I very much enjoy watching other people adopt new technologies…from a safe distance. They always rant and rave about their latest tech purchase, before reality eventually sets in. And then things start to go disastrously wrong.
I’ve watched an expensive robot vacuum get utterly destroyed by the dog it had latched onto.
My mum’s new German washing machine almost destroyed her Scottish cottage.
There’s nothing like driving past EVs that are stuck in the snow, queuing for chargers, or using diesel generators. The cart before the horse analogy couldn’t be more apt.
When it comes to new technology generally, Shadenfreude doesn’t even begin to cover how it makes me feel.
And when things fail to go disastrously wrong, I often attempt to help them along.
At a mall in Japan, I made a concerted effort to try and get run over by a robot which was handing out flyers to unsuspecting customers. It politely refused to flatten my toes, even after a long standoff and several efforts to thwart its evasive manoeuvres.
Local onlookers seemed pleased to see I had confirmed all their beliefs about foreigners…
Occasionally, even I forget to express the amount of tech-scepticism needed to survive in the modern world. A few months ago, I signed up to several fintech providers which promised a variety of international bank account services. All I wanted to do was receive and send foreign currencies. But none of them make it possible!
One allows you to spend foreign currency, but not to receive it. Another only permits you to receive, exchange and send the foreign currency in one transaction, making it useless to me because I have both bills and incomes in a variety of currencies. And I can’t remember what was wrong with the equally flawed third option, but it all ended up being a vast waste of time.
I don’t know who was more humiliated. Me for my temporary faith in technology, or the customer service teams who had to confirm that their services don’t actually do what they claim.
Despite my cynicism about new tech, every now and then, something comes along that I just can’t avoid because it’s so damn good. The best example was Google Maps.
I still remember very clearly the moment I decided to start using it. We were at a nightclub on the Gold Coast and my friend Jack (his real name) had decided he needed to vomit.
We ran for the exit, which featured a steep staircase. This being the Gold Coast, the nightclub was above ground level instead of below it, like in civilised places in the world. My friend made it halfway down the dimly lit stairs before spraying the remaining steps…and the handrail, as I discovered the hard way.
It was time to go home, but we didn’t know where we were. My friend pulled out his phone and used Google Maps to discover both where we were standing, where the nearest taxi rank was, how to get there and how far away it was. Impressive stuff, even in the circumstances. So I decided to take the technological plunge and I haven’t been lost since.
A much less disastrous affair with technology was learning about bitcoin in 2012 and grasping its implications early on. That one was easy, even as others remained sceptical.
An episode of technological adoption which I am truly proud of occurred in Spain, while visiting my sister there. A vast queue for bus tickets was building because the teller decided she would like to talk to everyone about why they would want to visit anywhere in central Spain rather than remain on the coast.
About half an hour into the queue, I spotted several ticket machines well hidden in an alcove. I left my dad in the queue and wandered over. Ten seconds and three buttons later, I had bought our bus tickets from a machine which spoke fluent English, but didn’t ask about why I might want to go there.
I turned around, tickets in hand, to find everyone in the queue staring at me. The ticket lady was frozen, her jaw hanging open. They could not comprehend what I had just done.
It might not sound to you like I was adopting a revolutionary technology. But you should’ve seen the shift my avant-garde attitude brought upon the packed ticketing office. A stampede of people hoping to avoid the ticket lady’s conversation charged over and were promptly served, completely clearing the vast queue in minutes. I still claim Spain’s GDP spiked as a result of my early-adopter tech influencer status there.
Sometimes new technology forces its way into our lives, whether we like it or not. That’s when I get really worried, because it creates the risk of widespread failure. The war on cash and the transition to digital money, for example. It could wreak havoc on society if the digital financial system goes down.
When internet coverage went down in the middle of the Nullarbor Desert, petrol stations could no longer process transactions. I found myself at a petrol station without enough cash to buy fuel and without enough fuel to get to the next petrol station in either direction…
During the recent Optus outage, my wife was scheduled to be induced to give birth. We couldn’t call the hospital to find out whether they were too busy to go ahead as planned, as we were required to do. They were too busy, it turned out, and we spent a day at the hospital doing nothing for no reason. It struck me that we couldn’t have called an ambulance if we needed one either. Time to get an old-school landline…
During COVID, technology imposed itself on us. Sometimes in awful ways. But it greatly improved lives too. Pubs in the UK, where I was living for the first year of COVID chaos, allowed people to drink on the street to make social distancing possible, and allowed customers to order drinks via their app so that they didn’t have to queue at the bar.
This technological revolution eliminated awkward queuing, time away from friends, having to remember other people’s drinks and all sorts of other inconveniences. These days, we still order food on apps all the time, so we don’t have to wait for short-staffed waiters.
So, new tech comes packaged in all sorts of guises with all sorts of hidden consequences.
Which category does AI belong into? Is it a disaster waiting to happen to one of your friends, or a solution to the challenges we face every day? Are you being a Spaniard for refusing to even consider using AI, or just wise to be patient? Can you afford to ignore it any longer?
At first glance, it’s painfully obvious. And I just can’t wait for things to go disastrously wrong all around me. I already got a fictional preview while watching The X-Files a few months ago…
One unusually bizarre episode features a visit to a sushi restaurant run by artificial intelligence. A particularly malicious form of AI that attempts to bully its guests into leaving good reviews, and a whopping tip. And woe betide anyone who dares to refuse, because the AI running things back at your home is in league with the one running the restaurant.
Part of the plot was a dig at the nature of our culture in the age of smart phones. The main characters barely spoke a word to each other for the entire episode! They were too busy posting pictures of their robotically prepared sushi…
But the key theme was that giving AI too much control over our lives could cause rather a lot of trouble. In this case, a rogue vacuum robot tearing up your home while you’re away fighting its fishy cousins…
To be fair, this was a significant improvement to the previous episodes’ attempts to instil a fear of technology. Nobody got stuck inside a computer game…and a computer didn’t try to take over the whole world…
But perhaps, given time, the episode about AI sushi will look just as ridiculous to our children.
Anyway, it’s obvious how AI might go dreadfully wrong.
But what if I’m wrong about all this? What if AI is more like bitcoin and Google Maps — technologies I should adopt now.
If you’re pondering that same question, we have an answer for you here.
An explanation of why investors can’t afford to ignore AI any longer, and how they can make the most of its potential to improve their returns.
Go on, don’t be a Spaniard. Try it.
Editor, Strategic Intelligence Australia
Nick Hubble found us at Fat Tail Investment Research in 2010 after a stint inside Wall Street’s most notorious bank, Goldman Sachs, during the 2008 GFC. That’s where he saw the true nature of the investment banking business. Since then, he’s been the editor of the Daily Reckoning Australia and the UK-based Fortune & Freedom and Gold Stock Fortunes.
He’s delighted to work as Investment Director and Editor for Jim Rickards’ Strategic Intelligence Australia. Here he helps turn Jim’s big-picture views into specific actionable advice and ideas for Australian investors.