Thursday, 16 July 2015

Techno Libertarians

I wanted to follow on from my previous post which detailed how this century is going to be dominated by software with wealth for all of us growing at exponential rates. The de-materialisation has already begun in the West whereby we now live in an age of disposable computers and material goods that were once highly prized items. Modern Entrepreneurs are a different breed to previous generations. Many aren't motivated by riches, power or prestige. They think they can change the world for the better, viewing themselves as noble people in a race to create prosperity for us all. Many of us can see what has been done in the technology field. In the past 50 years we have seen Moore's law give billions of people access to computing power that was once science fiction. Yet many other areas of society continue to stagnate. Public Transportation systems have been stuck in a state of stasis for the past century. Schooling still resembles Victorian methods despite the world we now live in being completely different. There has been good progress in heath treatment and the understanding of human biology but costs have continued to go up and if anything we are no where near to achieving abundance after decades of state control. Drug innovation has been the reverse of Moore's law. Controlled by bureaucratic big corporations who patent up everything has stifled the field for decades. Now the Techo-libertarians, many with unwitting classical liberal values are fighting back. They are not just trying to change the world through software but exploring other sectors to try replicate the model of silicon valley.

Facebook has become an integral part of many of our lives but its a classic tale of a visionary spotting value in a small niche and building a platform for people from around the world to communicate. Mark Zukerberg has since become a billionaire (on paper) but took incredible risks to get where he is now. He toiled for days and nights non-stop building the initial application. With little or no money he also was going against much larger competitors at the time the MySpace or Bebo's for example. As Facebook took off Yahoo offered one Billion dollars for the company. Mark was only in his early twenties, Facebook wasn't even making any money. He could have sold out there and then and been comfortable for the rest of his life. 99.9% of us would. Instead he went to his board at the time and said along the lines of "This is more of a formality, we're not going to sell out now right?". This was an extremely courageous thing to do. His company could have been wiped out by the competition, it could have failed, he could have took the easy life. He didn't because this was his mission he felt compelled to finish what he started; this was his chance to change society for the better he could still see Facebooks true value to us all and it was going to be more than one billion. This tale is similar to many other tech entrepreneurs who create a company and don't sell out until they go the full distance.

Mark Zukerberg is not finished. Facebooks new office has been designed to have an unfinished appearance, Mark wants to remind all his employees that Facebook never can be finished there is always something else to improve, to add, to refine. He's not just stopping with Facebook he has recently invested in a new type of School that remodels education with the use of computers. Using teachers as facilitators, the pupils now drive their own education. There is no set hours, you can learn at your own pace in your own time. Progress is tracked using the software but it doesn't discipline students based on results. Students don't fail rather everyone starts on base zero the only direction is to move forward from this base point giving a sense to the pupils that they always progress - never going backwards. Exceptional students can progress faster thus ensuring boredom is not an issue. Pupils can investigate subjects that interest them. Creative thinking is encouraged, not swept aside like the conventional schooling of sticking to set curriculum's and everything a teacher says is gospel. Other Entrepreneurs are taking on the States hold of Education. The Khan Academy is a superb resource to educate adults and children. It enables Children to learn at their own pace and re-watch material as many times as they wish. Coursea allows people to take University courses for free. Its only matter of time until the content becomes just as good as the real thing and young people decide to save thousands of pounds and get a world class education for nothing. In the UK we currently spend tens of billions on Education. We can not only make it free but also provide world class content for all. The Internet is a great leveller enabling people of all backgrounds the same platform to learn from.

Many Tech Entrepenurs are trying to tackle problems in different verticals. Elon Musk, co-creator of PayPal is trying to come up with the next generation of electric cars with his company Tesla. A serial entrepreneur he is also trying to revolutionise public transportation building Hyperloop Transportation. The idea is to build a series of tubes where people are shot around in pods at the speed of sound. They will use air and be near friction-less thus consuming less power than many other forms of current transport. Using surge pricing and advertising the other idea is to make the service free at non-peak times. One day the plan will be to replace planes with such a service and have it nationwide. It may fail and still needs to raise the initial investment capital but here are a bunch of people with the audacity to change the world for good. Not talking about it or lobbying politicians to tax people more; no talk just action. Compared with HS2 or the similar Californinan Rail project which is going to use Billions of Tax Payers money regardless of if those tax payers want it, Hyperloop is all voluntary. If it suceeds it will cost $0 to the taxpayer (unless the Government decide to buy it - but in my opinion it should always be privately funded just like the railways were a long time ago when they revolutionised transport).

The other paypal co-founder Peter Thiel is joint venturing Seasteading a concept to use an Island that is devoid of Government control. Its a far fetched idea but again its people putting a concept out there and seeing if it has demand. Many see it as crazy which is exactly what the founders want. If no one takes it seriously and it takes off then it will be hard for the powers to come down hard on it. Many people have shown interest that want to escape draconian regulations. Drug Startups for example think progress in this verical is being stifled due to big pharm.

An ex-google employee decided to apply the principles of open source software to robotics creating the Willow Garage project with the PR2 Robot. They are sometime of consumer prime time with both utility and price but the principle is to try and encourage collaboration to solve common problems that could help automate our daily lives. Again, starting to build something with zero cost the consumer.

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin believe themselves to be on a noble crusade to improve people lives. They too think they can change areas of society. Making software is easy - little regulation, dynamic people, no central power. But trying to revolutionise other sectors using software proves to be tricky. When talking about using google wearables for healthcare Brin has talked about the current stifling environment. I'm sure their automated cars will also have initial hurdles to get regulators on board. Still if you don't try you will never know and that's what drives them, not the zeros on their net worth. 

Many technologists are not driven by ideology or dogma, but rather they see what works and wonder why the pace of innovation that occurs in silicon valley can't be replicated throughout all areas of society. In a nutshell many are sceptical of the state. They see what they do and what they can achieve with little or nothing. While Bureaucrats get hundreds of billions of dollars taken at will from people who then provide very little benefit to society. Meanwhile the 'techies' start with nothing but a garage. Jeff Bezos, Amazons founder, famously packed it all in and set up shop in his garage. His desk was a sawn off door. Despite starting with nothing he built a company that consumers value. Entrepreneurs work relentlessly, risking their time and capital to meet what they perceive are consumer demands. While many of us would sell at a drop of a hat, they continue risking their time and energy for the fact they believe they can change the world. They build hundred billion dollar businesses from nothing. The cost to the public is nothing. Services keep getting better. Google used to just index the internet (actually many thought it couldn't be done at the time for free with no obtrusive ads - but Google did) then offered email back in 2004 with 2GB of storage for free which I thought was insane at the time ten years ago when I got invited. It blew the competition away. Now all my priceless photos are backed up for a lifetime for free - it even syncs in the background. Costs stay near zero, services just keep getting better. Entrepreneurs are modern day heroes, no "Predators" as Ed Miliband once remarked.

Computers were once believed to be only for large organisations and that there would only ever be a handful; they were once scarce. In came the entrepreneurs, the dreamers the misfits who turned computers into an abundant resource for all; rich or poor. Now they want to replicate that technological abundance to other areas of our lives; healthcare, transportation, education. They want to replicate the principles of silicon valley - namely that anyone who has an idea can try it out, that's how wealth is created. Governments will try to hamper the progress as they see their prominence in peoples lives eroded away. But people are pragmatic and once these ideas are out and in use there will be no turning back. Snap-chat CEO sums up our generations millennial attitude in the video below on why he didn't sell his company for 3 Billion dollars despite it not even making a profit. Money is not the driver for most of our generation; finding a purpose with ones life is the goal. It epitomises everything that is good with humanity. The spirit of the individual combined with the responsibility to make society better for all. Markets - not Governments - can only create such abundance for all. We are witnessing the slow death of Socialism and a new era of ever increasing human prosperity, where freedom not State tyranny is the model.