The Singularity is Near. How About Your Retirement?

My interest in artificial intelligence and its potential applications in investing and personal finance led me to people like Ray Kurzweil and the notion of a Technological Singularity.

Image courtesy Steve Fareham

At its most basic level, the definition of the Singularity is the point when machine intelligence reaches — and then quickly surpasses — human level intelligence. The Singularity also promises, at the least, to bring longevity (if not immortality), radical abundance, space travel, and more.

One of the research questions we’ve looked at is how can AI help individual investors.

Michael Nuschke, who blogs at Retirement Singularity, has been exploring a similar question on how the pending Singularity will change our retirement planning. Certainly, things like longevity and new production technology (like 3D printing technologies) will change both our careers and our retirement planning.

I brought Michael in for a conversation about the Singularity and retirement.

How is technological change affecting retirement investing and financial planning?

My whole blog, Retirement Singularity addresses that question. Two key changes are extended life spans and the economic effects of technology which will be both Creative & Destructive. Since the notion of “retirement” was created at a time when people did not live much beyond retirement age, with lifespans likely to move well beyond age 100, the idea of “retiring” at 60-65 is somewhat crazy given the accelerating changes we will see. The important point here is that we will not be the frail helpless person at 80 we see now, but rather we will have used biotech and nanotech to repair, rejuvenate, and enhance our bodies and minds. In order to “make the cut” we will go through a period over then next 10-20 years where new medical technologies and enhancements will not be cheap. We will need to elevate the priority of medical expenses in our financial plans.

In terms of investment opportunities, it will be a tricky environment where one disruptive new innovation after another will emerge. A portfolio of tech innovators and a portfolio of established companies using tech to become and stay leading edge may make sense.

How will a technological singularity change our retirements?

I am more focused on the period leading up to a “soft” singularity versus what it will be like after that. Trying to calculate post-singularity scenarios may be entertaining but not likely be too important in effecting outcomes, imo. Job disruption and staying relevant as AI replaces many jobs may be a challenge.

What technologies are driving this change–3D printing, stem cells, etc.?

In terms of AI, the reverse engineering of brain functions is likely to lead to AGI (artificial general intelligence) applications that will effect most if not all current businesses. 3D will change manufacturing, Nano Solar will drive big changes in energy and thus all business, Advances in medical technologies (stem cells, drug formulations, genetic engineering, etc.) will have huge impacts soon.

What are some areas of the economy that will change the most — health and medicine, retail, etc.?

  • The speed that humanoid robotics is accepted in human interface business will be interesting to watch re ability of AI to displace human “experts”
  • entertainment/ VR appllications
  • medicine; biotech, rejuvenation, human mind/body enhancement
  • energy
  • education

Do you have a time frame for the singularity?

I am a huge admirer of Ray Kurzweil’s work and 2045 is his target, but I think that hurdles could arise to delay this. However, longevity advances may allow some boomers to live long enough to become the first radically life-extended generation. Beyond curiosity about the future, however, people will need to develop clear life goals and motivations as to why they want to live well beyond age 100.

What do you say to people who say they don’t worry about retirement because the singularity is going to happen anyway?

Many very smart futurists have a longer expected arrival date for a technological singularity or intelligence explosion, so don’t rest your entire life on futuristic predictions whose timing is speculative. However, I think the whole notion of “retirement” as mentioned earlier is an outdated framework. Think of your life in a world where medical science gradually enables normal life spans to 120 years old. I think we should think about cycling through education/work/leisure-exploration stages more than once vs the current notion of just one big cycle.

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