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Business At The Speed Of Thought

Business @ the Speed of Thought[1] is a book written by Bill Gates and Collins Hemingway in 1999. It discusses how business and technology are integrated, and explains how digital infrastructures and information networks can help someone get an edge on the competition.

Business at the speed of thought

Gates asserts cyberspace and industry can no longer be separate entities, and that businesses must change to succeed in the Information Age. Though the book is not a technology handbook it gives insights on how to integrate business process with technology. It explains how advances in networking and information technology can make a difference in day-to-day business.

This book is addressed to those business entrepreneurs or business owners who don't want to stop on the achieved results but prefer to use new technologies for their business, to bring it to automatic mode to run continuously without any extra effort.[2]

Has your management team familiarized itself with the Internet and taken time to prepare a vision of how it will change your business in the next decade? Are you working with your IT team to implement that vision technically?

1. Most transactions between business and consumers, business and business, and consumers and government will become self-service digital transactions. Intermediaries will evolve to add value or perish.

Gates' prediction: "People will carry around small devices that allow them to constantly stay in touch and do electronic business from wherever they are. They will be able to check the news, see flights they have booked, get information from financial markets, and do just about anything else on these devices."

What we see now: Almost every commercial these days has a callout asking the viewer to go to a website, follow the business on Twitter, or a scan a QR code. It's rare to see a broadcast without a website linked at all.

Gates' prediction: "Companies will be able to bid on jobs, whether they are looking for a construction project, a movie production, or an advertising campaign. This will be efficient for both big companies that want to outsource work that they don't usually face, businesses looking for new clients, and corporations that don't have a go-to provider for the said service."

What we see now: There's not quite a single marketplace for companies to go find work, as a whole. But a bunch of "gig economy" services, like Upwork and Fiverr, allow freelancers and small businesses to find clients. Meanwhile, Craigslist remains as a favorite place for small businesses to connect with one another and find jobs.

I joined Forbes as the Europe News Editor and will be working with the London newsroom to define our coverage of emerging businesses and leaders across the UK and Europe. Prior to joining Forbes, I worked for the news agency Storyful as its Asia Editor working from its Hong Kong bureau, and as a Senior Editor in London, where I reported on breaking news stories from around the world, with a special focus on how misinformation and disinformation spreads on social media platforms. I started my career in London as a financial journalist with Citywire and my work has appeared in the BBC, Sunday Times, and many more UK publications. Email me story ideas, or tips, to,

20 years on from such a ground-breaking read, heralding a new age in commerce, it's an appropriate time to wonder, how far have we come...? Remember those high and heady days, the infamous dotcom bubble? A time of mania for all things Internet. Among the many catch-cries, there would no longer be travel agents, stock brokers or even banks. These were "non value adding intermediaries" who would be shed from the eco system as surplus baggage. The acronym generator went crazy... we had dot Coms, dot Cams and dot Bams, we had "stickiness" , "WAP", started putting an "e" in front of everything and hallucinated our way into the "new economy" in the "web-based world". Almost a full time job keeping up with the techno jargon. In Australia we even had a mineral exploration company who overnight claimed they were becoming a "dotcom" and would now be "an internet business" whatever that meant.

Perhaps the pointy end of all this though, was the money markets themselves. The fever and frenzy with which the dotcom fire spread was simply breathtaking. Again, in Australia we had many market darlings, among them Onetel, Solution 6, Sausage Software and so on. These captains of the digital economy would generate rivers of pure gold for investors as they streamlined and automated their way to e-business utopia, crushing the old and obsolete competition or anyone else in their path. The only thing to fear was fear itself, and of course missing out on the next once in a lifetime investment opportunity. Perhaps the one other thing to fear was missing the latest edition of the "Rivkin Report".

What we had all witnessed, was not the dawning of a glorious new age of technology, but sadly just another massive hype cycle. A bubble the size and scale of which was unprecedented. The significance of the technology and the potential it held was lost in the milieu and it itself became a casualty. More than 50% of all the new breed dotcom companies "failed forward quickly" (went bust) and those that were left found their cause set back years if not decades. Once again it turns out hype cycles and bubbles are not good for business. Gates was right about a number of things (albeit over a longer timeline). But the title of the book is fair game, and even as a cute metaphor is dead wrong. We were never going to do business at the speed of thought, or anything remotely like it. Never have done and probably never will. The notion was simply the spirit of the times and is both a product of and agent for, the hype of the day. In fact Microsoft itself was found guilty of serious anti-trust violations in 2001. You could be forgiven for wondering how much of their stellar success was due to true innovation and how much might have been good old fashioned American monopolism... (1)

In 2016 Google Deep Minds' AlphaGo defeated the long standing world champion of the popular Chinese board game Go. This was notable in that this particular game is arguably more complex and sophisticated , thus more challenging for a machine than the previous examples. Again the win must be put into context of the sheer computing & modelling power brought to bear on the challenge. AplhaGo was loaded with 30 Million different board positions from 160,000 real life games, taken from a Go database. Overall, training of literally tens of millions of games went into the tuning of AlphaGo in preparation. As much as the more hardline supporters in the AI camp want to emphasise that Go is more a game of intuition and judgement, the bottom line is it's still about pattern recognition and mathematical probability, and superior processing speed and power will win every time. For all its intelligence, AlphaGo could only do one Go. In fact if the game board in the experiment had been switched to literally anything other than the standard 19 x 19 configuration, AlphaGo would have been dead in the water. As a footnote to this, Deep Mind went on to develop a later version called AlphaGo Zero (with different algorithms) which just to give a sense of scale, after playing 4.9 million games against itself, was able to beat the original AlphaGo 100-0. Certainly brings a whole new meaning to another popular buzzword...gamification. (3)

These examples are all two edged. On the one hand they demonstrate real progress with computing and AI. Yet at the same time, they are little more than public spectacles and marketing stunts. Further, the current state of AI and crop of AI systems need to be understood in terms of modern hardware capability. The vastly more powerful and lower cost processors of today have allowed computer arrays that can handle the enormous amounts of data and sheer volume of processing tasks required for these systems to function. But even this will reach threshold soon with Moore's Law (processor improvement) set to peak within a few years, meaning that the ability to effectively double processing power and speed every couple of years will cease.

To state the obvious, we are not doing business at the speed of thought, and we are not teaching machines to think. Nor will we in the foreseeable future. So apart from winning the odd board game, what is actually happening in the world of AI?

In fact the greatest concerns in the AI research domain centre on the damage that the current hype cycle is doing and that the rush to commercialise these technologies ends up hindering the progress required to bring them to market in the first place. Remember that dotcom meltdown we spoke of earlier, or even the crypto crash more recently? We must be clear, hype is bad bad bad for business! It sets back genuine research and development. It hijacks the normal course of progress to bring technologies to viability. It creates wildly unrealistic expectations which eventually crash and result in funding vacuums. 20 years on from the dotcom fiasco we really should know better...

Though it has traditionally been the case, it is not the job of IT to read the minds of business users concerning exactly what type of report or representation of data is required. Little satisfaction can be gained from either side when a report is requested and generated, only to be requested again for lack of a specific or forgotten detail. And while neither side is particularly at fault, it has led to the widening ravine that separates the back end from thefront end. 041b061a72


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