LØRN case C0425 -

Monty Munford



Fuck of luck

How is it to share the word about technology, both positive and creepy? And can blockchain technology help us end corruption? In this episode of #LØRN Silvija talks with Founder of Mob76, Monty Munford, about Norwegians and how companies can extend their businesses.
LØRN case C0425 -

Monty Munford



Fuck of luck

How is it to share the word about technology, both positive and creepy? And can blockchain technology help us end corruption? In this episode of #LØRN Silvija talks with Founder of Mob76, Monty Munford, about Norwegians and how companies can extend their businesses.

32 min

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Velkommen til LØRN.TECH - en læringsdugnad om teknologi og samfunn, med Silvija Seres og venner.

SS: Hello, and welcome to LØRN.TECH. My name is Silvija Seres, and our topic today is technology and society, and their intersection and their attraction and the opposite. My guest is Monty Munford, a founder of Mob75?

MM: 76, actually.

SS: 76 actually. Who will tell us about the good, the bad and the ugly of this technology driven social change. Monty is a hipster from London, from before there were hipsters.

MM: I like that.

SS: And he says he's old enough to see these changes both in all their glory, and also in all their shade. He has had some fuck off luck.

MM: We've had a lot of fuck off luck.

SS: And he is my first guest ever, I think, to drink beer while we do a podcast, and that is a very promising thing.

MM: I'll just have a glass, one second.

SS: So Monty, we are in rainy Voss. We came here for Startup Extreme, I came here to do podcasts with people like you. Why did you come?

MM: Because I gotta love conferences, and I've had some fuck off-luck in the people I've interviewed on stage. I interviewed Steve Wozniak from Apple in front of 10.000 people in Beirut about two years ago. I did Steve again in Vienna, six months later. Then slightly shady character such as John McAfee, the guy with antivirus. Now crypto guy... So I go to a lot of conferences, and I've been to a lot of conferences as press. And I've sat through the most boring, terrible, huge-

SS: Predictable?

MM: Well, Mobile World Congress was an early one for me. When it was in Cannes, that was great. It was very simple. Then it moves to Barcelona and became this huge behemoth, I don't know, maybe 10.000 people. I was working in mobile games at the time, but I was more likely to meet someone selling antenni or, you know, boxes, than anyone relevant. So that was an example of a conference gone wrong. And I think lots of them just get the next whatever's huge, all of these places. So I kind of focus more on individuals who would be at the conference, the people behind it, the location, also. But I met Bjørn via someone, you know, it's a small world. And he told me about the conference, it looked very interesting. And I went to Trondheim, and I had been there about two years earlier. So I got a feeling for Norway, like it a kind of garden of Eden. Fjords, fish in the sea-

SS: Long summer days.

MM: Yeah, yeah. I haven't been here in the winter, right. We discussed that before we went on here. But it seems to be a really glorious place. And I used to have a girlfriend in Helsingborg, 30 years ago. So I have lived in Sweden two or three times. And I've always liked it here, as a progressive... I know that's a bit of a cliché, surely, but Scandinavian countries have problems??? like anyone else. To me it seems to be a place of optimism.

SS: You see... I lived in England a few years, seven years actually. And I never had a problem with the weather. We had a little chat about that before we started, I said Norway is wonderful if you don't mind the weather. And I said maybe some of the introversion too, of the Norwegians. And you said that you're a writer, so you like quiet and moody weather. And one thing I miss from England, is the small talk. The ability to just jump into... Undangerous ground that leads you to other statements that suddenly lead you somewhere really fun.

MM: Yeah, those are the best conversations.

SS: But that is sort of unique, I think, in England.

MM: England is kind of different to London. I think a lot of people think that London is England, but it is very different outside London. And while the city is coming up, the policy has always been London first, so you probably get the talent there, the interesting people, researchers, the people who aspire, you know, Dick Whittington is a famous old, kind of, folk tale about becoming the mayor of London after going to London. I think this kind of motif or trope exists a lot for people for people in Scotland or in Liverpool, let's find gold and all that stuff. But what's a Norwegian like, then? What's the Norwegian character, is it an introverted character?

SS: It's a very honest, very brave, but also very shy character.

MM: Really? I was talking to a friend of mine, who's in a relationship with a girl from Voss. His name is Sky and lives in Moscow. And he said be careful for those Norwegians when you get there, because they are really arrogant. And that is not the impression I ever got.

SS: That's just shyness. We are very comfortable with most types of risk, except perhaps financial risk. But they are very good builders, they are good engineers. They are not very good marketing and sales people. And they are very kind. So there is this obsession with equality, which is what creates this garden of Eden. People really believe that people are created equal in this country. Not, you know... Some more and some less, but everybody deserves the equality and opportunity in a way that I think you will find very few people in the US truly believe.

MM: Yeah. And I always get the impression that gender has always been quite equal in Scandinavia.

SS: So, you're asking a non-Norwegian. I'm a Hungarian who moved to Norway when I was 18, and immigrated twice. Because I immigrated once forced by my parents, studied here and worked for a while, and then I went to Oxford and Silicon Valley and all around the world, and decided to come back. It was my own choice, simply because when I had to make a decision on where the kids will grow up, and who my husband is going to be, I chose a Norwegian. And the Norwegian schooling system and the whole package. And it has to do with this set of values that I think they have. They like to talk about in theory, all the social capital, but I think the real value of it is immense for a future that is going to be more and more polarized. And where that polarization is going to be the main destructor of value. And I asked you about a book recommendation, and you recommended Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff, and I think if there is one place in the world that can create alternative solutions that will not drive us into that very controlled future where the people who have the data run our politics as well, it will be the Nordics.

MM: That's a quite challenging thing to say, that Norway is the place-

SS: Wouldn't it be a good mission for Norway?

MM: Well of course it would be. I think with the invent of different technologies such as AI and Blockchain, you see this kind of 20 year later. People making a land grab. So AI has been very much invested in by Russia, China, America has obviously been there, Silicon Valley, you know that story. I think Europe is trying to make a play to be the Blockchain continent, maybe. That they are trying to find an area to catch up. But it depends on... We were talking about pessimism or optimism, and I'm a pesoptimist. I think that was a phrase told by someone else years ago.

SS: Meaning?

MM: Well, I suppose, being realistically optimistic. But baring in mind what's going on at the moment, and the polarization, especially in my country, after Brexit or during Brexit. I've seen real dichotomy between stay and remain, and it's overtaken traditional political power. So everything that I see in the world, that has been created by technology, everything just seems 50/50. Any time there is a vote, and one party has got 51% and the other party has got 49%, there seems to be this huge polarization that you refer to, and I agree with that. But I don't think you can just say that Norway is going to be different to everyone else-

SS: Well, it is, if we create our own solutions for healthcare and welfare. So my question to you about Brexit. Why do even people who leave believe that their future will be much better if they don't have to be regulated by somebody else's regulation and laws. Yet are perfectly comfortable being defactor regulated by the rules set by Google, Amazon and Apple? And those rules will be just as strict, or much stricter, that what ever EU command.

MM: Absolutely. The stupidity that is going on is insane. But I think the whole thing with Brexit for the UK is that there is this notion, very beautiful far away notion of when we had an empire, and the vicker used to get his bicycle and go to church, and every one go play cricket and drink tea, and it will be this beautiful arcadia, idyllic island, much as you said about Norway trying to act like an island yourself. And it just depends who you are and how you have lived. I have a really difficult relation with my country. I have an amazing relationship with London, I think it is the greatest place on earth, I was a motorcycle dispatch rider, I did twelve winters doing that. I know every place in London, and I've been poor, I've gone to clubs and had no money, and that to me is different to the rest of the UK. I spent a lot of time out of the country traveling, I lived in India for two years, 2008 to 2010, hence the monsoon and the rain and the writing, I became a Bollywood film star in two movies there. I lived on the beach, digital nomade, ten years ago. And that, being and exile, could be quite beautiful. You go back with dewy eyes, like, I like English breakfast tea, I like marmelade, I like the Clash. Do you know what I mean? I saw them ten times man, that's my favorite band.

SS: I like the Clash.

MM: Good. Good. Clearly a woman with taste.

SS: When you ask my kids what they want to play in the car, it is always Rock the Casbah, so it's a good sign.

MM: I think Rock the Casbah is a very overplayed song, and there are much better Clash records, do you know what I mean. But I think, in the last trip that I had... When I traveled 30 years ago, I had no credit card or money, I had an umbilical that stretched all the way back to the UK that I had snapped off because I wanted to be free, and all that stuff. But the technology area, when I was traveling 10 years ago, was like... I remember getting to Goa and loads of kids, or young people, said you're traveling, for fuck's sake. You shouldn't be doing that, you should be fucking or surfing or... But I have to say, when I was in India for two years, I did use technology all the time, because social media... I was writing for the Telegraph, I was writing my own stuff. But I quite like the kind of connectivity it gave me, or that being an exile but also being able to show what I was doing at the time.

SS: I even think that connectivity is a good think, in a way. I was in Saudi Arabia for a while. I had very nice time, I had a wonderful mentor. A lady who's family was for centuries, actually, responsible for the mosque in Medina. And she introduced me to an intellectual side of the country that appreciated Arabic architecture and lot of really cool stuff. But what I wanted to say is that I wrote letters home. And because I had to reflect, for my Norwegian friends and family, I think it made me experience the place at two levels, and it was lovely.

MM: Yeah, and it was slow, right. So I remember the only letters I would get, would be a post restante, you know, a post office in Cairo or whatever it was, the excitement of getting a proper letter. And then sending letters, you know, like, live letters. I've had a beer by Mumbai station, about to go to Kashmir with my friends, you know what I mean. And some of those letters, I've seen them when I came back, and they are beautiful little artifacts. Beautiful little things. Or maybe the social medium element is a cry back to that time when we used to receive and write letters. That is still one of the greatest things in the world, right?

SS: So. I asked you what drives you, and you said changing the world, but at the moment not for the better. To drive is to find the better. You are worried that the world is changing very fast, but it might be a kind of headless change. And when I say what you worry about, you say surveillance capitalism and that our dear Shoshana, again.

MM: I would go back to Shoshana. You asked me earlier, and I didn't really answer very well. What she writes in that book, I know. I know hackers, I know my information has been taken. I am not a free person.

SS: What is your summary of the book?

MM: I listened to her at Radio 4, and heard the way she speaks. She has a lovely voice. And the way that she described it. And I remember the interviewer was like God, you're making me so depressed about this. I think what she was doing, was just saying even though you think you know how much they've got you, it's worse than you think. And it is a little bit of a conformation bias, wether I'm an optimopeso or pesoptimist, but I do kind of know a little bit what is going on. I've worked really hard in this area because I got a 16 year old son, and I've wanted to know what's gonna happen for him, as opposed to what will happen for me. It seems that... I remember once I was in Switzerland traveling, I was with this girl that I knew. She was with her boyfriend, and we went to a bar in Geneva. And there were some Hells Angels in there. The guy who was with Monica was a big guy, and a guy said something to her. And he was a big guy, could've taken him. And then, as he moved a way, one of them threw a bottle. It went flying through the air and hit him on the face. It didn't look like a bad deal, but it was a big cut and a lot of trouble. And we went to the hospital, and I remember writing it down, this stupid situation. I know it is a pretty juvenile phrase, but it still sticks with me a little bit. It's that what we're doing now, is moaning about you know, Facebook, Google or Apple, you know, any of the big five, big six. But we're not moaning about the right things. We're complaining about the sellers, while we allow ourselves to be eaten. Do you know what I mean? Analogue things are beautiful, right? Reading a map and getting lost. One of the best things in the world, right? When you get lost... We spoke earlier about conversations going from safe places into weird dangerous places. But you can see people, that they don't know how to navigate, because they got someone telling them where to go.

SS: We have become so docile and stopped thinking and challenging enough.

MM: Yeah, but that's complaining about the salad. But guess what, 20 years ago, in your head you probably had 30 phone numbers in your head, people that you knew. You mom, your mate, your dad. I know my wive's number, I know a mate of mine's number for some reason. I don't even know my fucking kids' numbers. Jesus, that shouldn't be on a piece of paper, that should be in my head! And it's that type of rotting away of your humanity, or your ability to be human ant to make mistakes and get lost. Because it's easier to use an Uber, it's easier to use Google maps, it is always easy.

SS: And we humans don't need easy.

MM: No, we don't because we just die.

SS: It's actually very healthy for us to have it difficult, it kind of makes us grow.

MM: You hear this a lot, right, in the tech world and entrepreneurship and all that stuff, that failure is good, and all that stuff. Which is great in a business sense and all that, there seems to be this kind of... These words of wisdom, they don't seem to apply to normal life. You fail. I'm late, I'm sorry, ok why are you late, didn't you use the maps? You're an idiot for being late, no i'm not, on my way I met this interesting Arab person, and I spoke Arabic to him because I hit his car, and then-. That's the way it is.

SS: That how life happens. But you say there's also opportunities in technology, such as for example Blockchain for good. I hear a lot of talk about Blockchain for ID and Blockchain for... I still haven't seen a lot of concrete examples. You mentioned ethical sourcing of minerals, tell me.

MM: There's more than you think, right. If you can think of the most difficult solution to business shipping. Everything is different, every single thing, countries, territories, harbors, ships, everything. But Blockchain has started to do that. So IBM has this thing called TradeLens, I think it is called. There are people who know this much better than I do. And you can see that they are trying to get all these threads and puppets and gradually turn them into one. That's a real life example. But when it comes to the ethical sourcing of the products, if you look at DRC, Congo, the country has this extraordinary ability to have these necessary minerals whenever something new comes by, mobile phones would be the latest example. And now lithium batteris. It's all going to be about DRC. Cobolt in the phones. So I think it is the Ford Motor company, the weirdest company ever, that are partnering and trying to find out where... We're going to need all this lithium for our batteries, but we don't want kid workers... I have a friend, terrible man, never spends any money. And he really resented paying three month's salary for a diamond, he didn't want to. He took his fiancé to see Blood Diamond, the movie, and when she came out she said there's no fucking way I wand a diamond from you, and he went brilliant! He's a terrible man. But there's a jovial side of it all. But if blockchain technology has never been hacked because of bitcoin and all that stuff, and you can't go back and change it. You can't say that this is panacea for the world, but if it does something good, like blockchain can do, with different minerals and different things. That's when I think it is amazing. But maybe I'm just being optimistic and not pessimistic.

SS: No, I think you're being realistic here. I think the whole supply chain problems and transparency, and smart contracts. I think there is a very, very nice opportunity for transparency of basically processes.

MM: I also don't see how anyone can ruin it either. Sometimes the new technology and the big boys come in and the big girls come in, and change it from what it was. I'm sure Zuckerberg doesn't really want to manage the company that he manages, really, when it's been taken over by everybody else. But Blockchain... Maybe there is...

SS: I am very fascinated by Blockchain also because first of all, the whole folk lore around it with Satoshi and you know. It's well built up, it's really interesting, it's the only technology I know that really has a clear philosophy. And then... You meet smart people, but the scariest smartest people seem to be endlessly fascinated now by the opportunities of Blockchain, and there must be something there.

MM: Yeah. I am a believer, I have to say. But I think the problem I have at the moment, is that... I read something about cods and computing and Google this morning... Christ, it's going so fast. Singularity or whatever. But I think if there's confluence where the world seems to be in the in the west anyway, solidifying and moving towards the right, and at the same time, we get this rise of technology with dictators and people like that. If you those two together, before you know it, it's locked in.

SS: So. Shoshana wrote this lock in, actually, in Surveillance Capitalism. But you also recommend a book, or books, by the wonderful Olivia Laing. I haven't read, what should I read?

MM: She's an amazing writer. She's British, obviously a very introspective writer. She wrote a book, I think it is called The trip to Echo Spring, and it's about history of alcoholism. And the stories of American writers, mostly men, that kind of put that myth to bed. To the River I think I have read as well, I don't remember it so well. But I think The Lonely City is where she goes to New York to find herself, and as a solitude and a writer she discovers New York through things people wouldn't know about that have been missed by history, as she wanders around Manhattan or Brooklyn or whatever. She's a beautiful writer, and it has nothing to do with business or Blockchain or whatever.

SS: But a lot to do with humanity. I have this theory that the reason why we like each other is our strengths, but the reason why we love each other and need each other, is actually our deepest imperfections. I want your chemistry with all of its messiness to help me understand how you see things, and then I'll say how I see it, and it's that interaction that really drives our social behavior, I think.

MM: I think it does when it comes to friendship. When it comes to love, I think it is quite different. I remember being in Darjeeling, right in the letter, strangely enough. 1994. One to a friend from Vancouver who was writing a book at the time, and another one to a mate. And i put the letters in the wrong envelopes. I didn't say anything wrong, but they both thought I was an idiot. But one of them was what I had decided not to love, do you know I mean? Because I'm really happy traveling. I don't care about having a home, I don't care about anything apart from seeing and feeling the world, and I don't really needed a woman, do you know what I mean? And guess what, as soon as I felt like that, I became much more attractive, because I was a little bit more complete than I was before, and I wanted someone who was also complete and not necessarily gonna fix me in that way that maybe you just described.

SS: I don't think we need anyone to fix us, I think we need someone to admire the weirdness of us.

MM: Yeah, absolutely.

SS: So, if I'm to read a book by Monty, what should I read?

MM: A book by me? I wrote a book called The Dust Bowls of Maturity in 1994. I wend around the world with a pen, and I wrote it. One of the greatest artifacts that I have is that manuscript, it starts off with like five lines on a page, and as I go through Perth in Australia, Pakistan and India, there is like 50 lines per page. So I'm writing one now, I've decided. I've learnt enough over the last 20 years.

SS: So we'll look up The Dust Bowls. Monty, you mentioned that you were invited to Trondheim a couple of years ago with a sales pitch of being able to meed Stephen Hawking. And then he was too sick to come. But if you had the chance to interview him, what would your main question be.

MM: That is a great question, and really difficult to answer. His comments on AI were pretty profound couple of years before he died. He was worried, and I think he was right. I did a panel, actually, in Malta about a month ago, with AI experts. They were like children, I mean...

SS: Just trust us, it'll be great

MM: No, not so much, they just bicker and all that stuff. They were really nice in their own way, but I got into this twitted conversation afterwards, just like Jesus, grow up. All of them were experts in various aspects, and I spoke to them backstage and said I'm really worried, I said you're one of the most famous guys in AI, and you're worried, we should all be worried, and all that. And we had this conversation on stage, and they were talking about the need for regulation. I said well, you be the pioneers, it's your fault-

SS: You help figure out the regulation.

MM: Yeah, like why didn't you do it? Obviously it was a great discussion after that-

SS: Because techers don't believe it's their responsibility.

MM: And a lot of them are white men. There are so many stories about women being discriminated against because black hands don't recognize... These are really.., you're talking about lock in. If you look at musicians, and ask them about Middy and this locked in technology that's on our phone, that will be in a spaceship in 100 years time. But if it's not sorted out now, it's just gonna be another white man's world. You shouldn't laugh, it's not funny.

SS: It's very funny. So as a closing, I usually ask people for a future quote as a parting gift. I can't read your quote out loud, you have to do it.

MM: Bob Dylan, the sun's not yellow, it's chicken. I've always liked that. I don't know what the fuck it means, but.

SS: Which is where AI would be dead.

MM: Maybe that's what it is, no one can track us. What do you think it means?

SS: I just think it's kind of weird enough to make me wonder what the heck was he drinking at the time.

MM: Oh boy, was he drinking.

SS: But that is an interesting, because it makes me wonder, and it makes me laugh, right?

MM: Yeah, and he goes like the sun's not yellow, it's CHICKEN, it's just the way he delivers it as well. But I think when I was asked about that quote, I couldn't think... I've got a book of quotes, man. I've got a massive.

SS: Send us the book of quotes, I need that.

MM: Thousands of them.

SS: Makes you wonder about our humanity, that's why I love them. If people are to remember one thing about this conversation, Monty, what should it be?

MM: I suppose fuck off luck?

SS: You need luck?

MM: I think there is a gold player who says it's weird, the more I practice, the luckier I get. Gary Player or someone like that. And I suppose that has become more of a trope for me, about persistence, do you know what I mean, and really try as hard as you can to do something. And also knowing that luck does come that way, but other times maybe you're just lucky. You create your own luck, right, by putting yourself in the most outrageous situations where it should all go fucking wrong. And it doesn't go wrong. How come I don't know, but it seems to work for me.

SS: If I can choose one person that I admire most, from history, that would probably be John von Neumann, fellow Hungarian. But it is his way of building technology with his very strong social perspective. I mean, it went very wrong in a sense, that he helped create the infrastructure for the nuclear bomb, but also all the work he did afterwards with regulations and so on. And he has this quote that I really enjoy, which says people think life is a game of chess, but it's really a game of poker. And to me, that is kind of a luck thing, because poker is kind of understanding that there are elements you can't control, and then there is a lot of skills in reading. The hands, you have improving the hand, playing with the people around you in order to play the best possible game.

MM: Well, I think if you wanted to go back to luck, and what's a game, what's luck and what's skill, I would say that life is a came og backgammon, not poker. Because backgammon has got everything. Who knows, was it you who threw the four three? Was it the forces? Did you mathematically place those counters in that position? Backgammon, not poker.

SS: I'm terrible at it, both actually, so I need to read up on the rules, and then see if I agree.

MM: I'm terrible at poker, but I love backgammon.

SS: Very cool. Monty Munford. The hipster of hipsters, from wonderful London. Thank you for coming here and having a wonderful chat.

MM: Listen, the truth of the conversations, I could speak to you for another hour easily. So thank you very much for inviting me, and I hope i gave you some value.

SS: We hope you come back to Norway.

MM: I will definitely come back to Norway.

SS: Thank you for listening.

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What is the most important thing you do at your work?

Freedom, travel and opportunity to meet the smartest people and also the biggest self-entitled idiots, so I know I'm not the biggest wanker out there.

What are the central concepts in your tech? How do you usually explain it to kids?

To share the word about technology, both positive and creepy. I've spent 16 years explaining to my teenage son, but now he explains it to me.

Why is it exciting? What drives you here?

Changing the world, but at the moment, not for the better. The drive is to find the better.

What do you think are the relevant controversies?

Surveillance capitalism.

Your own favourite projects?

Finding companies that need investment or acquisition, ensuring these are always the correct fit for both parties.

Your other favourite examples, internationally and nationally?

Blockchain-for-good products, notably ethical sourcing of minerals.

Who are your customers?

Very intelligent people who value strategy, experience, wisdom and fuck-off luck.

What do we do particularly well in Norway or in your country?

Invest money from North Sea oil into pension funds, unlike the UK, which wasted it on unemployment queues under too many Tory governments.

A favourite future quote, as a gift to our audience?

The sun's not yellow, it's chicken by Bob Dylan.

If people are to remember only one thing from our conversation, what would you like it to be?

That you can enjoy life to the full without having lots of money.

Monty Munford
CASE ID: C0425
DATE : 190625
DURATION : 32 min
Olivia Laing
Blockchain Surveillance capitalism Ethical sourcing of minerals Tech for good
"It's important to share the word about technology, both the positive and the creepy. It's changing the world, but at the moment, not for the better. The drive is to find the better."
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