Cryptocurrency and Digital Assets: Terror and Opportunity

Cryptocurrencies soar in value, plunge, hit new highs, are written off, rebound, and hit new highs again, and the cycle repeats. We should be terrified. Over the last five years, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ether have outperformed the overall market. However, can the general trend of outperformance last, or will these digital assets drop over 90% like some of its other crypto brethren? Is there a sustainable performance that creates the foundation for either a new currency or a valuable asset class? Probably not. Forces that drive these eye-watering returns seem to be the same as those that drove the social media-driven insanity behind meme stocks such as GameStop. We are seeing social media mobs controlling demand to a limited supply, creating price spikes that look attractive to any speculative investor. Unfortunately, demand can dry up quickly and the price subsequently falls through the floor. Financial markets ruthlessly sort nonsense from substance. Volatility and existential threats have been brutal and extreme for digital assets and the reckoning for crypto has been predicted for some time. However, digital assets are not on their way to history’s dustbin. Reality is more nuanced, and I try to provide a more detailed analysis since a broad brush hardly seems appropriate. The weakest and craziest portions of the crypto world have been exposed as nothing more than silliness. But some valuable components remain resilient and offer tremendous opportunity. I will explore these in detail. There is more cause for optimism than pessimism among the best and the brightest. We will explore these opportunities while harshly dismissing the hype and silliness – avoid the terror of a worthless market.

Today, Tomorrow, and the Apocalypse

The future does not need us, and apparently, we don’t need it either.

The future isn’t what it used to be.

Humankind evolved to have a long-term view, either from religious teachings, the seasons, empires, and epoques, beyond the temporal spaces of our lifetimes. We went from living in an extended present to thinking about a long-term future.

Our horizons have gotten much shorter. When I wrote my latest book, “The Ten Year Horizon,” ten years seemed a sufficient and faraway temporal space to discuss a long arc of basic scientific research and discovery that could address our most urgent problems. However, it’s most appropriate to think a century ahead in order to understand the future we really want. It’s not just for us, it’s for generations to come.

Collectively, mankind has never had so many ways to destroy itself through self-made dangers including nuclear weapons, bioterrorism, climate change, antibiotic resistance, and many other self-manufactured threats. It is time for temporal maturity and ignore the tumultuous waves striking the boat today and keep our eye on the long-term horizon.

Short-term thinking has brought the potential for a catastrophic crisis even closer. Perhaps now it is time to grow up and think about the future. What do we want to be – because whatever that may be, we are certainly not working towards it now.

Lessons Lost

Open markets, free global trade, and limited state interference lead to greater shared prosperity. Heavy-handed Industrial policy and state intervention impede progress. It’s the economy and inequality, trade imbalances, are not what drive shared global wealth. Industrial policy, restricted trade, government subsidy, and overall intervention are challenging to get right, and hoping to achieve multiple goals simultaneously. One subsidy does not tackle climate change, boost industrial and economic growth, or enhance security. It is bound to fail. Time to revisit how things actually work through incentives to innovate, sensible economic models, prosperity, and wealth creation. No other mechanisms drive change or address the world’s most critical issues.

Put Down the Pitchforks

Stunning capabilities are emerging from large language models like GPT 4 that, until very recently, were thought to be only theoretical. We could never have the data sets or the processing power to generate real and usable results. Well, all that has changed – rather suddenly.

But is it time for the torches and pitchforks? What are the serious risks that accompany this technology?

There will be good and bad, like every new era. Will it be the Middle Ages all over again and we’ll experience The Plague before the Renaissance, or will it be more balanced and reasonable? There are good, bad, and many things in between whenever humanity advances.

Let it happen. Put down the pitchforks.

Discovery, Innovation, and Crisis

Our most intractable problems cannot be solved with behavior modification, conservation, or our existing technology, regardless of its advanced or widespread applications.

Only new knowledge creating innovative solutions can address our most intractable problems. This can only be achieved through basic scientific discoveries and then combining these discoveries with enterprise-based innovation, commercial discipline, and competition. Innovation, creativity, and competitive dynamics create the most effective innovations, the best solutions, and the most sustainable companies. Developing the best public policy as well as the best structure to enable innovative and creative solutions, as well as the economic incentive to scale these opportunities and make them economically sustainable.

Central planning, bureaucratic industrial policy, government-led economic management, and dictatorial focus have always failed, and always will.

Industrial Policy – Stupidity by Another Name

Zero-sum thinking has begun. Despite comparative advantage, mutual cooperation, and specialization proving indisputably more beneficial than any other approach to economic interaction, this ideal is under threat. Rules and norms for economic integration lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, created an order-of-magnitude increase in the average wealth of the Western population, and benefited countless hundreds of millions enabling a way of life otherwise unimaginable post-World War II. Now that system is under threat as developed countries subsidize alternative energy, attract manufacturing via expensive subsidies, and restrict the flow of goods and capital. Mutual benefit is out; national gain is now the highest priority. In other words, stupidity and zero-sum thinking have taken over. A handful of bureaucrats, regardless of how brilliant each may be, can never equal the mind of the market. Management and control usually spell disaster eventually. Managed focus on technological development for products and services the central government believes have greater substantial benefit to the overall society may not be calamitous, but the law of unintended consequences has not been repealed. It will be inefficient, substandard, and create potentially dangerous side effects. Innovation, creative freedom, and unstructured thought are essential components to the development of any technology of substance and disruptive benefit.

Looking Forward

Most current innovations have yet to reach their potential, and new innovations are essential to address the most critical issues we confront, whether that is climate change, food scarcity, water shortages, or more effective distribution of innovation itself. Advanced technologies can be many things, but several areas, including artificial intelligence, life sciences, and software innovations provide the most potent platform for new opportunities, disruptive innovation, and value creation. Software will disrupt the most important industries in the world, especially finance, life sciences, and communications. These will be the fundamental innovations that will drive value creation over the course of the next year, and from now on.

The Ten Year Horizon: Volatile, Intense, and Mostly Harmless

This book explores the next decade’s more frequent and intense economic, geopolitical, fiscal, and market volatility, technological innovation, disruption, and hype.

Long-term opportunity exists, and this book uses a 10-year horizon as a surrogate for a long-term perspective. Some of the world’s most important industries are being disrupted, especially finance via digital assets and Blockchain-based businesses, life sciences via gene editing, DNA sequencing, and CRISPR, and communications via advanced wireless data networks, software technologies including artificial intelligence, and new interactive platforms such as the Metaverse.

A New Vision for Artificial Intelligence

A new vision for artificial intelligence is using smaller more relevant data sets for dynamic learning generating more effective outcomes and better predictions. This model uses cognitive architecture, learns, transfers learning, and retains knowledge – enabling more valuable and compelling artificial intelligence applications. This approach is more closely related to the brain’s actual structures and much more effective than “neural networks,” which is a catchy name but the similarity to the brain’s actual functioning is in name only. Real advancement in artificial intelligence must live in reality, not theoretical marketing. The current state of artificial intelligence shows the shortcomings of big data and trial-and-error approaches. A new AI vision can be a more effective solution. Smaller data sets, more relevant information, dynamic data, and algorithms will lead to more appropriate outcomes, better tools, and more effective applications.

The Next Ten Years

The onslaught of market-making bad news seems almost a daily event. A gloomy picture of slowing economic growth, elevated inflation, and confusing fiscal and monetary policy has added a lethal mixture to the market’s performance. Fiscal stimulus is sidelined, and monetary policy is constricting economic growth and entrepreneurial innovation. It makes for a gloomy outlook and an even more depressing long-term perspective. The next 10 years look more like a lost decade. High-growth company valuations have been significantly discounted, and over time as discount rates drop, their valuations are likely to increase substantially. Higher-yielding fixed income securities will be a standout performer as interest rates are reduced, the higher-yielding BDCs, REITs, leveraged loan securities, and high cash flow instruments, along with high-dividend equities, will prove extremely attractive and are currently available at bargain prices. Providers of value and users of value will be the winners for the next decade. Those generating real cash flow and disruptive innovation will define the next decade.