Saturday, March 12, 2016

Kiva Anniversary

Today marks four years since I joined, yay! I was on two other microcredit platforms before, but they failed while Kiva figured out how to thrive.

Fun stats about my portfolio:

  • I've made 21 loans to people in 21 of Kiva's 81 countries
  • Starting with my 3rd loan, I only loan to women who are mothers or students. From what I could find, those seem to have the greatest long-term impact
  • 18 people have joined Kiva because of my invitation (you can here)
  • I only lost a few cents and it was due to a bad currency exchange on my 2nd and 12th loan (literally less than $0.10 lost on over $500 lent!)
  • I started two teams GitLab Community (6 members & 7 loans) and Neo4j (5 members & 9 loans)
  • I started an account for my two-year old son so that the savings for his college fund will help educate others, too
What's really neat is the impact! Here are three of the messages I got back from Kiva:

Amina in Nigeria
"Amina no longer has to worry about having inadequate income to feed her family and children... Through [the] loan she will have ... double the national average [crop yield] in Nigeria. This will see her increase her income considerably. This season Amina has ambitious plans to harvest 35 bags of maize." -

Dile in Albania

"Dile replaced the stolen milk cow thanks to your help. Now she is requesting your help again, this time requesting a loan to build a stable." -

Basma in Jordan

"Basma is married and a mother of 7. Her husband is a retired man who currently works as a driver. She has been selling home products for 1 year. She started... by selling small amounts of products. Now she needs to buy a larger quantity of home products to raise her profit and income; this will help her husband in covering their children's needs. She doesn't have enough money to do so, which is why she has applied for this loan." -

It's pretty cool to see that I can help $25 at a time. I think everyone should try it out, and you can start here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The 9 Types of Free Software

There's a lot of "free" software out there and a lot of confusion about how the companies giving it away survive, let alone generate revenue. This includes any website, program, or app where at least some features or versions are free. There are nine basic types of free software and here's how they each work:
(1-7 are typically seen in B2C software; 8-9 are typically seen in B2B software)
1. Completely Free - all features cost nothing and there are no ads. If a company is providing software completely free, then either (a) its owner(s) haven't quit their day jobs and the product will only be maintained as long as their hobby interests them or (b) its owner(s) have taken funding and will eventually turn to one or more of the models below to provide a return to their investors. Think any popular app before it gets acquired by a big company (e.g. Instagram had no ads until after Facebook acquired it).
2. Advertising - ads are present, all features cost nothing. Pretty straightforward. Google's search engine is the perfect example. Google will let any person use their search tools, but inserts ads to create revenue.
3. Freemium - premium features cost something, most features cost nothing. The popular League of Legends video game has perfected freemium. Players can get all the essentials of the game and compete on even footing for free, but can purchase cosmetic or time saving features. A more devious version is "pay-to-win", such as Clash of Clans, a video game where paying gives advantage. Typically a small percentage of users provide the majority of the revenue.
4. Merchandise related merchandise is sold, all features cost nothing. An aging example is, which has a clearly marked store button that funds the whole site with branded clothing and accessories., which promised to be a social network without ads forever, sold t-shirts to raise money.
5. Pay What You Want - users donate, all features cost nothing. Inviting the altruistic and freeriders, this model simply asks users to donate if they feel like it. Wikipedia is the greatest example; once a year they ask site visitors to donate and manage to hit their revenue targets every time.
6. Data Collection - features cost nothing, your data is sold or used. Only example I thought of were those phishing surveys (where they ask "What Disney princess are you?", you answer 10 questions, then to see your result you have to create an account and they try the password you just created on your Twitter, Gmail, and banks). Leave a better example in the comments if you have one, there are certainly more.
7. Multi-level Marketing features cost nothing for influential users. Okay, I only know of one site like this: Paribus. They request refunds on behalf of users who bought products before sales, but take a portion of each dollar they recover. This portion is reduced down to 0 percent if the user refers a few other users who sign up. It's like a pyramid scheme except the people at the bottom are actually benefiting.
8. Support - fees for support, features cost nothing. Can't think of an example where #9 doesn't also apply, but I'm sure it exists. Let me know if you have an example.
9. Enterprise Edition (B2B) - Some advanced features come in "enterprise edition" (EE) for a price, many or all features come in a zero-cost "community edition" (CE). This is different than freemium because there are two distinct versions of the software. For example, GitLab provides a free CE download without even asking for an email address, but if you want certain features and integrations, you need EE. Support and Enterprise Edition revenue strategies often go hand-in-hand.

Why do free at all?

Giving something away for free allows for fast adoption and growth of software. For instance, GitLab can give away its CE because it knows that people will adopt and enjoy using their software. When an individual who uses GitLab CE is in a work discussion on what software the team should use for project x, that individual will vote for GitLab. The company will pay for support and EE features, so GitLab keeps its lights on and keeps the servers up for free users.

Would love if you commented with your favorite model to use! Do you prefer to see ads or get pressured to buy premium features? Have you used free versions then had your company pay for a better version at work?

Did I miss any free models? Let me know and I'll update.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Arbitrage Opportunity!

Arbitrage is essentially gaining money through moving assets around (i.e. not spending or investing, just transferring from one place to another). Here's an example I took advantage of today:

Amazon has a deal right now for Prime members: Amazon will give you a $5 credit if you purchase a $25 Amazon gift card with a promo code, found here (I expect this link will expire soon after January 2015).

So, by buying myself a $25 Amazon gift card (and using the promo code at checkout), I got an additional $5 gift card (comes a few days later). Since I know I'll be spending $30 on Amazon in the near future, I'm essentially getting $5 for nothing!

Many people try to make it big committing arbitrage, my favorite fictional example being Kramer and Newman on Seinfeld:

Most arbitrage opportunities vaporize in an instant; you miss out if you're not the first mover, which is impossible in some markets now. For example, any arbitrage opportunities in the currency exchange markets are usually eaten up by bots owned by big banks.

Perhaps the greatest example of long-lasting arbitrage is from the miles rewards credit card holders who purchased dollar coins from the US government (my game theory professor was one of them!). You could purchase a box of hundreds of dollar coins at face value from the government using your credit card, then deposit the coins in your bank, pay of the card, and repeat. Some people racked up literally millions of miles before the government and airlines caught on. My game theory professor said he felt no guilt exploiting such an opportunity; in fact, he felt obligated to take advantage of it!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pyramid Scheme: Nerium Delirium

First off, I hope a certain friend doesn't read this.  To that certain friend: if you do read this, I hope this doesn't offend you, but I totally get if it does and expect it will. This post will most likely decrease your overall happiness. It's cool though, no one reads these posts anyways... 

A while back I wrote about multi level marketing (MLM) companies and pyramid schemes.  I specifically wrote that post because a friend was trying to get me to sign up for an MLM he just joined.  I told him I wasn't interested because I suspected it was a pyramid scheme, but would nonetheless look into it just in case there was a legit opportunity.  He encouraged me to do so and asked that I report my findings.  

So I looked into it, then sent him this email:

"Here's the email I promised.

"Since I have friends ask or approach me about new MLM opportunities regularly, I made a post on my blog.  It applies in every way to Nerium and I even used Nerium's website and product reviews on Amazon as examples.


"In no way to I think you and your wife are dumb for signing up for Nerium - you were persuaded by someone whose job is to be persuasive.  Been there.  You might make a lot of money from it, but I really, really doubt it. If it's not too late, get all the money you can back.

"Good luck!

Sunk Costs and Being Special

Maybe I was too blunt, because he didn't seem too happy with that; I guess that happens when you drop $500 into something, then get accused of being suckered.  Sunk costs mess with your brain, I get it.

We all want to believe we're special, that we don't make the same mistakes others make.  The whole point of the Hank Fails blog is to help me recognize that I'm often an idiot; with that knowledge, I'm more prepared to quit when I should (I have some draft posts on that topic which I'd love to link to here, but they're not ready; stay tuned I guess...).  Confirmation bias may be the most costly heuristic we humans have...

After he fired back a lengthy reply (pasted at the bottom of the post instead of here because it's nearly 2000 words long!) explaining how Nerium is "different". 

I simply replied "Haha, a very thorough email, I must say!  You have obviously done your research - good luck!" and bided my time... until now!  

A Ruse

"It's been ten months," I thought this morning. "I wonder how that thing's going with that guy."

Unsure of how to inconspicuously satisfy my curiosity, I sent him this email: 

"My little brother is looking into becoming a Nerium distributor/salesman.  I told him I know you've been with them for a while so I told him I'd better ask you about it before saying anything for or against.

"Have you had any success with it?  And do you think he should get in now or is it too far along for him to be really successful?  He also wanted to know if he'd be more successful spending time "building his down line or actually selling individual bottles"?

"I'd personally be interested in how successful people in your down line are, since that might be more telling for Jake.

"Hope all is well, and sorry if these questions are too personal!  Thanks!"

This email, of course, is false.  I don't think my brother's ever heard of Nerium, and I would always advice against MLM in this world with so many paths to success that don't involve damaging your friends' finances.  I wanted to follow up for two main reasons: (1) the satisfaction of being right in the first place is always nice and (2) if this guy's bank is blowing up and I got the whole story wrong the first time, I want in on that gravy train! 

Confirmation (perhaps I'm a little biased? feel free to tell me in the comments)

He replied fairly quickly.  Let's break it down bit by bit and assess if my friend is part of a pyramid scheme (my comments are highlighted inline):

We haven't actually been able to pursue it as much as we hoped for a few reasons. We had a non compete agreement with my wife's last job which stopped us from doing it for quite awhile. 
Wait, why would that stop you from working on this great opportunity if the non-compete agreement was just for your wife? I smell an excuse, not a valid reason. 

We have picked up a few customers but haven't gotten very far due to the job situation and school constraints. These are more valid reasons... 

We have some close friends that are doing amazing with it. 
Very non-specific about their success levels.  A friend "doing amazing with it" would have gone full time and bought a house or sports car, in which case you would have mentioned it OR, at the very least, you would see their success and work harder yourself. I know you're not a slacker, which makes me think you're not seeing yourself or your friends with the success you'd hoped for.

It's definitely not too far along to join. The company is breaking records and exploding.[citation needed]

There are many great reasons to start now that are even more compelling than a year ago.[citation needed]

As far as building downline vs. selling individual bottles goes... Your bottles are your employees. They do the work for you. You don't gain much by just selling a single bottle. It's about getting people to become a customer or a partner. The bottles just help you to do that. The main thing to do is just get started by getting 3 of each. 
Wait a sec, you told me my post (see #5) was wrong and that Nerium "focus[es] on... selling the product" [see 2000 word email copy below], but here you throw that out the window and clearly point out that the product is merely a way to get "a customer or a partner"... wait, what's a customer who you're not selling individual bottles to? I'm confused. Throw in this line from your last email: "It's actually illegal for people to be selling the product on Amazon or anywhere else online" and I'm even more confused.  And again, Nerium's focus on getting partners and not selling product is textbook pyramid scheme.  I addressed this in my last post, too.  

Does Jake have a friend who has told him about it or did he seek it out on his own? He can always sign up with us if he doesn't have a friend or someone. 

I love that last line: a casual attempt to get another person at the base of his pyramid.

The Truth and a Lesson

Here's the truth: people can and will continue to make money off of this MLM, but there are guaranteed losers because every pyramid has a base bearing the weight and holding the top in place.  That's why it's called a "scheme".  

A fair market exchange is where someone pays for something they want and they get it.  A fair MLM wouldn't make people invest to join; it would sign them up as distributors under a 1099 and they would act as true sales people do: pushing product. I'd better stop before I just repeat my previous post on the topic.

Below is the giant email I was given.  I've highlighted a few of my favorite, ridiculous lines which should be read one right after the other. I'd love to break it down line by line like that last email, but it's such a waste of time confronting each claim when you can do it on your own if you really have nothing to do right now:


I read your post and I think a lot of your points can apply to many of the MLM companies out there. I did a lot of research before getting involved with Nerium and I am 100% convinced it is totally legitimate and a good idea. Although there are some similarities it is really different than many MLMs for a lot of reasons. Here are some responses to your comments as well as the honest reasons I believe it is a great opportunity worth considering:

Sorry it's a little long. I hope you read it.

1. People can buy individual bottles from the company but it costs more than if they sign up to receive the product every month and it also doesn't really benefit the customer because if they want lasting results they will need to keep using the product. They definitely push the brand partner or preferred customer options because that is how you will actually benefit from the product. Buying one bottle or individual bottles doesn't really do anything for you in the long run and it costs more.

2. Once you make the initial investment to get inventory as a brand partner to share with people you never invest anything else (unless you want to.) The company restocks your inventory for free with every customer or brand partner who signs up with you. My friend who introduced us to it, also an economics major now working for Amazon, made back the money he initially invested plus extra within the first 2 months.

3. A lot of pyramid companies that are schemes don't work because they are selling an "opportunity" and not really a product. These inevitably burn up quickly. On the other extreme some MLMs have thousands of products which creates different problems but also quality goes down and customers get sucked in to meeting quotas and possibly manipulating people below them into buying stuff they really don't need or want. My wife works in customer service for another MLM based out of Utah and even thought the company is outstanding they do struggle with this type of manipulation happening.

Nerium started with a single product that has 10+ years of biotechnology research behind it and third party clinical testing that proves it works better than anything else that exists. (Most anti-aging skin products see 2-5% improvement in fine lines and wrinkles. Nerium's lab tests averaged 30% improvement. (They did just announce 2 new products they will add this month)

4. Barrier to entry is HUGE for MLMs. IF they don't have one they will surely be copied and lose any competitive advantage. (Example is the many different antioxidant nutrition juice drink companies or the ones that sell utilities like cheaper cell phone service)... They WILL BE COPIED. Nerium has proven science to back up their product as well as exclusive patent rights to the technology. Putting that aside they have a massive barrier to entry. It would take another company 10 years to grow enough oleander plants to start developing the extract and then they would have to manufacture it, create distribution channels and get past the patent that Nerium already has as well as their market domination.

5. Nerium could have used one of many different marketing approaches for selling the product. They considered infomercials, retail, online and others but decided to use network marketing because it is the fastest way to grow a company which they proved by breaking every industry record growing by over 100 million in the first year. They focus on both selling the product as well as giving people the opportunity to be a brand partner (distributor).

6. It's actually illegal for people to be selling the product on Amazon or anywhere else online and eventually they will be shut down. There are mixed reviews for several reasons. It takes different amounts of time for different people to see results and if they buy it online they can't sign up as a preferred customer and they don't always have enough product to see the results. Plus, they don't know how to use it properly. No matter what people will have different opinions and results but that is the same with any product. Nerium is different because it is scientifically proven to work 15 to 30 times better than anything else that exists. Over 90% of customers maintain their subscription to the product once they have started using it. (All of the scientific studies were conducted by third party testing and the the results are backed up by thousands of real customers and their before and after pictures.

7. Compensation plans can also be a source of problems with MLMs. Many people "at the bottom", like you mentioned, do end up being unhappy because the get disconnected from the people at the top of the organization and they don't get the help they need. This is often because the people at the top get paid something like 20% commission for their first level down, then 10% then 5% then 2%, 2%, 2%, 2%, and then eventually 0%. So they have no incentive to help people farther below them because they don't get paid or benefited in any way for doing so. Nerium's comp plan is better than any other I have ever looked at. The lady who helped train us initially used to write compensation plans for similar companies and swears she has never seen one that is nearly as good as Nerium's. One reason: People at the top are connected to everyone below them in several ways including getting paid 5% all the way down. Besides that the setup of the structure itself generates legs of three which limits how wide the organization gets and focuses on the depth, which creates smaller teams of people who stay closely connected.

8. Timing is also a major issue with people getting involved in MLMs. If you do it at the wrong time it's tough to get any traction and success.Nerium is about 16 months old and grew from 1 million to over 100 million in the first year. The company will go global probably within a few months from now but it is really just beginning. Less than 2% of people have ever heard of it and it's growing faster than any other company has.

9. My friends parents (Dad is a lawyer and Mom went to Harvard business school) worked for Nu Skin in the 90's and made millions within a few years and still get a large check every year for the work they did. They have 25 years of experience working for, founding, selling and creating MLM companies and they jumped on right away with Nerium because it has outperformed everything they have ever seen or heard of. The timing is perfect to get involved.

10. The business plan Nerium has is outstanding. MLMs can be super complicated. Nerium's business plan is simple and incredibly effective. One, because they have a revolutionary product that sells itself. (customers try it for free and then decide if they want it). Two, preferred customers who get their product autoshipped to them ever month inevitably share it with friends because they have dramatic results and once they have 3 friends who become customers they get theirs for free continuously as long as the 3 friends stay signed up. (Over 90% do)... Major incentive to share the product. Brand partners, who are distributing the product also get theirs for free the same way but they get their inventory constantly replenished every time a customer or new brand partner signs up with them. They never have to invest in more inventory.

11. Nerium has been around for only under two years but they have massive back end support and incredible management and training because they spent two years building the business platform, backend support and finding the right people to run the company before they launched so it would run like a company that's been around for 10 years. We aren't planning on making tons and tons of money right away but just working on building the business a few hours a week, investing our time in something that will keep paying off.

12. It's not a get rich quick scheme. Anyone who thinks so is a fool and yes there are a lot them. It's the same as building any business. You talk to people and share a product and it sells. I sold Cutco for two summers and sold a little over $50,000 worth of the #1 brand of knives in the US to people (Starting with the friends and family). It was a great business, the number one product of it's kind and great way to make substantial money, especially as a student. But I had to do all the work myself finding my own customers and selling to friends and family and their referrals. (Which really wasn't that hard since the product is so good.) However, I'm excited about Nerium because once you get the product in people's hands it spreads organically and you can quickly get outside your inner circle. Word of mouth is hands down the best way to market a good product.

13. Doesn't require skills? Sure, anyone with zero skills can sign up, pay the money and get the product but if they don't work and develop skills they will go nowhere with it. To be successful it definitely takes skills, whether you already have them or you learn them. BUT, they are definitely skills you can learn as you go. So yes, anyone can do it. The ones who fail and complain that the system cheated them are the ones who don't work and put the time in to develop the skills. (I saw this hundreds of times over and over working as a manager for Vector Marketing selling Cutco) Less than 2% of new hires (mostly college kids with no experience or specific skills) ever sold more than $1,000 worth of the product because they gave up too soon and wouldn't give it the effort and time it took to learn the skills.

It is easy to dismiss an opportunity with a direct sales company by quickly lumping it into the category of typical MLMs that don't have a good enough product, won't last or make any money and exploit people at the bottom to make money for people at the top. Nerium's product is easy to share but I would say that is the number one challenge with sharing the business side with people... They are too scared of the idea of an MLM that might actually work. It's surely not for everyone but when people actually check it out and realize how good of an opportunity it is they can see the value in it. I am convinced that Nerium has a real, revolutionary breakthrough product and a real opportunity that benefits not just people's faces but also their finances and their future.

I'll keep you updated : )

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pigouvian Taxes and Porn

Many of my friends have been sharing this petition via social media, which asks the White House to require pornography to be an "opt in" feature with Internet service providers (ISPs), rather than a standard feature. Let me discuss why this is the worst way to a limit porn consumption and make an alternative proposal which would achieve (while skipping over the irony that some of these same people were likely sharing/signing petitions to keep net neutrality not so long ago...).

I'm a fan of gov't interventions
such as contract enforcement.
Background: My first college econ professor had an interesting course schedule: for the first half of the semester, he did everything in his power to prove the efficiency of markets and the inefficiency of government interventions (such as taxes, quotas, etc.).  The second half of the semester was the exact opposite, with the professor teaching how market inefficiencies required government intervention.  What I began to learn is that there are efficient and inefficient ways the government can interfere with markets.

(Note: many students I knew would move right on the political spectrum during the first half of the course, then back left during the last half.  I wonder how many people started the course as libertarians and ended up more moderate.  Too bad he doesn't take political surveys throughout the course to see the marginal effects of basic economic knowledge...)

Sometimes, we find markets in which any government intervention may be financially inefficient, but socially efficient.  For example, interstate highways are not financially profitable to build (and thus there are no major private highways), but provide great payoffs to society, so the government collects taxes (and debt) to build highways for society's benefit. The government decides whether the costs in tax monies are worth the societal benefits, but let's save a discussion on externalities and public goods for another time.

Bad Idea: While shrinking porn consumption may be a good idea for society, the petition to the US government to require porn as an "opt in" feature with ISPs would be an inefficient intervention for several reasons.

  1. Net neutrality is lost - this precedent may lead us down a slippery slope.
  2. Shrinks a market - there are already heaps of private services to block porn at a device level.
  3. Opt in at ISP level - opting in at the ISP level still requires blocking at the device level in households where adults want to consume porn but keep their children from it, etc.
  4. No financial offsets - there are no revenues generated by the "opt in" policy to offset the costs to the ISPs or government, so the expenses of implementation are borne by the internet users and the costs of enforcement are borne by the taxpayers (yes, that means most people see increases to internet costs, unless enough bandwidth is saved to cut costs, and everyone sees a tax increase).
+ECON's Alternative Proposal: Tax pornography! If you really want to reduce porn consumption, make porn a taxable good and the following will happen:
  1. Payment needed - since a credit card will be needed to view porn, even minors with cards can get caught, even if the tax is low (e.g. $0.01); spouses/partners can also be discovered (unisex word because, contrary the beliefs of many, women are consuming more and more porn).
  2. Financial offsets - enforcement costs will be about the same, but now some or all of those costs will be borne by those consuming porn with the remainder paid by taxpayers (hopefully the tax would be higher than my example of $0.01 in #1). Taxes would need to be applied like an extra sales tax and would thus be pushed onto the consumer.
  3. ISPs and net neutrality aren't bothered - slippery slope avoided (well, one of them).
Such a tax is called a "Pigouvian", "excise", or even "sin" tax, and is already common (e.g. huge taxes on tobacco).  So tell me, is taxing porn a better idea than the "opt in" strategy?  Or is there something even better?  Let me know in the comments!

Either way, enforcement would be incredibly hard!  We've already know this with the difficulty of enforcing the bans on 'child porn'.

Finally, below is a video with more thoughts on using taxes to create better world:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Top Five Reasons to NOT Vote

"A rational individual should abstain from voting." 

Of the many things economists on both sides of the political spectrum agree on, the most infamous is telling people it's not worth it to vote.  We just think voting is irrational, so here's five of the most compelling reasons you shouldn't vote:

5) You're not alone - In the video, I falsely state that most voting age Americans don't vote.  Still, over a third of eligible voters in the US don't vote for president (and many more don't bother with the midterm elections), so you'll still find plenty of others who didn't vote as well (you can find all the statistics for the 2012 election here).  Although, it may be hard to identify your fellow non-voters since many lie about voting, including who they voted for or whether they are even registered voters!

I decided this reason may be too weak, so here's a second and perverse incentive to not vote: many states assign jury duty from the voter registry. No vote = no jury duty.

4) You have the right to not vote - You have no duty as a citizen to vote and exercising the right to not vote is patriotic in it's own way.

3) Your vote is worthless! - This is pretty well covered in the video.  Naturally, the objection I always hear is that "if everybody thought like that, no one would vote!" - well, to that I can only say that people are still voting and you still have no effect on the outcome.  Call me to vote when turnout is less than 0.1 percent and I'll start thinking about it.  Another objection I hear is that you need to vote in local elections, but your vote is near worthless there, too.  Only 21 have ever been close enough to be swayed by one vote, but while you may have a better chance of determining the outcome, the stakes are much smaller.

2) Voting causes death - The extra traffic from voting on a presidential election day results in about 24 deaths!  Of course, this could be prevented if we could find a way to reliably vote online...

1) Opportunity costs are too high - Maybe over $1 billion!  All the time and money you spend on voting, which adds nothing to the nation's decision, could have been used on something else more worthwhile.  Don't forget all the time and effort you wasted trying to figure out who to vote for as well.  You may prefer to practice rational ignorance, since the costs of educating yourself on who to vote for outweigh the benefits you get from voting.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to hash it out in the comments below, on the video, or even on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Robots and the Economy

I have lots to say on the upcoming singularity and economics. I just thought I'd list a few resources on the topics of artificial intelligence, the "Luddite fallacy", and the accelerating changes technology is creating in today's (and tomorrow's) labor forces. Here's a starter kit for learning about the Economic Robopocalypse:
These androids write music better than most humans.
  1. "Robopocalypse: Future of Humans in the Robots' Economy" is a playlist I made about technology, AI, and the economy.  It begins with a 4 minute +ECON video serving as an introduction, followed by four very interesting TED Talks. Click here to watch now.

  2. Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson are economists whose TED Talks are featured in my playlist above.  Their book is a quick and extremely fascinating read. You can get it on Amazon here: Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy
  3. Ray Kurzweil is perhaps the most influential futurist today. I recently read (and loved) his book, "The Age of Spiritual Machines" and have heard good things about his more recent books.  I highly recommend reading any if you want to understand whether machine intelligence equal to (or greater than) a human's is possible and the soonest we might expect such artificial intelligence.  Links to his books below:
If you watch the playlist or read any of the books, please comment with your thoughts, below or on YouTubeFacebook, or Twitter. Cheers!