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The Third Economy?

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South African inventor and investor Stafford Masie on the economy that will unfold as a result of bitcoin offering greater capability than cash.

South African technology entrepreneur and artificial intelligence (AI) enthusiast Stafford Masie has headed Google in South Africa, invented Payment Pebble (a payment solution), and has had over 20 years in IT. At a recent lecture to engineering students at the University of Johannesburg, Masie said: “The future is already here. It is just unevenly distributed.” He also spoke to FORBES AFRICA on the tech forecast for 2019.

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AI gone rogue

Almost all industries have been impacted by AI and Masie believes it has potential to lose control.

“AI is the difference between the third and fourth industrial revolution. We now have this algorithm in the world that says we should measure companies by output so companies are trying to do more with less. [Companies are thinking] ‘get rid of the humans and let’s build automation and we increase our operating margin and our share price goes up’. That is not sustainable. That’s the world in which we find ourselves today. AI has already gone rogue. There is no expert of AI in the entire world. It’s still very early.”

Masie says should be seen as plural and not singular.

“Take a look at Uber. It’s a coalition of disparate AIs and a dual special awareness of intelligence. It’s intelligence on the phone, it’s intelligence in the car, it’s all of those things coming together to deliver on that service. That’s AIs, not an AI.

“AI does not need to take away jobs. AI is makes us look in the mirror and ask, ‘should we be doing that work?’ I don’t think we should. I think we have a higher purpose. We need to start rethinking this notion of employment and jobs and start thinking about work. Humans should be released from doing what they are doing today. A job that measures efficiency and productivity will ultimately be taken over by robots…We were not meant to do jobs that measure efficiency and productivity. We were meant to be [creative]. We need to allow humans to have a purpose.”

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Bitcoin will unlock the third economy

Despite experts predicting the fall of Bitcoin and its technologies, Masie predicts otherwise.

“The Bitcoin world is going to be interesting to watch over the next year. That’s very exciting. I just think because it’s still so infantile, it’s still so small. I think Bitcoin wasn’t built for the people who are actually using it today. It was built for the people not financially included in the world today. And what’s exciting in the next few years is to see those people being unlocked and emerging. We have the formal economy, then we have the informal economy. The formal economy has all the financial instruments that you and I use. The security, the credit cards, the bank accounts etc. Then you get the formal economy which is cash.

“But I think bitcoin is going to establish a third economy, and that third economy will surface new transaction types, new value exchange instruments that we still haven’t imagined today and that will come to the fore.

“What excites me more is this third economy that will emerge because Bitcoin offers greater capability than cash. You can program your money. You can expand it, you can create contracts around it. You can exchange value without a third party and that’s what am very excited to see within the next 12 to 24 months, that’s really big for me.”

The tech smoothie

“I’m excited to see what will happen in retail over the next four months. That’s the big one. I can feel it in the water. All the retailers are looking immensely at investing in technology, better customer service, optimization and then there’s logistics in the supply chains driving down production costs, doing more with the humans that they have, sweating their assets, etc. In retail, when you start mixing up the Internet of Things, AI and Bitcoin, that little smoothie looks very interesting to me.”

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