What's the most optimistic future you can imagine for the human race? Most pessimistic?
In the 2030's, technological progress reaches a singularity. People enjoy unimaginable wealth and humanity begins to colonize the universe. Technology allows everyone to be fully self-sustainable and protect their own property rights, so that mass use of violence becomes impractical. The spread of civilization transforms the inorganic universe into an infinite number of free, conscious beings. The universe wakes up.
Computer science researcher in the 2030's accidentally mixes a plus sign with a minus in his new experimental nano-bot. A test causes the nano-bots to escape the experiment chamber, and then eat all organic matter on the planet within days. Life on earth becomes extinct. The End.
What aspects of living in the US, both after your childhood in Ukraine and your adult years in China, still surprise you?
I've felt like an outsider in every place I've lived - as a Jew in Ukraine, an immigrant in the USA as a child and a radical capitalist/atheist/minimalist as an adult, then as an expat in China. I think I understand American culture, so I'm not surprised per se, but there are many aspects of it that I will never share.
A very incomplete list: Americans obsession with sports, religion, material goods, television, politics, cars, junk food, alcohol, and much more.
If I don't own any cryptocurrency, should I start with Bitcoin or Ethereum?
That depends on what you want to do with it. If you want to buy things with it, definitely go with Bitcoin as it has much better vendor support.
If you want to become a crypto-asset speculator and bet on what asset will be more valuable in the future, you should do your own research to figure out which one has more promise. One strategy is to split your buy according to the ratio of their current market capitalization: https://coinmarketcap.com/
Do you believe it's an evolutionary mistake for humans to create machines that are more intelligent than them? Or are these fears exaggerated?
First, the evolution of life on earth is a natural process. It has no inherent ethic, motivation, goal, or destination, so the concept of a "mistake" does not apply.
Second, intelligent design through civilization and technology has allowed humans beings to change their environment on a timescale many orders of magnitude faster than biological evolution. I think technology has already made biological evolution irrelevant - for humans and many other species on earth. Civilizations have their own evolutionary logic: the most efficacious, efficient and aggressive ones have taken over the rest. Technology is only an accelerator in this regard.
Third, I do believe that when we can invent beings that are more intelligent than us, game theory will ultimately lead those beings to out-compete un-augmented homo sapiens. They might not be exterminated (unless the inventors are incompetent), but they would probably be rendered irrelevant in the bigger picture of the universe. (I say "they" because if I am alive then, I hope to take part in this evolution.) Virtually all humans alive today are already cyborgs in a machine-biological civilization.
Fourth, the question of whether it is a good thing for homo sapiens to build their successor depends on where your loyalties lie. I value human life and human civilization, but I value civilization as such more. For example, if humanity evolved into a militaristic dictatorship, and decided to wipe out all intelligent life in the universe, and I had the chance to blow up the earth to stop its extermination campaign, I would. Therefore, I have no objection to inventing a being which is superior to me. In fact, my first experiment with creating such a being is well in progress: my daughter.
If you had to live in the universe of a dystopian fiction novel, which would you prefer? Which would be the worst for you?
I'll start by saying that almost all popular fiction writers vastly underestimate human potential. For example, the earth alone can support about 500 billion people. Most dystopian novels assume that it cannot even support our current numbers. Furthermore, I can imagine dystopias far worse than found in current fiction. See Greg Egan for a more imaginative view of humanity.
The worst dystopia is the Dark Forest trilogy by the Chinese writer Liu Cixin for its sense of existential hopelessness and the ultimate corruption down to the fundamental fabric and fate of the universe. Paradoxically it also contains the most blissful and utopian universe that I can think of - until it's destroyed by - well, you can read that for yourself.
What's the best (or most surprising) piece of career advice you've been told?
What is the best career advice that other people never listen to?
The best career advice I got is from Ayn Rand: productive work is the proper central purpose in life.
The career advice that young people never listen: do what your boss asks. It's not about merely following orders, but focusing on the value you add rather than what you think you are entitled or feel like doing.
Which industries do you foresee being robots filling the bulk of low-skilled labor in first? Is there anything we can do to stop this? Need to know so that I can avoid these places and try to prevent the robot overlords from gaining their first footholds.
I am very scared of robots.
Don't be scared of the robots taking your job:
There is nothing inherently heroic about a human being spending his life working in a factory or office bent over a screen or conveyor belt for 50 years. Whether white or blue collar, most jobs are terrible for our health and personal development compared to what an optimal human lifestyle could be.
While many specific job tasks can be automated, very few industries can be. Automation makes us much more productive, but only a few of the variety of tasks in most jobs can be automated in the near to medium term. Meanwhile, increased productivity can be used to improve the level of service rather than eliminate workers. Automation allows a middle-class income to have access to services in fashion, entertainment, finance, healthcare, etc that were only possible to the rich. Rather than eliminating employment in those industries, it makes new services affordable to the masses.
Automation of ever more tasks will create new human-employing services and industries which even the richest societies are too poor for today. Increased automation results in higher productivity – that means higher real incomes and higher demand for labor services for that income. The proportion of unskilled physical labor will decrease with automation, but greater wealth will greatly increase the demand (and pay) for service jobs that cannot be automated.
How to future-proof your career:
As increasing automation replaces rote human labor with machines, work that requires creativity, adaptability, and self-direction is becoming more valuable. Expert systems will augment and then replace technicians, and deep understanding and expertise will fall in importance relative to broad cross-functional heuristics. Engineering and programming will increasingly be performed by creatives working with high-level design tools, while algorithms work out the technical details. “Employment” itself will become obsolete, and most work will be performed by either temp workers waiting to be obsoleted by AI or entrepreneurs.
The majority of the legacy workforce will gradually discover that their technical expertise is irrelevant and spend the rest of their lives living on welfare and consuming media – probably playing nostalgic games in a holodeck or having virtual orgies. While many people would not have a problem with such a lifestyle, given that I don’t have a TV or a Netflix account, I would rather develop skills that require higher-level skills. Rapid technological change, automation, and on-demand, on-site manufacturing will make highly specialized roles obsolete. Future-proofed workers will need to develop a high-level understanding of research, creative, technology, and marketing, while algorithms work out the details.
Which "investment" do you think would be safer and offer a better return, putting $30 per week into a mutual fund, or spending $30 on taking important and potentially-important people in your industry and in related industries out to lunch once a week?
$30/week is $1560 per year. A mutual fund would be lucky to return $100 on that per year. I bet you could earn substantially more than that if you spent that money on your career.
If you're young and running your own business, you're probably better off investing most of your savings in it regardless of how much you make.
If you're an employee, investing in yourself will have diminishing marginal returns. Above $1000 savings per week, you should probably allocate 10-20% on your career.
I've heard you're writing a book currently! What's it about and what inspired you to write it?
The book is tentatively titled "Retire at 40: A Totally Realistic Guide to Financial Independence." It evolved from this article on how young people can achieve financial independence decades earlier than expected. Here's the table of contents.
I have friends who make far more money than me but complained that they could not take advantage of Amazon Prime Day discounts because pay day was too far away. Friends who amass huge bank accounts, where their money slowly rots from inflation, or gets invested into CD’s, or useless and expensive mutual funds. Friends who panicked when the market crashed, and converted their securities to cash at the worst possible time.
My goal in this book is to teach you how to develop good habits that help you make smart choices in your personal and financial life every day, snowballing your success one day at a time into a successful career, financial independence much earlier than is commonly thought possible, and ultimately a fulfilling life.
Sign up here to get an email when it's done.
Have any productivity Hacks?
The key to maximizing your productivity is not to do more things per day, but to only do the few things that add the greatest value to your life.
That's why I don't try to "hack" my way to success, but develop an ever-present mindful awareness of whether the activity that I am doing will make me happier and more successful. In that context, perhaps meditation is the greatest productivity hack.
Also writing. Your brain is a very powerful, but also a very limited instrument. Writing your goals, tasks, and procedures on paper can dramatically augment your output. It's like becoming a cyborg with a brain-computer interface, but without the surgery or time travel.
I'm a young professional interested in going into web development and design, but I have little experience. What do you think are some good ways for noobs like me to start breaking into those fields?
Design and development are separate fields, and both require a lot of knowledge. You can become proficient in both, but you should start by choosing either design or development as a focus.
Then, start finding projects -- paid or otherwise. Some people are helped by a Bootcamp or online learning, while others learn through the work itself.
If you're starting from scratch, begin by creating a personal blog and write about what you're learning. Once you develop a skill, you can use your network to find clients, get a job, or freelance on sites like UpWork.com.
Join networking events for your field - look on meetup.com or just google something like "UX design atlanta group"
FEE is a 501c3 corporation. Contributions are tax deductible. Thus, FEE must abide by government regulations pertaining to such corporations, including some restrictions on its freedom to speak out on certain matters. Also, by virtue of income-tax deductability of its donors' contributions, FEE has a beneficial interst in the federal income tax and the Internal Revenue Code in its current form. FEE says of itself, "FEE strives to bring about a world in which the economic, ethical, and legal principles of a free society are familiar and credible to the rising generation." As you know, Karl Marx in his Communist Mamifesto advocated "a heavy progressive or graduated income tax... [as a] means of despotic inroads on the rights of property," Are not the rights of private property among the principles of a free society? Would it not behove FEE in the long run to cut its dependence on the Internal Revenue Code and relieve itself of the strictures imposed on state-regulated, tax-exempt corporations?
Do you pay taxes?
FEE can't do the great work it does if we're shut down for non-compliance with the law. FEE's status as a nonprofit allows donors to divert funds that would otherwise go to the government into programs they believe in, which is one of the reasons we're 501c3. We're also 501c3 because we're an educational organization. That's what allows us to put hundreds of students through our life-changing summer seminars! Furthermore, as a 501c3 we have to be nonpartisan- but that can be a good thing. As a nonpartisan organization, we are not beholden to the agenda of any political party, even those whose ideas are close to our own. This allows us to be independent and strive towards truth without fear of toe-ing the party line.
FEE has been 100% privately funded since we opened our doors in 1946- in this way we defy statism. Defying through noncompliance... that's not how you keep a business or nonprofit open for 71 years.
David, Answering my questions with a question is rather evasive. Nevertheless, I am happy to answer your question, assuming it will help you to answer mine. No, I don't pay taxes. Of course when other people who are coerced to pay and do pay certain taxes and then with the approval of their rulers add the cost of those taxes to goods and services they sell, which I may happen to buy, it might ambiguously be said that I pay those taxes. Such taxes are generally referred to as "indirect taxes," because the buyer is said to pay those taxes indirectly, although the buyer never deals with the government's tax collectors. Regarding direct taxes, including employment taxes (federal, state and local income taxes, FICA taxes, etc.), no, I don't pay those direct taxes, and haven't done so since 1971. I hold to the long-established libertarian understanding, axiom really, that taxation is theft.
Tricia, thanks for your response, but I'm afraid it fails to address the concerns raised. I know FEE does great work, and I know FEE is an educational organization, and I know FEE is required by law to avoid partisan politics. But all of these are non sequiturs, which fail to address my stated concerns. FEE need not be a government licensed and approved corporation to do any of those things, and it is even possible in the long run that FEE would receive more support and even more money in the form of donations, and perform its work even better without kowtowing to the feds and being restricted by its regulations of tax-exempt corporations. Furthermore, FEE need not be federally designated as nonpartisan in order to be nonpartisan. It seems to me that partisanship is a matter of preference, which can be freely eliminated at one's whim, whereas 501c status renders a corporation "beholden" to its licensor and its licensor's agents.
To be successful or influential in our society, you need to make money. To make money and not go to prison, you have to pay taxes. This applies to both organizations and people. You may not like it or consider it right, but that's how it is. I suggest that you stop advocating tax evasion and find an accountant and/or lawyer before the IRS finds you.
Hi David, Thanks for the advice. I'm not sure where you got the idea that I am advocating tax evasion, certainly nothing I said in my privious posts could be construed as advocating tax evasion. For your informationm, tax evasion is a crime. I'm not one to advocate criminal behavior.
David, you persist in ducking the two questions I asked in response to your offer to "ask me anything." To make it easier, I will reduce the number to only one question, to wit: "Would it not behove FEE in the long run to cut its dependence on the Internal Revenue Code and relieve itself of the strictures imposed on state-regulated, tax-exempt corporations?"
David, I am well aware that in your capacity as Director of Marketing and Development you are not in a position to have FEE take action if it did conclude it would be in its best interests to cut it dependence on the state and its income-tax scheme in order to better advance the principles of a free society. That is obviously something for the Board of Trustees to decide. You may not even be in a position to ask the BOT the question I've posited, but if you are, why not ask it of them?
FEE proudly says of itself, "FEE is a non-political, non-profit, tax-exempt educational foundation and accepts no taxpayer money." While true, that claim is a bit disingenuous, for FEE definitely benefits from its government-approved, tax-exempt status, and thereby benefits from the fact that the government's income-tax scheme allows donors to FEE to deduct their donations from their income taxes. This raises the question of where FEE would stand on abolishing the personal income tax, abolition of which would undoubtedly provide the greatest increase in the individual liberty of Americans since the Declaration of Independence from England with its monarchy and abusive taxes, which king imposed a mere fraction of the tax burden Americans now suffer at the hands of their own governments? Would FEE, whose current status you defend, oppose abolishing the individual income tax because it would mean the loss of the advantage of its donations being tax deductable? Here is the statement another libertarian organization makes to its prospective donors:
Your gifts to our work are not tax-deductible. Our efforts are bound by conscience and goodwill, not government regulation or political privilege. We refuse to be numbered or supervised by any government agency.--http://voluntaryist.com/
P.S. Your advice that I "find an accountant and/or lawyer before the IRS finds you," is laughable. The IRS and I have had a long and, from my perspective only, productive relationship for several decades. What is not funny is that your suggestion is based upon and fraught with your own fear of the power of an agency of your own government, which fosters that fear in you and your fellow Americans in order to collect a tax you would otherwise not pay. A government created "in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity," was not meant to control its citizens by means of fear and intimidation.
What are the biggest mistakes people make when trying to make their website successful?
A website is only a medium -- what matters is the content that medium conveys. Rather than asking what makes a website successful, we should ask what makes a product successful. There are many different products being sold on a website -- from ideas (a blog) to gadgets (e-commerce), so there no one formula to success.
However, successful products generally need to get three things right: features, marketing, and distribution. If any of those elements are missing you will not be a success.
Features: is the website easy to understand and use?
Marketing: is the product that you are selling easy to understand?
Distribution: is the website fast? Does it have good SEO? Are you use appropriate marketing channels?
The biggest mistake people make not doing something wrong per se, but skipping one of these elements.
Does Bitcoin need to add smart contracts to remain competitive with Ethereum and other, newer crypto-currencies that have them?
If I were one the Bitcoin core development team, I would not be worrying about adding smart contracts. I would focus on expanding Bitcoin's utility as a payments platform - the speed, cost, and scalability of transactions.
Bitcoin will probably never beat the utility of Etherum for smart contracts, but this is also a feature. Focusing on payments allows the network to stay lean and efficient. We don't really know if the Etherum network can support real-life practical operation at scale.
Trisha, I also must point out that I did not say nor imply FEE ought not comply with regulations pertinent to its status as a 501C corporation. FEE would not be be regulated if it wasn't a 501c corporation, which is obviously a matter of choice.