Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Belief is the key

As a serial entrepreneur I have experienced many times the thrill of following my own path to success, however I  defined it at that time of my life: change the world, make a fortune, make an insight into reality, whatever.  Eventually all ventures evolved into a state of mind best explained by this picture.  The only way to go forward was to "press on" no matter what, believing that the top of the mountain was not far and then it would be, oh so sweet, downhill all the way.  My mother often asked "how far do you still have to go?".  The answer, always, "I am below the rock, I cannot see, I cannot stop, but I am an optimist, it is not far".  And so the rock slowly got pushed up the mountain with minor "strategic" directional adjustments to suit the landscape, but moved primarily by total commitment powered by belief.

Belief (not stubbornness) is the root of achievement, that internal voice that makes us persist in the game.
Toady we see one such game playing in front of our eyes, on Jeopardy.  It is the latest chapter of IBM's pitting  the machine against the human.  The last match was in 1997 and Garry Kasparov was our knight.  He had belief to spare.  He lost to Deep Blue and went into a deep depression as a result - some mountains are too tall and rocks too big, but letting go is always tough.
How would you like to be the Humans' knight in shining armor: Brad Rutter or Ken Jennings?  It takes true grit and great belief.  In the other corner, despite appearances, it is not Watson, it is the IBM team behind that multicolor-cyberface-cum-mawhawk, with seven years and $1-2 billion worth of dreams and persistence on the line.
It is a quixotic battle: like that against Deep Blue before. Watson will eventually win for no other reason that IBM will find the Rutter and Jennings of artificial intelligence and put them to work pushing that rock to the mountain top. In this sense defeat of the Humans is inevitable. It may happen tonight or tomorrow or by an average of three nights (BTW Deep Blue won not all matches, only 3.5 to 2.5 over 7 matches). Perhaps we'll have to wait longer yet, but it will come. Our brightest Humans can make machines "smarter" over time but we have not yet found a repeatable and fast way to make ourselves smarter.

Regardless of who wins Jeopardy, the human ability to imagine, belief and commitment will have won again.  And now go back to pushing your rock, you don't have far to go.

Marco Messina