I’ve had the pleasure once again of joining Peter Diamandis in Los Angeles this week at his Abundance 360 conference and this is a short key takeaway note for our investors (if you missed last year’s conference review please find it here).
We started on a theme we are going to hear more about being ‘the future of work’. Tony Robbins and Peter first asked the 360 attendees, being mostly CEO entrepreneurs, ‘how concerned are you about technological unemployment?’. Of those surveyed, 35% showed ‘very concerned’ while 92% had some range of concern about technological unemployment.
As Moore’s Law roars on and exponential technologies start to invade our lives and work, the fear this generates will need to be very closely watched. I strongly believe that now and throughout history, humans have always been able to see which jobs will disappear, but have never been able to imagine the new jobs of the future. As Ray Kurzweil articulated later in the conference, imagine telling a person 100 years ago not to worry about massive job losses in agriculture because people will be coding computers. However true this is, it will not change the fact that over the next 10 years, as we see pervasive artificial intelligence and automation disrupt many industries, fear will become a common theme.
Artificial intelligence is not just coming, it is here. Only last week did we see both Microsoft and Alibaba AI beat humans at a language test, on average. As seen with AlphaGo (Google owned DeepMind AI), once AI surpasses humans, it very quickly becomes dominant; AlphaGo Zero was only 3 months younger than its predecessor and beat Alpha Go 100 times to zero. Ray, who has been an incredible forecaster, believes that AI is about 11 years away from replicating the full spectrum of human emotion, including humour and even love.
The CTO of Applied materials Om Nalamasu was quite informative on where battery tech is going and how long it will take to evolve. My read is that cobalt, nickel and lithium have some way to go. It was only in 2016 that people thought our piece on autonomous cars (the link can be found here) was a little crazy. Honestly, I thought we were being pretty optimistic too. However, even we needed to bring in our forecasts based on how quickly these EV and autonomous cars are coming. 2018 will see many live projects on the road. Google’s Waymo is already running autonomous cars with no safety driver around Californian streets. The impact on 7-8m driving jobs in America alone is obvious. When I talk to an Uber driver today, I can’t help but feel concerned for them: ‘do they know what’s coming?’
It brings us to an important theme that we will be following much more closely. How does education need to change to reduce latency in up-skilling and educate children and adults for what they actually need? I think there will and needs to be huge disruption in this space. New large winners will emerge. Just like we don’t need to physically dig ditches anymore, we won’t need to do many things now that we consider work. AI will take care of that.
While the conference usually focuses on what’s going from deceptive to disruptive in the next 1-2 years, Peter chaired one panel looking at a 10-year horizon. I consider myself an optimist but even I can get a little fearful when discussing some of these things. Bryan Johnson, who founded Braintree and sold it for $800m, has founded a new company called Kernel. He has put $100m of his own capital into this project. Kernel is a Brain-Computer-Interface company (BCI). Bryan has to be one of the best thinkers I have seen. His concern is that if we don’t upgrade human intelligence then we will be left behind by AI. Humans have been, albeit slowly, upgrading their intelligence for 70,000 years, but it’s about to get a whole lot more science-fiction. The aliens aren’t coming, we are going to become them. BCI is working on connecting our brains to the cloud. Instant knowledge. I’ll leave this idea for you to sit with for now and we will explore it again soon.
Finally, Ray Kurzweil restated his prediction that escape velocity for human health and lifespan was expected to be reached by 2032. Simply, in 14 years humans will be adding more than one year of healthy lifespan for every year that passes. I met with some of the companies in this space at the conference including the CEO’s of Human Longevity Inc, Celularity, Elevian Inc, Samumed LLC and Unity Biotech. All of them with impressive assets focused on treating age as a disease.
We truly live in an extraordinary time. My goal is to continue to be close to the curve on these themes, looking for the disruptors and the disrupted. The rate of change is getting faster and faster, and with that brings enormous opportunities.
As always, I’m happy at any time to discuss these themes and ideas more closely with any of our investors.