Why Deep Work is essential for keeping up with robotics (career and investment opportunities)

Executive summary: AI is coming. You’d better think about your career and investment opportunities in AI and robotics. And the importance of Deep Work to keep up.

Hint: Google, FB, Amazon

Length: 2128 words

The robot overlords are drawing closer

Finally a machine beat a decent player at the ancient eastern game of Go. With decent I don’t mean an Asian grand master, but at least a three time European champion.

Artificial Intelligence keeps progressing, no matter whether you know about (or like it) or not.

First an AI application is typically seen as a curiosity. Then it becomes a tool you need to learn how to use. And eventually it will develop to the point where it could take your job.

IBM’s Watson easily beat the world’s best Jeopardy masters several years ago. Since then it has become the world’s foremost oncology expert.

Currently Watson is on its way to start replacing swathes of paralegals at law firms as well as finding new oil reserves. A few years down the road, anyone with a cellphone (or AugReal contact lens) will be able to tap into Watson-like powers for any kind of search or research.

Over the coming 20 years, most jobs will be affected by the progress in robotics and AI. Hence, even if you are aiming for future-proof industries (The 5 Singularity Enablers or The Big 5 human issues, or, most likely, a combination*), you’ll nevertheless need to learn to work with robots and artificial agents, or risk replacement.

*I have mentioned the 5+5 in earlier posts on job security nr 1 and nr 2 and my post about programming: nanotech, biotech, AI, robotics, additive manufacturing and energy, water, pollution, food, longevity/health


Professions at risk

If you’re flipping burgers, sewing garments, assembling consumer electronics, building cars or houses, reading court cases, writing (sports) news, trading stocks or driving any type of vehicles for a living, you’ll soon be out of work (except if you can leverage the new technology in some creative way).


Deep Work makes you change-resistant

To stay one step ahead of the AIs; to be a fast learner as well as able to tap into your most creative powers, one indispensable skill for the future will be the ability to perform deep, focused thinking and problem solving, i.e., Deep Work, in the words of Cal Newport.

Rather than allowing various notifications from e-mail, Twitter, Facebook. Instagram etc. to force your days into shallow, responsive, always on-line type of activities, you should practice going off-line and “deep” for longer stretches of time (30-90 minutes) as often as you can.

Buy it, it may be your best investment ever

Deep work restructures your brain, making it easier going forward to enter a state of flow and focus, and thus becoming more and more effective, and increasingly able to perform above AI-level, not to mention quickly learn new skills, including how to use new (AI) tools.

Meditation helps too, but that’s just too weird and Eastern for most – at least if we’re talking about 30-minute long sessions or more. I myself had much rather turn everything off for 90 minutes and solve an intellectual problem at the top of my ability (writing a blog post, a new book, or working if I had a job).


If you can’t beat the robots, join them

This Tuesday I (and my dog Ronja) talked in front of 400+ engineering students at Sweden’s top technological university, Chalmers. I specifically remember three interesting questions.

  1. What made your fund so successful?
  2. What advice would you have given yourself as a student today?
  3. What would you have studied today?

Answers to important questions are superpositions of the entire spectrum of answers

What’s particularly intriguing about the first question is that my number one success factor was also the number one negative at the same time:

Being unbiased and fundamental

It worked extremely well over the several bull and bear waves during my career (1994-2015). On the other hand, being unbiased and fundamental also made it all but impossible to ride the bull waves (“bubbles”) long enough – in particular the last one (the quantitative easing bubble that finally seems to be bursting).

I often find that the most important questions are answered in the same “how long is a piece of string” fashion. Learn to recognize and acknowledge those situations, rather than dislike them. They provide you with a much wider range of choices than clear-cut 1 or 0 situations.


Have fun no matter what you do (Sinéad O’Connor)

Nr 2 is also easy: Direct your studies and career toward something that interests you, that you like, that gives you the “unfair advantage” of having your favorite hobby as your work.

No matter how successful (or not) you get, at least you had fun on the way. And, given the unfair advantage, you’ll probably change the world in some positive way and become rich/famous/of stature, no matter if you want to or not.

Build authority through usefulness (for you and others), not (empty and meaningsless) celebrity or wealth

I however began by saying that I myself would never have listened to such advice, and that I didn’t expect anybody to do it today either. At 22 I was too focused on making money, or at least on getting a job, any job. In my eagerness to become independent I as quickly as possible put myself into wage slavery and the consumption rat race.

In my defense, I hardly understood the concept of starting a business. I had a very static view of the world and kind of thought all companies already existed.

Hmmm, that didn’t make me look any better did it?


Resistance is futile

The third question could have been answered in a myriad more or less complicated ways. To keep it simple and clear, I boiled it down to one single word: Robotics.

Going east, to Japan, China or South Korea, is preferable for anybody going into robotics. However, it probably isn’t necessary – and France, Germany, The U.S. and Sweden also hold their own within robotics. It’s even possible Google and other U.S. companies are on their way to overtaking the Asians.

Except for North Korea of course. Their mighty leader has already built a super strong general AI that will rain fire over the western subhuman devils. Just recently, e.g., Kim Jong Un’s AI crafted the most efficient and gloriously superior hydrogen fusion bomb that history will ever see.

I wonder if he has any idea how funny he is


Why robotics?

Because everything comes together there. And it’s the most future-proof industry there is.

If you want to get really dystopian, in the future the only humans left are the ones tending to the robots. In a parallel universe, robot owners and robotics stock owners are the ones holding the upper hand.


The geeks shall inherit the earth


Robotics is industry’s equivalent of Deep Work. Every single part of a robot is developed at the leading edge, at the top of everyone’s ability; technology, biology, biotechnology, neurology, philosophy, psychology, programming, materials, motors, artificial intelligence. The combination of these into useful and robust machines demands even more of the creators (i.e., you).

If you are wary of being made redundant by automation (and you should), the obvious solution is to be the one controlling the automation (and inheriting the earth).


It’s not “just robots”

There is so much to do in robotics: vision, balance, appearance, movement, safety, reasoning, emotion, interface, power source, touch, control. And each of those need to be craftily integrated with the others, e.g. vision, prediction and balance.

Take just vision as one example. Ideally you’d want to combine radar, ultrasound, stereo vision, texture analysis algorithms, laser, object data bases, blueprints, recent memory, inference algorithms etc. in one single system, in order to rapidly and reliably map the environment in 3D, as well as make forecasts for the coming milliseconds, seconds and possibly minutes to prepare probable movements.

Similar issues are facing research teams within, e.g., balance/movement (motors, artificial muscles, scenario simulation, limb synchronization. machine learning) as well as other important sub-segments of robotics.

At the user end, there really are no limits to where robots and AIs might go: industry, care, household, status, services, shopping, news, education, search & rescue, surgery, research & exploration, sex/porn and on and on. Every single area of life and business will be affected in the coming two (or maybe three) decades. Read more about the steps to AI here, or read, e.g., Kurzweil’s book “How To Create A Mind”.

Simply put, robots is where all technologies converge. It’s a place to perform deep, accelerated, learning and highly value added work. It’s a place where cross-discipline knowledge and deep, associative, and lateral thinking will come at a premium.

My advice is to take your favorite area (hobby), and combine it with some supportive technology and apply those in robotics. I can’t see how you could lose.

If you are an engineer, or psychologist, or designer; if you go into robotics and AI, if you take the “unfair” angle of doing it from the standpoint of fascination, you just can’t lose.

I may have told these guys at Chalmers that aiming for an employment at a big engineering firm, rather than starting your own business, would be just sad…

On the other hand, I also told them they had no business worrying about the coming recession or not earning their livelihood. Very few, if any, of them will even notice the coming recession – except for from tabloid headlines.


Focus, go deep, and go robot

Don’t forget my message to prepare for a fast-changing world by practicing true, off-line, no notifications, focus, as well as perhaps playing Go and meditating, lest constant e-mailing every day will erode your protective myelin layers in the brain completely, making future deep work practically impossible.

Without the ability to perform deep work, even going into robotics won’t save you in the long run. So, leave the 99% behind and commit to stretching that brain of yours regularly.

But now on to something completely different, investing in robotics and AI companies


Investment opportunities

Sorry, there are no free lunches.

Well you didn’t think I would hand out free buy recommendations, did you?

Anyway, here are some AI (and robotics) related companies to think about.

I’m not saying you should buy them (now) or sell for that matter, but they are definitely worth considering at the right valuations.

Since I’m sure you can come up with more companies, and more pure plays at that, I hope you’ll put those in a comment for all to share.

Top 5 most obvious AI companies

  • Alphabet (Google)
  • Facebook (M, Deep Learning)
  • IBM (Watson, neuromorphic chips)
  • Apple (Siri)
  • MSFT (skype RT lang, emo)
  • Amazon (customer prediction; link to old article)

Yes, I’m US centric. So sue me :)



  • SAP (BI)
  • Oracle (BI)
  • Sony
  • Samsung
  • Twitter
  • Baidu
  • Alibaba
  • NEC
  • Nidec
  • Nuance (HHMM, speech)
  • Marketo
  • Opower
  • Nippon Ceramic
  • Pacific Industrial

Private companies (*I think):

  • *Mobvoi
  • *Scaled Inference
  • *Kensho
  • *Expect Labs
  • *Vicarious
  • *Nara Logics
  • *Context Relevant
  • *MetaMind
  • *Rethink Robotics
  • *Sentient Technologies
  • *MobileEye

General AI areas to consider when searching for AI companies

  • Self-driving cars
  • Language processing
  • Search agents
  • Image processing
  • Robotics
  • Machine learning
  • Experts
  • Oil and mineral exploration
  • Pharmaceutical research
  • Materials research
  • Computer chips (neuromorphic, memristors)
  • Energy, power utilities

No, I won’t help you with valuations. However, I just might tell you in my newsletter when I start buying.


Summary – deep work and robots

Rapid changes require fast learning of difficult material

Fast and solid learning requires deep concentration

Deep concentration demands time off from e-mail and social media

To prepare for the future, practice focus, use your time in deep focus to advance your skills and understanding of how you can contribute to the field of robotics.

And Go East (Japan, China, South Korea)

Or possibly west.

Or stay where you are.

And think about becoming an owner of AI and robotics companies while there is still time. I plan to buy some of the most obvious ones (including Google) in the ongoing market downturn (2016-2017).


Please help spreading this important post

I think this is the most important article I have ever written, and I would like as many students and other interested people as possible to get the chance to read it.

So, please help spreading it as widely as possible through your social networks: Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc., and tell your friends about it IRL too.

P.S. “Subscribe” If you are new here, don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter (weekly updates and retarded recounts) and get my free eBook about my 15-year struggle at the European Hedge Fund Of The Decade (“The Retarded Hedge Fund Manager”).

P.P.S. “Glorious future” No, I’m not dystopian. I actually think we’re headed for a glorious future. After a couple of years of economic and financial rout that is.

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38 Replies to “Why Deep Work is essential for keeping up with robotics (career and investment opportunities)”

  1. Intressant inlägg! Folk som exempelvis utbildar sig till piloter och lokförare förstår jag mig inte alls på. De kommer ju automatiseras snarare förr än senare vad jag förstår.

    Vad hade du gjort ung idag? Hade du hoppat på någon civilingenjörsprogram som fokuserar på att utveckla robotar och AI? Jag har för mig att du är ganska negativ gamla skolans formella utbildningar.

    Vad tror du om arbetslösheten om säg 20 år? Man ska väl aldrig säga “det är annorlunda nu” men det är det väl nu ändå. Jag tror inte det finns en chans att det kommer skapas lika många jobb som det försvinner. Medborgarlön är väl något slags alternativ. Vad ska man annars göra? Koncentreras rikedomen på några få och resten svälter resulterar det hela i något slags blodbad säkerligen. Nåväl; framtiden har aldrig varit så oviss som nu (eller?)….

    1. Svåra frågor. JAG hade nog tagit en civ.ek., men jag vill ändå rekommendera att åtminstone försöka hålla på med robotar själv på fritiden, hitta communities med programmerare, byggare och andra. Fast egentligen tror jag att man lär sig mest om man vågar strunta i civ.ek:en.

      Det går åtminstone snabbare nu. Accelerationen är mer påtaglig (eftersom den i sig har accelererat). Det talar för högre arbetslöshet. Om lösningen heter medborgarlön vill jag nog inte diskutera. Det blir snabbt politiskt och inflammerat i onödan.

  2. Becoming a professional athlete seems like a pretty sustainable gig, if you have the ability. I can’t see any professional leagues allowing robots to begin playing, as it would simply be unfair.

    That being said, I would expect a hefty pay decrease when robot overlords take over the world and turn sports into their basal form of entertainment, like the Gladiators of ancient Rome.

    1. LOL.

      I agree.

      Athletes, Artists etc should be fine for quite some time. First as entertainment for us, then for the overlords.

      Then again, that route is pretty poor to start with, unless you don’t care at all about the money (since very few make it)

  3. Hey Mikael,

    Wonderful article you’ve written. I never tire when reading your thoughts on the future, specifically AI.

    Do you think there will be a place in the future for people who are interested in social work, psychology and peer-to-peer services(such as helping people with their nutrition?) This is the path I am currently walking and I’m wondering if such deep human connections would ever be ‘outsourced’ to robots.

    1. Well, you should be fine for the foreseeable future. After that, all bets are off.

      The Singularity and all that, you know…

    1. About a year ago, I did toy with the idea of joining, but concluded I’d rather sit back and watch the progress from year to year.

  4. Amazing article Mikael, you must have studied a ton on AI and robotics.

    Thanks a lot for the heads up, got some stuff to read in the evening on the intersection of my profession and robotics/AI.

    I don’t understand though, practicing focus and being in flow is truly important, but how can this compare with the insane speed AI learns?

    On a side note, isn’t it crazy that the robot beat the player *a decade* earlier than expected?

    1. Thanks.

      A human will never be able to keep up once the AIs surpass us. However, up until that point (2035? 2049?), you want to stay ahead of the unemployable masses, as the pool of employable shrinks in sync with increasing automation. To do that you want to be the one learning and adapting to new tools faster than most other people. The distracted masses won’t cope, whereas a Deep Worker will.

      1. So what happens after 2049? Employment matters up to that point, and then… What?

        Just curious on your take on this.

        – Thomas Quinn

  5. Hej!

    Intressant artikel.

    Du skriver i ett annat blogginlägg att välfärdsstaten kommer att krackelera. Syftar du specifikt på Sverige, USA eller världen i allmänhet och skulle du kunna utveckla varför och hur snabbt det kommer gå? (Jag ska koppla detta inlägg till AI lite längre fram i inlägget)

    Om vi antar(bara som exempel) en real BNP-ökning på 1% per capita per år i Sverige de nästkommande 20 åren så borde välfärden öka givet att alla inkomstgrupper får ta del av den ekonomiska tillväxten.

    MEN, om jag förstått dig rätt så menar du att kapitalägarna kommer ersätta arbetsstyrkan med robotar och därför kommer inkomstklyftorna öka enormt då lågutbildad arbetskraft kommer friställas till en början, sedan semikvalificerad arbetskraft osv… tills det bara finns specialister och företagsledningar kvar.

    Menar du att de allra rikaste kommer avsiktligt förhindra att de bredare massorna får tillgång till AI? Varför i så fall?

    1. Alla ekonomier med 80+% statsskuld och relativt rigida välfärdssystem, så typ alla västländer samt Japan. Dock ej Sverige.

      Pensioner, arbetslöshet och sjukdom äter upp alltmer av budgeten. Inräknat löften har tex USA mellan 6-12x BNP i statsskuld. 1994 trodde man sverige skulle gå i konk för att vi hade 80% – för att ge perspektiv. Vi klarade det nätt och jämnt.

      reell BNP kanske ökar med 1% per år, men reell statsskuld ökar snabbare (dock inte i Sverige. vi ser ut att klara oss givet status quo. MEN om automatiseringen tar fart blir många fler arbetslösa och då måste välfärden ändras om inte även sverige ska röra sig mot bankrutt)

      Tror inte de rika kommer hindra AI-beterna, snarare tvärtom, dvs ge bort bröd och skådespel, välgörenhet och kanske någon slags medborgarlön. Tror de kommande 10 åren blir värst, med mycket utslagning utan att andra system finns på plats, men att blir bättre därefter. För alla.

  6. I agree with almost everything in the article, but not with the stock traders, I can’t see them taking over any time soon because the markets are just too complex.

    Sure, we have them operating in the very small time frames, that is understandable. But to operate in a macro sense, taking positions for days/weeks/months, a good human trader will and can eat them alive.

    Robot traders of the future will be like human ones, some good and some bad. They can’t all be good because profits come from losers. So if everyone is hot who will pay for the losses? Will there be any markets left?


    1. I’m not taking a hard stand on this. And the last AI-assisted humans will be very tough to weed out. So, by and large we agree.

      However, I still think that AIs will take over more and more of the trading as well as investing.

      Some will ofc lose. They will go out of business, and new ones will take their place. There will always be winners and losers, as you say, it’s just that they will be robots instead of humans. Except for a few “Neo”s.

      Some 80% of the trading is already done by algos. Most of the investing is shifting to ETFs and index funds with no real human component. There are even a lot of algo-fundamental hedge funds, using machine and deep learning to analyse fundamentals automatically and invest accordingly.

  7. Admin, yep, we’re on the same wavelength, thanks for your post.

    For things like portfolio trading/balancing and 10 secs or less, robots/machines are only going to get bigger and take over more and more humans.

    But for longer term traders I think we’ve got decades left. But a) I could be wrong, and b) we must still up our game otherwise we’re going to be flipping burgers. Actually we won’t because the machines will!

  8. Hello Mikael,

    Great article,

    How do you manage the occasional background noises while deep working? Earplugs? White noise?

      1. I use a single track without lyrics on repeat. I vary the choice depending upon the tempo of work I’m doing. Tight deadline = faster cadence.

  9. Tack för en intressant artikel och för att du delar med dig av dina tankar. Det låter som om vi har en dyster tid framför oss om utvecklingen går enligt dina utsagor? Bear fram till 2040? Verkar riktigt deppigt – jag tror inte det räcker med fysisk träning och själsmässiga insatser för mig för att överleva fram tills dess. Och förresten måste jag börja hårdträna redan nu om jag ens ska vara med på banan. Även om de aktiviteterna är betydelsefulla och ger en viss näring så tror jag det behövs en grundmurad tro om ett gott samhälle för alla. Låt säga att jag är blåögd, och jag kommer troligen dö före 2040 – men hoppet och tron vill jag inte svika fram tills dess. Det kan vara så att din framtidstro är den “rätta” och låt det vara så, men jag vill inte förlora min förmåga att se positivt både nu och framåt.

    1. Hej

      Jag är optimist! Det gäller bara att skilja på verkligheten och finansfantasin. Jag tror teknik, miljö, sjukvård, upptäckande, forskning, umgänge mm kommer vara fantastiskt – inte minst från 2020 och framåt. Jag tror man kommer prata om en n gyllene era för mänskligheten med start ca 2020 och som accelererar mot 2040.

      Det kommer bli riktigt häftigt att vara med om de framstegen.

      Å andra sidan har vi börs och finans, där jag tror att vi till slut får se värderingar och vinster normaliseras. Nollavkastning från nu til 2040 gör ju inte så mycket om man lyckas undvika större delen av nedgångarna och fånga hälften av de interimistiska uppgångarna. Börsen är inte världen, även om Bernanke/Yellen har gjort sitt bästa för att få oss att tro det.

      Fortsätt se ljust på tillvaron, för det är det som är sanningen.

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