The End of Work as We Know It

 | Jul 26, 2013 | 5:30 PM EDT
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I've written a few columns concerning the issue of structural unemployment and how speculators can position themselves to potentially profit from it. So far I've focused on the biotechnology sector but will be writing more in the future about robotics, artificial intelligence, nano-technology, massively parallel computing, biometrics, the creation and evolution of the "humachine," etc.

In this column I am going to focus a bit more broadly on the accelerating rate of advance in technology and its impact on everything we think we understand about economic, politics, society, and civilization.

Thirty years ago when I was in the Marine Corps I worked with a piece of equipment called the Marine Air Traffic Control and Landing System (MATCALS). It was a then state of the art, fixed phased array radar system that was capable of flying a military aircraft with no pilot or human interaction on the ground.

The idea was to make landings safer but in reality it is also one of many technologies that made naval aviators and other pilots obsolete; especially given the fact that the limiting factor on the performance of these aircraft now is the frailty of the human body with respect to being able to handle g-forces.

Today we have drones that are capable of flight and hostile engagement without a pilot and with or without human interaction from the ground.

The U.S. Army recently announced that it is going to move from using robots as tools for enhancing the effectiveness of human soldiers to creating a human-robot cooperative.

Technology is rapidly advancing and causing the six million dollar man to evolve into a cybernetic organism like the Borg from Star Trek. And they will advance into self-aware intelligent systems wherein the human element is either dominated by the technology or not necessary at all.

The natural and near extension of these advancements is that the need for human beings to wage conventional war is not only shrinking, but becoming a limiting factor in the ability of military leaders to do so.

Technology is having these same impacts throughout the economy and society. The human species has already created enough advanced technology, just in the past generation, to render itself irrelevant as an economically viable option for performing the vast majority of "work" most of us are still conditioned to believe is naturally a human function.

What is most strange about this though is that although this is already a fact and the advances from here forward are most probably going to magnify this issue and force competitive profit seeking enterprises to increasingly adopt these technologies and replace human beings; very few people seem to be aware of the ramifications of this on the human species and that they as individuals are living through this fantastical transformation.

I will describe in later columns how these changes are impacting human beings and the social, political and economic systems around which we organize.

For here, as a practical matter, speculators need to begin to consider and investigate the companies that are on the front edge of creating these technologies.

On the nano-technology side, as was the case with the bio-technology, I would advise first focusing on the largest companies that have both the financial capacity to invest in creating them and for buying start ups as they become available. International Business Machines (IBM), and Intel (INTC) are the safest ways to play the sector. If you are looking for more aggressive growth potential you can try the PowerShares Lux Nanotech ETF (PXN). It's small and illiquid but it's also largely not available to institutional or high frequency trading interference. I wouldn't trade this issue.

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