Frank Coppersmith: Leading the Charge into the AI Era

Frank CoppersmithSyracuse University’s D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) held our sixth annual Veteran EDGE conference in Dallas, Texas late March (20-22). There were a record 470 attendees present for three days packed with programming, networking, and opportunities curated to help participants grow and scale their businesses.

One of our keynotes was by technology expert Frank Coppersmith. Frank is the CEO of Smarter Reality, an Inc. 5000 and Austin “Fast 50” software development company from Austin, Texas that supports entrepreneurs. He holds an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, a law degree from Samford University and a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from The Citadel. Frank was also a member of IVMF’s Bunker Labs CEOcircle, and has been building software for defense and commercial clients for nearly twenty years.

Frank spoke to the Veteran EDGE audience about recent innovations in artificial intelligence that promise to be as paradigm-disrupting as the smartphone. The volume of data collection and the speed of the chips to perform the calculations has reached the point where AI technology is on the cusp of being everywhere, in every piece of technology. While that is going to create a new world of possibility, opportunity, and convenience, it also comes with its own risks and threats, and a giant black hole of unknowns.

Tech You Use is Changing

In all Frank’s time in software, he says he’s never seen as much rapid change as he has in the past two years as companies move toward AI technology to empower their businesses and lives. He first defined AI as software and hardware that, when working together, can reason like a human being. A system that can make good choices on our behalf we would otherwise make ourselves.

And what’s really important, is that in a very short period of time, this technology is going to be everywhere, and in everything. And if it’s done well, you’re not even going to have any idea you’re interacting with it. Your stuff is just going to find you the things you want to find and do the things you want it to do, with significantly less input from you.  

In a lot of ways, this is great. It can schedule things you ask it to schedule and do all the work of finding the time and date that works for everyone, and even figure out who needs to be invited, make any necessary reservations, and more, just because you asked your phone or calendar to get something on the books.

This creates a world of paradigm shifts and opportunities in nearly every field, but it also creates a lot of vulnerabilities. Websites, banking, smartphones, cars, traffic lights, hospitals, state, local, and federal government agencies, the DoD, video games, virtually any software and any electronic hardware. It’s difficult to overstate how “everywhere” this technology is going to be, and how much easier it’s going to make a variety of tasks for you.

The New Goldrush

AI-ready chips are making Nvidia a small fortune already. Facebook, Google, and other big firms looking to make huge software upgrades need the hardware that can support it. Nvidia just held a huge event in Silicon Valley announcing their new chips and some of these large-scale deals to Nvidia investors. The chips exist, and this AI-powered future is here sooner than most ever thought possible.

The market cap for Nvidia has been almost a straight line upward for the past three years, and it’s entirely due to this new technology, and the promise it holds to change our lives for the better. Their stock price has gone from $6 a share in 2015 when they sold graphics cards for PC gamers to around $900 a share through April 2024 as they’ve emerged post-Covid as one of the top chip producers in the world.  

Frank says we unfortunately can’t all become chip manufacturers and replicate Nvidia’s success, but he also says that’s not the point. Everyone is going to be looking to figure out the right AI integration for their industry before the competition. Everyone. The first company in each niche to figure out the right application of the new technology is going to experience competitive advantage and the resulting exponential growth beyond their wildest dreams.

The power of AI to sift through oceans of data and produce relevant insights that can change your business overnight is the big promise of this technology, and those who can learn to leverage that ability first are going to win the next age of business in the same way Google won the early internet age, or Apple won the smartphone era, or Amazon’s takeover of E-commerce. This is that seismic of a shift, and just like those companies rose to prominence from relative obscurity with a single product or service, so too will new businesses that learn new applications for AI technology. He compares where we are today to the initial launch of the internet in 1994.

There Are Already Pain Points And Concerns

Frank Coppersmith on stageAI is going to be everywhere, and be connected to everything, working on our behalf. It’s going to scale your productivity in ways we can’t quite imagine yet. However, deep down, engineers don’t really know the nuts and bolts behind how AI gets from whatever inputs its given to the outputs it provides. Obviously, they know the algorithm drives those choices, but a lot of algorithm writing and adjustment is AI machine-learning driven, which is to say the algorithm is adjusting itself based on additional input. It’s not well understood.  

We’re also at a point now where we’re already using AI to build AI technology. Considering we already have gaps in our knowledge of how the AI technology arrives at its answers, it’s naturally concerning that we might not understand how our own AI-designed technology works.

All of this AI-technology is also connected, and talks to each other, and it has to have inputs to give outputs. Sometimes those inputs might include sensitive or personal information. The interconnected nature of the AI future means data security is going to be especially challenging.

Frank also elaborated on the problem of knowing when an AI technology is ready to trust, and ready to do the job at a higher level. Right now, a lot of people think of AI as generative-AI that can do some writing or make art for you. Some might remember stories about pictures with too many teeth or fingers on human figures. Frank relayed a story about Google’s Deep Mind playing Go masters. That’s to say nothing of DARPA’s AI defeating a US Air Force combat pilot in 2020.

When can you tell your AI technology is giving you innovation and insight, and when are you just drawing extra teeth? It’s a problem, because even Google’s Deep Mind, when it was developing innovative strategies for playing Go? During the game, these strategies seemed like ill-advised, losing strategies to opponents, until Go started winning with them. Generative AI also has a lot of issues surrounding the ethical sourcing of its data, and the ability to hold copyrights on content it generates.

AI is also entirely without morality or ethics in of itself. And the more unsupervised it’s allowed to operate, the more it might make unethical choices that impact real people in the name of efficiency or expediency. Frank described this with the example of the infamous paperclip thought experiment. While paperclip manufacturing is an absurd take on an apocalyptic AI convergence event, it’s easier to imagine when you apply the same approach to a field like health insurance or defense.

While these problems (and the looming threat to existing jobs) give fodder for AI skeptics to attack, they also provide opportunities for tech entrepreneurs to solve. The DoD has already put out ethics guidelines for AI technology it is seeking to develop. There are going to be big, important companies that solve these challenges, and while it might be existing big businesses, it could just as easily be a new startup that gained a key insight and got it to market first.

Time To Get Ahead

Frank encourages entrepreneurs to think about their area of expertise, and think about where it was at in 1994 when the internet first rose to prominence. Then, think about the opportunities that were just sitting there before an Amazon or Facebook or Apple or Google gobbled them up. Think about that and look into the future with AI technology, and what opportunities might exist in your industry, or with the data you hold, and how might you try and get ahead employing AI technology toward that goal now, today, before the competition.

The basic formula for employing AI-technology beyond scaling up the volume of business you can handle is simple. Frank says what you need to do is take a census of all your data, or a huge sample of industry data, the bigger the better, and have AI-powered deep learning insights can tell you that despite your entire industry saying we do X, AI is going to reveal there’s more opportunity by doing Y. Alternately, what’s the hardest thing in your business? How can AI make that easy? And if you’re the first to ask that question and get that insight and integrate it into your business ahead of the competition, that’s where the success is going to be.

CEOCircle Applications Open

Frank Coppersmith has already taken advantage of the opportunities offered in IVMF’s Bunker Labs CEOcircle, shouldn’t you? If you’re a veteran or military spouse executive at a company driving more than 1MM in annual revenue or with over 5MM in investment, you qualify for this special program in partnership with JPMorgan Commercial Bank. Apply today and see what you can do when you get to network with peers operating at your level.  

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