A Foundation of Culture
August 27, 2019-
A Brief Introduction
I believe there’s nothing more important when building a company than its culture. This includes your big vision, your mission, what you believe, the things you value most, how you behave and communicate, the words you use, the habits and rituals you form, how you have fun, and everything else that makes a company special and meaningful. With a strong culture, a company takes on a life of its own and can become more than anyone ever imagined. But if the culture is lacking, a company becomes no more than just a place for employees to work (at best!).
While it’s impossible to define your culture completely on day one, if you lay the right foundation in your vision, values, and beliefs (and actually live by them!) an incredible culture can emerge. The world changes way too quickly to come up with a master plan that covers every step of a company from start to vision. But if you give every individual these simple tools for making the small decisions along the way, it will (in hindsight) end up looking like you had a great plan! Watching this happen in my past companies has been the most rewarding part of my entrepreneurial experience by far, and now it’s time to do it again.
It’s been more than a decade since I did this exercise as a Founder (which we eventually published here). It’s amazing how much the world has changed over the last 10 years, but perhaps even more amazing is what hasn’t. I remember thinking in 2008 that if we could just create a culture that survived through 2020, this would be a massive success since people would surely be so different by then. While we now have clouds, smart phones, connected everything, mixed reality, deep learning, self-ish driving cars, etc., what actually makes each of us human hasn’t really changed at all. That is, our fundamental drive to be connected, included, relevant, happy, fulfilled, useful, and to have meaning and purpose all remain the same. And I suspect this is true if we go back to the beginning of humanity.
So this time around, we decided to set out to create a culture that could literally last forever. After all, we are building products that will last forever (more on that soon!).
Our Vision, Mission, and Values
The beginning of any culture is a vision. At the AI Foundation, our vision is that we believe we can unlock the full potential of humanity by giving everyone their own AI. Not just AI that we let you use, but AI that you truly own and control. AI that shares your values, your mission, your goals, and your beliefs, and can act on your behalf now and in a thousand years from now.
But we must beware: AI is the ultimate dual-use technology in that it can be used as much for good as it can for evil. Therefore, in order to realize our vision, we need to approach this in a highly responsible way. We believe that AI itself (if built and trained correctly) is best equipped to protect us from malicious AI. Thus our mission is to give everyone the power and protection of their own AI.
However big the vision or noble the mission, these alone are still not enough to create a great culture as there are a million ways anyone can go about doing what needs to be done. If everyone in a company simply approaches things their own way, you not only miss out on the power of high performing teams, but you can be dragged down by miscommunication, friction, and frivolous arguments. It’s important to define “your way” of doing things. I personally believe the best way to accomplish this is through actionable values that can be used by everyone as guidelines for making decisions, small and large. These must be super clear, as concise as possible, and easy to remember (and follow).
We distilled all of our beliefs and ideas around what we want the “AI Foundation way” to be down to 3 actionable values:
1. Consider Humanity First
2. Be Radically Inclusive
3. Go Beyond Possible
Values will not impact your culture much without creating a very clear narrative around each of them. What do they mean, why are they important, and what are some examples of applying them? This narrative must be shared, understood, and practiced by every individual in the company, starting with the leadership.
Consider Humanity First
Did we think deeply about the potential risks to humanity and address them?
Because our ultimate purpose is to unlock the full potential of humanity, it is critical that we not lose sight of this along the way. We must not build cool technology/AI just because we can. We must first consider all of the potential immediate and future impacts of our work on humanity. What could be the outcome if things go as planned? If things go wrong? What if the AI grows in intelligence? If someone uses the technology maliciously? Then we must build the protections against these risks into the technology/AI itself.
There will be many uncharted moral and ethical decisions that humanity will need to face arising from the technologies we are researching and building. We must do everything in our power to stay ahead of these challenges by raising awareness, facilitating conversations, educating individuals, and being part of the solutions.
Be Radically Inclusive
Did we include everyone internally and externally that could/should be?
Our mission is to give everyone in the world (all 7,500,000,000+ of them) their own AI. It doesn’t get more radically inclusive than that! We believe AI will revolutionize how people connect, communicate, and do work, and will create massive wealth and impact for those who own it. So unless we put AI in the hands of everyone, these benefits will not be distributed fairly. It would be a tragic outcome if Google, Amazon, Apple, and a few others owned all the most powerful AI and thus controlled all the wealth/power. By giving everyone their own AI, we will make society safer and more efficient, and will unlock abundance for all of humanity.
It’s also important that we build AI that is itself radically inclusive in how it behaves, and this starts by being radically inclusive in our own hiring, AI training, and community involvement. Since AI is built by and trained by people, it has the potential to magnify not only the best things about us (like our knowledge, intelligence, creativity, happiness, etc.), but also the worst. There is unfortunately still a lot of hatred, discrimination, bias, maliciousness, and evil in the world today. But the good news is that in aggregate, we believe that the good easily washes out the bad (otherwise things like Wikipedia wouldn’t work) — but only if you include enough people. Thus we must go above and beyond to include as many people as we can in the creation of our AI. As cliche as it sounds, it really is AI for All, and All for AI. We will have a lot more to share in later posts about how exactly we plan to do this!
Go Beyond Possible
Are we thinking big enough — beyond what we believe is possible today?
In AI we think a lot about getting stuck in local minima which are “traps” where an algorithm might think it has found the most optimal solution, but is in fact missing the big picture where there are far better solutions globally than the local one it is exploring. Often injecting some noise or changing some random aspect of the model will kick it out of a local minima and give the algorithm the freedom to explore beyond what it previously “thought” was possible. People and humanity as a whole are also susceptible to getting stuck in a local minima of thinking, and often need some noise to nudge them out of it.
We must not be afraid to question everything we believe to be true about technology, AI, physics, psychology, the world, the universe, or any other assumptions we might make in solving a problem. AI is going to change everything as we know it today, and we are definitely only exploring a tip of an unknown sized iceberg in our current view of reality. What’s underneath could in fact be unlimited. It might be good, or it might be bad. But either way, we don’t want it sneaking up on us. We need to consider everything that could be possible, discover it, and be prepared to help everyone both leverage the power of what we find and stay protected from the risks. There are no bad questions, no ideas too big or too crazy, and nothing is 100% or 0%.
And Off We Go
With our vision of bringing AI to everyone and our values around humanity, inclusion, and unlimited possibilities, I believe we have laid the foundation for a culture that can empower a radically diverse group of individuals to do positive things for humanity beyond what we ever dreamed was possible — now and in a thousand years from now. I am personally excited to live in that future world, and even more excited to be part of the AI Foundation culture that will take us there!