We’re all trapped – The dark side of the APPOCALYPSE

Today Apple started it’s WWDC17 with a parody of what our modern world might be like if the app store went down. They called it the APPOCALYPSE – It’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it yet. It had a lot of detractors, many for good reason. I’m not even sure if Apple are laughing at us, or haven’t realised the gravity of their proposition? But I think most people missed the dark side of our reality.

We are living deep inside a technology trap. 

In 1978 technology historian James Bourke explained this vital concept with this video. For much of the industrial age we’ve all been living in a world we know little about. We’re all eking out a living via micro specialised gigs which have little to do with sustaining life. If the lights went out, few of us would be able to survive very long on our own. Once the stores are empty, where would we get our food, water, medicine, heating, cooling and other essentials from? Even if we had the skills of a renaissance person, there wouldn’t be enough time to gather the resources needed for mere survival.

But today, we are much deeper in the hole than that. We could, as a pre internet society probably muster up enough people with enough physical skills and knowledge to rebuild a bootstrapped society. But today, much of our critical infrastructure is buried deep inside a technological grid few people understand, and no one understands entirely. We are trapped. In the pre-internet based technology trap, the system wasn’t singular, the traps were at least geographically isolated. Today, they are all inextricably linked.

The most warped thing about this, is that it resides in the hands of a few private global internet giants. Their primary interest is to serve their shareholders, not society or end users. Users being the operative word here, we rely on them like a dealer, we show up for our digital high, just to be able to function on any given day. I’m not sure if calling us users is by design or coincidence, but I’m sure they’ve got the gear and we’ve got little choice but to take it.

This is another reminder that we need greater distribution of wealth and critical digital infrastructure. But the truth is we can’t control this. There is little we can do about it the foibles of the system. But what we can do is invest in ourselves so that we de-risk our own economic future. We can acquire the skills and resources of self reliance. Now more than ever, we can spread our personal financial risk beyond the hands of a single financial overlord – otherwise known as a boss.

If you’re interested in making yourself future proof, come join me in Melbourne on June 20th and get your mind around ‘The Lessons School Forgot’

I’ll be doing a talk on how to hack your way to a radical future, and answer all the questions you might have about finding a path to independence. It’s going to be a great night.

Click here to reserve your Free seat. 

See you then, Steve. 

Why robots should have rights

Up until very recently, I used to think it was a ridiculous idea for robots to have rights. You can even hear me say that on a recent Future Sandwich podcast I was featured in.

But, I’ve changed my mind. And here’s why.

The incredible science fiction TV series Westworld is solely responsible for this change of heart. To avoid spoilers for those who haven’t seen it (and I highly recommend you do), it is set in a time when robots are very much like humans. It reminded me of one important thing: Our own behaviour is the only thing we can truly control. The way we act is all important, and it isn’t just a reflector of the world around us, but ultimately the director. Let’s run a thought experiment and consider a few consequences of robots not having rights:

  • What if robots get to a point where they can actually feel pain?
  • What happens if we can’t tell the difference between a robot? What are we really hurting?
  • What if people merge with certain technologies or robots? Do only certain parts of the ‘thing‘ have rights?
  • What if others own or control software in our bodies? Does the software have rights? Who has the rights over the technology – the host or the licensor?
  • What if some one got tricked to destroy a robot, but then it turned out to be a human?

But most of all, how will disregarding the things around us, impact what we become? We are the sum of our actions, and the truth is our behaviour bleeds into all aspects of our lives and how humanity behaves. If ever there was a time to consider the seemingly ridiculous, then this is it.

During a technology upheaval, where new possibilities astound us, being able to change our minds is something we all need to get better at.

Blog readers in Melbourne – I’m inviting you as a reader to The Lessons School Forgot – Live – to celebrate the launch of my new book. 

Hope to see you there, Steve.

Why you shouldn’t fear a robot version of you

Some robots are getting so ridiculously good – you can literally code, or should I say ‘train‘ them, by moving their arms and legs. You show them what to do like you would a child. The Baxter robot by Rethink Robotics is an example of this pictured above. In addition to this Natural Language Processing is getting so good, the Google AI, can understand 95 percent of verbal requests and process accurate search results as if it was typed. Within 10 years, we’ll be able to talk and communicated with A.I.’s, the same way we could with humans on many tasks.

The obvious next step is to add the 2 together more deliberately – the physical Robot, and the Artificial Intelligence. We’ll have human like devices with both the physical dexterity and mental capacity of their flesh and blood creators. This is causing a lot of concern around the world for employment. Personally I think there is a lot of upside would should be exploring as well.

Imagine, there was a robot that could copy our skills exactly, down to the minute detail. Match our physical behaviours and our human interactions. Learn from us, and literally match the way we would talk, interact, move and decide what to do next. Even match our physical style and processes on the job (without the mishaps!) An artificial version of us. Well, to me this could be a great economic opportunity for many people. Say you work in aged care, or phone sales, and you are of course, a gun at what you do. All of a sudden you could go out and train robots to operate in your personal style – teach the robot your human touch and skills which you have become renowned for within your organisation. All of a sudden you could entrepreneurially replicate yourself for revenue. A human style robot who behaves just like the awesome Lisa has done to be employee of the month a zillion times. All that hard work you’ve done over the years to hone your skills and build your reputation in your job, becomes your opportunity. You can replicate yourself and what makes you special and good at your gig, and become the beneficiary of all your years of hard work.

“I’ve trained and sold 36 Lisa robots this year” 

A revenue source someone waiting tables never thought they’d have. If you think about it, there was a time when musicians and actors never thought they’d be able to replicate their work for revenue either. They too once had to be in the room to earn money doing what they did. Technology it turns out, can be a great equalizer of opportunity.

Blog readers in Melbourne – I’m inviting you as a reader to The Lessons School Forgot – Live – to celebrate the launch of my new book. 

Hope to see you there, Steve. 

The Language of Innovation

In my adult life, I’ve learned to speak two foreign languages. During my studies I came to the conclusion that it is very difficult to truly understand a culture, until you can speak its language(s). There are nuances and belief systems locked inside the words of a culture. The way a culture’s words are put together, how these words translate into actions, what its people believe and even the way they move are locked inside language. This is one of the reasons you can’t just translate phrases, or even some words directly. They need a cultural context to allow true meaning and required action to be drawn from them. It’s a process which has lots of layers, which when understood properly uncovers why different cultures believe different things, have different values, behave in unique ways and mostly go about things in a way which is, well foreign. Language and culture mirror each other.

Learning how to change, innovate and survive under a new technological regime is a lot like learning a new language.

For more than 10 years I’ve been out in the market learning and speaking our new business language, that of the accelerating technology economy.  Espousing that the era of stability is over and that there is a bunch of new tools and methods which not only circumvent industrial strategies, but are part of a permanent cultural shift in business. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

There are 3 clear stages that are recognisable parts to a successful transition.

Noticing the new language – We hear a bunch of words which are different. What seem like mere sounds and accents just washing over us gradually become more familiar. We see a smaller cohort speaking this new language in more and more places until we notice that it isn’t just different, but something different is happening around and to the people who speak this language. It is generating attention from outsiders and the language seems to have some advantages. Advantages that only those who speak it seem to understand and have access to. The initial recognition of this difference is first part of any change process. We must not only admit that we don’t understand it and that it’s not going to go away. But we must also be curious enough not to ignore it, but to dig deeper into it.

Understand the meaning – Next we must try and learn the new language. We have to study it, observe and listen, then try to speak it. We must learn the meaning inside the words – the foreign ‘culture’ it represents. This part isn’t just a translation process, it’s more about experimenting with the words until it becomes a physical response. A key part of this process is watching the body language and verbal language interact. Once we really understand the language, we understand its context and what makes it work. Understanding a language just little can bring about many positive changes and new actions. But it is a game of frequency and practice. To know it, we can’t just study it. We have to use it in non-classroom environments, in real life where mistakes can happen. We must converse with others who only speak that language. If we only practice with others who speak our mother tongue as well, we won’t really learn – we’ll always revert to what is more comfortable. Actions don’t just speak louder than words – they are the purpose of them.

Living the language – This is where most struggle.  At this point, we understand it well enough. We know enough to communicate and get inside the culture. But here we face a choice on whether we want to adopt it. To use it. To become at one with the language. Unless we decide to live the language, it will never be an automatic reaction and allow us to interact in its world without thinking. This is the chasm most never cross, because here’s where it goes beyond learning and becomes more about changing.

If you go back and read through the 3 steps again and think about disruptive technology or business innovation, you’ll see they are the same thing. The reasons most large companies, and people with established stable career skills struggle to adapt to innovations is because they are not prepared to live it. Mostly they want to learn a few words, be able to order a sandwich and introduce themselves, but mostly they’d prefer to just speak and act the way they always have. It’s usually window dressing. They don’t truly believe in it and they want to maintain their current culture. We’ll never truly innovate speaking an outdated language, or more precisely, living in an outmoded culture. We must immerse fully and leave the past behind.

For a company, and even a country, we’ll only ever be future-proof once we are so immersed in the language of innovation that we develop our own slang, dialect and accent with it. This is not easy. It’s a radical and permanent shift. Ask anyone who moved to a new land and had to learn to speak all over again.

Just remember this, if you don’t like change – you’re really going to hate irrelevance.

Blog readers in Melbourne – I’m inviting you as a reader to The Lessons School Forgot – Live – to celebrate the launch of my new book. 

Hope to see you there, Steve. 

How technology can disrupt a Government.

Globally it seems like isolationist policies creeping into the western world. I thought it would be worth exploring something most people tend to forget. Any government is only all powerful as long as the system it operates under is stable, and the people allow it to continue to control its market.
A Government is just like a business. It has services, it sells products, it own facilities, it builds infrastructure, manufacturers things, it has employees and managers and an executive team and even a quasi CEO. And of course it has revenue sources, mostly taxes, but some revenue from its non loss leading ventures. It also has customers (the tax payers) who, like all customers like to reduce the cost of dealing with the ‘business of Government’. They will minimise their tax, and avoid non-essential expenditure. And just like all customers they expect a lot in the modern age. While the government is a monopoly in most of its realms, what if technology could assist us to ‘go around it’? Could a Government be disrupted, in a non military, non-coup kind of way? I say yes.  We’ve seen industrial businesses go broke like Kodak and entire industries brought to their knees by emerging technology, such as the music industry, so how could it have a similar effect on the Government?
It is important here we remember new technology has historically changed the fortunes of entire countries and empires. Empires got raided by countries with better technology (South America) and shipping put England, France and the Dutch in dominant positions pre industrial mercantile / colonial era.
Gov spotlight
Here’s a few areas smart Governments ought be paying attention to, right now. We are on the precipice of exponential change in the systems they have relied upon for centuries, some revenue sources are about to crumble.
Digital Residency – Estonia now allows people to become virtual citizens. A citizen who economically can participate in their economy, without having a physical presence in the market. While this seems super radical, it is in hindsight, inevitable. What we’ve seen on a corporate and industry scale, is very likely to translate into a logical step for nation states.  This residency allows banking, business, trading as if a citizen, all using web based technology. By doing so Estonia will attract money from overseas without human movement. The start of the location independence for humans. This is an important and significant change in the global citizen landscape. For the first time mere humans may be able to shift their income to offshore low taxation markets, just like multinational corporations. By enabling entrepreneurs, freelancers and new web based business people, this could change the fortunes of countries in ways we are unable to yet imagine.
Post Fiat Currency – At a time when it seems that Europe is losing its nerve, and the Euro is in doubt, Bitcoin will continue its march to fill the void and become the first sans nation state currency since gold. An untraceable digital currency can circumvent the ability for any government to tax earnings if the owner is invisible. Businesses increasing acceptance of bitcoin, and the benefits it bestows upon emerging economies means it will eventually take hold, a bit like the internet did. What’s amazing about Bitcoin is that allows low cost international transfer and storage of money independent of any Government. It’s potential for tax base erosion can not be underestimated.
The end of petrol cars – The money many Governments receive through fuel excise is about to evaporate. Now that all electric cars are closing in on petrol car for both price to buy and range of KM’s travelled per charge – people will quickly transition all electric options. This is also inevitable because the cost of the petrol, people currently pay for, will be enough money to make the payments for a new car. The choice consumers will face is spending the same amount of money each week and keep the old car, or, to spend the same amount of money each week and have a new electric car. It’s easy to see this will cause a rapid changeover. Electric cars only cost around $2.50 to charge – and many car companies like Telsa provide charging for free. This means the Australian Government will lose around $20 billion in excise very quickly if they do not move to a per KM tracking model.
Coal has a few short years left – Solar is on the precipice of eclipsing all fossil fuels for power generation. Many solar systems can now generate electricity end to end lower than around 7c per KwH, which is the average cost of coal generated electricity. Some solar facilities are getting as low as 3c per KwH. This means coal will no longer be relevant and go the way of the CD, dumb phone or film camera. On top of this, solar improves efficiency by about 25% every doubling of manufacturing capacity – it’s called Swanson’s Law and our entire world will be run on solar by about 2025 based on the current technology trajectory. The Australian Government will lose billions in yellow cake royalties as well. The Sun is ‘free’ and provides enough energy to earth in 1 hour to power all of humanities needs for a year. Now that we are learning to use it, we are about to enter the post fossil fuel era. Advances in AI, will only accelerate the learning curve. Coal is 4% of NSW state budget and 2% of Qld – A little under $2B in royalties per annum for national Gov. This isn’t an “if”, it’s more a matter of when. Great for humanity, bad for government – let’s hope our incentives aren’t replaced with taxes or we’ll end up with the first real version of daylight robbery!
Education will be free – Few people in my country are aware that education is a top five export for Australia contributing more than $20b a year to our economy. MOOCS courses (Free Uni courses) will upend the Higher Education bubble and save people the need to invest $100-$200K for a degree, which we’ll all be to get free, from Harvard! This means it wont be long before the educational bubble bursts. The overseas students will go on line to ‘more reputable Universities to any in Australia’. Already leading edge employers are taking notice and care less about formal qualifications and more about ‘work completed and informal qualifications’, the MOOCs will expedite this process leaving non ivy league educational institutions wondering what happened.
Antitrust Chicanery – Not since Standard Oil (which controlled 88% of oil flow in the USA in 1890) have we seen such domination of industries. Powerful companies are tricking Governments to maintain inordinate levels industry control. Many Monopolists abusing market power as they literally own the new digital infrastructure or ‘meta structure’ but claim their business is less powerful because their revenue is not related to their core consumer benefit. I call this the related revenue realm. For example Google claims it’s in the advertising business where they have a single digit market share, yet they are really in the search business of which they have around 80% share in most markets. However, because they get revenue from advertising they get away with running a monopoly. They should be split up. The same can be said for Facebook today and possibly Amazon in a near tomorrow.
The future is freelance – As technology reduces the friction of contract work, more companies and workers will move to mutually profitable freelance arrangements. For governments this means their income tax gets collected later. It is also collected at lower rates if people take advantage of the potential company tax structure available as independent workers. This is a 15% revenue loss from conversions (Our highest tax revenue category is PAYE in Australia). It’s foreseeable that a company in the near future will have exactly zero employees with thousands of people working for them as freelancers. Once every individual operates under a company structure, it becomes much harder for a government to differentiate tax rates and give advantage to the so called corporate employment providers. The gig is nearly up on differentiated tax rates if the Government wants to maintain income tax revenue.
While this blog post is already quite a tome, we could add the impact of Facebook not taking responsibility for what it advertises – read here fake news – which only happens when governments let it get away with it, or want it?
We could also add the impact of outdated election voting structures which, lets face it could be entirely re-imagined if an actual ‘leader’ emerged and had the guts try and change it. This makes me wonder why the Australian Gov is about to waste $160m on a plebiscite when we could ask directly using digital tools with an app all voters have access to? Maybe it will take tax revenue erosion before the wastage we see in Government today gets addressed?
But hey, all this is common sense, and the problem is, it isn’t very common these days.

Little Data – Insurance, finance and digital footprints

data

General Thesis:

Cheap technology is changing everything. There’s a deluge of data being created by all economic participants. But, this time buyers, sellers and employers all participate and have access. It’s no longer just top down business infrastructure, but quickly becoming horizontal. Access is now greater than ownership. This means that in a data driven economy, areas that previously did not affect insurance and finance industries are starting to. Their biggest competitors in 5 years is more likely to come from outside their industry, as is of course any new revenue opportunities. The world in 20/20 will be one which is open source, built by crowd dynamics, collaborative, and all about the leverage of new data points created by businesses and their customers.

Specifically these changes are framed by (but not limited to) the following technologies:

Internet of Things: A world filled with traceable devices, which are added to all products and services experiences, because the technology costs are so low, they are cheaper than the packaging they come in (a few cents). By 20/20 18 billion consumer goods will be connected to the internet of things which dwarfs the internets current 3 billion human connections. This will allow insurers and consumers to de-risk and reduce cost of helping each other in a quantifiable world.

Quantified Self Movement & Gamification: Consumer are starting to use smart devices to track their human behaviour and gamify their lives to a more healthy and abundant lifestyle. Brands who participate and facilitate this movement will become indispensable partners in improved living standards in our post consumption, experiential economy.

Data Driven Insurance: Real Data versus Actuarial Estimations will change the approach to costing all forms of finance and insurance. Traditional actuarial models will be disrupted as real data replaces traditional demographic profiling of risk.

Big data & Little Data: People are starting to realise the power and economic value of their personal ‘little data’.  Entrepreneurial innovators will assist the ‘everyman’ to take control of the digital footprint and help them leverage it as an economic currency, just like we do today with our social media followings. Little data will become our personal asset and the panacea the our current privacy concerns.

Crowd Powered Finance: How powered low cost technology is empowering entrepreneurs and consumers to innovate outside of the traditional finance system. We are quickly entering Sans Nation State financial services era – that is, monetary systems without a global or national control. Innovations like Crytpo Currencies, Peer to Peer lending, the Crowd Funding will be in full force by 20/20 with disruptive potential for the traditional financial systems. A fast forward repeat of what we have seen in the media industry as the move towards a decentralised economy continues.

All these innovations are yet to be dominated by an single player, in one sense, it is the start of the start as we move beyond the social era of the internet economy, to the connection era where technology envelopes itself in every industry, not just industries whose output lives on a screen. The game is open, and future is bright for those who embrace the change. And as always, it’s not about being a technologist, but understanding how the tech can be used. And then organising and collaborating with others to make it happen.