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*Artificial general intelligence will be slower to emerge and a lot less scary than popularly represented. There is a related existential risk and it is not from AGI but from how we use data now. That risk is already upon us.

The route to job preservation may be customisation, the opposite direction to that in which most service businesses are still moving.

Mercedes is to use fewer robots in car manufacturing in future replacing them with more workers because the former cannot keep up with customisation and the latter are more adaptable. The workers will be assisted by farms of smaller robots equipped with sensors. (Source: Bloomberg Business).

Healthcare is moving in the direction of scale and big data and this is probably a mistake. Large data sets in healthcare are inherently low quality because diagnosis and data recording are subject to the limitations of human nature. Error rates in the data probably cannot be reduced to single figure percentages.

High quality data sets from genetic sequencing are more useful and lend themselves to the customisation of healthcare.

Large healthcare providers, whether state or insurance based, will struggle to offer appropriate care to all individuals if they use probabilities and big data as the basis of their offerings. What is effective for a population, often by a very small margin, may be inappropriate for large numbers of that population.

Large organisations also tend to be slow to withdraw poor advisory guidance.



1 February 2016

I would say I'm a nailed on supporter of free enterprise but from time to time I do lose patience with corporate culture.

One area is recruitment with its obsession with what the the applicant did in the past three years, the organisations worked for before and conformity to tick box criteria.

Were I recruiting for any organisation what I'd look for is a very high learn rate - in other words enjoying a steep learning curve - because this might indicate a person who can do anything. Qualifications might later limit what you give them to do but much less why you take them on.

What prompts me to say this is an interesting article in Bloomberg Business today about people 15-34 years old who no longer bother about material possessions but spend their money on experience, travel and events.

On the face of it this is a risky strategy because it is not what went before. Yet it might eventually hold them in good stead compared with those who have gone through too much conformity in a changing world. Add in a dose of acquiring some digital skills and experience - not just cruising social media - and they might be well suited to the next stage of the 21st century.

Those who take this course may already have some advantage - good jobs, good education, talent, intelligence, a childhood spent in more than one country or a bit of money - but not necessarily.

This, of course, raises the 'what about?' question - so let us tackle it.

What about those who do not have a high learn rate, who might not even like learning, who like a stable environment, who like a settled working environment that they have not fashioned themselves?

Here we return to the critique of corporate culture. It is hard to see management that springs early to blame those who do poorly, before trying them in another job first and maybe ultimately letting them go, as being good management. Even in a very settled environment, some ability to do something else is at a premium.

For those in that age group who prefer the traditional way the advice might be different - acquire as much experience as possible from the jobs you get because it might carry you through life later 'if the robots come to take your job' and acquire some assets within your means - a home or a piece of contemporary art perhaps. Assets can confer freedom or meaning. This, of course, is an almost contrary strategy to that taken by the first group. Both could work, and both can work in combination, if we get to a world where structured jobs are largely reserved for those needing experience - those under 40 - because automation and artificial intelligence is doing so much of the rest.*

As for those currently over 40, well they've already acquired something, even if it's only experience.

For those who are truly struggling, society must be altruistic rather than charitable. There are 21st century ways of radically addressing inequality and none that would work involve personal taxation - in fact they would struggle to do so if they did.

So returning to the Bloomberg Business article by Sofia Costa, it cites a survey showing that 78% of millennials would rather pay for experience than material goods.

Some said they had enough material goods, seeing themselves rather to be short on time and in experiences.

In the 18th century your wealth might be measured by your furniture. Today, shipping your furniture around is a bit underwhelming, though if you've got any from the 18th century hang onto it!

Bloomberg says (italicized):

Some 82% said they went to a live event in the past year - concerts and festivals - and 72% said they plan to increase spending on such outings.

Leisure and travel related stocks were said to be beneficiaries, especially low-cost airlines.

Ski operator Vail Resorts Inc is up 700% since the U.S. market bottomed in 2009. Airbnb Inc's $25.5 billion valuation is more than Macy's and Best Buy's combined.

This may be just the nature of the stockmarket but the users of ski resorts and Airbnb have a bias towards those who are active.

They're also not that interested in allocating funds to acquire the totems of their parents.

Chances are that some economies have now past their peak in the economic cycle and when they emerge from the future troughs the nature of what matters will have changed too.