I’ve been taking Uber here in Kiev, Ukraine pretty much everywhere. I really like Uber. Not only is it super cheap (a drive around the city costs about the same as a NYC subway ticket), but it’s also super convenient. It’s one of the easiest services I’ve ever used in my life.
One thing I didn’t immediately realize about Uber is how slick the entire process is—from ordering the car, to the driver picking you up, to you arriving seamlessly to your destination.
This isn’t like taking a regular taxi. The entire process is completely automated. So much so, that the driver doesn’t really need to do anything. He doesn’t need to ask you for directions. He doesn’t need to stop and ask passerby’s for directions. He doesn’t need to hunt for change at the end of the ride.
And, because Uber’s bonuses are structured to reward those who reach a certain number of trips instead of merely the length of each trip, the driver always has an incentive to pick you up even though he doesn’t know your final destination. In fact, he doesn’t really care. Thus, whether your destination is only a block away or to the airport an hour away, it’s more or less the same from the driver’s point of view. (This nicely solved the market inefficiency where taxi drivers would only agree to drive you if you went to some far-flung destination like the international airport).
The driver’s role has been completely and utterly commoditized and automated. Essentially, when I get into one of these taxis, I see a guy who’s obeying what the systems—GPS, Traffic application, Uber application, etc—tell him to do. It’s almost as though I’m being driven around by a robot.
The beauty of this is this automation is that you can take any guy of the street — any guy regardless of his background, experience or knowledge — and instantly turn him into a semi-automated robot. He doesn’t need people skills. He doesn’t need to know the city. He just needs one skill: being able to drive. Technology takes care of the rest.
That’s nothing short of revolutionary.
In fact, robots or automated cars without drivers are the very next step. And they aren’t very far away. Driverless cars are being tested in several states around America (Dubai is testing driverless helicopters or drones). Experts think all of this will be a reality in less than five years. I have no reason to disagree.
Technology is both a blessing and a course. It was created by humans to do more things, more efficiently and cheaper. And, in many ways, it’s doing just that. It’s getting to a point technology has evolved so much that it’s able to replicate something that a human was able to do, like take you from your house to the airport while navigating the city’s traffic.
After automating drivers, the next step will be the automation of all kinds of delivery. Things like home delivery, food delivery, trucks are in the process of being automated. As we speak, Amazon is busy testing drones will deliver your order or food to you in a span of just several hours.
I view this as a great consolidation that’s happening on a global scale. For as long as private ownership existed, there has been a battle of capital vs. labor. Sometimes capital was winning. Other times, it was labor that was winning. Right now, capital has the edge. If you can automate an important process (i.e., driving, delivery, etc), you can commoditize labor and drive wages even lower. Massive unemployment is coming. The unemployed won’t have any bargaining power in the labor market.
The good news is that it’ll start with affecting the physical type of work first. The drivers, delivery, construction, builders, mostly physical jobs. So, if you’re not in one of those fields, you’re safe for now.
But I don’t see things stopping there just yet. I can certainly see technology cannibalize jobs that heavily rely on technology more than ingenuity. I can see things like digital marketing easily automated in the future (just create a bunch of campaigns and see the results). Programming will also be automated (it’s certainly seems that way with the introduction of higher and higher-level languages). Technology will cannibalize technology.
I can certainly imagine a scenario where technology will create jobs that can only be fulfilled by other technology—not humans. Think of it as a platform of applications that can be fulfilled by other applications. Kind of like an App Store that is filled by robots doing various jobs.
Heck, even things like branding, marketing, advertising, politics and religion can be automated if all humans are inserted with a special chip that responds to specific stimuli and ignores the rest. But I’m probably getting ahead of myself, though, as that’s still generations away. Or is it?
In any case, the way to stay ahead of the game is to gradually move from the labor to the capital. That doesn’t mean buying a car factory or becoming a venture capitalist. Things are actually much, much simpler.
First, realize that if you’re exchanging your time for money, then whatever you’re doing is a prime candidate for automation. If the robots won’t fire you, then some startup will come around and commoditize your hard work (i.e., fiverr—the fact that your hard work is only worth $5 really says it all). Exchanging time for money is almost never a viable long-term strategy.
Build capital. If the term “capital” is confusing, then just start building something. That can be anything, a factory, a store, a site, a blog. Anything that has the potential to grow exponentially with time. That’s capital. When you’re building capital, you’re not trading your time for money, you’re investing your time into something that will eventually become more valuable later on. If you start building it now, in a couple of years, you’ll have something that will essentially do nothing but generate more capital and money without needing more input from you—on autopilot.
Moreover, you don’t need to wait for the robots to make you obsolete. Just the fact that what you’re doing can be easily obsoleted should be a wake up sign that you it’s time to do something else. Just the fact that you’re not reaching your own pinnacle should be enough motivation that change is necessary.
Unlike labor (which is just extinguished time), capital will always be valuable. Whatever you built is yours to keep. It will have your name on it. It’ll represent all your wisdom and ingenuity. And, later on you can leverage these assets to do something else or grow it even further. Or sell them to the robots and retire on a tropical island where automated maids and scooters will tend to your every whim and desire.
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James Maverick used to work in a cubicle as a code monkey in Silicon Valley. Then, in 2007, he quit his job and a one-way ticket to Brazil. Ever since, he continued to travel, visiting over 85 countries and living in more than a dozen of them. He loved his location-independent lifestyle and has no plans to live in America.