Flashback: Thiel vs. Schmidt, 2012

Clearly I’m on a Thiel kick.

At first I was dubious, but now I’m just curious. Though some of Thiel’s motives and politics remain vague, it should be impossible for anyone to ignore his foresight and intelligence. The fact that many people still dismiss him offhand because he’s a nominal Trump supporter just blows my mind.

This debate, which took place in 2012, offers a clear picture of how much smarter Thiel is than other Silicon Valley tools, like Eric Schmidt. In this case, we watch Thiel eat Schmidt for breakfast, while Schmidt just oozes, as Thiel says, Google propaganda.

 

Summary

The opening question was to explain your view of what technology brings to the world.

Schmidt says that “the message of technology innovation is an overwhelmingly positive one,” then talks about how technology has transformed our world, bringing poor people into the middle class, and how everyone in the world will soon have access to the internet. Ultimately, he says that technology innovation will improve the world for everyone, giving people more information and longer lives.

This smacks of technological utopianism, something that Thiel (as well as others, such as Evgeny Morozov) warned about long ago.

The MC reads a quote of Thiel’s that offers a more cynical – and, in my opinion, realistic – perspective on the issue of technological innovation. “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”

Thiel goes on to compliment Schmidt, saying he does a great job as Google’s Minister of Propaganda, then outlines some very insightful points that Schmidt spends the rest of the debate avoiding (including a couple that we would later see crop up during the Trump election). Namely, the facts that:

  • Median wages have been stagnant for 40 years, compared to the previous 40 years, during which they increased 6-fold
  • The technological improvement we’ve seen in the past couple decades, which has been confined to the IT industry – or “the world of bits” – hasn’t translated into economic well-being
  • Since 1973, oil barrel prices have increased 50-fold, a demonstration of “a catastrophic failure of energy innovation,” which has been offset by computer innovation
  • Governmental regulation has effectively “outlawed technology” – for instance, new drug development costs $1.3 billion, you can’t fly supersonic jets because they’re too noisy, you can’t build nuclear power plants, and so on

The question Thiel asks is how IT innovation translates into economic progress for humans.

After a short slap fest, while disagreeing about technological progress, both agree that governments are at the root of many major problems. The Arab Spring becomes another bone of contention. Schmidt cites the cause as a widespread discontent with regimes, and Thiel blames 30-50% price hikes on food, which he says brought the threat of starvation for many people.

More disagreements prompt Thiel to respond with: “I thought we were going to talk about technology, but Eric seems to think it’s all about politics, which, in a way I think concedes my basic point, which is that technology is no longer that big a driver.”

He follows up with one of his main points: “Technology should be a large enough force that it could power [political] change.”

After Schmidt tries to make a point about education being the solution to automation and globalization, two forces that will govern the world in the future and create jobs problems, Thiel pushes Schmidt more, saying that Google doesn’t do enough to create more jobs, claiming that Google is not an innovative technology company, but merely a search engine that is sitting on $50 billion in cash with no ideas on how to use it.

Compare that to Amazon, he says, which continually reinvests all of its profits into new technologies.

For the closing phase of the discussion, Thiel reiterates his insults to Google, to which Schmidt responds that Chrome is the #1 browser in the world, Google is the top platform for enterprise innovation, and there are plenty of other examples of business innovation that Thiel was choosing to ignore.

Q&A followed.

Conclusion

This conversation reminds me of a WWE fight or a Jerry Springer spat, just in a different arena. Thiel’s nonstop aggression makes it really fun to watch and, as usual, his intelligent arguments make it fascinating food for thought. In particular, he seems like he has a very solid and respectable mission – to use technological innovation to change the world.

It would have been more interesting if Schmidt had anything to say, but as it is, his technological utopian preaching and soft sales patter comes across as weak, lame, and boring. He sounds exactly like an old-school politician, who can talk and talk for hours without saying anything.

I’m admittedly irritated by Schmidt’s smarmy smugness, but that doesn’t negate the fact that he got screwed by Thiel in this so-called debate. Since he had nothing to say and no way to respond to Thiel’s arguments, rather than addressing any point head on, he just dodged with catchphrases, incorrectly reframed arguments, and logical fallacies.

Though the discussion is clearly on a different level, this debate also reminds me of the two forces that came into play during the Trump elections: hot-air-breathing political types versus aggressive, straightforward businessmen.

Thiel vs. Trump Part 3 – The End of the Beginning or the Beginning of the End?

Okay, just a quick recap and then I’ll wrap this series up for now, since, due to circumstances beyond my control, parts three and four, which I’d already written, were erased and are now gone forever.

Unless they are on archive.org or in Google’s cache. Or hiding somewhere in my computer.

But anyways, to recap:

  • Thiel supports Trump.
  • Thiel made a successful power grab in the face of an ocean of opposing views – i.e., he was right & everyone else was wrong. Yet I feel like I’m the only one who sees his foresight as extremely significant. Everyone else remains hung up on the “Oh no you di’nt support Trump!” mentality.
  • Thiel believes in monopoly, or the centralization of power, as opposed to decentralization of power.
  • He believes that capitalism is good, though his definition of capitalism seems to be somewhat different from other people’s and that definition isn’t being made abundantly clear.

Here is Thiel’s speech at the National Press Club:

To reiterate, I think that, rather than lambasting Trump and lumping Thiel in with him … which is very easy to do and requires no critical thinking or foresight whatsoever … people need to pay attention to Thiel for a number of reasons.

The most poignant fact is that he is very smart and he was right when everybody else was wrong.

When you take that important fact into consideration, it seems like a good idea to pay very close attention to what he has to say…

And he has some very interesting and scary things to say about the world’s state of affairs.

Trump vs. Thiel Part 2 – Thiel and the Monopoly Mindset

chicago-1049976_1920Recently I wrote a post about why Thiel supports Trump.

That was before Trump’s numbers took a nosedive…

In that piece, I suggested that Thiel might want to bang on America’s governmental engine with a Trump-shaped hammer until it started working again. Also, I dropped hints that Thiel might want to become president or use “the little guy” Trump as a tool.

Over at Medium, Samuel Hammond wrote a much more thorough and informed article on the same topic.

Here are some highlights:

  • Hammond wrote that “Peter Thiel see’s [sic] a Trump presidency as his pathway to be become the shadow CEO of the United States of America.”
  • He quoted from Thiel’s startup lectures: “A startup is basically structured as a monarchy…the truth is that startups and founders lean toward the dictatorial side because that structure works better for startups.”
  • And from Thiel’s article, The Education of a Libertarian: “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible. … A better metaphor is that we are in a deadly race between politics and technology…Unlike the world of politics, in the world of technology the choices of individuals may still be paramount. The fate of our world may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism.”
  • Hammond interprets the above passage to mean that “monarchy is the other meaning of Zero to One.

Hammond’s insight is in-depth and informed. Very much so. And he’s probably right about Thiel.

the-white-house-103927_1920Although he had plenty more to say – much of which is beyond the scope of my interest and my lexicon – the third quote above is what bothers me about Thiel’s perspective.

There, Thiel contrasts “the world of politics” and “the world of technology.”

These vague concepts need some serious clarification…

The term “world,” as he’s using it, is hardly scientific or linguistically specific. However, as he said in his essay, he seems to think that humans can escape politics “in all its forms.”

It appears that Thiel thinks technology can free us from politics … as if technology can free us from humans’ physiologically determined psychology and behavior.

Is It Possible for Mortals to Understand Thiel’s Political Views?

In his article, the aforementioned The Education of a Libertarian, he says that in order to escape politics, we must use “some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country; and for this reason I have focused my efforts on new technologies that may create a new space for freedom.”

thiel-trump-politics

Escape out to sea or out to outer space won’t change human psychology…

Personally, I don’t understand how we can try something new and undiscovered when human psychology, human behavior, and human history repeat themselves endlessly. How does he even define “new”? And how can we escape politics without changing humans’ fundamental psychology?

Perhaps we can use technology or government to force people to behave the way we want…?

I digress.

He goes on to claim that technology, outer space, and seasteading are three such means of escape.

As I was reading those paragraphs, I was thinking to myself, Great…another technological utopian.

Then, Thiel went on to conclude:

The future of technology is not pre-determined, and we must resist the temptation of technological utopianism — the notion that technology has a momentum or will of its own, that it will guarantee a more free future, and therefore that we can ignore the terrible arc of the political in our world.

Ultimately, Monopoly Cannot Defeat the “Arc of the Political”

Whatever the specific strange views of Thiel may turn out to be, he appears to think that monopoly is a good thing … as if you could end politics altogether through some other form of government, like a technocracy, or by ending politics and government completely by letting a benevolent AI run everything.

But I’m getting tired of trying to figure out Thiel’s way of thinking. I don’t even like politics. At first I thought he was just some eccentric tech visionary, like Musk, but now I’m not so sure.

chess-1145557_1920I get the feeling that, like Trump, he thinks that “he alone” can fix the world, and that he feels he’s above explaining the politics that he aggressively asserts onto the world – and if you tried to enter into a free and open discussion about politics or capitalism, he’d just try to checkmate you with logic that only he understands.

Anyways, here’s why he’s wrong:

Monopoly doesn’t encourage innovation, it discourages diversity and encourages overspecialization.

Overspecialization is a quintessential human trait that causes major, major problems.

Humans:

  • Cause the extinction of countless species
  • Reduce the variation of available foods on grocery store shelves
  • Replace “low-quality” search results with a tiny handful of corporate-owned sources
  • Build massive monopolistic businesses that suppress diversity and small business
  • Self-segregate into ethnic groups and nations

I’m sure you can figure out for yourself some of the consequences of these tendencies.

If not, I’ll leave you with this quote:

We are in an age that assumes the narrowing trends of specialization to be logical, natural, and desirable…all the known cases of biological extinction have been caused by overspecialization, whose concentration of only selected genes sacrifices general adaptability…In the meantime, humanity has been deprived of comprehensive understanding. Specialization has bred feelings of isolation, futility, and confusion in individuals. It has also resulted in the individual’s leaving responsibility for thinking and social action to others. Specialization breeds biases that ultimately aggregate as international and ideological discord, which in turn leads to war.

    -Buckminster Fuller, Synergetics

Why Does Peter Thiel Support Donald Trump? Because He Wants to Save the World…

election-613132_1920So why does Peter Thiel support Donald Trump?

When I read headlines saying that Silicon Valley is baffled by his actions, I am baffled by their reactions.

It should be clear that there’s more going on here than meets the eye – though sometimes I wonder if Trump knows that…

Peter Thiel, for those of you who don’t know, is a brilliant billionaire tech tycoon who helped found PayPal and Palantir and who has his investment fingers in many other businesses.

As a tech-savvy, forward-thinking gay man – who has some unconventional ideas about technology, capitalism, economics, and the world we live in – he’s one of the last people you’d expect to see speaking in favor of a Trump presidency.

Yet that’s exactly what he did at the RNC, claiming that the economy and the government are “broken” and that he supports “people who are building new things.”

Donald Trump, he says, is a “builder…and it’s time to rebuild America.”

But…come on.

Donald Trump?

Really?

Donald Trump? That Guy?

man-845847_1280Trump openly:

After watching a BBC special pointing out that the USA’s demographics are shifting – and that white people will be a minority in a few decades – I felt that Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” might actually be a subliminal message, “Make America White Again.”

The New York Times came up with a better one: “Make America Hate Again.”

But I’ll try to avoid ranting about Trump.

Critical Thinking About the System

Attacking Trump’s rhetoric is easy and everyone does it.

That is too simple.

It feeds his flames and avoids more important questions that would uncover the machinery underlying the current system, like:

  • Why has a simple-minded salesperson – who simply repeats his target audience’s desires right back to them, like any good salesperson – become so successful financially (despite 4 bankruptcies) and made it this far in the electoral process, and what is it in his rhetoric that resonates with such a large demographic of Americans?
  • Why are we being forced to choose between a salesperson and someone who’s being legally accosted by the FBI right now?
  • Why do people regard him as a “marketing genius,” when in fact he has simply mastered the basics of salesmanship that have been expounded, extrapolated, and explored by great salesmen for the past 100 years?
  • Why does a smart, forward-thinking tech billionaire like Peter Thiel support Trump?

Why Peter Thiel Supports Trump (Take Nothing at Face Value)

chess-433071_1920Peter Thiel is a businessman who thinks strategically about his aims, so there is certainly more to his endorsement than we heard in his RNC speech.

There are a few possible reasons why Thiel might support Trump:

  • Thiel plans to replace Trump with an artificially intelligent, Trump-shaped robot after the election
  • He actually does believe in and support Trump
  • He sees this as an opportunity to take the administrative office from the political families who have been running the office for decades
  • He sees a dire situation, thinks Trump will win, and wants to influence the little guy when he gets into office
  • He wants to run for president in a few years and sees Trump as his best bet for changing and getting into the political game

I could only wish that this last one were true – we would be much better off with a smart “builder” like Thiel than anyone else who has run in a very, very long time. If this were the tech tycoon’s plan, then he’s probably setting himself up now as the rescuer who will fix up the country after Hillary or Donald inevitably make things worse during the next term.

But I doubt Thiel wants to be president (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

Although, come to think of it, Mark Cuban, another famous billionaire who made big bucks in the tech industry, had said he’d been open to running for president…

Either Thiel plans to run for president in a few years (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) or…

Thiel Supports Trump Because He Thinks Trump Will Implode the Government, Which Will Make Room for Innovation … And a New Monopoly

gears-1236578_1920That’s pretty similar to what this guy at Business Insider said, but I can’t seem to find that article any more…

To find hints of Thiel’s real thinking, look past his RNC speech:

  • Thiel believes that innovation is driven by monopolistic companies, not by competition. According to Thiel, the ideas we use to discuss capitalism are based on models that are outdated and obsolete. Competitive businesses involve towards static equilibrium, and spend their money trying to outdo one another. They have no cash left over to innovate and create. A monopoly, however, is free to charge what it wants, then use those profits to drive innovation. Google is a perfect example of a monopoly in today’s economy. AT&T used to be one, as did IBM and Microsoft.
  • Innovation is at odds with competition and globalization…or they are at least perpendicular to one another. In one talk, Thiel used Japan as an example to demonstrate the difference between the two: since the time of the Meiji Restoration, the country has globalized but not innovated…that is, Japan copied the rest of the world. As a result, this island nation, which is smaller than California, has become a major world superpower. In the 80s, though, they ran out of stuff to copy and their previously explosive economic growth stagnated.
  • Technology and innovation are, for all intents and purposes, the same. Technology, he says, isn’t just limited to computers and software. This has been the most recent, most explosive area of innovation, in part due to the lack of regulation in this sector, which is a brand new industry. Other types of technology could also innovate and grow, but there are a variety of financial, regulatory, and other hurdles to overcome in those sectors – for instance, Elon Musk went to extreme lengths to overcome institutional, technical, regulatory, financial, and other obstacles in the preexisting aerospace industry in order to innovate with SpaceX. Not to mention Tesla.
  • Thiel runs Palantir, a secretive software company that tells the future. Well, fortune-telling may be a bit of a misnomer, but it does offer big data solutions that are used by big organizations, from governments to spy agencies to big name brands. Palantir is financially backed by the CIA and Thiel’s own venture capital company, among others. Supposedly, Palantir is valued at $20 billion and earned $1.7 billion in revenues in 2015. Some have suggested that Thiel’s support of Trump is a move to secure more government revenue for his company.

So how do all these bullet points apply to the topic at hand?

Many people look at a Trump presidency and see chaos…or worse.

Here are some quotes from a piece in the New Yorker, as quoted by a piece on Slate, written about the ghostwriter of Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal:

The prospect of President Trump terrified him. It wasn’t because of Trump’s ideology—Schwartz doubted that he had one. The problem was Trump’s personality, which he considered pathologically impulsive and self-centered…[Schwartz said,] “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization”…asked what he would call [a new book about Trump], he answered, “The Sociopath.”

Is it really possible that Thiel supports someone like Trump?

Or is the tech tycoon playing a different game?

All Good Monopolies … And Competitions … Come to an End

chess-603624_1920As Thiel has pointed out, competition results in stasis and old monopolies are out-innovated by newer monopolies. Trump, a a simple-minded salesperson, has somehow co-opted the Republican party and the election process.

Perhaps his very presence on the electoral stage signals the obsolescence of an old monopoly?

For instance, AT&T was replaced by a diversity of wireless providers. Microsoft replaced the IBM monopoly, and Microsoft is in turn being replaced by newer, more innovative monopolies.

A businessperson, like Trump or Thiel, might feel that businesses and governments are analogous processes.

Eventually, any monopolistic governmental structure, electoral competition, or economic machinery will become outdated and obsolete.

Then it will become replaced by a newer, more evolved monopoly.

If Trump gets elected, it will result in – at the very least – more division, conflict, and controversy than we are seeing right now.

In other words, Trump could cause so much havoc that we would have to wake up and restructure the system.

This would make room for innovation and growth.

Heck, maybe there is only one way to make the broken governmental engine work again…

Start banging on it with a Trump-shaped hammer and hope the world doesn’t end in nuclear war.

If You Use an Ad-Blocker, You’re a Content Thief…Or Are You?

Melissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, thinks you and I are missing out because we use ad-blockers.

According to her, it’s a “mistake” to install ad-blockers because the “experience on the web becomes a lot less rich.” When you install ad-blockers, you’re either receiving untargeted ads or no ads at all. Mayer says she tells her friends and family to remove those browser extensions because “your experience on the web will get worse.”

Digiday points out how ironic this is, given the fact that Yahoo’s own ads were exploited by hackers at one point, causing millions of Yahoo visitors’ computers to be infected.

She does make a point, however. Publishers depend on ads to earn revenue. You block ads, you’re getting something for nothing and publishers don’t make the money they need to keep offering you great information and entertainment.

So Are We Content Thieves?

lock-432450_1920To Mayer and many other businesses, native advertising may be the best bet.

Native advertising, for those who don’t know, refers to ads that are disguised as editorial content in media outlets and publications. A company will write an article that furthers its marketing objectives, then publish it on a media outlet with a tiny little grayed-out caption that says, “Sponsored Content.” The article looks real and feels real, but, as John Oliver points out, it undermines audiences’ trust and the media industry as a whole.

Sponsored Facebook posts and sponsored tweets dance a fine line between native and normal. They don’t want to push it too far, of course, because then users will get angry at the obvious deception. But users also don’t like to be blatantly advertised to, so the social networks need to dial back those obnoxious ads to make them less annoying.

So we’ve got a couple extremes when it comes to advertising.

Advertisers can either scream at you to get your attention, which people absolutely hate, which is why people install ad blockers, which supposedly make our web experience worse. Or ads can camouflage themselves and vanish into the tall grass, like a tiger stalking its prey.

Or…

They Can Go Freemium

times-square-923448You know that app you installed that offers to remove ads or add features for a few bucks?

That’s called the freemium model.

Don’t want to pay for this app, publication, or service that other humans have worked hard to create for you? You get ads.

Don’t want ads? Pay up.

Simple.

In general, people don’t want to dish out cash for anything digital, especially if they haven’t tried it yet. Hence, we have the proliferation of advertising, freemium products, free trials, and so forth.

But why don’t more companies offer us the choice?

Since only a tiny fraction of users ever opt to pay to remove ads, it wouldn’t hurt the advertisers’ income streams very much, if at all. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that people who pay to remove ads aren’t likely to click on them at all. I’m certainly not.

For most companies, however, it’s an either-or proposition. Many services are strictly ad-based and you have zero choice in the mater. Many publications force you to subscribe, then they still serve you with ads. Other publications, such as Consumer Reports, are entirely subscriber-funded.

Now that we live in a digital world, it’s actually possible to offer users the choice.

If I found a service that I really, really liked then I’d want the option to pay to remove ads.

Conclusion

Mayer’s statement was presumptuous and silly. It’s natural that a company whose revenue depends on ads would push for a digital world fueled by and funded by ads…natural but shortsighted.

In fact, she demonstrated that she wasn’t listening to her own customers. If ad blockers caused a decline in Yahoo’s revenue, then it indicated, if anything, that Yahoo wasn’t delivering a good user experience. I, for instance, never use Yahoo precisely because it’s in-your-face and obnoxious. I can only assume their ads worsen that already-poor web experience.

Instead of fighting an endless battle over how best to advertise to people who don’t like ads, why don’t companies offer ad-free versions of those same services?

What the New Kindle Unlimited Payment System Means for the Future of Humanity

I came across this the other day and found it so fascinating I just had to write about it.

First, a quick recap for those who aren’t familiar with the Kindle Unlimited situation:

Kindle Unlimited is a subscription-based program that allows you instant access to an ocean of digital books. All you need to do is borrow books in order to read them. You don’t have to buy books that are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, just click “Borrow.” A virtual virtual library at your fingertips!

You, as a reader, only need to pay a measly $9.99 per month to subscribe to this plethora of digital pages, and you can cozy up by the fireplace with your digital romance novels for the rest of your life without ever having to purchase a single one…

DeathtoStock_Medium4To incentivize Kindle-published authors into enrolling in this program, Amazon has set up a multimillion-dollar fund to pay authors for every book that was digitally borrowed.

After July 1st, though, Amazon is making an interesting change…

Instead of being paid per borrow, authors will be paid based on the number of pages people actually read. According to Amazon, they will divide the KDP Select Global Fund by the total number of pages read, rather than by the total number of qualified borrows.

So if one of those borrow-crazy readers only reads one page of your book, you’ll be paid for that page alone. But if an avid fan reads your entire trilogy all the way through, you’ll get paid for all those pages.

Here’s the main reason why this could be a good thing:

Authors will be compensated on the quality of their work, rather than the quality of their book cover or the impulses of borrow-crazy Kindle owners.

Amazon claims this is the reason for the change. Well, not so much the book cover part…but the fact that authors wanted to “align the payout with the length of books.” Before this change, payouts took place when users read 10% of any Kindle title, and the payouts for 2,000-word short stories would be the same as for 200,000-word mega-novels.

On the surface, it may seem that this change will reward novelists and hurt short story writers. But as one Kindle author pointed out, there are plenty of very good, very prolific short story writers out there. Obviously, there are plenty of complex factors at play, such as the size of your genre, how many titles you’ve released, how big your following is, how good your writing is, and so on and so forth.

But I think that Amazon and Google are trying to accomplish the same thing with their algorithms: reward quality because quality is what the people want.

However, there’s one very fascinating takeaway from all this:

money-256319Kindle Unlimited is the prototype of a micropayment economy.

“What the heck’s that?” you might be asking.

Well, let’s look at the so-called information economy…

The web is full of free information. This article is free. Google is free. Facebook is free. You’re giving your personal information away to those companies for free.

In fact, it’s for reasons such as these that Jaron Lanier says the idea of “free information” is actually naive. And that in order to save the middle class, we’ll need to restructure that “free information” delusion and the economy and create a system wherein micropayments were exchanged for the information that is now being bottled up by the corporate juggernaut.

It’s been a while since I read Who Owns the Future?, so I may be wrong about some of the details.

Here are some examples of what micropayment systems might look like:

  • What if WordPress was a subscription-based service that users paid .05 per hour to use? What if I were given 2.5 cents for every minute someone spent on my site? Sure, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but if I have a total of 100 hours spent on my site per day by various visitors, that’s $2.50 a day and $75 a month. All because I’m blogging. Like I’m doing now. Which I’m not getting paid for. Unless you click this link and buy something.
  • What if fans were allowed to donate money to their favorite artists based on how much art was produced? Like Patreon.
  • What if Facebook actually paid people for content? Yeah right.
  • What if there was an online information and content marketplace that allowed people to package and sell information products to others in exchange for currency? Like Amazon.
  • What if you paid a flat monthly subscription fee for unlimited access to that information and the information producers were paid based on how much of that content you consumed? Like Kindle Unlimited.

I think that this micropayment system has such great potential, because it’s performance-based. The cream rises to the top of the crop. Those who produce better quality products will be rewarded for their effort.

Normally I’d go on some cynical tangent about the potentials for abuse by the evil corporate machine, but not today. Let’s bask in the warm glow of Kindle Unlimited’s all-just and all-encompassing warmth and love…while it lasts.

Of course, if there are any Kindle nerds out there who can see an obvious downside that I’m missing, shoot me an email.

I’m sure I’ll come up with something sooner or later.

Google’s Your Mom, Mobile’s Dead, and Other Future Predictions from June, 2015

sunofficeI woke up this morning and realized I hadn’t predicted the future yet this year.

I meant to do it in January but I forgot.

In January of 2014, I predicted what the world of tomorrow will look like.

Among other things, I predicted that:

  • Google will build androids
  • Wearables are the future – specifically, those creepy things you put on your face
  • We’ll slowly start sinking into a virtual reality
  • Augmented reality will become a veil of tears that separates us more and more from actual reality
  • Our current fragmented attention spans will fragment even further
  • We’ll see AI
  • We’ll see more military bots
  • We’ll see more sex bots

So far, all of my predictions are right on track.

So let’s look at tomorrow, today – June 11, 2015.

Tomorrow: Video, Virtual Reality, and Augmented Reality…

Get ready…

Yep, it’s coming.

Well, technically speaking, it’s already here. It’s just not mainstream yet.

Companies are investing billions in virtual reality technology. Facebook spent $2 billion on Oculus Rift, the world’s leading VR company, and Google invested almost $550 million in Magic Leap, augmented reality (AR) tech that projects holographic images directly into your eyeball.

Digi-Capital predicts that these industries could be worth $150 billion by 2020.

Elsewhere, I’ve written in-depth about augmented reality, how augmented reality will impact marketing, and how video is transforming the internets. Those articles take a practical look at how these industries will impact our world in the next few years. And they clearly prove that my prior predictions are chugging along quite nicely.

Don’t believe me? Watch this video and skip ahead to 2:30:00.

 

 

This video clearly demonstrates the precursor of tomorrow. As I mentioned last year, if you want a real glimpse of the future, watch Ghost in the Shell.

Or watch this.

Google’s Your New All-Seeing-Eye-Mom-Personal-Assistant…Who Wants to Market to You…From Inside Your Eyeballs

Siri, Google Now, Cortana, and all the rip-offs you see on the app stores are trying to become your personal, virtual assistants. You’ve probably heard people complain that computers do so much work that people don’t need to think any more. After all…

  • If you want to write a paper on a classic of literature, simply look up the summary online or buy a pre-written essay.
  • Don’t wanna do math? Just plug it into Wolfram Alpha.
  • Too lazy to write down a to-do list? Just download Wunderlist…or ask Siri to remind you.
  • Too busy to log in to your airline to check your flight times? Just ask Google Now. Heck, Google Now can even track flight prices for you.
  • Want to know how many calories are in a Red Bull? Don’t bother typing it in to a search engine (that’s so much work!) – instead, ask Siri.

32What many people fail to realize is the depth of data acquisition that tech companies go to in order to produce these modern luxuries that we just can’t live without.

Google and Facebook both unscrupulously stalk the sh!t out of you and hunt down, absorb, and dissect every bit of information about you that they can. From your clicks to your website behavior and your social media interests, they scrutinize every millisecond and move and develop detailed psychological profiles that they use to better market to you.

Think it’s a coincidence that that shoe ad follows you around the web?

Or that that Starbucks coupon showed up when you were a mere 100 feet from the store?

Nope.

In response to widespread criticism and concern by privacy advocates and people who actually know who Snowden is, both companies have been increasing their “privacy controls.” But it’s important to note that tech companies and marketing companies require data in order to generate profits – so protecting your privacy actually opposes their business models.

Though they claim to have your best interests at heart, their responses are mostly just palliatives aimed at appeasing European governments and concerned masses.

Don’t believe me?

  • watch-756487Apple Watch can and does track everything from your heart rate to your altitude to how much time you spend walking, sitting, running, and exercising.
  • Google wants to put ads in front of your eyeballs 24/7. Think I’m thinking ahead? Think With Google…Google patented headset technology that actually measures pupil dilation and how long your eyeballs look at an ad. “Pay-per-gaze” is a new advertising compensation format that charges advertisers based on how long you look at an ad…and this is all for technology that hasn’t even hit the mainstream yet.
  • Photos used to be out of Google’s reach, but not any more…so photos you post online will be able to be read, understood, and processed by Google – or any other tech company. Just look at Facebook’s creepy auto-tagging feature.
  • Amazon’s Firefly technology can understand and recognize video.

In other words, anything you put online – writing, photos, audio, or video – will be read, cataloged, understood, and processed by the tech giants…all so they can better market to you.

The Day After Tomorrow: Mobile Will Die…

minecraft-529460And be reborn as AR and VR.

This is the whole reason I started writing this post and I almost forgot about it.

In case you haven’t noticed, I pay a bit of attention to AR and VR, both of which are going to radically change the world we live in. Again, look at that video clip of the HoloLens. That’s a paltry precursor to what the world will look like sometime in the next few decades. When AR tech can be plugged into glasses or contact lenses, we’ll have an augmented layer that seamlessly slides between ourselves and the real world.

So much for all that money you dumped into your responsive website and iPhone app…

Mobile sites will probably never die, but AR and VR will probably devour much of the market share we see taken up by apps.

FYI, smartphones are the de facto device for people living in emerging markets. Cambodians or Africans who’ve never seen a desktop own smartphones and have Facebook accounts. And it’s not uncommon – it’s the norm. Having lived in Cambodia for months on end, I know that most of the country can’t afford smartphones now. But neighbors like Thailand can. And as these markets emerge into tomorrow, they’ll have smartphones.

And when you have utterly cheap products like Google Cardboard, which are likely produced in countries like Cambodia, you’ve got…

VR for Everyone on the Planet

Zuckerberg wants everyone to be connected to the internets. Not out of generosity or goodwill – the guy’s obviously just another Silicon Valley sociopath – but so everyone can be connected to the Facebook money machine.

With Google Cardboard, Google not only gives easy DIY VR device to anyone with a smartphone, it also gives VR to people who can’t afford Oculus Rift headsets or the upcoming Magic Leap AR headsets. This is something I could be wrong about, but I foresee emerging markets and poverty-stricken people around the world escaping their reality by strapping smartphones to their faces with Google Cardboards and mass-cheaply-3D-printed VR headsets.

Which brings me to 3D printers…

3D Printers will Print Drones that Deliver Your Pizzas and New Organs in 30 Minutes…Or Your Money Back!

letters-418634I printed out a 3D skull at Mojo Coworking in Asheville.

The guy that runs the 3D printers there told me that some of the higher-end machines can also print metal. So, of course, they’ll become more sophisticated in the next few years and decades.

Now, I don’t really follow 3D printing as much as I do AR and VR and digital marketing, but expect the entire world to change in ways we probably can’t imagine:

So how will this technology change the world?

Well, along with nanotechnology – which promises everything from self-cleaning windows and stay-fresh running gear to innovative cancer treatments – it will reshape the entire industrial world, the manufacturing industry, and the supply chain. Quality of life for many will be drastically altered for the better, and we’ll have access to more technology and luxury than we could have ever imagined possible.

But…

There Are a Few Problems

I realize I’m being a bit ranty and dystopian with this post, but there’s a major problem with the worldview being marketed to us by Silicon Valley: it paints a rosy picture of tomorrow based on technological utopianism…the idea that technology will solve all of our problems. They do this, obviously, because that type of propaganda makes the more money.

The antidote?

A healthy bit of realism…

1. Idiots run the show.

tie-690084Zuckerberg and the Google guys didn’t get to where they were by being nice guys with normal lives and human-centric causes. They’re profiteering capitalists who only care about the game they’re playing…which happens to be based on the extraction and exploitation of your data.

Do you really want planet Earth to be helmed by guys like Zuckerberg and Paige and Eric Schmidt (see this funny article, It Looks Like Eric Schmidt Closed His Instagram Account After It Was Revealed He Followed Lots Of Half-Naked Women) and the Uber CEO?

Well, not much we can do about it. Especially if we pretend like their “visions” and agendas will result in a tech-fueled utopia.

2. Automation will demolish our current economic structure.

Here are some examples of technological revolutions that will change manufacturing, the workforce, and so on:

  • Self-driving cars will put huge chunks of the transportation industry out of business. Uber, already a threat to taxi companies around the world (which could fight back if they’d develop their own stupid apps already) has self-driving cars in the works.
  • Robotic manufacturing will put huge chunks of the industrial workforce out of business. Heck, Amazon’s already using robots in its warehouses.
  • Just think how many white collar jobs 3D printing will create…and how many blue collar jobs it will kill.
  • Nanotechnology will do the same…after all, why hire a window cleaner when you can print self-cleaning windows and have an Amazon drone deliver them to your home in 30 minutes?

The IT industry will keep expanding as more people come online, which is good if you’re a computer nerd, but bad if you’re in an industry that will be automated away.

Businesses that want to stay alive will need to follow these trends with AR and VR. Currently, it’s already necessary to have a website, a LinkedIn account, a Google account, and, for some, an app…just project this trend into tomorrow and see how it will change with AR and VR. When everyone in the first-, second-, and third-worlds have the internets planted directly in their eyeballs, you’ll have to have your own AR and VR sites and storefronts.

3. Half the human population will live inside VR.

skyscraper-418189_1920The average American spends 7 and a half hours in front of a screen. The average Indonesian spends 9 hours. For many, though, who want to stay on the cutting edge of productivity and technology, that number is much higher.

So we’re already spending half our days immersed in a virtual reality.

Imagine what things will look like in 10, 20, and 30 years, when AR and VR are the new portals to the interwebs and you need to be online in order to stay competitive. Why even leave home?

When technology automates the work world even further, we’ll be forced to become more and more a part of that virtual world – unless you want to paint houses for a living. Something tells me human labor will be cheaper than robot labor for jobs like that…

4. What about global warming?

The question running through a business person’s mind is: how can I profit from this?

They can’t…yet…which is why no one’s investing in solar power and other sustainable industries (though, according to this guy, no one’s investing in solar power because people are stupid).

Okay, I think I’ve ranted enough.

These are just a few of the changes we should expect to see in the next few years and decades.

But what will tomorrow’s tomorrow’s tomorrow look like?

The Day After the Day After Tomorrow: GUIs in Your Brain…And Your Blood

110822_3306_3There’s a grand future awaiting us all:

  • Headsets and contact lenses that project virtual reality directly onto your retina will give way to chips in your brain, or, as I like to call them, neural user interfaces (NUIs). And, yes, the precursors of mind control tech are already here. Again, watch Ghost in the Shell.
  • Neural User Interfaces will probably give way to internet-connected nanotechnology that floats around in your bloodstream. Why not just make this nanotech part of the water supply? That way everyone will be forced to create a Gmail account whether they like it or not.
  • While we’re on the topic of bloodstreams infused with nanobots…wouldn’t it be easy to get all your drugs from an implant? I already conceived of this a while ago. Used in conjunction with Google, the all-seeing-eye-mom-butler-virtual-personal-assistant, you wouldn’t even need to worry about buying drugs yourself or even visiting a doctor – Google could virtually diagnose you and dose you as needed.
  • I almost forgot about human-ish androids. Like Google Glass, Westerners are probably freaked out by the concept. But not all countries are so skittish about the future…Japan sure loves its dolls and androids. It’s a toss-up to which company is more creepy: Google or Facebook. Of the two, Google seems to have less of a problem with overt creepiness. Facebook has better anti-creepy marketing. So it looks like Google will be the ones to run with it. We’ll probably have to go to Japan for our sexbots though…

 

While my vision of tomorrow’s tomorrow’s tomorrow may seem slightly dystopian, I just like to be realistic.

Social robots like Zuckerberg and idiots like Eric Schmidt and Bush will continue to run things, whether we’re flying through space on ships captained by AI, bathing in globally warmed gutter rivers next to a sea of trash, or relaxing on a rooftop luxury cabana overlooking the vast cityscape with clones of superstars fanning us with palm leaves and feeding us with nanobot-produced grapes.

Nathan’s Bookshelf: Winter 2015

Most of my recent blog posts have been focused on topics related to internet marketing, since that’s where my head’s been lately.

But today I’d like to take a step back and remind my loyal readers and stray visitors that I’m not simply an internet marketing automaton…

I do have other interests…

And reading is one of those interests.

So if you’re also a reader of books and you’re looking to curl up with a good book by the radiator this winter, have a gander at my bookshelf…

And if you see something you like – by all means, click on those affiliate links ;)

What’s on Nathan’s Bookshelf Right Now

The actual blurry photo of my bookshelf that I took with my Samsung Galaxy S5 copy that was made in Hong Kong and bought in Bangkok

The actual blurry photo I took with my Samsung Galaxy S5 copy that was made in Hong Kong and bought in Bangkok

This is a mere fraction of my collection, but here goes:

  • Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, by G.I. Gurdjieff – Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge fan of Gurdjieff. This is the first book in his trilogy. If you are considering reading this book, all I have to say is, “Good luck…”
  • In Search of the Miraculous, by P.D. Ouspensky – Anyone interested in learning more about Gurdjieff should start with this book.
  • The Storymatic, by The Storymatic – This isn’t actually a book, it’s a set of cards. But it’s right there in the picture so I figured I’d throw it in. It’s a set of cards that are designed to help stimulate the creative writer’s brain. I wrote about them in a previous blog post. It doesn’t look like the edition I bought is still on Amazon, but there are a couple others…
  • William Blake: The Complete Illuminated Books, by William Blake – A must-have for any student of Blake. Reading the full-color reproductions of his prophetic works is a completely different experience than reading the text versions.
  • Austin Osman Spare books – Spare is another major player in the Western esoteric scene. His unreal work was heavily influenced by the likes of Dante, Goethe, Lao Tsu, and more.
  • The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing, by Bob Bly – This book looks like it’s only available used, but it’s a great resource for anyone interested in direct mail marketing. It’s written in the well-known Bly style: clear, concise, to-the-point.
  • Dictionary of the Khazars, by Milorad Pavic – Someone said of him, “He thinks like other people dream,” or something very close. Read a page of any Pavic book and you’ll see why. If you love crazy surrealistic poetry, get this book.
  • The Journal of Albion Moonlight, by Kenneth Patchen – Another surrealist poet, Patchen makes the beatnicks look like mice. This book is a difficult read, but it will take your mind apart.
  • The Works of Lord Byron, by Lord Byron – Yawn. Got it for a few bucks secondhand. May use it to start a fire if it gets cold enough.
  • The Oxford Essential Guide to Writing, by Thomas S. Kane – I brought this all the way back from Thailand. It’s interesting. I feel it could be useful if I had enough time to go through and create exercises from parts of it.
  • Rumi’s Stuff, by Rumi – I can’t read the title from this picture (I’m writing this post at the office), but I think it’s the popular “selected works” one. Rumi’s another great addition to any poetry lover’s bookshelf.
  • Viriconium, by M. John Harrison – Harrison is one of the best living writers. The first Viriconium book was fantastic, as are Harrison’s more recent works. My favorites are Light and The Course of the Heart.
  • Wired for Story, by Lisa Cron – Like to write? Then read this. She sheds scientific light on the story-writing process, but it’s more about story than it is about wired.
  • A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters, by Kenneth Henshall – This fascinating, in-depth look at the etymology of Japanese characters is a must-own for anyone deeply interested in the Japanese language.
  • Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, by Swami Satyananda Saraswati – My favorite book on yoga. It provides a complete series of asanas (yoga poses), benefits, counter-poses, et cetera et cetera.
  • William Blake Dictionary, by S. Foster Damon – A must-have for any serious student of Blake. It provides detailed explanations for all the major concepts and characters found in Blake’s work.
  • Japanese Verbs and Essentials of Grammar, by Rita Lampkin – This short grammar book contains everything you need to know to create grammatically correct sentences. I taught myself grammar with this book when I was 15.
  • Hinduism, by Somebody – I don’t know if the linked-to book is the same one that’s on my shelf or not…I’m reading the Mahabarata right now and bought a book on Hinduism to help me out with some of the concepts.
  • The Ultimate Marketing Plan, by Dan S. Kennedy – Kennedy is great. His books are like sales and marketing textbooks. Must-haves for small businesses or anyone in sales and marketing…like me. This one covers Dan’s “marketing triangle”: message-media-market.
  • The Ultimate Sales Letter, by Dan S. Kennedy – A must for anyone who ever does copywriting or who plans on writing a sales letter.
  • Light on Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar – This is another classic book on yoga. Any serious or semi-serious yoga student should have this on the shelf.

 

As mentioned, this list of books doesn’t even cover a fraction of my total collection.

Maybe when I have access to the rest of my books I’ll put them up…

Well, that about does it for this edition of Nathan’s blog…

We’ll see you guys next time!

The Future of Content Marketing Part 2

Elsewhere I explained that everyone and their mom should hop on board the Google train, because they’re taking over the Earth. And that’s true.

Wil Reynolds, CEO of Seer Interactive, an internet marketing company, demonstrated as much in a presentation at Affiliate Summit. The search engine’s evolution is a good thing, he argues, because it clears away more of that spam that pollutes search results. And that’s true.

Image 5Look at the ribbon that now headlines search results: suddenly we see lists of local results with photos all lined up next to each other. How convenient is that? And how useful for local businesses?

After watching his presentation, I felt that I’d been rather harsh on Google. After all, Google currently incorporates your location into all search results, which should help business who are close to you.

But, what with the vastness of the internet — not to mention the vastness of the world we live in, from which the internet is derived — I can’t help but feel like I’m getting a rather simplified picture of the information I am seeking with my search query.

Is Google Good or Evil or What?

Wil Reynolds has a lot of positive energy and believes in building real value and promoting passionate business men and women, instead of spamming people to make a buck. While Reynolds seems to suggest that Google’s interface evolutions and search algorithm updates are beneficial for the little guy and the casual internet surfer who wants spam-free search results, I partially disagree.

To demonstrate how Google is battling the nefarious hordes of spammers, Reynolds breaks out his smartphone and talks to it. Instead of navigating into a website to find the weather or our flight times, he shows us, all we have to do is ask Google, and it will tell us.

Image 6

The Knowledge Graph

And it’s true. Ask for the meaning of a word, and Google will provide us with the answer. Ask who Miley Cyrus is, and Google tells us. Where does this data come from? Sometimes it tells us, sometimes it doesn’t. Why bother visiting Wikipedia or donating to their cause when Google just gives it to me?

Unlike a search engine, which would direct us to the services and sources of the information we are seeking, Google becomes the service provider by taking that information from said sources and giving it to us directly.

This trend will only continue.

Is this good or bad? How can we know when we don’t know what the heck is going on? Google doesn’t talk about their motivations or intentions.

Oh wait, according to them: “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

How do Driverless Cars or Robots Fit In?

Image 1

Apparently you can book flights through Google. Airlines better stay on Google’s good side if they want to remain visible.

It’s really hard for me not to see the monopolistic side of things: Google is aggressively pushing into every major market they can get their paws on. They are offering overnight delivery to compete with Amazon (already a retail and publisher crusher), they are extracting and storing and publishing portions of books online,  they read your email, they are going after wireless giants, they are building robots, they are building driverless cars, and they are going to build androids.

Some tech lovers love Google, and knock the “Google is evil” mantra. I think “evil” is a word from a Disney movie and has no place in an adult discussion about real things in the real world. Google’s just monopolistic — the dream of any profit-centric business — and their data gathering behavior is creepy. Emails should be private. Privacy should be a given.

But I digress.

Image 2It doesn’t pay to wear a tin hat, but it does pay to pay attention to the writing on the wall. Google may not be evil, but don’t assume that they are an altruistic company that looks out for your business or aims to bring the world together in peace and harmony. Do you think they’re fighting the recent FCC ruling because they’ve got such big hearts?

Like any corporation, their top priority is their bottom line.

 

PS – “What does this have to do with content marketing?” some content marketers may be asking themselves. Other content marketers, however, will see exactly how this affects their field. If you are one of the former, then watch Reynolds’ presentation.