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Mark Cuban: Invest in AI or Get Left Behind

The owner of the Dallas Mavericks told a room of 4,000 technology professionals why he's betting on artificial intelligence.
By Danielle Abril |
Mark Cuban recently spoke at ASIS International’s 63rd annual Seminar and Exhibits. Courtesy of ASIS

Mark Cuban is betting on what he believes will be the next industry to watch: artificial intelligence and the security designed around it.

“AI is going to be … as important to companies as cash flow is,” Cuban said. “You have to be good at it or you won’t be able to compete.”

And his track record for sniffing out the “next big thing” isn’t exactly off-base. After all, he did create the first high-definition satellite television network, AXS TV, and help launch one of the first internet radio stations, Broadcast.com. “Whenever anyone calls me an idiot, that’s usually a first good step,” he said during a moderated luncheon at ASIS International’s 63rd annual Seminar and Exhibits, an event for security professionals.

About 4,000 people listened to Cuban as he kicked off his shoes—literally—and explained how AI will change the game for companies, educators, and future developments. And eventually, software will be smart enough to write new software, which will create a pivotal moment in the workforce, he said. Therefore, the security around networks with that kind of intelligence will be more valuable than ever. “We’re not there yet,” he said. “But when we get to that point … it may be 10 years, it may be 15, it may be 20 … how you design those networks that create the software will be very important.”

But Cuban, an active investor, isn’t just talking. He’s putting his money where his mouth is. He says his largest stock holding is in Amazon, which has heavily invested in AI and offers AI services via its cloud storage. The company calls its new service Macie. He’s also keeping his eyes peeled for smaller companies in machine learning and AI, and already has at least three companies in his investment portfolio. London-based Facemata uses machine learning to help tackle the growing problem of fake news. San Francisco-based Osaro uses AI to help robots learn complex environments faster. And Montreal-based Fuzzy.ai takes existing business knowledge and creates an algorithm that constantly improves and helps leaders make better decisions.

But the smaller companies are going to have a harder time, as the Apples, Googles, Facebooks, and Microsofts of the world are investing and growing their capabilities quickly. “The rich get richer,” Cuban said. “So it’s going to be a challenge for a lot of my smaller companies to be able to leverage those things. That’s why I invested in a lot of different AI companies … so that we can catch up.”

And eventually, when AI is smart enough to develop its own software, the workforce demands will shift. Currently, markets battle over top software developers. But that may not always be the case, Cuban suggested. “Once the software can write the software [itself], the expertise that’s required to give the software knowledge becomes more important,” he said, adding that people with expertise in different subjects will be needed for the content, since the software will be written by robots. “[Software writing] skill sets won’t be nearly as valuable as being able to take a liberal arts education … and applying those [skills] in assisting and developing networks.” But in order for the country to advance to that future, AI and robotics need to become core competencies in the U.S., and not just in the business world, Cuban said. Companies are opening major offices in China and Montreal, where AI and robotics are considered core competencies, he added.

Meanwhile, cybersecurity concerns will continue to rise, as connected devices, AI, and other robots will become important to everyday society. So systems built to protect the data and function of those devices will have to be built with cybersecurity at the forefront. “Anything that can be programed can be hacked,” Cuban said.

For Cuban, the future is clear: AI and machine learning need to be a priority for business leaders, educators, and policymakers.

“Let’s go out and invest [in the infrastructure],” he said. “We have to make robotics and AI a core competency of the United States of America. If we don’t … we’re going to be on the outside looking in.”

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