What we can see now is the first percent of what is coming
An interview with Merantix Founder and AI Expert Adrian Locher.
In our previous article, we had a deeper look into video AI and speculated about two opposing futures of content creation. After writing it, we wondered what an AI expert would have to say about our wild thoughts.
So, we turned to one of the industry’s biggest names, Adrian Locher. He is a serial entrepreneur, co-founder of the AI venture fund Merantix as well as the AI Campus in Berlin. Working at the heart of the current craze, he was able to help us with our pressing questions.
What excited you about the topic of AI back then and ultimately led you to found Merantix?
I’m half coder and half business guy, but after my last exit, I wanted to avoid becoming just an investor. In my former company, we created 30 start-ups, and that’s what drives me: helping other people realise their vision. After spending my sabbatical in Silicon Valley, looking at what field will determine the future for the next 100 years, I concluded that AI would become mine.
Together with my co-founder Dr Rasmus Rothe, we started building Merantix with the vision that every start-up we support would be AI-based and industry-agnostic to find and drive the greatest leverage. Now we have built an ecosystem, which includes more than 10 portfolio companies. We’ve built Merantix Momentum, which is an AI solutions provider, and have opened Merantix AI Campus with 800 people and 70–80 teams working on AI topics.
How do you see the impact of AI on the future of the creative industry? Will it have more of a disruptive or democratising effect?
This is a very interesting question, and especially how the vision of its impact has evolved. Five years ago, the hypothesis was often that, as in previous industrial revolutions, blue-collar jobs would be the ones transforming in the fourth revolution as well. Interestingly, there has been a shift, and now it is quite probable that white-collar jobs will be the ones transforming the most.
Things like music composition, graphic design and other creative jobs are being radically changed and challenged. Writing text, making music, painting pictures and other things the machine can already do quite well if you drive it right. An agency founder friend of mine has shifted his entire model due to current events. Now a lot is shifting from “you have to understand the client/you have to understand the market” to “you have to understand what questions to ask the client in order to develop your strategy and prompts from them in order to develop your texts, wording, and designs from them”.
We believe that the current development can lead to two opposing scenarios. A big wave of generic content vs. unleashed creativity for everyone. What do you think are the possible consequences of each scenario?
My first assumption is that what we can see now is the first one per cent of what is coming. We can’t see the 99% yet, but it will come quickly. If you look at the pictures of Obama and Trump playing basketball, you can see how gigantic the leap into reality has become in recent weeks.
So, where is it going?
In 6–12 months, the generation of video will look very different. Its quality will be almost indistinguishable from real videos. Then we will have to ask ourselves the question, what is real and what is not? With CGI, you’ve been able to produce fake content very well for a long time now. But doing it is very resource intensive. With the new tools, this will have an entirely different quality and spread.
Labels in the form of watermarks and algorithmic protection can help. But fake news, which has already been published increasingly in recent years, can, of course, be produced much more easily this way. My perspective is that a technology is first neutral, i.e., not good, nor evil, but can be used for both. What is good or evil, we will decide and politicise as a society. Money, for example, is relatively easy to counterfeit, but the consequences are very serious. Here, the corrective must be used properly.
So, will we be better or worse off in the future?
I am an incorrigible optimist. On balance, I would say that every technology in the past 1000 years has moved us forward and had a positive impact on our future. Every industrial revolution has had a very positive impact on both our quality of life and prosperity. For me, now, I can’t see why this one should be the technological revolution that destroys us.
Building on that: Do you think the spark to general AI already exists in generative AI?
My personal assessment is that we are not yet any closer to general AI. I think it’s just that ChatGPT has led to a lot more people understanding what AI can do. It suddenly maps to this primal human ability to have a conversation.
General AI will be a tough one, and my personal prediction is that we will first interlink ourselves with AI to become a higher intelligence. Maybe that’s a bit philosophical, but the challenge of building general AI as a machine is still incredibly complex. Purely statistically, this problem can hardly be solved and ultimately, ChatGPT is also just statistics, i.e., a probability matrix.
Intelligence that is supposed to go beyond humans must first be able to map the brain’s incredible ability to network things. It is impressive what is currently being attempted with foundation models, but ultimately the technical hurdle of connecting humans and machines is smaller than creating a general AI.
What we are doing today with smartphones or ChatGPT will be replaced by the brain-machine interface. When you can connect the brain directly with the machine, you overcome all the current hurdles like typing, voice, etc. Then we, as humans, will reach an entirely different level. That’s why I think the cyborg, a strong — almost natural — connection between humans and machines, will come first and not general artificial intelligence.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.