If I Were a Billionaire

It’s fun to day dream about what you might do with a particularly large amount of money. Like most people, I think about winning the lotto from time to time too.

Of all the role models for such a problem to deal with, Elon Musk seems to be the one having the most fun making his impact on the world.  And I think I would like to take a similar approach to my investments if I ever had the opportunity – tackling big problems like Energy, Transportation and Space.  If I won the lottery I would hire people and start companies too.

Rather than work towards the same goals that Elon is, the three main things I would prefer to focus on is Housing, mining the moon and Finance.

Housing is an interesting problem to tackle.  They are probably the most expensive thing most of us will ever own and yet the price we pay is not based on any inherent value. From my experience buying and selling a house, the numbers are just invented, pulled out of thin air or based loosely on what other people have been willing to pay for similar houses in the recent past. Financial tricks and tax rules mean that the prices of houses is derived on salary levels, interest rates and mortgage regulations more than anything else.  IE. if a family at the median income can get approved up to $1000/month in mortgage cash flow costs, then you can more or less reverse out to find the median house value (ignoring external investors affecting the market).  This has the effect of removing the normal market pressures we see in a competitive landscape that would otherwise encourage improved automation in construction, competitive pricing etc.  People are starting to rebel against the current housing market as a result – RV sales are skyrocketing, #vanlife is a trend, and shows about tiny homes are now on TV. I have several ideas about housing that I think could re-frame the whole space, but which would require time and money and people to work on.

Mining the moon is a dream about abundance.  In the Moon vs Mars debate, I think the moon presents a far more interesting prospect.  When I think about the future of automation I think about what might happen if the end-to-end supply chain for a particular good is completely performed by robots which seems to be what everyone is iterating towards. Mining the moon is both a forcing factor and it gets around the last remaining cost for any good (someone owns the land and collects royalties for mining the raw resources). Mining in space forces companies to invest in extreme amounts of automation, and eliminates the land costs, permits and royalty structures we have on earth. The direct and indirect benefits from this investment would have global impact for every human, ultimately enabling that star trek style utopian future.

The world of finance is facing it’s biggest upset in history with the decentralization that can be brought about with crypto-currency.  Things are still very early days for this technology and so there is a lot of mis-understanding and immaturity of products and services in the space.  The technology around creating an open protocol for the transaction of value over the internet will take power away from some large powerful corporations and put that back in the hands of people. When businesses start to embrace it for payment, everything will change.  In the future we will look back at now and be amazed at the costs and waste in the finance system that siphons off percentages from every transaction we make, and doubles the cost of a house.  There is still opportunity here to play a historic role in how this plays out.

These three things play off each other similar to the synergies that Elon has found in his endeavours.

The robotics required to automate house construction should ultimately be mobile – not fixed to the ground like typical industrial robots, or confined to a 3 dimensional space like 3D printing machines. Without mobility a robot cannot built things bigger than itself.  This applies to mining as well, where robotic mining operations need to be able to operate within a large open environment.  Investment in these technologies benefit both.  Likewise, it isn’t possible to tackle the cost of housing problem without some disruption to the way houses are financed – this is a particularly tricky problem due to the amount of money spent on housing as an investment asset rather than a place to live. With the improved productivity coming from robotic automation, a comparable productivity improvement in the finance sector is needed.

I used to drive through the rockies and look at the epic mountains.  I wondered when humans would be able to build things that massive.  City sized buildings, 1km tall at the peak, 1km wide at the base and stretching 5km long. Giant human scaled ant hills with city sized populations. Designed by algorithms. Built by robots.  It’s a vision not unlike colonizing Mars – which seemed impossible before Elon said he was going to do it.