Observations in China

Mist-veiled limestone peaks at picturesque Yangshuo, shot on the iPhone

It’s a breezy evening by the lake. The walk on the pavement near a busy intersection is marred only by wafts of cigarette smoke. Petrol fumes are a thing of the past – electric vehicles dominate the tree-lined boulevard. Restaurants and cafes are packed, with an orderly queue forming in front of an internet-famous eatery (网红店). I’m at the scenic West Lake in Hangzhou. This is China in the year 2024.

Continue reading

Increase Your Luck Surface Area: Advice For Young Actuaries

Photo by Lesya Kikh from Pexels

We have ever-changing answers to the perennial “what do you want to be” question. When I was very young, I wanted to be a pilot, traversing the world in jumbo jets. In my early teens, I found an affinity for computers and thought that I would very much like to be a tech entrepreneur.

A few years later, I approached the end of secondary school and was in dire need of a realistic career plan. I picked up the book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by chance, which led to an interest in investments. I read more investments-related books and came across something about Warren Buffett, the legendary investor, considering becoming an actuary. Boom – I had my answer – I was to be an actuary.

Having spent almost 15 years in the profession – studying for actuarial exams, training to become an actuary, and working as a qualified actuary – I still don’t have all the answers. But I do have one advice for young actuaries – do everything you can to increase your luck surface area.

Continue reading

Bitcoin-denominated Life Insurance: Exclusive Interview with Zachary Townsend

Bitcoin under an umbrella symbolising protection
BTC-denominated life protection, created using Bing Image Creator

When I first heard of Bitcoin, I dismissed it like most people. I mean, what is this “magic internet money” that needs to be “mined” using electricity? It was not an intuitive concept to wrap my head around. Reading the Bitcoin white paper was an eye-opener. It turns out there’s no magic or witchcraft; Bitcoin is the first application of blockchain – a distributed, decentralised ledger. I’ve since gone deep down the rabbit hole and have written and spoken about the use cases of blockchain.

Bitcoin has come a long way since its genesis block on 3 January 2009. Bitcoin’s longevity and resilience has reinforced the belief that it will probably persist for years to come. One of Bitcoin’s most prominent proponents, Balaji Srinivasan, believes that Bitcoin is a viable escape hatch from a collapsing fiat system.

Time will tell whether Balaji is right.

Continue reading

Thriving as an Actuary in the Age of Generative AI

Successful actuaries in a generative AI world. Show a large group of actuaries from an aerial view. They are from a diverse background of gender and race. Photorealistic with bokeh effect.
Standing out, created using Bing Image Creator

This blog post was first published in the June 2023 edition of The Actuary magazine. It’s also part of an ongoing series on how I use AI interns to improve my life. In this case, I’ve used ChatGPT for writing inspiration. The complete prompts and responses are at the bottom of the page.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) techniques have been much hyped over the years. Beyond creating alternatives to generalised linear model (GLM), they have not come close to revolutionising actuarial work. Adoption of AI and ML techniques by the profession has been hampered by a lack of quality data and poor data infrastructure. Worse still, premature guardrails were imposed with good but misguided intentions – overzealous guidelines on AI safety and ethics were not commensurate with the primitive capabilities of the AI models in use.

In recent months, there have been impressive breakthroughs in AI models. You would have heard about ChatGPT and its ilk by now. These generative AI systems are unlike any that has come before – not only do they understand natural language (ChatGPT tells me it understands over 100 languages), they generate text, software code, and images with human-like flair and creativity.

Continue reading

How I Used AI Interns to Improve My Life

A robot finger touching human finger in the style of the painting on the Sistine Chapel
AI’s helping hand, created using Bing Image Creator

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is getting good, real good. Kevin Kelly, the futurist, has introduced the idea of AI as a universal personal intern (UPI) because its current capability is at the level of a competent intern – good enough to do the initial legwork but that work needs to be checked.

I’ve been making good use of generative AI like ChatGPT to solve real problems in my life. I’ve always enjoyed reading Twitter threads on how people use ChatGPT in an innovative way (the one that asks it to make as much money as possible is by far the most entertaining).

In the same spirit, I’ve decided to start a series of blog posts to share how I’m using AI. ChatGPT has suggested that I call this series “How I Used AI Interns to Improve My Life” for maximum clicks.

Continue reading

The Metaverse and Me

Actuary wearing VR goggles, created using Midjourney

This blog post was first published in the October 2022 edition of The Actuary magazine.

The term “metaverse” first appeared in the science fiction novel, Snow Crash. In Neal Stephenson’s seminal novel published in 1992, the metaverse is a “computer-rendered imaginary place” that users access by wearing “goggles that wrap halfway around the head”. What was once a niche nerdy term has exploded into mainstream consciousness. Hitherto the domain of science fiction, the metaverse is slowly becoming a reality.

Continue reading

Thoughts on Tesla AI Day 2022

🖤 Tesla

I love this time of the year – crisp autumn mornings, fall foliage, pumpkin spice latte, and Tesla’s annual AI Day.

Tesla AI Day is part product demonstration, part university lectures. These events provide technical details that showcase the company’s progress in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. They’re also staged to attract the best and brightest.

Tesla’s ability to recruit and retain top science and engineering talents in the age of the Great Resignation is an unparalleled competitive advantage, on par with its zero advertisement customer acquisition strategy.

Continue reading

What You Need to Know About Web3

Digital art NFTs

I spent the last several weekends working on Buildspace projects. These projects are free learn-by-doing tutorials on building fully functional web3 applications – from writing smart contracts, deploying them onto the blockchain, to building the user interface that interacts with the smart contract.

The applications I learnt to build include a decentralised version of Twitter, a non-fungible token (NFT) generator (see the collection on OpenSea), and a simple game that uses NFTs to represent the game characters. Doing these projects have helped me connect the dots.

Continue reading

Thoughts on Tesla AI Day

Tesla Bot; photo from Lex Fridman’s tweet

Tesla has done several technical deep dives over the years to give the world an update on the company’s progress in fully self-driving (FSD) and battery technology. It started with Autonomy Day, followed by Battery Day, and more recently, AI Day. Tesla uses these events to help recruit the best and brightest.

The events are also probably staged to make Tesla stock short sellers sweat profusely. Elon Musk had, in various presentations, interviews and podcasts, alluded to most things presented at the event. To see them fleshed out in details must have made critics regret calling Elon Musk a shyster.

Continue reading

A Decentralised Future: What Does it Mean for Actuarial Work?

Bali, a popular remote working location

This blog post was first published in the July 2021 edition of The Actuary magazine. I wrote it as a call to arms for actuaries to learn about blockchain, and to start building on decentralised networks. Further reading and learning resources are at the bottom of the post.

The actuarial profession has historically thrived in the insurance and risk management industries. While many of us have moved successfully to “non-traditional” actuarial areas, the profession has more to do to become the “revolutionary” elite Elon Musk hoped for when he tweeted about hiring actuaries to develop Tesla’s insurance proposition. The imminent arrival of fully autonomous vehicles is just one of a number of technological megatrends which are poised to change our industry and how we work.

Continue reading