The American Dream 2.0: why America should reject Silicon Valley’s new wealth redistribution and bring a new G.I. Bill

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This past year I’ve taken to looking at everything differently.

I drove my three kids 9,000 miles around America, visiting many cities and states. I’ve been making more friends outside of my usual Silicon Valley bubble. We moved our family to a new community. I completely changed who I was following or friends with on social media, unfriending more than 4,000 on Facebook alone and unfollowing 45,000 on Twitter, among other major changes to find a new pattern to life.

One of those friends is Grace Livingston. She has been building an entrepreneurial zone in Stockton, California. Most of the people in Silicon Valley, when I tell them they should move their company there, look at me like I just told them about moving to Mars. I hear all about poverty, high crime rates, bad schools, and no good economic activity.

But she has a dream and it’s better for America than the guaranteed minimum income scheme many Silicon Valley elites are pushing.

She isn’t the only one. On our road trip I visited Nick Smoot in Idaho. He’s working with communities around the United States to get them to help build new entrepreneurial zones too. Ones that will satisfy new craving for highly technical jobs. Last week I visited with a manager at a manufacturing plant. He laid out that his plant will soon have huge needs for data scientists and computer scientists to rethink his entire plant network. He’s even looking at moving plants to make them easier to reach by autonomous trucks. He sees tons of new jobs, even as older, less skilled jobs will go away or be radically changed through technology.

A new policy is needed, one that will fund the American Dream 2.0.

The American Dream 2.0 is a better idea, one based on human happiness science: giving everyone a hand in creating a better USA. Putting people to work gives them a mission. Having a mission makes for happier citizens. Enabling them to stay home leads to unhappiness and poor communities.

THE POVERTY BEATER

First, a story. My family, until 1971, was dirt poor. We used to be coal miners. My dad grew up amongst New York’s poorest, living in one of its projects with his parents.

Yet here I am, one of Silicon Valley’s best-known journalists, having interviewed thousands of entrepreneurs. I was the first, or among the first, to see Siri, Tesla, Flipboard, Uber, Cloudera, Spotify, and many others.

How?

My dad was the first in his family to go to college. He graduated with a PhD from Rutgers University in New Jersey and then went on to work at Lockheed in Sunnyvale building the radiation shielding on military satellites that keep our nation safe.

He is a veteran and, since today is veterans’ day, I’ve been thinking a lot about what he did for our family and how he got the money to go to school.

He got the G.I. Bill.

Because he gave something to his country, by being in the Army for a few years, his country gave him a fair shot at the American Dream. It paid for his education and that act took our family out of poverty.

I’m forever grateful.

A NEW AMERICAN CHALLENGE

Now we are facing a new age where many people will find themselves jobless due to automation.

More than a million truck drivers, for instance, will lose their jobs in the next decade or two, maybe less.

If you are in Silicon Valley you see the self-driving cars and trucks all over the place. On our road trip across America we didn’t see them anywhere else, so most Americans don’t feel the urgency that we do here in Silicon Valley. If you visit the job site 6figr.com you can even see which jobs are most likely to be replaced by automation. See it isn’t just truck drivers that will be disrupted.

American Dream 2.0 jobs are ones that won’t be replaced by automation. We already know which jobs those are.

Everyone knows a truck driver’s job is f**ked, right?

Which is why Silicon Valley elites have taken to thinking so much about dystopian ruin. Futurist philosopher Yuval Noah Harari has been getting lots of audiences here in Silicon Valley and he sees Silicon Valley’s technology bringing a new “useless class.”

“The message is:,” he was quoted in the New York Times, “We don’t need you. But we are nice, so we’ll take care of you.”

How disgusting.

On this Veterans Day, we think this thinking will lead to far deeper divisions in our country than exist today and far more social unrest. Why? Well, I can tell you what makes life fun isn’t the money: it’s the feeling you are part of something. It’s why Alcoholics are told to get a higher power within minutes of entering the program. It really doesn’t matter what you pick, as long as you pick something bigger than you and that isn’t you. Humbling yourself is a human value that helps you gain happiness and, even, helps you fit into society at large. It’s something I’m still learning.

Guaranteed Minimum Income will doom many to the same treatment we give the Native Americans. Which is why I posted the photo here of the Navajo store which I passed on our road trip around America. Many Native Americans are given something like a guaranteed minimum income on the reservations America gave them and what has that brought them? Higher rates of alcoholism, for one. Four times higher. Most Silicon Valley elites haven’t visited the poorest communities of Native Americans. I have and they are pretty dismal places. Certainly I don’t dream of my children ending up in one of them, but that’s exactly what guaranteed minimum income will bring: massive numbers of slums with great unhappiness and unsustainable living for either the rich, or those caught at the other end of the economic scale.

There is a better way.

LEARN FROM ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

You might know from my previous posts that I’m an alcoholic, so I’ve been meeting a lot of other alcoholics and one commonality I’ve seen in people who stay sober is that they found a mission to life.

Jobs. Work. Church service. Community service. Or simply helping some other alcoholic out of the hole that he or she is in. All fit.

Sitting at home collecting a check doesn’t. If you talk to psychologists they say it goes back to how our brains evolved. Those who helped out survived. Those who didn’t had less success in survival. In AA we even use survival terminology. We say “those who stay in the pack stay sober and are happier.” We are encouraged to study those who have been sober for years and find out how they made it. In our meetings that’s pretty much what we share. What we were like before we drank. What got us into AA. Then what life is like since. Simple sharing helps people improve their lives.

Many people I talk to in Silicon Valley claim we won’t have jobs in the future.

Don’t believe them. They are abjectly wrong. And, in fact, you can use their own job sites to verify this. Many many thousands of jobs are available at tech companies. If you have the skills. This will remain true well into the future. For decades. Why?

One guy who was on the Big Blue (Artificial Intelligence) team at IBM once told me “we showed you on TV that Big Blue beat humans at playing Jeopardy. What we didn’t tell you is that if you put a human together with Big Blue it beats Big Blue.”

Most of the talk about AI doesn’t acknowledge this.

Not to mention that there are many new jobs that will arrive due to spatial computing in the future, but that’s a separate post I’m working on. I don’t need to show that to show you how many technical jobs are going unfilled in the tech industry.

There are TONS of jobs. If we have the skills. And that is where many people push back, but they are wrong again and just haven’t considered that even non technical people can be taught to do highly skilled, even programming, jobs.

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A BILLIONAIRE SHOWED ME YOU CAN EDUCATE ANYONE

When I tell them they could train a truck driver to do many of these technical jobs in two years they say I’m nuts. But a French Man is proving them wrong. Xavier Niel. He’s a billionaire and he’s built a new kind of school. 42 Silicon Valley. He has a similar school in France.

When I visited last week I met several people who used to have non-technical careers. One was even a chef before deciding to join the tech world. That student showed me a stealth mode VR startup he’s programming that was pretty awesome.

He went from chef to running a company in less than two years. Which proves it can be done.

Oh, did I mention this school doesn’t have teachers?

Did I mention that many even get free rent to use while they are studying?

Did I mention that it works for many students, although it does require immersive focus. Students have to be in the building learning for almost all their waking hours to see these results. The building is provided for students. The computers are provided for students.

Yes, this requires a new policy, a new dream, a new educational idea that will throw many of your beliefs out the window. Remember, this school has no teachers.

But then Alcoholics Anonymous has no management structure and it works for the same reason: when people hit bottom and want to change they will find a way to make that change happen inside themselves and will look for new social structures to help them do so.

THE MANIFESTO FOR AMERICAN DREAM 2.0

  1. Every American deserves a shot at the American Dream 2.0.
  2. Every American should have two years of capital to change careers. That needs to include all cost of living, even for a family of that person, for a period of two years so that person can really apply him or herself to learning this new skill.
  3. The only requirement for American Dream 2.0 is you want to learn a new job skill.

HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?

Less than you might think.

Why? Time will solve a lot of problems. Within three years we are getting new computing devices that will help us learn a lot faster than the computers you see above in the photo I shot in the current school.

Second, these new jobs are the high quality ones that pay hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. So you will see costs recouped through taxes within a decade. Third, well, we are comparing educating people in a teacherless school for two years compared to giving them a guaranteed minimum income for the rest of their lives. Fourth, some of the students start companies that create even more jobs, more taxes, and more paying back of students. Look at Austen Allred. He’s started a competitive school, the Lambda School, where students pay back their tuition after they get jobs and he’s doing very well with this new model.

Let’s talk about this. Come on over to Cake.co (a new place that’s nice to talk) to discuss this: https://www.cake.co/conversations/nx80P4C/the-american-dream-2-0-why-america-should-reject-silicon-valley-s-new-wealth-redistribution-and-brin

 

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Why is Facebook doing VR if AR is the big prize? (mesh unf**kers and the future)

Ben Thompson’s excellent Stratechery newsletter took this topic on this morning. Why is Facebook doing VR, he asks, while pointing out that Apple is the apparent winner?

I have been watching this space in much more detail than Ben, having cowritten a book on augmented reality and I have a few friends who are working inside Facebook on various efforts. Lately I’ve been visiting with people building Magic Leap and HoloLens and other AR glasses as well.

This gets to what I’ve been working on the past year: building a new theory of the next five years.

What is that thesis?

2019: six degrees of freedom VR for $400 on the VR front. On the AR front (the industry is moving toward calling these “XR” or “Spatial Computing Glasses” or “Mixed Reality Glasses”). Expected, a new version of Microsoft Hololens, which joins Magic Leap. Expected to be for high end users only, since the price of these will still be $3,000 and fairly big.
2020: Facebook enters the spatial computing glasses with something around $1,500.
2021: Apple releases its first spatial computing glasses at about $1,000. Microsoft, Snap, Samsung, Facebook, Google, and others jump in as well.
2022: Second pair of Apple finally fixes them enough that the mass market starts showing up.

Why am I still so bullish on spatial computing? Let’s start with the fact that you get as many virtualized screens around you as you want. Imagine working in an office where you just show up with a little keyboard and your glasses and you get glorious big screens around you. That, alone, will sell many of us on using these glasses. I have a Hololens already and it’s quite compelling to see virtualized screens in front of you. The problem is that Hololens is WAY too heavy and big to wear for long, way too expensive for most to try it, and the optics just aren’t very good so you can’t work as well as on a physical screen yet. I hear all of those problems get fixed by 2021.

This thesis comes from studying the immersive/spatial computing/VR/AR industry very closely for years. You can follow along by watching the best people and brands on this Twitter list I built.

So, this gets me to Thompson’s thesis and question. Why invest in VR today if it’s AR (er, spatial computing, XR, mixed reality glasses) that everyone is going to use?

This brings me to the video. It’s of a new SDK that’s coming from HTC in a few weeks. Most of you haven’t seen it, and wouldn’t know what’s important about it, but the developers I talk to say this technology is HUGELY important to where the glasses are going.

To get computing to properly interact with the real world, you will need many new technologies to be built BEFORE the glasses hit.

The video shows one of them my friend calls “a mesh unfucker.” Technical term, sorry for the harsh language, but that is what my friends call it so I’m going to stay with that term for now.

See, when you get the glasses they will have a sensor, or a few sensors, on the front that will see the world and then overlay a mesh of little polygons on top of that world.

The problem is that sensors will always introduce noise. You see that in the video by inaccuracies in the way the polygons lay on top of the real world. You then see the mesh unfucker do its work. Someone trained it, with deep learning, about the objects it sees there. The chair, for instance, and then the mesh unfucker “locks” the polygons onto the chair, so that the virtual human can properly sit in that chair.

This is really advanced tech that will be improved over time (Carlos Calva is building a company in this space, for instance, and he’s not alone, he’s one of the people who taught me about unfucking the mesh, more on his company when he gets out of stealth mode probably next year as a new Hololens and Oculus Quest arrives). The problem is that developers who are building these new technologies can’t always afford a HoloLens or a Magic Leap and certainly can’t afford 20 of them for a lab. Right now they are $2,500 each, while VR headsets are coming down to $400 for an Oculus Quest next spring).

Also, users can’t afford these headsets. Quick, how many of you bought a HoloLens. I know very few.

But many more users, for now, can afford a VR headset. So, now, think about how brands get built. How companies get built. How communities get there.

Facebook is using VR to “boot up” all of that into the glasses so that when glasses do arrive and do get popular, they will have a ton of cool things to do on them.

This is the fight of the next decade and billions of dollars are being spent.

So, will Apple’s program of secrecy work better to get all sorts of amazing apps built for the AR glasses? Or will Facebook’s more open strategy of working with VR developers get more apps?

I’m betting Facebook’s strategy will and I won’t be shocked if I’m more excited by Facebook’s ecosystem, even though Apple has so many more advantages, from 450 stores to a brand people are fine with putting on their face, to an non-ending marketing budget.

Note that developers are getting major new technologies from the VR ecosystem now, while Apple remains silent. This video is showing something that HTC Vives will have in a few weeks.

Where’s Apple?

Yes, Apple has AR Kit, its own AR on the phone, but phone-based AR just doesn’t get developers and users to dream like putting on a VR headset.

That all said even if Apple wins, all this work and investment that Facebook is doing will pay off big time as it will have a ton of great things to do on the Apple headsets as well and will have all the learning that comes from making its own operating system and headsets (and Facebook is learning a LOT by doing this work) much of which will port nicely into Apple’s headsets as well.

For these big companies it’s about keeping relevant as a paradigm shift hits and this paradigm shift will be the biggest one yet for a whole lot of reasons.

Oh, and as to the future of jobs, well, there are teams coming up with mesh unfuckers as we speak. Imagine trying to explain that one to your family “well, I am training the mesh to reduce noise in it and more accurately get it to wrap to objects in the real world.”

I want that job and am learning as much as I can about how to train systems to do that. Hey, in two years you will want your mesh not to be fucked, no?

 

A year of Scoble change

In my 53 years I’ve seen a couple of house fires. One, at a neighbor’s house, woke me up in the middle of the night with banging on doors. Terror from waking up to a weird light in the bedroom, unnatural heat coming through the window, and the horrific sounds of lives being disrupted.

Years later I still remember the pile of trash in front of the destroyed house that kept growing over the first weeks after the fire. The burnt and soggy sofa. The sheetrock ripped out so firefighters could get to fire inside the walls. The carpet, stained with ash-heavy water. The clothes, some burned, others just discarded as too dirty and smoky to save. Later that disappeared and was replaced by trucks rebuilding.

My life, and that of my family, has felt a different kind of fire burn through it in a series of events that started about a year ago. Like with a physical fire, I’ve had the choice to look at the wreckage and loss, and have a cry, or look toward rebuilding. I find that looking backward toward my failures serves to keep humble, but looking forward is what gets me off the couch.

My gratitude list runs long.

My kids, for instance, were being punished for my success and travel and not in a way I ever could have seen a year ago and even if you pointed that out I just wouldn’t have been in the humble space to hear you. We lived in Half Moon Bay and just couldn’t see how to move, or why. Until the fire came through our lives (and not just #metoo, but several deaths of people close to us). A young friend just shared with us that he has colon cancer, which helped me write this post since it showed me more clearly, again, the fire that burned through our lives the last year, which burned away everything that really wasn’t important.

Now that we have moved to Campbell, I see just how much better the schools are here and how much happier my kids are that they have both of their parents pulling their weight at home and sober (in other words, me, since Maryam has always had to pull extra hard while I was off having fun with my career).

This month brings me to a year of sobriety and not just the kind of sobriety that means being away from alcohol (which is closer to four years in my life) or weed or other drugs (I had my last weed just about a year ago today) but an emotional sobriety that I had no chance of attaining before the past year. The ability to be honest with myself, and others, about the depression and mental illness I face, and the burnout that just wasn’t clear until many months had gone by away from the fun of travel, parties, dinners, and conferences.

A year ago, I could never have imagined I would have given a eulogy at my former partner’s funeral. I could never have imagined that I would be in the mental or career state to take a month away from everything and take my three kids on a 9,000-mile road trip around America if we had talked last October. I could never have imagined that my relationship with Maryam would be so much better. Funny, too, a year ago I could never have imagined volunteering at school, doing the dishes or laundry, or going to PTA meetings, amongst other things.

Today I have a choice, too. Do I look backward at the successes and failures of my first 53 years? My past is on Google and the Web, is my current thinking, and looking at it is just is going to focus my time left on this earth away from my new mission to serve others and will just lead to more mental illness or craziness. Best kept anyway to my rehab sponsor or my therapist.

So, now, Maryam and I are having new conversations as we head into our 17th year of marriage.

First, we got our financial lives in order and are watching things carefully, and now have good hands watching our small savings and it’s clear we don’t have close to enough to retire. Heck, putting food on our kids’ table will be difficult if both of us aren’t building income streams, even though she has an amazing career and is doing great work at VMWare in the conference team there (funny how roles switched, in a few weeks she’ll be the one traveling).

Needs are high. We have an 11 year old special needs child. Our nine year old will most likely need college in nine years. Not to mention all the unplanned expenses that go with parenting and, well, it’s just damn expensive living in Silicon Valley, even after downsizing our lifestyle as much as we can.

So that’s tugging in the back of my mind.

But I find freeing to dream about a world where I never make another dollar and one without personal needs, which has its own form of torment.

What is my mission? What gifts do I have to share? What skills can I use? How can I pay my life forward? How can I be helpful to others? In a decade what do I want to be doing? And, even better, how do I see my industry changing and where does offer opportunity?

For that I find I needed to go back to the basics. Go and do my homework. If you’ve been watching my lists on Twitter you see just what I’ve been doing: https://twitter.com/scobleizer/lists Over the past year I’ve built a series of new lists so I can see the industry in a new way. So I can listen and serve. But that’s just so I can see and brainstorm.

For the past few months I’ve been building a thesis for where the tech industry will see growth. In discussing my thesis with others it’s clear that a decade from now our organizations will have increased assistance via AI, increased augmentation via AR, increased virtualization, through a variety of technologies hitting the datacenter and cloud, and increased decentralization, via a variety of technologies including blockchain and 5G. Any dummy can see the same, but I see these changes as exponential, which means that soon they will hit all industries and cause lots of job changes. Already lots of people are predicting the same. One reason I wanted to drive around America is to get a sense of the kinds of jobs people do. We visited factories at Boeing. Ford. Louisville Slugger, and talked with many people.

It is clear that the next decade is going to see a huge amount of change to what it means to be human. Yesterday’s keynote at Magic Leap’s conference and last week’s Oculus Connect/Facebook event gives you just a taste of what’s coming. We just bought a June Oven, that shows you even more about how human life is changing, more on that when I get some meals under my belt to share here.

Anyway, I’m rambling. Now it’s time to really do my homework, which will lead into a new business and new ideas over the next few months, about what I am seeing as the post-digital-transformation enterprise: one that’s seeing great increases in decentralization, assistance, augmentation, and virtualization.

In other words, the next year will be hopefully less about change than the last one, and more about learning and putting in place a new mission.

This is a much more fun phase of life. More like designing a new house after the old one burned down. Looking forward to having new conversations on Twitter at https://twitter.com/scobleizer or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RobertScoble