We’re the ghost in the machine

Worried about being taken over by robots? Here’s another thought: We are becoming robots. We’re merging with machines.

I know this sounds scary, but the patterns of technology tell a story of what’s next. The future is so often written in the past. If you consider the evolution of computers, we can remember machines once as big as a room have now become a small piece of glass that slides into our pockets, which is also a billion times more powerful. Pods go into our ears, wires come out of our pockets and some crazy people are getting chips inserted under their skin too. Think of computers like this:

We used to go to the technology to use it – in big Government and military institutions.

Then the technology turned up on our work desks.

Eventually it appeared in our homes.

Later, it got small enough to carry in bag.

Suddenly, it can slide into everyone’s pockets

and now we wear it, insert it under our skin and it never leaves our side.

Our world is changing so quickly that we have collectively discovered a way to evolve outside of our bodies with technology to cope with the world, until we of course figure out a way for the technology to enter our bodies. Which will turn us into cyborgs.

Every day we already see humans augment their senses (smart phones, smart glasses, wearables, watches and earpods) all enhancing our cognitive ability. Simultaneously technology is being developed to create ‘fake bodies’ we can wear in the form of exoskeletons so we’ll be able to run faster, be stronger, work harder, move for longer periods or play totally different and weird sports we can’t even imagine yet. The trend isn’t us versus the robots – it’s us evolving into them.

I’m the first to say that I’d never get a chip installed for pure convenience reasons, All that to just open a door to log into a computer, no thanks. But If I could gain all of the utility of a smart phone, by having upgradable technology permanently plugged into my brain so I can think and react in real time like a super human – then sign me up. I’d much rather that than competing with AIs as an organic human to try and survive on this revolving orb.

This is already happening. The technology is getting smaller and smaller, and metaphorically attaching itself to our bodies – and so it is inevitable that it will enter our bodies. We’ll also eventually figure out how to breed progeny with the upgrades to humanoid already installed from our parents – let’s call it DDNA (Digital DNA). Information technology will merge with biotechnology and it will operate on the nanoscale. So if technology is getting under your skin… well, you haven’t seen anything yet.

It does raise some serious concerns – change always does – but this will most significant in our history. It could well end up as a split in our species, akin to the chimpanzees who chose to leave the trees and cross the savanna. We may well end up with a two-breed reality of Neo-Humans and Sapien-Luddites. And just like every revolution – those with all the advantages will be those with access to greater financial resources so they can ‘upgrade themselves’.

In the short term, the thing I worry about most is coming much sooner than this. For the first time in history – humans will become a hackable animal. Already large technology firms can know where we are, where we are going, where we’ve been, what we think, what we want, what we value, whom we support, who we care about, how we feel and all manner of activities and emotions. And this isn’t just click through patterns. It’s now also achieved by observing our unique biometric outputs such as facial expressions, and heart rhythms. Now that large technology corporations and Governments have infinite processing power, data and biometric measurement, they can predict and even manipulate human choices on a level much deeper than ever before possible. Now imagine the possibilities with external algorithms and computational power running through our bodies.

Eventually these biotech algorithms will understand us, better than we do. If we are accessed somehow by a bad actor with nefarious intentions, it’s not a stretch to imagine a person acting against their own will – or even worse, for them to believe it was their own personal intention. While this might sound alarmist, let me bring this back to a human level. Always remember that we are the ghost in the machine. The machines will always be a manifestation of us. We design them, we build them, we hack them and so they fully reflect the good and bad of the human condition. And if we don’t want to be hacked in our cyborg era of living, then it’s best we put in collective effort now to stop those manipulating us through a simple screen.

Thanks for reading & stay rad, Steve. 

What to teach your kids (& yourself) – My TED talk

The most common question I’m asked in my work is this: “What do you teach your kids?  How do you prepare them for an unknown future?” It really is the question. It’s also the topic of a TED talk I did this year in Melbourne.

In the talk I tell the story of how society shapes children, and systematically removes their entrepreneurial spirit – something all humans are born with.

In a world where our future is super unknown – there are some things we do know: We’ll need to be economically independent, manage our own careers, constantly upgrade our skills and embrace inevitable technologies like robotics. You will need to Outgrow Your Job – the title of the talk.

Rather than writing about it – please invest the time to watch it here. It’s a 14 minute video which will change how you see the world. And it might give some cool ideas on how to make your kids future proof.

Oh, and remember to share it with someone whose future you care about!

thanks, Steve. 

Our careers as projecteers

The riskiest career choice of the future will be to have a single job. When we have a job, we not only have 100% of our cashflow linked to a single customer (employer), we see less of the changing world. For the best part of 200 years – craftspeople, artisans and farmers couldn’t compete against the industrialisation of pretty much anything. But we live in the generation, where all this is about to change. The best careers will become those of projecteers.

While no one really knows the exact technical skills we will need in the future, we do know that the world will be a very different place 10, 20 and 50 years from now. It might even be that for the first time in history we can’t specifically tell our children – that qualification XYZ, will hold them in good stead. The one thing that they, and we, will need for sure, is the ability to reinvent ourselves repeatedly through our working lives. This means that human based skills like emotional intelligence, anti-fragility, and adaptability will become increasingly important.

If we think about work, we have historically tied ourselves to titles. Often, the first question we get asked at a social gathering is what we do for a living. We psychologically link ourselves to that ‘thing’ we do to make money – and in some ways this makes it difficult for us to change direction. If traditionally we have built our economic identities like stone houses with very deep foundations, going forward it will make more sense to build economic identities like tents, that we can fold, pick up and move elsewhere. Even though we don’t know exactly where we will have to move, we know shifting constantly will be inevitable.

Then – Why has this person moved around so much? Are they unstable or incompetent?

NowWhy has this person been in the one place so long? Are they scared or incompetent?

By taking the ‘tent‘ approach, every move creates a new knowledge set. A new set of experiences created by the new environment itself. We’ll see new things and develop new ways to ‘set up the tent’. The mobility, invents the skill set. As a projecteer this is exactly what I do. Economically I change places almost everyday… it’s a weird and wonderful mix of different, yet related experiences. A keynote speech here, a c-suite strategy session there, a media interview the day after, startup mentoring and investing, a new book next year, and a hacker project or two on the side. Yet, I still maintain the single minded proposition of what I do: Experiment with emerging technology in business.

The breadth and variety of work we’ll do in the future, will be the thing that makes us more valuable to those who seek our services. The skill corporations, governments and communities will need in the future is flexibility of mind – not process efficiency.

If we’ve ever viewed our life as a movie we star in – then we all need to start thinking a lot more like big movie stars. People who will be in far more than a single blockbuster – but a large number of movies, some on the big screen, and some indy side projects. We’ll play a variety of different roles, in different movies, but each set we walk onto, we’ll bring with us what we learned on the previous gig.

If you liked this post – you’ll dig my latest book

The Economics of Automation & You

It’s true that many tasks people do in their work will be automated in the future. It’s also true that the only reason for a company to it is to save money.  So where does the saved money, and do the displaced people go?

Firstly, we know what happens, because it has already happened a number of times. It happened when agriculture was automated. Prior to the industrial revolution the vast majority of people worked directly in agriculture, and now it is less than 5% in developed economies. We also saw it when production line labour was replaced with robotics. And even though this time the displacement will involve intellectual labour, the pattern will remain unchanged, and it goes like this…

  1. Company replaces workers and reduces operating costs.
  2. Company must then decide where to distribute cost savings – options include;
  • Increase profit margins
  • Reduce prices and sell more
  • Reinvest funds for growth (New Product / Distribution / Promotion / R &D)

All of which must be considered in a competitive context. Yet, invariably the same thing happens again, and again and again. The new margin gets competed away. Competitors respond and also reduce price to maintain market share either by adopting similar technology or cutting margins. (Monopoly markets and IP protected innovations being rare exceptions)

Car prices are a good example. In the past 30 years due to automation prices have dropped radically. Comparing the same General Motors model large sedan in Australia gives us the following cost in real terms:

  • Price when new – 1998 = $25,077 (96% of average annual income)*
  • Price when new – 2018 = $35,990 (42% of average annual income)*
*Aust Bureau of Statistics.

Mind you, cars today are infinitely better than models from 30 years ago.

Why does this matter for workers? It matters because it tells us that while automation reduces the need for labour, it also reduces the cost of goods. Which means that consumers get to allocate ‘savings’ on other goods and services – often in entirely new markets creating a substitution effect. And this, is the art of being future proof:

We must also substitute ourselves.

To stay relevant, we need to change places like the money does. It may mean we need to develop new skills, it may mean we have to change location, organisationally and even physically. Work will change, work will move, but it will never disappear. To be sure, the transition for the ‘automated’ will be uncomfortable. Just like it was uncomfortable for the 80% of people who could not read in 1800. But here is what would be more uncomfortable:

If we had no possibility to reinvent ourselves. If the worlds education resources weren’t mere keystrokes away and mostly free. If you couldn’t read or write (the most complex intellectual task humans have ever developed – which proves we’re smart enough to learn new skills with effort).

But we know that these things aren’t true. Reading this is evidence in itself that we all have access to the tools we need to cut new ground. The only real question is if we’ll make the investment in ourselves to become what tomorrows market will probably demand.

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.

– – –

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.