11. Implementation of the ATOM Age for Individuals

 

 Live as if you were to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you were to live forever.

 Mahatma Gandhi

Ability will never catch up with the demand for it.

– Confucius

(Video).  Building upon the meme presented in the previous section on how the future is not evenly distributed, it is now time to take steps to get more of the future distributed in your favor.  As an individual, there a myriad of resources and capabilities at your fingertips, that can make you healthy, wealthy, and wise with a speed and efficiency that was previously impossible.

 

How to Think Like Part of the ATOM :  You are not merely a hapless creature being swept along by the ATOM, you are a part of it.  Whether a person is interested in the subject matter discussed here or not, the ATOM is interested in them.  Every aspect of life is being woven into the ATOM and existing hierarchies and power structures are being toppled and re-arranged at accelerating speeds.  Therein lies tremendous opportunity, and thus opportunity cost for those who fail to become sufficiently astute.  Just consider a few of the examples that come to mind :

  • Never before has it been easier to research a career, or to contact someone who is in a position you wish to attain in the future. A skilled and determined user of LinkedIn can replace much of the networking utility of an MBA degree from all but the top few institutions, saving considerable time and expense.  The ability to keep track of the career progression of dozens of peers, and identify common elements of success among them, is often underestimated.
  • An amateur filmmaker now has access to high-definition cameras, editing software, terabytes of storage, and sound synthesizers that would have been prohibitively expensive just a decade ago. A film project can be financed through a crowdfunding site, the work and reputation of potential collaborators can be researched easily through their web presence, and trailers can be marketed through YouTube.  Such a project has at least six components that did not exist at the start of the century.
  • Before Yelp and other review aggregators, there was considerable uncertainly when patronizing a new restaurant. Now, not only are user reviews easy to find, but pictures of many items are posted on Yelp itself.  This information arms the diner with much more awareness of the menu, and enables the restaurant to avoid being castigated due to a misinformed order by the diner.  The same applies to checking the reviews of a new film or theater production beforehand, greatly reducing the chance of a negative surprise after the sunk cost of tickets.  Dentists, auto mechanics, photographers, hairdressers, etc. can be similarly vetted from a computer screen.  This new convenience to the consumer experience is not recorded favorably in GDP calculations, even though millions of instances of dissatisfaction and lost time have been avoided.
  • Automobile commuters with good jobs but lengthy commutes have joined Uber-type platforms to take a rider along with them on the commute they have to undertake anyway. The driver earns an extra $200-$400 week (against which an appropriate portion of car and smartphone costs can be applied as deductions) with no incremental input time or cost.  Meanwhile, other commuters enjoy having one less car on the road for each such dynamically generated carpooling pair.  The key is that a dead commute is now monetized even by corporate-class people, increasing passengers per car and reducing traffic congestion, while replacing dedicated taxicabs.  For the macroeconomy, it also creates new VM where none existed before.
  • A trifecta of new technologies has enabled small manufacturers to experience a phoenix-like resurgence in the US. Fracking has toppled the price of US natural gas to a sixth of what it was in 2007, bestowing any gas-intensive manufacturer with a major cost advantage over non-US rivals.  Low-cost 3D Printing has lowered scale as a barrier to entry for many types of manufacturing and prototyping.  Generalist robots like the Baxter from Rethink Robotics can perform many tasks better than human workers, 24/7/365, at a cost as low as $1/hour, while being continuously augmented with new software updates.  The rise of the solo advanced manufacturer is now upon us, with individuals operating out of a small space producing and selling millions of dollars of high-margin goods.

 

Have you done enough aggregate Internet searching and forum commenting to capture all the low-hanging fruits available to you for your personal advancement and risk management?  If you answer that question in the affirmative, I am here to tell you that you have not come even close to realizing what is possible.  Even heavily committed people barely access 10% of the information that could greatly improve their careers, finances, health, and relationships, and I don’t think there is anyone in the world, no matter how successful, who has implemented more than 50% of what is available to them.  I myself am nowhere near this level.

Recall the earlier point about how it is now possible to research in minutes what used to take half a day in the public library (that too if you were fortunate enough to be in a country that even had public libraries at the time).   Add to that the ability to get your questions answered in forums like Yahoo Answers, Quora, etc.  Then combine that with connections between different memes, factoids, and tangents that would not have been visible in the glacial pace of information accrual and exchange before Internet search and forums.  Integrating all this, you can see how your ability to access and implement valuable information can take a great leap forward, and how almost everyone can participate in the creation of knowledge.

 

Case Studies of the Personal ATOM :  Sometimes, a story can better illustrate the ways a person savvy to the disruptive and augmentative nature of new technologies can rapidly upgrade one or more aspects of their life.  There is more fluidity and mobility across classes and strata than was possible before, and the ATOM is now the land of opportunity.  The following are three examples of how someone might adapt and thrive within the new realities of the ATOM.

1) Lisa wanted to become an exceptionally good amateur chef, but back in 1998, she found the available instructional materials to be limited and uninspiring.  Every cooking show on TV required the viewer to be interested in the item being presented in that specific episode, with no way for the viewer to search for their own preferences.  Cookbooks were not a good solution either, for each ingredient listed in a recipe required that item to be purchased in a larger quantity, leaving remainder quantities of each item in the refrigerator and pantry.  Lisa wondered for years why none of these cookbooks had a matrix in the back of the book, linking ingredients across recipes, to make the shopping process for the layperson more efficient and less wasteful.  Lisa found this oversight among the sum total of published cookbooks to be quite ridiculous.  She knew that there was major overlap in the basics of cooking, but this was not easy for an amateur to discover without taking an expensive cooking class.

By around 2004, however, something began to change.  Lisa found that many of the premier French, Italian, and Indian chefs were posting knowledge online.  The common theme among them began to emerge.  Great chefs think not in terms of compliance to a fixed recipe, but rather see what ingredients are available, and create a production from them.  Cooking has to be bottom-up, not top-down.  The ‘eureka’ moment for Lisa was that she could simply type ingredients into Google, and recipes that utilize those ingredients would come up.  This was vastly more efficient than a cookbook, and allowed Lisa to get past the learning bottleneck holding her and others back.  She could also now buy certain perishables without worrying about exactly what she will make from them as the clock ticks.  The arrival of YouTube was another godsend, where, unlike a regularly scheduled cooking show, the user can merely search for whatever recipe she wants.  A video is far easier to emulate than a text recipe, and further expanded upon the list of perishable ingredients she can now purchase in a shopping trip.

After years of stagnation, Lisa’s skills improved rapidly after these revelations, and she even posted some of her own cooking videos to YouTube.  Comment feedback from like-minded viewers led to additional improvements.  Lisa eventually reached a level of expertise where she was able to produce cuisine that met or exceeded what was available at fine restaurants, with her YouTube channel accruing over 300,000 subscribers, elevating her hobby to a full-time career.

2) Fred always had a keen financial mind, and wanted to do better with generating a return in his IRA and his brokerage account, for he knew that this is just as important as his paycheck from his day job.  He did not believe in individual stocks, for he knew he was unlikely to ever close the information disadvantage he had relative to institutions and those very close to the companies.  He also found mutual funds to be uninspiring due to their high fees, and the inability to short them or write options on them.

The advent of Yahoo Finance in the late 1990s made a wealth of information available for free, but most of the information was still about individual stocks, which was not Fred’s target.  In the process of mining Yahoo Finance, he found a great deal of information on options, as well as daily quotes that were previously unavailable so freely.  It was exceedingly difficult for a layperson to research, let alone trade options before the late 1990s, with truly abundant information only appearing around 2005 or so.  The discovery process made Fred knowledgeable about options, and eventually futures.  As computing and data transmission became cheaper, brokerage firms were able to lower their trading commissions.  Fred began to create algorithms to generate returns strictly from options and futures of broadly traded commodities, such as oil, gold, natural gas, and ^vix volatility.  Despite some early setbacks, he eventually was able to generate 30-50% annual compounded returns from his algorithms, built around the principle of capturing the various time decays (option decay, futures contango, leverage decay) inherent to those instruments.

As these returns became routine for Fred, his day job became optional, and he gave some thought to managing client money full-time and establishing a hedge fund.  Fortunately, in the Internet age, it was easy for him to locate attorneys, auditors, and other service providers.  By shopping around, he found that the Internet had increased competition amongst these providers, and thus the fixed costs associated with operating a hedge fund have fallen from about $500,000/year to just $30,000/year, greatly reducing the minimum assets needed for the hedge fund to be viable.  Fred’s hedge fund became sustainable with just $10 Million in assets, a threshold unheard of in the past, and he joined the new layer of hedge funds with under $20 Million in assets under management returning over 30%/year.   The ability to run his fund from anywhere enabled him to relocate to a preferred destination.

This story is not to say that the percentage of people who become good at generating returns has increased, but rather accessibility is now far more democratic, permitting talented people from outside the establishment to make use of skills that may have gone to waste in the past.  On this front, we are still only at the beginning.

3) James is an accountant, and has been employed at a large multinational corporation for over 15 years.  As a top performer, he enjoys higher job security than his peers, but is nonetheless apprehensive about the speed at which his colleagues are vanishing and being subsumed by AI.  After reading a number of frightening articles in the media, James was deeply worried about how long he could stay ahead of the machines.

Then, one fine day, James came across this whitepaper, and began to see AI in a different light.  It dawned on him that what he was observing was not the utter disappearance of accounting jobs into thin air, but that an accounting department with ten accountants at a payroll cost of $2M/yr could now generate the same services for a mere $100,000/yr in AI costs and a sole human manager.  James started to ponder the implications of starting his own accounting firm, where the work that could bring in $2M/yr in fees could be performed just by him and this new AI capability.  His deep knowledge of accounting and reputation in his field meant he could accommodate a large portion of his former employer’s accounting work into his own private practice, on top of acquiring additional clients.  One man and his AI was now doing the work of ten, and could earn the income formerly earned by those ten.  Until now, most solo practitioner accountants only handled smaller individual clients, and it was unheard of that a single-person firm could presume to undertake the enormity of work generated by an entire corporate department.  James was one of the revolutionaries changing this, even though he never thought he would become an entrepreneur.

As happens whenever a new business model becomes highly profitable, James’ success attracted competitors and pricing pressures began to manifest.  At the same time, this competition created many additional jobs in sales, marketing, and support.  Next, the market itself grew from the entry of smaller firms that could now avail themselves of elite accounting services previously beyond their reach.  The ecosystem began to mature, but James continued to earn several times more than he did as a corporate employee, simply by continuing to refine the implementation of AI in his practice.

Lastly, what of the other accountants who saw their positions eliminated, and are not as talented as James?  Well, some were able to get jobs in accounting working alongside AI, while others had to transition to different careers.  This illustrates why the cushioning effect of the universal minimum stipend supplied by central bank monetary expansion is so essential, as it ensures that everyone gets some return from pervasive and accelerating forces of technological disruption while conducting their own transitions.

 

These are just three examples of how someone might view the advent of accelerating technological disruption as an endless stream of opportunity.  I have detailed maps for how specific professions, such as engineering, marketing, product management, investment banking, management consulting, medicine, and law could each supercharge their careers with greater ATOM awareness.  The savvy and observant individual has a galaxy of avenues from which to choose from, ensuring that more of the future is distributed towards them.  Everyone is surrounded by dozens of such avenues to pursue, no matter what your technical expertise, age, or station in life.

Continue to : 12. The ATOM’s Effect on the Final Frontier

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