Chatbots, Knowledge Graphs, and the Agents Accelerating Enterprise Creativity in Renaissance 2.0

At this year’s TED Conference, visionaries channeled the spirit of the original Renaissance towards a new age of AI-powered creativity and abundance.

Brett A. Hurt
17 min readApr 30, 2024
My son, Levi’s, ChatGPT-driven vision of the future of work in Renaissance 2.0

In Part One of this two part series, I focused on the emerging Renaissance 2.0 of individual creativity, now vividly being unleashed by AI (artificial intelligence). From the collapsing barriers to entry for independent filmmakers, to the new tools for students and educators, to the interactive AI games my son Levi is inventing, the endless examples defy both the scared and the scaremongers. When Byron Reese and I concluded our article, The 4 Billion-Year History of AI’s Large Language Models, we wrote, “Our best is yet to come”, and that is clearly on display almost anywhere you go looking for it.

Today, however, I want to go back in time to that original Renaissance 1.0, which began in the late 14th century. History may not repeat itself, as a sage once opined, but it does often rhyme. So my analogy between the two points of history is much more than a casual metaphor. Then as now, the first Renaissance was a revolution in mathematics and calculation that changed the world — birthing even capitalism itself. It’s not a stretch to suggest that the lessons of that transformation might be the best lens we have on the ways our institutions — from business to education to government — will be transformed by the convergence of statistical data and complex mathematics, otherwise known as Large Language Models, or LLMs. Most importantly, there’s a glimpse hidden in that era that produced Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Machiavelli. Looking backward at that moment even suggests how today’s capitalism itself will be radically renewed as we look forward.

If readers who know me suspect I am winding up to a pitch for Conscious Capitalism and the concept of the Public Benefit Corporation, they are right. But it’s much bigger than that. What I want to focus on are the concentric circles of creativity: from those of individuals which we discussed in Part One, to the explosion of collaborative creativity of teams, firms, and ultimately even our modes of nation-state governance. We need to invent many new institutions in some cases; old ones we need to reimagine in new ways. We are fast doing so, but we also need to speed up.

Meanwhile, as the fortunes would have it, I wrote my first of these two essays a few days before heading out two weeks ago to Vancouver for the annual TED Conference, a supercharged masterclass of AI discussion (and many other topics). Interestingly, the dystopian narrative regarding AI had largely calmed down as compared to TED2023, held shortly after the infamous moratorium call. This year’s gathering was entitled “The Brave and the Brilliant”, and both categories of thinker were there in force.

The first category was certainly led by my good friend and fellow Austin resident, entrepreneur and philanthropist Daniel Lubetzky, whose long-time PeaceWorks initiative shattered stereotypes and is doing so much to counter the hate we see on display, sparked by the horror of Hamas’ 10/7 attack on Israel and all that has ensued in the Hamas-Israel war (I wrote my most important piece of 2023 on 11/7, the one-month anniversary of 10/7.) “When society is falling apart, the only way out is for all of us to build together,” Daniel told the TED assembly to a standing ovation. Daniel was here to promote his new Builders of the Middle East initiative, a continuation of his long-time work, which has accelerated since 10/7. I hope TED posts his urgent presentation online soon. It deserves its place online alongside the hopeful and inspiring discussion between two brave peace activists in these dark days, Israeli Maoz Inon and Palestinian Aziz Abu Sarah, which was the first to go live following the in-person event. TED2024 opened with their exchange and you could hear a pin drop in the audience.

The second category included those names now all but synonymous with AI: seer Ray Kurzweil, Google DeepMind co-founder and CEO Demis Hassabis (Hassabis’ incredible TED interview just went live yesterday), and two visionaries whose books I reviewed last fall: Fei-Fei Li, who founded Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered AI, and Mustafa Suleyman, newly named as the head of Microsoft AI and co-founder of Inflection AI and DeepMind before. I strongly recommend Li’s book The Worlds I See and Suleyman’s book The Coming Wave as the intellectual table stakes for anyone seeking to join the AI conversation.

Others channeling the spirit of Renaissance 1.0 toward Renaissance 2.0 included Vinod Khosla, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems and a leading investor with his namesake Khosla Ventures in the technologies of the future, including carbon capture, fossil fuel replacement, and AI to boost efficiency and productivity. In Khosla’s exciting vision, which I optimistically share, AI will be all but invisible in the background as agents, from chatbots to robots, to sensors embedded everywhere. AI will carry out the difficult but often critical tasks humanity struggles with, from monitoring hygiene in hospitals, a project of Li’s, to the firefighting AI on the near horizon. Literally millions more such agents will follow. We will take AI as granted as much as we now take the electricity that lights the house at a flip of a switch or the water that flows at the tug of a faucet: “All we need is a few entrepreneurs, who will imagine the impossible, dream the dreams, and then become foolish enough to make them come true,” Khosla said. Another example was entrepreneur Hiroki Koga, who described how his company Oishii is taking indoor farming beyond the niche production of leafy greens toward the remaking of agriculture in our hungry world of growing population, disappearing topsoil, and vastly overstretched water resources. Koga is leading us into an era of zero pesticides and almost infinite reuse of water with, among other innovations, AI robots that “sense” ripeness and actually harvest the strawberries. Koga’s talk was one of Rachel’s favorites (this was our daughter’s second time to join me at TED), and we were lucky enough to try them afterwards when we met him. They were the most delicious we’ve ever tasted.

We Can’t Control What We Don’t Understand

Surely the policy ideas of Helen Toner — the AI policy guru who sparked last November’s five-day rollercoaster that I chronicled and who sought unsuccessfully to oust OpenAI CEO Sam Altman — are earnest. But her calls for government to lead on the challenges ahead fall flat (and fell flat at TED) to mere platitudes. We know that our governments are simply not up to the task. I’ll have more to say below on the imperative for every business to lead where the machinery of government will inevitably fall behind.

There’s a cargo ship of wisdom to unpack from that annual TED mindmeld. But the insight that echoed most in my mind on the way home is Suleyman’s intuition — not on AI per se, but on our struggle for metaphors to describe it. His TED talk was another way of stating what I wrote about in Part One, that the pace of technology is fast outstripping our language and nomenclature to grasp and comprehend it.

“We can’t control what we don’t understand,” Suleyman said, sharing his effort to explain AI to his 6-year-old nephew. “And so the metaphors, the mental models, the names, these all matter.” He then went on to offer his own new metaphor. What is coming, he said, is a new partner who will accompany humanity on its onward journey, nothing less than “a new digital species”.

For now, I’ll let Suleyman’s metaphor sink in, one more step in the conceptual scaffolding we’re all struggling to create in this new age. “Once metaphor has us in its grasp, it never lets us go,” warned James Geary, author of I Is An Other — The Secret Life of Metaphor. Think of the way they illuminate our understanding of reality. “Life as a journey.” Or, “time as money.” Or, “food for thought.” We all have a “light of my life” — or we do if we’re lucky.

Suleyman’s choice is a striking analogy to be sure, but if you have any doubts, watch LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman’s just-released short video chatting with his “digital twin” about everything from the six books Hoffman has authored to the issues of ethics around creating digital mirrors of ourselves. Surely discomforting to some at first glance, the advent of digital copies of ourselves — trained in his case on years of writing and recorded speeches — makes us more human, not less. He argues: “It adds to the range of capabilities of things that I could do.” Hoffman’s experiment is radical innovation today; in a year or two it will be commonplace. If you harbor any lingering doubts, take a look at this brief demo from Austin-based (in full disclosure, Debra and I are proud investors) with interactive AI-powered chatbot characters. As one helps a young student studying cellular biology, another offers a student a reading list including Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, while yet another agent advises a parent on best ways to handle a toddler tantrum.

Back at TED, AI game developer Kylan Gibbs shared the ways AI agents and game avatars are not just interacting with us, but increasingly interacting with one another, and with the environment to create immersive experiences and games that will, for example, reward conflict resolution rather than battle. Gibbs said, “As amazed as I am by all these task-focused applications that are coming out, the more I work with studios and creatives, the more excited I am for the potential of these agents to extend human creative potential.”

The ‘Source Code’ of the Renaissance

While you’re mulling Suleyman’s new “species” analogy and a few examples of its ilk, I’ll introduce a different kind of metaphor. For I truly believe that our current age of technology and innovation profoundly mirrors the era wrought by what historians often call the “Silicon Valley of the Middle Ages”, the city-state of Venice. While we now remember Venice, and its fellow city-states of Milan and Florence, for famed art and sculpture, we too often neglect the “source code” of the Renaissance. For it was the output of workshops and intellectual salons of Venice that produced the innovations in navigation and productivity, and refined the calculative tools of Hindu-Arabic numerals (imagine the difficulty of long division in Roman numerals). This earlier Silicon Valley also laid the financial foundations of modern capitalism, which replaced serfdom, an economic order that bound roughly half the population of Europe and Russia in economic bondage. In the humanist Enlightenment that grew from that Renaissance, we find the origins of the nation-state, even our own democracy, and the contours of our Constitution. I’m sure the creatives of that age had their skeptics, but one wonders how long the brutality of feudalism would have endured had the Medicis of Florence or the Doge of Venice been convinced to call a moratorium on Da Vinci and Michelangelo.

I realize, of course, that a term like “double-entry bookkeeping” may not set the heart racing. But its invention in 1494 set the stage not just for this explosion of commerce that financed the art, culture, and literature that defines the Renaissance in our modern imaginations. This seemingly modest innovation from a monk named Luca Pacioli — greatly accelerated by the invention of the printing press just decades before — also created the financial architecture enabling modern manufacturing (cost accounting and Wedgwood pottery), transportation (long-term debt financing, depreciation, and the first railroads) and even that key metric of modern geo-economics, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is an outdated metric dreamed up in the Great Depression that AI will almost certainly kill.

“It appeared in the same decade that Columbus discovered America and Vasco da Gama discovered a sea route to India, at a time when mathematics was taught as astrology in the universities of Europe, and witches were burned at the stake. And 500 years later [Pacioli’s] bookkeeping treatise remains the foundation of modern accounting and its system is still in use throughout the world,” wrote historian Jane Gleeson-White in Double Entry — How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance. She concluded, “This is extraordinary.”

I agree. And we’re about to see a “source code” similarly obscure just two years ago, the “Language Language Model”, remake the world along with other tools of AI and those of synthetic biology. It will be even more vastly profound than that launched by those geniuses of Venice half a millenia ago.

Now I don’t want to repeat the examples of AI’s inspiration to individual creativity that I explored in Part One. But I can’t neglect the contribution at the TED conference of Singapore AI artist Lim Wenhui, who shared the surreal visual celebration of the eleven aunts who help raised her — the “Auntieverse”. Her visual perspective imagines virtual aunties who shun societal norms, make sushi on the moon, clean up the vast patch of marine debris in the Pacific Ocean, and do so much more. Her work defies adequate description but summons the eclectic genius of Salvador Dalí or Maurits Cornelis Escher onto digital canvas: “I could not have imagined creating this without AI,” Wenhui told us. And, in fact if not for AI, it would have taken nearly a lifetime to create such a portfolio of art.

I should also mention the TED presentation by Willie Williams. Williams is a legend in the live music industry as the stage and lighting director for the past 40 years for the Irish rock band U2 (one of my favorites). He spoke about the concert with which the iconic band opened “The Sphere” in Las Vegas. This incredible $2.2 billion immersive venue includes the world’s largest LED screen and a suite of AI robotics technologies. As an artist, Williams compared the invention of perspective, the illusion of depth born of that original Renaissance, with the new horizons that visual and musical artists are exploring today with AR, or artificial reality. The goal of “awe and wonder, placed under control of the artist is unchanged over the centuries”, he said.., “but today we have the most powerful tools ever to do this.”

In addition to the case Williams made for AI and creativity, his is also the case for AI and commerce, the creativity of institutions and enterprises. U2 grossed a whopping $256 million for its series of concerts at that new venue, according to the music site Ultimate Classic Rock. Not only that, but The Sphere has created 4,000 permanent jobs and will annually produce an estimated $730 million in economic activity in Las Vegas.

This immersive experience of a creative torrent, the AI-drawn “aunties”, the Sphere of seemingly infinite entertainment scope, the surreal visuals, the curious and loquacious robotics, and Williams’ comparison of these tools with the highest art and creation of centuries ago, all prompt a segue to a formative experience that I must share. It happened before TED and was one much closer to home. This was a visit that my son, Levi, and I took to Apptronik, the homebase of humanoid robots based here in beautiful Austin. The ChatGPT-fueled artwork that Levi chose for my Part Two of this series foreshadows a future Renaissance 2.0 that is in fact imminent. For Apptronik is already building the first versions of that future today. One of our visit’s most stunning sightings was a large mural of highly detailed robot images. I asked our gracious host, Industrial Designer Marcelo Gutierrez, how those were created. The answer, “AI”… of course. Just one of these drawings would have taken weeks to develop before the advent of Midjourney, DALL·E, and others. The goal, Marcelo said, was to create a robot that would not be intimidating to humans. As he described the intricacies of the challenge it made me realize how daunting the task actually was — and is. Then, in March at SXSW, I got to see my good friend, Czech polycreative Yemi A.D., actually bring the finished project to life, as he led an interview of Apptronik’s CEO, Jeff Cardenas. The tour was glorious and left Levi and me buzzing and proud that SXSW is helping unleash the beauty of this AI-fueled creativity to the rest of the world.

Levi and Marcelo at Apptronik, with AI-fueled robot designs just behind them

Our Own Renaissance 2.0 Artisans at Work

At our company, we’ve been building towards this latter day AI Renaissance since our founding in 2015. It was at our beginning that we made our prescient decision to have our knowledge graph foundation be the platform for all of our future applications, including data cataloging and governance, and our acquisitions, including Capsenta and Mighty Canary’s technology. Our frontier contribution to this new societal source code is the “nervous system” and “brain” — more formally the “data catalog” and “knowledge graph” — of the data stores powering AI. This meta-data management system converts the chaotic “Cambrian Explosion” of data that I wrote about in 2021 into rational, organized, and vital information for decision-making. Yes, the future is here, but its data is going to be evenly distributed, as I twisted that famous phrase from novelist William Gibson in a March 7th launch article on our new AI Context Engine, which is the most important product in our history and the culmination of all we’ve built since our beginning.

Our own artisans of Renaissance 2.0 continue almost daily to produce insights and innovations. Our AI Context Engine is an interface and application layer that allows users to chat with their own structured data. The power of chatting with your structured data is only possible given the power of context. Specifically, the context of your business. You can ask ChatGPT, “What does revenue mean?”, but you can ask our AI Context Engine, “How do we define ‘revenue’ internally, and what was our net revenue for the past five years?” Advancements like these are helping to usher in a new world of AI-ready data that will soon be commonly adopted across organizations of every size and sector. This will enable any person at an organization to ask questions and foster curiosity and creativity.

As my colleague Brandon Gadoci, our VP of AI Operations, explains in this video, our suite of innovations that will crack open and diffuse vast stores of previously impenetrable corporate and institutional data for use in AI applications. Brandon explores and describes the world of “pent-up innovation” about to burst before us and the explosion of opportunity for enterprises now being created by AI. He guides us through our own internal AI application development, which is dramatically boosting our productivity, as I discussed back in January in Help Wanted: Why Your AI Strategy Needs a Dedicated Executive.

“From the detailed genetic mappings of the Human Genome Project to the comprehensive datasets of Global Economic Indicators and the wide-ranging repository of Wikipedia, Knowledge Graphs are prepared to intertwine these domains into a cohesive, accessible web of information,” Bryon Jacob wrote in an internal paper. “Similarly, by linking economic indicators with public health data, AI could reveal socio-economic factors underlying health disparities, guiding policy and innovation in public health.” Bryon has also written extensively on how the AI agents described by Khosla and Gibbs will unleash the planning, data access, and granular understanding of business operations that enterprises demand. These AI agents are at the center of our AI Context Engine. Users create autonomous applications that navigate the knowledge graph (the brain of your organization).

In the runup to our launch of our AI Context Engine, our Principal Scientist Juan Sequeda, who heads our AI Lab, revealed in a benchmark research project that our knowledge graph enabled a 300% increase in the accuracy of queries. When these technologies are paired, the result is not just mastery of what is known. “We can also find serendipitous ‘unknown’ relationships” that in Juan’s words make “creativity blossom”.

In a recent discussion, our Chief Customer Officer and Product Strategist Tim Gasper shared how WPP, one of our customers and the communications and technology giant, is using this suite of technologies: “The key is that they created multiple AI experiences around creative content and collateral, creating mock advertisements, mock social posts — also focused around leveraging data — to target which kinds of folks with which kinds of messages.”

This is the most exciting moment in the history of because the level of innovation is the highest we’ve ever experienced. The Blueprints for Generative AI event that we are hosting today provides a glimpse of all the recent innovations and what is coming next.

Reconceptualizing Capitalism and Humanity Itself

So, to conclude, let me return to the allusion I made to Conscious Capitalism at the outset, and another often neglected dimension of Renaissance 1.0 — its disruption of feudalism. I’m not cavalier or unconcerned about the disruption to the labor force that is already beginning as companies embrace the productivity tools of AI. A telling anecdote came a few weeks ago in the Bg2 podcast between investor legends Bill Gurley (a recently returned Austinite) and Brad Gerstner on this very topic. In this clip, Gerstner recounted a recent conversation with a CEO whose company has tens of thousands of employees: “He said ‘over the next five years we’ll grow our top line 50 percent and we’ll reduce our personnel costs by 10 to 20%.’ That’s extraordinary.”

That CEO is right, and it’s been the arc of capitalism since the beginning — the relentless search for efficiency and ease. But as I emphasized in Part One, we need to elevate our discussion to a higher altitude. We will lose some jobs, but as Khosla pointed out in his talk, eight hours a day on an assembly line doing repetitive tasks for an entire career is hardly human — what those in the world of the future will regard as our own version of feudalism. We will also create many new jobs — much better ones and I hope the doomsayers will think deeply about this.

As I explained in this Austin Next podcast a year ago, many of the fears are based on faulty math. Yes, incrementally, companies are going to hire fewer engineers, or said differently, the “engineers-per-unit” of enterprise will drop. But the “units of enterprise” — with the cost of doing really hard things dropping and the barrier to creativity shattered — will simply skyrocket. As I discussed there, this will lead to millions of new startups, and therefore a net positive in job creation over time.

In my book The Entrepreneurs Essentials, a theme interwoven throughout is the importance of the new kind of capitalism, Conscious Capitalism enabled most directly by the Public Benefit Corporation. has been a B Corporation since our public launch, and as such we commit ourselves not just to shareholder returns (although that is of course key) but also to our obligation to employees, the community, the environment, and the future. Among the features of this movement is to count beyond the GDP metric I decried at the outset, which ignores the costs of pollution, the contribution to the labor force of family members, and many other metrics that our new tools of AI can record and data mastery can deliver. “We need numbers that matter for the questions we have,” wrote author, strategist, and investor Zachary Karabell, just one of many economists decrying this obsolete way of tallying progress. In a narrower but related sense, I also touched upon this in Chapter 19 of my book, making the case that down to the firm level we need to take inspiration from the late Intel leader Andy Grove, who developed the concept of “Objectives/Key Results” (OKRs). That metric replaced “Management by Objectives” (MOBs), a measurement as outdated for companies as GDP is becoming for nations.

I touch on these last points to take us back to an earlier one, that a new kind of business ethos and operational mentality will be needed to meet the challenges of AI. The Conscious Capitalism movement is only a start, a set of green shoots that give us a look at the future. What will it look like? If the nation-state, with all of its virtues and frailties was born of Renaissance 1.0, we need to set our imaginations to the kind of planetary governance, collaboration, and global abundance that entrepreneurs will and must create in Renaissance 2.0. To be clear, I’m neither anti-government nor against sensible regulation, but government moves linearly as AI moves exponentially.

“We have the potential and the opportunity to do it better,” said Suleyman, sharing his own vision for a better world through AI. If AI delivers on even a fraction of its potential, the next decade is going to be the most productive in human history.”

It won’t be easy or without pitfalls, as Hoffman noted at the end of his conversation with his digital twin: “We have to reconceptulize ourselves as human beings,” he said.

And why not? We did precisely that a half a millenia ago. This time, we’ll reimagine and remake ourselves, our world, and institutions faster, more justly, and more sustainably. We can do this. This is the promise of artificial intelligence, which is best described as “all of us”, as Suleyman said so eloquently at the end of his TED talk.



Brett A. Hurt

CEO and Co-founder,; Co-owner, Hurt Family Investments; Founder, Bazaarvoice and Coremetrics; Henry Crown Fellow; TEDster; Dad + Husband