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Welcome to the Future: Four Pivotal Trends You Should Be Aware Of 🔮
Dror Poleg's guide to what comes next
“The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed.”
— William Gibson
What do OnlyFans, Baby Shark, and AI-generated Wes Anderson parodies all have in common? 🤔
No, that isn’t the opening to a terrible joke.
The answer is scale.
All three are a testament to the power of new technologies to scale content in ways that would have been unthinkable previously.
The power of scaling is one of several dynamics identified by author, speaker, researcher, and upcoming Infinite Loops guest Dror Poleg, whose prescient reflections on the future of work are uncannily aligned with many of our operating assumptions at O’Shaughnessy Ventures.
Ahead of Dror’s episode (landing tomorrow, 14 September), here’s a guide to four critical trends shaping our future.
The below quotes and insights are all drawn from Dror’s blog.
I. The Scalability Era
“An OnlyFans performer earns much more than a local dancer. A successful online teacher can make millions per year teaching primary school kids. We assume that most professions cannot be scaled in the same way. But there is already evidence to the contrary. Many things that seem ridiculous to us now will seem obvious to our grandkids.”
As technology improves, so does our reach. Work that previously had to be delivered in person can now be delivered at scale to hundreds, thousands, even millions of people over the internet.
Improving technology also allows us to commodify goods and services that previously were not commodified (how many times have you heard a startup be described as “like Uber for X?”) As we’ve seen with the stream of AI Wes-Anderson parodies, even personal style can now be commodified and scaled.
If you find yourself on the right side of the scale, this is excellent news. The upside to being able to deliver content to so many people is effectively unlimited (MrBeast’s annual earnings are estimated to be around $56 million 🤯💰 ).
The flip side to this is that, in the Scalability Era, fewer people are able to capture more of the rewards. If an online maths teacher can reach one million students worldwide, how many local maths teachers may have lost out on business as a result?
Dror puts it this way: “The biggest threat to your job is not a robot; it's your colleague. Technology will enable more professions to become scalable. It will allow more individuals to serve more customers in more locations. These individuals will take business away from their peers.”
The winners of the future will be those who can think about their jobs in terms of scalability. It is “never too early to start figuring out how to leverage technology in your work.” Whether you are a model, a content creator, a doctor, or an educator, the chances are that your work is much more scalable than you think. What are you going to do about it?
For a framework to assess how scalable your job is, we recommend Dror’s article How scalable is your job? For more from him on this topic, check out his articles AI and the Long Tail, Stop the Music, the Scalable Imagination, Unilateral Ignorance and Scalable Style, and Artificial Monopolies.
II. The Great Unbundling
“What is the software equivalent of Gangnam Style or Donald Trump? I don't know, but we're about to find out.”
A little over a decade ago, Dror notes, producing high-quality video content required expert involvement (either via a third-party hire or by becoming an expert yourself). Distributing that polished content? Equally cumbersome, involving a labyrinthine system of traditional publishing networks and steep financial barriers.
Now, the trifecta of high-speed internet, advanced mobile camera tech, and powerful processors and software has effectively overthrown these constraints. Pretty much anyone is capable of creating content, and in the Scalability Era, any given piece of content has the potential to become astronomically successful (the second most viewed Instagram post of all time is… a picture of an egg 🥚).
In other words, the constraint is no longer the execution; the constraint is the idea. Any of us can point and shoot an iPhone; only some of us can think to point and shoot it at things that other people want to see.
AI is now bringing this Great Unbundling to new areas. In particular, “a single person with an idea can now build software without knowing how to code. And, in many instances, even the code is no longer necessary. Humanity was granted a host of new superpowers. And everyone gets to play.”
What does this mean? Just as TikTok changed the nature of video content, so will AI change the software landscape. There will be an influx of new tools and products, plenty of which will be terrible but some of which will be exceptional. “Millions of people will launch new apps and software projects. Most won’t earn any money, but some will become wealthy beyond belief.”
There is a more nuanced point here.
In a world where (1) a *whole load* of stuff just got a *whole load* easier, and (2) basically anything has the potential to scale astronomically, experimentation is heavily incentivized. 🚀
The less critical permission becomes to succeed as a creative, the more successful those willing to experiment without permission will be.
Or, as Dror puts it, the “least we can do is learn more about the latest tools, their capabilities, and their potential implications. We need to get hands-on. It's not just crucial; it's fun. Whether you're already successful or not, you can't keep doing the same old things (and if you can — let me know how; I'll join you!).”
III. The Rise of the Content Consumer
“I envision a future where more people get paid to do nothing. Or, more accurately, they get paid to interact with each other and consume goods and services in a manner that generates valuable information.”
What does the economy need?
In the Before Times, prior to the dawn of the Scalability Era, output was correlated closely to input. What we put in broadly dictated what we got out.
The economy required most of us to grind out the hours via the factory or the corporation, and the output was relatively consistent and predictable. Success was about “throwing the highest quantity of resources into a meat grinder.” 🏭🏢
The office was the physical embodiment of this world: linear, structured, and standardized. Offices were engaged in a “spiritual battle against individuality.”
Today, the economy requires something different. Scalability and the Great Unbundling mean fewer people are needed to produce the content we all rely on. “AI enables a relatively small group of people to leverage their knowledge and serve millions or billions of others. And not just "serve" but actually enable other people to leverage elite expertise and sell it to their own customers.”
If, as Dror argues, the industries that can scale are far more numerous than we may expect, our economy will become increasingly consumption-based.
To put it another way, we’re moving towards a world where, for most people, what you consume is more important than what you produce.
In this evolving, increasingly consumer-driven economy, “the central role of most people is to express their preferences. This enables the economy to figure out what to make more of. Fewer people are required for the actual production, but everyone is important.
Our ‘work’ will increasingly be built around consumption - but consumption that serves a purpose: providing signals as to what is good and should be produced further.
What does paid work look like when built around consumption and not production? Does it even look like work at all? We’ll have to see, but in the meantime, be prepared: the era of the Content Consumer is coming.
For a great conversation between Dror and ChatGPT on the future of work, particularly the impact of AI on the consumption/production dynamic, check out his article, Universal Basic Leisure. Dror also discusses this theme at length in his articles Remote Bureaucracy, Productivity and Bullshit, God, AI and the Scalable Class, and The Weird Future of Work.
IV. The Remote Work x AI Flywheel
“With AI's help, we can expect online collaboration tools to become real good, real fast. As a result, more people and organizations embrace remote and hybrid work for more tasks. In addition, we can expect chatbots and other AI agents to become integral parts of the workflow in a growing number of industries.”
The nature of work is intrinsically linked to how that work is carried out.
The office gave birth to new types of (often bureaucratic) work. The office is “where work is generated and shaped — where unnecessary things are done and where process and hierarchy expand to serve no purpose other than their own expansion.”
Remote work has a similarly dramatic effect on the nature of the work being carried out.
As more people work remotely, the type of work being done becomes inherently more asynchronous, modular, output-based, and digitized. Work will become increasingly project-based and time-limited. ⏱️
As work changes this way, gaps open between the output of traditional office-based work and the new remote and hybrid working models.
Enter AI. As AI has dramatically improved, it has become more capable of taking over clerical, administrative, and other functions that fill these gaps. It’s “clear that remote work helped set the scene for the seamless transition of AI "agents" into human workflows.”
Remote work opened the door for AI to enter our workflows, and AI is now helping remote work entrench itself via improvements in AI collaboration tools such as Avatars, meeting notes, etc.
The result? A flywheel:
Expect the future of AI and remote work to be symbiotically linked. Each one accelerates the other.
For more from Dror on this idea, check out his articles Remote Bureaucracy, AI and Remote Work: A Match Made in Heaven, The Next Crisis Will Start With Empty Office Buildings, Remote Is Not Enough, Housing Is the New Office and An Office Is Not The Office