Four of Europe’s leading VCs: AI Is Leading Us To A Seemingly Inescapable Dystopia
With the potential of AI being both utopian and dystopian, the choices made by VCs, Founders and Policy Makers today will undeniably shape our collective future.
In our recent roundtable discussion on the Impact of AI, the Partners of four of Europe’s leading Venture Capital firms Fred Destin, Founding GP of Stride.VC, Claude Ritter, Founding GP of Cavalry Ventures, Ekaterina Almasque, GP of OpenOcean and Dr. Andre Retterath, Partner of Earlybird Venture Capital discussed the societal implications of the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence and our role as venture investors.
While we’re inherently optimistic and this conversation likely emphasized the dystopian aspects more than all the good things AI may herald, it’s worth to pause for a second and ponder what we can and should do. Let’s get into it.
A Seemingly Inescapable Dystopia and VC’s Responsibility
Fred Destin, known for his candid observations, commenced with a balanced view, recognizing the vast potential of AI as evident from DeepMind’s application in Google, resulting in a 40% reduction of data center costs. However, he swiftly pivoted to a bleaker assessment of AI’s implications.
Destin painted a dystopian future, drawing parallels between the tech community’s "move fast and break things" mantra and the current approach to AI. By likening the inadvertent and severe repercussions seen in platforms like Facebook on democracy, media, and public information access, he forecasted a similarly turbulent path with AI, especially concerning the job market.
Highlighting the historical shifts from agrarian societies to industrial ones and the current transition from white-collar jobs to an undefined 'X', Destin opined that the tech industry, particularly VCs, might be grossly underestimating the speed and scale of AI-induced job losses. These losses, he fears, might spur societal disruptions on an unprecedented scale, leading to potential unrest and even riots. Or as Fred put it:
So I don't think robots will kill the planet, but I do think that a very large number of people will be displaced out of a job very quickly, and I think that the tech community is a little bit in denial of its impact, and it puzzles me, Because … Look back at Facebook and you move fast and break things. They fucking broke everything. It was like, whatever we learned from the past 20 years in terms of what we did to democracy, media, citizen participation in information, apply that to jobs going forward. And so I think there is a looming issue that is absolutely enormous. And I think that whatever explanation I've heard around driving knowledge work and creating new jobs, I don't think it will be able to absorb the shift that we're talking about. The problem is the speed and the magnitude. So in the long term, we'll all be dead. In the short term, we might have riots. In other words, the long term doesn't matter. I'm worried about the next 25 years.
Destin’s most poignant remark, however, targeted VCs directly. He drew attention to the prevailing trend where VCs continually drive companies to maximize value, often at the expense of societal interests.
This, he emphasized, may lead to a future where the relentless pursuit of value might amplify societal fractures.
"VCs will tend to drive companies to maximum value. That is not very often aligned with maximum societal interest."
The Value Divide and the Coming Disruption
Echoing Destin’s sentiments, Andre Retterath provided insights into the ever-widening gulf between the rich and the poor, exacerbated by the power law distribution inherent in the venture capital world. He warned of a scenario where giants like Microsoft could harness AI to further cement their dominance, thereby displacing a vast segment of the workforce.
"We will see even more value creation by very few players. And many people will be displaced in their jobs … The gap between the rich and the poor will continue to increase."
His concerns extended to societal fabrics, especially in countries like Germany. With older employees in traditional sectors potentially resisting change, he stressed the imperative need for venture capitalists and tech founders to adopt a more inclusive vision when steering AI's trajectory.
The Dual Edged Sword of AI
Claude Ritter's provided a more optimistic outlook but still concluded:
"It really bugs me that, that we're, you know, running into something that we clearly have no answers for yet."
Ekaterina Almasque's globally-informed perspective provided nuanced arguments. While Ritter sees challenges as opportunities, hoping to counterbalance AI’s exponential trajectory with proactive solutions, Almasque fears the centralization of knowledge underscoring the potential loss of cultural diversity, with AI models primarily focusing on English.
"There is a real threat of languages disappearing in the future because everything is in English."
A Final Word: The Crucial Role of Venture Capitalists
Wrapping up the discussions, Fred Destin emphasized the critical role of VCs in this narrative. He introduced the compelling concept of "intentional venture," urging VCs to be more conscious and purpose-driven in their investments. It is incumbent upon VCs to ensure that the relentless drive for profitability does not lead to a dystopian society devoid of jobs and replete with unrest.
“We've toyed with this idea of intentional venture. So in other words, can we filter the companies by intentionality? Intentionality of the founder, intentionality of the product, and most importantly, intentionality of the reward, of the incentives, because the world works on incentives. So how can you change incentives and to what extent can we bake that into how we think and invest?”
This roundtable discussion serves as a clarion call to the venture community to introspect and recalibrate. With the potential of AI being both utopian and dystopian, the choices made by venture capitalists, founders and policy makers today will undeniably shape our collective future.
📺 Virtual events we’re hosting
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