The Most Polarizing And Controversial Stock In The World Today

Tesla is arguably the most divisive and one of the most high profile and hyped stocks in the world today. I have written about Elon Musk and his companies in previous blog posts over the last few years [1]. During that time I was in awe of the projects he was working on. How he has been able to take Tesla from a niche electric car company and scale it to a massive mainstream global company is beyond impressive. Ditto his progress with his other company, Space Exploration Technologies. Although the space industry is still a very nascent industry, he has arguably done more than any other commercial entrepreneur to create the infrastructure to make it possible for space exploration to potentially become a thriving and fast growing industry.

Since Tesla first became a public company, it has always attracted a lot of attention. On one side, there are millions of Tesla supporters and fanatics who worship Elon Musk almost elevating him to the status of a powerful religious figure. In their eyes he and his companies can do no wrong. Then on the other side, you have a group of sceptics. The most extreme contingent of this group are full-on haters who intensely dislike Musk and everything he stands for. Where the most passionate supporters see Musk and his companies as the future – the most powerful narrative being that some see him as the man who will pave the way to make the world an interplanetary species – his most damning critics see him as a fraud and a charlatan – an emperor with no clothes. The most fervent haters are the yang to the yin represented by the most fervent fanboys. However, the more thoughtful doubters are not cut from the same cloth. They draw their own conclusions on Musk and his companies based on facts and rigorous research.

Back in December 2019, I wrote a post on my predictions for the coming decade [2]. One of my predictions was that I stated that it may be unwise to bet against Musk and his companies – basically echoing Peter Thiel’s mantra of “Don’t bet against Elon”. Since I made this prediction the share price of Tesla has been on an epic tear. Although I could see a lot of potential for the share price of Tesla to do well – merely on the prevailing sentiment alone. I could never in a million years have expected the share price to have gone absolutely parabolic in such a short space of time. Back when I made my prediction, the market cap of Tesla was around $50bn. Today, it is just over $1tn.

For the last decade or so, like many others, I had a lot of admiration for Musk and his companies. I was even in awe of him as I couldn’t think of another entrepreneur who was doing what he was doing and had the same breadth of vision as he had. However, today I have very mixed feelings. What has changed? I think in the past I was most definitely swayed by the narrative. But I don’t think it was just that. As I just said, who else is doing what he is doing? Nobody else has a pure EV and energy company on anywhere near the same scale as his. What’s more, no other entrepreneur has a commercial space exploration company at the same level of development as his.

I suppose any scepticism I had of Tesla back then was purely related to the company’s financial statements and how out of whack they were with it’s market cap. Yet, unlike the sceptics of the time, I reasoned to myself that Tesla was not only a high growth company, it was also more than simply just a company selling EVs. It was and had the potential to be much more than that and that at some point in the future it would eventually grow into it’s high market valuation. This was also along the same lines as the Scottish investment firm, Baillie Gifford, who are one of the earliest investors in the company and have seen their stake grow exponentially since then.

Many of the Tesla sceptics operate with the ticker symbol TSLAQ via Twitter. Whilst a section of this group may be hateful and spread lies and misinformation on Tesla, there are a good number who have legitimate concerns about the company based on facts. And I think it’s important that these are not swept under the carpet. One high profile example are those shared by the fund manager David Einhorn back in 2019. Einhorn is known for his bet against Lehman Brothers bank just before it collapsed during the 2008 Financial Crisis. It is easy to dismiss Einhorn today, especially since he (like others) had short positions on Tesla stock at the time and got badly burnt when the stock exploded in value in 2020. Musk also famously sent Einhorn a pair of “short shorts”.

However, I wouldn’t write Einhorn off so fast. One of his major criticisms of Tesla relates to it’s acquisition of Solar City back in 2016. Einhorn went as far as saying that Musk “knowingly orchestrated a significant fraud by arranging the $2.6 billion acquisition at a time when SolarCity was insolvent. Musk and his family had a huge conflict of interest, but rather than properly recusing himself, Musk initiated the transaction and drove the process.”[3] Indeed, this acquisition was controversial. Solar City was a company founded in 2006 by brothers Peter and Lyndon Reve who are both cousins of Musk. Musk himself was the chairman of the company and instrumental in helping to found it. Solar City since it’s inception was, however, quite a cash intensive company. Although it was growing at a fast pace, it was also losing a large amount of money. For example, in Q1 of 2015, the company generated $67.4m in net revenue, yet made a loss of $146.9m with operating expenses alone being $147m. Back in Q1 of 2014 operating expenses were less than $90m [4]. Often such losses are normal for a high growth company since it is often assumed that in the longer term the company may develop a sufficient moat as well as a level of scale and market leading position meaning that over time there is every possibility that it would be generating much higher revenues and solid net income profits. A low interest rate environment has also been very favourable for these kinds of companies since it means that money is cheap and thus it doesn’t matter if they are not making any net profits any time soon. However, in 2016 Solar City desperately needed a bridging loan of $200m [5] to avoid defaulting on it’s debt and it was struggling to raise money for it. It seemed that no one was prepared to lend Solar City the money. Failure to secure this loan would have likely resulted in the company going bankrupt. This would have had significant consequences for Musk and his companies. SpaceX owned 77% of the Solar City bonds [5] and if Solar City were to go bankrupt, this would have affected SpaceX in a huge way and possibly even it’s ability to continue as a going concern. It would have also been a huge financial blow for Musk since he personally owned over 22 million shares of Solar City stock worth nearly half a billion dollars [5]. Thus, Einhorn, whether one may like it or not, is quite correct in his assessment that Musk committed fraud on a grand scale and that there was an enormous conflict of interest. Musk may have dressed the acquisition up as a takeover of a company aligned with Tesla’s own ambition’s as a clean energy company, when the truth is it was a bailout of his cousins’ struggling company not just to save his cousins’ skin but also his own and that of his companies.

The other glaring concern for me are the sheer number of lawsuits against Tesla. There are over 1000 lawsuits against the company of which 200 are in China alone [6]. Aside from the Solar City case, perhaps one of the biggest and most unnecessary burdens on the company is Musk’s own erratic and unpredictable behaviour, which have led to lawsuits and fines. Perhaps, the most well known one is from back in August 2018, when Musk stated via Twitter that he was considering taking Tesla private and that he had ‘funding secured’. Not only did he not provide any evidence of having ‘funding secured’, he also violated federal securities laws with his tweet. The plain fact is that if any other CEO had done what Musk had done, they would have been fired on the spot and probably would have faced consequences of a far greater magnitude. I remember that time well and the whole furore that ensued. Yet, at the time I thought it was inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. My mindset was very much, ‘Ah, that’s just Elon being Elon. Fundamentally, he’s a genius and a visionary and this kind of behaviour is just part of his eccentricity.’ But I don’t know whether it is morally right to be so lenient on something so serious and to just shrug it off. This is especially true since this is not the first or the last time when Musk has behaved in an erratic and destructive way on his Twitter account. Sometimes, his tweets have been beyond the realms of bad taste. There is of course that well known incident from 2018 where he called a British diver who saved a group of young boys trapped in a flooded cave in Thailand a ‘pedo’. Then, rather more recently, he sent the following tweet earlier this month to Ron Wyden, a Democratic Senator from Oregon; “Why does ur pp look like u just came?” Wyden was critical of Musk’s decision to sell portions of his Tesla stock to pay taxes in accordance to a poll he proposed on Twitter. Wyden quite rightly stated that Musk paying tax, ”shouldn’t depend on the results of a Twitter poll.” [7]. Just a few days ago on November 13th, US Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted, “We must demand that the extremely wealthy pay their fair share. Period.” Musk responded to Bernie’s tweet with, “I keep forgetting that you’re still alive”. In a perverse kind of way, I find a lot of this quite entertaining. The world of Twitter would most certainly be a duller place without Musk’s tweets. Yet the difference is that Musk is no ordinary Joe. He is currently the richest individual in the world due to the explosive rise of the share price of Tesla. It is also never wise to taunt or provoke prominent people in government positions, especially with that level of power. After all, even if you are the richest person in the world, it is ultimately the government that operates the switch, not you.

There have also been cases regarding the safety and shortcomings of Tesla’s vehicles [8]. These have included battery fires. As early as 2012, there were leaked emails saying that Tesla had knowingly sold Model S vehicles that had design flaws in it’s batteries making them very vulnerable to catch fire. This has been a never ending issue and even involved the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) intervening in 2014 and 2019. Even as recently as this year, Chinese regulators also stepped in after a number of customers in China reported and complained about the batteries in their Tesla vehicles catching fire. Furthermore, there have been reports of break failures, “whompy wheels” (where the suspension system of the vehicle breaks sometimes resulting in a wheel collapsing or falling off), and cases of sudden unintended acceleration. Perhaps the most high profile safety issue relates to Tesla’s Full Self Driving (FSD) software in it’s vehicles. This is controversial as it’s very misleading. The FSD software is anything but and requires drivers full supervision. However the fact that it is advertised as such is dangerous as it has resulted in multiple accidents where the drivers were under the misapprehension that they had full self driving software in their vehicles. Whether Tesla will ever develop true self driving software is another matter but by falsely selling products advertised in this way is not only misleading it also poses a serious risk to the drivers of it’s vehicles as well other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

I could go on but I think I’ll leave it at that. What is quite astonishing is that in spite of all these issues, millions of people continue to worship Elon Musk in an almost blind and blinkered way. On Twitter, he currently has over 60 million followers. When Peter Thiel says, “Don’t bet against Elon” he means don’t bet against a visionary a la Steve Jobs. And I continue to echo Thiel’s words too, but for different reasons this time. For me, betting against Musk implies betting against a universal chosen one with millions of fanatical and devoted fans. All the aforementioned issues and concerns don’t matter and have barely made a dent to his popularity. This is why for many years, short sellers, have lost staggering amounts of money betting against Tesla. And not all these short sellers are fools. Some of them like David Einhorn and Jim Chanos (who famously made a fortune betting against Enron) are highly respected and do tremendous amounts of fundamental analysis on the companies they focus on. They were both right in their analysis on Tesla, but what they forgot to account for was the sheer fandom and worshiping at the Temple of Musk. As a wise bulletin board poster once told me when commenting on the amount of money lost by Tesla short sellers; “Never bet against the great levitator”. Quite.

By Nicholas Peart

16th November 2021

(c)All Rights Reserved

LINKS

[1] https://latitudepost.com/2017/11/07/low-to-no-cost-high-strength-satellite-internet-for-every-corner-of-the-world/

[2] https://latitudepost.com/2019/12/28/the-furore-ing-twenties-my-thoughts-on-the-new-decade-ahead/

[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/08/elon-musk-gloats-to-his-hedge-fund-adversary-over-tesla-surge-calling-david-einhorn-mr-unicorn.html

[4] https://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/05/05/is-solarcity-making-money-or-losing-it-key-metrics.aspx

[5] https://www.businessinsider.com.au/elon-musk-tesla-solarcity-merger-frenzied-plan-new-filings-show-2019-10

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lawsuits_involving_Tesla,_Inc.

[7] https://news.yahoo.com/elon-musk-made-gross-sex-130902137.html

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Tesla,_Inc.

THE FURORE-ING TWENTIES: My Thoughts On The New Decade Ahead

guerrero-1838996_1920 (1)

As we leave the 2010s and head into a new decade, I naturally like to meditate on what the next ten years will have in store for the world. Approximately ten years ago to this day I was in Peru in the Andean town of Huaraz. Back then my eyes were not so open and I couldn’t see beyond my own little self-created bubble of rock n roll, existential literature and nomadic travelling. I had little to no understanding about global politics, technology and the financial system.

Predicting the future is hard enough. Very often, the predictions that turn out to come true are ridiculed from the start. If I were to say to a group of fellow travellers at some bar in Huaraz on New Years Eve 2009 that during the following decade Donald Trump would become president of the USA and that there would be a referendum in the UK where the UK would vote to leave the EU, they would have looked at me as if I had lost my mind.

What do I think will happen in the 2020s? I think it will be a very interesting decade where lots of changes will occur.

I will begin with the financial markets. As of now, many stock markets are at all time high levels. The 2010s has been an absolutely stellar decade for US stock markets, especially the NASDAQ. Back in 2009, towards the end of the financial crisis, the NASDAQ was trading below 1500 points. Today, it’s close to hitting 9000 points. That’s a six-fold increase within the space of a decade. The question now of course is, will this rally continue or are markets in danger of crashing? When I try to make my own predictions, I like to also gauge what the general consensus is. On social and traditional media sites, there seems to be no shortage of videos and articles predicting that 2020 will be the year when markets are going to crash. With such an overwhelming consensus, I, naturally, have to re-evaluate my own thoughts and vision.

The important point is that for all of the 2010s since the 2007-9 financial crisis, interest rates have been at very low levels. In some countries they are now at negative levels. The consequence of this has been that since the 2008 Lehman Brothers collapse, total global debt levels have increased by almost 50% from $173 trillion to $255 trillion. This era of cheap money has played a large role in this decade long stock market boom. Instead of trying to predict when the next crash will occur, it may be better to predict when interest rates will finally return to more normal levels. My feeling is that this is not going to happen anytime soon and that interest rates will, at least in the short run, continue to fall even if they breach negative territory (as they already have in some countries). This will be bad news for trying to reduce the already gigantic levels of global debt. Debt will only just continue to increase and stock markets will continue to rise, until the moment when inflation will kick in, which will immediately trigger central banks to raise interest rates.

Throughout the 2010s, gold has never dipped below $1000 per troy ounce. It has always remained above that level. At the start of the millennium, 1 troy ounce of gold was trading between just $250-300. It was almost as if it were considered obsolete, a relic from another age. With hindsight one can shoot down in flames the UK’s former chancellor Gordon Brown for selling off half of the UKs gold reserves back in 2001 at such low prices. Yet at the time, gold just wasn’t on many people’s radars save for a small selection of far-sighted individuals. As the 2000s chugged on, the price of gold went on a phenomenal ascent breaching $1000. By the end of 2011, just 2-3 years after the financial crisis, the price of gold nearly hit $1900 an ounce . As of today, the price of gold is hovering around the $1500 an ounce mark.

Why does all this matter? It matters, because I believe in the 2020s precious metals will do very well due to the extraordinary circumstances we are facing with record levels of global debt, perpetually low/falling interest rates and stock markets showing no signs of slowing down. The ‘kicking the can down the road’ mantra can only go on for so long until eventually the music will have to be faced.

But it’s not just fragile economic circumstances that will contribute towards precious metals doing well. Political circumstances will also play their role. In continental Europe, populist governments will continue to rise as will government spending. The economic situation in several Eurozone countries remains very precarious and this could lead to the Eurozone facing a genuine existential crisis. There are vast financial imbalances between the major Eurozone countries. During the last Eurozone crisis at the start of the 2010s, the European Central Bank (ECB) was able to utilize monetary tools such as Quantitative Easing to stimulate flagging Eurozone economies thus saving the Eurozone. The question now is if the Eurozone were to face another such crisis, would the ECB this time be able to successfully avoid a disastrous situation? It is trickier now for two reasons. Firstly, the Eurozone is carrying much more debt than before. Many Eurozone banks also continue to remain in dire shape. Secondly, the discontent of citizens in Eurozone member counties and the rise of populist parties in these countries could only exacerbate and make worse any already fragile/vulnerable situations.

Another thing that will be interesting to see is how the whole Brexit saga is going to play out in the coming months. What kind of a trade deal will be negotiated between the UK and the European Union? Will there even be a deal? If the UK were to leave the EU completely with no deal, it’s likely that the burden of keeping the EU together (and contributing more money towards it to keep it going) would fall increasingly more on Germany and to a lesser degree on France. This would put the entire future of the EU project in a very difficult position, especially if the German economy were to fall into a recession due to factors such as additional tariffs on the bulk of its exports as well as the very real prospect of a substantial government bailout to save two of the country’s largest banks; Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank.

It pains me to say that the 2020s could very well see the first stages of the Eurozone being dismantled followed by the EU itself. I am praying that such a situation doesn’t happen, but I feel this may unfortunately become a reality. A breakup of the EU could lead to Russia gaining much more dominance in the region with some former EU countries forging stronger ties with Russia. At the same time, I can also foresee some of the southern European Eurozone countries, especially Italy and Spain (which, like Germany, also have large manufacturing industries), experiencing multi-year long economic booms once they have their own currency (which they will be able to devalue and thus re-gain their economic competitive advantage). Whilst the German economy benefited greatly from adopting the Euro currency, the Euro hurt the economic competitiveness of other major Eurozone countries such as Italy, Spain and to a lesser degree even France.

One of my boldest and most off-the-wall predictions would be to say that the USA will experience a taste of some kind of socialism at some point in the 2020s. I feel there’s a high probability that, as unlikely as it may currently seem with the impeachment inquiry hanging over him, Trump will manage to secure a second term in power in 2020. However, his second term will be more challenging than his first. It is also highly likely that the long-awaited stock market crash that everyone is predicting will happen at some point during his second term. And when it does occur it will be very painful and cause another economic recession. In the wake of this, it is possible that many of Trump’s most loyal supporters begin to turn against him. By the time of the 2024 elections in the USA, I think the Democrat party will have moved more to the left just as has happened with the Labour Party in the UK over the last few years. By the time of the 2024 US elections, I envisage the Democrats winning the election with a barely tested transformational socialist agenda. By 2024, many of Trump’s traditional Midwest supporter base, who will have felt let down and failed by him, will opt for any kind of new change regardless of the consequences.

Any kind of future socialism though will likely not be like the socialism of the past, but more a kind of technological socialism. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the internet didn’t even exist, and it was possible to easily control information. The world was a much larger place. A future kind of socialism could be one where technology is so advanced that everyone’s most basic needs are all provided for and there is no need to perform any repetitive jobs or tasks. Technological socialism within the paradigm of a post-work or post-scarcity society. However, this kind of a vision is still some way off.

The truth is, in the coming years ahead, one is likely to witness an increasing number of savvy and hyper aware Millennial and younger Gen Z politicians come to the fore, who will want to change the rules. In the United States, the politician Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is a prelude and prime example of those next generation politicians who will eventually rise to prominent positions of power.

The 2020s will be a decade of exponential technological progress. The implementation of 5G networks will be crucial and integral towards the development of the so-called Internet Of Things, where every electronic device – be it your electronic household devices, street lights, transportation vehicles etc – is connected to the internet. Once this has been further developed, the transition from Smartphones to Smartglasses with enhanced Augmented Reality capabilities will become more of a reality and I predict this transition will begin to bear fruit from around the mid to end part of the 2020s.

In one of my very first blog posts back in 2016, I made a moonshot prediction that by the beginning of the 2020s, every household would have a 3D printer. It seems that I got that prediction horribly wrong. Back in 2013/14 there was quite a bit of hype around 3D printing and how it would revolutionise manufacturing. I am still a big believer in 3D/4D printing or however one wishes to call it. Such a technology makes it possible for anyone to print any physical thing no matter where in the world they may be.

The 2020s will also be a decade to watch regarding the development of Space Exploration and Sustainable/Renewable Energy. Elon Musk is at the fore of those developments with his companies Tesla and SpaceX. Most people who are aware of Tesla view it as a company that sells high priced electric vehicles. Yet the mission of Tesla is to transition the world away from fossil fuels. The building of its giga-factories in various locations around the world will enable Tesla to develop a level of scale to successfully achieve its mission. In many financial circles, lots of investors and analysts have been predicting that Tesla will go to zero. Lots of people have been betting against Elon Musk. However, I feel that such a move is unwise. I believe that Tesla will ultimately succeed in its mission and will become a very valuable and important company.

The 2020s will also see quite a lot of activity from Musk’s other company SpaceX. I think that SpaceX will lead the way in the nascent space industry and be responsible for dramatically reducing the costs of space exploration. The last part is very important as its currently prohibitively expensive to launch even just a satellite into space. Hence that’s why there are not many players operating in this industry due to high costs and high barriers to entry. In the 2020s, we are likely to see via SpaceX, the greatest accomplishments in the space industry since 1969 when the first person landed on the moon. The mission of SpaceX’s Starship rocket is to transport people to Mars and create a permanent human colony there. Using ground-breaking bioengineering innovations, the goal is to turn Mars into a planet similar to Earth (via the process of ‘terraforming’), with a climate and atmosphere containing vegetation and oceans and the right temperature and levels of oxygen for living organisms to flourish. Although all this is highly unlikely to occur as early as the 2020s, the next decade may well see the beginnings of the initial stages of such a mission coming into fruition.

However, one SpaceX project to keep an eye on in the near future is Starlink. This project involves sending lots of satellites into low orbit to beam down high-speed internet on all corners of the world, event the most remote corners. The last point is very important. Even though billions of people are already connected to the internet, there are billions of people living in remote and undeveloped parts of the world with no access to it. Currently, almost all of our wi-fi and telecommunications networks come from land-based cell towers. A mass adoption of super strong satellite beaming internet would be a real game-changer in the next level of network/internet connectivity, as it has the potential to enable everyone in all corners of the world to have access to a high-speed internet connection.

It will be interesting to also see how cryptocurrencies/blockchain technology will evolve in the 2020s. Lots of people invest in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin hoping that the price will go higher, yet what does the future hold for cryptocurrencies? My greatest fear is that increasing government regulation will affect the development and performance of the main cryptocurrencies. In an article from earlier this year, I wrote about certain cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin and Zcash acting as a store of value. Many people also tout Bitcoin as a form of digital gold and some even say that it will disrupt physical gold as a store of value. I fear that such a situation is unlikely to occur and that Bitcoin will likely never again see the highs it witnessed at the end of 2017.

Privacy coins, especially Monero, have long been a thorn in the side of governments around the world. Of all the privacy coins, the one I am keen to watch is Zcash (where privacy is just an option – transactions can be shielded or unshielded), especially since I think it is currently fundamentally undervalued compared to other privacy coins. Furthermore, the other advantage it has is that, unlike many other cryptocurrencies, it was created by professional academic cryptographers.

The underlying blockchain technology itself will continue to evolve, and I can see further development of so called ‘stablecoins’ (which are not prone to fluctuate madly in value) becoming more widely adopted. One project I am interested to see manifest is Facebook’s own digital Libra currency. Facebook has the unique advantage of unbelievable network effects with over 2.4 billion users from around the world. So, Facebook simply introducing its own digital currency, means at least a third of the world’s total population potentially using it. This could be a huge benefit for Facebook users in countries with unstable currencies. However, I fear that the implementation of Facebook’s Libra currency will be met with lots of opposition from governments around the world who may fear that it will pose a threat to the stability and performance of their very own national currencies.

In fact, there is a big chance that at some point during the next decade both Facebook and Google/Alphabet will face even higher amounts of regulation by governments around the world with the very real possibility of both these companies eventually being broken up. This kind of regulation as well as the more extreme break-up threats will likely begin to kick off in a big way in Europe and could further manifest in the USA itself if a left-wing Democrat party politician (with an anti-billionaire, anti-Big Tech agenda) where to come to power in the 2024 elections in the USA. However, taking an axe to both Facebook and Google could also have the effect of further empowering their Chinese rivals, Tencent and Baidu. It could well be that Facebook and Google’s loss become Tencent’s and Baidu’s gain.

So, these are my thoughts for the coming new decade. Reading them over again, they can seem to oscillate wildly from overly pessimistic to naively optimistic with scant middle ground. When writing these predictions, I tried very hard to overcome any well ingrained cognitive biases by envisaging potential events that could likely occur even if I don’t want them to happen and/or they are against my beliefs and values. In a sense, this is also a kind of experiment and I expect to get several of my predictions completely wrong. Yet I feel that the unexpected black swan events we all witnessed throughout the 2010s will continue into the 2020s taking many by surprise.

 

By Nicholas Peart

27th December 2019

©All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

SOURCES/FURTHER READING

https://mises.org/wire/150-years-bank-credit-expansion-nearing-its-end

https://www.ccn.com/edward-snowden-zcash-interesting-bitcoin-alternative/

 

Image: aitorvz

 

 

How Artificial Intelligence Can Be Your Friend

IMG_6528

This is an article I originally posted on Elixtacy on July 25th 2017. I have edited the original article.

 

Much has been said about artificial intelligence or AI. Often people have talked about AI in a very fearful way as something with catastrophic and apocalyptic consequences. Even highly regarded people like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawkings have warned of the potential dangers when AI becomes highly developed and sophisticated. There is no question that AI will develop exponentially and become an enormous industry. It will greatly augment other industries and increase their productivity in unprecedented ways.

 

What about when AI becomes more sophisticated than humans?

One of the hot topics surrounding AI and the main cause of most people’s concern is, what happens when AI becomes more sophisticated than humans? Most people view such a situation as a threat to humanity and there are perfectly legitimate and rational arguments as to how AI can be a real danger to the human race. But let’s look at AI and it’s potential in a more exciting and positive way. This is a technology, which has the power to change our lives and make our lives better and less gruelling. Already there exists different kinds of AI such as the electronic calculator, speech and image recognition, or the algorithms designed for automatic language translation, spelling and grammar corrections, and the ones tech goliaths Facebook, Google and Amazon use to create our daily news feeds and recommendations respectively etc. The Siri function on your Apple iPhone (or Amazon’s Alexa) is a very embryonic form of the ‘virtual assistant’ type of AI, which will grow and develop at an exponential rate. At some point in the future this kind of AI bot will be your 24/7 multi task virtual assistant, which you’ll be able to have intelligent two way conversations with about virtually (no pun intended!) anything. Based on all your digital data and spoken words, it will help you make all your decisions for you. This virtual assistant bot will help you with all kinds of issues whether they are legal and financial queries, relationship problems and generally try to help you to organise your life and make it more efficient and productive. A SMART Life! In some ways, it could be said that the future of the traditional Google Search engine, where you type what you are looking for, is ‘voice search’. Existing and continually developing search engine algorithms incorporating increasingly sophisticated speech recognition functions will develop into super smart virtual assistants where all quieries are answered and specific links and information to those quieries is provided through the already substantial amount of data and content on the net.

 

Job automation

People fear that AI will speed up the process of job automation and eventually make all jobs obsolete. This will happen yet it will happen to all Industrial Age, repetitive jobs with little to no creativity. Instead of being fearful, people should be happy. I mean do people enjoy repetitive, humdrum and uninspiring jobs? In our current culture there is this incomprehensible and irrational obsession with work; but work of an often soul destroying kind and not work that people enjoy and which can benefit and change society. AI will eventually automate all forms of repetitive and uncreative work and in the future people will be working far fewer hours.

 

A Post-Work society and why our creativity and ideas will be king

AI in the distant future will lead to a type of Post-Work society. Yet in these times people will be finally free from monotonous work and will likely be engaging and harnessing their creativity and ideas in doing something they love. Rather than being a threat, AI will be an indispensable and invaluable resource, which will augment, complement and greatly benefit our levels of creativity and ideas and help us to realise with the best results whatever we want to achieve. AI will greatly enhance our creativity and generation of ideas and help us to tap into them in unimaginable ways. And best of all, it will all most likely be free. No need to set aside money for expensive lawyers, financial advisors, planners and accountants. Or even software developers and digital data analysts and marketers. AI will be able to serve you in all these areas at no cost.

 

By Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved

Low (to no) cost high strength satellite internet for every corner of the world

IMG_0759

Ever wondered if there would come a time when every corner of the planet, both on and off land, would be connected to the internet? Elon Musk wants to do just that via a satellite internet network called Starlink as part of his ambitious Space X project (founded in 2002 to further develop space technology and create the conditions for people to live on other planets). Musk plans on launching a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) broadband “constellation” of satellites, which would beam down high speed internet to every part of the globe. Space X is scheduled to start launching these satellites potentially in 2019 and hopes to have all the satellites in orbit and everything complete by 2024.

Musk’s project is not a brand new thing. A 1990s company called Teledesic along with two other companies, Iridium and Globalstar, tried to build a commercial broadband satellite constellation. Yet these companies didn’t succeed and Teledesic suspended its satellite construction work in October 2002. These companies were maybe too ahead of their time, but with the expansion of the space industry over time as well as the advancement of space technology development as more money continues to be invested in it, Musk’s Starlink satellite constellation has a higher chance of succeeding.

 

The end of cell tower network telecommunications companies?

Over half of the world’s population has internet access and some device to access the internet with, most commonly a smartphone. Yet most people still rely on assorted telecommunications companies to call and connect to the net. Telecommunications companies are still needed as long as their are landline connections, but with the world constantly becoming increasingly mobile and with so many people completely bypassing landlines for smartphones (especially in developing parts of the world where it’s cheaper to buy an inexpensive smartphone or dirt cheap cell phone than install a landline), the services provided by traditional telecommunications companies could potentially be bypassed if Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet project really does take off (no pun intended). For now we need these telecom companies as they still provide us with the essential connectivity infrastructure, yet unless they match or better Elon Musk’s ambitious satellite plans, they could encounter huge challenges. Free public internet in assorted public spaces via normal on the ground cell towers is always increasing across the world. Fast developing countries such as India already have free internet in many railway stations across the country (thanks to Google).

 

Wi Fi from balloons and drones

Google and Facebook both tried to solve the challenge of internet for the entire world. Google tried this via their Project Loon project (“cell towers in the sky”) which via mobile cell towers connected to hot air balloons they tried to connect remote parts of the world to the net. However the problem was that sometimes the balloons would not last in the sky and would soon come crashing down to earth. Facebook tried to solve this via internet powered drones flying above parts of the world lacking internet infrastructure. SpaceX’s project seems the most ambitious yet in solving this challenge.

 

No need for multiple networks and SIM cards to provide your roaming

If every part of the world is connected to the internet via Space X there could be potentially almost no need to use the services of traditional telecommunications companies (This is, of course, not only dependent on Spacelink succeeding, but on decreasing costs of sending satellites into space). It is always a pain to change SIM cards whenever travelling to a different part of the globe. Even if there are a clutch of competing online telecom startups offering SIM cards that can be used in almost every country and traditional telecom companies are offering services where existing national SIM cards can be used in many other countries (though often at high costs), it is still a rather cumbersome way of connecting the world when one considers all the future possibilities. Sending satellites into space may currently be vastly expensive but as more companies tap into the very nascent space industry and the technology to explore and enter space improves and becomes cheaper and safer, costs for satellite powered internet will go down dramatically. Hopefully Musk’s ambitious project will set a new bar for others to follow suit and maybe even match or better what he is doing.

 

The end of mobile numbers for instant connectivity

With access to a super fast public internet connection wherever you go in every part of the world, there is no need to even have your own mobile number (even if online video/messenger services like WhatsApp still require it – for now) and anyone from any part of the world can instantly connect to each other. This provides the ultimate instant connectivity transcending all networks and other connectivity services. I suppose with Facebook being the social media site with the highest number of users at close to almost two billion, it’s Messenger service is the closest thing for over 25% of the world to instantly connect and communicate with one another without a mobile number and only an internet connection.

In the wake of this it is crazy to think that for far too long we have relied on a plethera of large global telecommunications to provide us with our daily connections. Of course at this moment, the infrastructure provided by these telecommunications companies are still vital for our daily connectivity and on-the-go roaming. Yet Space X’s Starlink satellite project has the power to revolutionise the way we all connect if most if not all of the world has a state of the art internet connection. Having the entire world connected to the internet you have the quintessential Smart World of every corner of the world connected to the net. What’s more there’s a parity in terms of connection with everywhere having an equally super fast connection. This also has the potential to dramatically speed up the development of developing/undeveloped nations.

 

By Nicholas Peart

©All Rights Reserved

 

Other useful links…

https://edgylabs.com/spacex-satellite-network-soon-to-be-named-starlink/
More info on Space X’s Starlink project

Video link below illustrating Space X’s plans to establish satellite internet for the entire world…

The Death Of David Bowie, The Future and 3D Printing

This is a piece I wrote on January 12th 2016, a couple of days after David Bowie died

I’ve been thinking about nothing but David Bowie these last couple of days. So many of his songs are playing in my head; Sound and Vision and Heroes being the most popular. Heroes always makes me pause and be deeply pensive. There’s something majestic and timeless about that song. Like millions of others around the world I am saddened and shocked by his early death. I had no idea he was so unwell even though I was a little suspicious that something was not right regarding his sporadic movements over the last decade. Another clue that perhaps all was not well was from watching the video to the 2013 song Where Are We Now? from his penultimate album The Next Day. It’s a beautiful, haunting and deeply reflective song. More importantly, it seems to me like he’s seriously questioning his own mortality. When I initially saw the video to that song I could see real pain in his face and I began to feel very sad for him.

In my selfish state of mind I was hoping that he would tour again but I can now kiss that option goodbye. I remember one day back in 2003 pondering on whether to see him live at Wembley Arena. The Dandy Warhols were confirmed as his support band. That day I was at the Stargreen ticket office on Argyll Street in Oxford Circus and the lady at the desk told me they still had tickets left for the show but I foolishly declined on the grounds that I thought the £65 ticket price was too high. As the years went by and I got more deeply into Bowie’s music the desire to see him live increased exponentially but that was never to be as, after a heart attack in 2004, he retreated into splendid isolation with his beautiful wife Iman and the rest of his family. I have seen his compadre Iggy Pop live many times (and I even saw his other soul brother Lou Reed live once but he was dreadful and in a foul mood that day, which was a huge disappointment for me) and as special as Iggy will always be to me, I still regret not taking that unique opportunity to see David live. But life goes on man.

Taking a slight tangent, I often wonder what kind of people the people born today and in the last few years will grow up to be? I don’t know what the world is going to be like in 2020 let alone in 2030 or 2050. I humbly predict that by 2100 there will be no purely organic/biological human life still standing. I think by then all humans will be at least trans-human (half human/half machine). If the inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil’s 2045 prediction for ‘The Singularity’ comes true then by 2050 artificial intelligence will be on par if not far more advanced than human intelligence. The question now is will this advanced level of AI further benefit our lives? Perhaps we can augment our bodies with AI technology in order to be compatible with AI itself as far as logical/mechanical intelligence is concerned? Or will it have dystopian consequences and wipe us all out? Some prominent figures such as the scientist Stephan Hawking and Tesla founder Elon Musk have already publicly expressed much concern that a situation like the latter may very well happen and Musk has even gone as far as to spend a large chunk of his vast fortune on AI research.

By the beginning of the 2020s I predict that 3D printing will slowly start to become mainstream. Currently 3D printing machines are the preserve of scientists and a smattering of ‘geeks’, innovators and early adapters. It is also still rather expensive to acquire a 3D printer but with time costs will decrease and the technology will only get more advanced. I think 3D printing will be the biggest thing to shape our lives since the Internet. 3D printing now is what the Internet was back in 1994/5. Give it time.

Now back to the subject of David Bowie, there is an interview he did with Jeremy Paxman in 2000. At one point in the interview they were talking about the Internet and what it meant back then. Paxman seemed to have little belief in the power of the Internet and stated that he thought it was just a ‘tool’ whereas David disagreed and saw it as potentially a much bigger and larger force (both good and bad) to what it currently was. In fact, Bowie was one of the first major artists to utilise the Internet as a platform for his music when it had just become mainstream back in 1997. Now let’s fast forward to 2016. The Internet plays an enormous role in our lives. It has also disrupted many industries in the process. The one that really springs to mind is the music industry. Many will remember the Napster saga involving members of Metallica back in 1999 but how many back then could have foreseen the colossal impact that illegal downloading would have on an entire industry worth billions of dollars? For many creative people; especially writers, musicians and digital photographers, this is now the age of Free Content. Yet what the Internet has enabled is an instant connectivity and strong social networking facility with an enormous and growing number of people around the globe, which was not possible before.

 

David Bowie talks about the Internet with Jeremy Paxman (2000)

 

Back to 3D printing. The main casualty of this emerging technology is going to be the mass manufacturing industry. “Made In China” will become a thing of the past as every household becomes a factory. Big mass manufacturing businesses like IKEA will either have to adapt in the face of this growing technology or potentially face serious challenges to their current business modal. I believe that the next 5-15 years are going to be very interesting.

For more information on this I highly recommend that you purchase a copy of The Curve by Nicholas Lovell. It is a riveting and incredibly insightful and enlightening book which is very ahead of its time. Furthermore, it is an indispensable book to have with many helpful and practical solutions if you are a creative person struggling to make a living in a world of free content.

 

by Nicholas Peart

12th January 2016
London

 

(All rights reserved)