Podcasting, leadership and artificial intelligence

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Alexandra Moxin talks to Shaun Weston about technology, project management, podcasting and AI in this podcast transcript.

by Shaun Weston

Background for Podcasting, leadership and artificial intelligence transcript

Introduction

Shaun: Alexandra, thanks for joining me on the podcast.

Alexandra: Thank you. A pleasure to be here.

Shaun: Thank you very much. It was lovely to invite you actually. You’re dialling in from Vancouver, which is quite a long way for this podcast. And you are a woman of many talents, most of which revolve around technology. As a helpful starting point for our listeners, would you explain what you’re currently working on and a little bit about the podcast you produce that runs alongside your company.

Alexandra: Sure! Currently, I am CEO and founder of Advance Tech Media, which is focused on emerging tech. So everything from artificial intelligence to bitcoin, to distributed systems – you name it. Anything that’s really at the forefront of technology. The idea is to talk to experts in the field, and not self-proclaimed experts, but people that have the grounding – people that are building rather than just talking about great new ideas. We do talk to some founders in the startup space, and I definitely don’t want to exclude those people – there’s some really great ideas out there – but we’re talking to the people who are creating the tech of tomorrow, which is one of the tag lines of this show. I want to be speaking with people that have a solid grounding, a solid education, and that they come from a place of knowledge and experience.

Shaun: So we’re talking about official, qualified experts here, not pretend experts.

Alexandra: Somebody can be absolutely brilliant at 16 and have no formal classical training. That’s definitely the case.

Shaun: True.

Alexandra: But that tends to be the exception.

Shaun: You started at AdapTech Labs in 2019, and that’s an accelerator programme as well, isn’t it?

Alexandra: It is. That’s something that’s been put on hold. AdapTech Group is a company I used to work for. I was previously Vice President of Business Development. It was a collaboration between the CEO, an outside consultant and myself. It’s still early on in the conceptual phase. I’m not certain that we’ll be seeing any ground on that until at least a year or two now. If that goes. We’ll see!

The Vancouver Tech Podcast

Shaun: Fingers crossed. So your focus right now is on advanced tech, and the Advance Tech Podcast, which you set up in 2017. Am I right?

Alexandra: Yes.

Shaun: Why did you set that up?

Alexandra: How I got into this space … I was a co-host for Vancouver Tech Podcast for about six months. Drew [Ogryzek] and James started that in 2015. The idea was to … It was a weekly show and we talked to people around Vancouver usually: CTOs, developers, designers, people working on some cool things. There was a news component, so we’d always talk about what was happening for meet-ups and things; events that you should be making sure you’re at. It was about an hour-long show with a weekly format. I did that for about six months.

I was always trying to get Drew to expand a little bit, but he was very focused on wanting to be only Vancouver. In Canada, the epicentre tends to be in Toronto. Vancouver is a really cool, unique environment. We’ve been called Silicon Valley North, we’ve been called Hollywood North – there’s a lot of really interesting technical, very talented people out here, and I think that’s one of the reasons he wanted to keep the show focused just on Vancouver.

In the emerging tech space, you see expertise distributed globally. That was one of the reasons I wanted to have my own show. I had a co-host for about a year. He’s actually the founder and CEO of AdapTech Group, and he’s been focusing mostly on his company for the last couple of years, so for the last couple of years it’s been me driving the show; everything from content to reaching out to people, to producing episodes … it’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun!

Shaun: I know for a fact it’s a lot of work! I can give you a testimonial for that one. That grounding of starting out with the Vancouver Tech Podcast gave you that flavour of how useful a podcast can be in running alongside a business.

Alexandra: Definitely. I’m not quite sure what I want to say about podcasting … It’s nice to be able to get that snippet of information. I was a long-time listener to Tim Ferris’ podcast, and I really liked how he had … you know, he brought in experts from around the world. He broke down the barrier of … when you’re first starting out in your career, you’ve got your idea of heroes and archetypes – “if I can just be at that level someday, that would be amazing”. He essentially took people at that level and brought them to you. To me, that’s the power of any kind of digital medium, be it video or podcasting, or in-person interviewing; being able to feel like you’re hearing first-hand from people that have built some amazing things. That’s just so cool.

Simplifying complex things

Shaun: Yes, and that simplifying of very complex things. Let’s face it, you work in emerging technology. It’s stuff that people don’t tend to read about on a daily basis. The advantage, you might agree, in having a podcast and writing regularly, is to break down that information into something more people can understand.

Alexandra: That’s definitely something that … In the bitcoin space in particular, and artificial intelligence, people are intimidated by bitcoin at first – they think it’s “the money on the internet that criminals use”. That’s completely the furthest from the truth that it could be! It’s the first hard money – the first money – that we’ve had that’s based on any value since we’ve come off the gold standard. Being able to explain what bitcoin is in technical terms and in ways where somebody who don’t have the technical background can understand it … It’s been one of the true pleasures of this show, is having people who are core developers, or they’re very involved in the protocols of how we’re building companies around it somehow, and they’re really trying to move things forward. So you’re the insider’s perspective, which isn’t necessarily the right word, but you kind of are. You’re hearing from people who are on the front lines building things. That’s pretty powerful.

“People are intimidated by #bitcoin at first – they think it’s the money on the internet that criminals use.”

Project management

Shaun: Your background is also in project management.

Alexandra: It’s where I started.

Shaun: Where did you get this experience?

Alexandra: I started out when I was finishing my degree at the University of British Columbia. It’s where I actually got into emerging tech. There was an analyst in the Faculty of Science, and one of my mandates was to look at emerging tech and the adoption curve. For example, one of the things we were looking at was a 3D printer – this was 2003, so they were big and clunky and very expensive!

Shaun: I can imagine.

Alexandra: It was definitely way too early for commercial adoption. It was still in the early phase. The idea was to look at new tech and see how it could potentially be utilised in the education environment, and at what point we would want to get onboard. So that’s how I got into emerging technology. Project management, I just kind of fell into. I got into a contract right out of university working for Best Buy – that was my first one – and I built from there. I did my PMP training and …

Project management is interesting, but it’s also pretty boring! It’s a skill I appreciate people that are able to keep things on track. I can. I’m very good when it comes to motivating teams – there’s one company where I literally tripled the productivity of the team to meet a deadline, so that was fun – but it’s much more interesting to dive into what motivates somebody to do something. And what’s next? Not so much keeping things on track now, but where are we going with this, and what’s the overall arc? That, I find deeply interesting.

Shaun: It’s funny how many people I actually talk to, particularly entrepreneurs, that say they “fell into” something. It’s so common to hear that. It’s very rare that I talk to someone who says, “This is what I wanted to do at university, this is what I’m doing now, and this is what I’ll be doing over the next 10 years”. A lot more people say they fell into project management, or fell into working as a producer at the BBC, or whatever. It seems that luck plays an important role – as well as guiding ourselves in our career – luck of the draw plays such a big role in where we end up, and how we apply those skills to our future positions.

Alexandra: Yeah, luck is preparation and timing. So making sure you are open to opportunities and making sure you’re going out and actively seeking connections with people. And making sure you’re at conferences. Sure, we can’t do that now [during Covid-19], which is really unfortunate, but it is nice that there are digital meet-ups.

What’s been really interesting about this pandemic and lockdown is the emergence of VR – I’ve been getting into VR lately. It’s really cool. It’s a very immersive experience. I like the fact you can pick different avatars, you can be different people, it’s really interesting. I like it a lot.

Poetry doesn't pay well

Shaun: Your skill set includes skills you might commonly associate with media professionals such as writing and audio production. Are these skills you‘ve actively worked on to help promote your career in project management or do you find yourself absorbing these skills as you go along?

Alexandra: I’ve always written. I started writing when I was 14 or 15, and just playing around with things. I started out writing poetry, which you learn early on no one wants to read poetry!

Shaun: And it doesn’t pay very well either!

Alexandra: It doesn’t! It was an avenue of self expression. Words can convey such power, and the ability to wrap something up so that it’s accessible yet still interesting and compelling, there’s something really cool about that. I’ve always enjoyed playing with words as a medium. It’s always something I’ve done as a side hobby.

Audio production I learned for the podcast. I produced things in Audacity. I’m just learning video editing right now; I recently started video episodes on the podcasts, but not all of them. Sometimes we have a guest on who wants to maintain privacy, so we just throw up an avatar, and sometimes we’ll have video for that.

Podcast production is hard work!

Shaun: Obviously, people go on podcasts and other people’s videos and be interviewed as a platform for sharing ideas and world-changing ideas, and just for fun sometimes. But a lot of it is for self-promotion, and it really works (in my opinion). How much of what you do is to help promote you and help promote your business?

Alexandra: With the podcast, it’s bigger than just me. I think anything that has any true value, it’s more than just self-promotion and promoting and bringing on sponsors, and advertising, and everything like that. What I really want with the podcast is I want it to be a platform for people to be able to share and explain how they’re [???]. In a world that they want to live in. It’s really as simple as that.

When it comes to promotion, I definitely don’t promote as much as I should. I need to be doing that more. I currently have …

Shaun: It’s hard work, isn’t it?

Alexandra: It is hard work! I think that the work should speak for itself. I could hire a PR firm to get my name out there and the show’s name out there, but building it organically is more authentic. The people that truly listen to this show – I want people that are listening and engaged, and enjoy hearing new shows. It’s not about what’s cool and new – I want to hear that person’s perspective on this, and “I’ve been wanting to know about this”. Promotion is like a double-edged sword: it’s something you have to do.

Nobody believes me when I say it, but I’m deeply introverted and I think a lot of people in a creative profession are as well. Even though we seem comfortable onstage or comfortable on camera, it’s almost like I go into a different world when I’m on camera or engaged in an interview. It’s not about me. It’s about really putting the focus on the person I’m speaking with. I think the best interviewers do that. They don’t make it about themselves. They don’t try to inject all of their viewpoints. They really try to bring the best out of the guest they’re speaking with.

Shaun: Introverts are known for listening.

Alexandra: We are, 100%.

Shaun: I like that differentiation you just said there, that introverts can still appear onstage. I think there’s a misconception that introverts are all shy people. It’s that we choose to not be in the limelight most of the time. It’s very different from shyness. I’m also introverted. I don’t hide behind a microphone. I just enjoy it more and I like to listen to other people’s stories, and you sound like a similar sort of person.

Alexandra: Thanks. I’ve always heard that I’m a good listener. I’m one of those people that people tell things to. I probably shouldn’t say that! So many times growing up and over the course of my career I’ve heard, “y’know I probably shouldn’t say this but … “. Or, “I feel like I can trust you”.

Blogging vs podcasting

Shaun: I think the podcasting side of things as well, as a medium for sharing information, you tend to get a lot more across, don’t you? I have noticed that you’re writing less and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there’s more audio output from you. I listen to Sam Harris, and he has run a very successful podcast for a number of years now and he’s writing less. He says it’s because he can get so much more information across in two hours of talking with someone than actually writing that book over a number of months and hoping someone buys it. Do you have a similar approach to whether you blog or whether you put something out as audio?

Alexandra: Each medium has its …

Shaun: Strengths and weaknesses?

Alexandra: … and usefulness really. It really depends what you’re trying to do. Do you want people to feel like they’re connecting to somebody and getting an explanation and an inside view? If you do, you probably want to be using audio or video. Video is incredibly powerful. A person being able to see the other person on the other side and hear their words, that can be a really powerful message. Some people prefer to passively listen or listen to podcasts while they go for a run, or driving, or commuting.

When it comes to written media … I recently had an article published in Citadel21, which is a really awesome new Cypherpunk ‘zine’ that Hodlonaut and BitcoinKatia put out. I was featured in volume three. It’s a monthly zine that features pretty high-signal content vs noise. You’ve got some curated articles, and there seems to be a bit of a theme, there’s some cool artwork, and it’s everything from short articles to longer interviews, to graphic-novel-type content. It’s very cool.

Phoenix is the article I wrote. It’s kind of short, but I was compelled to write it. It’s a critique of everything I think collectively we all feel is wrong with the world. I shouldn’t generalise; I shouldn’t say that, but to me it seems like there’s just so many things … everything is upside down, and everything I grew up believing is now dangerous to believe. Which is crazy! Having thoughts of your own is now considered a hate crime. We are literally living in 1984!

Shaun: George Orwell. Absolutely.

Alexandra: It’s horrible! I talk a lot about what’s going on [in the ‘Phoenix’ article] and I just give the factual observation of … I start out saying you know it’s 7pm because I can hear the nightly cheer for the frontline workers. That in itself is interesting, but we’re not willing to pay a fair wage for frontline workers because we want to save costs, but yeah we can cheer for them every night and have DJs play sets, and other things. It’s just so backward, right?

Shaun: You’ve piqued my interest. I really want to read this now. I’ll be looking for it after this call!

Alexandra: It’s short. I don’t hold anything back. A lot of times when I write stuff, I hold back a little bit, but with this article it’s everything I think and I really don’t care if I’m going to be judged for it. How I close on that is I talk a little bit about bitcoin and how it’s the cure for all the collective madness that’s going on right now.

“Everything I grew up believing is now dangerous to believe. Which is crazy! Having thoughts of your own is now considered a hate crime. We are literally living in 1984!”

A leadership how-to

Shaun: You’ve just said something about speaking your mind, or sharing what you think others might not want to hear. I enjoyed an article you wrote – we’re going back to 2018 now – and it’s called Stop apologising – a leadership how-to. I thought it was so straightforward. It’s the sort of thing we tend to write about every now and again, and you wonder whether anyone’s actually paying any attention, but it has a lot of common sense tips about leadership. You obviously have a strong opinion about leadership as well. Can you tell me a little bit more about where you’re coming from with that?

Alexandra: Sure. I was lucky enough that I had some leadership training early on in my life. I was independent from a very early age. I kind of had to be. Luckily I had some good teachers good examples. I was also able to get into fitness training at the time, so that helped shape the discipline that I needed in my life and gave me goals and things like that. Leadership is all about …

Shaun: Where do you start?

Alexandra: One of the principles I like is about starting at absolute zero. What I mean by that is breaking down all the things that hold you back, all of the self-defeating thoughts and beliefs, and really wiping the slate clean and starting fresh. And from there, sending the intention of “what is what I want to do”? You can’t think positive and achieve your goals. You’ve got to put in the work. It’s important to have an optimistic viewpoint, but a lot of it is about looking 10 years into the future and if I could be leading my ideal life, what would I be doing? Then taking that, working backward, and then achieving it.

A lot of leadership is about fortitude, and being the example you want to see, and realising that if you’re going to take a leadership role, you’re also going to be a guiding light for others. So you have to make sure you’re authentic in what you’re doing and you don’t give up. Any true leader leads from behind. So making sure that the entire group is taken care of, not so much in a caretaking way, but in a way where they’re empowered, where they don’t feel like you’re above anything and that you truly give a shit about what happens. Sorry, I probably shouldn’t swear!

Shaun: No, not at all. It’s free reign here. It’s a British podcast!

Alexandra: Any true leader should be able to work anywhere in the organisation and still be effective. I look at CEOs that I respect and admire, and leaders I respect and admire, and they’re the ones that have started at the bottom and have worked their way up. They have deep knowledge and they have empathy, and those are really important qualities.

AI potential

Shaun: I know Covid-19 has put a halt to all the conference work, and I know you are a conference speaker as well. You mainly talk about AI and emerging tech. Do you talk about leadership at conferences?

Alexandra: I’m going to start talking more about that. So yes! I have a couple of talks I’m working on. Eventually, I would like to talk more about that. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to the point where I want to write a book. Maybe. I’ve been kind of playing around with that. It’s a tonne of work! I’d rather just focus on experience and experiential endeavours.

Shaun: Talking to those experts in AI. What role do you think AI might play in light of Covid-19, over the next couple of years perhaps? Is it an opportunity to double-down on some of the emerging tech we haven’t explored in as much depth as we could?

Alexandra: Yes. Anytime the world is distracted and panicked is the perfect opportunity to really double-down on something that you’re deeply interested in. One of the positive things about going through this lockdown is so many people have taken the time to brush up on their knowledge, read more, get more into things, develop hobbies. I think that that’s good. Not everyone has had the opportunity to do that. Sometimes it’s hard to do that, especially if you’re working in isolation, but I think it’s very important.

Where I see AI going … ? Right now, we’re kind of early on. Artificial intelligence, or synthetic intelligence as I like to coin it, is basically just advanced machine learning right now. Where we’re going to see a truly intelligent system emerge is where you’re able to train a system and it’s able to learn something novel beyond what you’ve taught it. So if you’re feeding raw information into a system and asking it to determine if this is a cat or not a cat – if it’s able to learn something else or apply that knowledge some other unexpected way, then that’s where it gets really interesting.

One of the problems with AI is that there’s a lot of bias we introduce into our systems. There’s a talk I gave at Nikolas Badminton’s ‘Dark Futures‘, probably about two years ago, and I was talking about the dark side of big data. And essentially that: how bias can be introduced. You have to be really careful that you’re not introducing bias into your data sets. There’s lots of different ways to protect against that, but it’s a very subtle thing too. So if you’re finding that everything is predicting something and it seems like it’s … So for example, you look at the Facebook bots that came out and it’s widely cited in media that Facebook bots were all of a sudden racist.

Shaun: Right, I remember that.

Alexandra: But a lot of that is just a recursion of data, going through and going through. It’s almost like what you see on … you know if you watch something on YouTube that has a very strong viewpoint, and it’s going to recommend videos, and will take you down a path where two or three videos are fine, and the fourth video is :Whoa! What am I watching?!”

Shaun: The dark rabbit hole, right?

Alexandra: It’s the tendency for things to turn into extremes. I think that’s something we have to guard for in any system that we’re creating. But AI is such a fascinating thing.

Shaun: It is. I’ve read about the argument in AI (because I read a lot about AI as well) – in AI, it’s easy to build something hurried and flawed than it is to build something safe and reliable, which takes a little bit longer. It’s not going to stop the hurried and flawed ones from perhaps coming out first. You almost create AI to fix the AI that was built before it, and models of AI in various industries and various models. Right now, AI is so inherent in financial services and financial technology, but it can be used in so many different ways, can’t it?

Alexandra: Well it really can be. It comes down to data and the really fast processing of data. That’s essentially all machine learning is: a machine that’s able to take fast volumes of data and process it very quickly. When it gets to the point where it seems almost human-like … I mean I don’t think we have the technical capacity just yet, but I think we’re very close.

One of the interesting things I find when it comes to … You’ve got AI, which is basically hard machine learning and then you’ve got the concept of AGI, which is artificial general intelligence. This is typically what Hollywood gives us as the example of the scary AI taking over.

Shaun: The Terminator.

Alexandra: Exactly! There’s the concept of sentience in AGI and creating the machine that can think. That’s the really interesting part about AI. It’s scary for a lot of people because we’ve been scared away from … The best stories are fear-based because it taps into a really deep part of our psyche.

Shaun: Primal.

Alexandra: Exactly. So if you want to sell tickets, create a story that has some aspect of fear and make it go out of control, and you’ve got a blockbuster, right? But when you look at the truth of something … could it happen that way? Sure. There’s always every possibility available. Will it likely happen that way? I don’t think so. I really don’t. I’m much more of an optimist when it comes to artificial intelligence and the possibility of AGI.

I think the field of robotics in AGI, or synthetic intelligence or whatever you want to call it, the concept of embodiment is a necessary precondition of having a mind. By having a robot body, you can interact with the world, and I really think it’s the interaction; the senses that feed back that information to the system – you touch something and it’s hot. It’s essentially the kind a toddler would learn: you develop that instinct: don’t touch the stove because it’s hot, but sometimes you have to touch it to realise that! “OK, so that’s why I don’t do that!” I think that feedback you get from your environment is a necessary precondition to having consciousness.

If AGI does develop in robots … (We’re really going down a rabbit hole. I love it!) … If that does happen, is it a necessary condition therein? Can a machine just keep into a mind or a hive mind consciousness. I think that’s entirely possible.

“I think that feedback you get from your environment is a necessary precondition to having consciousness.”

Lockdown learning

Shaun: Gosh, we did fall down a rabbit hole! I mean, this podcast is about media, but I suppose we can link the creative fields. I love talking to creative people. I suppose there are certain people in creative industries who think, “Am I going to be replaced by AI in 10 years’ time?”. Or “am I going to be able to collect a decent pension at some point?” “Will a robot be hosting these podcasts for me?”, etc. But there’s an optimism behind that as well in that there are so many opportunities to learn how it can help us. I notice you’re learning code. Have you been learning code in lockdown?

Alexandra: I have been a little bit. I’ve taken a coding boot camp. I got a little bit overwhelmed at the beginning with some of the setups, so I stopped it. But I am trying to go through it on my own. It was just an accelerated path. So I’m learning Python. I did learn Java before. I some some basics like HTML and CSS, and some command line, but I think it’s always important to be levelling up and always be learning your next skills.

Fitness Tim Ferriss style

Shaun: What do you do to relax? Let’s move away from conference speaking right now and podcast production. What do you do to relax? I notice you’re passionate about fitness.

Alexandra: I am. One of the things I’m particularly proud of is I’m part of Team Satoshi, which is a bunch of bitcoiners who get together. Somebody coined the term ‘fitcoiner’, which I thought was really cool. There is a live stream – I notice in the comments somebody said “fitcoiner, that’s cool”. That’s a great term. I don’t know who it was, so I can attribute the term properly. But yeah, fitness has always been important. I think I was 12 or 13 when I first got into fitness. I joined a local gym and a year later joined a proper bodybuilding gym. I was fully training for, I guess not competition, but I was thinking about that.

For me, fitness in some place I can go and apply effort in a safe space and I can see results. It’s not dependant or reliant on anyone. It’s just builds strength in me. I’m able to refine my methods and experiment on myself Tim Ferris style!

Shaun: And as you said earlier, it’s that discipline thing. You took up fitness and it helped … It helps discipline our minds sometimes, or at least depressurise certain aspects of thinking.

Alexandra: It really does. Physical activity is so important. Even if you’re going through an injury or if you’ve got some kind of movement challenges, it’s about keeping your blood flowing and making sure your muscles don’t atrophy. A healthy mind is found in a healthy body, almost always. It’s a fundamental thing that we should be encouraging in kids as they’re growing up, to make sure that they’re doing something physical, whether it be dance or sports or some kind of training – martial arts – just to build that discipline that no matter what’s going on, this is always something you can come back to and where you’ll see results. Especially when the world is so chaotic, being able to still accomplish something when everything’s falling apart is really key.

How to contact Alexandra Moxin

Shaun: I have very much enjoyed our conversation. I’m really happy you’ve been able to join me this morning. I wonder if you can help listeners get in touch with you. How do we find you, Alexandra?

Alexandra: Probably the best place, or my favourite medium, is probably Twitter. I’m @alexandra933 on Twitter, and on most platforms. I have a new website: it’s advancetech.io, and I may change the domain for that but it’s where I’m currently parked. The podcast is AdvanceTechMedia.org

Shaun: Thanks you so much, Alexandra.

Alexandra: You bet. Thanks, Shaun. I appreciate it.

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