Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Robots Eat Your Lunch? Not if You Dine WIth Your Slave!

Why The Robot Conversation is all Wrong!
The problem with discussions about AI and robots is they talk about replacing your current job. While that may be true, the real issue is what jobs they enable?

The future is not so much about improving the past - important as that is - as about discovering new possibilities since that's where the growth is. 

While robots sound scary and exotic, we actually do have a past era where we had robots - of a sort.

We can learn plenty about human behavior from that.

Robots Eat Your Lunch?

A lot of the talk is about robots eating our lunch and how we will need to offer a Guaranteed Minimum Wage to all these sorry people who will be displaced. The past however, tells us a different story.

While I agree that we need a safety net for the victims of disruption, I think the idea of giving people money for nothing is corrosive and self-destroying.

I think there is a better way. A much better way.

Enslave Them!
Oddly enough the idea comes from a book I read about the slave trade in Barbados where sugar, slavery and the first wave of "new money" came to England. In fact, you could say that sugar and slavery was the dotcom billionaire bonanza of 1644. There are schools, libraries and mansions in London and Oxford that come from this slave/sugar money.

The book I am referring to is Sugar in the Blood by Andrea Stuart, a stunning read! 

Roll Your Own Robot
The slavery model is more relevant than the industrialization specter because a coming generation of low-cost robots will be more affordable than industrial machinery in the same way slaves were in their time. Displaced workers should have the option to use that money to buy a robot or invest in robot workers, just as the early colonizers of Barbados were able to do with slaves.

(I also think we owe the desecendents of slaves, reparations - not a check necessarily, but something like a Marshall Plan for Africa and the Inner City. That is another story of course, and I am only stating this for the record so the PC mob doesn’t crucify me for using the abominable slave phenomenon as my guide.)

What makes the slave trade so interesting is that once upon a time, there were all kinds of slaves and mostly white. They generally came in the form of indentured workers and even then, the term itself derives from word, Slav. These workiers weren’t well treated but the demands of general work weren't that critical and so it was a faintly humane labor system. Barbados used these people, sometimes Irish or often the poor and criminal from Britain, as general laborers and tobacco workers.

Robots Are Nothing Until They Mean Money
It was only when the islands discovered sugar that slavery really took off and Africa became the biggest player in the system. Sugar was incredibly hard work and pale Europeans were completely unsuited for it. Sugar is also addictive in its way and the demand for it exploded woldwide.

Suddenly, there was a need for cane labor and within a few decades, hundreds of thousands of sorry Africans were abducted and brought to the tiny island of Barbados where they were generally worked to death within about 3 - 5 years.

Just as important, semi-civilized Brits quickly and seamlessly devolved into monsters who managed their slaves with terror and barbarous ruthlessness. The Nazis might actually have been kinder to the Jews than these landowners were to their slaves. This was tolerated for about 200 years because there was just no better way to make sugar. Even freed slaves who could afford it, were likely to own slaves!

Slave Geeks
There was even a kind of slaveowner geekiness - planters made it a point to have slaves do ever possible form of menial work for them - including dressing, washing and holding their chamber pots for them.

What matters with our robots however, is that, until you have a real need, predictions are just fluff that will disappear the moment a real need - and a market - appears.

So Last War
People who talk about robots eating our lunch and so on are really discussing the last war. It is like saying in 1899, that the automobile will make it easy for famers to get to church on Sunday and go shopping, when the real advance was mechanized farming with gas-driven engines.

Likewise, robots that displace drivers or mid-level clerks aren’t the real story. The real story is transportation experts using robots to do stuff they never dreamed of in the past. Instead of driving a taxi why not manage a fleet of 10 robot transporters. These will ferry people all day long to work and shopping. They will carry partygoers to their soirees and drunks back to their homes at night.

Similarly, clerks can let robots do their clerical work while their people skills are suddenly in higher demand.

Most of all, we are going to find higher level things to do once we populate our workplace with enslaved robots. We will burn them out. They will need programming, fixing and replacement - all human work.

The Displaced Know The True Value 
Most of all, they will be best managed and most usefully employed by people who actually know the business they were displaced from - only now, they can do more thanks to their high tech slaves.

So much of the "give people something for nothing" school underestimates the value and creativity of working people. They are not idiots, they will know what to do with robots - given the chance. Taking the socialist view of just giving away money just doesn’t tap this kind of human motivation.

Where, Oh Where Did The Digital Divide Go?
Think about it this way. Do you remember the so-called digital divide? That was when poor people just couldn't afford computers and that only rich people could enjoy its benefits. So what happened to it?

The Internet.

Once the Internet came along, supposedly poor people found computers. They made money online. The did stuff or got stuff for free. With increased demand, the price of computing dropped drastically and even wound being cheaper than TVs.

Now, imagine if society had given poor people money for NOT having computers. That would have been ridiculous and indeed most would have used the momey - if they didn’t squander it - on buying a computer anyway, justso they could take advantage of the internet.

The New Slavery
So the real question is not what to give displaced workers but what would they do if they owned a slave/robot?

I believe they would consume these robots just like their ancestors did with slaves and then invent new businesses that can harvest great uses from them.

Putting It To Work Now
If we were smart, we would begin the contest of ideas now - what would future workers do if they were their own slave?

That folks, is the real future of robots.

© Alan Brody, 2017


Monday, January 30, 2017

Winners from Boston January 2017

Our January event introduced us to some exciting new companies – and a conflict.

We had two top contenders but because one of them was connected with some of the judges we had to hold back and declare Ooomf the winner. So Special runner-up title for GreenSight Agronomics.


Oomf Inc.

Gavin  Gray 617-797-0049  
Enabling the sharing economy – one thing at a time.                                                                        
Comment: While the sharing economy is raging - from the likes of bikesharing and ridesharing, this software integrations system enables the safe sharing of anything starting with battery packs at campuses. Company shows positive revenue.

GreenSight Agronomics
James Peverill CEO 339-237-1291
GreenSight is developing the second generation of commercial drone platform to help optimize water usage, pesticide, antifungal, and fertilizer treatments while maximize the performance of golf turf or crop.. We combine autonomy, advanced sensors, and data analytics to deliver land managers actionable alerts enabling them to make large reductions in water, pesticide, and fertilizer usage.   We are already the leader in turf remote sensing, saving golf courses over $1B annually by reducing their water consumption. Our system is also being adopted by top agricultural chemical companies to improve their data gathering during the $3B in field trials they perform to develop and certify new treatments.  
Comment: This revenue-producing company introduces a powerful new business angles for drones and agricultural management. Patent protection on the sensors.

The Dinner Daily, Inc  
Laurin  Mills     978-501-3567
The Dinner Daily is changing the way busy families get dinner done by offering a simple solution that actually lowers grocery bills.  Our unique "menus based on your local grocery store specials" is now offered in 48 states across 36 major grocery chains.
Comment: A very useful app that allows shoppers to automatically build menus and buy the groceries according to the weekly deals.
Maxim Reutov
We help merchants to optimize payment processing by providing a universal payment platform. We are Airbnb in payment processing – we connect payment providers worldwide to increase payment reliability, flexibility and to save on payment processing fees. We also connect tokenization providers, provide global wallet and offer simple 1 day integration.
Comment: This is a business plan that has grown significantly under the feedback from the Startupalooza investors.

Schwozny, Inc  
Joel Schwartz    617-719-5717
Schwozny provides services for data analytics and management for pharmaceutical companies outsourcing experimentation to multiple contract research organizations. Schwozny provides clients low cost access to powerful tools that will increase the information content to provide decision making data and ensure visibility with potential industrial partners. Schwozny will store, organize and analyze all your data.
Comment: While the name may not quite say it this is a potentially much-needed service for the rising biotech and healthcare development industry with a long, sticky customer revenue source.