Yesterday morning marked our first morning event, “When Will Our Smartphones Be Smarter Than Us?”, featuring James Tagg, author of “Are the Androids Dreaming Yet?”

Starting Interesting Conversations in Silicon Alley

L&T events are all about building the Silicon Alley community and providing opportunities for interesting individuals to engage in interesting conversations. Our Media Strategist, Adrienne Todd, could not have said it any better than this:

Presenting James Tagg

Our keynote speaker, James Tagg, certainly did not disappoint. His presentation centered around his personal experience as an inventor and innovator, and the science around invention and creativity. The list of James’ personal inventions is certainly impressive, including the invention of the LCD touch screen and his company Truphone’s global mobile network (the first converged VoIP and GSM carrier).


One topic that James explored in detail was the concept of innovation and invention. With computer technology developing at such a rapid pace, the question arises: “Can computers be creative and inventive like humans can?”

James raised the interesting example of Alan Turing, inventor of the modern computer and the discipline of computer science. Turing proved that computers could not automatically discover new mathematical theorems, while human mathematicians obviously do this all the time. If a computer isn’t capable of discovering a theorem, but a human is, what is it that sets us apart from machines?

James’ theory is that humans have a fundamentally different and creative approach to thinking.

Key Q&As

Q: Will we be to robots what pets are to us today?
A: Not for at least another two or three hundred years. I don’t think digital computers are the same as a human brain…we have this faculty of creativity and free will which they do not have, so what we’ll actually have to do is to build a model of a human brain. I think we have a lot more engineering to do before computers reach that level.

Q: Do you use a creativity tool?
A: Yes, sleep and coffee. For me, I spend an awful lot of time looking at the problem and trying to get my head around it, and then I leave it alone. When I leave it alone, that’s when I get that flash of inspiration.

Q: Where do you see the first AI adoption on a widespread scale?
A: What we’re tending to do currently is solve linear problems – things to do with drugs and chemical processes, and finding the optimal drug or process to solve a given problem. Those tend to be industrial helpers. At the moment, we haven’t got good AI for “agency”. We don’t have good AI technology for being “Jeeves.” That’s when consumer solutions will become interesting, and that’s still a little way off. On the quantum side, that’s quite a way off, maybe 8 years. On the classical side, we still don’t have good classical AIs for doing agency.

Q: There’s a lot of computer generated art coming out these days. Can we say it’s original, or is it just rehashing existing art, and we’re just projecting artistic value on it because it’s created by a computer?
A: A human being bursts a bubble into a non-computable area, and then a machine can work its way around it. So, once you’ve explained to a computer how to do a line drawing, it will do you lots and lots of beautiful line drawings. What we want in art is for it to be original. You can get a computer to do a really good job at knocking out Picassos. What you can’t get a computer to do is to wake up one morning and decide to do the Blue Period.

Q: What do we do with our social structures as robots take more and more jobs from people?
A: I think in the short term, AI is not going to wipe out employment. We do creative things. I think we’ll do more art, more performance art, more real life experiences. With the internet, some might think that we’ll all go live in shacks and send each other emails, but I think life will evolve in the opposite way. We’ll go and physically be next to each other, and do creative things, and things like that. Certainly for a while, the AIs won’t be able to do creative and free will decisions that humans are capable of.


We had a great live tweet wall set up during the event. Here are some of the best tweet-aways we got under #FutureOfMobile:


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