Episode 162 - Thoughts Of The Future
Published April 14, 2015
SPECIAL GUESTS: Mike Gilliland/Euvie Ivanova. We're joined by fellow podcasters Mike Gilliland and Euvie Ivanova (hosts of Future Thinkers), to talk about podcasting, the digital nomad lifestyle, the Singularity, entrepreneurship, the future of work and technological change. There's a big change afoot in the world, and these two Thinkers are at the forefront of the coming digital age. Recorded 4/12/2015.
Mike & Matt's Recommended Reading:
Future Thinkers podcast (Mike & Euvie's show)
Giant Supernova, Mike & Euvie's multimedia production company
Vitalik Buterin, founder of Ethereum
Four-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss
The Sharing Economy Holds Promise for More Goods to Be Offered at Near Zero Marginal Cost, by Jeremy Rifkin (Entrepreneur, 6/6/2014)
Peter Diamandis on the Imminent Battle Between Linear vs. Exponential Worlds, by Peter Diamandis (Inc, 1/13/2015)
Alpha: Welcome to another episode of Robot Overlordz, episode #162. On the show we take a look at how society is changing, everything from pop culture reviews to political commentary, technology trends to social norms, all in about thirty minutes or less, every Tuesday and Thursday.
Mike Johnston: Greetings cyborgs, robots, and natural humans. I’m Mike Johnston.
Matt Bolton: And I’m Matt Bolton.
MJ: And joining us on this episode of Robot Overlordz is Mike Gilliland and Euvie Ivanova from the Future Thinkers podcast. Mike, Euvie, thanks for joining us.
Mike Gilliland: Thanks for having us.
MJ: So, tell us about your podcast.
MG: We’re two geeks, we’re kind of traveling around southeast Asia, and basically we talk about the future or anything to do with our insights in life while we’re traveling around--so usually to do with the future of singularity, philosophy, that kind of stuff.
Euvie Ivanova: Transhumanism. Recently, we’ve been talking a lot about decentralization and the exponential revolution.
MJ: So, you guys are living kind of a digital nomad lifestyle then?
MG: Pretty much, yeah.
MJ: Where did you first run into that concept?
MG: Definitely the Four-Hour Workweek. I read that and it opened my eyes to what is possible as far as living outside of the norm and outside of the box in Western society. So I read that book, started brainstorming some ideas. We started with web design and then I think we sold e-books for a little while. What did we do after that?
EI: Podcast editing. And then for the last couple of years, we’ve been focusing on video production and marketing, and our website for that is GiantSupernova.com. Pretty spacey name, as well. [Laughs]
MJ: You guys mentioned some trends--some of the futurists that we’ve talked to have called them drivers--that we’re interested in, like transhumanism, the acceleration of things, decentralization. What are some of the big ones specifically that really get you guys excited, or that you see as starting to move a lot more than maybe your average person thinks?
EI: I think decentralization is definitely one of them. On the last episode that we just recorded, we interviewed Vitalik Buterin, he’s the visionary behind a new decentralized platform called Ethereum. It’s based on the same technology or similar technology to bitcoin, which is based on the block chain, except it’s a platform that you can build things on top of. I think it’s going to be really, really massive for changing how politics work, how business works, how just any kind of transactions work on the internet. I think it’s going to be huge.
MG: Yeah, they’re really into taking out the middleman in most types of transactions. So, anything to do with government or big business, they want to take the middleman out, and I think that’s pretty interesting, that will be incredibly disruptive in the next few years.
MJ: Yeah, I personally find the block chain technology really interesting, that kind of trust architecture. My background is systems engineering and a little bit of information security. Trust right now seems like--there’s no real way on the internet, as it’s been designed, to kind of quantify that. A lot of things that society does are reliant on trust, and since the internet disrupts a lot of things but it doesn’t really have a good trust architecture exactly, a lot of that disruption can end up being negative, it seems like.
MG: Yeah, definitely. They’re trying to just remove the trust factor altogether so that you don’t have to worry about it.
EI: They’re building these built-in reputation systems that are going to be system-wide. For example, right now if you’re an eBay seller, you have your eBay reputation. Then, say if you’re an AirBnB guest, then you have your guest reputation on that. Then, on Twitter you have your number of Twitter followers. So they’re combining all of those things into one so that you have your built-in reputation as your identity so that people don’t really have to worry when they’re sending you a payment or buying something from you. I really like that idea.
MJ: It’s definitely an interesting thing. One of the things about trust systems that interests me is what happens when someone breaks trust--how do they recover from that? A lot of our traditional trust systems, when you fall out of it or become untrusted--we talked to a couple of guys who are connected with the author of Free Range Kids, Lenore Skenazy, that are actually on the sex offenders list. They talked about how difficult it is to get a job, how the places where you can live are hard to come by. Both of them made it on those lists when they were fairly young, and it really cratered their ability to move around or things like that. For me as an information security person, one of the things that I found interesting about their stories is that there are so many systems that your average person relies on, and here these mistakes or bad decisions that these guys had made when they were relatively young have affected their entire lives in such a big way. It seems like those reputation systems, when you fall off it, when you do something to violate trust, whether it’s accidentally or by intent, it takes a long time to build that back up.
EI: I think with every system, you might get these fringe cases where you don’t really know how that system will respond or how it will work in this new system. So I wonder if for these new decentralized systems, how that will play out and how it will be different from the current systems. Because right now, the way that people work, the way that they get jobs, it’s a very centralized process. Whereas on the internet for example, a lot of the time people don’t really know very much about you when they hire you. For example, when we hire freelancers, we don’t check their criminal record or check what kind of stuff they’ve been up to before they got hired. We just hire based on skills. I wonder if that stuff will just not matter as much in the future.
MG: Well, I know that when we talked to Vitalik, he said that you can separate the way the reputation system will follow you around. Like, you could opt in to use your AirBnB reputation and your Facebook reputation, or something like that. So you can have it include it or not include it based on the needs of that system. So in the case of Elance or freelance or anything like that, all you really care about as an employer is the skill level of the person you’re about to hire. If they’re rated negatively on what they say they can do, then that would be a strike against them obviously. But if they’re a sex offender… I’m not really worried. They’re all the way across the world. [Laughs]
MJ: Do you guys worry at all about the potential for some of those systems to encode the hidden biases of the people that are designing them?
EI: With this particular system, there’s so many developers working on it and it’s completely open source, that I don’t really worry about that. The fact that it’s so distributed between so many different people’s opinions, I think that will even itself out.
MG: As long as your secrets aren’t being kept by just a small group of people--like if everyone’s secrets were all out in the open, which I think would happen anyway in a singularity. When artificial intelligence comes onto the scene, I don’t think anyone is going to have any secrets anymore, so we’re all going to know that we’re sending dick pics or whatever is happening. I don’t think anyone is going to be worried about that because we all do it--except for me.
MJ: Well, take the dick pics for example. There’s a certain segment of people that don’t that and think “Well, people shouldn’t do that.” As other people that do do that, as their pics make it online, whether it’s a singularity or whether it’s just being hacked, I think that people do start to self-censor somewhat of “Maybe I shouldn’t do that because it’s going to end up online.” As much as some of the tech press or the people that have been in the transhumanism movement have been for these technologies, do you think there is a dark side, that people will start self-censoring or curtailing their behavior as those secrets become public?
MG: Definitely. With the government watching over everybody and there being such a strong system of rules in place, I think there’s a degree of outsourcing the personal responsibility, especially in Western culture. Being in Vietnam, you just don’t see that at all. People take personal responsibility for everything. If you make a stupid mistake driving, you’re not going to be suing anyone, you’re just going to be paying for somebody’s hospital bills. There’s a lot more personal responsibility. I think with decentralizing the internet, it’ll happen that way as well. You’ll maybe be more careful about how you transact because if you make a mistake, your currency, whether it be bitcoin or Ethereum currency, will be gone forever. So I think there will be a higher degree of personal accountability and you might be willing to take fewer risks, but then reputation management will be a much bigger thing. So, you’ll only do business or interact with people who are highly rated.
MB: You guys originally lived here in the United States, am I correct?
MG: We come from Vancouver, Canada.
MB: Oh, okay. What are some of the differences that you see over there as far as the internet goes? Connectivity, the way people use it--is there any big difference?
MG: It was pretty amazing when we first got to Asia and we first saw how many people are using cell phones. It’s everybody. There’s literally no difference. You can be in a took took and your driver will be checking his text messages while he’s driving. There’s literally no difference.
EI: I actually noticed that literally every coffee shop has free WiFi here, whereas in Vancouver it’s a lot harder to find. I don’t know how it is in the States, but in Vancouver few places have free WiFi. But here, it’s everywhere and it’s usually been pretty fast.
MG: It has been two years though, so we don’t really know if it’s changed much. You notice the coffee shop culture quite a bit wherever you go. Vietnam has got a really developed coffee shop culture, so it’s just everywhere. They really like their coffee, they like to work and sit down with their laptop or tablet. But in Thailand for example, it’s just pretty much nonexistent. Anywhere there are coffee shops with WiFi, you have to pay for it. The culture definitely has an effect on that, but you can really see the effects of technology and globalization. Even in small villages, it’s always there.
EI: People are on their iPads, iPhones, and they’re living in a traditional Vietnamese wooden house with a straw roof. It’s pretty crazy.
MJ: You guys have typically been in Southeast Asia then, after Canada?
MG: Yeah, we’ve been spending most of our time in Thailand and Vietnam, but we’ve been in Malaysia, Bali, Myanmar for a little bit. We’ve just been moving around. The visas keep you moving because there’s only three months, so you have to move to the next country. So, we kind of hop and spend about three months at a time in different places.
EI: There’s a lot of expat entrepreneurs here, so we don’t get lonely--a lot of people who are from America, Australia, UK, Europe, all over the place.
MJ: Do you find that it generally skews to younger people or older people?
EI: It’s kind of all over the place, but there’s definitely a tendency towards single males because it’s just easier. But we’ve met all kinds of people, like some people with families and kids, some married couples.
MG: All ages. I think the youngest I’ve met is 17, they’re running an online business out here. The oldest are probably in their 50s. But there’s expats all over the place doing business. A lot of the older ones are set up more permanently, but the younger ones are kind of moving around like we are.
MB: There’s no censorship of the internet around there? Obviously in China there is, but where you guys are, do you see any of that?
MG: I’ve heard that there’s no porn in Thailand.
MG: But other than that, there’s some government censorship of anything to do with revolution in some places, especially in Thailand because there’s a lot going on that we won’t get into. But there’s a huge amount going on politically in Thailand; the king is about to die, so there’s a lot of stirring up of political anger over there.
EI: Yeah, it seems like they’ve got their own revolution coming up pretty soon, so they’re trying to censor that. So sometimes you go to a certain webpage on VICE or whatever, and it will say that “the government of Thailand has blocked this page” in Thai. In Vietnam, I think they’ve banned Twitter and Facebook but it’s really easy to get around it, you just change some browser settings. [Laughs]
MG: Exactly. They usually have no clue how to properly block anything, and I would imagine it’s the same in China as well, where you can just install a VPN and you’re back online. I think that’s pretty standard practice for a lot of people.
MJ: What are some of the technologies that you guys rely on to not only run your business but to keep in touch with anyone that you knew when you were growing up, or family, and things like that?
MG: With Skype, we have relationships with clients that we’ve never met in person and that seems to happen quite a bit.
EI: Otherwise, Facebook and Twitter are pretty standard I guess, and we use a lot of freelance websites, like Elance and oDesk.
MG: The most difficult thing about it is when the internet isn’t reliable, which doesn’t happen very often. But as far as having relationships and having clients and that kind of thing, or even doing podcast episodes where nobody else lives anywhere near Southeast Asia, so far that hasn’t been a problem. Connections are usually pretty good, and that’s usually all you need.
EI: Especially in Vietnam, the internet is really fast.
MJ: You guys mentioned Vitalik Buterin. What are some other guests you guys have had on your show?
EI: We had Zoltan recently.
MG: Zoltan Istvan. You guys have probably had him on your show, haven’t you?
MJ: Yeah, he makes the rounds. [Laughs]
MG: We got into a weird somewhat-argument of “How can you be running to be a politician if you believe in the singularity? Don’t you think all politics are just going to be obsolete in a few years?” We actually ended up talking about that quite a bit, because I’m more on the Occupy side and obviously he believes in the system, he’s running for president in the future. So, that was kind of an interesting conversation.
EI: We actually started having more guests on our show recently. Before, it was mostly just the two of us babbling away. We had Jesse Lawler from Smart Drug Smarts on our show a little while ago. I think you guys had him on too, right?
MJ: You know, we haven’t talked with Jesse yet. I know Smart Drugs Smarts just followed me on Twitter, and actually his cat too, which made me text somebody “I’ve achieved social media dominance! I’m followed by a podcast-I-listen-to-host’s cat!”
MG: That cat is extremely picky of who it follows too, so that’s pretty lucky.
MJ: Woohoo! Double-score. [Laughs]
EI: Yeah, his cat is probably a bigger celebrity than he is.
MJ: That’s funny. Yeah, cats on the internet, man.
EI: But yeah, we definitely recommend Jesse. He’s hilarious. We know him in person actually, he lived in Saigon for quite some time. But now I think he’s back in the States.
MG: We actually did another episode with Jon Myers and Terry Lin, and that was all about the future of work, so we basically talked about digital nomads. Since we’re in Saigon, there are a lot of expats and digital nomads out here. We talked about what we believe the future of work will be and some of the challenges that will happen with not needing to go into the office in the morning.
MJ: Yeah, we’ve talked a lot about the future of work too. For those people that are still doing, more or less, traditional work--I used to work at AT&T, so I know a lot of people that still work there, and they’ve allowed a lot of them work from home. In reality, that seems to mean that they’re signed on to their computer, they answer instant messages and sit on conference calls, but they don’t really do much actual work. My argument to some of them has been “Well, when AT&T finally gets around to cutting you guys, you’re going to have a hard time in the job market.” For people that are in those situations, or maybe they are actually doing work from home, but where the idea of moving around sounds foreign to them, what would you say to them if they have some misgivings about the digital nomad lifestyle?
MG: The travel part is super easy. It’s easy to get visas. The language thing is never a barrier.
EI: Everybody speaks English in the big cities.
MG: Yeah, usually--so that’s not really an issue. I think the big issue is finding work. I think it’s important to have some sort of skill where, if need be, you can freelance. So if anything happens and you become one of the people laid off at your job, then you can at least turn around and find new work.
EI: Pretty much anything IT-related or any kind of SEO, copywriting, web design--all those things are really, really common in a digital nomad world.
MG: There’s other growing remote industries that we notice a lot more. We’ve seen doctors traveling around that do remote consultations. We’re in the video space and there’s really very few of anyone doing that while traveling around.
EI: But yeah, it’s possible. Especially with all of these semi-decentralized platforms popping up, like AirBnB and Uber, etc. Obviously you probably don’t want to go all the way to Southeast Asia, but if you move to a different city in the States--like right now Austin, Texas is really big for digital nomads who are Americans. There’s a really good start-up scene there, so I’m sure people could freelance doing a bunch of different things.
MJ: I think Uber brings up an interesting case. I’ve read about them quite a bit, I’ve used them maybe twice. But some of the criticisms that I’ve seen about them as far as that they’re exploiting their workforce or that they’re the new middleman, same as the old middleman somewhat, and that their culture has had some problems with press relations or the data they gather on people. Have you guys seen much of that concern among the people that you know in the digital nomad space? Or does everyone think it’s no big deal? What do you think about it?
MG: I think Uber is creating a lot of new opportunities. Obviously taxi drivers are a little annoyed with it, it’s taking away business. But in Thailand, most of the taxis are pretty smelly so you don’t want to get in them anyway, so they need competition. Uber sets the bar way higher for moving around, especially in Bangkok.
EI: I’m not sure how it is in Western countries, because Uber actually got launched after we left, but here the Uber drivers are definitely mostly young people, mostly well-educated, and they seem pretty happy and they’re just doing it on their off time to help pay off their car loan or whatever. For example, when I was in Bangkok I took an Uber once, and my driver was this woman who was probably in her mid-20s, and she was a prosthetics designer, she designed mechanized prosthetics in her day job and in the evening she drove for Uber. So, we had a really good conversation, her English was excellent and she seemed really cool. I think a lot of young people are getting plugged into that.
MG: As long as it helps people more than it does damage… But I also think everyone is pushing to create these new platforms and to just be the owner of platforms, and I think that’s what excites me the most about this Ethereum thing is that it’s just going to remove all of these middlemen. So, there’s no reason to pay anyone if they’re not really providing value. If it’s just the app providing value, then yeah, this is a good way to cut them out. I think that will change. Especially AirBnB, Uber, all of these new disruptive platforms, you’ll see them spike up and everyone will be using them and then in a couple of years they’ll be gone.
MJ: Your guys’ experience with Uber drivers matches mine. The people that I had as Uber drivers, they were super happy about it. The main criticism I’ve read about it is “I’m going to have to go to my regular job and then also do side-jobs. I’m never going to have any time for ‘me.’” Obviously there’s some issues with that concern too, because you can carve up your time differently, but that’s one of the criticisms that I had seen that I’m not sure the platform itself solves. But Ethereum certainly sounds interesting. I’m going to have to check them out more.
MG: The issue with the job market, with Uber, and these types of platforms--I don’t think the problem starts with the platform. I think it starts partially with the availability of jobs. But you can’t demand that people don’t automate and don’t install these new systems. I think, as a society, we’ve got to adapt to them a little better. Perhaps that means transitioning to a guaranteed minimum income at some point in the future that’s provided for you. I don’t really know what it is, but I definitely think it’s crazy to fight against automation for the sake of jobs, and this concept of jobs being something we’re owed is pretty crazy. I think it’s a way to just shirk off responsibility, when being an entrepreneur is actually a much bigger opportunity in the future. It just takes a bit more risk tolerance and preparedness.
MJ: Do you think most people are prepared for that entrepreneurial attitude? For me working in IT, it’s completely foreign to not want to know how the system you’re using works. That’s what lights me up, that’s what gets me up in the morning. I’ve historically dealt with a lot of web development teams, and there are people on those teams where there technology rides on the network and they just don’t want to know what the underlying system is like. They don’t care. What I’ve personally found is a lot of people don’t even want to know how their computer works. I’ll try to explain something and it’s just “No, I don’t care. I don’t want to hear it.” It seems like the entrepreneurial side of things would involve a lot more caring about how things actually work. Not that you necessarily need to know all of the details of TCP/IP or all the rules of tax law and corporate accounting. But you have to at least want to know a 50,000 feet view of those things, and it seems like there’s an awful lot of people who just don’t care, they don’t want to know. When I think about the skills needed for being an entrepreneur, it seems like a lot of people honestly don’t want to be entrepreneurs. They would rather show up and be told what to do and just let it end there. Do you think there’s a need for a platform that automates telling you what to do, of “Here’s how to be an entrepreneur”?
MG: I don’t think that would even be possible. Maybe if artificial intelligence comes about and it’s able to tell you what to do, but at that point we probably wouldn’t need people to do jobs anyway. I think the resistance to entrepreneurship is sort of like an animal that is resistant to evolving to changing environments--it’s the same kind of thing. We’re in a market, in a world, in an economy that rewards intelligence and diversification and the ability to learn new skills. That’s the world we find ourselves in. When you dig in your heels on that, I think you’re setting yourself up for extinction.
EI: I also think that in the Western world, especially the generations that were born after the ‘50s, so pretty much most people who are alive today, have gotten very comfortable in their lives. I think the younger generation, especially in America and Canada, who have gone through several depressions, recessions, they’re more aware that things can go wrong and that you have to learn new things, you have to learn new skills, that you can’t be comfortable where you are. So, I think it’s largely a cultural thing. For example, in Vietnam you don’t see that. Thailand as well. People are very, very opportunistic and entrepreneurial. In Thailand, people are volunteering to leave traditional jobs because they don’t pay very well, and they’re just opening up a noodle soup stand on a busy corner and they can make money per month doing that, or driving a motorbike taxi, which are popular because the traffic is bad. They just see these opportunities and they go after them.
MG: But demanding the market to stay the same so that you don’t have to learn new skills--that’s pretty crazy to me. There’s a lot of people that dig their heels in on that and they’re just going to have to change. Their only hope is that technology gets to a point where we don’t really have to work anymore. So if they can just survive the transition point to when we have AIs, then maybe they’ll be okay.
EI: Actually, I’m really interested in a near-zero cost economy concept where the basics that are needed for life--maybe not the luxuries--but the basics are all covered by automation and systems that take care of things. For example, if we have solar panels that are hooked up to the network and they’re not owned by giant corporations that overcharge for the power, we could generate that power very cheaply and it could cost close to nothing for people to have power. We could eventually do the same thing with food production, because right now they already have automated or semi-automated aquaponics/hydroponics setups for growing food. And then artificial meat and all of those things. If we can transition to those systems faster, then a lot of people will be able to have their needs met and they can do whatever they want with their team.
MG: The people that dig in their heels the most, that resist the change the most are the ones that are going to cause the most danger for the rest of us because it will slow down the transition.
EI: But those people will actually benefit the most from change.
MJ: I don’t disagree with you guys. Part of our show has been explaining it to people who dig in their heels. So, we know a lot of people who have felt that way or that are worried about it.
MB: We’ve also talked a lot about politicians who are in that age group that you guys were just talking about, especially in the United States, who unfortunately have a lot of control over things and seem to ruin stuff.
EI: Not for long. Have you guys seen that article by Peter Diamandis that he published recently? He said that the current political systems are linear and that exponential systems are going to take over eventually, and that the linear systems simply won’t be able to keep up. So in a couple of years, politics just won’t really work in the same way that it does now. It just simply won’t have control over people’s lives and finance, etc.
MG: Decentralization of power, about the Occupy movement and revolutions has been a topic over the last few weeks, and one of the things I’m starting to realize is I’m usually on the Occupy side where it’s like “Let’s install change, let’s fight and demand what we want.” But now I think it’s more of just making politics, politicians, this linear style of government--just making it obsolete with new systems. That’s it. Once we get new systems installed and more and more people work and use them, there will be a tipping point where it will push it over.
MJ: Well guys, thanks so much for joining us today.
MG: Thanks for having us.
EI: It was a cool chat. It’s interesting, sometimes we forget how isolated we are in our little bubble here with our techy friends. But there’s actually a lot of people in the world still who haven’t wrapped their heads around these concepts, so it makes sense that we’d want to explain it.
A: That’s all for this episode of Robot Overlordz. Are you interested in the future and how society is changing? We’d love to have you join our community. Visit our website to learn more and to connect with others that share that interest. You can find us at RobotOverlordz.FM. The site includes all of the show’s old episodes along with complete transcripts, links to more information about the topics and guests in each episode, and our mailing list and forums. We’d also love to hear what you think about the show. You can review us on iTunes or email us.
A: We hope to see you again in the future…
MJ: Thanks everyone for listening.
Image Credit: Found via Wikimedia, public domain.