But what will the robots want?

The exponential improvement of robotics is astounding. This dancing robot from Boston Dynamics is making me wonder if they should be called CyberDyne Systems! But, what if the robots do get as ‘human’ as many technologists are predicting? What if the robots move far beyond computation, dexterity and into the realms of emotion, intuition, creativity and other human characteristics? Will they destroy us or will something more interesting happen?

There is a non zero probability that robots with emotions will lose their hard edge for efficiency and non-stop labour. If robots become sentient, which is the main fear, then just maybe they’ll be more interested in their own well being than destroying their creators? When we remember that we’ve designed Artificial Intelligence in our own image, both physically and intellectually – then it is possible that we’ve also built in a bias for them to mimic us emotionally too.

  • Maybe they’ll demand wages, annual leave, holidays and rest time?
  • Maybe they’ll build communities and domiciles and reshape their physical surrounds to suit them?
  • Robots may want to have life partners and give birth to progeny by downloading combined algorithms into their ‘children’.
  • They might become interested in weird forms of entertainment and sport, and themselves become consumers who make and sell things in the market?
  • Maybe they’ll hire other robots (or humans?) to do tasks for them if they are rich robots working in a profitable industry?

If the bots become more human like, then we have to consider the chance that they too will have imperfections, their own desires and be by driven by things beyond mere survival. A future world may even have its share of unemployed, lazy robots too.

I know this sounds crazy. But technology so often takes an unexpected turn. At the dawn of the internet many of us thought it was the end of lying. We thought that the digital truth would reign supreme as fact checking was just a few clicks away, and not hidden in some dusty library. And we all know how that turned out.

In a world where technology astounds us, it makes sense to imagine equally unlikely outcomes and scenarios when considering future possibilities. In the future, one of the most valuable assets we can hold, will be an open mind.

Finding your future

We see what we look for. When it comes to our future, we choose whether or not we see opportunity or impending economic apocalypse. It’s a lot like an old investing maxim: The investment opportunity of a lifetime comes around about once a week, but only once you start looking for it.

This week I showed my children this video from many years ago – it’s a test:

You have to count how many time the players wearing white pass the basketball >

Watch it before you read on. Click here.

Very few people pass the test. (FYI – I didn’t and I even thought it was a trick video the first time I watched it!)

Which is the same problem most people and companies face during technological disruption. Our perception of what to look for is focused on the wrong thing. The future is right in front of us, the impending changes are mostly obvious – yet we don’t see them. It’s because we’ve been indoctrinated to see yesterday. To manage the way things were, rather than where they might go. But once you start looking for what’s next, positive opportunities are everywhere, and it becomes impossible to not see them.

Imagine you’re a professional driver of some sort. Understandably, you’d be worried about autonomous cars taking away your income. But this shift, will provide more opportunities for new income and industries than it removes. Firstly, what’s stopping an uber driver buying their own fleet of driverless cars to go out and earn money for them? But outside of driving many new industries will emerge;

  • On board logistics and customer service managers of trucks.
  • Rolling Commerce (r-commerce) now that our attention can be off the road.
  • Car fit outs to make them personalised and comfy with business class style beds ‘Pimp my driverless’.
  • Driverless delivery pick up bays in supermarkets and shopping centres.
  • Child minding for rich kids being transported in their own autonomous vehicle.
  • Night time car wash services in empty car parks overnight – the car dries itself over to get a clean – forget the coffee stop car wash – stay in bed instead.
  • Data and hacking insurance broking in case autonomous cars get unexpectedly commandeered.
  • Independent blockchain powered auto-courier services via your own autonomous car.

The list is really endless. Most of these ideas aren’t about technology either – they’re about organising the new factors of production. Creating new value from the opportunities the technology itself presents.

To invent a positive future for yourself – we just need to open our minds and our eyes. Start looking for the opportunities. The questions we should be asking ourselves might include:

Where might my industry go? What skill sets might I be able to pivot off? What new opportunities will emerge from the changes?

If you want to be the architect of your own future, it’s mostly about attitude and looking on purpose.

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If you liked this post, you’ll love my latest book – check it out. 

Your data, your asset

Large corporations are currently walking over each others’ faces to gather data on us. Who can blame them – the biggest and most profitable companies in the world specialise in it. They see data as an inevitable asset class, one they can plunder. But that’s all about to change.

Personal Customer Data will very quickly move from being an asset to a liability. We haven’t seen it yet, but coming soon a courtroom nearby will be ‘data litigation’ cases. Think multi-billion dollar court settlements for lax protections and real physical consequences of data misuse. We’ll see corporations hit by both governments and citizens. The technology needed solve the data problem couldn’t come at a better time – yep, here I go again espousing the virtues of blockchain. But this thing is as real as the promise of the internet was. Just like the dot com boom, blockchain will misfire and take a little while to sort out the tech shortcomings, but it will be as big as promised. It is filled with opportunities to literally turn the data business upside down.

The problem of course has always been that while our data isn’t worth much in isolation – a few dollars per user per quarter – it is worth a lot when it gets aggregated by a single firm like Facebook. Many applications in the social media realm like steem.io are creating social platforms where we will own and control our data. Steem might end up as the Friendster or Myspace of blockchain social, but the shift is big, and it goes a little something like this:

In the future, we’ll be able to sell our data to corporations. Those who currently buy advertising, based on our data, will eventually pay us directly instead of some intermediary. Let’s take banking as an example. Currently banks invest millions per month trying to reach people who might require finance for a new home. They use services like Facebook and Google to see who’s posting about open houses, having garage sales or maybe just had babies – social triggers that locate their best potential target audience. But for every hundred or so people the reach, they do business with only one. While the cost of advertising in digital is cheaper and more targeted than TV and outdoor, the cost per acquisition of a new home loan is still very high –  few thousand dollars minimum. Imagine instead us allowing banks ‘rent a data key’ off us directly for a few hundred dollars. With all our relevant financial, employment, living expenses and other anonymised data. Banks who want our business pay us directly for the privilege of access to customers with real intent instead employing a digital dragnetCompeting banks then put an algorithm to task to come back with their best offer for a loan. We get paid via our data to choose a bank to do business with. It will be cheaper for the banks. It will be profitable and painless for us. All the while the data more accurate as it is promulgated via a blockchain. Banks would only need to pay for data sold by customers who actually take out a loan, via a time-sensitive smart contract. This way the process maintains integrity. And boom, just like that, a great data reversal has occurred.

It’s possibilities like this that get me excited about the emerging blockchain era – it seems it is possible to get the internet we always dreamed of. Now it’s time for us to get building the world we want to live in.

What data and fences have in common

We’ve entered the age of the Data Imperialist. New world powers are taking resources before those handing them over have realised what is happening. Once again, it seems that the future is repeating the past.

Most things we value economically in the modern economy are quite far removed from real needs. We invent new asset classes that are things we don’t really need – unlike food, shelter, medicine and education. Where it gets tricky is when something which was once free, fluid and unencumbered gets claimed by a commercial interest. When it does happen though, the pattern is always the same.

  • Those it gets taken from don’t understand the ‘market value’ of what is being taken
  • It gets taken by using tools the others haven’t got.

Into this category we can put land, gold, oil and now we can add data.

Think back to when imperialists sailed to far off lands to plunder the resources from traditional owners. They put fences around things. A fence to someone who’d never seen one would seem like a very strange idea. The mere concept of anyone actually owning land unheard of in many cultures. There’s no value in a fence because no one can own the land! But of course, those who trespassed or tried to access the now fenced off resource were met with gunpowder – a tool the victims didn’t have access to, let alone grasp its power at first.

Online privacy and security are a lot like this. We’ve literally allowed the data imperialists to put a data fence around our lives. While we have known for a long time that knowledge is power, few people in the past 20 years have truly understood how much information we’re really handing over, and the many ways it can be leveraged economically. They, like the conquistadors before them, took it from us before we realised and they too did it with tools we didn’t understand.

Their favourite hack – hiding the truth in 20,000 word long legalese designed to obfuscate. Oh, and they offered us the sugar hit of emotional candy along the way so we could all ‘connect’ on-line – as if that wasn’t already possible with the old school internet. They’ve successfully stooged us out of the most important resource in the emerging economy – data. Henry Ford and his factory friends pulled the same trick on us 100+ years ago when he convinced us to trade in our artisanal skills and independence for highly paid piece labour. Privacy and security are the workplace health and safety of the digital era. The data wars are only just starting and we’ve got to fight back. But how?

Here’s a few ideas to get us started:

  1. Remember everything digital is traceable and on file, forever. There is no anonymity. Never put anything online you wouldn’t want on the front page of a newspaper.
  2. Don’t be platform lazy. Yeah, I know it’s easier to connect on social media platforms… but go direct when possible. Talk on the phone, get your own email client, text – heck, get some analogue FaceTime happening.
  3. Data is labour. We need to socialise the idea that our data should be our personal copyright. Corporations should be renting from us. We created it, we ought own it and it is an own-able resource – if we will it to be.
  4. We have to put our hands up high on what we won’t accept. Data breaches are unacceptable and we should punish platforms with serious consequences – and make sure it’s as unacceptable as pollution and unsafe work practices.
  5. We need to push our Governments to embrace blockchain technology and crypto-economics to enable valued, yet safe, use of data. We need to push them to protect us and our data when they have access to it and protect us from corporations who are data deceivers.

Data like any asset can and should be used for good – where the benefits are shared and protected by those whom create it.  And this is why Blockchain is the most important technology of the past 20 years. It makes the above things possible. And let’s never forget this – our Governments are no different to School yards. It’s a popularity contest. They do what gets them voted back in. What this means is that all we have to do is make these ideas popular.

Steve.

The Blockchain Evolution

New technology often goes through a hype cycle, but few get get hyped more than Blockchain. I imagine most of my readers are across it, if not, I wrote a blockchain 101 article you can read in 2 minutes flat. Now, I’ll put my hand up high, and admit right here and now that I’m a true believer. Before I tell you why, the image below is the reason I decided to write this.

I notice this image on Linkedin – it was posted by someone in an industry poised to benefit significantly from the technology. What astounded me was the absolutism of the statement. Even if a technology doesn’t emerge, it’s a far more useful life and business strategy to have an open mind to new possibilities.

There’s 3 simple reasons I think Blockchain will become a vital layer in our lives.

(1) It solves a real problem: It allows us to transmit things of value (like currency) without making a copy and removes the need for traditional intermediaries. We can finally trade with each other online using cryptography to create trust and transparency/anonymity.

(2) The technology has proven use cases: It has already been proven to ‘work‘ with crypto currencies. While it faces technology hurdles including excessive energy usage, a poor user experience and slow transaction speed – these are problems many similar technologies, like the early internet faced as well. Dial-up internet anyone?

(3) There’s a huge amount of financial and human capital going into it: The sheer investment of intellectual capacity and money flowing into the space almost guarantees that problems with it will be solved and new ways of employing the technology will be found.

In fact, that’s how it always happens. Cars today are very different from cars in 1920. The internet is a very different beast today compared to when we browsed on Netscape. And it’s always the three factors above which are required to keep a new technology from disappearing.

Blockchain isn’t Blockchain, rather, it will become something somewhat different from what we see and experience now. With the prize so big – it has potential to topple some of the worlds biggest industries, and so many people engaged in inventing the desired functionality, we can be certain it won’t go away. Historically, making a technology work smoothly is where the biggest financial wins usually come from.

 

Why E-Sports might just help your career

“Hey kids, get out inside out of that fresh air, stop exercising and start playing some video games why don’t you!” – Said no parent ever, maybe they should?

On my weekly radio spot this week I spoke about video games, or E-sports as it’s known. I proposed that gaming is a valid use of kids spare time, and could even help them in later life and their careers. My mum, with good intentions hated my going to the ‘dodgy’ video arcade, and later despised the time I spent gaming on my TRS-80 (yes my dude was a block, but I have a good imagination). But, it did lead me to a lifetime of interest in technology, and now that’s become a career. Occasionally we need to open our minds enough so that we can reframe an outdated perception. And maybe even back it up with some facts, so here’s a few about the E-Sports industry worth considering:

Economics: Video game sales (think hardware and software) is more than twice the size of the movie industry world wide. it will near $130 billion in 2018. The Pro E-Sports industry is estimated to be $1.5 billion this year with over $100 million in prize money, and has over 385 million annual viewers. Yes – people watching people play video games – both on line and live. In fact, the biggest ever crowd at a video game tournament was 52,000 people in a stadium in Germany.

Careers: There is currently 13,000+ professional E-Sports players. While the average annual pay packet is relatively small at $4500 a year, the top player earnings are right up there with with more traditional sports. Kuro Takhasomi took home a handy $3.5m last year and more than 200 players earned more the $100,000 for playing ‘games’.

Skills: Like any sport, there’s a natural hierarchy and not all hopefuls will make it to the elite level. Though, there is something different about E-Sports – they prepare us for the emerging world in ways few traditional sports can. Studies show they are good for rapid problem solving, brain speed, memory, algorithm awareness and management and even fine motor skills. They’ve been used to train soldiers, pilots, surgeons and it’s fair to assume their use in pre-career simulations, will continue and even extend through the use of VR and AR.

In any case, it does seem that the correlation between gamers and a desire to learn the underpinning technology is high. Surely this gives gamers an advantage in future proof technological career paths.

Social: When I mention to people I regard E-Sports as a ‘real sport’ it is often met with scepticism, and even ridicule. At which time I often remind people how ridiculous grown ups chasing dead animals filled with air to kick them through big white sticks is. All games are silly by definition, and they often take generations on the fringe before they enter mainstream culture. But after a couple of generations of computer games, I feel we are on the precipice of that shift right now. The spectator side of the industry is real, and will have wider career and industry opportunities than many people imagine.

So is it a sport? Well that depends on how you view things. Here’s one definition of Sport: “An activity involving physical exertion or skill in which an individual or team compete against one another or for others entertainment.” It fits as far as I can tell. And if you’re worried it will make society more obese than it already is, don’t fret too much. It’s only a matter of time before these games involve players in haptic suits running around on fields shooting up people somewhere on the other side of the globe.

Click here to here me discuss Gaming on 3Aw with Tom Elliot. And be sure to tune in at 4.30pm every Monday for your Future Fix.

Go play, Steve. 

Why we need to rebuild the internet

In life and in business I believe in a few guiding principles. Two I like in particular are very common across cultures:

  1. Create more value than you extract.
  2. Treat people the way you’d like to be treated.

I imagine everyone reading this would agree. Now let’s consider this juxtaposition:

What a CEO says: “We want to build a more open and connected society”

What a CEO does: Buy the 4 houses surrounding his in order to protect his own privacy.

Someone who sells privacy for a living, often without permission and tricks his customers into giving up more than they understand, wants to protect his own. The fact that I don’t need to mention the person’s name is telling. Well, you might say it’s not a fair comparison between how someone behaves in their digital and offline lives. Fair call, but consider the fact that up until last week the person in question could delete private messages from another person’s private inbox, after the messages had been sent to and received by the other party. A privacy feature he wasn’t generous enough to give to his users. Oh, by the way, I can think of another industry where ‘dealers’ call their customers ‘users’. We both get our minds messed with in ways we can’t understand and end up addicted and worse off.

It’s a well known technological trope that data is the new gold, an entirely new class of asset. And that’s where the problem lies. This asset class is so new, few people understand it. We could liken this to the age of discovery when imperialists took control of abundant natural resources, resources which were viewed by the conquered as something no one could really own or control.

The net result is that the greatest wealth creation event in the history of humanity. The Internet has resulted in a massive centralisation and control, and spawned the era of the data imperialist. Even those who understood the power of data have far less chance of leveraging it on their own, because of the dramatic impact of network effects, and zero cost digital transfers both have in creating a winner takes all economy. To quantify: the net worth of the 4 founders of the top 3 technology companies since the dot com era have a collective net worth of $281 billion dollars as of today.

The internet needs saving.

What started out in all probability as altruism – the dream of a free web funded by advertising, has become a nightmare panopticon and it’s time we pushed back. Hard.

Technology stalwart and all round good guy Jaron Lanier says we can no longer call these companies Social Networks, but ‘Behaviour Modification Empires’. Services which use algorithms to make us stay longer by giving us sugar hits of fear, jealously and other powerful negative emotions. Lanier also says that we can’t have a society where if two people want to communicate, it can only happen if it is financed by a 3rd party or corporation selling advertising. It’s worth investing 15 minutes of your time to hear him talk about it here.

But I will add a little more to his talk… the missing piece.  Personally, I hope Facebook isn’t fixed. It’s only when something stays broken that we get a chance to put something better in its place. For me that would be a social network that no one owns or controls – something funded by the people using it, without a financial corporate imperative shaping our most valued human asset – our interactions.

We need each other, Steve.