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The Things AI Won't Change
Exploring Investments in Human Nature — Creativity, Community, Experience
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Human Nature Doesn’t Change
In a world facing rapid change from AI, it’s the things that won’t change that you want to build on and invest in.
That’s the classic perspective from Jeff Bezos. He famously told The Harvard Business Review in 2007:
It helps to base your strategy on things that won’t change. When I’m talking with people outside the company, there’s a question that comes up very commonly: “What’s going to change in the next five to ten years?” But I very rarely get asked “What’s not going to change in the next five to ten years?” At Amazon we’re always trying to figure that out, because you can really spin up flywheels around those things. All the energy you invest in them today will still be paying you dividends ten years from now. Whereas if you base your strategy first and foremost on more transitory things—who your competitors are, what kind of technologies are available, and so on—those things are going to change so rapidly that you’re going to have to change your strategy very rapidly, too.
Bezos believed people would always want great retail selection, low prices, and fast delivery regardless of new technology like the Internet. The Internet was a conduit to meet those persistent demands. He was right, and people still want those same things today almost 30 years after the founding of Amazon.
AI is the biggest technological advancement since the Internet. Maybe since even electricity. It will change almost everything. The thing that never changes though, even with electricity and the Internet, is human nature.
As Sam Altman said, “The stuff that people cared about 50,000 years ago is likely to be the stuff people care about 100 years from now."
Creativity, community, and empathy are the aspects of human nature that won’t change in the face of robotic advancement. I’ve believed this since we started Deepwater to invest in technology companies in 2017, and I still believe this today with the minor edit of empathy to experience. Nothing about the rapid emergence of ChatGPT and other AI tools has changed the human need to create, to commune, and to experience. The continued advancement of AI will only further our desire for those innately human aspects.
Creativity: The Idea Kernel
Hollywood writers might not want to strike for too much longer because AI will replace them soon enough.
That video was made by Rory Flynn entirely with AI tools. He used ChatGPT to write a script, Midjourney to make graphics, Runway to animate and edit the video, and Eleven Labs for a voice over (I recently interviewed Eleven Labs about AI voice and will be sharing that in the next week or two).
Ok, a real human would have done a better voice over. Human models would have been more compelling and active. A human editor probably would have cut the video in a way to make it capture our attention for reasons beyond the fact that it was completely AI generated.
But, investors and futurists are well served by the advice from OpenAI’s chief scientist Ilya Sutskever:
“Always keep in mind not just where things are now, but where things will be in 2-4 years and try to plan for that”
AI’s ability to take the kernel of an idea from a human to make entertaining, dynamic content will only improve over the next several years, yet it’s the kernel that we appreciate the least in the whole process.
The kernel of an idea is the spark of creativity that is uniquely human. Creating photographic shots, editing video, reading scripts, we think of those as creative acts, but they’re really tasks that derive from some initial kernel. Hell, even writing right now as I am is a task built on the idea kernel of what won’t change. AI will do those tasks, but it won’t replace the inkling of ideation.
Last week, I wrote about how my wife and I used ChatGPT and Midjourney to create a luxury handbag to compete with Hermes. ChatGPT described the bag, the story behind the bag, the price, where to make it, everything. Midjourney designed the bag. We provided the idea kernel, heavy feedback, and selected the final product.
AI doesn’t replace the need for human creativity. It accelerates the application of creativity so that exponentially more ideas can be tested and experienced.
Our AI-designed bag experiment took a few hours. If we wanted to create a brand like that without the help of AI, it would have taken days, weeks, maybe longer. To craft the story ourselves, to get a human designer, to go through all the iterations, etc.
The ease of exploring ideas with AI means that everyone will become a creator in some way.
The big beneficiaries of an exponential increase of human creativity will be platforms that get feedback for ideas in some way.
Social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram, Discord, Reddit, and Twitter (sorry, can’t call it X yet) are obvious. Feedback comes real-time through user interaction. Platforms like Product Hunt are another example. Etsy and other marketplaces are less obvious beneficiaries as people willing to pay for something is the greatest validation of an idea.
Platforms that support creators will enjoy a persistent tailwind over the next decade. Some new ones will probably also emerge as everyone becomes a creator powered by AI.
Community: Cults and Religions
Communities are built on the kernel of an idea too, just like products, content, and services.
Good ideas build community around a congregation of fans, customers, and creatives that share important ideas, expectations, and values. Great ideas create such powerful communities that they become cults. The absolute best ideas survive the test of society to become religions.
Star Wars, Nike, Apple, Ferrari, Christianity, Bitcoin.
Some of those ideas you may love. Some you may hate. And that’s the point. Religion doesn’t form around consensus ideas. It only forms around uncomfortable ideas. The more uncomfortable the idea, the stronger the religion of the community.
I wrote about cults and religions two years ago as crypto and WallStreetBets boomed:
Religion is on the rise. Not in the traditional sense, but in the modern sense. Bitcoin is a religion, so is WallStreetBets. Tesla lovers form a religion, so do Tesla shorts. Wokeness is a religion, and so is Trumpism.
A religion doesn’t mean something is true or false, nor does it mean something is good or bad. A religion represents a higher cause that a group of people organize around to make a reality and defend its ideals.
Religions seem to form and grow in a similar pattern:
1. Start with a non-consensus idea. Modest or consensus ideas never evolve into religions they require no aspiration to attain, nor defense from detractors. Only ideas that require sacrifice from believers can turn into religions. Early believers in a religion must always be zealots who are uncompromising in their support of the idea.
2. Adherents to the extreme ideas broadcast those ideas to others to establish one’s commitment to the religious ideology and to distribute the idea to the broader population so the religion can grow. Extreme ideas often garner attention because of their novelty, particularly in the age of social media. The attention paid by others to extreme ideas solidifies the commitment of those who espouse them.
3. People who share ideological identities form tribes to defend the extreme idea from non-believers. Strength is always greater in numbers, and tribalism is a natural survival mechanism for all people, especially those who believe in things seen as extreme by others. To believe in an extreme idea requires some level of disdain for those who don’t. By only associating with fellow members of the tribe, the group prevents dissenting points of view from consideration, reinforcing the tribe’s faith in the ideology. Believers who question their faith are banished from the tribe. Apostates are often treated more harshly than those who never believed in the first place.
4. As broadcasting gains more attention from outsiders, the cycle repeats, and the religion grows. Without critical mass, the group is merely a cult. With critical mass, the group is a religion.
As AI enables a breadth of human creativity never-before seen, it will encourage cults and religions to form around the best ideas. Community tools that assist with faith/commitment and broadcasting will benefit:
Demonstrating faith and commitment is about sacrifice, and all sacrifice ultimately resolves into time or money. We sacrifice time to participate in community events, the most engaging of which are in person. My wife started a lifestyle magazine, In Kind, for stylish working mothers that want to create impact. She’s having her first in-person event with her community later this year. We’re going to see more micro-communities that leverage the power of in-person, and some will grow into religions. Eventbrite might benefit as the platform to enable offline community.
The money side of faith and commitment means investing in or spending money on products tied to the community. To worship at the Bitcoin altar, you have to invest money in Bitcoin. Nike and Apple enthusiasts spend money to wear and carry products as part of a worldwide religion that most people recognize. Wearing a micro-community brand is an even more powerful show of faith. If I wear a Westside Barbell t-shirt, not many people will recognize it. The few that do will validate my identity as a strength enthusiast, and we might connect because of it.
Physical products are tools for broadcasting in the real world. Social media tools are tools for broadcasting in the digital world. The same social tools that allow us to get feedback from idea kernels help broadcast religious ideas in a natural tie:. The idea kernels that get the greatest support similarly form a community kernel that can grow in tandem with the idea. The spark of idea support should be the spark that starts a community. The two evolve best together.
AI is the catalyst for a bull market in cults and religions not seen in a while. Geoff Lewis’ idea about cults and clans captures the moment well:
Experience: The Human Touch
A human touch may be the thing AI is least able to replicate. An AI can’t empathize with religious ideas. It can’t smile with warmth. It can’t give you a hug.
There’s an extreme version of the future we can envision where products and services broadly fit into two simple categories: AI-delivered and human-delivered.
AI-delivered products and services would compete on price as they take advantage of the low costs of creation and delivery. Human-delivered products and services would compete on experience and tend toward premium price points to compensate humans for their unique touch.
AI- vs human-delivered products and services would be a natural manifestation of competitive advantage. If an AI can deliver some product or service as well or better than a human it should. If a human can somehow augment a product or service to an experience somehow better than an AI, then the human should do it. And if the human touch is the most unique thing we have vs AI, then that must be the basis for a human value-add.
In an AI-powered future, great experience might often be about translating the intelligence of AI into something with a human touch.
The human touch is both the simplest of the three ideas as well as the most broad investment space. Anything can fit in this category from hospitality to home services to retail. The greatest companies will find ways to replicate what Chick-Fil-A does — another religion company. Somehow they seem to hire happy people that enhance the experience when you go there. If more of our experiences are as good as Chick-Fil-A, then I think we’ll all be better off.
The Push Toward Excellence
The competitive threat of AI imposes an important demand on humans: To be excellent.
The optimistic view for those willing to compete and collaborate with AI is that it frees us to find excellence by eliminating the barriers to idea exploration and rote work. The pessimistic view, often from those unwilling to compete and collaborate with AI, is that AI destroys jobs and replaces humans.
AI only destroys the jobs of those who perform average or below average work.
Humans contribute things to the world that are unique to our nature, and as long as we exist, there will be markets that form around our unique nature. Those humans who express creativity, who form communities, and deliver uniquely human experiences will thrive in the age of AI, and investments in those outcomes will still be paying dividends ten years from now just like great prices and selection for Bezos and Amazon.
Disclaimer: My views here do not constitute investment advice. They are for educational purposes only. My firm, Deepwater Asset Management, may hold positions in securities I write about. See our full disclaimer.
Intelligent Indexing: A New Investment Religion
Passive investing is a religion. A powerful one that was sparked by the emergence of the first Vanguard S&P 500 fund in 1976, then accelerated by the emergence of ETFs including the SPDR SPY S&P500 fund in 1993. But a new passive religion will form in the age of AI.
Another thing AI won’t change is the human desire to invest money for a reasonable return and our desire to beat “the market” however we might define it. The spirit of indexing for passive investment purposes isn't that you just buy some static "market," it's that you buy a market representation whether it's purely quantitative or influenced by other factors and you stick with it for the long run.
My non-consensus, cultish idea about investing is this: If you’re going to invest passively, do it with AI.
It’s hard to imagine a world 10 years from now where AI isn’t informing passive investment strategies. That’s why I started tracking my Intelligent Indices — stock indices powered by ChatGPT, Bard, and Claude. The AIs act as the stock selection committee for the indices, replacing human committees that manage the S&P 500 and Dow Jones.
The flagship Intelligent SP Select index (AISPS) is the first AI-powered large cap benchmark — an intelligent take on the S&P 500. The Intelligent SP Select sets the bar for AI-driven investment strategies and aims to outperform the S&P 500 in the long run.
The AISPS took the lead over the S&P 500 YTD with last week’s correction, and it’s been 500 bps better in the back test to the beginning of 2022. Given the AISPS’s underweight positioning in big tech relative to the S&P 500, if we continue to see mean reversion that equalizes across the index, the AISPS should continue to outperform.
I’ll share weekly progress of the Intelligent Indices on The Deload. You can follow all of the Intelligent Indices real-time on Thematic.
The future of passive investing is intelligent.