I often find myself asking a simple yet powerful question: “What is needed in this moment?”
This question comes in handy as a simple daily mindfulness practice. When I’m faced with a challenge, a point of transition, or just find myself asking what to do next with my day, this question helps me look inside and then proceed with what is needed. Sometimes that’s calling a friend, knocking out a task I’ve been putting off, spending time with family, or maybe just getting a bit more sleep.
I find this question, however, deceptively and tantalizingly powerful. Beyond being something you can ask to yourself, you can broaden the arc of the question to encompass your family, friends, community, and then further and further out until you ask yourself “What is needed in this moment — for the world?”
(Follow that thread down a bit further and perhaps you’ll find the truth embedded in the Tao Te Ching or nearly any of the great philosophies and religions…but perhaps that’s best left for another blog post ?)
I’ve been asking myself “What is needed in this moment?” in the context of our broader society a lot recently. We’ve seen tremendous change across the globe — sometimes awe-inspiring and hopeful, sometimes downright frightening.
When I ask myself that question these days, what comes to mind is two simple charts.
The First Chart: An era of technological possibility
To me — this chart underscores a trend of hope, promise, and progress. It’s a simple chart that demonstrates the growing ubiquity of artificial intelligence and machine learning across the world.
In the chart we see how one company — Google— is not just talking about machine learning but taking ongoing, consistent and massive action across nearly all branches of its business.
Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai is quoted as saying “AI is one of the most important things that humanity is working on. It’s more profound than electricity or fire”and even developed principles governing AI’s use at Google.
(As an aside — I credit Jeremy Howard at Fast.ai for highlighting this chart as part of his course “Deep Learning for Coders”, which is a wonderful course and a testament to the growing trend of making machine learning accessible globally)
I believe it’s not hyperbole to say that nearly every major aspect of our society will be transformed by artificial intelligence in the coming years — from how we work to how we wage war to how we experience the world. Like any great technological breakthrough — from Gutenberg’s press to the nuclear bomb — the impact of the technology itself is simply a function of the intentions and goals of those that harness it.
The Second Chart: An era of economic transformation
The second chart is about wealth inequality.
This trend is rapidly becoming a feature of our time — whether you look at the global discussion among academics kicked off a few years ago by Thomas Piketty to the more recent global political trends, most recently highlighted by the Yellow Vests movement in France — many people around the world believe that a vibrant middle class and stable economic future is simply out of reach, or at least becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.
Some contend that we’ve never seen wealth inequality of this nature in modern US history, and it’s not difficult to make the argument that this was one of the pivotal features that shaped voting patterns in our last election.
For me, the issue isn’t about some people getting massively wealthy — for many, that potential for upside is a driving force of the American dream.
Rather, the risk is that it becomes increasingly difficult for people to rise out of poverty and achieve a stable middle-class life — where core human needs are more than adequately met by one’s income, from access to quality healthcare and education to having enough money around to cover essential financial needs.
As with any powerful technology transformation, artificial intelligence can be a source of good if our intentions and focus are driven by good.
Many entrepreneurs are starting to help this change emerge in the world already – by utilizing AI as a tool to increase the quality and accessibility of quality financial services, healthcare, education and other services that are not just vital for our basic needs – but vital for each of us to thrive and live a deeply fulfilling and happy life.
In financial services, startups like Tala are using machine learning to underwrite credit in developing continues using non traditional factors rarely used by big credit agencies.
In healthcare, companies like Enlitic are vastly improving the accuracy of disease diagnosis to increase the odds patients have to survive.
In education, machine learning is starting to bring highly personalized instruction to students around the world, both online and in physical classrooms.
My goal is to set out to help do more of this good work – to scale, expand, deepen this work in the areas it is needed the most.
I believe very strongly in creating the right conditions for entrepreneurship to thrive, and that when you have effective entrepreneurship in areas core to human happiness — access to quality financial services, healthcare and education — your startup can fundamentally improve human lives.
I believe that new venture creation — when focused on areas core to human happiness — can truly change the world. It’s a core part of what compelled me to launch a micro-finance non-profit with Israelis and Palestinians after my great-aunt was killed by a terrorist, help advise a fledging VC firm in Sierra Leone after their civil war, mentor fintech startups in South Africa and China, lead several fintech focused tech startups, and most recently, what motivates me in my work of partnering with, investing in and creating new startups.
I believe our world has always been shaped by tough-minded optimists, who saw a problem they desperately wanted to solve, and stuck to it until they made the change they wanted to see in the world.
I believe that with power comes significant responsibility — and that results are a direct function of our focus. Today, the ability for an entrepreneur to use artificial intelligence to scale impact is becoming easier than ever before.
In setting out on this journey of supporting entrepreneurs in creating meaningful change, I’ve been thinking often of John Gardner’s essay on personal renewal:
The future is not shaped by people who don’t really believe in the future. Men and women of vitality have always been prepared to bet their futures, even their lives, on ventures of unknown outcome. If they had all looked before they leaped, we would still be crouched in caves sketching animal pictures on the wall.
Before you rush off to the next thing, before you move on to wherever your day, week, month or life may take you, I hope you will take just a moment to stop and ask yourself “What is needed in this moment?”
The answer, when it comes from deep within you, will be one that the world is waiting for.