Archive for January, 2017


Automation Is the Next Phase of the Collaborative Economy

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This may come as a shocker to many, but in the next few years, the peer-based sharing/collaborative economy will shift to automation.

I’ve studied this market closely and want to make some clear predictions on where things will head. Four years ago, I mapped out the Collaborative Economy, which is the phase where humans get what they need from each other (peer-to-peer commerce). In the next phase, the Autonomous World, robots will augment and replace humans, and they will serve humans. In some cases, robots will serve other robots as we advance further.

The transition from traditional business models to the Collaborative Economy and ultimately to the Autonomous World is already creating ripples throughout the world. We are in the midst of global disruption due to widespread mobile Internet and cloud technology, vastly improved processing power and Big Data, and the rise of the sharing economy and crowdsourcing, according to the World Economic Forum. These changes have prompted new waves of geopolitical volatility and the creation of a new middle class in emerging markets.

These innovations are now spawning new energy supplies and technology, the Internet of Things, advanced manufacturing and 3D printing, and societies that live longer — all of which are quickly altering expectations about the future.

The next turn is likely to produce robots and autonomous transport, AI, and breakthroughs in advanced materials and biotechnology. These represent a new frontier that may only be a few years on the horizon. WEF posits that the world could look fundamentally different by 2020.

Let’s indicate how timely this is, and how it lines up with what we see.

How the Collaborative Economy will shift to Automation

Category Automation Phase Examples Impact
Ride Sharing

(Uber, Lyft, Didi, Ola)

Self-driving cars are quickly emerging, most by 2021, from many car manufacturers Uber has experimented with cars, Lyft’s bold pronouncement, and Didi Professional drivers will need to upskill and find a new career
Delivery

(Postmates, Instacart)

Wheeled and flying drones will deliver packages, beyond humans Starship, based in my area, is delivering food, and Amazon’s patents are inspiring Postmates, Instacart and other couriers will be displaced by robots
Home Sharing (Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway) Home automation will enable hosts to offer hospitality without being present Airbnb could offer digital locks, Wi-Fi management, digitized home appliances, and more Hosts can manage more properties, and guests get a personalized experience
Online Service Marketplaces (Upwork/Freelancer) Simple AI bots will complete rote tasks currently performed by online service providers While a plethora of early-stage bots have emerged from M, Alex, and Watson, advanced AI to conduct intermediate tasks hasn’t emerged Online workers will need to specialize their skills for project or robot management, human-based design, community skills, and humanities
What’s next? Anywhere repetitive tasks exist but could be automated Simple machines will replicate human behaviors Jobs will be lost, so humans must upskill or specialize in humanities

 

The implications of these coming changes will likely have a profound effect on the people of the world. Here are some concrete observations:

  1. Only some, not all, humans will be able to upskill, unlike other social economic revolutions. Humans could grasp industrial revolution roles as we shifted out of agriculture because they were taught single repetitive jobs. The challenge now is that robots will always learn faster than humans, as they are networked and can process faster and work at an accelerated pace.
  2. The world will need solutions to unemployment. From a nonpartisan standpoint, the next threat to Western employment isn’t offshore workers but the rise of automation. Predictions from the former White House administration predict that automation could replace 83% percent of lower paying human jobs. The impact to other nations that will develop these automated technologies are also at hand, they must prepare for changes in society and their economy. Humans will need to redefine what purpose means, for those where human labor is the primary driver.
  3. The impetus to push for universal basic income is at hand. The experiments are happening in Finland, Oakland and more, proposing such a policy would provide every human — regardless of age, gender, educational attainment, or intelligence — with a guaranteed living wage to cover basic needs: food, shelter, and clothes. For anything else they want, they will have to earn it. The companies that own and/or profit from these technologies should be taxed to cover this societal benefit. The robots should not only provide more resources to the planet for cheaper, but they should also fund a quality life for others.
  4. Who will maintain employment: Those who manage robots, humanities, nonlinear roles. While we actively try to teach our children coding, technology is quickly advancing that robots will be able to self-code. This means that understanding how to manage systems of robots towards solving problems will be key. Secondly, arts, humanities, entertainment, sports, psychology and other softer skills will rise to the forefront as skills that are needed. It’s assumed that robots will replace many repetitive and rote jobs, humans that can solve complex tasks that are constantly unique, will thrive.

In summary, Uber, Lyft are ushering in self-driving cars and a wave of automation that will cascade across the broader ecosystem as humans are augmented then often replaced by robotic systems.

Four Threats That Could Decay Silicon Valley

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By Jeremiah Owyang, from Silicon Valley

In many respects, Silicon Valley sits atop the world. Its growth and influence has made it the globe’s top location for innovation, STEM jobs, IT patents, venture capital funding, and Internet and software growth, and Unicorn startups galore.

And yet there’s also been a shift in the Valley’s culture. Growing social and economic rifts have bred fraud, anger and protests. Where housing isn’t in high demand, neighborhoods lay abandoned. One-third of students in East Palo Alto, next to Facebook’s shining new HQ, for instance, don’t even have a home. The new administration poses many questions on the role of tech, labor, and regulation.

One could argue that there’s an emergence of signs that strikingly resemble Detroit in the glory days of the age of transportation. While Silicon Valley will no doubt enjoy many more years as the technology capital of the world, it has its own vulnerabilities.

In Detroit’s case, where I visited earlier this week, the Motor City reveled in its dominance in the 1950s, but growing social unrest soon culminated in a massive riot in the late 1960s. Foreign competition hit next, making the most of economic opportunities to steal market share in the 1970s. Underlying credit problems grew for decades and finally surfaced in the 1990s, and ultimately despite unprecedented bailouts, major bankruptcies hit in 2009, with the city itself declared officially bankrupt in 2013.


Here are four threats, aside from natural disaster, or whole scale physical attack for Silicon Valley today, along with a futuristic probing of their possible conclusions in the coming decades:

Threat One: Complacency and Competition
The byproducts of rampant success are beginning to take their toll on the Valley, especially in the escalating costs of doing business. A concentration of talent and vision that once was a tremendous advantage is now an ever-rising obstacle for new startups or collaborative partners looking to tap into those resources. To think Silicon Valley’s trajectory will continue unabated for much longer represents an arrogance that’s creating a tremendous blind spot for the region.

New tech oases are rising in places across the country — Austin, Texas, is a prime example — and around the world in places like China, India and Korea. In Detroit, Japanese carmakers gained their foothold when a global oil shortage spiked gas prices and opened a door to sell smaller, more efficient cars. Today, there are a lot of regions in the world where tech innovation can be accomplished for cheaper than Silicon Valley. Eventually someone may figure out how to do it faster or better too.

Threat Two: Lack of Economic Diversity Means Fragility
One industry in a single city is a risk. Stemming from that very same tech-obsessed culture comes the liability of being one-dimensional. The threat of a Silicon Valley bubble unplugging from the realities of the rest of America and the world could render its innovations out of touch and useless, whereas a more balanced economy where arts and humanities are also thriving is more likely to produce thinking outside the box.

Historically, iron and steel towns have faltered when global economic shifts happen — they have no backup, and the homes, stores, and businesses that all support that single industry may result in their shuttiner. Additionally, having a variety of industries only breeds a plethora of viewpoints, which can only aid in helping guide a better technology set for humans. Where Silicon Valley is strong with tech, it’s equally deficient in the humanities.

Threat Three: Disappearing Margins as Tech becomes Commoditized.
The open source movement and spread of tech knowledge are diminishing Silicon Valley’s advantage over the rest of the world. There’s an abundant supply of new software developers coming into the market, and technology has a way of democratizing at such a low price point that healthy margins are nearly impossible. And if energy technology succeeds in providing inexpensive renewables in the not-too-distant future, the threshold of entry for competitors will drop even lower. While the iPhone is able to maintain a high price point, China is on their heels with a $25 smartphone. Could other regions in Asia and Europe develop open source versions of technology that smash the price of technologies?

Threat Four: The Rise of AI, Silicon Valley build’s it’s own master
The race to develop artificial intelligence and machine learning could backfire on Silicon Valley if AI breakthroughs displace the need or abilities of its army of tech pioneers. Or the intense pursuit of that goal could unleash uncontrollable machines that wrest power away from the elites. Technology has proven to be a capable disrupter of businesses, industries and entire ways of life. Deliver that kind of disruption on an unprecedented scale and it becomes incredibly hard to predict the consequences.


Any one of these warning threats has the potential to morph into a serious threat to the future of Silicon Valley, and avoiding such eventualities begins with addressing their underlying issues.

Just remember, no industry is hot forever, they all have their own lifecycles the question is, is Silicon Valley just a teething youngster, or in it’s final stages?