Why it Pays to be Poor and Hungry

In an age of Artificial Intelligence, learning how to learn is key

March 2, 2017 witnessed the largest IPO since Alibaba – Snap, Inc. The maker of the hugely successful (atleast in terms of users) app Snapchat, Snap Inc. (listed under ticker SNAP on the New York Stock Exhange (NYSE)) was valued at $28.3 billion and the stock price ended the day with a 44% increase to close at $24.48 per share. This valuation is greater than some of the existing brick and mortar companies like Ferrari and tech giants like HP.

85% of Snapchats user base of 158 million is between the ages of 18–34. This age group is also known by its better known moniker – ‘millennials’. There is a fair bit of trepidation when approaching the word millennials. Although people may disagree slightly about the upper and lower limits of the age range, the mindset is fairly agreed upon.

Millennials represent a digital generation that is born during a time of immense economic volatility. The price is an unmatched loan burden. Consequently, there is reliance on renting assets instead of owning them. A bias towards spending more on experiences than luxury.

However, being wired to a common network — the internet and being born digitally proficient has its advantages. Many millennials do not use checks for banking anymore. They have not visited a bank branch in years and don’t intend to do so in the future. They have spawned an alternate digital economy where Instagram and Snapchat are creating revenue generating economies and also act as talent agents. Thousands of young models showcase and market corporate products. All the while, displaying their portfolio to prospective clients.

All these profound changes are ‘technological’ and therefore, a basic knowledge of technology is indispensable today. So much so that, an education in technology and perhaps coding should be part of a primary school curriculum. Embedding tech education in primary education could allow developing economies to leapfrog. This leapfrogging can already be witnessed in countries like China where Alipay has more clients than traditional Chinese banks. In India , apps such as PayTM have become ubiquitous mode of payment for everything including the most surprising applications – one of them is the ability to pay ‘Rickshaw’ drivers using PayTM. India is also in the throes of launching a unique ID for each citizen that can be digitized and could usher an era of a cashless society. This is quite similar to a developed economy like Sweden which is inching closer towards eliminating phsyical currency. However, Kenneth Rogoff, distinguished author from Harvard, seems to think that cash may be eternal.

However, everybody believes that fintech innovation such as the blockchain will result in a truly digital identity for all. The greatest focus for the financial system would be cyber security. While established financial incumbents such as big banks, broker dealers and insurers that represent the traditional financial services business is increasingly adopting an outside in approach to innovation and partnering with fintech to enhance client experience, the rise of Artificial Intelligence is all pervasive.

Some futurists that have a bleak outlook for the future of humanity think that humans are inventing their own obsolescence and by extension their own extinction. The pace of change is so rapid that humans could be redundant within two decades.

Optimists seem to think AI will free us up to do higher order things perhaps space travel.

Whether humanity is in danger of extinction or are standing at the gates of utopia is anybody’s guess. What can and should be agreed upon is that knowledge of technology is absolutely essential for staying relevant and employable.

Innovation and tech entrepreneurship are becoming decentralized. While silicon valley continues to be a magnet, hotspots are spread across the world and the next competitor could literally come from a different continent.

The biggest challenge for every individual today is how to filter data and convert it into information for personal growth. There is a bewildering amount of news and development to keep abreast of. Everybody needs a parser that can adapt to his/her level of learning and guide individual development. Resources that can be used to create an individual learning system include:

1. Magazines such as The Economist, Harvard Business Review, MIT Technology Review, Wired in combination with online resources such as the Verge and Mashable are good resources to start learning about Technology trends.

2. MOOC’s such as Coursera, Khan Academy, Udacity, HBX, General Assembly.

3. Podcasts are an incredible way of learning while you are travelling with headphones.

4. Thought leadership forums such as the World Economic forum and TED can guide multidisciplinary thinking.

There is more than an urgent need to start thinking about the rapid pace of change that can keep millions out of the job market. There has never been a more pressing need to acknowledge that we are poor in terms of our knowledge and we should be hungry for lifelong learning. If there is any topic people should be hungry to learn about, it is technology. Gone are the days when being a silent spectator would be ok. Today, ignorance of technology could be disastrous.

The payoff from learning could very well be survival or on a positive note, control of our destiny. Ironically, a metaphoric poverty of knowledge and an urgent and constant hunger to learn can lead to a wealthy future.