The first quadrillion dollar company won’t be Amazon, Apple or Alphabet

It’s not hip to be square

-popular commercial ca. 5000 BC


Do you remember when that round, friction-minimizing thingamajig was all the rage in the tech space? That was fun, albeit a bit slow moving in the beginning.

Of course, many were skeptical at first as always. But once Salpeter Steel invested in Squares With Supermany Corners, more and more Stoneage VCs showed interest. However, it wasn’t until the name change to We Have Efficient Enormous Load Relievers the business really took off.

After Peter Steel’s success in the WHEELR industry he turned his focus to the struggling start-up Hot As Hell But Still Good For Cooking And Scaring Wolves Away Inc.

“It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue all that easily”, he thought… not to mention the hassle carving it in stone entailed. He let his mind wander: “Four letter words are always popular. Maybe you should try something on F?”, he suggested to the founders Fred, Isla, Rose and Ember.

And on and on it went, until the famous: “Plastics” comment in the 1967 movie “The Graduate”. Little did they know plastics would soon be demonized by hippies and greens, while the real action would turn to semiconductors, computers, software, mobile phones and other information technology companies.


Topic: Hot technologies in the past, present and future; companies with names beginning on “A”

Discussion: The Singularity Is Near, but how should you invest on the way there?

Conclusion: One word: “Agents”. We could move away from P&P companies that own our data, our portals and more or less force products down our throats; to owning digital autonomous copies of ourselves (the company making those could become the largest in the history of corporations by several orders of magnitude) that finally relieve us of the paradox of choice without relinquishing control to Big Data corporations.


Railways and radios

There was a time when steam engine powered water pumps for coal mining were the only game in tech town. Railways and cars then stole the limelight, not to mention radios (now, that was crazy at a whole new level) and airplanes.

That was, however, just “technology”, not information technology. Once Turing set things in motion after deciphering nazi codes with his version of computers, and possibly indirectly contributed to solving equations underlying the first atom bomb, a whole new industry was born with IBM in pole position.

IBM’s president Thomas Watson had a vision of the future:


“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943


A companies

The IT industry has progressed through mainframes and minis to Personal Computers, separating and celebrating hardware vs. software, and a whole stack of layers of operating systems, databases, applications etc. The workload has shifted from central (mainframe) to local (PC) to central (minis) to local (PC, laptops) and central (mobiles vs. cloud) again. The stock market has shifted its focus (a.k.a. ‘hype’) from semiconductors to computers to operating systems to applications to databases to business intelligence to browsers to search engines to network equipment (from data to voice and back to data again), to phones and minimalistic small applications known as applets or apps, not least social media apps.

Where is it all headed? Let’s just take a look at a few randomly selected companies in alphabetical order: Alibaba, Alphabet, Amazon and Apple. The first and most obvious conclusion is that names on ‘A’ are more successful than other companies. But we’ve known about that since Salpeter Steel’s first service business back in 5000 B.C.: AAA Wheeler Tow and Sons.

Jokes aside, the secret sauce is knowing your customer and having access to his attention and wallet, as well as products to sell. The best companies have tons of intelligence on its customers for crafting the perfect pitch, and an addictive portal to control the flow of products and services:


It’s all about the platform and the pitch

During the Mad Men era in the 1960s, a pitch consisted of convincing customers your bland and commoditized product was better than the competition’s. Today deep learning algos instead tease your core preferences from your largely unintended data radiation and satisfy your every want and need perfectly.

Alphabet’s search engine Google controls your attention and sells it to the highest bidder. Amazon knows about everything you buy, when and in what combinations — it controls both the platform and the pitch. Apple does the same, albeit in the form of a handy little gadget that enables recording and sharing as well, and that is placed one step before Amazon and Google. In China, WeChat is even more dominant with a billion Chinese users spending 5 hours a day on the platform.


What’s next? AR contacts, 3D printers, robotic companions?

The highest valued businesses harvest your data, sell it or reverse engineer your utility function to pitch increasingly addictive products. The actual manufacturers of most products and services have taken a back seat to the “portal” companies.

At the risk of predicting the equivalent of the Internet collapsing under its own weight within a year, or nuclear powered vacuum cleaners, here goes some of my thoughts about the remainder of the 21st century in tech.

Contact lenses and bionic limbs

Analyzing and hooking clients will only grow in importance, but the portals will morph into something quite different. Mobile phones will become increasingly mobile/wearable and gradually fuse with the body, perhaps in the form of contact lenses enabling seamless Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality experiences; perhaps through neuronal interfaces pioneered by the prosthetics industry. Nota Bene that there’s already touch feedback bionic limbs available, not to mention rudimentary AR contacts. There are even eye implants that restore some sight to the blind.

Will Apple be able to hold its own when the “phone” hardware becomes so different from today’s fragile glass bars? A robotics or biotech company could very well be better equipped to take the lead in that scenario — or Apple could try to take them over.

The HMI era, the portal of the future

In any case, Human Machine Interface technology will be crucial whatever form it takes. Today’s crude Finger And Voice input methods won’t last long, except for particular situations that don’t require precision.

Intention Readers, Emotion Detection Systems, Autocorrect Deduction Devices (that combine gestures, voice (words + tone), facial expressions, blood flow, heart beat, breathing etc. to guess and anticipate your desires) and so on will replace keyboards and touch screens. All these technologies already exist by the way.

What about existing search and retail platforms? Hard to say, it depends on what the H-M Interface companies decide. They could choose to connect directly to the end products, or they could uphold the status quo and go through Google and Amazon.

There is a whole different set of solutions to the HMI problem: digital and real world agents, wholly owned by you, that gradually mimic your every trait (don’t worry, you’ll be able to edit out unwanted evolutionary mismatched psychological biases). Rather than letting Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Alphabet, Netflix, Amazon, WeChat, Alibaba and others know everything about you and abuse that information, you can elect complete anonymity but let your own proprietary agent know exactly everything and in effect turn into an exact copy of you. Your agent could over time assume more and more responsibility, from booking tables at restaurants to shopping for groceries and clothes.

In the beginning your agent might merely suggest a few alternatives, and as its precision improves you allow it to only show the single best one, then make preliminary bookings and finally just hand you the goods, reservations and tickets: “Your Uber will arrive at 7:48 tomorrow morning. The alarm is set for 7:19. Your face and iris scan are valid as your flight ticket. You’ll be staying at your usual hotel”

William Gibson wrote about such agents (eventually becoming self aware) in his epic book Neuromancer from 1984. I see the development of such artificial “helpers” as all but inevitable, leaving us ample time to explore both our inner and outer worlds and experience the human condition to its fullest.

Purely digital agents might be the end station. They would receive input from our every move and interaction with the world. The internet of things guarantee we are always recognized, our activities gauged, categorized and the corresponding data securely transmitted to our digital copies roaming the net hunting down optimally tailored experiences for us. A simple RFID implant could do some of the tracking, but otherwise every single item we face would be the eyes, ears, LIDAR, X-ray vision, Ultrasound etc. of your agent’s.


Quadrillion dollar co.

What happens if you own your own data yourself, and your agent doesn’t need the “help (prying eyes)” of search engines and entertainment suggestion algos to sift through billions of choices? Amazon gone? Apple gone? Alphabet gone? Would end product companies stage a comeback, based on highest quality and best price/performance rather than highest portal visibility and most nefarious data scraping abuse?

And, will the Agent company become the first quadrillion dollar company?


Runway to sublimation (a popular post Singularity state)

In David Simpson’s most recent book, The Dawn Of the Singularity, Simpson envisions more or less every household buying or leasing humanoid robots; androids that are quite similar in function to Gibson’s digital agents, albeit in physical form.

Four billion robots at a clip of 1000 USD/month for the basic version and upgrade subscription can turn into serious money over time, in particular valued at 5 times sales. Higher priced versions, upgrades, and using the robots themselves as portals for other goods and services easily increase the numbers by a factor four, and voilà!

I can definitely imagine such robots as both part of the input function for reverse-engineering their owners, and as platforms for showing off your wealth (complementing your car and boat). Once household androids become useful enough, just picture the “Joneses” pitching their robots against each other in terms of best finish, speed, balance, range of functions, intelligence, model and not least price.

Mom, why is our android so slow and old?

I just got back from the Joneses, and they’ve just bought the HuBot2028 LAL. Maybe it’s about time we upgraded ours too


Summary – what to do?

Biotechnology, artificial biology, active nanotechnology (molecular replicators and molecular-sized computers and robots) in contrast to today’s inert nano materials; strong general artificial intelligence (and its current predecessor, deep learning), robotics, quantum computing, bionic limbs, AR/VR and various forms of entertainment etc. are all promising tech areas today.

Add in the potential of immersive computer games, sex robots, designer drugs — or a combination of all three and it’s easy to imagine an interesting near future. The question still remains, however, which companies will emerge as winners in this race. On the one hand, IBM, Alphabet, Amazon, TenCent, Alibaba, Apple and Netflix all have interesting AI software and quantum computing embryos, but on the other, all that research money doesn’t stop history from repeating with altogether new start-ups making the crucial inventions.

I would bet some money on each and every one of all the mentioned companies, but I would be even more ready to invest in new, truly innovative robot and AI companies, if I get a chance before they sell out to the FANGs.

Fortunately, you don’t have to get rich betting on the right digital agent company. The future will be bright enough just having access to them as a consumer; just as standard shipping containers have made us all rich without any of us ever having owned the company that invented them.

Talking about investments, wouldn’t it be cool if our agents could perform financial analysis? They could find out everything, and, if allowed, talk to other agents in as large groups as we grant authority. Thus we would actually know the sales and likely profits, thus enabling optimal investments. Brokers, gone! Portfolio managers, gone!


Interesting you say, but: bah, no robots, no agents, I just want to see what next year’s iPhone looks like.

Why you must get to the bottom of qubits, North Korea and global warming

Topic: Don’t leave the big issues such as global warming, nuclear war and quantum computing to the experts

Advice: learn qubit programming to understand the perils, as well as make yourself an invaluable resource in the coming crypto wars


Do you think Kim Jong Un will let one loose or won’t he?

Will the water level rise fast enough to affect you?

How should you plan for the advent of quantum computers?

It’s all too easy to just resign from even trying to address big issues like the ones above; “That’s for the experts”

However, the mindset you should apply is that every expert started out as a helpless newborn. Often they were still as clueless as you when they were teenagers. Then at some point they refused to be daunted and simply started looking into things.

“nuclear EMP”


Elon Musk, e.g., picked up a book on rocket science and soon realized it’s just a matter of metal, ceramics, rubber and some basic mechanics and physics. Now he’s planning to colonize another planet.

Richard Feynman thought he was too slow to ever make a real contribution to physics. He actually just happened to invent a new symbolic language for quantum mechanics as he found the conventional mathematics too complicated.

I’m not saying you should aim for the US presidency, a Nobel prize, creating the new Amazon, Google or Tesla. What I am saying is that whenever you are interested in or fascinated by a subject, you should make a real effort to understand it.

“Feynman diagram”


Take global warming for example.

Is it us humans, or is it he solar cycle or some other variables that are causing it. Is global warming even a thing? Most are content with noting that 97% of all scientists subscribe to the “fossil fuel burning causes global warming which will make extreme weather much more frequent, as well as cause the water level to rise” theory, and that’s that.

But why not spend an hour a day for a month going through the evidence as if you were writing an essay for school, i.e., see for yourself instead of parroting others. You might not reach a conclusive answer but you’d know where the uncertainties lie. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be that person who contributes real value to the issue.

What about geopolitics?

If North Korea detonates a nuclear bomb in the worst possible place, they can fry uncountable computer systems and cripple the world’s financial system in ways we can hardly imagine. So will he or won’t he? Should you prepare for it? How? Perhaps you don’t want to live in a certain city for the long term, perhaps you need some emergency physical silver and gold, perhaps you should keep a generator and fuel at a bug out location…

I’m not saying you should, I’m saying you should do the math yourself. Make a mind map over the important countries, authorities, organizations and leaders. Consider things like currencies and trading patterns, energy dependence, debt, gold, similar historical developments and other factors you find relevant. Search for articles and books on the matter and spend some real time thinking hard about stuff that matters to you.

Sounds hard? What’s 20 hours, or 100, of exciting detective work and puzzle solving compared to endless social media news flows or TV?


The most acute threat of all — quantum computing

I’ve just recently realized that quantum computers could render all internet encryption obsolete.

Every single piece of information that’s online would be wide open. That includes all your messages, documents, photos, videos, bank and trading accounts and so on. Your Memopal or Dropbox backups would be theirs. Your bank account too.

But where are we really in terms of quantum computing and qubit programming? How likely is it we’ll get large scale quantum computers? If so, when? Who will get them and what will they be used for (except benevolent research and simulation of weather, fusion reactors, protein folding etc.)

Well I’m certainly going to find out, just as did with cryptocurrencies (I read the whitepaper, Princeton’s textbook, talked to local experts, bought some Bitcoins for myself, made transactions and so on).

If quantum computers hold water, it could be the next big thing.

Sure, the blockchain might become linked to everything, fusion reactors could become really hot in a few decades, nanotechnology is no small thing and could change everything from the bottom up, gene mapping and editing promise much longer and healthier lives, robotics and AI could automate away all human troubles while creating some new and possibly disastrous ones…

However, quantum computing might be closer in time, might be the enabler for all the other technologies and not least might wreak much more havoc with your personal finances and security in the short term.

On the upside, similar to my advice to start a blockchain consultancy firm, if you start learning about quantum computers now, and get in early on the completely new coding techniques, you could become an as invaluable as scarce resource for any company or authority looking to make use of this new paradigm in computing.

 

Reading up on quantum computing

I do admit that this Wikipedia article on qubits looks a bit daunting at first. And this one on quantum computing is even more dense, but give yourself a few hours to read it ten times and decode it bit by bit, I’m sure things will become clearer. Here is a link to an article about IBM’s quantum computer, that anybody can access and program online. Finally, here is IBM’s online forum (IBM QX) for quantum computing.

And this article from 2016 deals with creating and maintaining qubits inside diamonds (here is an easier read based on the article in Nature).


Summary — Quantum Computing could mean your absolute ruin… or success

These are my three cents today:

  1. Don’t be part of the worthless echo chamber. If you’re going to discuss global warming, don’t just be a believer or denier, be an understander
  2. Be practical, research things that might matter to you and where you could make a difference — either for the field or for yourself by taking appropriate measures
  3. Quantum computing could be the key to the most important technological innovations in human history. A qubit programmer could be the most valuable resource in the world for some time. You owe it to yourself to understand when and how quantum computing might become an enabler for you — or a threat.

P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter (meaning you don’t have to access my site or keep track of when I publish new posts)


P.P.S. While you’re in a self-improvement mood, check out my friend Andrian’s “30 Challenges” here (affiliate link)

What to do when AIs beat us at everything, even reason?

Topic: Computers vs. humans, regarding reason, creativity, intelligence and consciousness

Summary: Very few humans exhibit clear signs of the above traits, and even those aren’t very good at it


Echo chambers of flesh

What is creativity? Writing a song, a book, directing a movie? I’m not so sure, since it’s all based on previous work anyway, just sampled, copied, emulated, or distorted.

Some doubt computers can be creative. I wonder if humans can be. Actually, not long from now, I suspect AIs might consider humans non-creative echo chambers of flesh. Very slow ones.

 

Emotional scientists

The other day I listened to an interview with professor Dan Sperber (author of The Enigma of Reason), in which he detailed his theories of the evolution of reason, its utility, flaws and likely roots. On thing in particular struck me: human cognition is so riddled with biases that reason typically can’t be used for uncovering hidden truths of nature.

Typically we arrive at a conclusion based on emotion and stipulation; and then go about proving that conclusion with “evidence” found through various aspects of confirmation bias.

 

Reason is social

Sperber theorized that reason is mainly a social tool — a tool to build trust and rapport, by providing agreeable “reasons” for a view, an opinion or a favor asked. Reasoning and reasons aren’t there to uncover and understand truths about reality, they’re there to show we are social. Showing reason, providing reasons are for demonstrating whatever we do or say is not just a whim, that the action or we aren’t dangerous and unreliable… since it’s built on reason.

To me, it simply sounds as if humans can’t reason. At least not that many of us and not very well.

But, guess who can. Or should I say what? Artificial Intelligences. They won’t be burdened by biases but can propel their knowledge base and themselves with the scientific method based on pure unencumbered hard logic and reason.

 

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Why some drive on the left and others on the right

Way back in the UK, riding a horse on the left side showed you clearly held no dagger in your right hand

But later on in the US, it was more important to sit on the left side of the wagon to whip the oxen with the right hand; and thus more practical to drive on the right side of the road

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AIs can do away with irrational historical baggage like that and build their society from scratch.

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Strong General Artificial Intelligence is no longer a fringe idea

Recently distinguished astronomer sir Martin Rees said at a big astronomy conference “if we want to find intelligent extraterrestrial life, look for some kind of artificial organisms”.

He’s right of course. We’ve had digital technology for just about a century and we’re already experimenting with robots, artificial intelligence, nanotech, biotech etc. — trying to meld man and machine. Within another hundred years, I’m certain we will have brain enhancement implants. With time we’re likely do do away with most, if not all, of our biological heritage. Will it take a hundred years? A thousand? I don’t know, but my guess is rather sooner than later. Cosmologically, a few thousand years are equivalent to the blink of an eye. Consequently, for all practical purposes we will be a digital race for all of our existence.


Final thoughts

Neither reason, nor creativity are exclusively human domains, perhaps not even human domains at all. AIs promise to be not only smarter, but also exhibiting true creativity and pure reason. Now, is that something you could be interested in merging with?

They might even solve the big problem trifecta of the universe, life and consciousness. If so, maybe they can explain to us how it all began, how life came about and how consciousness arose, and whether humans are conscious and have free will or not.

Sometime in the future, asking a SGAI if it can “improve on the issue with global warming” might very well be like asking a human to help with the “pencil on the floor” problem if one happens to roll off the desk.

So, why is this important? Why should you care?

Mostly just because it’s interesting in itself, but also as the path from here to there has implications for your career and life. You need to start thinking about how you will adapt to advancing technological capabilities, how you can take advantage of it, and not least avoid becoming collateral damage.