[0:02] [music]

Kevin Garber: [0:08] Good afternoon, good evening, good morning, wherever you are in the world. My name is Kevin Garber. You're listening to the "It's a Monkey" podcast where we talk to interesting thought leaders about all sorts of different tech trends and tech developments. We also chat about the news of the last couple of weeks.

[0:27] You're listening to Episode 62. It is Friday the 28th of August where we are in Sydney, Australia. A beautiful, beautiful sunny day as we're always so lucky. So frequently get to say in Sydney because we're so lucky, as with the great weather here.

[0:45] As always, we have a terrific jam-packed show lined up for you. We have a great interview coming up. Martin Ford is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and author of an interesting book called "Rise of the Robots."

[0:57] Here at ManageFlitter, we talk a lot about robots and how they're going to change the world, and we have these great philosophical discussions. I chatted to Martin, who is based in Silicon Valley and is actually on the way to Sydney for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas next week, which should be interesting.

[1:13] But as always, we're going to kick off with the news, and with me is the head of product at ManageFlitter, Nic Barker. Nic, thanks for joining us.

Nic Barker: [1:22] As always, I'm happy to be here.

Kevin: [1:24] Nic, always...It's been a little while since we have done a podcast. We try to keep them up every two weeks, but we have had so much going on and on and that unfortunately the podcast is one of the things that falls by the wayside.

Nic: [1:35] It's not our full-time job, unfortunately, although that would be interesting. [laughs]

Kevin: [1:39] It would be cool if we could push out two podcasts a day. There's enough in the industry to actually keep that going.

Nic: [1:45] Absolutely, yeah.

Kevin: [1:46] Anyway, let's chat about some of the developments. Interesting, a big story a couple of weeks ago was Google reorganizing itself into a conglomerate umbrella company called Alphabet, under which Google or what was Google and is now Alphabet is going to have separate, distinct companies, one of which will be Google.

Nic: [2:10] Yeah, it's a really very interesting development. Of course, after the initial hype died down where everyone thought that Google was actually changing their name to Alphabet, [laughs] it's not. That's not actually what's happened.

[2:26] Essentially, they have just restructured what is an enormous number of different, very different ventures that have been under the umbrella of Google previously under a new sort of larger-scale umbrella holding company of Alphabet.

[2:40] Google is going to be another company that's underneath the Alphabet umbrella, essentially. I believe the two Google founders, Sergey and Larry, are going to be co-CEOs of Alphabet now. I'm not 100 percent certain.

Kevin: [2:59] Well, they have announced the CEO of Google, and one of the theories on why they have actually done this is...There are multiple reasons why they have done this. But one of the reasons why they have done this is actually to assist its staff retention and give people titles and roles and responsibility to retain some of the top talent.

[3:22] For instance, the chap that they made head of Google, he was previously, I'm not sure head of product or SVP or something and they couldn't quite always give them the CEO. Of course, the war for tech talent is crazy and you need all the help you can get. If Twitter is knocking on his door and saying, "Hey, do you want to come be CEO?" it's quite appealing. Now they can manage to make him CEO of Google. Staff is one of the reasons.

[3:51] Google is turning over currently $70 billion a year, compared to Facebook which is, I think is about $13 billion, and it's market capped of about $450 billion a year and trading at 31 times price earning ratio. So Google is, it's a big company.

[4:10] But the landscape is littered with big, successful companies that were innovative that disappeared. For example, Hewlett-Packard. I'm listening to Peter Thiel's book "Zero to One" and he talks about Hewlett-Packard. Fantastic book, by the way. If you're listening and you are an entrepreneur or want to be an entrepreneur, it's really an interesting book.

Nic: [4:31] Absolutely. I really think what Google is trying to avoid right now is the curse of being a publicly listed company on these innovative tech companies that have exploded really quickly over the last 10, 15 years. Companies like Facebook are still in that honeymoon period where they're probably quite overvalued, depending on what sort of opinion you have. It means that they still have a lot of room to innovate and invest in these moonshot products.

[5:03] Whereas Google is more feeling the pressure from investors now to be more and more conservative in their decisions. Make sure that they continue to grow at a steady rate. In order to really fill out that market cap now with actual revenue, they have been having to go for these obviously huge moonshot projects like the self-driving cars and Google Glass and all of that kind of stuff.

[5:29] I think one of the reasons behind the Alphabet restructure is so that they can actually start these smaller companies that can then continue to do this sort of outside research and not feel so much of the pressure of the public shareholders wanting to get their return.

Kevin: [5:45] Yeah, they'll have one company, Google, which brings in the money and then feeds the umbrella company. Then it's quite distinct, separate companies.

Nic: [5:55] Google X can keep going with. [laughs]

Kevin: [5:56] Google X, Google Ventures. I think they will hit another. YouTube is still under Google. Isn't it?

Nic: [6:06] Yes.

Kevin: [6:07] YouTube will still be under Google.

Nic: [6:08] Yes.

Kevin: [6:09] That's interesting. They could have spun that off as well.

Nic: [6:13] You can just imagine though. Every single decision that's been made here has been meticulously researched by an army of tax law people, because there's literally billions of dollars of potential tax at stake here. All of this restructuring, you have got to remember, that those sort of things are always in the background. There has to be financial reasons for these restructuring projects as well.

Kevin: [6:38] Yeah. I think if you're a Google shareholder, things remain pretty much the same. You get a one for one share in Alphabet. Of course, Google has got the classic. I think they were one of the first tech companies to have this dual share structure where you get one vote with the normal publicly listed shares, but the founders have a special group of shares where they get 10 votes each.

Nic: [7:03] I didn't realize that was the situation.

Kevin: [7:04] Yeah. Facebook is the same, and I believe Twitter is the...Is Twitter the same? They do that to prevent these takeover situations where we can all get together and buy a ton of...

Nic: [7:14] And kick the founders out?

Kevin: [7:15] ...and kick the founders out.

Nic: [7:16] Kick the founders off the board.

Kevin: [7:17] Yeah. They still maintain control. As you know it's all about control in these companies. There's all sorts of stories in the VC backed companies world where founders lose control and get kicked out of their own companies by some of their investors.

Nic: [7:32] The really interesting thing that is often shielded from us, just looking from the outside into the tech world, is that while there's an enormous amount of innovation in terms of actual products, at the same time, simultaneously, there's innovation in company structure, tax structure, where you're incorporating, and that kind of thing.

[7:53] Lawyers are innovating at the same speed as we are. [laughs]

Kevin: [7:56] Absolutely. I think what people underestimate is that a lot of innovation and execution in business, people are...Especially young entrepreneurs are unduly obsessed with the idea. "If only I had a good idea."

[8:13] You could start a plumbing business tomorrow and innovate on how you actually branded up, service...

Nic: [8:19] Execution is everything, yeah.

Kevin: [8:20] ...executed, and there's innovation along that, so the ideas is...

[8:23] [crosstalk]

Nic: [8:23] Absolutely.

Kevin: [8:25] It will be interesting to see what Alphabet and Google...I think in many ways, it's going to be a little bit of business as usual. I think it's more just shuffling the decks a little bit and making sure that they can attract the right staff and manage things a little bit differently, turning it into a bit of a conglomerate, so-to-speak.

[8:48] That's Google and Alphabet. Another story that came out overnight was Apple Watch is actually doing better than people expected. I always expected it to do well actually. Let me just pull up that article. Was it number one or number two?

Nic: [9:06] It was number two, yeah.

Kevin: [9:07] Number two after Fitbit?

Nic: [9:09] Fitbit, yes.

Kevin: [9:10] Fitbit is the most popular wearable and then...

Nic: [9:13] Trailing by about 30 percent, I think, 20 percent in terms of units sold. Eight-hundred thousand units sold in comparison. Fitbit sold about 20, 30 percent more than Apple Watch this last financial year, I believe.

Kevin: [9:29] Of course, Fitbit is listed as well a little while ago.

Nic: [9:33] Very interesting.

Kevin: [9:33] I believe their listing popped quite nicely and did quite well. I don't know what they're doing now, Fitbit. We'll have a quick look.

Nic: [9:42] The really interesting thing I think in this space, and it's something also to think about in a big way going forward with tech companies is that all of these fitness tech companies, they're becoming big.

[9:57] They're really growing, but at the same time, they're nothing compared to the real giants of the fitness industry that don't necessarily have a center on tech, like Nike, for example.

Kevin: [10:09] Someone tweeted out...Who's the founder of Nike? I forget his name. Phil Knight. Phil Knight tweeted a link to his LinkedIn profile. He's got a real LinkedIn profile.

Nic: [10:20] That's interesting.

Kevin: [10:21] That's very simple. It just says something...

[10:23] [crosstalk]

Nic: [10:23] CEO of Nike. [laughs]

Kevin: [10:27] From Portland, Oregon. Nike. Unusual venue.

Nic: [10:31] Yeah, it's really interesting though, because, for example, some of you might know the very, very popular app, MyFitnessPal got bought by Under Armour.

Kevin: [10:40] For a fortune, wasn't it?

Nic: [10:41] Yes, which is really interesting, because a lot of these tech companies exist in an industry of their own, which is just tech. You would assume that if they were acquired at some point, they would be bought by Google. They would be bought by Apple. They would be bought by Facebook.

[10:54] In the fitness industry, you actually have the potential to be bought by these much more typical sort of brick and mortar companies that sell clothing, or sell fitness related products. It's quite interesting.

Kevin: [11:07] Natural extension of it. I love this space. I have the latest Pebble watch. Really enjoying it. It's essentially a notification device that is fantastic. We bought Kate, one of our team members, we bought her an Apple Watch.

Nic: [11:27] She's really enjoying it.

Kevin: [11:28] She's loving it. I also use a Jaw Bone as well, one of the latest Jaw Bones. The quantified self really, really interests me. I think it's an absolute early days. I think there's huge amount of innovation. We can't get to a situation where we have 10 devices strapped to us. Maybe we will. I don't know.

Nic: [laughs] [11:47]

Kevin: [11:48] I was chatting to a couple of Israeli entrepreneurs and friends earlier this week. They're developing a device that apparently at the moment it's only medical grade that you can get them, but they're thousands of dollars. Elite athletes use it. It's where you breathe into this machine. It works out your carb levels, carbohydrates, and whether you need more.

[12:12] They're developing a handheld version of this. It's a few hundred bucks a pop, mainly for weight loss, actually. Not for athletics. Apparently...

Nic: [12:19] Really interesting.

Kevin: [12:21] Apparently if you need carbs and you have carbs, it turns into energy, but if you have got enough carbs and you have carbs, it turns into sugar. Apparently, it's quite an important indicator around obesity and health.

Nic: [12:37] That's really interesting. If we quickly jump back onto the concept of the Apple Watch in general, I think it's really interesting to mention the fact that, at the moment, I think Apple really thought very hard about whether or not they were going to release a wearable or not.

[12:58] It's quite rare for Apple to come in sort of late to the party and have Samsung or an Android device pre-amp them on a particular piece of hardware. I think the really interesting thing is Apple must have worked out that people had a whole in their budget that fit in between the two year phone contract, where they would refresh and get a new Apple device.

[13:25] They must have worked out that there was some point in the middle there where they could fit a two year contract on getting a new watch. You get your phone in the off year and you get your watch in the even year. [laughs] They must have worked out that the average budget would fit in two Apple devices being refreshed all the time.

Kevin: [13:46] It's pretty expensive, the Apple Watch is.

Nic: [13:48] It's very expensive, yeah. You could get a really nice analog watch for the...

Kevin: [13:53] It's really bold of them. I'm amazed that the other watch companies...Huge opportunity for the tags of the world.

Nic: [14:00] Yeah, the Swiss companies, if they had some kind of partnership going there. That would be...

Kevin: [14:08] Fitbit were number one, then Apple, then Xiaomi, then Garmin. Garmins have become very popular. I see they're doing huge marketing pushes. Even Jimmy, who is our resident, and he won't mind me saying this, our resident dinosaur...

Nic: [laughs] [14:24]

Kevin: [14:26] He's a runner and a big fitness buff. He wears his Garmin. They have done a really good job at appealing to the athletic enthusiasts, the Garmin.

Nic: [14:36] I think Garmin is occupying that same sort of space that Blackberry used to occupy in the phone world. Garmin has come across as professional and rugged.

Kevin: [14:47] Rigorous and robust.

Nic: [14:48] Yeah, exactly. They have got that shake about them I guess.

Kevin: [14:52] Brand Kesha. Finally, Samsung as well. Of course, they announced that new Apple iPhone is on its way. September, which is going to be interesting. Basically improvements to battery, improvements to camera.

Nic: [15:08] Standard S model...

Kevin: [15:10] Improvements to processor, improvements to memory. They have worked it out. They are so smart. They just squeeze the market, and trickle a little bit more. Then squeeze it and trickle it a little bit more. [laughs]

Nic: [15:24] What they have realized, which is just absolutely brilliant, is that they have realized that there are two types of people when it comes to tech stuff. There are people who want to get the newest thing, just because it's different, the early adopters, and there are people who want to get something that is well-worn, powerful, does its job really well.

[15:46] That perfectly segments into their normal phone models, which are like the early adopters, the new screen size, the new features. The S models, an improvement on battery life for the pragmatic people. [laughs] They have perfectly divided this market into these two models.

Kevin: [16:02] I think what's really interesting about Apple as a company as well is where they have really innovated. This is where most people don't see it, because it's behind the scenes. They must have some serious innovation and supply chain management.

[16:16] It's one thing to have the phone and the UI and the OS X, the operating system, et cetera, but supply chain management, when you have peaks and troughs and spikes, and you need quality control and all these things, it must be a seriously complicated business in today's world.

Nic: [16:31] The really interesting thing is that you know that Apple's current CEO was actually the guy who apparently was responsible for that. He's apparently a genius when it comes to supply chain.

Kevin: [16:42] Tim Cook.

Nic: [16:43] Yeah, exactly. He apparently ran the whole operation in terms of distribution. Obviously, that would make sense why they then promoted him to CEO, because he would have been responsible for an enormous amount of Apple's success then, if that's true.

Kevin: [17:00] Nice little bounce earlier this week. When the market crashed, it seemed like Apple came down to $103. It bounced right back up to $112. There's volatility in the market at the moment. It is exciting if people are traders.

[17:14] I'm not a trader. I'm a long-term value investor. I didn't write these crazy things.

Nic: [laughs] [17:18] You don't think you can beat the market?

Kevin: [17:20] No. I'm not that confident. Apple peaked in July this year, $132. It's come back down a bit, but it's a fascinating company. It will be interesting to see the new iPhone, the uptick of their iPhone.

[17:39] One last story, Nic, before we take a break and go to our interview, I don't know if you saw yesterday that there was a reply to all debacle at Reuters.

Nic: [17:49] Really? [laughs]

Kevin: [laughs] [17:50] 30,000 people apparently. Of course, what happens? People were hitting reply to...Someone named Vince, sent an email that ended up reaching 33,000 inboxes. Hundreds of email responses followed with people clicking "Reply All" telling to people to "Please stop replying all."

Nic: [18:14] Oh my God, it's like University. [laughs]

Kevin: [18:16] Employees and reporters let the news and information come to Twitter under #reutersreplyall gate.

[18:20] [laughter]

Kevin: [18:22] Apparently, it made Twitter's trending. Many moons ago, I was involved with a startup that was one of the first ecommerce players in Australia. One of our external developers was testing some email functionality. It was a staging environment, except it was plugged into the live database.

[18:46] She sent out an email that went out to about, I don't know, 20, 30 thousand people. A similar thing and it made the front page of the financial AFR.

Nic: [laughs] [18:54] That's...

Kevin: [18:56] Pretty cool, right?

Nic: [18:58] Yeah, it's guerilla marketing right there, I guess.

Kevin: [19:02] We didn't make many friends. That woman felt terrible.

Nic: [19:05] I imagine.

Kevin: [19:06] She was a tester. She was one of these specialist, not really a dev, but was testing stuff along the way.

Nic: [19:14] That's a shame.

Kevin: [19:15] Real stories.

[19:16] You're listening to Kevin Garber and Nic Barker. We are the people in front of ManageFlitter. If you haven't tried ManageFlitter, give it a go.

[19:26] You're listening to the podcast "It's a Monkey." Please follow us on Twitter, MonkeyPodcast, follow us on Facebook, send us an email. We love to hear from you.

[19:34] We're going to be taking a short break and we'll come back, listen to the interview where I chatted to Martin Ford, the author of "Rise of the Robots."

Announcer 1: [19:45] The "It's a Monkey" podcast is brought to you by CheckDog. Use CheckDog to easily review and monitor your website for spelling errors, broken links, and broken images all with the push of one button.

[19:59] CheckDog can also automatically monitor your website and notify you of newly introduced spelling errors. Go to CheckDog.com/podcast to receive 50 percent off your first month's subscription. CheckDog.com, helping the world's leading websites keep their content error-free.

Kevin: [20:19] You're back with "It's a Monkey" podcast where we talk about everything relating to tech, the tech economy, the impact of technological advancements.

[20:27] We like to think ourselves at ManageFlitter as a bit of a philosophical bunch. One of the topics that rears its head very, very regularly is talking about robots, artificial intelligence, and when robots would wake up.

[20:40] We have these team lunches where there's intense debates and there's different schools of thoughts of when robots are going to wake up, the impact, et cetera, so I was very excited the other day to stumble upon a book called "The Rise of the Robots -- Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future." I'm very excited to say I've managed to get the author of that book.

[21:00] Martin Ford is also based in Silicon Valley, a tech entrepreneur who wrote that book. At the end of my Skype line to join us on the podcast, Martin, thank you very much for joining us.

Martin Ford: [21:11] Thanks for having me.

Kevin: [21:13] Martin, firstly, this isn't your first book around this area. What led you to your interest in this particular area of tech and tech advancement?

Martin: [21:23] I wrote my first book on this about five years ago. The thing that got me thinking about it is that I run a small software business in Silicon Valle and I've seen the impact on that business.

[21:33] When I started in mid-1990s software was a pretty labor-intensive business. You needed people to produce physical media because software was shipped on CD-ROMs, and then there were people to pack all of that up into physical packages that were sent off to customers.

[21:51] Really within a few years, all of that evaporated and now, of course, software is delivered electronically or is hosted in the cloud. So, a lot of jobs for what you might think of as average people in the software business have disappeared. I viewed that as a preview of what was coming for the entire economy as artificial intelligence and robotics gained traction.

Kevin: [22:15] I believe these days there are robots that fix themselves, so if they have a proverbial screw loose or they need a part that replaces, they can actually self-amend themselves. They don't even need the humans to maintain those robots anymore.

Martin: [22:32] To some extent, that's becoming true, not just in terms of robots, but in terms of everything. One of the big trends we're going to be looking at is the Internet of Things where everything is connected and able to communicate.

[22:44] You're increasingly going to see smart, diagnostic algorithms operating across all these systems that really allow them to maintain themselves. One of the myths out there is that if we have lots of robots there'll be huge numbers of jobs for people to fix the robots. I'm afraid that's wishful thinking.

Kevin: [23:03] Explain to me, in our industry -- I'm also a tech entrepreneur -- one of the, if not the biggest, challenge we currently face is a skills shortage. One of the arguments you make in your book is that even professionals, such as lawyers and software developers, will be impacted by these advancements.

[23:25] Currently, there seems to be a really big gap between those two scenarios. Fill me in on how you see that that gap's actually going to shrink and, actually, the playing field totally change.

Martin: [23:39] First of all, it's possible for a shortage of people with very specific skills and capabilities to coexist with the general slack in the market for more average people. I think that that's the future we're moving toward.

[23:56] You can't take all of the average people out there and train them all to be data scientists or to have some very specific skill levels. That is one of the problems we face.

[24:06] Beyond that, it's also true that smart algorithms, especially in areas like machine learning, are starting, at least to some extent, to encroach on more skilled jobs. We plenty of examples of that already.

[24:19] In terms of lawyers paralegals are being impacted by smart algorithms that can do document review. We see journalism being impacted by algorithms that are capable of generating at least basic news stories, especially in areas like sports reporting and business reporting.

[24:40] I think that as we look toward the future there will be a larger and larger impact on people that do have relatively high skill levels. In other words, people who have graduated from college, and so forth.

Kevin: [24:52] I think a lot of people don't realize that some of the reports that they're reading in finance and sports are actually generated by a computer.

Martin: [25:00] That's right, some of the main media companies are using these technologies and a lot of them are not eager to disclose that fact. They don't really want people to know that a lot of their stories are generated autonomously.

[25:13] It is a growing trend. Right now, it is primarily more formulaic-type stories in areas like financial reporting and so forth, but the technology is getting better and better.

[25:23] It already goes way beyond simply being able to plug numbers into some completely standard format. It's already much smarter than that and it's going to get better and better.

Kevin: [25:33] I want to cover, shortly, some of the impacts on capitalism as a framework that you speak about. Before that, one of the questions that we like to philosophize on internally, and I'd like your opinion on it, is when do you feel that robots will wake up?

[25:52] When will they get self-awareness? Is it something that may happen within the next five years or is it still hundreds of years away?

Martin: [26:00] I think it's fairly far out. Certainly I would be extremely surprised if it happened in anything like the next 5 to 10 years.

[26:07] You have heard some very high profile people warning us of the implications of that. Particularly Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, and so forth have been worrying a lot about super-intelligent machines and how they may threaten humanity.

[26:22] I don't think that that's a ridiculous concern that we should completely dismiss, but I do think that it's pretty far out. It's probably 20, 30 years at a minimum away.

[26:33] I think that what we see are these people giving us these warnings are really smart, accomplished people, but they're not actually working in artificial intelligence research. If you talk to the people actually working on the problem, they're a bit more humble in terms of how far we are along with that.

[26:49] I think that's pretty far out.

Kevin: [26:53] I'm a punter, so to speak. I don't have any particular expertise in the area, but more based on the fact of the rate that technology compounds and I feel that eventually the mere processing power...the machines will wake up.

[27:12] It's obviously going to be a very significant cultural, social impact on society if machines actually get self-awareness of any significant degree.

Martin: [27:24] If that happens, if machines become self-aware and they become as smart, or likely, much smarter than human beings, then Stephen Hawking said that would be the biggest thing that has ever happened in history. I think that's probably right.

[27:38] That would be an enormously disruptive change. For one thing, essentially, all the jobs would go away at that point. Even the very smartest people with the highest level of education wouldn't be competitive with super-intelligent machines.

[27:56] It would have a fantastic impact on employment, but of course beyond that, there's the question of whether the machines might actually threaten us or take over. Those are real risks at that point, there's no doubt.

[28:07] Even though it sounds very far-fetched, and it's something that has been explored in lots of science fiction novels and movies and, therefore, it sounds crazy and it's easy to laugh at it. At that point, it would be a real concern, no doubt about it.

Kevin: [28:24] Instead of going down that slightly further down metric, let's talk about what you speak a little bit more about in your book, of professionals like lawyers and journalists being impacted. You argue that this would drive income inequality.

[28:39] You propose some remedies, some sort of changes to the capitalist framework to actually address these. Talk us through some of your thoughts around that.

Martin: [28:51] The traditional solution to the impact of technology on the job market has always been education. The idea is if automation or robots take your low-skilled job, then you should go back to school or get some more training, and then you can move up the skills ladder.

[29:06] I think that we're running into the endgame on that for two reasons. One is that there's a limit to the capability of the average person.

[29:14] Not everyone can train to be a Ph.D.-level data scientist or something that requires an incredible amount of skill, creativity, and so forth.

[29:26] The second problem, as I pointed out, is that these machines are increasingly coming after many of those skilled jobs. In fact, it turns out that if you have got a relatively routine white-collar job where you're sitting in front of a computer doing the same kind of things, manipulating information again and again, that job may actually be easier to automate than someone who's got a low-skilled job that actually requires physically manipulating the environment. You don't need any expensive robots, and so forth, to do it at that point.

[29:55] I think that we are going to run into a situation where it's likely that there simply aren't enough jobs out there, especially for people of more average capability.

[30:05] At that point, we have to consider a more radical solution. Education isn't going to cut it.

[30:10] I think that something along the lines of a guaranteed income where everyone in society has access to at least the minimum livable income may be the way we need to go. There will be two reasons for that.

[30:22] The first is that of course people have to survive economically. The second thing is that we need people to be consumers. We need people that are capable of buying the products and services that are produced by an economy. If we don't have that, then it's a real threat to capitalism, to economic growth, and to the viability of our economy as it exists today.

[30:46] We need people to actually drive the economy by being able to buy the things that are produced.

Kevin: [30:52] How's the tax base going to support that? How practically do you see this actually as playing out?

Martin: [30:59] At the moment, it's not very practical. Certainly, in the United States where we're more conservative than probably Australia, and certainly more than a lot of European countries, it's almost unthinkable that we could have this kind of a solution.

[31:13] That's the paradox. I think that it's in one sense almost unthinkable that we could do this, and on the other side of that is that it, at some point, becomes inevitable that I think we will have to do it.

[31:25] I'm not sure exactly how that plays out. In terms of how you pay for it, obviously, it would require higher taxes.

[31:32] Part of that would be more progressive taxes because we are seeing continuing inequality where all the income is really concentrating at the top in the hands of a few wealthy people. Those are the people that are capitalists and, in effect, own the machines.

[31:48] That's something that I likely think will continue and get worse and worse. We're going to simply have to figure out a way to tax those people and get some of that money so we can recirculate it.

[32:00] I think that there are other opportunities for other kinds of tax as well. A carbon tax might be one obvious thing that we should be doing anyway, and would be one way to raise some revenue. There are a variety of taxation schemes there, but ultimately we're going to have to look at that in order to make this work going forward.

Kevin: [32:21] It's an issue that gets spoken about a lot in Australia with our shrinking tax base, aging population, massive healthcare costs, and trying to get the books to balance gets harder and harder every year. Lucky we don't have the income inequality that seems to be more prevalent in the US. But certainly, our tax base is under a lot of pressure. There's even talk that eventually our nationalized healthcare scheme will implode.

Martin: [32:49] Right. The problem is that the tax base is dependent on a vibrant economy. If you get into a situation where there aren't enough people out there to drive the economy, to keep buying the things produced, then that ultimately will threaten the tax base as well, because that's where it all comes from.

[33:07] It's really important to keep that cycle going, to make sure that the people at the bottom of the income distribution have also got access to a reasonable income so that they can continue to act as consumers.

Kevin: [33:20] That's one of the arguments for having a high minimum wage. One of the arguments why Australia has been quite successful even despite a high minimum wage is the people with the high minimum wage, guess what they do with that high minimum wage, they spend it and it puts it back into the economy and it keeps on going. Whereas, a low minimum wage, it's a bit of a race to the bottom and they don't have anything to spend. It actually gums up the economy and slows it down.

Martin: [33:43] That's right. The problem with that going forward is that if the jobs are increasingly automated, then a minimum wage won't solve the problem. In fact, in some cases may worsen the problem because it increases the incentive for innovation.

[33:56] That's why I think that in the future we may have to move away from having a minimum wage in terms of what's paid to employees and instead have a minimum income.

Kevin: [34:08] Tell us, someone listening, they're very intrigued by what robots are capable of these days. Give us a couple of examples. The journalist stories, writing stories is the one example. What are some other interesting areas where robots are getting involved that people might not be aware of? I saw a video the other day in Japan of some nurse type robot in the hospital there.

Martin: [34:38] Right. There are lots of innovations happening. Elder care, the idea of healthcare and elder care, taking care of older people is one area that has tremendous potential. It's an area where we really need robots, because almost every industrialized society is seeing huge costs from an aging population.

[34:56] Unfortunately it's really a challenge because in order to do that you need a robot that's got extraordinary dexterity and flexibility and so forth. We're seeing some baby steps in that area.

[35:09] Where we're really seeing a lot of progress is one area, self-driving cars. We're just seeing a terrific amount of progress there. If those become viable, then that's directly going to threaten millions and millions of jobs for professional drivers potentially. Actually, driving vehicles is the most common occupation for men in the United States. If all those jobs go away, that's a big problem, obviously.

[35:41] There's a company here in Silicon Valley that I mention in my book that has built a robot specifically geared toward loading and unloading boxes. This is a robot with machine vision that can look at a stack of boxes and figure out how to pick up the boxes and move them just as a human worker would. This is really something that's quite new.

[36:02] Robots in factories have been around for a long time, but generally, they have been really dependent on precise positioning and timing. In other words, they're tightly choreographed. They depend on a factory where everything is timed exactly and they can move things and do things that are precisely repetitive.

[36:23] But as soon as you get into a situation that's unpredictable, where you have got to use vision, and hand-eye coordination to do things, then the robots have really fallen short. But we're now seeing real progress in that area. This system that can actually load and unload boxes based on machine vision is one good example of how the robots are really pushing into areas that simply haven't been accessible to this technology before.

[36:48] That's going to continue to accelerate. Ultimately, there are going to be a huge number of jobs that are impacted, both blue-collar jobs that are impacted by actual robots and white-collar jobs that are impacted by smart algorithms, like the examples I gave in the are of law and journalism and so forth. This is just a big wave of disruption that is going to unfold probably over the next 10 to 20 years.

Kevin: [37:16] If someone is listening to the podcast and maybe they are parents or someone about to head into a university, what area of study or skills could they perhaps head to if they do have the choice to perhaps insulate themselves or protect themselves. Obviously, there's lots of unpredictability in the world. But are there any obvious areas that could definitely never be replaced or under threat even from smart machine learning or latest robotic innovations?

Martin: [37:50] There's nothing that would never be threatened. There's nothing that's completely safe forever. As we were saying earlier, people worry about the fact that machines are going to wake up and become super intelligent. If that happens then clearly nothing is safe.

[38:03] For the foreseeable future, healthcare is certainly one good area especially if you're working in an area like nursing where you interact directly with patients and it needs lots of dexterity and mobility. That's an area that's very hard to automate. For the foreseeable future, jobs in that area, and similarly in medicine and doctors, that require that kind of interaction are probably relatively safe.

[38:30] In general, if you're starting out and you're thinking of educating yourself, you want to get as much education as you can. It's better to probably study a technical field than to not do so. But the main thing would be to be flexible, to learn how to learn and expect it in the future whatever you start off doing is likely going to evaporate at some point and you may have to switch to something else.

[38:55] That's easy advice to give. The reality is that for many people it's not easy to make that transition, especially if it occurs beyond a certain age. When people get older, it's harder and harder for them to transition into something new.

[39:10] That's good advice but we should also understand as a society that a lot of people will probably have great difficulty making this kind of transition. That's one of the reasons we're going to need new, more radical policies, perhaps something like a guaranteed income eventually.

Kevin: [39:25] Change is hard. As the cab drivers in Paris a little while ago definitely made very clear when they caused a riot after the entry of Uber X or I'm not sure what they called it there, Uber POP or something like that.

Martin: [39:41] That's right. That's a preview of what may be coming. That's just Uber. Imagine what it's going to be like when Uber's cars are self-driving and there's no human being involved at all. Then it's going to be even more dramatic.

[39:57] What we're really seeing is that kind of impact really across the board and not just in driving jobs, not just in any one industry but really much more broad-based than that. That's why we really are going to have to start to think about this and have a conversation about it, because we could be looking at a very significant disruption going forward.

Kevin: [40:19] How do we know that you're not just a smart algorithm, Martin?

Martin: [laughs] [40:22] Well, at this point, you can be pretty safe that I'm not. But 20 years from now, who knows, I might be a machine that's talking to you.

Kevin: [40:32] I believe you're going to be visiting Sydney for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, which is happening just on a week at the Sydney Opera House.

Martin: [40:42] That's right. September 5th and 6th. I'm going to be speaking there about all of this. There will be lots of other good speakers too. It will be a really terrific opportunity. It will be my first time in Sydney, so I'm very excited about it.

Kevin: [40:56] Fantastic. It's a brilliant city. Spring is on the way. I've been to that festival before. I might head down if some of the tickets aren't sold out. They intentionally try to have a bit of provocative topics and discussions. It's no better location in the world. I hope you'll enjoy it.

Martin: [41:16] OK. Thank you very much.

Kevin: [41:18] Martin, thank you very much for joining us on the "It's a Monkey" podcast. Martin Ford is the author of "Rise of the Robots -- Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future." You can get it on Amazon, Kindle, et cetera, et cetera. We'll put a link on the show notes.

[41:35] Interesting future ahead, Martin. Maybe we'll touch base in a couple of years and we'll see how the progress is going.

Martin: [41:43] Yeah, I look forward to it. Thanks again for having me.

Kevin: [41:45] Thanks so much for your time. Bye-bye.

Announcer 2: [41:47] The "It's a Monkey" podcast is brought to you by ManageFlitter. ManageFlitter helps you to work smarter and faster on Twitter. With ManageFlitter, you can schedule Tweets for appropriate times, gain insight into your Twitter connections, grow your Twitter account and much more.

[42:04] Go to manageflitter.com for a free trial.

Kevin: [42:08] You're back with Kevin Garber and Nic Barker on "It's a Monkey" podcast, Episode 62. You can subscribe on iTunes or I use something called Podcast Republic on Android, which is a really, really cool podcast app. What app do you use?

Nic: [42:24] I do everything through iTunes. It's easy enough for me to do it like that. I don't have a specialized app, because I use an iPhone. So it's not a big deal.

Kevin: [42:35] Is there an iTunes app?

Nic: [42:36] Well, it just handles it all inside iTunes or Apple Music or whatever it's called now.

Kevin: [42:43] iTunes is not one of Apple's best products.

Nic: [42:46] It's never really been, honestly.

Kevin: [42:48] It's just got so many bits and pieces, and it's just not totally clear, where you are, and buying stuff in a different geography. It gets confusing.

Nic: [43:02] Perhaps one of the contributors to that is the fact that it was one of the only apps that Apple's ever been forced to make a Windows version for. Because, obviously, in order to make it easily work with iPods on Windows back in the day, they were forced to make a Windows version of iTunes. I wonder if having the dev team split between those two products was actually the thing that was putting so much of a drag on it. I'm not sure of it.

[43:28] But I totally agree. It's definitely been a lackluster user experience for a long time.

Kevin: [43:33] Robots, Nic, interesting, interesting area, right?

Nic: [43:36] Absolutely. One of the most interesting things here is that he's in town for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. But unfortunately, this idea in itself, the idea of automation and robotics replacing people's jobs, I don't think it's so much a dangerous idea as an inevitable idea.

[44:04] It's the kind of thing where we have already seen it happening to a huge extent in different industries already. That being said though, there was a big "Guardian" article that came out about two weeks ago that was showing across a really huge body of research that technology has actually created more jobs than it's destroyed over the last 150 years.

Kevin: [44:26] I would believe that.

Nic: [44:27] I don't know if that trend is going to change. The worrying part is whether it will change and those trends will start crossing over or whether it will continue and will have unexpected new industries popping up.

Kevin: [44:40] These are such complicated ecosystems, and such complicated networks that are all interlinked and feed off on each other that it's very, very difficult to predict. There are all sorts of unintended consequences, both positive and negative. There could be seismic shifts, like when the robots wake up. There could be benevolent robots that would be wonderful peacemakers.

Nic: [45:02] I really hope that we have not designed them to be anything like human, honestly. Although humans are arrogant enough that they would probably try to do that.

Kevin: [45:15] Just because the [indecipherable 0:45:17] have been wrong in the past, it doesn't mean the equivalent of the [indecipherable 0:45:20] today are wrong about the dystopian future either.

Nic: [45:24] Yeah. It's really interesting to think about, because obviously at the moment, people's interaction with technology. An interesting idea is to think when the crossover is going to be when technology stops becoming a choice for people and starts becoming something that's absolutely enforced and there's no way to escape, essentially.

[45:47] There are still people in modern society who can go about their day-to-day life with little to no interaction with what we would consider to be modern technology -- the Internet, computers, that kind of thing. It's an interesting idea to think about when that will progress to the point where it starts to become impossible and you have to trust machines or algorithms, robots, whatever you want to describe it as with certain aspects of your life.

Kevin: [46:14] Overnight Mark Zuckerberg posted a note on his Facebook that daily active users now hit one billion. He's saying one-seventh of the world is logging into Facebook every day, which is quite something.

Nic: [46:30] Crazy. It's really interesting to think that when you think, "Ah, that's probably just all of the developed world, kind of thing." I wouldn't log into Facebook every day. So there are probably a decent number of people.

[46:46] I really would actually like to see what percentage of people in third world countries for example are using Facebook these days. Where a lot of people in places like [indecipherable 0:46:58] unfamiliar with what the Internet is really like, what the Internet landscape is like in developing countries these days. It's quite interesting.

Kevin: [47:06] Speaking of robots and Facebook. Facebook launched their equivalent to Siri within Messenger. I don't think it's on my phone yet. I tried to find it, I couldn't. It's basically within Messenger. In Facebook Messenger, you can ask it for help, saying like, "I need to buy a wedding gift over the next few days. What do you recommend?"

[47:24] Is it any different to Siri or Google, the Google one?

Nic: [47:27] Yes. It definitely is. This ties in perfectly with this discussion of about automation replacing jobs, because Facebook is pitching this new assistant...Basically it adds it automatically as a contact inside your Facebook Messenger. Then you can send a message to it asking it stuff like, "Oh, I need a recommendation for a present for my friend's daughter," is the example that they use.

[47:55] That they're actually doing is some of these questions that have been answered exactly before they're training algorithms to work out how to do it. But in the first responder case, if a machine can't work in it out, they have got a person doing it.

Kevin: [48:07] They escalate it to a person.

Nic: [48:08] Yes. Exactly. Instantly, you think about the jobs that would be created but that kind of situation in which it's not completely powered by machines but human assisting machines to do their job, or in reverse machines assisting humans to do their job.

Kevin: [48:23] That's where machines really shine and that's where humans really shine.

Nic: [48:26] Yeah. Exactly. Human taking the discretionary element and the machine doing the grunt work kind of thing. That's the way it's always been and it continues to operate well in that capacity.

Kevin: [48:37] An interesting chummy who we refer to a few times in this podcast is quite a philosophical chap. I always say to him, "I want to live forever, and so far so good." He laughs. He said, "No." He's got no interest in that. But he would like to live longer if anything to see how all of this plays out, is what he says.

Nic: [48:57] Whimsical about the whole thing.

Kevin: [48:58] Yeah. Very curious to see how it all plays out.

Nic: [49:03] Google has that...it's Calico, maybe.

Kevin: [49:09] Yeah. That's the longevity...

Nic: [49:09] Calico. Yeah, Google has that longevity project, which comes in with the Alphabet thing, because now they can invest as they want to in Calico and not have to worry about the shareholders having backlash against that particular thing.

Kevin: [49:24] What fun to have a company that turns over $70 billion a year.

Nic: [49:28] You could do anything.

Kevin: [49:30] If you're ever interested to see the planes that the founders have. They have got an airfield outside Google that used to be a NASA airfield.

Nic: [49:39] Wow.

Kevin: [49:40] They have been given access for their three or four jets to park it there. But the condition was that if NASA want to use these jets for any research purposes they have got access to these jets. But the founders and the exec team of Google in just 10, 20 minutes, they're in their 767s going wherever.

Nic: [50:02] It's amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Kevin: [50:04] Money buys stuff. Not that that's why we're in the industry to do that. But it's fun to look at these uber wealthy people and see the little benefits.

Nic: [50:14] A really funny little anecdote about that actually. People often wonder how it is that very rich people are often able to jump to the head of the queue when they need organ transplants. There was a famous example of some footballer who had his liver replaced three times or whatever and kept on drinking and eventually died as a result.

[50:43] It turns out that the loophole there is that you're allowed to register on an organ donor list for any county in any state in the USA if you can prove that you can be there in under 20 minutes. If you have a private jet and you can reach any county in any state in the USA in under 20 minutes, you can register on all of them.

[51:04] Yeah, exactly. You can be on all the lists at the same time, which is pretty amazing.

Kevin: [51:08] Interesting. Capitalism, that's a whole topic for another day.

Nic: [51:15] Yeah.

Kevin: [51:16] Anyway, thanks for listening to Episode 62 of the "It's a Monkey" podcast. You can go to itsamonkey.com comment on any of the stories. You can also subscribe to receive an email when one of these goes out.

[51:25] We try to get them out every two weeks. We have been a little bit slack but thanks for bearing with us.

[51:30] Hopefully, we'll catch you in two weeks. You have been listening to Kevin Garber and Nic Barker.

Nic: [51:34] Thanks a lot.

[51:36] [music]