This podcast was first and originally published at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w172yzrjnk7fbd3
In this BBC podcast episode, Tony Nash, the CEO and founder of Complete Intelligence, shares insights on various topics. The podcast begins with a discussion about the border crisis in Texas, which Tony explains is a significant issue for the state due to its proximity to Mexico. The conversation then shifts to the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) and the recent testimony of Sam Altman, the head of OpenAI, before the US Congress. Altman emphasizes the need for government intervention to ensure the safe development and deployment of AI technologies.
Tony provides his perspective on AI, stating that it is simply a combination of mathematics and code. He suggests that the intentions of the coders determine whether AI could be potentially harmful, comparing AI with a virus if it has nefarious intentions. He clarifies that OpenAI’s Chat GPT, the AI tool he mentions, functions by synthesizing search engine results and creating a textual narrative based on those results. Tony believes that concerns about AI are somewhat exaggerated and emphasizes the need for tech entrepreneurs to take responsibility for their creations.
The podcast then moves on to discuss the possibility of a US debt default and the ongoing dispute between the White House and Congress over the debt ceiling. Tony expresses his belief that the default will likely happen and considers the negotiations between the parties as political theater. He explains that financial markets may experience volatility due to investor perceptions and reactions, even though an agreement to raise the debt ceiling is expected.
Later, the conversation shifts to the exodus of talent from Sri Lanka, prompted by years of economic upheaval and political incompetence. Tony reflects on his personal experience of running a tech startup in Sri Lanka during the civil war and acknowledges the resilience and potential opportunities in the country. He attributes some of Sri Lanka’s challenges to political corruption and highlights the impact of deep-rooted corruption under the Rajapaksa regime.
The discussion concludes with a brief mention of China’s investments in Sri Lanka and the country’s ongoing struggles. Simon, another participant in the podcast, shares his perspective on China, noting that it often receives negative publicity but suggesting that it has made significant investments globally.
Overall, the podcast covers topics such as the Texas border crisis, AI and its potential risks, the US debt default, and the challenges faced by Sri Lanka. Tony Nash provides insights and analysis on each topic, offering his views on the various issues discussed.
BBC: Hello and welcome to Business Matters. I’m Roger Hearing. On the program today, we have warnings, but also optimism from the man in charge of the artificial intelligence tool Chat GPT as he gives evidence to the US Congress. Also, no deal yet in sight to avert a US debt default after hours of talks between President Biden and the leading Republican congressman. Not a place to live anymore. The sad exodus of talent from Sri Lanka after years of economic upheaval there. And the Cannes Film Festival opens with blockbusters and tantrums. But has the industry fully recovered from the COVID years of empty cinema and across the other side of the world? Tony Nash, CEO at Complete Intelligence in Houston, Texas. Tony, very good evening to you.
Tony: Good morning, Roger. And good morning, Simon.
Simon: Hi, Tony.
BBC: Good to have you all there. And we will start as we always do, but just getting a sense of what’s going on where you are, unlike in Texas. Well, let’s hear about Texas. Obviously an enormous space, but a lot happening there. Tony, what’s on the news there?
Tony: Well, one of the big things, and I think it’s a global story is the border crisis here in Texas. We have National Guard troops on the border. A lot of people in Texas are aware of this. Of course, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California are the ones who contend with this. We’re the closest and Texas has the longest border. So it is a huge issue for us here.
BBC: Yeah, because of course, you’ve ended the special regulations that were in place during COVID They’ve come off. And in fact, I think I’m right in saying it’s a bit confused as to how people get across and what happens if they do. Interesting moment and certainly a big political issue, of course, for Joe Biden. But one of the things that is concerning people in Washington, quite apart from the default, and we will come back to that, is the issues about artificial intelligence. I’m sure you’ve all heard the dire warnings about AI over the last few months, suggestions by some that we’ve built a monster we don’t understand, while others insist that Microsoft, ChatGPT, Google’s, Barred and the others will all put us out of a job. Well, now, for the first time, the US congress has been hearing from the head of the company that created Chat GPT, Sam Altman, who told senators that government intervention is needed to keep the industry safe. Now, he said the technology posed serious risks and licenses and testing requirements would be necessary. Well, it’s been sobering testimony from someone who has reason to know what he’s talking about.
BBC: But where does it leave the debate about the usefulness of AI and its potential risks? Well, earlier I spoke to Reed Blackman. He’s the founder and CEO of Virtue, which is a digital ethical risk consultancy. He’s also the author of the book Ethical Machines your Concise Guide to Totally Unbiased, Transparent And Respectful AI. This is Tony. I mean, I like that idea. How evil can it get? I mean, a lot of people think get very evil. What’s your take?
Tony: No, I think look, artificial intelligence is made of two things. It’s made of math and it’s made of code. Right? It’s that simple. So if the coders have nefarious intentions, then you need to be worried. But what do we call code that has nefarious intentions? It’s a virus. Right? So if we have AI that has nefarious intentions, then it’s simply a virus.
BBC: It generates itself. It isn’t just something you put into it. It actually no. Then generates other things.
Tony: Let’s be careful with that. Okay, so I run an artificial intelligence company called Complete Intelligence. Let’s be clear about what Chat GPT does, okay? If you go in and you type a question into Chat GPT, here’s what it does. It puts the search results together. It amalgamates the search results for that topic. That’s all it does. And then it creates a textual narrative to return that result to you. Okay? So it’s not creating magic out of thin air. It’s simply the synthesis of search engine output. That’s all Chat GPT is. It looks like magic, but it’s simply the synthesis of search engine output. That’s all it is.
BBC: Okay, well, you’ve reassured me, at least at a certain level. Okay, Tony, very briefly, if you would, because we want to get onto the default next, but is it true that there are once those things are in, that it becomes a restrictive thing? It may go outside the boundaries of what we want it to do.
Tony: Yeah, what we want to do as users, yes, definitely. But the guys behind the curtain can control whatever they want. So if things get out that they don’t want, that’s simply an input error. But as I watched Altman talk today, here’s what I thought about. I thought about Robert Oppenheimer. Okay, so Robert Oppenheimer created the atomic bomb, and then he said, Oops, I created a bad thing, and the world has to fix it. Right? And so what Sam Altman is doing is very similar to that. He’s saying, I created something that could be bad, and now the world has to fix it. I really don’t think it’s that bad, but he’s acting like the world has to fix something that he created. And there are these tech entrepreneurs who really don’t have social skills or consideration for the things that they generate. And these guys have to learn if it really is as dangerous as he says, which I don’t believe. They have to learn how to handle their own creations, and they simply don’t have an edit button, and that’s a real problem. Yeah. If I’m right and there’s no accountability. Roger that’s. The other problem.
Tony: Sam Altman is being hailed as this genius, but if this is really damaging, there is zero accountability for him personally.
BBC: Yeah, well, Robert Oppenheimer said he’s feeling when the first atomic bomb exploded. Washeim become death, the destroyer of wills. Yeah, it doesn’t go that far, right? Well, anyway, let’s talk about something that might be a destroyer, at least of the US. Economy, and potentially, I suppose, then the global economy. And we’re talking about default, because the world’s largest and most important economy is facing that real possibility. The reason seems to be a dispute between the White House and parts of Congress over the debt ceiling, how much the government is allowed to borrow. If you actually were keeping tally, currently the limit is $31.4 trillion. Now, President Biden and the top congressional Republican, Kevin McCarthy, held talks in the past few hours to try to resolve the standoff. In fact, it doesn’t seem to have happened. At least they don’t seem to have come to any particularly positive conclusion. In the end, Biden and McCarthy parted with what seemed like, I mean, a bit of an upbeat exchange of views, at least. But McCarthy expressed cautious optimism that perhaps a way forward could be found.
BBC: Let me bring Tony in. I mean, Tony, is this date in the diary the 1 June potential default? Is that nonsense? I mean, is it all just going to happen anyway?
Tony: It’s all going to happen anyway. Let me just give a little bit of background.
Tony: These guys, Steve Ricketti and Shalanda Young, who have been delegated by the White House. Kevin McCarthy already knows them. And Shalanda Young was a senior staffer on Capitol Hill, so he’s worked with her for years.
BBC: We’re talking about just for background here. This is the Office of Management and Budget director respectively.
Tony: And so there is a relationship there, and it should make the discussion easier to have. Right. So that’s good news, actually, that these people are dedicated to have these discussions. But I think what Simon said correctly is this is political theater, and I think there is a lot of heavy breathing on this right now that most Americans just give this an eye roll, like, oh, my gosh, we’re just here again, and it’s just each party trying to pick apart the other party’s priorities. That’s all it is. Okay, so my assumption is that June 1 is going to come and go and like you pointed out, Roger, we’re going to have these ridiculous things. Like it’s going to be holiday season by June 1. So people are going to want to take a vacation, and the executive branch is going to let the national parks people put them on furlough so that Americans going on vacation have to suffer when other people in government will still work. These things will happen just for show and just for cameras, and we’ll have an agreement by mid-June. So financial markets will probably panic even though everyone knows an agreement is coming. They all know.
BBC: So why do they panic? It doesn’t make any sense, does it? Because if we know this is theater, if we know America is never really going to default, then why panic?
Tony: So there is volatility simply because some investors believe that other investors will panic. That’s it. And it’s this echo chamber where investor A believes that investors B through M are all going to panic. So investor A does something to reflect that panic. That’s all it is. Ignorant investors panic with this, but most investors are going to take advantage of the volatility to make money.
BBC: Well, that’s what my point. It’s not uncertainty then, is it? Really? It’s certainty. We know what’s going to happen.
Tony: But one thing I want to point out here, Roger, is the House has already passed a bill to raise the debt ceiling. Okay? So Kevin McCarthy has already passed a bill to raise the debt ceiling. He did that two weeks ago. Okay. So we already know what the end of this looks like. We know the debt ceiling is going to be raised. We know that the House has already passed that. So that part isn’t in question. The part that’s in question is how much can we blow it out? Right, but the House of Representatives, which according to the U.S. Constitution has the power of the purse or control over spending, they have already passed a bill that raises the debt ceiling.
BBC: It’s already there. It’s just how we get to the point where it all clicks into place. Well, I suppose that’s the best conclusion we can draw. Let me bring you in on this guy. Now, you know this part of the world very well as well, and that sort of issue, I mean, is it more widespread in Asia? I mean, we know that Hong Kong real estate was very, very expensive for a long time. Is that kind of problem and the associated thing, is that really happening?
Tony: Yes. And Singapore isn’t unique. If you look in parts of India, if you look in urban centers in China, and of course, Hong Kong, in some places like India and China, it has to do with urbanization. And I think with Singapore, you could argue it’s an urbanization-like scenario where people are moving to a concentrated urban area like Singapore, and more and more people are fitting into it. So much of Singapore’s economy depends on the real estate sector that for Singapore to work, money needs to constantly flow out of the real estate sector. It’s similar to Hong Kong.
BBC: It causes a lot of problems and immense difficulties for people trying to live. It’s an interesting situation, Tony. Because there are many aspects to this. One is the draining of talent from places like Sri Lanka that desperately need it. But the attractions to more successful economies can’t be ignored. People want to make money and get a good reward for their skills. They go where the money is, don’t they?
Tony: Yes, given the economic difficulties Sri Lanka has faced, especially in the past couple of years, it’s enticing for young people. They want to see opportunities, and if they’re not there, they have to find a way. I ran a business in Sri Lanka during the civil war from 2006 to 2008, and it was a tech startup that we sold in 2008. So I can see that there are opportunities because even during the war, there was resilience in Sri Lankans and the economy that shows people are strong enough to push forward.
BBC: But it needs investment, and that was one of the points that came out. People may be hesitant to invest in a country with these kinds of problems.
Tony: They may not be willing to invest in Sri Lankan rupee terms or companies that transact in Sri Lankan rupees. But if there are companies that can work on different terms, it’s extremely difficult. However, the fact that the woman mentioned they’re doing well tells me that there’s some opportunity there.
BBC: Yes, that’s an interesting point. Sri Lanka has experienced a war, which in itself may be seen as a failure of political leadership. But, Tony, you know Sri Lanka well, even during that war period. What has happened to Sri Lanka? Is it purely due to political incompetence?
Tony: I think a lot of it is political incompetence. The corruption of the Rajapaksas during their long tenure in power and their deep relationships with China caused significant corruption, both domestically and internationally. Corruption exists everywhere, but it reached deep levels under the Rajapaksas, and Sri Lanka is still suffering because of that.
BBC: Well, it’s interesting you mention China, Simon. What are your thoughts on that? China wants to invest, has invested in Sri Lanka, but they can’t be pleased with the current situation, I assume.
Simon: I think China gets a bad press. Like Tony, I’ve spent a lot of time in China, and I don’t believe they invest in countries to create debt slaves, as Western media might suggest. The challenge lies in how to do business with Sri Lanka when their ability to use the money effectively and repay loans can’t be trusted, especially when political dynasties like the Rajapaksas misappropriate funds intended for Sri Lanka’s development.
Tony: I agree with that. The Rajapaksas were a significant part of the problem, so it’s not solely China’s fault. I apologize if my earlier statement suggested otherwise.
BBC: It was more my question, to be honest. But I was interested in the Chinese link and what it indicates about Sri Lanka’s future.
Tony: When I last visited Sri Lanka six or seven years ago, the view of China was actually very favorable. They had invested in infrastructure, and the repayment hadn’t started yet. I attended an event held in an expo hall built by the Chinese government with Chinese contractors, and everyone was happy about it. So there were positive feelings at that time. I’m not sure if they have eroded since then.
BBC: The Chinese investment is still there, as I understand it, in fairly hefty amounts. And also, of course, they have this IMF bailout. But Tony, did you want to come in on that? Because you clearly know the country well. First of all, what about those agricultural decisions? They were in error?
Tony: I’ll be honest. I’m not really sure. Simon obviously knows that better than I do.
Simon: Sorry, being a farmer, I take an interest in these things.
Tony: Sure, absolutely.
BBC: But Tony, let me ask you then, the question about that. I asked Simon about the extent to which Sri Lanka and how long it will take to come back from this position, just briefly.
Tony: Oh, gosh, I think it’s probably going to take at least five years. There’s going to have to be pain, unfortunately. I hope Sri Lanka can learn from, say, Thailand or something after 1997. If they would take, say, Thailand as an example and follow that path, that could be a very interesting and viable path for Sri Lanka. Not that they necessarily put a king in place, but I think from a financial perspective, an economic perspective, Thailand has taken a very strong path.
BBC: Thailand has taken a very interesting path in the very recent days, actually, with an election. We haven’t got time to get onto that right now. We’ll come back to that another edition. It’s an interesting thought. I’d like to bounce this off you, Tony. Do you still go to the cinema? Are there things that make you get away from TV. Really?
Tony: I was just there this week. Yeah.
BBC: What did you see?
Tony: I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Three with my 13-year-old.
BBC: That’s the reason. Okay.
Tony: He wanted to go, so we had to go.
BBC: Okay, well, Simon, I’m going to bounce it off you too. Have you been to the cinema recently?
Simon: Increasingly not, no. Very rarely do I see anything that I fancy at the cinema. I like the way that can kind of basically put the finger up to Hollywood and says, we like Johnny Depp and we don’t care. Don’t forget that Johnny was married to Vanessa Parody for years, who’s a huge star in France and speaks good French and was very much beloved.
BBC: But he speaks French entirely in this movie, apparently, which is an interesting thing.
Simon: Yeah, well, he was married to a French lady for decades.
BBC: But would you go and see this film? I mean, Jean Jean.
Simon: It’s got all the hallmarks of the film I’d love historical drama. Of course, she gets guillotined at the end at the age of 50.
BBC: You definitely want that in the film.
Simon: Yes, well, unless they change history, of course. Hollywood could do something for everyone. I would.
BBC: Well, indeed, yes. That is interesting.
Simon: I do worry about Indiana Jones a bit.
BBC: Well, yes, well, I was going to ask Tony, would Indiana Jones drag you back to the cinema apart from Guardians of the Galaxy? I suppose it falls into the same area.
Tony: Sorry. Look, there’s only one good Indiana Jones movie and that’s the first one.
BBC: Controversy this late on Business Matters.
Tony: That’s right.
BBC: That’s red meat. I have to say I rather like the third. But he’s far too old to be doing this, though, isn’t he? I mean, the kids are not going to come back to see him, are they?
Simon: I’d sort of given up any hope of starring in a Hollywood blockbuster, but I’m only in my sixties. I mean, if he can do it at 80, I mean, I’m going to throw my hat into the ring for the next one. Maybe I could be Indiana Jones Five.
BBC: But what does it say, Tony, about Hollywood, that they want to do this when it’s retreading old ideas? Are there no new ideas? We’ve been down this road before in Business Matters, but it seems to be pretty obvious that that’s the problem.
Tony: It tells me there’s a very large baby boomer audience that can either go to the cinema or pay for it on Amazon Prime or something. Hollywood is really catering to that demographic.
BBC: And that’s where the profits are coming as well, isn’t it? Is that really what it is? They’ve managed to monetize.
Tony: Maverick, Top Gun, Maverick, all that stuff. I mean, these were not aimed at 25-year-olds, they were aimed at 65 and 70-year-olds, and that’s where the money came from.
BBC: Well, this 62-year-old went to a cinema to see Maverick. I have to admit.
Tony: Oh, I did too.
BBC: Put my hand up for that one. And I didn’t have any children with me. So there we are.
Simon: Just to talk about Singapore for a minute. I mean, I’ve been here a long time and the movies that are on now, they’re not Hollywood movies. So when I first came here, they were all Hollywood movies with the occasional Indian movie. Now there’s one Hollywood movie and the rest of them are Indian, Korean, and even Chinese movies. So the cinema has been entirely taken over, and why not exactly by Asian filmmakers? And the career makes wonderful movies.
BBC: One of them won an Oscar, of course, quite recently, so we shouldn’t forget that. So at least maybe we can say that with French films, with Korean films still very much alive out there, that maybe Hollywood isn’t in charge of. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing. Anyway, that is it from us here on Business Matters. My thanks to Tony, my thanks to Simon. Thanks to all of you for listening. I’m back on Friday, but my colleague to be back during the week. We’re always welcome you here on Business Matters. Bye.