Constructing the Future

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Our backyard is the beach. Our front yard is a construction site. Every morning as I start my day, the construction workers begin theirs. They’re building what will purportedly become a spiffy new plaza — a few fancy restaurants, boring boutique clothing stores, and a yoga studio or two for good measure.

The first phase of construction consisted of giant cranes digging up mountains of dirt to drop into semi-trucks which dutifully transported the dirt to a nearby beach as part of a county sand replenishment project. Next came raising retaining walls, erecting parking structure support pillars, and then pouring ungodly amounts of cement. Day after day, dozens of workers adorned in fluorescent yellow or orange vests go about their tedious tasks like bees constructing a hive.

When I’m not cursing the ceaseless beeping and grinding and banging, I do find it all quite fascinating. Still, the thought I most often return to is: this is all going to be automated one day. The workers already use powerful machines to augment their human capabilities. But watching them from my dining room window each day while eating lunch as they perform their agonizingly repetitive work, it’s hard not to wish for the future in which this is entirely done with technology, much, much faster.

My job as a startup investor is to identify and accelerate potentially valuable tech innovation. I get to witness the creation of miraculous layers of abstraction that empower non-technical people to build apps, complex tech like AI and cloud infrastructure made as simple as Lego bricks, and a mind-blowing array of blockchain solutions for every industry. And yet the scene playing out on the construction lot next door looks pretty much the same as it did 20 years ago.

It’s no surprise that as a founding team member of Zapier, a software automation company now worth over $5B, I’m bullish on automation. I believe that anything that can be automated will eventually be automated. Looking ahead to that inevitable future for some causes fear and resentment. “People will lose their jobs to be replaced by robots!” This short-sighted view is to be expected — it’s hard to envision the seemingly idealistic future in which everyone is freed from manual labor and focused instead on workflow automation and creative tasks (i.e. the things humans are better at than machines). Moving from a scarcity mindset to one of abundance is perhaps the greatest cultural challenge of our time.

It’s also hard for us to wrap our brains around the exponential pace of technological advancement. I remember asking my wife’s 95-year-old grandfather before he passed away what new technology was the most remarkable in his lifetime — and there were some doozies like the microwave, the personal computer, and the freaking internet. His answer was the airplane. He had experienced an international voyage pre-air travel and the ability to cross the entire country in a few hours changed everything. The concepts of AI, quantum computing, and decentralized autonomous organizations were probably just noise to him.

Speaking of noise, my wife is ordering a custom window insert for our bedroom to block the construction racket. For us, the future can’t come soon enough.

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Idea-stage investor/builder at Make Studios. Venture Partner at Backstage Capital. Banjoist. http://bryanlanders.com

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Bryan Landers

Bryan Landers

Idea-stage investor/builder at Make Studios. Venture Partner at Backstage Capital. Banjoist. http://bryanlanders.com

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