Summary: I’m not writing about, or predicting, the future, I’m asking you to do it, mostly as a brain exercise, forcing you to actually think
Length: very short
So, you doubt the Singularity* will happen?
[* the technological Singularity, when one generation of tech improves the next generation in such a rapid pace that normal humans can’t keep up]
Then, why not make your own prediction.
Start with one technology or piece of hardware or software you’re familiar with. A cellphone, e.g., or glasses, TV, internet, cars… Extrapolate what that tech will look like in the future. Never mind how far into the future. Take it one step at a time and imagine what the next iteration will look like, and the next, and the next. Again, disregard the time aspect, and focus on the generations. Don’t forget to take into account that whatever that piece of tech turns into with enough iterations, it can be used as a tool for improving and accelerating other tech areas.
Where do cell phones get you in a hundred significant iterations? Computers? How big, how fast, how competent? Where do they go, how are they powered?
Keep doing that for cars, planes, space ships, contact lenses, software, computer games and movies, 3D glasses, brain implants, artificial agents and so on.
You might not be an expert in any of these fields, but consider what an AI can do in the future if it’s already mastered Chess, Jeopardy, Go and Poker. Where does Crispr-Cas9 gene editing take us in a hundred iterations? Robots are currently stumbling around in Alphabet’s labs, but what will they be doing in a thousand years?
When, if ever, e.g., will a team of robots beat the best team of soccer or american football players? In 2050? Sooner? Later? Never?
Do your best at imagining the future piece by piece, and please tell me if you see a hard stop anywhere. If not, the Singularity will happen. Sir Martin Rees, a distinguished astronomer, has suggested that genetically and cybernetically enhanced humans/cyborgs on Mars could be the first artificial intelligences.
We can already build simple nanomachines, edit genes and create artificial life. There are brain implants controlling neurodegenerative diseases, there are eye implants making blind see (low res for now, but with Moore’s law it won’t be too long before they can see better than ordinary humans, and a wider spectrum of light).
I see a very bright future, a future where we can widen our intelligence, and live to the fullest. Others see a dystopian scenario of obese and non-thinking human remnants merely being tolerated by the only intelligent life on earth, AIs. Yet others see nothing at all, since we’ll soon destroy the Earth before being able to leave.
Where do you see yourself in a world of AI and AR?
While you’re at it, where do you see yourself in that future? Not just the end game, but the transitional period in getting there. How will you and your children create a rich and meaningful existence in the coming 25-50 years?
How will you educate yourself?
What will you work with?
How do you plan your investments?
Crypto currencies such as Bitcoin?
What will governments look like?
How will laws evolve?
Where’s your worth when power shifts from governments to tech giants, when cryptocurrencies make current tax regimes impossible to enforce? How do you plan to stay relevant in the future, a future where technology might be able to do everything you can do… for free?
It’s part of a longer trend of technology used to make better tools, in turn used to make even better technology, that forms the basis for ever more advanced tools and technology, each new step building on top of the preceding one. It’s the essence of investing.
It started with life itself (or even before that, with increasingly complex sub-atomic and atomic particles), including inventing the DNA and much later the brain, all the way to language, writing, the printing press, punch cards, transistors and so on. The silicon paradigm is not the first, and far from the last in the chain of increasingly effective information management.
It’s not just about computers, it’s prevalent in all information based technologies (which when it comes down to it are all technologies, including genetics, software algorithms, artificial intelligence, and with time and smaller scale even matter itself)
If trends continue we will soon routinely sequence every living person’s DNA down to the base pair, we will develop strong nanotechnology atomic manipulators, map the connectome and so on. And as Ray Kurzweil has pointed out since decades back, the rate of acceleration is itself accelerating. The latter fact has been hard to detect until now; even the first order exponential growth was difficult to identify until Moore made his observation in the 1960s; but it’s there.
The reason is that not only does one technology create tools for its own next generation, other technologies feed into each other, not to mention more and more people (and soon AIs) work on the same tasks.
Please note that the accelerating curve above is on a log scale, meaning accelerating acceleration
Imagine miniaturization leading to ultimate control over the bits of matter with the same precision as current control over virtual bits. Measuring, mapping, mimicking and improving nature down to the atom (deeper still?) will be as natural as recording, sampling and mixing a tune or creating a Minecraft universe on your computer.
You could build anything with the help of free solar power (made by same nanobots) and free source material (carbon and silicon straight from the crust and air). You would become immortal and freed of the need to do work for a living.
Remember that all issues associated with the material world would be solved: pollution, global warming, disease, hunger, water, power and death.
Assume the Singularity holds off for a while; that crossing the threshold into ever improving and accelerating superhuman intelligence proves a little more difficult than anticipated, thus giving us all some time (all the time until the end of the universe?) to live in the perfect retirement scenario of ultimate abundance…
What would you do as a full retard?
What do you think others would do?
I’m personally currently in a preparation camp of sorts for the full retard world, making connections in a network, bartering virtual goods, exploring my own true values, needs and desires – as if all my and the world’s material issues were already solved. I’m not working, I’m socializing and living.
I happen to enjoy learning and challenging my brain and body, then sharing as much of it as possible. I also adhere to a kind of Ahimsa anti-violence (initiation of…, but if you start then 3 lefts make a right in my book) philosophy.
Abundance won’t stop the fighting
Not everybody are like me, however. Some want to stay ignorant, refuse to give up their ingrained medieval habits (as if the eval=evil didn’t give the underlying truth away); some simply like mayhem and destruction. Stop here for a while to ponder that economists used to talk about the homo economicus as if he were real… No, man is rational given his own personal and impossibly complex premises, but he is nowhere near anything that could be called economically rational.
Botnets, religion, civilization and nano wars
The ongoing virtual war of viruses, worms, trojans, botnet domination etc. is nothing compared to the coming nano wars. Hopefully, the attacks will nevertheless be fewer since all economic sentiment will be null and void. Ah, if it just weren’t for the religious and fanatics… – Do you remember when some still could say “Without religion there would be no civilization” with a straight face? It’s a miracle (sic.) that civilization prevails despite religion.
What if you stopped dreaming about what you want to do in the future and did it right now instead?
Why not have some fun, or at least steer your skills in a direction that gets you fired up?
Again, what would you do if you didn’t have to work at all? Maybe the answer makes you realize you could work less already, and focus more on what you actually want.
Fuck you money is good for escaping a soul sucking job. But don’t reverse the logic by launching a meaningless career with the intent of eventually becoming financially independent.
If you still think you want that money, no matter what, make sure to choose a technology proof path.
Here is me celebrating escaping the work vortex (picture by Ludvig at SGM)
I’m finally free of obligations, and thankfully as curious as ever
Designing a future proof career
How does a career in the robotic (AI) porn industry sound to you? It should be (in)decently future-proof (requires human touch, creativity, and rides current trends in technology, not to mention perhaps the strongest human drive of all). It could be lucrative too (albeit, quite competitive).
What do you say? Do you see a box of promotional lubricants in your future? Read on for 45 minutes’ dissection of your future job market.
My main point is this: there is no career alternative that you can easily identify, and get rich from predictably, simply by being smart and hard working.
Hence, you should choose an area where you’ll be happy/fulfilled, catering to your own most important demands.
Quite possibly, you’ll become wealthy too, after long enough… or, more likely, stop caring about money on the way. At least I hope so – even if there are a lot of Ebenezers out there constantly proving me wrong.
My guess (and hope) is that you’ll dismiss investment banking and management consulting as future industries for you, instead immersing yourself in exploration of some of the big four technologies (nanotech, AI, biotech, automation/robotics) in order to solve the big five problems (Food, Water, Energy, Pollution, Health).
My personal choice would be one of, or a combination of, some of the following areas: medicine, psychology, anti-virus (IRL or VR), AI, robotics, automation, clean energy, water purification/desalination and parentless protein (plant, lab grown meat, insects).
However, if you’re dead set on whoring out (for a while), I have something for you too. A hint: it’s not finance; that’s a dead end.
Choose carefully if staying in the same industry is a priority
Flipping burgers? You’re out. Automated grinders, grillers, stackers will outdo you on every account from speed and quality to price
Cashier? You’re out.
Paralegal? You’re out. Watson will outread and outsummary you in a second. A lawyer of any kind however is a different story; think taxes and divorces.
Household services? You’re out. Not quite yet, but new materials, new robots, new methods and procedures will steadily erode the cleaning lady niche.
Teacher? Yes, for the very few of you that can thrive online. No for most.
Bank teller? Out. Back office? Out. Broker? Out. Portfolio Manager? Out (ETFs and HFTs are taking your job). Quant? There is still some road left. Marketing/Sales? You’re in! That kind of human touch and creativity is very hard to automate (but be sure to use every data mining robot available or you’ll be run over. Remember that any decent chess player, with the help of a chess program, will reliably beat the world champion)
Massage therapist? Congratulations, you get to massage the obnoxious 1% that can afford you.
Psychotherapist? Congratulations, there will be a lot of work for you. Anxiety levels are rising (not least due to the perceived threat of technology) and the need for a human touch will be there for a long time yet.
Are you an engineer? Make sure you stay on top of your game or you’ll end up just supervising computers doing your job. Okay, engineers, you’re in!
Programmer? Somebody will have to make the “robots” run. It could be you – either as a household tinkerer to save money or do barter, or professionally to make money. In!
Alright, you get my point: There are not many places to hide and it will only get worse. An area that might seem secure today can easily be threatened a decade from now. I mean, who knows how automated massage, acupuncture and sales might develop.
So, what should you do?
Secure a livelihood or live
There are a few ways to approach the issue of work for a young person these days.
Focus on maximizing your career opportunities, your potential for wealth, status and post-career opportunities and security. Perhaps you can do what you want later but you risk killing off your soul (obviously not the path I would recommend)
Focus on having fun and enjoying life in the short to mid term, and worry about middle age and retirement later. Maybe you’ll never “grow up”. Maybe fun will always be enough. NB: “fun” doesn’t mean travel and binge drinking, it means pursuing serious work that is intriguing and stimulating long term.
Or is there some kind of magical middle of the road alternative that is both fun and fulfilling as well as enriching? There might be, as I tangentially wrote about here.
I hope Tim and the others at the super cool site Wait But Why see this picture as flattery and not theft
Maximizing your work life longevity
From a pure livelihood perspective, be prepared to keep learning, keep finding ways to ride the technology wave – using hw/sw tools to stay above water, rather than be made obsolete by them – and not least: be prepared to have many different careers.
You want to keep your brain and mind youthful and fresh (best achieved by constantly trying new things and learning and practicing new and diverse skills. You might find some inspiration in the pod casts I recommended the other day).
You want to be unique and useful (through unusual combinations of experiences and skills – which makes me think of the world’s perhaps foremost AI expert, Margaret Boden. She has a background as a medical doctor and psychology student who turned to philosophy and eventually to AI).
Your needs or others’?
Humans are pretty simple in general (not you of course, but the rest). We evolved as pattern recognizers (to move, understand and predict movement, find food, fight adversaries etc.) and social animals (protection, child-rearing).
Once the basic needs of nutrition and shelter are out of the way, humans want to procreate, socialize, explore/identify patterns (understand our environment), relax and sleep.
Success or happiness?
When planning your future you want to strike just the right balance between your needs/wants (and capacity) and other people’s needs/wants (the demand side). The former determines your happiness. The latter your success.
I’m sure you have your basic survival needs reasonably covered (food, water, energy, shelter/sleep) and would ideally want to focus on sex, socializing and discovery. If you are Beta you might be thinking of money and status too, but in my opinion those are more or less unnecessary steps toward the true goals.
However, half of the world’s population is still struggling with the basics (making meeting those needs a great business idea), while the other half has some potential to go after the secondary goals like yourself. And then there is the rounding error one per cent like myself:
Humans are pattern recognizers
A side note: My fellow one per centers might not have any reason for financial worries. They however still struggle to find meaning in their lives and would be well advised to think deeply about human nature to find a path that is truly fulfilling.
I would suggest Understanding and Sharing, which is just a sound byte way of saying that humans evolved to want/need to recognize patterns, to understand the world and universe, to explore and make scientific discoveries and not least to share our knowledge and experiences with others. Those who didn’t went extinct. The ones who are still around can’t be fulfilled without it.
Back to your best career path.
Fulfill your needs while fulfilling others’
Go after what is most needed both now and as far down the line as you can imagine. The more you focus on the wants of others’ the more future-proof and wealthy you’ll become.
Basic needs: Water, Food, Shelter, Pharmaceuticals and Energy (really the key to everything and has always been. We have ridden the energy source waves of wood, coal, oil and uranium to make/transport food, clean water, buildings/heating/cooling, pharmaceuticals etc).
Do it while satisfying as much as possible of your own (mostly secondary, higher) needs and building a platform to serve your needs longer-term.
Alternatively, only worry about yourself, your needs; work in something fulfilling and you don’t have to worry about getting that illusive fuck you money.
You might not realize it yet, but “scientific discovery is the greatest pleasure there is”
-Said a brain scientist on a recent pod cast. I agree.
Travel, exploration, discovery, socializing/help
You want to travel to interesting places? How about working with the Red Cross?
No, you won’t get financially rich but you will experience a lot of things, and possibly be able to do some interesting research along the way. A small caveat: you might want to be a medical doctor, a nurse, an engineer, a statistician or so to get anywhere. I don’t know if you can simply start as a self-educated bum even in that kind of organization.
You like gaming and virtual worlds? Go for programming and designing them or sales and marketing. Demand seems almost infinite. Further, it rhymes well with our evolutionary needs for relaxation and socializing, as well as technological trends. Learn how to code, or design, or promote, or create believable stories/characters.
You like science and discovery? Find a path into the world of biotechnology, AI, robotics or nanotechnology. You just might find yourself helping solve the global issues of food, water, energy and health, while satisfying your own needs for pattern recognition.
Just rich, please. And quickly!
Fuck that! You just want to be rich – or at least get some decent job security for the long run. You don’t want my hippie mindfulness strategies for happiness. You want the mohnay!
So, how do you go about whoring out? How can you go for short term profits, before moving on to your real ambitions (after you have taken care of your finances and never have to answer to a boss again)?
I hate to break it to you but there is no easy and surefire (or legal) way of getting your hands on real fuck you money in short order. For that you need luck, contacts, skills and maybe a higher education diploma from a top college too (even if I think skills such as programming are becoming more important than formal education). And even if some paths are more consistently lucrative than other, they typically take decades, not years.
Okay, forget about rich or fast, you just want job security:
Porn could work, but to get your hands on serious money, I imagine you would have to get (your hands) really dirty on the way. Competition must be hard considering how much cheap and free stuff there is online.
AI-robotics-porn will become big someday. And I’m serious about this. Whoever cracks this market open will be rolling in dough, and my money is on there being a lot of adjacent IRL opportunities too (voices, faces etc).
The finance industry is crowded, shrinking and built on central banking stimulus quicksand.
If you study engineering, math, statistics and then whore out as a quant at the right HFT firm you just might make it.
Nota bene: I can very well imagine working as a quant can be challenging, fun and fulfilling if you like it. Here however, I’m talking about the situation where you only do it for the money.
However, considering the disservice HFTs are doing to society, how easy it would be to regulate the industry to death (transaction taxes) and the likely coming market collapse, do you want to take the chance? I wouldn’t.
Some finance outfits will continue to consistently make a lot of money in finance. It’s just very hard to know which ones and how to get in on it (and high enough in the hierarchy). Perhaps it will be fundamentally driven hedge funds – that would be new. Unfortunately they are struggling now, so no new hires for a while.
“Business” (making deals) will still create value, be in demand and can be fun and meaningful. Start small, slowly build up your deal making empire, while acquiring more and more skills on the way. This is the Always Be Investing Way. This line of “work” could be just anything. Observe your environment and buy and sell products and services to make life easier for others.
By the way, one researcher on a science pod recently said that it’s deal making that separates humans from animals and forced us to develop a nuanced language. On the other hand, another researcher said that the first religion was centered around the newly invented cheese (which helped neolithics, who were all lactose intolerant, from starving to death during a drought), and that writing was invented to keep track of all the cheese.
Technology, engineering, programming, math, statistics etc. all enable, as well as ride the wave of accelerating progress. It’s creative and requires non-automated humans. Here you will stay ahead of the automation curve for the foreseeable future. This is where you want to be.
Law: You might try becoming a tax or divorce lawyer. The legal system seems to be the only industry I can think of that will keep growing and that is complicated enough to make a decent living from. Unfortunately you must have a long formal education and on the job training before you start making money.
It must be non-repetitive, creative and require a human touch in some way. It should create value, satisfy the demand of others, improve the productivity of others, and use technology rather than easily being replaced by it.
The following areas from the top of my mind appear robust, attractive, fun and meaningful to me:
the environment (carbon capture, cap & trade-schemes, toilets)
The last few weeks I have actually been seriously toying with the idea of starting an insect farm to produce insect food (on paper it’s the holy grail of food: omega-3 rich, protein rich, non-animal food, made from things most of us wish didn’t have to exist at all. In addition, insects eat anything [or just sugar, which is extremely cheap] and breed like crickets).
It might be fun too, but since I would mainly do it for the protein for myself, I could just as well order it from companies like Aspire instead.
You will always know the details better than I do
The job market has become more complicated than 25 years ago but the more it changes the more it stays the same.
I don’t claim to know exactly what career opportunities there are for you. I’m sure you have a better grasp about the specifics relevant for you for the remainder of this decade. However, I think I can give you some food for thought and perspective on how to approach the decision problem to avoid the worst mistakes.
When I was 15 and had just finished 9th grade (1987, the year of the black Monday on the stock market), there were only 3 real alternatives for secondary school: Natural sciences, Economy and Engineering. There were some other weird alternatives, but none that anybody took seriously.
When I graduated from my Natural Sciences program (18 years old in 1990, not long after the Berlin wall came down, and 5 years before the IPO of Netscape and the advent of the world wide web), the choices for college weren’t any more complicated: Engineering, Economy, Law and Medicine (and some other esoteric non-starter alternatives).
There was no on-line education, no realistic way to acquire skills outside of the system. Things have changed a lot since then. Now the choices are endless, and so are the pitfalls.
So, you know the details better. I can’t tell you which alternative is better. Programming? Porn? Finance? Engineering. Medicine? Law? I don’t know. The problem at hand is too complex and too difficult, in particular for an outsider (without skin in the game, it’s impossible to motivate myself to peer through every conceivable education and career path).
All I want to do is provide you with some tools to help you think systematically about making a robust education and career choice. If possible.
Ask yourself the right questions
1. What do you want? Money or happiness. Duh! You want happiness (and that you get by fulfilling your higher needs), it’s just that you might still think you have to go through money to get there. Okay, I get it: You want Money.
2. What do others want (that’s how you get the money; by fulfilling higher and lower needs of others)? What do you need to provide that? Formal education, skills, money, contacts?
3. What opportunities will technology ruin for you over time? What opportunities will be enhanced by technology?
4. Make a list of what it is you really want. And if it starts by money, be explicit with what it is you are going to buy with the money (cars, sex, drugs?). It might just focus your mind toward your real wants.
5. Make a list of areas you think could be future proof (not easily automated by robots or IBM’s Watson) and where you stand a chance to get in. They should pass the test of satisfying real and eternal human demands (or possibly cater to wanna-be Ebenezers, looking for fame and fortune).
6. Make a list of what you are prepared to do in terms of education, training and work (you whore you!) to get the kind of money you want/need, before quitting and doing what you really want. Compare that to the alternative of starting with what you want right away instead of taking the detour over money.
7. My guess (and hope) is that you’ll dismiss Goldman Sachs and McKinsey as future employers, and go for some of the big four technologies (nanotech, AI, biotech, automation/robotics) to solve the big five basic problems (Food, Water, Energy, Pollution, Health).
An impossible equation requires a sidestep
The choices are overwhelming, and the landscape is changing ever faster. You are facing a decision cube (at least 3-D) of what you want, what others want, and your capacity & willingness to whore out.
So, how can you choose the right path to wealth? One that makes you rich enough before losing yourself. I think you can’t. So choose happiness instead. Altucher might call it “choose yourself”. For some that will mean money as well, for other “just” happiness and a meaningful and well spent life.
Take it from me, wealth, fame and status are mirages. It seems fun to get drunk on a yacht, but it’s just as fun anywhere else. Driving a sports car in 200 mph is fun (and probably unnecessarily dangerous) but so is riding a roller coaster. Even better is the “simple” pleasure of discovering something new.
I suggest you aim for feeding your inner pattern recognizer through science and exploration, instead of wasting your years on the intermediary goal of becoming wealthy. Also, please note the difference between doing something fun and meaningful vs. just goofing around or trying to follow your”passion”. The latter is also quite misdirected.
You still need a livelihood, I get that. What I’m saying is that that could be just about anything you find interesting and rewarding intellectually long term. Worry about satisfaction and skills first, pay later. However, if you cast a wide enough net (living laterally) quite likely you’ll find that something productive and useful is what speaks to your pattern recognizing self.
Keep investing in the things that matter
Just remember that there will be no welfare state in the future, unless technology evolves so quickly and spreads so widely (more or less The Singularity scenario) that not just the automation oligarchs get to participate in the abundance.
Therefore you should cultivate a mindset of adaptation, a diverse set of skills and a wide net of friends. While building layers on top of layers (“investing” is accumulative) over the years, I think you’ll find yourself change resistant, highly satisfied and “happy” and, with time, quite possibly financially wealthy as well:
Always Be Investing (in yourself)
So, time for soul searching. Do you want happiness or do you want success?
If you decide on the latter, think hard about human nature and which areas might be more long term stable than others.