The Future Is Now: Idris Mootee of urbancoolab On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

50% of business out there is a scam and don’t create customer value. You can find that in financial services when all they do is sell you funds and made commissions but have no value add.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing IDRIS MOOTEE of urbancoolab.

Idris is the co-founder of Urbancoolab, a company focuses on advancing applied AI in computational creativity. Prior to that he was the co-founder and global CEO of Idea Couture for 12 years until the firm was acquired. Idea Couture has built its reputation as the most sought after innovation firm for Fortune 500s with offices in Toronto, San Francisco, London Amsterdam, New York City, Mexico City and Sao Paulo. Idris has a proven executive management track record and over 25 years of experience building business from scratch, he is passionate about building high performance teams to drive product innovation, velocity and scale.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have always looked ahead in imagining about the future. (urbancoolab co-founder) Javier and I would always joke about how machines might eventually take over and how we should start something to advocate for “Machines for Humanity”. In the last five years, I’ve been involved with various Fortune 500s in the application of AI in FinTech and HealthTech was deeply aware of its vast possibilities — as well as its limitations. And during that time, it was common for people to casually throw ideas around how there is an AI solution for all the world’s problems. When Javier returned from London after his computer science studies with a focus AI, we discovered that we had two common interests: Streetwear and AI. And from there the idea was born and we began to design a creative artificial intelligence machine and the first application is streetwear and fashion. And there are many more to come.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

From the start, everything I’ve ever done in my career has been dedicated to innovation. When I co-founded Idea Couture, the global innovation firm that I exited before co-founding urbancoolab, we worked with countless clients including Burberry, Prudential, Pepsi, Nike, and Samsung in conceiving business models focused on strategic foresight. We deployed armies of anthropologists and design thinkers to help them imagine and realize the futures. In 2000, we received calls, averaging once each month to ask us to help. And the brief was somehow always the same “How can we become Apple?” My answer was also always the same: “Hire Steve Jobs”. People think there is a magic formula, but in reality, everyone has to chart and find its own path in order to succeed.

Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Urbancoolab’s mission is to employ machine intelligence toward various aspects of the creative fields. Because it is involved with creativity, the recurring theme around the concept is that it will somehow take away human jobs. But that’s really mostly a myth. Yes, there are industries in which automation can replace certain operational procedures but new jobs will inevitably be created. The renowned computer scientist Kai Fu Lee’s is convinced that given AI’s limitations when it comes to performing humanistic tasks — tasks that are personal, creative, and compassionate — these are the jobs that will be safe from displacement. But this too may not entirely be true either.

Right now, we are pushing true creative collaborations between Humans and AI Machines. It is not the scenarios that one is the master and the other becomes the tool. The biggest limitation is subjectivity. How can machines perform subjective mapping between senses and sensual qualities to illustrate the dynamics between computing and consciousness? It is unknown how our senses (e.g., vision, audio and olfactory) are translated into subjective human feelings and emotional responses that lead to creative outcomes. One scenario is that our machine will be able to translate visuals and sounds (and we’re already doing that), but the emotional responses we are getting from it might not be the same as they might be for humans. Either way it is a breakthough. And we can argue for another 50 years whether machine art is art or machine feelings are feelings because, clearly, we haven’t arrived at any consensus about what constitutes as art and which feelings are valid.

How do you think this might change the world?

We are optimistic that there is a version of the future in which humans and machines live, work, co-create and even play side by side. For instance, we enjoy driving a lot but there are times when we may wish the machine can self-drive, because we need a power nap or make a video call. We enjoy cooking a lot and there are times some of us would rather the AI kitchen can decide and cook something while we are finishing up work.

Most designers enjoy and take pride in the process of design creation but I’m sure there are days when they might wish that there was a machine that can help in extending an idea and iterating on it while they are doing what humans do, whether it’s socializing or tending to their families. We are figuring out how humans can take advantage of that human x AI collaboration possibilities. This is how we look at it, at urbancoolab, we believe human and machines together can co-create. We believe companies that can use such potentials are best positioned for success.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Any technology has its drawbacks even things we create to be good for us — such as medications with potential side effects. The idea is to learn, understand, know, and anticipate these unintended consequences. Sometimes, technology can move at a pace when it becomes difficult too fast to predict what’s next, this may be especially true with regards to changes in human behavior. For us, the drawback is the standards of design will be raised to levels where it will be much harder to surpass them. Think about photography today. Whereas before you had to really know how to calibrate your camera’s settings in order to take a good photograph now anyone can take a reasonably good image with the right phone and thus it’s become really challenging to make a living out of it.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

There was no actual tipping point. It is not like one day the big idea dropped onto us. We have been working on this for three years and every week we perform new experimentation and taking small steps. It was through a long process of trial and error and testing hypotheses that got us here.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

Leonardo da Vinci drew up plans for an armored humanoid machine in 1495. Engineer Mark Rosheim has created a functional miniature version for NASA to help colonize Mars. Robots will soon be just appliances for every home. AI will be embedded in every system. Creative intelligence will achieve mass adoption once we start to move beyond designing garments to making sneakers to producing food. It comes down to how fast we can collect enough datasets that powers an AI.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

We are doing all kinds of experimental projects to bring collaboration to a truly authentic level, instead of companies simply snapping their logos together. We are creating collections with brands that will never work together and see how an AI can do it if it is able to get into the “minds” of those designers/brands. Can you imagine Ferrarri collaborates with Porsche? Or Nike collaborate with Adidas? We are hoping these projects will get people excited about the possibilities as well in the exceptional capabilities of our AI.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people that I am grateful to during my career and it is almost too many to mention. That list is long. People of extraordinary vision put a lot of faith in what I do because all the work that I’ve done are uncharted territory. That includes this company that I co-founded. I guess I am destinated for this kind of work. But of course I couldn’t have done this without all the people who’ve been on this journey with us in making this a reality.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have codified what I’ve learned, and the same program I designed and taught at Harvard Graduate School of Design, and published it into the book “Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business Or Design School” eight years ago in multiple languages. I believe by sharing my IP to the business world will improve the strategic and critical thinking power of any typical business school student by ten times over. I want to make that available to anyone for free in the future. The world needs more design thinkers and not people who solve one problem by creating another one.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

50% of business out there is a scam and don’t create customer value. You can find that in financial services when all they do is sell you funds and made commissions but have no value add.

50% of business out there are operating on an expired business model. Think about auto insurance and when you won’t be the driver anymore, so it will be Tesla or Google.

50% of customer out there have no idea what they want. As they say ask people what they want for their horse carriages, they’d a faster horse. But one wanted a car. No one wanted a self-driving car.

50% of all large companies simply cannot innovate they way into the future. They have too much vested interests in the past. Think Kodak as a chemical company and never wanted digital to work even they invested the first digital camera.

50% of business successful was lucky accident. Yes hard work was put in but it was not the intended application. The microwave began its lifecycle as a military device. Raytheon engineer Percy Spencer was trying to find a better way to detect enemy planes in World War II and accidentally that microwaves radiating from the device he was working on had melted the candy bar in his pocket.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think our culture is in danger. We are constantly being programmed by media. Mass media used to be influenced by culture. Culture provides media with sources for content and now it is the other way around. Media (social media and TV shows) accelerates how pop culture is consumed and influences everyone and unfortunately the loudest noise and are those that are further amplified. What we need now is a resistance to a trigger down culture and empowering micro culture to flourish again. That would be the kind of movement that I hope we can also inspire with our work at urbancoolab.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

As a career strategist I used to tell people this: “Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco” — which is a metaphoric way of saying that things don’t always turn out as planned. You can only plan so much and modelling becomes a waste of time. These days I remind people of the prove I learned from my time in Tibet — “You are the sky. Everything else — it’s just the weather.” Be the sky!

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Creative singularity is here. Creativity is what will power our future. Creative machines are part of that new future and that’s what we are building towards.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

On Instagram, they can follow us on @urbancoolab_ or @idriscouture

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

Thanks for having me

The Future Is Now: Idris Mootee of urbancoolab On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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