The Last Word: The Cognitive Revolution

By Sahr Saffa | VP Canadian Operations, AutonomIQ and Founder, C-Tribe Festival

Who decides what you see when you open up your social media profile?

Who decides what store you will purchase from when you ask Alexa to find toilet paper?

Who writes the algorithm when you ask Google Maps to direct you to the closest gas station?

Which listings show up when you search AirBnB for a space in New York City?

We’ve allowed computers to make many of these decisions in our lives somewhat unknowingly and automatically.

My take is: if we want to make a difference, we have to be ahead of the curve by learning how these tools, systems, and structures are built and learn how to build our own tools, systems, and structures.

Just like slave labour fuelled the agricultural revolution; mass incarceration fuelled the industrial revolution; mass media, technology, and algorithms (attention labour) are fuelling the cognitive revolution we are currently experiencing and living in.

This is fair game for anyone at the moment, but the window of opportunity is closing. My belief is if you want to make a substantial difference now and, in the future, understand what governs these algorithms, the make-up of them, and how they are created.

What is different for this revolution is, once we are behind and that door closes, there is very little chance of there ever being equality. It’s creating a new breed of first- and second-class citizens (which I’m not a proponent of, but in the history of mankind we’ve always lived this way). 

These are all pre-programmed algorithms that make a material difference in our life and they are being written by a disproportionately similar demographic: the white, middle-aged male. Yes, China owns more than 50 percent of the world’s patents in AI, yet I’m still calling for more diversity in the space.

Understand how these tools and structures are made. Pay attention to what goes in the algorithm and take the ambitious step of being a producer (not just a consumer). In the long run, it will be the best time and resource investment you will make.

Tech leaders: your silence is really loud right now. Are we going to truly address the systemic challenges faced by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) entrepreneurs? How many BIPOC founders are in your investment portfolio? How many BIPOC communities are you reaching out too? How many BIPOC founders are you providing resources too? How many industries are you funding where you know BIPOC entrepreneurs have a chance to succeed? Most importantly: how many BIPOC founders are you allowing to fail and giving them another shot?

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