Why we should worry less about the robots, and more about ourselves

As if concocted by some kind of Industrial Séance, the past 100 years has turned people in the developed world into a cohort of economic outpatients. We’ve abdicated our entire financial responsibility to institutions who must now provide us with a stable job, a career for life, increasing wages, and skills that are relevant in perpetuity without the requirement of an upgrade. A strange desire given that this has never happened before.

A close look at history any time before the 1950’s, and we can see we’ve never had any of those things as a certainty of life, quite the opposite in fact. The level of stability, of economic growth and the increase in living standards we’ve experience in the past 70 years is unparalleled in recorded history. For all we know it could be a fortuitous anomaly, a once off that we’ve been lucky enough to experience first hand. But we’re not thankful, instead those who’ve been the major beneficiaries are demanding in advance that the good life not be taken away. That the life we live is some kind of right, a standard we are now entitled to, without any heavy lifting required on our behalf. While very few indeed are asking the resources needed so they can get to work on personal transformation.

Automation & robots

This kind of upheaval isn’t new either. Every period of humanity which found itself in the middle of a technological shift, had those who were disenfranchised and displaced. Some even had entire their civilizations destroyed based on technological lag. Given our current global and economic interdependence this is an unlikely outcome, but yes, the technological shift is big, the biggest in many generations, and yes, it’s happening much quicker than all the others have. The challenge with technological shifts, is that there isn’t any lessons on how to deal with them. It’s not in the text book. We instead must rely on those old school skills of ingenuity and adaptability.

But this time, there is one important difference.  For the first time we have a choice on whether or not we adapt. Every other time if we didn’t have the resources at our disposal, coping in the new system wasn’t just difficult, it was nigh on impossible. This time we’ve been given the dignity of choice. We can prepare, we can up-skill, and we can participate in the shift to the greatest period of entrepreneurship we’ve ever known. We can relearn the art of self reliance. We can do all these things, mostly for free.

Hence there are two approaches we can take to sure up our uncertain futures.

The common approach: We can wait for the Government to fix things, hope for a universal basic income, regulate against technology which destroys our industry’s business model, support populist and protectionist policy makers, and pretend inevitable technologies can be stopped to maintain our status quo.

or

The better approach: We can start today, firstly by admitting what might change in our industry, our economy and our future. Then, we can quickly start working with our communities to create an infrastructure (Physical and Informational) which provides all of us access to the tools and skills we’ll need to help shape the future economy. We can lead others and inspire them to believe they can adapt by sharing what we learn. We can meet with like minds creating income producing ideas, and expanding industries we couldn’t even imagine yesterday. We can decide that hoping everything will be Ok, isn’t a plan, and remember that we aren’t the first generation to face a challenge which might effect how we work and live. But mostly, we can sleep better at night knowing we aren’t helpless outpatients, but the architects of the future we want to live in.

Coming Soon – The Lessons School Forgot – click here for free advance chapter

“What’s exercise?” a question about the future of work

Let’s imagine you somehow got your hands on a working DeLorean – and took a trip back to the not-too-distant past of the pre-industrialised world. And when you arrived, you sat down with someone and asked them this simple question over a semi-dirty glass of water at their kitchen table.

Future Human: Did you exercise today?

Pre-Industrial Human: What’s exercise?

Future Human: It’s when you move your body around and lift things to stay fit.

Pre-Industrial Human: Oh, you mean work – is exercise a new word for work? Yeah, sure, I worked today. All day, in fact. All of the daylight hours. I’m very tired.

Future Human: No no, not work…I mean extra movement of your body before or after you’ve finished work.

Pre-Industrial Human: Why would I do that? I’m exhausted. I already did that all day.

Future Human: The reason is that you want to stay fit.

Pre-Industrial Human: What’s staying fit?

Future Human: It means you keep your body in good shape – like ‘thin’, and you remain strong.

Pre-Industrial Human: But my work already does that, and everyone I know is very thin, although I’ve heard stories about the King having a big belly.

Future Human: Well, in the future people do exercise, because they mostly sit down while working, and get fat from eating too much food.

Pre- Industrial Human: Wow, they sit down at work! How much food do they have?

Future Human: As much as they want, all kinds from all over the world…. but let’s focus here…

Pre-Industrial Human: So where do they do this…exercise thing?

Future Human: In gyms, mostly, or running or swimming. Or play sports.

Pre-Industrial Human: What’s a gym? 

Future Human: A place with weights, where you lift them, or do classes like spin or aerobics. 

Pre-Industrial Human: Oh, where do they put these heavy things they lift? Who are they lifting them for?

Future Human: Oh, the weights are specially made, only for lifting. People just lift them up and down. And the classes teach people how to move their bodies…

Pre-Industrial Human: Wow, this sure sounds strange…

Future Human: Strange, well you should see how they look in their spandex…

Pre-Industrial Human: What’s spandex…

Pre Industrial revolution dirty water

Of course this conversation could go on forever, in many directions and fill the void of the Middle Ages pre-industrial mind with all kinds of physical automation and wizardry of tomorrow. The Exercise Industry, and any flow of money, work and exchange of value associated with it, is of course a pertinent example. The positive energy balance (Read here excess food intake) many humans face would not exist without the invention of machinery to remove human labour in farming and food manufacture. The consequences of outsourcing of gathering our food are not limited only to the gym, weights and spandex. We could add to the list the birth of refrigeration, packaged foods, powered transport, television, the diet industry, Jane Fonda aerobics, education, sporting brands and all manner of things which are the result of us, the first generation in human history to have more people to die from over eating than malnutrition.

For every solution technology invents, it presents two more problems to be solved. It’s a less than a zero sum game where two new revenue streams arrive for every one it takes away. New unintended problems arise and new entrepreneurial solutions can be brought to market. Everything outside of the most basic physical needs are human inventions and the result of some previous invention. But ask me what the jobs in the distant future will be and I can’t tell you, just like a pre industrial human couldn’t fathom the need for ‘exercise’. And while AI will take away the need for many forms of intellectual labour in the near term, we will find new tasks for idle humans. Of this, I have zero doubt. Yes, there will be pain for the unimaginative, unprepared and stagnant humans during the transition, but it’s not the first time this has happened and our personal future depends on our personal actions.

Who knows, perhaps an entire industry might emerge to keep our brains in shape as we outsource left brain logic to the micro chip?

Get secret free chapters of my new book – The Lessons School Forgot – out in May.

The coming changes to your house

It’s easy to forget that the places we live in are a direct reflection of our current technology. We’ve all come a long way since we lived in cave 76 (That was for all the Mel Brookes fans), and we generally are living in houses built on top of the shoulders of giants. Great entrepreneurial, scientific and engineering minds which make the modern world very comfortable indeed. We are currently on the cusp of a quite a few physical changes appearing in our homes. Before we explore what they might be, let’s think about how long some of the currently technologies in our homes have been around:

  • Letter Boxes – mail services started encouraging these to be installed in houses for deliveries in the mid 1800’s
  • Indoor Plumbing – In the 1860’s only 5% of American houses had running water, flush toilets were very uncommon until the mid 1900’s
  • Driveways – much less than 80 years old as a standard inclusion
  • Electricity – uncommon in suburban homes until the 1930’s
  • White goods – (we needed electricity for) rare in modern economies until post WW2
  • Televisions – 1956 in Australia
  • VCR’s – the early 1980s
  • Home Computers – the mid 1980s
  • Internet – the mid 1990’s

There’s many more examples, but you get the picture – where we live changes based on the technological possibilities, and their facilitation requirements of the day. So let’s run a thought experiment on what will begin appearing in homes, based on the technologies about to arrive, and those already here and functioning.

Drone delivery landing pads: With deliveries already happening they need to land somewhere. Apartment buildings are already being designed with them on rooftops, and your house will be no different. Maybe it will have an auto opening lid which closes over after the drop off has been made?

drone landing pads

Smart Toilet: I’ve written about this before – but we can expect it to be our health partner in life, and since Alaphabet had a patent approved on the smart bathroom last year, this is one of those realities which will surprise with its speed of arrival.

Smart shower: One that takes a photo of you everyday… not to invade your privacy, but to ensure it knows you have a dangerous sun spot long before you do.

All glass becomes web enabled screens: If you’ve always wanted a house with a view, well it’s about to come a lot cheaper than anyone expects. All the glass in our homes will become web enabled screens. The resolution of our windows will be indistinguishable from an actual view into the real world. All of a sudden anyone can have a real time, harbour view, which changes perspective on different windows in the house to give perfect perception in real time. Maybe those rich people with actual harbour mansions will make money selling their views via a live feed cam?

Charging stations in all driveways: Our driving future is all electric as is out entire economy. Expect every place cars stop and rest will have a charging facility on hand. If they ever stop – I’ll probably send mine out to work for me when I’m not using it.

Virtual Reality Room: It will be a bit like the home office was, or maybe part of it. We’ll conduct meetings with work that feel so real, we’ll wonder why going to the office is even necessary. We’ll also use our VR rig to shop online for things we want to touch and experience. Our haptic gloves and suits will assist in the purchase process. We’ll also use it to choose hotel rooms, holidays, and even do exercise. In the latter case we’ll have a treadmill which keeps us stationary while we seemingly move around and explore other worlds

Of course the list of ‘new fixtures’ in the home will be longer as many forms of technology will change our habitat. And quite frankly that is the key – not that the technology makes it possible, but that entrepreneurs and emerging startups shine a path on what is possible and make us want it. This is where tomorrows economy will be made up from. Just like Bill Gates promised to put a computer on every desk in every home, and Jobs put one in your pocket, you can put something in our house as well – and you need not invent the thing in question. Exciting times ahead.

Here’s a little radio interview I did on this topic yesterday.

New Book – The Lessons School Forgot coming soon.

How technology can disrupt a Government.

With the inauguration of the new President in the USA today, and what seems like isolationist policies creeping into the western world (Brexit) 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 in many ways. 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 off 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 knew technology has historically changed the fortunes of entire countires and empires. Empires got raided by countiries 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 that that 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.