author of the widely popular book Sapiens. The two have a respectful go at one another on what the future looks in an AI world.

No. 193: Childhood Obsession to Career Key

I spotted a 2019 Aston Martin DB11 this afternoon. That thing was gorgeous and the sighting brought to mind one of my favorite hobbies as a child. I was obsessed with cars and knowing as many details as possible about every car on the road.

I would spend hours online studying their specifications. Then, I would quiz myself while riding around with my parents. I would order brochures of my favorite cars from the auto makers. My all-time favorite brochure was for a concept car Cadillac unveiled in the late 90s – the Cadillac Evoq. That car shaped much of how Cadillacs look like now.

I even convinced my mom to purchase AutoCAD so I could figure out how to design my own cars. Unfortunately, I never quite figured out how to make the designs I wanted.

I’m not nearly as into cars anymore, but the practice of finding and retaining as much information as possible on things that capture my attention has stayed with me and been one of the most important keys to my career.

What from your childhood has proved to be a key part of what makes you good at what you do now?

No. 192: Interview with Mellody Hobson


Mellody Hobson and Jason Hirschhorn had a really nice conversation here covering a range of topics. Below are notes on things that stood out.

On Board Participation

  • Have a clear picture of who you have a fiduciary responsibility to
  • Pay attention to the line between what is management’s responsibility to solve problems and your responsibility to hold them accountable.
  • “Boards matter in times of trouble.”
  • A key tell is whether the CEO on whose board you sit is comfortable with you having a relationship with folks below them.

Hobson’s recounting of Starbucks’ handling of the arrest of the two brothers in one of their stores was quite interesting from a crisis management standpoint. What lessons has Facebook or Twitter taken from that situation?

On Diversity

  • “You don’t even realize the world has changed so dramatically and if you keep living with this view, it’s going to be dangerous.”
  • “The business world is the only world where the one thing they’ll say ‘we’re working on’ on is diversity. Everything else – you fail, you get fired.”

I’m curious what the conversations between Hobson and Jamie Dimon have looked like as the bank has gone backwards in its ability to attract and retain black bankers. What feedback did she have on the recent move to position two women to be among the contenders to be the banks next CEO?

On Media

  • There is going to be a business around curating media (a la Netflix) particularly around news. You’re going to need someone to help you filter through the news and help you know what to trust.

This curation point was a bit confusing for me. We have had curation sites for quite some time. One of the most powerful in the media world, The Drudge Report, has shaped the political debate in the U.S. for a very long time. I’m having a hard time understanding what’s different about this future curation business.

No. 191: AI Bias + Data | Y-Combinates US + Nigeria | Russia + Africa Nuclear

Notes on AI Bias

Machine learning is much better at doing certain things than people, just as a dog is much better at finding drugs than people, but you wouldn’t convict someone on a dog’s evidence. And dogs are much more intelligent than any machine learning.

The problem with this statement is that we have convicted people on a dog’s evidence and later found that evidence to be faulty.

Outside of this issue, Benedict Evans provides a simple definition of artificial intelligence bias, scenarios of the potential bad effects of AI bias, and how we can mitigate those effects. Evans’ central point is a good one to keep in mind:

ML finds patterns in data – what patterns depends on the data, and the data is up to us, and what we do with it is up to us.

Paystack x Lambda School Partnership

This is an interesting partnership probably arising from both startups being Y-Combinator alums. Paystack has gotten quite a lot of traction in Nigeria providing a payment platform similar to Stripe. Lambda provides software development training free of charge until folks get a job making at least $50k. After this, they’ll have to pay 17% of their salary for tuition over two years.

I’ve seen a lot of VCs pointing to Lambda as the chosen one to lead us into a new model for education based on this model. First – their not the only education business doing this, African Leadership University uses a similar model. Second, I worry that folks could still find themselves stuck with collectors hands in their pockets. I’d be curious to see what the income threshold will be for this Paystack partnership.

Ethiopia and Russia sign three-year nuclear power plan

Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation has been aggressive about pushing nuclear development across Africa. Over the past five years, the company has been at various stages of talks with South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, and Ethiopia. It’ll be at least a decade before we see how all this plays out but it’s quite interesting.