cauri jaye ’90 is optimistic about artificial intelligence, seeing it as game-changing tool for human progress
Futurist, entrepreneur, and technology translator cauri jaye ’90 lives for solving intractable problems. “I like the challenge,” he insists. “That’s been a theme throughout everything that I’ve done.” And, to be sure, jaye has done a lot.
Over the past three decades, he’s held leadership positions in an astoundingly diverse range of professions: movie producer for Tritan Northstar Entertainment in Los Angeles; various roles leading and training digital media teams in the United Kingdom; two years as CEO of his own start-up accelerator, Rhubarb Studios, in Los Angeles; instructor for the online technology educator General Assembly; developer of the first augmented-reality experience and virtual-reality apps for National Geographic; and, for the last four years, founder, chief technology officer, and chief science officer at Sesh, “a neuroscience-based lifelong learning company” attempting to solve arguably the world’s most intractable problem: toddler temper tantrums.
The Sesh app employs an artificial intelligence (AI) system to help train and educate new parents, personalizing its suggestions based on the specifics of the parents’ background and parenting style, explains jaye, who does not capitalize his name. “You’d say, ‘Hey, my 3-year-old is having a lot of tantrums. What do I do?’ And it would say, ‘Well, tell us a little bit about this and that.’ And then it would recommend, ‘Try this out.’ It might ask you a couple other questions that give it more insight, and it would just gradually get smarter and smarter.” Just as the app was about to debut, however, a private buyer offered to purchase the technology. Despite being “a really hard decision,” jaye says, “it was worth it for us.”
A precocious child growing up in his father’s native Trinidad, jaye followed his older sister to Williston, arriving for his junior year at just 15 years old. His age and the new culture made for a hard adjustment, he says, but jaye eventually found his place in the classroom and the theater program. His senior year, however, the fallout after the death of a classmate disrupted his college application process and his plan to study nuclear physics and robotics at a premier university. After receiving a scholarship to Israel’s Technion University at age 17, he was thwarted again by a bureaucratic requirement over a language certificate. Fed up, he bought a ruck sack, traveled the world, and became an autodidact, teaching himself quantum physics, neuroscience, and the technology skills he would need as he built his wide-ranging career.
Now living in Portugal with his 17-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, whom he homeschools, jaye is moving on from Sesh, continuing his work helping teams of creative, technical, and business people align around a common goal. He consulted for the maternal health start-up Mahmee, and is working with Wildseed Games, a video game company started by a former colleague, using AI to help the team create more efficiently. Most recently, he accepted a role as fractional CXO at the software company Artium, where he specializes in AI across many domains.
Knowing his expertise, we asked him for his thoughts on the recent release of ChatGPT, a large-language-model AI product that has proven both wondrous and chilling.
Did Sesh use generative artificial intelligence like ChatGPT?
No, our AI was more narrow. One of the confusions in the market now is that everybody thinks that the only way to make an artificial intelligence is through deep learning, which is where you use masses and masses of data. But that’s what you do if you have access to that data. And if you’re a massive company. However, there are a lot of ways to train AI. If you have small amounts of data that’s really high quality, you can actually train an AI to be super intelligent.
We were leaning on some generative software. We had a digitized version of me, Coach Cauri, that we were working on, which was using generative AI, but it was using my knowledge to create a more conversational interface for what we’re doing.
What do you see as the future impact of AI for society?
It’s impossible for us to comprehend how much things will change. People think that between the 1990s and the 2010s, society transformed because of the internet. That is absolutely nothing in comparison to what will happen over the next few decades. This is a foundational technology. AI allows us to revolutionize quantum computing, nanotechnology, genetics, biology, and energy technologies. There’s so much, it’s going to change every other industry because these things compound. You have an AI that helps you solve quantum computing. Now you have a quantum computer running an AI, which helps you solve material science challenges, which helps you solve protein folding…Each one builds upon the other. You have exponential growth. And that’s what we’re facing right now.
Many people are less sanguine, seeing AI as introducing all sorts of new social problems. How do you stay optimistic about where we are headed?
Look, in large part, human beings suck. We’re simplistic. We’re easily led. We equivocate and change our minds about things that are supposedly solidly held principles. There was a study that looked at autonomous vehicles 20 years ago or so, and everybody was like, “Absolutely not. I would never drive an autonomous car.” They did the same survey 15, 20 years later and had the exact opposite response. “I want an autonomous vehicle.” What changed is broadband internet and social media and streaming movies. Suddenly all the principles about not trusting computers, all that went out the window because we can now watch videos and browse social media instead of driving. As humans, we tend to very easily lose our principles over convenience. The technology will only amplify the things that we are. It’s not a negative or a positive in and of itself.
So you don’t see AI as a threat to society?
It can be used as a threat. But that’s not the AI, it’s the people. On the other side, true AI is going to be a collaboration with human beings. It’s going to be chips in our brain that are tied to AI, like our phone is, essentially—an extension of ourselves. It’s that companionship. We can do things that it can’t, and it can do things that we can’t. There’ll be a symbiotic relationship, and that’ll just get closer and closer over time. As long as that continues, neither one is taking over the other, it’s growth together. And I think what we’re going to want it to do is to make us more productive, make us have more ability to control more of our environment, whether that’s on this planet or extraplanetary. That’s what AI will be used for, if we survive this phase.
That’s a big “if.” If AI can amplify our worst tendencies as well as our best, it’s understandable why people might be afraid…
That fear is why I wanted to do Sesh. I believe the educational system in the U.S. and a number of countries has failed hugely. From the time that Reagan defunded teachers, that was the end. And we’re now three generations into people being taught by people who are more ignorant than the people who came before. We’re just passing on ignorance from generation to generation. Not across the board, but enough that it’s significant. And it’s not the teachers’ fault. They’re trying their hardest, but you are the product of the environment you grow up in. And so I thought about the things that drive me, and that I’m most emphatic about: creativity, critical thought, and empathy. Those three things are pillars. And they’re three things that are not taught anymore. Sesh was designed because those are the skills that you need to be better at business and better at life. And we found they were also the skills needed with parenting.
Let’s go back to what you’re saying
about the failure of schools. As somebody who’s looked at neuroscience and how we actually learn, how do you assess Williston’s approach when you
Williston has changed since then, and its approach has changed. When I was there, it was very traditional. You’d go to the classroom, the teacher would talk to you, then you’d go do homework, and then you’d get tested on it to see what you’d learned. What we have learned about educational neuroscience is that that’s actually not the best way to learn. The best way is to give somebody a challenge. Give them the homework first and let them try to figure it out, do the reading and the research to answer a real question or solve a real problem. The effort ensures they write what they learn more deeply into their neural pathways. And then wait before asking them about it again. That enforces recall, and recall is way more powerful than repetition. So just flipping the classroom has a massive effect. And Williston didn’t do any of that kind of stuff.
However, what Williston did do really well is offer shorter courses, like a quarter course in Eastern philosophy. There’s a concept called interleaving in educational psychology, which is where you learn one thing in one context, and then you learn something similar in a different context. By doing that, you are creating deeper connections, and that’s how we retain information.
I have a personal angle on that, which is that I’m aphantasic. I can’t see any images in my brain. Up until two years ago, I thought that’s what everybody was like. And since I learned otherwise, I’ve realized that the way I remember things is only in reference to other things. So I’ve been a lot more explicit about that in my own mind, whereas a lot of people can just picture the thing and so they don’t have to think about it in a context.
How did you discover that you had
I was reading about it. People started talking about it in the late 1800s, but it was only in the 1980s and early 1990s that somebody started looking into it, gave it a name, and realized that we actually exist on a spectrum. On one end you have somebody who sees total blackness, and at the other end you have somebody who can literally imagine a tree sitting in front of them and see every aspect of it. And we’re all somewhere on there.
I’ve also found in the last few years that I’m autistic…
Really? How did that come about?
Actually, through Sesh. When I was doing neuroscience, I was learning about autism and how it presents. I started digging deeper and I did a bunch of casual tests, and then I did one or two real tests based on behavior. And it was really clear. And then I partnered with an expert in ADHD and autism to write content with us, and I had conversations with her about it, and she’s like, yeah, it’s clear.
And what that did is, in reflecting on my life, it suddenly put a lot of things into context. And I thought, oh, that’s why I can get up on a stage in front of 25,000 people and feel completely comfortable, but walking into a dinner party with six people, I’ll feel like the world is closing in on me. There are so many things that I have found easy that other people find hard, and vice versa. And so, suddenly, that all makes sense. And that has brought me a lot of calm.