Jack Dorsey Lex Fridman

Jack Dorsey: Square, Cryptocurrency, and AI | The Artificial Intelligence Podcast with Lex Fridman

Check out Artificial Intelligence Episode Page and Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Scaling a software is ultimately a critical thinking and problem solving challenge
    • It comes down to breaking down the problem into smaller parts, asking the critical questions, and going deep enough to form a credible hypothesis you can test
  • Square’s Mission is to enable greater economic access
    • To that end, Square took an approach of: Trust, then keep verifying
  • “I believe that the internet deserves and requires a native currency, and that’s why I am such a huge believer in Bitcoin” – Jack Dorsey
  • For a prosperous digital economy, the world needs the internet continuing to be accessible to people, and a native internet currency
    • As we get a more durable, resilient, global standard, we will see exploding innovation everywhere
  • Artificial intelligence being able to process natural language is tied to its ability to explain, in natural language, why a decision was made
    • Keep in mind, there is great risk in building AI black boxes that can’t explain their reasoning, then trusting them with all sorts of decisions (e.g. Lending decisions, content recommendations, driving, health)
  • The technology to create AI is moving much faster than the technology to detect AI
  • Automation differs from the industrial age in the velocity of change, and centralization of data
    • Society needs to have better answers around where data is owned and how is it shared – Can anyone build on top of the data?

Intro

  • This conversation was recorded before COVID-19 outbreak
  • Jack Dorsey (@Jack) is the CEO of Twitter and Square, and cofounder of both
    • For more Jack, check out the Podcast Notes from his latest appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience as well as the Podcast Notes from his appearance on Sam Harris’ Making Sense podcast
  • Host – Lex Fridman (@lexfridman)

Engineering at Scale

  • The open source community was pivotal for Jack’s learning about hacking, programming, and engineering
    • All the learnings, mistakes, and successes are laid in the open. You get to see what it takes to build something meaningful
  • Scaling a product to millions of users comes with significant engineering challenges (Such as securing the system and having minimal down time)
    • To build products that scale, Jack hires people he can learn from
  • Scaling is ultimately a critical thinking and problem solving challenge
    • It comes down to breaking down the problem into smaller parts, asking the critical questions, and going deep enough to form a credible hypothesis that you can test
    • The biggest mistake: Trying to solve many problems at once
    • Resist categorized thinking and look for the underlying systems that make it all work
      • For instance, get too focused on “this is a hardware issue” and you may miss the software solutions

Square’s Mission: Enabling more “Access” to the Economy

  • Square spotted the problem early on: Financial institutions rely on credit checks for verifying intent and predicting future behavior
    • This led to budding entrepreneurs being denied the ability to process credit card payments because they can’t yet pass credit checks
    • “It just felt ridiculous to us that for the job of being able to accept money from people, you have to get your credit checked” – Jack Dorsey
  • Square took a different approach: Trust, then keep verifying – here is how:
    • Monitor at the transaction level, rather than at the merchant level
      • So, as long as a merchant is involved in credible transactions, they could keep using the service
  • Square’s mindset led to developing the technology needed to enable more people to access the system

Machine Learning is Central to Square’s Operation

  • Risk modeling is key to software development at Square, it started with a strong data science discipline, and evolved to more sophisticated deep learning
  • By demonstrating their ability to bring people into the system in a responsible way, Square earned the trust of partner banks and was able to scale
    • Earning this trust came in tiers: 500 people using the product then 1000, 10k, 50k, then constraints were lifted
    • “It’s about getting something tangible out there, I want to show what we can do rather than talk about it” – Jack Dorsey

On AI

  • AI being able to process natural language is tied to its ability to explain, in natural language, why a decision was made – In other words, we have to pair:
    • The ability of AI and deep learning to bubbling up interestingness quickly
    • With human discretion around severity, depth, and meaning
  • That said, even humans can’t always do a good job explaining the reasoning behind decisions, making it a challenging problem
    • Keep in mind, there is great risk in building AI black boxes that can’t explain their criteria, then trusting them with all sorts of decisions (e.g. Lending decisions, content recommendations, driving, health)
  • Will humans ever have deeper connections or build relationships with an AI?
    • “That is less a function of the artificial intelligence and more a function of the individual and how & where they find meaning”

Concerns about AI 

  • The technology to create AI is moving much faster than the technology to detect AI. This needs to change – here is why:
    • For the financial industry, someone could trick risk models or identity detection systems
    • This quickly expands to touch everything, for instance, faking passports or driver’s licenses
    • Like security, a perfect detection system can’t be built. Instead, we should focus on evolving detection systems quickly based on signals
  • In 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, author Yuval Noah Harari  argues that for kids being born today, Google has a stronger sense of their preferences than they do
    • The book highlights the concern of losing self-awareness as it becomes outside of us and doing a better job at guiding our decisions (e.g. which doctor to see, who to date, should I walk today, etc.)
    • The author sees meditation as a tool for focusing on why one makes a decision and to be aware of offloading decisions to algorithms

Jack is a Huge Bitcoin Proponent

  • “I believe that the internet deserves and requires a native currency, and that’s why I am such a huge believer in Bitcoin” – Jack Dorsey
    • A global native currency for the internet is a powerful concept and no one truly understands the ramifications of that
    • Even more, no one person can set Bitcoin’s direction nor stop it, and that’s beautiful
  • “I think the Bitcoin white paper is one of the most seminal works of computer science in the last 20-30 years; it’s poetry” – Jack Dorsey
    • Bitcoin is organic in nature and principled in its original design
    • Additionally, The timing and the act of releasing it under a pseudonymous identity is a powerful statement
  • Would Jack do work under a pseudonymous identity?
    • Being pseudonymous is hard to do in a corporation legally, but Jack wouldn’t need his real world identity for doing more open source things
    • On the sacrifice of ego, Jack believes “The appreciation that comes from doing something good and being able to see it and see people use it is pretty overwhelming and powerful, more so than seeing your name in the headlines”

Future of the Digital Economy

  • For a prosperous digital economy, the world needs the internet continuing to be accessible to people, and a native internet currency
    • Issues with the internet not being equally available to everyone or being influenced by some companies, are solvable
    • One solution is satellites projecting internet down to earth, removing a bunch of constraints and leveling the playing field
  • Square’s biggest problem is not being able to act like an internet company
    • This is due to the reason that opening in a new market requires a partnership with a local bank, and paying attention to different regulatory environments
    • A digital currency like Bitcoin enables Square to potentially launch a product in every single market around the world
  • On his recent 1 month trip to Africa, Jack observed how payments is probably the number one problem to solve across the continent
    • Namely, the corruption in the current system and the difficulty of moving money across borders
    • Moreover, the lack of easy ways to pay people makes starting anything very difficult
      • It’s pretty telling when an Uber-like startup in Ethiopia has to think about payments, rather than providing the best rider and driver experiences
  • To sum up, money is a foundational layer that enables much more, and the currency we use is a huge part of the digital economy (this is why Bitcoin)
    • As we get a more durable, resilient, global standard, we will see exploding innovation everywhere

On Andrew Yang and UBI

  • Jack agrees with Yang’s views on Universal Basic Income – here is why:
    • As automation takes over a lot of jobs, people will need an income floor to survive while transitioning to new careers and skills
    • $1,000/ month doesn’t incentivize quitting your job, but provides such a floor
    • The problem is visible in more industries. For instance, Square is seeing cashier workers being replaced by phone apps and solutions
  • Automation differs from the industrial age in the velocity of change, and centralization of data
    • Society needs to have better answers around where data is owned and how is it shared – Can anyone build on top of the data?

Jack’s Tips on Performance

  • Jack listened to a bunch of Wim Hof podcasts and really resonated with everything Wim talked about 
    • For this reason, like Wim, Jack started eating only one meal per day
  • “I learn the most when I make myself feel uncomfortable, because everything comes to bare in those moments and you really learn what you are about”
    • For instance, signing up for a speech club was the very uncomfortable, but it boosted Jack’s confidence

The Meaning of Life

  • Jack doesn’t fear death; he sees is as a tool to recognize the importance of every moment and to prioritize and focus on what really matters
    • “It shows how precious life is, and there are reminders every single day”
  • Are we living in a simulation?
    • “I don’t know, but it’s a pretty fun one if we are”
    • However, it has taken humans way too long to realize we are all in this together and we are all deeply connected

Additional Notes

  • Jack Dorsey considers Wall-E & Ratatouille to be Pixar’s greatest movies – “Ratatouille was incredible, it’s the entrepreneurial story in the form of a rat”
  • “Yang Gang forever” – Jack
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Notes By Mostafa Khaled

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