I reviewed George Gilder’s inaugural COSM technology conference at COSM 2019. This year marked the fourth COSM. (Covid canceled COSM 2020 along with everything else in the world.) COSM remains a premier technology conference at the leading edge of current and future innovation. Over the four years, COSM attendees have heard insights from luminaries such as Peter Thiel, Ray Kurzweil, Bob Metcalfe, Carver Mead, Federico Faggin, Stephen Wolfram, Newt Gingrich, Steve Forbes, Niall Ferguson, Kai-Fu Lee, David Gelernter, Michael Milken, Cathie Wood, Michael Shellenberger and a variety of leading experts in fields ranging from VC finance to AI and quantum computing.
Each year’s lineup of speakers and presentations runs the gamut of innovators, thinkers, authors, and visionaries. The polymath George Gilder seamlessly moves among the wide range of subject matter, panels, and speakers and offers his own unique insights. COSM is resolute in attracting differing views and presenting all sides of issues.
The inimitable Steve Buri, President of Discovery Institute, MCs COSM and ensures everything runs like a Swiss train. Including somehow always managing to get George on stage in time for his many panels. Discovery Institute is worth discovering in its own right. It is a Seattle-based non-profit organization founded in 1991 by Bruce Chapman and George Gilder, focused on research that “investigates the life-changing possibilities of a universe brimming with information and intelligent design. It has a special interest in exploring how science and technology can advance free markets, propel new discoveries, illuminate public policy, and support human dignity and the metaphysical foundations of a free society.”
COSM is a first-class event in every way. The location for the last three years is the Hyatt Regency in downtown Bellevue, Washington. Bellevue is clean, safe, and developing rapidly. It’s the town Seattle used to be before it lost control to the forces destroying most of big city America. From networking and social interactions to the firehose of information and knowledge gained, COSM invigorates the mind to the limitless possibilities of human ingenuity that our current societal and world chaos seem to discount.
AI (artificial intelligence) and ChatGPT were the prevailing topics dominating this year’s COSM. There were many presentations and discussions about what the rapid advances in AI mean for us. The thoughts ran from the beneficially benign—it will radically increase productivity—to the radical transformation of humans—Ray Kurzweil’s claim that we will soon reach longevity escape velocity, and by 2045, humans will merge with machines and achieve singularity.
Kurzweil was by far the most provocative speaker with his vision of an AI future far beyond the realm of what most can imagine—or might want to imagine. Advances in LLM (large language models) are propelling AI and its applications in any field you can name at astounding rates. Instead of the usual decades for technological breakthroughs, AI has condensed them down to a year or less.
Kurzweil’s holy grail is singularity, the melding of man with machine, and he is confident that AI will produce it. He mentioned that a device can be implanted in one’s capillaries, travel to your brain, and connect your mind to the cloud. Presumably, this will speed up Google search. To me, this sounds like transhumanism, the goal promoted by Klaus Schwab’s WEF. WEF should add to their video that by 2030, you’ll own nothing, your brain will be connected to the cloud, and you’ll be happy.
Kurzweil’s other big contention is longevity escape velocity, the idea that technological advances will increase your remaining life expectancy longer than the time that is passing. Essentially, AI advances toward singularity will result in immortality, and some will overcome our shuffle off the mortal coil. I suspect those who achieve Kurzweil’s immortality will be part of George Carlin’s big club that the rest of us ain’t in. Again, when I look at the WEF and Gates Foundation’s stated transhumanism goal, the adverse health havoc unleashed on the world via Covid and its resultant mandated experimental injections, and observe its connection with Kurzweil’s singularity, I detect an agenda. It appears to be: we have to depopulate so we can live forever.
The counter from many speakers was AI is merely a function of computer power interpreting signs and symbols within the bounds of what humans program. There were discussions about AI self-machine learning and its implications. Can the exponential increase in computational power break AI free of its human master? AI’s ability to progress seems unlimited in Kurzweil’s vision. The prevalent opposing view is that AI can never replicate the functions of the brain that make us human—conscience, sentience, creativity, empathy, and love.
There was one rather buzz kill to the whole exponential growth of computational power and its wide open frontier for AI. As chips get smaller and smaller and more and more are stacked in larger and larger server farms to achieve exponential computational growth, we are reaching the limit of our technological ability to dissipate the resulting heat. This limit portends a roadblock to expanding exponential power. Innovators will have to create new advances to solve the problem. Immersion solutions and even servers in space were mentioned.
Cathie Wood gave a keynote presentation on how she sees the investing world. Not surprisingly, technological breakthroughs and innovation remain the foundation of her investments. She mentioned five big ideas with AI at the center surrounded by blockchains, robotics, autonomous driving, and energy storage. I’m all for innovation investing, but one has to consider the economic environment. We are less in the Reagan Revolution that unleashed a decades-long tidal wave of entrepreneurial and innovative growth and more in the Biden Malarkey that is as economically flaccid as Biden’s brain and incoherent as his tortured thoughts.
Cathie stated that Bitcoin will evolve as a decentralized, non-government, rule-based entity. As long as Bitcoin’s fixed supply flaw prevents its emergence as a transactional currency, I don’t see how we get to a Bitcoin entity of any significance. Instead, bitcoin will remain a speculative asset in the shadowy world of pathological Sam Bankman-Fried types that is pumped and dumped, wash traded, and backed by fraudulent Tether with no real market-based price discovery. That doesn’t mean bitcoin’s price may not go up or down to volatile extremes. Instead, it will never act as Satoshi envisioned.
Surveying the economic landscape, Cathie stated that we are not in an inflation and seemed to suggest that deflation is on the way. She said there’s good deflation and bad deflation. Deflation is a decline in the monetary standard. In deflation, the dollar gains value relative to a monetary standard and advantages creditors at the expense of debtors. Deflation is never good because it makes exchange less efficient and leads to malinvestment and distorted markets. There is only bad deflation and worse deflation.
Surprisingly, in response to Cathie’s deflation argument, George commented that he now thinks Bitcoin can overcome deflation based on abundance. This aligns with his superabundance radical time price reductions that, in theory, could overcome deflationary environments. If this is true, we should start seeing bitcoin used for the transaction of goods and services. In previous Gilder conferences, going back to 2017, Bitcoin, the blockchain, and cryptocurrency were the cosmic futurist thrust for changing the world, as presented in Life After Google. At COSM 2023, there was hardly a peep about it. I wrote The Problem with Bitcoin after the 2017 conference, and it still defines why this has happened.
I always have the same result after attending COSM. Since Covid shut down the world, wreaked economic havoc, and disrupted families and lives, I developed a somewhat negative outlook on the near future. I approach COSM with this negative view. At the end of the three days, COSM has completely reinvigorated me toward a positive outlook. The prospects of human ingenuity, potential, and innovation can easily solve the world’s problems if we merely lessen the regulatory, fiscal, monetary, and political roadblocks and return to some basic level of common sense.
One final word. Graphene. Graphene is the new wonder technology being developed for a multitude of applications that will change the world for the better in ways previously unimaginable. George discovered the wonders of graphene through a chance encounter with Jim Tour of Rice University on an international flight. Jim Tour previously presented at COSM. That’s what COSM is all about. Tapping into the future and getting a glimpse of George Gilder’s vision.
Disclosure: This post was composed solely by a human brain with no ChatGPT input.