From the editor: One of our most credentialed AI experts shared some essential perspectives for companies betting on AI. This speaker has a PhD in Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and has been working on machine learning models for over 15 years. As always, ON_Discourse operates under the Chatham House Rule—no attribution of perspectives without explicit consent.

You need an
enormous amount

This is one of the AI era’s most
under-appreciated assumptions.

In the AI era, everyone seems to have convinced themselves that their company has the best data. You likely believe that not only is your data just the best, but it also happens to be just so unique that the resulting AI model is going to supercharge your whole business.

This is wrong, for two reasons:

  1. You have too little data. You need billions or even trillions of heterogeneous observations to be able to do anything interesting with AI. There are only a handful of companies today that possess that quantity.
  2. Your data is of poor quality. Even most large enterprises do not have a dataset rich enough to make a meaningful AI play. They rely on buying data from multiple sources or stealing it from internet users under the guise of fair use.

Many companies are opting for a shortcut into AI. Any company today can implement base GPT models. That works for experimentation, but it won’t drive revenue or improve efficiency. Why? AI is not trustworthy. You need to hire experienced teams to manage its bad behaviors.

For almost every single company, trying to build something bespoke that will move the needle is simply not worth the investment.

Your brand does
not have enough
data for AI

From the editor: One of our most credentialed AI experts shared some essential perspectives for companies betting on AI. This speaker has a PhD in Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and has been working on machine learning models for over 15 years. As always, ON_Discourse operates under the Chatham House Rule—no attribution of perspectives without explicit consent.

You need an
enormous amount

This is one of the AI era’s most
under-appreciated assumptions.

In the AI era, everyone seems to have convinced themselves that their company has the best data. You likely believe that not only is your data just the best, but it also happens to be just so unique that the resulting AI model is going to supercharge your whole business.

This is wrong, for two reasons:

  1. You have too little data. You need billions or even trillions of heterogeneous observations to be able to do anything interesting with AI. There are only a handful of companies today that possess that quantity.
  2. Your data is of poor quality. Even most large enterprises do not have a dataset rich enough to make a meaningful AI play. They rely on buying data from multiple sources or stealing it from internet users under the guise of fair use.

Many companies are opting for a shortcut into AI. Any company today can implement base GPT models. That works for experimentation, but it won’t drive revenue or improve efficiency. Why? AI is not trustworthy. You need to hire experienced teams to manage its bad behaviors.

For almost every single company, trying to build something bespoke that will move the needle is simply not worth the investment.

Will

prompting

replace

browsing?

From the editor: The AI era has ushered in a new way of content interaction: prompting. This article explores two views on what will happen to another interaction model: browsing.

Anthony DeRosa
Anthony DeRosa
Head of Content and Product, ON_Discourse

No, it won’t.

Generative AI is transforming content consumption, starting with just a prompt. This shift begs a critical question: Are we overestimating the desire to engage with content through AI prompts, and underestimating the timeless value of traditional browsing?

The enduring appeal of browsing


Browsing—the act of casually exploring content without a specific goal—has been an intrinsic part of human behavior long before the digital era. It caters to our innate curiosity and desire for serendipitous discovery. In contrast to AI-prompted interactions, where responses are generated based on specific user inputs, browsing allows users to stumble upon unexpected content, leading to new ideas and inspirations.

I spoke to Tyler Chance, a VP of Product at Hearst, who questions whether a prompt-first interface can lead to a better user experience.

“I don’t know what replaces the browse. If the entire Netflix homepage were to go away and just be an input prompt… because now, I’ve watched everything that I know I want. How do I get to the things that I don’t know I want?”

It is about the dopamine, the slow dopamine drip of a browse.”

people browse in a mall set within a smart phone

The prompt paradigm

AI technologies have introduced a new way of interacting with content. AI systems like chatbots and recommendation engines provide users with content based on direct prompts or past behavior. This approach, while efficient, is rooted in the assumption that users always have a clear intent or preference when engaging with content, which is not always the case.

We must consider the balance between intent-based consumption and discovery through browsing. While AI excels in delivering content tailored to specific queries, it may not always capture the joy of spontaneous discovery that browsing offers. 

User preferences: new or familiar?

Do people currently spend more time seeking specific information or exploring content without a predetermined goal? This question extends to user interface preferences. Do people genuinely seek a new way of interacting with content, or is there comfort and satisfaction in traditional methods? While some may argue that current content consumption methods are outdated and inefficient, others find value in the familiar experience of browsing, suggesting resistance to completely adopting prompt-based interfaces.

Chance believes that it would be hard to break away from how attractive, addictive, and spontaneous the browsing experience is, as opposed to one where you’re expected to know the right way to prompt or always have a specific intent.

“Just think about the notion of UX over the last like, 10 years,” Chance said. “It is about the dopamine, the slow dopamine drip of a browse. That is what the social feed is. That is what you know. That’s where we start. We start and then we hone and that is going to be a really hard nut to crack because it is the place to go when you have zero intent and you want to craft an intent.” 

The argument for AI-driven content discovery is flawed. The assumption that users always have a clear intent is overstated, while browsing without a specific goal can lead to discovering content that one might not have known existed. Additionally, AI systems, while advanced, don’t understand the nuances of human curiosity and the desire for serendipity.

Emil Protalinski
Emil Protalinski
Managing Editor, ON_Discourse

Yes, it will (sorta).

Something was bothering me, and I couldn’t figure out what the query should be. All I could remember was that “an investor at some point in time spotted a trend wherein the first few days of January set the tone for the rest of the year.” This was not enough for a Google search, or at least not enough to avoid a lot of furious and frustrated clicking.
 
I turned to Perplexity AI. The chatbot’s quick responses, inaccurate or not, led me to remember the phrase “investor’s almanac,” which pointed me to the Stock Trader’s Almanac. Perplexity then informed me about “the first five trading days of January” and the “January Barometer.” I then confidently turned to Google, where I satisfied my knowledge gap by browsing and reading a variety of high-quality articles.

This anecdote cemented two realizations for me:
1. Prompting is not a temporary phenomenon.
2. Browsing is not going away.

In a world of just prompting, I would have been stuck wondering what responses were accurate and which were hallucinated. In a world of just searching, I would have spent too long trying to figure out the right query, if I had had the energy to search at all.

Sometimes, humans want to quickly prompt. Other times, we just want to browse.

ces

Can

Be

Fixed

With

Discourse

Toby Daniels

Co-Founder, ON_Discourse

ON_Discourse co-founder Toby Daniels, a veteran of CES,
has taken over our CES planning meetings with hot takes
from his ample experience from the show. We thought we
should give him the pen to write a mini confessional about
the world’s biggest consumer tech conference
—ON_D

Toby Daniels

Co-Founder, ON_Discourse

CES is not new to me. I’ve been attending the event for over 15 years, having walked the crowded halls, networked in one event after the other, and seen countless overhyped tech unveilings.

Executives who report feeling disoriented and isolated.
Subscribe
To Our Newsletter

Receive CES event updates, plus preview articles and more.

CES’ primary problem is the whole event is confusing and crowded, while also
being extremely isolating. I am not alone in making this diagnosis; I have had
countless conversations with fellow convention goers and tech executives who
report feeling disoriented and lonely (especially during loud networking events).
This problem creates the conditions that lead to the second, most common issue.

In this mode, agreement is chosen over conflict, and innovation is nothing but an empty vessel of conventional ideas.

The event’s secondary problem mirrors a major issue in business, tech, and
media: groupthink. The show is an echo chamber with familiar faces and
conventional ideas wrapped in flashy tech. In this mode, agreement is chosen over
conflict, and innovation is nothing but an empty vessel of safe concepts.

CES is often touted as “a beacon for leaders in business and technology,” where
the future meets today’s reality. While this paints a picture of innovation and
forward-thinking, it often masks the event’s superficial nature. CES, in all its
glory, can sometimes be more about shiny objects and getting into the hottest
party or VIP event rather than the depth of conversation. Despite the countless
curved TV screens that are never going to be a thing, I believe in the value of this
event and that we can fix CES.

The discipline of discourse is a forcing function that enables us to provoke, argue, challenge, and listen.
Learn More about
ON_Discourse

ON_Discourse is a private membership community and is made up of an expert network of business leaders who participate in the Discipline of Discourse in order to cultivate perspectives, decision-making, and meaningful relationships.

True perspective, I’ve learned, comes from heated debates, uncomfortable questions, and a willingness to listen to opposing viewpoints. This year, we are bringing our discourse and community to CES.

The discipline of discourse is a forcing function that lets us provoke, argue,
challenge, and listen – not just to reply, but to understand and consider. These
authentic engagements help us break free from the cycle of redundancy and
uncover truly groundbreaking ideas and new perspectives.

It’s not just
about the technology; it’s
about the intelligence behind it.
Learn more about
Intelligently Artificial Issue

How do we distinguish between artificial hype and intelligent opportunities?

At CES 2024, the ON_Discourse team will make the show in January worth
attending for our members, who will be organized into “Pods”, or small groups
that attend sessions together, join dinners, hit up parties, and practice the
discipline of discourse as a single unit. They will also get a guided experience,
including a kick-off briefing, a discourse-driven tour of the convention floor, and
invitations to a carefully curated list of events.

The discipline of discourse is a forcing function that lets us provoke, argue,
challenge, and listen – not just to reply, but to understand and consider. These
authentic engagements help us break free from the cycle of redundancy and
uncover truly groundbreaking ideas and new perspectives.

Apply for
Membership

Join ON_Discourse and get access to the ON_CES Intelligently Artificial Issue, exclusive events, and a discourse-driven floor tour showcasing the latest innovations in AI and tech.

As we move towards CES 2024, I feel a renewed sense of purpose. Our approach
is different – we won’t be there just to observe; we’ll be there to engage and
disrupt the status quo of conversations. We’re setting up to ensure our members
experience CES not as a showcase of gadgets, but as a forum of intelligent,
meaningful dialogue.

I am hopeful that with our concerted effort, this CES will mark a turning point.
Our next Issue, “Intelligently Artificial,” will capture this shift from superficial
tech displays to rich, meaningful exchanges of ideas. It’s not just about the
technology; it’s about the intelligence behind it – the thoughts, the debates, and
the discourse.

Toby Daniels

Co-Founder, ON_Discourse

The

future of

sports rights

in streaming

is drama

Andrew Rosen

Andrew Rosen is the founder of PARQOR LLC. He authors Medium Shift, a monthly column on The Information tracking the transformations underway in the media business.

There is an uneasy tension in the sports rights model across cable, broadcast, and streaming.

On the one hand, cord-cutting is eating away at the extraordinary scale of linear, which counted more than 105 million cable TV households in the US over a decade ago. The pricing of past sports rights deals reflected that, and not so much the promise of streaming.

Today, there are around 60 million homes with cable access, and over 75 million if we include virtual cable distributors like YouTube TV and Fubo TV.

On the other hand, new sports rights deals must assume both the declining scale of cable network distribution and the growth of streaming. The recent NFL deal has Paramount’s CBS, Comcast’s NBC, and Disney’s ABC and ESPN all distributing games across both linear and streaming platforms (Fox will distribute via linear, only). Deals struck in the past few years by the NHL, the PGA Tour, and WWE also have versions of the linear plus streaming business logic built in.

There are growing questions emerging about the business model of streaming. Legacy media streaming services are struggling to scale and to turn a profit. The worry is that some may not be around in a few years. In some cases, like with Paramount Global, their negative free cash flow and junk-rated debt are legitimate reasons for partners like the NFL to be worried.

This is member only content.

To keep reading this post, apply to join our Member Waitlist. Learn more about the benefits of becoming an ON_Discourse member here.

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Different

Perspectives,

Together.

ON_Discourse is a private membership community for business leaders to participate in the Discipline of Discourse to cultivate perspectives, decision-making, and meaningful relationships.

Why does business
need discourse?

Business culture and the media ultimately drive groupthink.

Discourse overcomes fake ideas, fake news, and fake experts.

Discourse fights against conventional thinking and decision-making paralysis.

Discourse exposes a business' isolated beliefs.

At the heart of ON_Discourse is our dedication to the idea that the best decisions in business are made when you bring smart people with different perspectives together.

Actions backed
by values.

…with trust and empathy by asking questions and challenging each other.

…with curiosity and intellectual honesty by being receptive to other points of view.

…with an openness and a commitment to diverse perspectives.

Our members are made up of a community of experts that have…

Published best-selling books on business, technology, culture, politics, etc.

Run digital at the highest level for one of the world’s largest fashion brands

Lead innovation for the world’s largest SaaS company

Run the technology group for the largest US multinational telecommunications and media conglomerate

Built and exited one of the world’s biggest e-commerce sites in the mobile consumer technology space

Launched a billion-dollar digital business for Europe's most important governing bodies in football

Built the developer ecosystems for two of the most influential technology companies

Launched a $100 million venture fund in the climate tech industry with over 100 investments and multiple exits to date

What is a
Living Issue?

Living Issues are deep dives into specific business verticals, focused on the most urgent and important topics in business and technology.

We create Living Issues that are important, current, and relevant.

We look for different perspectives and insist on opposing points of view.

We uncover perspectives that evolve into provocations.

We provide these provocations through content that provides education, context, and framing.

We introduce these new ideas back to our community to keep the discourse flowing.

Join the discourse.

On_Entertainment
On_Entertainment
On_Entertainment

and more.

Join our growing community of business leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs to access new perspectives, better decision-making, and more meaningful relationships.

Applications for 2023 close on December 22.

FAQ

Only members can access Living Issues, events, and the community. You can apply for membership here.

No, we operate a hybrid approach to events, which we host online and in person.

What is a

better

differentiator

in the AI era?

From the editor: Below we have recreated a recurring debate from our discourse-driven floor tours at CES 2024. On one hand, the AI era is making good software ubiquitous; is that a threat to brands that are looking to distinguish themselves? On the other hand, novel hardware might be taking over as the most reliable strategy for differentiation. Two of our co-founders have polar opposite responses to the question: what is a better differentiator in the AI era?

Software

Michael Treff

MIKE TREFF

CEO, Code and Theory
Co-Founder, ON_Discourse

Hardware

Dan Gardner

DAN GARDNER

Co-Founder and Exec Chair,
Code and Theory
Co-Founder, ON_Discourse

Think back to past CES events. There have been very few times where the hardware unveiled therein had a material impact on the world or enabled businesses to operate differently.

I wouldn’t ignore hardware, but in the AI race, software far outweighs hardware. Making supply chain changes to improve hardware is far easier than creating true differentiation in software.

You can change the form factor in a product innovation cycle more easily than you can move quickly with AI. As everyone tries to innovate, whether that be in services, operations, business intelligence, generative functions, or any other area, the differentiation when applying AI is going to be in the software, not the hardware. It’s the software that differentiates the hardware to create loyalty and habit.

So, when I’m at CES, I’m looking for the guts of things and the differences in capabilities that the guts provide, rather than the form factors.

But…

Because software is easy to iterate on, everybody can and will do so, which means the ability to have differentiation will reduce very quickly. AI’s biggest strength is the consolidation of data and action.

Finding differentiation through uniqueness of service value will diminish as consolidation enables accessing data across industries. The ease of entry means that the super apps and the larger corporations will just suck any uniqueness into their offerings.

Hardware is a different story. Physicality and context to a human being is something that can be unique and ownable. It’s very difficult and very expensive, but that’s where the opportunity is.

If you’re able to gain permanent access in a unique way, whether via a connected device, a physical screen, a camera, a connected piece of jewelry, AI-driven glasses, or physical locations, you will be on the front lines to deliver an exceptional and differentiated experience that a software developer cannot quickly achieve. Hardware lets you create a moat in a world where software is consolidating.

Well…

If the hypothesis is that AI software development is simple, then hardware is the differentiator. Sure. I don’t think, however, that any significant differentiation or innovation in AI applications is going to be simple.

Companies that are going to use software and AI-driven software to differentiate either their services or their products won’t be doing quick software development cycles. Those are very long-term development cycles, primarily because developing differentiation and value requires creativity in how one uses the data. Achieving differentiation in turn requires a thoughtful and dedicated data strategy that may take a very long time to get critical mass to unlock the power of that data.

These are long-term software development cycles, not quick-turn things that can be replicated using open-source models with minimal layering. So, if you’re going to drive to that level of differentiation, the longer-term development timeline is all about the software, not the hardware.

I do not believe large companies with massive R&D budgets are going to rely on off-the-shelf AI software to enable the products, services, and experiences that will fuel their growth. They will invest in custom models, custom datasets, and custom AI applications, and that will become the IP that helps drive their valuations. These are long-term software development cycles, not quick-turn sprints that can be replicated using open-source models with minimal layering. So, if you’re going to drive to that level of differentiation, the long-term development timeline is all about the software, not the hardware.

I know, but…

I think a long-term view will only give further opportunity for software to consolidate. If the view is long term, that gives you the runway to create differentiation in hardware. The software landscape is a race between dozens of companies trying to execute every imaginable idea. Over a long-term timeframe, the large-scale companies are going to swallow those up.

If you look at the landscape of software, you’re seeing a race of dozens of companies trying to execute every imaginable idea. The large-scale companies are going to swallow those up, over a long-term timeframe.

If you can surprise through unique hardware, that will be the differentiator. If you develop a piece of software over the long term, a competitor will only be able to replicate it faster and faster. If you develop a piece of hardware over the long term, especially one that resonates with people enough that they purchase it, you have the advantage of physicality and can drive your unique software differentiation through that owned touchpoint. You will own that moment in a way that no one can just iterate on.

There are dozens, if not hundreds of companies working on the same use case that will eventually come to the market. Say you spend two years on a specific use case leveraging your AI. You launch and then three months later, another company does something very similar. It’s marginally better or marginally worse. There is no moat to hold that customer in that unique way.

Conversely, say you spend two years working on a unique piece of hardware and launch it. Say people purchase it and then three months later, there’s a competitor. Your customers are not just going to buy the next piece of hardware. You’ve already beat them onto your customer’s body, into their home, or into their physical world. That creates a uniqueness that can’t just be quickly taken away from you.

So, in conclusion…

Hardware matters. Imagine a company invents new AR tech that can be easily integrated into any piece of glass. Imagine a company that builds a platform to let anyone cheaply project onto any piece of glass. Either way, every window can now be a screen. That matters. Your brand may not be the company that invents a new form factor, but you need to be able to leverage the latest innovation. Ultimately, you can’t ignore hardware or the software.

If your brand wants to build a moat, however, the key isn’t hardware or software. It’s data. To stay relevant, business leaders must figure out how to leverage software-enabled hardware to deploy robust data strategies.

The question then is: Do you have the data to be competitive?

For

real

customer

insights,

Matt Chmiel

Head of Discourse

ask fake

people

This article is part of The Intelligently Artificial Issue, which combines two big stories in consumer tech: AI and CES.

Read more from the issue:

Are businesses even asking the right AI questions?

Should we ignore the hardware?

From the editor: Before the launch of the Intelligently Artificial Issue, we invited Peter Smart, the global CXO of Fantasy, to give a demo of a new AI-powered audience research tool the company calls Synthetic Humans. This article is a distillation of the discourse from that event.  

Digital product design does not happen in a vacuum. Designers, product owners, marketing teams, and business stakeholders all have extensive conversations with customers before, during, and after designs are ultimately shipped. This process is timely and expensive and it feeds a thriving user research industry; consumer brands pay a premium for access to real people from target audience segments to record reactions and develop concepts. The vendors and design teams then plot that feedback into thousands of slide deck pages across the land. The testers get paid, the vendor gets paid, the design staff gets approval, and the designs ultimately ship.

Here’s the thing about all of this testing: what if it’s fake? What if real people are the problem?

Real people are too human to be reliable. They lie, they cut corners, and their attention wanes. They’re in it for the money, which obscures their true opinions as they are not invested in the experience. They resist change with red-hot passion before they embrace and ultimately celebrate it. They are not useful testers.

The proliferation of user research as a design process is responsible for standardized and conventional design practices online. It is hard to produce a differentiated design when we try to meet people where they say they are.

Put bluntly, real people are a waste of time and money.

Can AI fix this?

Fantasy believes that the solution to this human problem of qualitative testing is to use AI to develop a new, scalable audience research ecosystem built on synthetic humans.

A synthetic human is a digital representation of a human being, built using an LLM that converts a massive amount of real survey data into a realistic representation of a human being. Think of it as a digital shell of a human cobbled together using thousands of psychographics data points.

Prompting a synthetic human should give you a realistic response. As a result, if you train a synthetic human to deliver feedback and reactions to developing ideas, you should get actionable audience data. These modern-day AI-generated avatars are much more powerful than a chatbot because they generate and sustain their own memories.

We are not talking about Alexa or Siri here. A synthetic human initiated with a preliminary dataset (age, demographics, location, income, job, and so on) can determine, without any other prompt, that “she” has two daughters, aged 5 and 3. These daughters have names and go to a certain school. Their teachers have names and each daughter has a favorite subject or cuddle toy.

If you don’t interact with this synthetic human for six months and then prompt “her” again, these daughters would still be in “her” mind, as would the teachers and the school. In the intervening time, the children might have celebrated a birthday, or entered the next grade, all aspects that get folded into the profile and leveraged for realistic responses. As a result, “her” opinions about your developing ideas can feel more reliable.

Organizations can train these humans to react to developing concepts, or brainstorm new concepts outright. They can also leverage their generative memory capabilities to help organizations overcome embedded workflow obstacles, like stubborn stakeholders.

Let’s say an organization knows that “Bob” in audience development has a reputation for capricious feedback that often causes a production bottleneck. The organization can train a synthetic human to brainstorm ways to overcome Bob’s reputation.

Here’s another example. Imagine prompting two contradictory synthetic humans (one is aggressive and the other is conservative) to collectively brainstorm an idea over the weekend so that you can arrive on Monday to a fresh batch of thinking. These two personalities are not just coming up with ideas; they are reacting to each other’s ideas, giving feedback, rejecting suggestions, and building on top of promising sparks.

What’s the catch?

There is always a catch. And at ON_Discourse, we lean into the questions that hide underneath the inspiring claims of innovative technology. There is no denying the potential of synthetic humans. It is a direct response to the biggest issues that plague the audience research industry today. Synthetic humans can stay focused, can offer candid feedback, and can be scaled to deliver deeper insights at a lower cost. These are good things. But there are gaps in the capabilities of these tools. Our virtual discourse on November 30 unpacked some of them and thus the limitations of synthetic humans for audience research.

Synthetic humans cannot predict the future. They are locked in the snow globe of their initial configuration. Their generated memories cannot incorporate the development of novel technology or cultural revolutions. As a result, we should not expect this kind of tool to unlock perspectives for new developments. This is notable, given that we are living in an era of rapid, unpredictable change. What humans think about specific disruptions will have to come from other sources.

Synthetic humans do not access deeply human emotional states. They do not grieve. They do not get irate. They do not get horny or goofy, and they do not long after something that is just out of reach. These powerful emotions provide the source material for some of our most inspiring technical and creative accomplishments. Our guests provoked this concept with real-world examples of powerful emotional moments. There are limits to what we can expect an avatar to create – we cannot prompt a bot to dig deeper. Synthetic humans are calibrated to maintain a level set of emotions.

The issues we explored regarding synthetic humans speak more to the role of audience research than to the capabilities of this tool. The collated test results that are plotted on slide decks represent an unintentional hand-off of creative thinking to the masses. Forward thinking organizations are going to recognize the value of synthetic research for solving the achievable problems they face in design and product development. And they will leave the big thinking to the people that still run their business with their head, heart, and with their real human teams.

Ignore the

Hardware

you see at

CES?

This needs a subheadline here media company run by business experts focused on the business of technology. Omni-channel media company run by business experts.

MIKE TREFF

Co-Founder,
ON_Discourse

Yes

Everything is software.

Yes

Everything is software.

MIKE TREFF

Co-Founder,
ON_Discourse

No

MIKE TREFF

Co-Founder,
ON_Discourse

Hardware is Differentiation

No

Hardware is Differentiation

MIKE TREFF

Co-Founder,
ON_Discourse

Everthing is about software, thats where the innovation is.

A few years ago, frustrated at seeing the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) struggle to qualify for the World Cup, I remember thinking to myself, “what can we, as fans, do to make sure the USMNT wins a World Cup in our lifetime?”

My experiences as the founder and chairman of Stockade FC (a semi-pro team in the Hudson Valley) and the co-founder of Street FC (“SoulCycle, but for pickup soccer”) have given me front-row seats to the shortcomings of our nation’s approach to the beautiful game.

AI Questions Every Business Needs to Ask

More context here on the article about AI questions.

For Real Customer Insights, Ask Fake People

More context here on the article about AI questions.

Hardware vs. Software

More context here on the article about AI questions.

But…

But…

Sofware will consolidate and you will see a company’s only differentiation will be in hardware.

Why does this matter? In the absence of a hyper-competitive domestic league, we are failing to produce world-class players and attract the best talent from abroad while they’re still in their prime. It’s an open secret that top American players flee to European leagues as soon as they hit their teens, while the best players in the world look to wind down their careers in the MLS. The closed nature of our leagues has created a comfortable, risk-averse culture that is the antithesis to the spirit of the game worldwide.

Well…

Hardware has been a commodity. Just look at curved flat screen TVs.

Why does this matter? In the absence of a hyper-competitive domestic league, we are failing to produce world-class players and attract the best talent from abroad while they’re still in their prime. It’s an open secret that top American players flee to European leagues as soon as they hit their teens, while the best players in the world look to wind down their careers in the MLS. The closed nature of our leagues has created a comfortable, risk-averse culture that is the antithesis to the spirit of the game worldwide.

I know, but…

I know, but…

Sofware will consolidate and you will see a company’s only differentiation will be in hardware.

Why does this matter? In the absence of a hyper-competitive domestic league, we are failing to produce world-class players and attract the best talent from abroad while they’re still in their prime. It’s an open secret that top American players flee to European leagues as soon as they hit their teens, while the best players in the world look to wind down their careers in the MLS. The closed nature of our leagues has created a comfortable, risk-averse culture that is the antithesis to the spirit of the game worldwide.

Sure, But…

Hardware becomes a race to the bottom. Its a short term win, not long term disruption.

Why does this matter? In the absence of a hyper-competitive domestic league, we are failing to produce world-class players and attract the best talent from abroad while they’re still in their prime. It’s an open secret that top American players flee to European leagues as soon as they hit their teens, while the best players in the world look to wind down their careers in the MLS. The closed nature of our leagues has created a comfortable, risk-averse culture that is the antithesis to the spirit of the game worldwide.

Wrong, because…

Wrong, because…

Don’t confuse the hype for the place of difference.

Why does this matter? In the absence of a hyper-competitive domestic league, we are failing to produce world-class players and attract the best talent from abroad while they’re still in their prime. It’s an open secret that top American players flee to European leagues as soon as they hit their teens, while the best players in the world look to wind down their careers in the MLS. The closed nature of our leagues has created a comfortable, risk-averse culture that is the antithesis to the spirit of the game worldwide.

editor@ondiscourse.com

  • Hosted in partnership with Stagwell, ON_CES is taking the discourse straight to the convention floor.
  • We’re going to dedicate our unique process to unpacking and distilling the bold exhibition claims that make this the world’s biggest consumer technology convention.
  • A central theme of this issue will be the promise and implications of AI in consumer tech. What do the products on display represent for short and long term consumer trends? How do we distinguish between artificial hype and intelligent opportunities?

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  • ON_CES will include the launch of The Intelligently Artificial Issue, which will provide deep analysis, plus provocation-driven discourse on the most urgent and important topics related to AI and business.

CES

Can

Be

Fixed

With

DISCOURSE

Toby Daniels

Toby Daniels

Founder, ON_Discourse, former Chief Innovation Officer, Adweek, Founder and Chair, Social Media Week

Our co-founder Toby Daniels is a veteran of CES and has taken over our CES planning meetings with hot takes from his ample experience from the show. We thought we should give him a pen to write a mini-confessional about the world’s biggest consumer tech conference.
—ON_D

CES is not new to me. I’ve been attending the event for over 15 years times, walking the crowded halls, networking in one event after the other, and have seen countless over-hyped tech unveilings. I have seen the curved TV screens and they are still not going to be a thing. I believe in the value of this event and yet, after all of this time with it, can confidently tell you how it can be fixed.

Executives who
report feeling
disoriented and
isolated

First the primary problem: CES is loud, confusing, crowded, and extremely lonely. I am not alone in making this diagnosis; I have had countless conversations with fellow convention goers and tech executives who report feeling disoriented and isolated (especially during loud, engaged networking events). This problem creates the conditions that lead to the second, most commonly understood issue with CES.

In this mode,
agreement is
chosen over
conflict, and
innovation is nothing but an empty vessel of conventional ideas.

The secondary problem of CES is groupthink. It is an echo chamber with familiar faces and conventional ideas wrapped in flashy tech.  In this mode, agreement is chosen over conflict, and innovation is nothing but an empty vessel of conventional ideas.

CES is often touted as “a beacon for leaders in business and technology,” where the future meets today’s realities. While this paints a picture of innovation and forward-thinking, it often masks the event’s superficial nature. CES, in all its glory, can sometimes be more about the display than the depth of conversation. We can change that.

True perspective, I’ve learned, comes from heated debates, uncomfortable questions, and the willingness to listen to opposing viewpoints.

The discipline
of discourse is a
forcing function that enables us to provoke, argue, challenge and listen.

This year we are bringing discourse and community to CES. 

The discipline of discourse is a forcing function that enables us to provoke, argue, challenge, and listen – not just to reply, but to understand and consider. It’s through these authentic engagements that we can break free from the cycle of redundancy and uncover truly groundbreaking ideas and new perspectives.

At CES this year the ON_Discourse team will provide an experience for its members that will serve as the singular reason to attend the show in January. We will deliver this in three ways:

An experience for its members that will serve as the singular reason to attend the show in January.

Curation:

  • A guided experience, including a kick-off briefing event, a discourse-driven tour of the convention floor, and invitations to a carefully curated list of events.

Connection:

  • Members will be organized into “Teams”, small groups who attend sessions together, join dinners, attend parties, and experience the event as a single unit.

Conversation:

  • The discipline of discourse is at the heart of everything we do. When applied to conversations at CES, we ensure that we follow the three pillars: Provoke, Listen, Change.

It’s not just
about the
technology; it’s
about the
intelligence
behind it.

As we move towards CES 2024, I feel a renewed sense of purpose. Our approach is different – we’re not just there to observe; we’re there to engage, to disrupt the status quo of conversations. We’re setting up to ensure our members experience CES not as a showcase of gadgets, but as a forum of intelligent, meaningful dialogue.

I am hopeful that with our concerted effort, this CES will mark a turning point. A shift from superficial tech displays to rich, meaningful exchanges of ideas and our next Issue, “Intelligently Artificial,”captures this essence perfectly. It’s not just about the technology; it’s about the intelligence behind it – the thoughts, the debates, the discourse.

Toby Daniels

Co-Founder, ON_Discourse

Want to be part of

Join our growing community of business leaders,
innovators and entrepreneurs to access new
perspectives, better decision making and more
meaningful relationships.

Applications for 2023 close November 30.

?

Do You

Even Know

What It

Means To be

Creative

Dan Gardner

Dan Gardner

Founder & Exec Chair of Code and Theory & Founder, ON_Discourse

AI has made me think a lot about creativity recently.
I co-founded and help operate a creative agency that
employs over a thousand people, all of whom identify
as “creative”.

Throughout my tenure as a leader in this creative agency, I am often asked, “When did you first see yourself as a creative?” The question always strikes me as odd, as I believe that I have been innately creative all my life. From a young age, I indulged in painting and drawing, eventually developing a fascination with photography – all pursuits traditionally deemed “creative”. When I reflect on those early days of education, and even what transpires with my children’s schools today, I recognize this fundamental premise.

Children who display skills in areas like drawing, painting, writing, or performing are typically labeled as “creative”. Schools, given sufficient resources, will nurture these abilities. Conversely, children who lack such skills are deemed “not creative” and steered towards the acquisition of more practical “non-creative” skills. This dichotomy perpetuates itself in the professional world, with creative agencies or even in entertainment industries distinctly separating the “creatives” from the rest. So, it’s understandable why creatives may fear new technology: their entire self-concept, built on their unique skills, feels threatened. 

In the context of AI, many have started to express apprehension, suggesting that this technology could undermine creativity. I hear many arguments against its use. Even the writers union strike has some restrictive usage of the technology to protect themselves.

It is my belief that creativity is a skill, but not a skill of the practitioner, instead a skill of thinking. AI becomes a tool to enable thinking in new and profound ways. Just like digital photography didn’t kill the discipline of photography because you can take photos on your iphone and now dodge and burn in Photoshop or use Instagram filters instead of a dark room, these new AI tools are new enablers to new kinds of creativity. But a creativity only a few people will be lucky enough to participate in. It will fundamentally change the way we think of early education and the role of creativity in business and entertainment.

This is the new reality that AI will force us to come to terms with; Not everyone is as creative as they thought. What people deemed as creative, the skill of doing something, is becoming a commodity.  That creativity will go from the 1% of people who think they are creative to a new reality of maybe just .01% of people who actually are creative. 

Just like traditional artists. Only a very select few get to make successful careers from making Art. There is no entitlement to the career. And just like many young adults who graduate from art schools every year but sadly cannot make a career out of their skillset, the same will be true with legacy degrees. 

Andy Warhol was famous for having an entire factory executing his concepts, but he was the brain behind each unique idea. Sadly, we can’t all be Andy Warhol.  And the new factory is AI, not people.

Demanding that the creative industries limit the use of AI is misguided. Not only is it virtually impossible to contain this technological advancement, but it’s also shortsighted. It’s akin to bookkeepers resisting Quickbooks due to fear of obsolescence, or coal miners protesting clean energy innovations. Imagine if we had halted the industrial revolution due to fears about job losses.

However, there is a counterargument. Creatives don’t protest against the actual innovation of AI; their objection lies in the idea that AI is a thief. It’s not about the automation of the tooling but the data AI steals from.

But as the saying goes…

Good Artists
Copy, Great
AIs Steal.

The advent of AI has shaken up traditional notions of creativity
and its value. Many fear that AI is essentially “stealing” creativity, a unique attribute that should be
fairly compensated. 

The belief is that if you use a creative output to generate something new the original idea needs to be fairly compensated. After all, if someone else profits from your original idea, shouldn’t you get a share? This seems reasonable and hard to dispute. 

But what makes creativity unique and therefore valuable? Picasso offered a profound answer when questioned about the worth of his art.

When told, “But You Did That in Thirty Seconds.”

Picasso replied, “No, It Has Taken Me Forty Years To Do That.”

This implies that the value lies in the journey, not just the end product. 

However, Picasso also famously said,

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal 

He was implying that the best creativity actually is just old creative ideas revived in a new form. Does this mean no creation is entirely original but rather a derivative of something else? If so, what does “derivative” mean in the context of creativity and human cognition?

Does the person who creates a masterpiece in what seems like thirty seconds, with each stroke backed by their life’s experience, get full ownership of that new thing? In the age of AI, that’s just a nice little anecdote. Now we’ve got machines, bereft of any life experience, churning out ‘creative’ output at the speed of light.

For centuries, humans have patted themselves on the back for their ability to take historical ideas, toss them around, and present them as something ‘unique’ and ‘original’. Conveniently, we ignore where these ideas came from, lauding the result as claimable and unique. 

Consider Quentin Tarantino, who is hailed as a creative genius. He openly acknowledges the influences that shape his work. His creative process involves drawing from the past to mold his future ideas. Should he have paid the Film Noir greats some royalties because they influenced his style? If he entered a generative AI prompt instead, “in the style of Film Noir,” does all of a sudden that require a different payment for his creative influence?

Perhaps genuine creativity involves reshaping and recontextualizing historical ideas into something unrecognizable from the source. The human mind naturally (and sometimes consciously) does this. But as the origins are typically hidden, the end product is labeled as unique, inventive, original, and therefore, claimable. So, the creator retains a perpetual claim to any benefits derived from it.

But what happens when AI mimics this process of reshuffling and reconstructing ideas to produce something new? If the process is algorithmic rather than instinctual, does it strip the output of its creativity because its origins are more apparent? Is it not considered theft when a human does it, but when an AI does it, it is?

Wait… but…

What happens when AI mimics this process of reshuffling and reconstructing ideas to produce something new? If the process is algorithmic rather than instinctual, does it strip the output of its creativity because its origins are more apparent? Is it not considered theft when a human does it, but when an AI does it, it is?

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists AND AIs Steal. 

Could it be that Picasso was wrong? Or perhaps our understanding of creativity and ownership needs reconsideration?

In the end, the great AI invasion has forced us to reassess our holier-than-thou understanding of creativity and ownership. It’s high time we stopped hiding behind romantic notions and accepted that both human imagination and AI innovation are here to co-exist, whether we like it or not.

And this old romantic notion of creativity and ownership assumes that entertainment in the future will be like today. A model where someone thinks of an idea and the idea is executed and then distributed to the masses. Maybe tomorrow, it’s the viewer that dictates what will be created, not the creator. Is this the end of the creator economy?

What happens when AI mimics this process of reshuffling and reconstructing ideas to produce something new? If the process is algorithmic rather than instinctual, does it strip the output of its creativity because its origins are more apparent?

Is it not considered theft when a human does it, but when an AI does it, it is?

This is potentially the advent of a new form of entertainment…

The Future of
Entertainment:

Do we even know

what we’re

asking for?

It’s Anticipatory

and Ephemeral

What happens if only one prompt ever has to be said: “Give me more value”

Remember when being the first to come up with an idea was the big deal? Everyone hailing the “genius” who thought of something new? We used to think that creativity was something valuable and special, the thing that kept us entertained. 

For generations, we’ve held creativity on this high pedestal. We’ve marveled at the genius of the innovators, the artists, the disruptors. We’ve believed that creativity – the ability to generate something truly original and new – is a uniquely human trait. But let’s be real: do we even need that shiny, fresh-out-of-the-box creativity anymore? Or are we just craving the illusion of something “new and improved” to keep us entertained?

In the world of Web 2.0, personalization means leveraging location, device, and intent to tailor an experience. You could see it in Netflix’s recommendations, Amazon’s suggested products, or targeted ads. Of course, it’s all backed by those good old algorithmic engines that some may argue lack creativity. They’re just doing their job, providing value based on perceived needs.

But now, we’re venturing into a whole new territory. A world where we can prompt a system and voila – out comes something fresh, something creative. But what if these prompts weren’t manually entered? What if they were behaviorally driven, shifting and adapting to our ever-changing needs and desires? What if generative AI could whip up something personalized on the fly? It would be more than personalized, it’d be anticipatory.

Can our behaviors make us creative? Or are we just wandering in an ever-evolving maze of our own creations, no longer needing to come up with anything new? Or are we basically there now?

Imagine taking a scriptwriting class. You’d quickly become acquainted with the familiar pattern found in nearly every movie: protagonists, antagonists, story arcs, resolutions, and so forth. This formula can be identified in almost any story.

Consider Disney’s method of reusing animation, resulting in various movies with shared scenes, such as ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and ‘Jungle Book.’ Reflect on the choice to reshoot Samuel L. Jackson’s line in ‘Snakes on a Plane’ because of its anticipated impact on audiences. Many of the top hits on Fandango currently are sequels, remakes, or stories spun from established franchises. Or look at 2 recent TV hits, ‘Yellowstone’ and ‘Succession,’ weave strikingly similar tales, only tailored to different demographics through congruent themes.

So, what are we heading towards? A future where entertainment is tailored so precisely that it’s practically reading our minds and serving up ephemeral delights?

What does that mean for our requests in the future? Would we be reduced to uttering one prompt: “Give me more value”? 

With AI and LLMs, we’re entering an era of ‘machine creativity’. These systems can process and analyze massive amounts of data, draw from a vast pool of existing content, and generate responses tailored to individual user needs. They don’t just mimic human instinct; they go a step further by making data-driven decisions that can predict and cater to our needs with astounding accuracy.

Is there room for disruptive human creativity in this new landscape? Perhaps. But as LLMs continue to improve and evolve, these instances will become increasingly rare, and more importantly, they may not be necessary. After all, if a machine can fulfill our needs and desires based on our own behavior and preferences, do we need the occasional disruptive idea?

As we stand on the cusp of this new era, we may need to reassess our long-held notions about creativity. Is creativity really about originality, or is it about delivering value in the most effective and satisfying way possible? Is our pursuit of creativity overrated, particularly when AI systems are capable of delivering more value with greater efficiency?

Perhaps, in the end, we’ll find that ‘Give me more value’ is the most creative prompt we could ever ask for. It’s a directive that has the potential to render traditional creativity redundant, replacing it with a more accurate, efficient, and user-centric approach to satisfaction and fulfillment. And who knows? We may find that this approach fulfills us in ways we never thought possible.

As we navigate this transition, I’m not sure if any of this will be true, but one thing remains certain: the paradigms of entertainment and creativity are shifting. How content is crafted, delivered, and consumed might be starkly different in the future than it is today.

Can our behaviors make us creative? Or are we just wandering in an ever-evolving maze of our own creations, no longer needing to come up with anything new? Or are we basically there now?

Discover
More Discourse

USA

will

never win the

WORLD CUP

(unless the system changes)

Dennis Crowley

Technology entrepreneur working at the intersection of the real world & digital world. His work focuses on creating things that make everyday life feel a little more fun and playful.

What’s holding the United States back from becoming a soccer superpower like the rest of the world?

A few years ago, frustrated at seeing the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) struggle to qualify for the World Cup, I remember thinking to myself, “what can we, as fans, do to make sure the USMNT wins a World Cup in our lifetime?”

My experiences as the founder and chairman of Stockade FC (a semi-pro team in the Hudson Valley) and the co-founder of Street FC (“SoulCycle, but for pickup soccer”) have given me front-row seats to the shortcomings of our nation’s approach to the beautiful game.

First and foremost, here in the US, Major League Soccer (MLS) operates as a closed system. Teams pay exorbitant fees to join a top-flight league that never threatens relegation, while clubs in lower-level leagues are denied the opportunity for promotion, regardless of their performance on the field. This starkly contrasts with the open, merit-based systems seen in Europe and almost everywhere else in the world, which drives competition, growth, and investment (not to mention excitement and drama for fans worldwide).

The lack of a merit-based promotion and relegation system in the US stifles the hyper-competitive environment that is crucial for developing both top-tier talent and compelling narratives.

The lack of a merit-based promotion and relegation system in the US stifles the hyper-competitive environment that is crucial for developing both top-tier talent and compelling narratives. This has led to a US soccer ecosystem that hinders investment in both club infrastructure and youth development at the lower levels, which is vital for nurturing homegrown talent and growing fans of the game.

Why does this matter? In the absence of a hyper-competitive domestic league, we are failing to produce world-class players and attract the best talent from abroad while they’re still in their prime. It’s an open secret that top American players flee to European leagues as soon as they hit their teens, while the best players in the world look to wind down their careers in the MLS. The closed nature of our leagues has created a comfortable, risk-averse culture that is the antithesis to the spirit of the game worldwide.

Creating a European-style, open-league system in the US that benefits owners, fans, and players alike, would be challenging, but not impossible. We would need a vision, a plan, and a timeline from United States Soccer Federation (USSF) leadership. Unfortunately, there seems to be a reluctance to formally lay out such a plan, as it would disrupt the status quo (specifically, MLS owners who invested millions in their clubs, but who never “signed up” for relegation). In short, MLS investments have taken priority over creating a cohesive US soccer ecosystem with healthy lower-level leagues.

Meanwhile, in Europe, football folklore is fueled by the possibility of any club from any league achieving a meteoric rise through the ranks. These stories captivate fans and embody the very essence of sport—hope, ambition, and the reward for hard work. Unfortunately, the structure of the US Soccer ecosystem denies this opportunity and prevents these Cinderella-esque stories that all sports fans love (see: NCAA March Madness).

The current US system offers little incentive for soccer entrepreneurs to invest in the lower levels of domestic soccer.

The current US system offers little incentive for soccer entrepreneurs to invest in the lower levels of domestic soccer. With no “pot of gold” for club owners to chase in the US (such as revenue sharing from sponsorships and broadcast rights that come with promotion), the financial prospects on investments in lower-level clubs are bleak compared to the potential return on investments in foreign clubs, where even an obscure lower-level club can rise through the ranks and multiply in value. This is why you see the Ryan Reynolds of the world investing in lower-level soccer infrastructure abroad (in open systems), but not here in the US (our closed system).

I founded Stockade FC after asking myself the question “what can we do to help the USMNT win a World Cup in our lifetime?” My answer: “Support local soccer.” For me, this meant putting my entrepreneurial skills to work in creating a club from scratch in the Hudson Valley of New York and creating a blueprint for other clubs inspired to do the same. This has certainly made an impact – creating clubs, players, fans, inspiring youth, etc. – but not enough to move the needle on a national scale.

Do you
disagree or
have a
completely different perspective? We’d love to know:

editor@ondiscourse.com


For US Soccer to evolve, there are a dozen changes that need to be made – from creating an open system of promotion and relegation to making youth soccer more affordable, to making soccer more accessible in cities by converting basketball courts into dual-sport courts (spoiler: put a goal under that net!), to elevating the US Open Cup to the same level as the NCAA basketball tournament.

What’s next for soccer in the US? As much as I would love to see the change start from the bottom up (with the lower-level leagues self-organizing), I really think the most impactful change will come from a well-articulated vision of how to turn our closed system into an open system from the new leadership at US Soccer. The timing is right – the USSF has a new CEO and the World Cup will be hosted across 11 American cities in 2026. There is a palpable buzz around soccer in the US (thanks to everyone from Lionel Messi to Ted Lasso), but only if we channel this energy into transformative action can we hope to create a domestic soccer ecosystem as dynamic and exciting as those that thrill fans across the globe.

Can insurgent leagues capture market share from the NFL?

This topic kept coming up in our various events: the NFL is God. And God is immune to all the forces that are challenging the other incumbent leagues like the NBA and MLB. What makes the NFL so powerful? Is it a better TV experience? Is it a better sport? The rest of the world would argue against that. (And they probably want the word football back).


The NFL is built on initial scarcity. It started with two games broadcasted one day a week in the autumn. Then came Sunday Night Football, then Monday Night Football. Then Thursday Night Football followed that. Now we have Sunday Ticket and the Red Zone channel. All of that football turned into fantasy football leagues, online gambling. And all of that engagement is padded with endless expert analysis that fills in the gaps in between all the snaps. Is this ecosystem too strong to be disrupted?

This question unlocked a lot of thinking.

What does a league need to thrive? How can an old sport evolve and find new audiences? Can a team of insurgent leagues take down the mighty NFL?