When technology steals your job (Part II)

15-second summary

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)

roof top Sprezzatura

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.

You’ll find Part I to this article here (it’s just a 3-minute read and mostly a list of interesting science pod casts).

Wits and hard work is not enough

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).

cricket flour

yummy

 

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.

Economics/finance?

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).

Higher needs: Sex, Socializing/Sharing, Relaxation (entertainment), Discovery (preferably scientific)

Rich and poor

Photo by Tuca Vieira

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.

Gaming, entertainment, relaxation, socializing, technology

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.

Discovery

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.

man vs machine

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.

Job security

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.

Law just might be the ultimate whoring out alternative: boring as well as parasitical, and possibly paying very well  after a few invested decades. Oh, did I say that New Scientist already thinks that lawyers might be becoming obsolete?

The anatomy of a change resistant job

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:

  • Robotics
  • AI
  • marketing
  • psychology
  • anything creative (games, music, movies, virtual worlds)
  • food (vertical farms, insects, algae)
  • energy (fusion, solar, wave)
  • water (desalination, purifying)
  • 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.

career choice

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:

layer upon layer career investing

Always Be Investing (in yourself)

 

Your call

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.

businessman

Will technology take your job? Part I

PIC: exploding radio by Rutger Prins

This article will consume about 2 (two) minutes of your time and give you a list of the best science pod casts around.

You’d better stay informed or you just might lose your job unexpectedly. However, Part I is mainly about a handful of really good pod casts.

PIC: exploding radio by Rutger Prins

“Exploding Radio” by Rutger Prins

Summary: start listening to the TED Radio Hour pod cast by NPR. It will educate you, broaden your perspective on the human mind, keep you prepared and ready, as well as stimulate your own brain’s plasticity and make acquiring other skills easier, when you lose your current job (or the one you’re aiming for with your education).

 

Walking With Science

Avoid growing old

I recently listened to a “radio” program about brain plasticity. One topic concerned how a flawed “noisy” brain (neurons firing or being quiet when they shouldn’t) learns to avoid using the noisy parts and those parts thus slowly atrophy and die, leading to severe dysfunction.

A less severe variation of that happens when you voluntarily retire your brain, don’t challenge it in a wide range of areas, don’t expose it enough to novelty or strong emotions. Some would call it growing old, whereas I and some scientists these days see it as an avoidable brain disease.

You can understand these things and dodge them at the same time, by taking part of new science through “radio”. It’s fun too.

The most stimulating, educational and interesting pod casts are about science, new discoveries and people. Sure, we are wired to be interested in gossip and empty talk too (there is research made on the science of gossip on some of these pod casts), but that’s about as fulfilling in the long run as eating candy.

Motion and emotion

Humans are made for moving; the brain evolved to understand motion (and happened to develop emotion as a by-product; as a way to understand the motions/behavior of other people). Brain plasticity and learning is enhanced during motion (not that surprising, considering moving is what the brain was made for).

I’ve learned these things particularly well, by listening to programs about the brain while going for long walks :)

If you have trouble focusing on talking heads casts, talk shows, nonsense popular news yapping, you really should give “walking with science” a try.

In short it means 1) Listen to well edited science pod casts while 2) Taking a walk. The walking can be substituted by any kind of drone-like tasks, such as vacuuming, cooking a familiar dish, walking the dog or light exercise.

NPR TED Radio Hour is number one

If you are new to this you should try NPR TED Radio Hour.

There are already hundreds of episodes available on all kinds of topics ranging from health and happiness to technology, biology, neurology and politics. One 1-hour show is made from 2-4 different TED talks on a certain topic (usually mind-blowing in themselves at at full length one a a time, but made more accessible this way).

The show is narrated by the ever cheerful and curious Guy Ross who interviews the TED speakers, explains concepts, as well as plays excerpts from the talks.

You will exercise every part of your brain trying to understand the wide ranging topics presented by some of the smartest people on the planet.

The current episode is a re-run about originality, creativity, copyright infringement etc.

Other pod casts can only fight for second place

Nature

Popular science: Recent episodes include Gene Editing, Music and Thought, How English Became Dominant. You won’t be disappointed if you subscribe to Nature.

Brain Science

Everything neurological: My favorite episodes are about the connectome (the brain’s physical wiring) and findings about plasticity. Recent episodes include The Brain’s Way Of Healing. BS is probably my favorite show after TED.

The human connectome

connectome

Discovery

Documentaries, science, new findings…: A recent eye opener was the February 9, 2015, show about the science of smell and how olfactory cells have cured a paralyzed man. By the way, did you know that whereas you have 3 (three) different vision receptors responsible for all the millions of colors you can see, you have 350 different olfactory receptors.

More recent episodes concern the nocebo effect, the psychology of money (does it make us mean and selfish?) and the growing mountain of electronic waste (I hope you don’t have any old cell phones or WiFi routers just sitting in a drawer). A great show.

60-Second science

1-minute scientific tidbits (new findings); perfect for a short walk to the grocery store or the office, and as inspiration for other pod casts or web sites (I have recently subscribed to the gastropod about the history of food). 

Science Talk

This show is less sciency and more talky than the other shows. It’s still good, but in this list it ends up last

Freakonomics

I’ve included a non-natural sciences show too. Freakonomics deals with how human psychology, rationally irrational decisions affect the macroeconomy around us. Recent topics include Advertising, Obsolete Technological Paradigms, Willpower and Temptation, Online dating.

Economics is not really a science but it’s still about discovery and that’s the most pleasurable activity there is.

60 minutes

Okay, not everybody is a science nerd like I am, so here is something for you. 60 minutes will give you investigative and penetrating news stories about terrorism, politics, leaders, racism, cyber security, Ebola, movie stars (Bradley Cooper, e.g.) and the U.S. military.

Even if this usually is the very last pod cast I go to, I am out with my dog for four hours a day, so there is room for a lot of things to listen to.

Beware, your career could be on the line

If nothing else, listening to science shows will give you a feel for how fast technology is evolving. Even if most, if not all, guests on these pod casts still say The Singularity is a pipe dream, the shows demonstrate the accelerating pace with which innovations will change almost every aspect of the human experience.

One of the first things that will change is Education and Career planning (more in a coming post… soon, so be sure to subscribe to my newsletter to get that one in a timely fashion. You’ll get my free e-book as well).

The backgrounds of the guests on these pod casts also clearly show the value of having a wide range of experiences and skills, not to mention doing truly meaningful and long-term things rather than mindlessly just trying to outdo your neighbor.

If nothing else, quite a few of these accomplished scientists exhibit weirdly random career paths.

Summary

  • Subscribe to the TED Radio Hour pod cast (and others)
  • Move while you listen to the show
  • Remember to pay close attention
  • Actively try to remember the interesting findings by repeating them silently to yourself
  • Your career is on the line

I’m really looking forward to this movie, “Ex Machina”, about AIex machina

The AI in the picture is a friend of a friend of mine

BTW, did I mention I’m involved in the inception of a European wide venture capital fund for robotics? Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath. Robotics is still so far away from mind-blowing that it hurts, as I have written about before (here on Linked In).