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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Speeding Up Decentralised Finance (DeFi)

Photo by Edvin Richardson from Pexels

This is the third of a multi-part series on decentralised finance (DeFi). DeFi is a blockchain use case that is potentially disruptive to the traditional finance industry. The first part of the series explains what it is and the philosophy behind the movement. The second part of the series delves into the state of the DeFi ecosystem as of October 2020. A primer on blockchain (including examples of insurance use cases) is available in this paper I co-authored.

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Coinbase: Dino in a DeFi World?

Photo by Keenan Constance from Pexels

Coinbase’s imminent stock market debut has been a long time coming. It’s a fortuitous time for a crypto exchange to go public; at US$2 trillion (at time of writing), crypto-assets’ total market capitalisation is at an all-time high. The frothy market makes people trade with abandon, bestowing lucrative transaction revenue and custody fees (c. US$1.8 billion in Q1 2021) to Coinbase. In good times, it’s easy to overlook the risk factors listed on Coinbase’s S-1 filing. “No risk, no reward” is the mantra of the day.

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