6 March 2017 / Marc Hendriks

Technology: Friend or Foe?

Technology: Friend or Foe?

In the same week that Uber announced its flying cars project, I learned, whilst on a trip to the United States, that more progress has been made in mastering voice recognition technology in the last thirty months, than in the last thirty years. I remember embracing voice recognition some years ago, in the hope that dictating to a computer would dispense with typing on a keyboard, only to discover time and time again, that even my typing was more accurate and more efficient.

Such has been technological advancement, that voice recognition now has the same error rate as a human of 5%. This progress had lead to increased integration of voice recognition into all kinds of consumer devices, from cars to vacuum cleaners. It has also given rise to waiterless food outlets in the US where the customer need only give their order to a virtual assistant.

The technology has further enhanced shopping experiences whereby data captured on your mobile phone enables the retailer to know what you want to buy before you do. For example, there is much excitement and intrigue about Amazon Go, the new shop to be launched in Seattle which, reportedly, will have no sales assistants. Instead, the customer walks into a store, selects the goods they want to buy and leaves without ever needing to deal with a cashier. In this new retail world, the customer is charged via their mobile phone.

Our quest to replace humans is of course interesting, but once again, the effect on jobs is uncertain. The retail sector in the US accounts for a whopping 10% of total employment, the third largest employer in the private sector after professional services  and health care (both 13%).

In a similar vein, I came across a recent study led by Professor Daniela Rus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL); researchers developed an algorithm that found that (via carpooling) 3,000 four-passenger cars could serve 98 percent of taxi demand in New York City, with an average wait-time of only 2.7 minutes.

The team also found that 95 percent of demand would be covered by just 2,000 ten-person vehicles, compared to the nearly 14,000 taxis that currently operate in New York City. This does not bode well for holders of taxi medallions.

When one considers that the average car is used 5% of the time, the economic advantage of car pooling is overwhelming, especially if the vehicle turns up at the allotted time. Now just imagine the powerful economic and environmental impact of driverless carpooling.

Driverless cars, shop free assistants and waiterless restaurants are fast upon us as technology races ahead. The policy challenge is to ensure that the education system equips our young people to deal with the fast changing future of work. The alternative is to slow down the pace of technological change, but many would agree that that this is surely the equivalent of sticking a thumb in the dyke.

Unfortunately, theses developments are occurring at a much faster rate than our democratic political system can adjust to. For investors it is very difficult; not only to be abreast of technological developments, but also to predict who the winners and losers will be. This is particularly hard when the developers of such technology tend to be private companies, and publicly-quoted companies are left battling to save themselves from severe disruption. At Sandaire we have developed a trusted network of experts in various scientific fields to help us identify early stage companies with the potential to disrupt existing business models.

If you would like to learn more about our access to investment opportunities arising in this space please contact digital@sandaire.com

#technology #macroeconomy #policy #disruption #opportunities #challenges

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