Jack Dorsey: Square, Cryptocurrency, and Artificial Intelligence | Lex Fridman Podcast #91 | Summary and Q&A

April 24, 2020
Lex Fridman Podcast
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Jack Dorsey: Square, Cryptocurrency, and Artificial Intelligence | Lex Fridman Podcast #91

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In this conversation, Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter and founder and CEO of Square, discusses topics related to Square, artificial intelligence (AI), engineering at scale, and philosophical questions. He talks about the importance of hiring people who can help achieve scale and the benefits of the open-source community. Dorsey also discusses the challenges faced by Square in terms of verification and risk modeling, as well as the role of machine learning in these processes. He expresses his belief in the need for a native currency for the internet, such as Bitcoin, to increase accessibility and innovation. Dorsey also touches on the topics of human-machine relationships, the future of AI, and the impact of automation on jobs. He shares his support for universal basic income and the importance of self-awareness in the age of AI. Finally, Dorsey discusses his approach to diet and lifestyle and how it aids in mental performance and focus.

Questions & Answers

Q: How does Jack Dorsey achieve scale with his companies?

Dorsey believes in hiring people he can learn from and leveraging the open-source community. Open source provides a wealth of knowledge and lessons that can be applied to solving problems and building meaningful solutions. By breaking down problems, focusing on critical thinking, and forming credible hypotheses, Dorsey and his teams are able to achieve scale through creative thinking and problem-solving.

Q: Is the scale achieved by Square a software or hardware problem?

According to Dorsey, achieving scale is not limited to one aspect. It requires a focus on both software and hardware solutions. While software plays a crucial role in risk modeling and solving problems related to access and authenticity, hardware solutions can have a significant impact on scalability and efficiency. Dorsey emphasizes the importance of considering all aspects and looking for underlying systems that make them work.

Q: How does Square address the issue of legitimacy and credit checks for small businesses?

Square recognized that many small businesses were unable to process credit cards due to credit checks and lack of credit history. They reframed the problem and built risk models based on transaction-level data rather than relying solely on credit checks. By focusing on transaction history and credibility, Square was able to open the doors to more businesses and enable them to accept payments while still maintaining a high level of trust and credibility.

Q: What role does machine learning play in Square's risk modeling?

Machine learning, also known as data science, played a significant role in Square's risk modeling. The discipline was built within the first year of the company as they recognized the importance of enabling more people to use their system in a responsible way. Machine learning allowed Square to analyze data and identify patterns that could determine the credibility and integrity of transactions. The technology continues to evolve, with deep learning being a more recent development within the field.

Q: What is Square's mission and how does it aim to increase people's access to the economy?

Square's mission is to increase people's access to the economy. They aim to empower individuals to start and grow businesses by removing barriers, such as credit checks, and providing tools for easy and secure payment processing. Square believes that everyone should have the opportunity to be a part of the economic system, regardless of credit history or financial background.

Q: How does Jack Dorsey see the future of increasing access to the economy?

Dorsey believes that a native currency for the internet, such as Bitcoin, is essential for increasing access to the economy. He sees currency as a crucial aspect of enabling more innovation and speed in terms of what can be built. A global, digital currency would eliminate barriers posed by different currencies and regulations, allowing for consistent understanding and access to markets worldwide.

Q: What are Jack Dorsey's thoughts on cryptocurrency and digital currency?

Dorsey sees the beauty of cryptocurrency, particularly Bitcoin, in its lack of a centralized control and its ability to enable everyone to be part of the story. He believes that Bitcoin's principles and design make it a powerful force for moving the world forward. Dorsey expresses excitement about the possibilities that a native currency for the internet can bring and the positive impact it can have on innovation and accessibility.

Q: How does Jack Dorsey approach challenges related to technology and detection?

Dorsey acknowledges the risks associated with artificial intelligence, particularly the challenge of potentially building black-box systems that cannot explain their decisions. He believes that the technology to create is moving faster than the technology to detect, emphasizing the importance of developing detection technologies that can stay ahead of advancements in artificial intelligence. Dorsey also highlights the need for regulation and better answers concerning the ownership and sharing of data.

Q: Does Jack Dorsey ponder the meaning of life and the finiteness of human existence?

Dorsey thinks about the finiteness of human existence on a daily basis, multiple times a day. Rather than fearing death, he sees it as a transformation and a tool for appreciating the importance of every moment. Dorsey uses this awareness to prioritize activities and live life to the fullest. He sees the meaning of life in connections with others, the impact he can make through innovation, and the self-awareness that comes from his daily reflections.

Q: What does Jack Dorsey believe is the meaning of life and what gives him purpose and happiness?

Dorsey finds meaning in the connections he has with individuals, whether they are brief encounters or long-lasting friendships and relationships. He also finds meaning in seeing people use something he helped build and experiencing the sense of being part of something bigger than himself. Dorsey believes that awareness of being alive and the preciousness of life itself are inherently meaningful. Prioritizing what matters and making the most of every moment brings purpose and happiness to his life.


In this conversation with Jack Dorsey, several key takeaways emerge. Firstly, the importance of hiring people who can contribute to learning and growth is highlighted. Leveraging the open-source community and embracing critical thinking skills are also key to achieving scale and innovation. Square's mission of increasing access to the economy is driven by a focus on risk modeling and providing opportunities for businesses to accept payments. Dorsey sees a native currency for the internet, such as Bitcoin, as a powerful force for enabling global accessibility and innovation. Discussions around artificial intelligence touch on the importance of explainability and the need for detection technologies to keep up with advancements in AI. Dorsey supports the concept of universal basic income, highlighting the need for a safety net during times of job displacement due to automation. Overall, Dorsey's emphasis on self-awareness, connections, and prioritization contributes to his sense of purpose and happiness.

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