In conversation with David Gammon you listen intently, open-mouthed, brain scrambling as you struggle to keep pace as he educates you on cycling, spy novels, the future of the global economy, AI, Blockchain, the origins of thought… and everything in between.
David is founder and CEO of Cambridge-based advisory and investment business, Rockspring, a family company, run by David, his wife, Sarah, and their three sons. Its portfolio is made up of thirty-two past and present early stage companies, ranging from those with a billion pounds in turnover today to pre-revenue start-ups. One of these companies is Crowdsurfer.
David’s success as an investor is clear from the returns his portfolio has delivered but, in conversation, you discover he’s anything but an ordinary provider of early venture stage funding.
“My journey into AI and then into AGI started with my curiosity as a child. I began asking what thoughts were, what were they made out of. “In the beginning was the word”… the first words of the Bible. But how could the first thing be a word? This led me to a metaphysical question that I consider one of the most important occupations of my life. What is thought?”
Not all young men set out to answer these questions. But David is different. Since childhood, he has been fascinated by the crossroads of man and machine. Thought, some say, is the difference between the two. But in our technology-led world, that line is beginning to blur.
With machines and AI threatening labour markets, automation is a red-hot topic, with doom-mongers proclaiming the rise of the machines as the end of our existing economic model. But David believes these fears are misplaced:
“Humans are intelligent and imaginative. Computers are not, which means we are so far away from a thinking machine. All that’s going to happen is that repetitive, quantitative jobs will be better done by machines. That’s a good a thing for the planet, as people will do something more fulfilling.”
As David points out, this has been true throughout history. Within a decade, Ford’s invention of the mass production of automobiles led to a huge number of people previously employed in the rearing, training, saddling etc. of horses being out of a living. “This time with AGI we are going to see extraordinary changes in white collar and blue collar jobs. But mankind adapts brilliantly.”
David believes the real world impact of automation upon repetitive jobs will occur within the next decade. For example, a radiologist looking with tired eyes at an x-ray will be replaced by a less fallible machine. However, in the same way that planes are flown by computers and overseen by pilots, white collar jobs, such as the radiologists, will be replaced by machines with human oversight. This will lead to a more efficiency and productivity in the economy, and it will promote huge adaptation and progress.
David sees crowd finance as being a key part of that progress. He believes its development came about through necessity rather than design. During the 2008 financial crisis, David was working on a business that combined his passion for investment and AI, DeepMind.
“We were at the start of this enormous QE programme. We asked ourselves – what is a trillion dollars? It’s unimaginable, beyond the limits of the human brain. Yet the FED was printing $12 trillion! We realised we needed to build intelligent algorithms to help machines enable human decision makers to better understand the consequence of dealing with trillions and, eventually, soon, quadrillions. This is one of the reasons DeepMind was built.”
One of the unintended consequences of QE was a stagnation of investment in entrepreneurship and innovation from institutional investors, loaded with such huge volumes of cash that deployment at a micro level became futile. When $12 trillion is pumped in, institutions are forced by economies of scale to find equally large projects into which money can be deployed.
“QE meant a mass of money got stuck at the institutional level with the velocity of money in the economy all but frozen. It made no macro sense to break up large sums in order to put money to work at the micro level. As a result, a new microeconomic ecosystem had to be formed. Thus crowd finance came into being, as an unintended but direct consequence of QE.”
Crowd finance emerged, bringing small-scale funds at a sensible price ready to invest in innovation and entrepreneurship. For this new economy to keep growing and scaling, David sees the need for increased transparency built upon reliable data.
“The eco-system built around the micro economy will be a massive employer. We need thousands of intermediaries globally to find, fund and advise early stage and micro cap companies. But for this to happen we need reliable, accurate data so that political decision makers, policy setters and investors can make good decisions. That’s why I support and invest in Crowdsurfer.”
The global scale of the opportunity – and the challenge – is vast, but David believes Crowdsurfer has the firmest of foundations in place.
“What Crowdsurfer has done is build a mechanism that takes in diverse and dirty data and presents it back in a consistent, uniform manner. That’s so valuable, because if you want to know what’s going on in the crowd economy, you go to Crowdsurfer and get the answer.”
David believes this data will be crucial to the national economy as crowd finance is used as an economic indicator of health.
“The fact we can measure the vibrancy and performance of the SME market through Crowdsurfer is a game changer. It’s no longer enough to measure bank lending to SMEs, VC investments, AIM listings. That’s a shrinking part of the whole. Crowdsurfer fills the gap. I’m certain all central banks, governments, local governments, will become subscribers. I worry about policy makers making decisions about SMEs without all the information needed to make the best decisions.”
As with AI and automation, progress in crowd finance has been swift and, for some, frightening. But David believes change has led to opportunities that both Rockspring and Crowdsurfer are well placed to take advantage of.
“The institutions and intermediaries of the macro and micro economies have split and there’s no going back. The crowd economy is building out its own complete ecosystem of players. It’s very exciting to be a part of that.”
Now there’s a thought.
Originally published on the 21st of April 2017