Why we need to stop using the word Job

With every single policy statement of our, and any democratic Government, I can tell you what the proposed objective of every single one of them will be:

Jobs & Growth.

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For me, it is heartbreaking to hear this mantra still being chanted as some kind of plan for the future, especially given the industrial age is officially over. We don’t need to provide people with jobs – we need to provide them with the tools and skills of adaptation, because increasingly, jobs will have shorter and shorter life cycles.

The era of lifelong jobs, lifelong careers or life long anything is over. Quite frankly, jobs are not the solution. We are very quickly evolving into an economy driven by independent actors, attracting revenue from multiple sources. In the future, everyone will become ‘Projecteers’. We are already starting to shift inside and outside of companies, providing skills for projects. The best way to de-risk anything financial is to have many sources of revenue – not just one, which is what a job is. Having a job is the riskiest financial strategy anyone can have. Anyone who wants to thrive in the new economy needs to be totally self-reliant.

The good news? It has never been a better time in history to get on the path to independence. To learn and to reinvent ourselves. The first thing we need to do in every industrialised economy is remove the word ‘job’ from our collective parlance. This word is responsible for limiting the possibilities of millions of people – it steals from the breadth of possibility. It says: be subservient to someone else. It says:

  • Let someone else provide opportunities for you.
  • Let someone else decide what you’re worth.
  • Let someone else decide if you’re qualified.
  • Let someone else decide if they need you.
  • Let someone else decide when to replace you with Artificial Intelligence.

The list is endless, but the point is that it outsources responsibility to an economic machine we have no control over. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the government came out and said, “We are going to make it easier than ever to start a business”?

A better approach to life is to think in terms of Revenue – how much do I need, where can I get it and what value can I create for others so I can get my fair share. Everyone’s economic future is not based on the job they have, but the revenue they create for themselves. And the government…well, they just want tax payers and centralised simplicity where they give large corporations what they want so long as they provide jobs for tax payers. We all deserve more than that. We deserve an independent future where the government provides resources for people to invent new industries and revenue streams for a modern economy. We deserve new systems that enable nimble skill providers to adapt to what the economy and businesses need. Jobs are something people had when Henry Ford ran the show, and the last time I looked… Ford wasn’t a company anyone revered.

If you like this kind of thinking about the future, then I’d highly recommend reading my new book – The Lessons School Forgot. You can download the first chapter here free. It’s out in June and is a manifesto on how to financially future-proof your life in a rapidly changing world.

We need to open up the digital black box

Imagine for a moment you bought something at the supermarket, a packaged food you intend to eat and it didn’t have an ingredient list, let alone a nutrition panel. You’d think twice about consuming it wouldn’t you? In the early days of packaged foods this was the way things were. It was exactly as explained – we had no ideas what was in the box. Before the early 20th century food and medicine we consumed was a total crap shoot. There were literally no regulations, or information as to what we were all consuming if it wasn’t in its raw form. Eventually, we collectively decided this wasn’t good enough.

Boxes filled with secret ingredients, sometimes dangerous ones, developed by the manufacturers so they could sell more and keep it shelf stable longer, were marketed as natural and safe. Quite often the labelling on food and medicines was down right dangerous. The changes didn’t come easy though, manufacturers (Coca Cola, Kelloggs, Phillip Morris, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, Nestle to name a few) not only sought to mislead to sell more, but often claimed the ingredients in the box were some kind of trade secret that, were valid in a capitalist society. A black box of secrets? –  Sounds a little like something that is going on today doesn’t it?

mind control

Everything we consume in digital form today comes with its own secret set of ingredients. We are ingesting information into our minds that might shape our lives as much as food does. Yet, for some reason we don’t question the opacity of the digital black box. We need to also to be smart enough to realise that shaping peoples minds could well be more dangerous than addictive and unhealthy ingredients are. They don’t just shape us, but they can reshape geo-politics as well, maybe even democracy. The lessons of history are easy to forget, especially when others fought the battles for us before we were born. It’s possible to take for granted the toil undertaken for the civility we bask in today.

A new revolution has arrived with a new set of corporations designing our consumption patterns, and just like before, the behaviour is the same – the large companies at the front line, call ‘competitive secret’ in order to profit seek against an unaware public. We instead need to push back and ensure that the society being built, with a meta structure on top of it, is one we want to live in.

It’s time we exposed the ingredients in the algorithms that shape our digital existence. We need this in the same way we know ingredients in packaged food. Algorithmic Nutrition Panels might just be the start of a more informed society. People might finally understand why they’re addicted to Facebook or Buzzfeed and why they see what they do on the screens in in their lives. It might just start a movement, one in which people realise what they’re actually giving away and why it matters.

What goes in our mind, is at least as important as what enters our mouths. It’s worth mentioning here that we are only on the precipice of the data deluge. The pending trillion sensor economy made possible the internet of things will mean every human interaction involves an algorithm. Algorithms as trade secrets, will increasingly shape our world and our lives, for as long as we tolerate it.

Our future should be one where we sell our data

In an age where data is money and we have no choice but to give it in order to participate in the modern economy, it’s about time we worked out who owns what. Call me a technology utopian, but here is my starting point:

All data put in a web platform by an end user should be owned and controlled by those who created the data via their content. People should be able to see all information that any digital company, for example GAFA collects and sells about them, at a point in time, on demand.

What we need to do is actually quite simple and it starts with two things people need to know:

  1. Their data has significant commercial value.
  2. If enough people demand it, the laws will change in their favour.

Yep, everything we need to know about modern politics is that the voting machine is a popularity contest not too dissimilar from high school. The most popular idea wins.

If it becomes part of the internet narrative that data about individuals is valuable and they deserve to ‘own’ it and make money from it, the status quo could change very quickly. Now, I don’t think we could motivate enough people to push for this change through the political process, but I do believe that some savvy technology entrepreneurs could do the job. What we need is a reversal of the current process, so here’s a thought experiment:

Current Situation: Based on our internet behaviours in search, social content, pages visited, geolocation and other web based activities, AI predicts the probability that we are in a particular market to purchase something or act a certain way. This information is aggregated and sold to advertisers looking to win that future purchase.

Zuckerberg Modern Big Brother

Proposed Startup: Based on our actual intentions, we register our desire on site X to purchase from category Y. Let’s imagine you’re in the market for home loan. Your data is released to prospects who pay for the right to access your information. The creator and ‘owner’ of the data is paid by companies who want to sell to you – for the opportunity to access your digital truth. But in this instance, it’s not a crapshoot of demographics, or behaviour patterns and metadata which might capture 1 in 100 people who are ‘actually’ in the market. Rather, it’s brands buying the opportunity to sell and competing to sell why they are better than their competitors. They get direct access to real prospects ready to spend their money.

For all I know, this could already exist?

This wouldn’t work in every category and it wouldn’t help brands who rely on impulse purchases or those with low price points. But if we want the internet to be permission-based, remove the scourge that is data pimping and empower the people trying to connect on the web, then we need this reversal. There may be some other solution, but now that the data and tracking genie is out of the bottle, at some point the current asymmetry of the internet needs to be rebalanced or the egalitarian dream might just turn into a nightmare.

It’s been nearly 10 years since I owned a phone

I still have a device which I can use to make calls, but it’s not a phone. I and most other people these days have a globally interconnected super computer. It so happens to have a feature which can make calls. Simple evidence resides in the number of times we interact with it daily, versus the number of calls – they are almost insignificant. We touch our phone hundreds of times a day and we might make a few calls. (Count for the next few hours if you don’t believe me). Here‘s a picture of the last phone I owned below.

Nokia Brick

It’s hard to believe the iphone is about to have it’s 10th birthday on June 29, 2017. Since the iPhone disrupted the economic time continuum –  we have literally have NASA in our pockets. A personal super computer that 20 years ago it would’ve literally cost several millions dollars. And today, it is free. We get the mobile phone for the same price of around $50 a month, but with the super computer as the free prize inside. And while we all know it has impacted some obvious industries like news, media, music, mapping and photography to name a few, it is much more than that. It’s a bit like a new Neo Cortex which is why we feel so uncomfortable leaving home without it. I personally believe it is the start of technology merging with our biology. I’m certain it will enter our body, we can already see the trajectory of the technology getting smaller and smaller and closer and closer to our bodies. We already have wires coming out of it, and directly into us, eventually they’ll be attached permanently, and soon after the tech will aside inside us.

While this phone super computer has numerous life benefits that come with it – it isn’t without it’s own set of externalities.

The Privacy Fallacy

“If you don’t do anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about with privacy.”

We’ve all heard that before and there are many problems associated with this proposition.

Firstly, it has attached to it a basic assumption that only illegal or immoral activities can be used against us. Secondly, many people are forgetting that our phone super computer tracks many activities without us inputting or extracting any data at all. It has a number of sensors which (Ironically like a human senses never stop working) – they are constantly listening in the background to our environment and sending back information to big brother. Accelerometers, Gyrometers, GPS locators, Altimeters, Light sensors, Cameras, Sound receptors. The GPS even works when the phone is off the grid. And here is my personal favourite; Siri records everything we’re saying, all the time, if we agreed to its terms, and most of us do without even reading them. Some of the stuff it knows outside of our web surfing, data input and info requested can be of the most value to governments and corporations.

The problem with the privacy issue, is that data can be converted into discrimination. For example, an innocent person could be put on a watch list because unbeknowns to them they associate with say a hacktavist. Just by their phones super computers being in close proximity to each other frequently, a person could be falsely targeted. It’s also easy to see how various forms of insurance could be refused based on private data collected. But we won’t know what the limits of these discriminations until they have already happened. No one has read the back of the cereal box…. (The Terms & Conditions). We are literally playing a game we don’t know the rules to, and this is a very dangerous proposition indeed.

We can’t stop it, but we need to civilise it

We can never stop data tracking. No technology in history, regardless of its externalities has been able to be stopped once released. Especially if short term benefits are greater than long term complications. So we need to civilise the internet – like we civilised cities and factories in the industrial era. We need the equivalent of workplace health & safety, car design road rules and environmental protections, but for peoples data. And we cannot leave that up to the corporate owners of the platforms we use – like all companies their basic incentive is to maximise short term shareholder wealth. What we have now, is each company setting its own laws of usage which is as crazy as it sounds. Especially when participating in the modern economy requires us to use the platforms.

We need a macro generic set of Terms & Conditions for all digital services – where companies only report exceptions. They need to be written in language everyone can understand with consequences laid out. it needs to be taught in schools and in society. If we as the collective users of the internet have the wisdom to force this, then the utopian dream of the web can recommence.

Cars, phones and drones – where disruption comes from

There’s a lot of talk about young adults having far less desire to drive. Car purchasing has declined by 30% with 18-34 year olds in the past 10 years. While the number of teens with a drivers licence is nearly in free fall. The number of 16 year olds with a drivers license is down 47 percent in past 20 years, while 19 year olds with a drivers license declined by 21 percent in the same period. Today it’s just over half of them who can get in a car and literally drive themselves around.

And that’s the point, unless you’re really into cars, the driving part is not the core benefit the vehicle provides, it’s the connection to people. When I was growing up, we’d use our cars as a tool to hang out, meet each other, go the beach, the mall, the main street and to parties. It was our only way to connect with each other en masse. It’s clear that we can now do that with our smart phones. If we look deep into the emotional benefit the car provided, then it is fair to say that the smart phone is quite a good substitute for it. It can take us anywhere – live video feeds, chatting in groups, it creates a quasi virtual-physical existence for its users at a fraction of the price of a car. I’m also starting to wonder if many kids prefer public transport these days just so they can stay connected on the phone for the entire journey.

While it’s clear being ‘connected‘ to friends via the phone could be a virtual substitute for the car, what about when they want to get real, be physically and in the same space? Well, the smart phone does that too. If they need to get somewhere off the transportation grid they can summon private transport to wherever they happen to be, they don’t even need to be at a physical address. A smart phone does many of the things a car can do, many more, and it comes at a fraction of the cost at around $50 a month. It turns out that the smart phone is one of the disruptive forces for the automobile. While cars will still be needed into the foreseeable future, this does present a financial problem for auto the manufacturers. Let’s take the following thought experiment.

If we all start ‘sharing cars’ instead of buying them, the volume of cars needed will be far fewer. In Australia 75% of the fleet are private, non commercial vehicles. It turns out that these cars are idle 90% of their available life. Which means that the fleet of cars needed could shrink significantly where car sharing is the norm. Sure, we’ll need more than 10% of the cars we have today; Yes, they are only being driven 10% of the time, but there is a large overlap of the time of day in which we need our cars. But even considering this, the number of cars required will be significantly less. Now let’s add to this the potential convergence of private and public transport. Cars as mini-auto buses with unspecified routes, picking up a number of independent passengers on route. Algorithmic car pooling for profit.  The number of cars needed will fall. Maybe we’ll only need half as many cars as we have now.

This is where the financial complexity lies. The economies of scale afforded by 24/7 production of automobiles will be under pressure. Prices of cars will potentially rise for the first time since world war two. The net result: lower volume manufacturers develop a competitive advantage because they are small and have an infrastructure more suited to an economy driven by software. Companies like Tesla or those with an outsourced manufacturing model like Apple and Google enter the fore. They could very well become the dominant auto players in the tech era. It feels like industry consolidation is inevitable and some auto players may even go bankrupt. We will see new players emerge, with new business models as usage patterns change and we move to the era of the self drive car, or should we say the rolling computer.

Self driving technology is evolving at a such rapid pace because the Law of Accelerating Returns applies given that they depend more on software and electric power trains than industrial era technology. But, the shift to self drive is not without it’s challenges, or even potential alternatives. Seeds of disruption are constantly being sewn, even the disrupters are being disrupted, and sometimes this happens before a new technology achieves mass adoption. I constantly try to remind myself than our brains work in a linear fashion. That exponential change isn’t something we’ve evolved to comprehend. Let’s take this example of exponential growth:

  • 30 linear steps would take me around 30 meters. But 30 steps doubling the distance each step will, wait for it, take me around the world 26 times.

The technology behind the entire transport industry is evolving exponentially. It’s with this that strange unexpected things can happen. While we all expect car sharing, and autonomous vehicles to disrupt the transportation field, maybe we’ll curve jump that altogether and finally get flying cars instead. You read that right – I’m talking about drones. The cost/performance ratio of drone technology has improved by 142 times within the past 6 years. If this trajectory continues then Self Flying Drones – and yes, they already exist, could usurp the self drive car altogether. The literal fork in the road could be the sky.

Ehang-184 personal flying drone

The technology itself isn’t the only thing we need to consider when it comes to disruption.

We need to take into account the cost of switching, ethics, infrastructure and legal framework. In this sense self drive cars have social and legislative complexity. Cars currently have a 7 year replacement cycle and during the period of transition to self drive cars, drones exponential improvement will continue unabated. If we do get safe human transport drones, and I believe we will, then we don’t need to build anything – the sky becomes the road. We could have ‘layered traffic’ above existing roads, stacked 5 drones high and then code will equal road. In this case we won’t need to build new physical road infrastructure to cope with autonomous cars. Instead we can just set up new laws for Autonomous Flying Vehicles.  If this happens maybe cars will become something our children laugh at.

You'll never believe what these guys are really selling!

The other day I was in the airport where a new startup was sampling itself. It’s an app to jump the coffee queue. I’m always stoked to see people having a go at a new business and got them to give me their pitch. It’s always good for entrepreneurs to practice unprepared. Then I realised I got a coffee but didn’t use their service. And here’s why:

Part of what I’m buying is the wait.

Yep, some of the people getting their morning java actually enjoy the wait. The wait is what is being sold. Sometimes it’s the conversation with the Barrista, and sometimes it’s the walk to the cafe. I guess we can throw the coffee on that list too.

Morning coffee

This is why you’ve seen a hundred other apps for people to jump coffee queue and they never quite work. I’m also wondering what happens if the app is successful?  Wont all those who used it end up ‘in a queue again’ via a digital deli ticketing system? The problem probably isn’t the arrival time, but the output bottleneck in peak demand times.

It;s another reminder that an effective business model isn’t just about demand – it’s very often about why we buy, and the model and the friction… and how money can be made through the transaction process, not just with the transaction itself.  As for the entrepreneurs, they did the right thing by having a crack. They could prove me wrong and I hope they do. Their worse case scenario is that they learn plenty and pivot closer to the success they deserve.

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How technology weirdly solves the problems it creates

The erudite Kevin Kelly says that the solution to problems caused by technology is more technology. And I couldn’t agree more. It’s easy to think that regression might be the solution, but once we realise that technology is literally its own organism, with its own agenda, then we can pretty quickly come to the conclusion that the best way to fix things is to work with the world and its natural trajectory. And technology, given it was invented by natural beings, is simply a force of nature.

I was thinking about what something like the Pokemon Go phenomenon could do if such gaming mechanics where put to positive use. Then weirdly I asked the barista in my local cafe what he did on the weekend and he said he did a fair bit of walking – 50km’s to be exact.. I said, oh cool, do you go up to the mountains or along the river. To which he replied just around the suburbs, no where specific. I said that’s interesting…. and then he finally admitted he was chasing Pokemon.

It got me thinking about digital technology being partially blamed for the obesity epidemic, especially in children… and most likely that digital technology is the solution too. Pokemon Go is one way to get kids moving, but maybe the new Lilly Drone (seen below) or some other kind of Dronian Angel could be used to watch over and follow kids as they move around town. Maybe they can walk or ride to school again as it may alleviate some safety concerns? Who knows?

The point is, we need to open our mind to real problems emerging technology can solve. How it can bring back some positive patterns of the past (walking to school) and invent entirely new possibilities. I think it is exciting.

If you want to read the best book in recent years on this topic, then be sure to get onto KK’s latest effort – the Inevitable. I savoured every word.