Oct. 13, 2022 | Podcast

Episode 2: The difference between machine thinking and human thinking

John Sviokla, author and partner at Manifold Group, shares the surprising ways technology impacts companies, lives and society.

About the episode

Join host Rissa Reddan as she interviews John Sviokla, former Harvard professor and author of The Self-made Billionaire Effect: How Extreme Producers Create Massive Value. Sviokla talks about how technology impacts companies, lives, and society – and how companies can continue to transform digitally.


John Sviokla

 A former Harvard professor, author, current partner at Manifold Group, and speaker focused on creating new economic value in service markets through the application of artificial intelligence and digital capabilities.


What was it about digital that captured your attention?

I wanted to understand the difference between human thinking and machine thinking. And that broadened into a whole worldview on how the symbolic description of reality—what I call computable reality—changes. Everything we do changes how we think, changes the economics of businesses, and so forth.

I want to dig into that concept of computable reality. What does computability mean to you?

Something becomes computable when you have a high level of correlation and causation and a high level of digitization. One example of this is the self-driving car. We had a high level of knowledge of how our car drives, but we had very little digitization of the car driving environment. So that's where it went to. Now, more and more things are getting computed.

If you were to describe what digital means to somebody who was unfamiliar, how would you describe it?

I would describe digital like this—there's a thing, and then there's an information description of that thing. And digital makes the information description of that thing better, faster, cheaper, recompilable, and reusable.

In the bionic world, you create behavioral, cognitive, and network assets. Those are only available digitally. So it turbocharges symbolic descriptions of reality. And at the end of the day, symbolic descriptions are reality and the main thing that separates us from the animals.

Do you think organizations are missing out on AI?

I think that the idea of AI gets way overblown. As somebody who spent a lot of time trying to define it and understand it, artificial intelligence as a definition is when vacuums collide: You can't define artificial, and you really can't define intelligence. And putting those two things together doesn't make it any more specific.

Artificial intelligence as a label is very, very useful for describing a set of techniques. And that's really important because how we extend our technique portfolio is a big deal.

With AI, I think that people are focused too much on technique and not enough on differential competitive advantage. That’s why I like computability better.


John, much of your career focuses on how technology impacts companies, lives and society. What’s the most surprising thing that you’ve observed over your career?

The thing that surprised me the most was social media. It's funny because I had studied mathematical sociology, so I understood the interplay of networks and how that mattered. But the human propensity to spend so much time and effort and attention in social media, and the importance of that and how it then drives behavior was just something I didn't expect to see to the massive extent that it is. The amount of time that people would spend and its importance in their lives and how much it really defines their sense of self.

The dominance of the digital players—the fact that, you know, five of the top six most highly capitalized companies in the world are digital companies—none of that surprised me. Facebook surprised me.

John, tell us a little bit about your book, The Self-Made Billionaire Effect, How Extreme Producers Create Massive Value.

I just got curious about, you know, how do people create huge amounts of value? So I wanted to look at these self-made billionaires. We profiled all the self-made billionaires we could get access to; at the time, there were about 1,400 in the world. And I was surprised that the majority of billionaires are actually self-made. What we discovered was more about habits of mind, like the kind of things that they thought about and the way they looked at the opportunity.

Show Notes
Join host Rissa Reddan as she interviews John Sviokla, former Harvard professor and author of The Self-made Billionaire Effect: How Extreme Producers Create Massive Value. Sviokla talks about how technology impacts companies, lives, and society. Learn more about his theories and recommendations on how companies can continue to transform digitally.

1:10 – News Segment: MOMA carves out more budget for digital to expand audience reach
3:15 – Guest segment with author and former Harvard professor John Sviokla
3:27 – John’s professional background
4:33 – What peaked John’s interest in digital
6:00 – What does computability mean?
6:56 – How would John describe digital
7:43 – Are organizations missing out on AI
9:40 – Most surprising finding in John’s career
10:27 – Why do people spend so much energy on social media
12:14 – Does there need to be more transparency with digital rights
13:43 – People aren’t taught digital economics
16:39 – About John’s book, The Self-Made Billionaire Effect
22:12 – Can companies keep entrepreneurial employees

Connect with John on LinkedIn, his personal website sviokla.com or at manifold.group.

Download the transcript

This is Digital

West Monroe's team of experts and guests pull back the curtain on how to build digital throughout an organization. Through real-world examples, you will learn how to spot digital transformation in real life, and how to make small decisions every day that make a big impact on growth.

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