Product Guy. I have worked on Twitter, Facebook Connect, Zazzle, LinkedIn, RealPlayer. Partner at Greylock, looking for crazy new things.
Jan 3, 20144 min read
Give more attention
My 2014 Resolution
Last year, for my 2013 resolutions I proposed 3 simple improvements. I’m doing ok by all 3 — being more patient, trying to be more present, and bettering my health. Well probably more work to do on my health. But I basically forgot these 3 resolutions by the time January ended.
So for 2014, I’m going to keep it simpler, every day I’m going to focus on one thing:
Give more attention
That’s it. Should be pretty easy to remember. If you meet me, feel free to quiz me on it.
As I was thinking about this resolution, I wondered why most people say pay attention. I don’t think pay is the right word for attention at all. It’s not like it’s something we can earn later, bank up, and then spend or pay. And it’s not like if I pay you with my attention you can take it and pay someone else with that earned attention.
Instead, attention is something we can only give. Even more interesting, everyone has exactly the same amount to give. No matter how rich or poor you are, whether you have a job or not, the one thing we all have exactly the same amount of is time. And the only thing we can do with our time is choose what to give our attention to with that time. So the more we give our attention to each other, the better off we all are. It’s amazing to have something that we can keep giving and everyone appreciates it.
I have no idea why the phrase is pay, but from now on I’m going to focus on giving as much attention as I can to the things I commit to.
Over time, I feel like we are all giving less and less attention to anything. We now give continuous partial attention to many things at once. But this is not working. When someone is checking their phone every few minutes during a conversation or dinner, it means they aren’t really giving full attention to that conversation. Now maybe the conversation is boring, but the distractions are now just too easy.
So my resolution and focus for 2014 is to give attention to the things that are most important to me.
Things I’m going to give more attention to:
(1) My family — they deserve more attention than I think I currently give. I’m too often on staring at a new notification or tweet on my phone when I should be giving them full focused attention.
(2) The people I work with —I’m going to focus on giving as much attention, time, and support as I can to every company I am involved with, and do everything I can to help them become as successful as possible. And to my partners at Greylock.
(3) The people I hope to work with — in my job I meet a lot of great entrepreneurs, product managers, engineers, and other investors. I hope I’ll get to work with many of them in the future, and when we meet I will give them my full attention and focus.
(4) My friends —I can always give more attention to friends. Of course whenever they need a friend, and but even more when they don’t and we can just hang and be friends.
(5) Myself — I always need to do better with my health. It’s still too comfortable to just eat something fast or what sounds good vs eating healthy and what’s best for me. I’m going to give more attention to what I eat and to exercise this year.
Things I’m going to give less attention to:
(1) My iphone—it is so easy to give attention to the latest beep, distraction, and message that comes in. But it will be much better if I can give attention when it’s the right time instead of interrupting the attention I am giving to someone or something else. If you know me, this will be hard, but I need to do better.
(2) The hype — in our industry, there is always so much hype about the latest thing that is going to be great and the latest trends everyone must do. Companies take a long time to build, and a lot of patience. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook were all 7-8 years from inception to IPO. So rather than reading and commenting on every hot new thing, I’m going to give much less attention to they hype cycle and give more attention to the things that are real lasting and long term.
(3) The hate —Ben Horowitz’s post on Can-Do Culture is one of the best I’ve read in a very long time and gets right to the point on why the hate, and mob scenes are getting out of hand. Twitter is amazing because it lets us communicate in real time at scale with each other, and cause people to come together for many amazing things. But the hate and mob scenes I’m starting to see (e.g. #HasJustineLandedYet, #IHateUberSurgePricing) are getting out of hand. I’m going to give this much less attention in 2014, and focus on what people are making instead of tearing down.
Next Story — Quick impressions of Google’s keynote at I/O:
Currently Reading - Quick impressions of Google’s keynote at I/O:
Product Guy. I have worked on Twitter, Facebook Connect, Zazzle, LinkedIn, RealPlayer. Partner at Greylock, looking for crazy new things.
May 193 min read
Quick impressions of Google’s keynote at I/O:
It’s clear that Google is realizing that just dominating desktop search, and mostly mobile search is no longer enough. The number of places where someone starts a “search” (it’s now much more than just a search with a few keywords) is rapidly multiplying. It’s in your home, it’s speaking into your phone, it’s asking a friend within a messenger, it’s asking within a new place on the internet, and pretty soon it may just be thinking something in your head!
The Assistant, and Google’s overall strategy for search as A/I was loud and clear, and fully on display. It’s a good one. But Google has a lot of catching up to do to build the products and own the spaces where we will actually do these new searches and new behaviors.
When they got into showing actual product demos, I felt for a second I was watching a Microsoft conference from 2003 where they showed internet product after internet product that looked like derivates of what others are building but where they hoped their strong brand would sell it through. This rarely works.
Google Home looked way too much like Amazon Echo
Their new messaging app Allo looked too much like Facebook Messenger and who needs a new messenger anyway
Their new video chatting app Duo looked just like Facetime with a twist of seeing the caller live before you pick up.
Also — why aren’t both of these messaging apps just Google Hangouts? How many messaging apps will Google have? Do they not have distribution on any of them? If they can integrate these features into core Android messaging and calling — just like Apple has with Facetime, it becomes interesting. Not sure they have the same leverage that Apple does, but it will be smart if/when they do.
The biggest thing they announced that is live now is Firebase. This has a chance to become a really important mobile development platform for small companies (it can mostly replace Parse which Facebook is killing) all the way up to big companies with a much richer and free analytics platform and replace Google Analytics, Mixpanel (which is getting expensive for many developers) and Flurry which isn’t changing much since Yahoo bought them. Firebase looks great and I’d encourage people to check it out.
I was much more impressed later with the technology demonstrations of things to come. These seemed much more the strength of Google then the derivative product demos.
Daydream VR plans can push the state of mobile VR with its standards. Hopefully this will instigate a lot of cheap clones of headsets that all basically work the same so the real VR battle can happen at the software layer where Google will have a fight against Oculus and others. The controller looked to be quite fun.
Google Instant Apps looks like a clever way to stream apps instead of forcing a user to download them. There was a lot of snark around “aren’t these just web pages?!!” which is mostly true. But if you can develop a rich app once and still get the benefits of the web this is a big deal for google and the web at large. I bet this gets more integrated as an ad or viral use case, but people still push users to download apps as much as possible. That home screen real estate still matters.
Android N, Wear, and Car looked like iterations on the core, nothing extraordinary. I hope they call it Android Nutty NcNutface because when the biggest idea is to open up the naming, that makes me worried.
All in all though, the energy at Shoreline yesterday was exciting and it feels like Google is setting itself up to now drive the agenda on search and assistants for a long time. They’d better, since that is their core.
Next Story — Advice for a friend graduating from college:
Currently Reading - Advice for a friend graduating from college:
Product Guy. I have worked on Twitter, Facebook Connect, Zazzle, LinkedIn, RealPlayer. Partner at Greylock, looking for crazy new things.
Apr 194 min read
Advice for a friend graduating from college:
A friend of mine recently asked me for career advice and what to do for his first job after college. He said, “Everyone keeps telling me *not* to go work for a large company. What do you think of that?” I wrote him a personal response, and thought it might be nice to share a revised version of the note here. Note that this advice is directed towards a career in the consumer tech space, but I think the same could be said for other industries.
My letter to him:
One of the best things I think you can do early in your career — if you get the privilege to do so — is join a company you think is winning. I mean absolutely crushing it. At the peak of its game. Delivering products to users and customers that they love, and that you love, and that you can’t wait to see what they do next.
There is no greater lesson to learn early in your career than learning what it feels like to be part of a company that is pushing hard to deliver new great experiences for users and customers, and pushing a broader agenda. You also learn and understand just how much hard hard work it takes across the company to be able to maintain that level of winning. It can provide you invaluable lessons that will drive you the rest of your career to replicate that feeling and experience.
Even better, the kinds of people who help create those companies and are attracted to join them are often the best and most talented people that you want to know and be around for the rest of your career. Not everyone gets this chance, and sometimes you’ll have to make bets on a company you think can become a huge winner. But if you get to be a part of that ride, and do everything you can to have an impact on it (if even just for a few years), you’ll appreciate it in ways you can’t imagine now for the rest of your career.
I say this irrespective of company size. Though some people say that big public companies are “too big”, I feel like we are in a unique time where they are continuing to innovate incredibly well. Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google are absolutely winning in so many areas right now. There are also great, winning private start up companies like Uber, Snapchat, Stripe, Airbnb, and so many others in Greylock’s portfolio.
A lot of people want to join a small startup right away and believe it can change the world. Or they want to jump right into founding one. For many reasons this feels attractive and intoxicating. It’s exciting when there is much potential ahead, the sky is the limit, and you feel like you won’t have any bosses. But on the other hand, every early stage company goes through many tough moments, few result in unlimited success, and you might only learn some lessons of what didn’t work, vs learning lessons about why something has worked or is working. You may not realize the lessons you don’t learn.
For someone just graduating, the lessons you could learn about shipping products to huge userbases, thinking about new paradigms that the entire industry is following and building on top of, and understanding the enormity of revenue you can generate at scale will be hard to replace. If you are convinced that you want to create or join a startup, then by all means you will be at least as qualified in 1 — 2 years of working. Worth noting that Kevin Systrom (Instagram) and Ben Silbermann (Pinterest) both worked at Google for a few years before starting their companies for example. (Though plenty of great founders had very different backgrounds, so if founding a great company is your goal, there are many other paths.)
Winning companies tend to be successful because of their intentional actions so seeing how winning companies work and think is a great foundation. You often do get provided some great opportunities to add value and create something within your area where a lot of the basic elements are already handled so you can just focus on what is new, innovative, and important. They tend to attract the most talented people which provides a great network for all of the future things you will do in your career. And lastly, the peak companies tend to have a pretty high filter so if you are lucky enough to work there for a year or few, that on your résumé adds a lot of reputational value.
That said, the most important thing is that you are learning. Make sure the people you would be working with and for, and the things you would be working on provide you that. If you don’t feel it — even at a company you think is winning — then avoid it. Because once the people at a company stop feeling like they are learning, then they tend to stop winning.
Call me anytime if you want to chat further!
Next Story — This is Your Life in Silicon Valley
Currently Reading - This is Your Life in Silicon Valley
Co-Founder of Scripted.com, CEO The Bold Italic, Columnist @Inc.
Aug 1511 min read
This is Your Life in Silicon Valley
You wake up at 6:30am after an Ambien-induced sleep. It’s Friday. Last night at The Rosewood was pretty intense — you had to check out Madera and see if there is any truth to the long running Silicon Valley rumors. You were disappointed, but at least you did get to see a few GPs from prominent VC firms at the bar. Did they notice you? Did you make eye contact? You remind yourself they are not real celebrities — only well known in a 15-mile radius to the Techcrunch-reading crowd.
Your non-English-speaking nanny shows up at 7:30am on the nose. You are paying her $24/hour and entrusting her (and Daniel the Tiger) with raising your child. You tell yourself that it’s ok for now — when he’s old enough he’ll (someday) be in public school in the Palo Alto school district.
You commit to being a better parent this weekend and spending more quality time with him as you browse through the latest headlines on Flipboard. You recently realized he may not be the next Mark Zuckerberg after all — still you send him to a music school even though he’s only 3. You swear he’s a genius because he can say a few 4-syllable words and can clap perfectly to the beat of “Call me Maybe”. He’s special. He is destined for greatness and you’ll make sure he achieves every ounce of it. After all, both of you are so smart and accomplished.
You ask your nanny if she has any availability to watch your son this weekend. Bummer — you wish Cal Academy of Sciences hadn’t sold you on the annual pass 11 months ago. You figured you’d be going there every weekend, but only ended up going the one time. Not a break even proposition for you.
Your wifi enabled coffee maker downloads the perfect instructions to brew a cup of Blue Bottle — and you don’t have to do anything. The Roomba purrs in the background while you continue to read from your smartphone. You see a few articles about Trump and how crazy he is — somehow this comforts you.
You decide to share an article about Brexit from “The Atlantic”, which will somehow shed light to all your friends as to why it happened. The article is 1,000 words long — you only read half of it, but that’s good enough. It captures all the arguments you’ve been wanting to make for the past two months to your friends. Will this be the Facebook post that finally spurns your friends into action? You realize your Facebook friends all agree with your political views and social views already.
Fifteen minutes — only 3 likes — better luck next time. The Facebook Newsfeed algorithm totally fucked you — you should have shared from your browser, not your phone, and perhaps at a more optimal time.
But then you realize another friend already shared the article. You feel stupid.
Your spouse hurriedly gets ready for work — you are a two income family and you have to be one for now. The spreadsheet shows that with only three more years’ savings, you can finally afford that 2 bedroom condo in San Bruno. So what if the weather is shitty 340 days out of the year? At least you’ll be homeowner in the Bay Area — and nothing says you’ve “made it” like being able to afford a down payment. Besides, San Bruno is “up and coming” — and Youtube has an office there.
Your commute to work sucks, but at least its an opportunity to catch up on Podcasts so you can have great conversations over cocktails with your friends. Should you listen to “Serial Season 2” today? Or should you listen to that amazing “Startup” podcast? So many choices, so little time. You instead decide to expand your horizons by trying a new playlist on Spotify — something about Indian-infused-jazz music. It sounds great. It makes you feel cultured.
You decide to park your car using “Luxe” today. You justify it to yourself by saying that parking garages are only $10 less expensive. And you have to spend all of that time walking back and forth. And besides — today you are meeting some friends after work for dinner and you’ll be on the other end of town. You can’t decide whether you’ll take Uber or Lyft to the dinner from your office — decisions, decisions.
You are the Director of Business Development at your startup. You aren’t even sure what that means, but the startup seems to be doing well. Your company recently raised a round and was featured in Techcrunch. You have 5,000 stock options. You aren’t exactly sure what that means, but that must be good. If you exit, maybe that will mean money toward a down payment.
Your day starts in Salesforce. You have to email a bunch of people. You briefly contemplate a business idea you have that will totally kill Salesforce and Facebook at the same time. But you need a technical co-founder. Eventually you’ll get to it — after all, you’re smart and destined for greatness yourself. And your friends all tell you how you should start something someday.
Your 27-year-old CEO calls an ad-hoc all-hands meeting and regales about company culture and how your mission is to “kill email because it’s broken”. He wants to make every enterprise company in the world switch to your product. He’s never worked for an enterprise company, or any other company at all.
The sales team got rowdy the night before. They missed their quota, but it was not their fault — it was implementation’s fault for fucking up a major deal. Also — marketing didn’t send them enough inbound leads for them to hit quota. Maybe next quarter. You trade emails with your college buddies on Gmail about how ridiculous Kevin Durant is for joining the Warriors. You come to realize email is working just fine for you. You feel depressed for a moment. Your summer intern is trying to figure out a Snapchat strategy.
It’s time for that afternoon coffee to keep you going through the day. You head over to Philz with some co-workers. You order a vegan donut and very clearly ask the barista for 3 Splendas. He was clearly a Splenda short, but the line is long and you want to be civil. You are above mentioning something like this to the barista — you let it pass and feel a “micro aggression” bubbling inside.
You have to decide where to go for dinner tonight. You look at Yelp for a place that’s within 1 mile and is rated at least 3.5 stars. But really you’re looking for something 4 stars plus and at least $$$. What will your friends think of you if you pick a place that’s too cheap? But you also don’t want to go $$$$ because that’s too expensive. You have good taste. This comforts you.
You realize your reservation with your spouse at the French Laundry is coming up this weekend. Your calendar app reminds you of this. You’ve been looking forward to it for months. You can’t wait to take perfectly Instagrammed photos of the meal to go along with your perfectly Instagrammed life.
#San Francisco is trending on Twitter. You realize the San Francisco journalism community is angry about something — they are full of rage at the way a homeless person is being treated. The reporters all share photos and videos of the homeless person, but no one talks to him.
It’s time for some afternoon Facebook browsing. Your friends are all doing SO well. You are secretly jealous of your friend who just bought a house in the Noe. You speculate as to how rich they must be after their exit from LinkedIn. Even though they were only employee #500 they must have done well. You briefly try to do the math in your head. Maybe that can be you at your current startup. It’s only a matter of time.
More browsing. One friend was employee #5 at a company that just sold to Twitter. They must have made so much money, you think. You like the status, but you are jealous. Another friend’s kid seems to be more advanced than your kid based on the Vine they just shared of them playing the piano. Damnit, need to be a better parent.
You go to Redfin to see how much they paid for their house.
You briefly daydream about how you once had an opportunity to work at Google pre-IPO. And that you could have joined Facebook right after IPO — and imagine that — the stock price has tripled in a short amount of time. Would that have been the big break you needed?
Your CEO grabs you in a panic and asks you to do a quick analysis for a board member. The board member was base jumping in Mexico and panicked about something related to burn rate and strategy. The CEO’s job is at risk.
You do the grunt work and analysis, and finish it just in time for him to breathe a sigh of relief and tell you what an “Excel Ninja” you are. Your analysis makes you realize the company maybe should have saved money on office space, and perhaps the rock climbing wall and Segways. You realize your CEO knows nothing about your business.
Your mind briefly drifts off and you think — “is this all really worth it? should I move to Seattle, Austin, or maybe even Florida?” After all there is no state tax and you could live a great quality of life there with an actual house with your beautiful family.
You browse Redfin again. Hmmm. Maybe not Austin — what about something less ambitious like Fremont, Morgan Hill or Milpitas? That wouldn’t solve your commute problems, you think. It would be more affordable though.
You know what? If you move to Austin you could somehow get by. After all your spouse is so amazing at baking. She could easily make a living selling her cupcakes — she has so much talent as a cook and you could afford culinary school. Worst case, she also has an amazing knack for craft jewelry. The three pieces she sold on Etsy last month are evidence of that. How talented both of you are.
And hey — if you move to Austin, you can finally build that home with a “Zen minimalist” theme you’ve been dreaming of. You go to Bluhome’s website — their design aesthetic perfectly matches yours. You just need to save the money to make it happen. You browse Pinterest and Houzz for ideas on how to decorate the interior. Is Red or Navy Blue TOO bold of a color? You don’t know. Maybe you should use an on-demand service for that.
You forgot to order groceries and the nanny needs milk for your kid ASAP. She texts you frantically in broken English. Thank goodness for Instacart — you spend $10 in delivery costs, but you need to add a bunch of items to your cart to hit the minimum threshold. You add a few squeezies, some bananas and a few artisan cheeses to hit the mark. You realize you haven’t stepped into a grocery store for months — but don’t worry — your opportunity cost of time is way too high at the moment. Especially if you factor in those stock options.
Almost time for dinner. You are having dinner tonight with the “Chief Hacking Officer” at the company and the “VP of Awesomeness”. You arrive at the restaurant, and they marvel at your taste — nice job surfing Yelp.
Your dinner conversation centers around how autonomous vehicles are going to be better in the long run than ordinary cars for a variety of reasons. And something about how Elon Musk handles meetings. You are all too busy making your own points and citing articles to really listen to each other. You order the $17 dollar Risotto and the $9 glass of Pleasanton-brewed IPA.
On your ride home you find the time to catch up on the Malcolm Gladwell podcast. What an interesting guy he is — he’s so smart and he makes you think about things.
After coming home you briefly use that “7 minute workout” app, which scientists have proven is way more effective than a one-hour cardio workout. You got your exercise in for the day — nice work.
You and your spouse get ready for bed. What’s in your Netflix queue? Well, you have to catch up on “Making a Murderer” since it’s been all over the news lately. And let’s not get too far behind on “Mr. Robot” since it’s so critically acclaimed. For lighter fare, and if you have time, you can always try “Last Week Tonight” — John Oliver always says exactly what you’re thinking in your head — just funnier than you would have said it.
You quietly shuffle to bed, tired from the long, hard day. You check your email, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat one last time before bedtime. You don’t think you’ll have enough energy to check LinkedIn today — and besides — their mobile UI is not very good. Maybe you can start a company that will disrupt LinkedIn? They did just sell for a bunch of money after all.
Your last thought before bed — should you switch to the Android ecosystem? You are on the “S” iPhone replacement cycle and you are getting impatient. But then you realize you are so heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem that it may not make sense.
You briefly use mobile Safari to browse for Vipassana retreats — you hear a 10 day retreat in Soquel may be the ticket to shake things up. You realize it’s not going to be possible. You download a meditation app. You turn it off. You don’t have time.
You briefly recall your ride home on the 280 tonight. The sun was setting. It was beautiful. You realize you live in paradise.
Next Story — Eleven Reasons To Be Excited About The Future of Technology
Currently Reading - Eleven Reasons To Be Excited About The Future of Technology
Eleven Reasons To Be Excited About The Future of Technology
“The strongest force propelling human progress has been the swift advance and wide diffusion of technology.” — The Economist
In the year 1820, a person could expect to live less than 35 years, 94% of the global population lived in extreme poverty, and less that 20% of the population was literate. Today, human life expectancy is over 70 years, less that 10% of the global population lives in extreme poverty, and over 80% of people are literate. These improvements are due mainly to advances in technology, beginning in the industrial age and continuing today in the information age.
There are many exciting new technologies that will continue to transform the world and improve human welfare. Here are eleven of them.
1. Self-Driving Cars
Self-driving cars exist today that are safer than human-driven cars in most driving conditions. Over the next 3–5 years they‘ll get even safer, and will begin to go mainstream.
The World Health Organization estimates that 1.25 million people die from car-related injuries per year. Half of the deaths are pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists hit by cars. Cars are the leading cause of death for people ages 15–29 years old.
Just as cars reshaped the world in the 20th century, so will self-driving cars in the 21st century. In most cities, between 20–30% of usable space is taken up by parking spaces, and most cars are parked about 95% of the time. Self-driving cars will be in almost continuous use (most likely hailed from a smartphone app), thereby dramatically reducing the need for parking. Cars will communicate with one another to avoid accidents and traffic jams, and riders will be able to spend commuting time on other activities like work, education, and socializing.
2. Clean Energy
Attempts to fight climate change by reducing the demand for energy haven’t worked. Fortunately, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs have been working hard on the supply side to make clean energy convenient and cost-effective.
Due to steady technological and manufacturing advances, the price of solar cells has dropped 99.5% since 1977. Solar will soon be more cost efficient than fossil fuels. The cost of wind energy has also dropped to an all-time low, and in the last decade represented about a third of newly installed US energy capacity.
Forward thinking organizations are taking advantage of this. For example, in India there is an initiative to convert airports to self-sustaining clean energy.
Tesla is making high-performance, affordable electric cars, and installing electric charging stations worldwide.
There are hopeful signs that clean energy could soon be reaching a tipping point. For example, in Japan, there are now more electric charging stations than gas stations.
And Germany produces so much renewable energy, it sometimes produces even more than it can use.
3. Virtual and Augmented Reality
Computer processors only recently became fast enough to power comfortable and convincing virtual and augmented reality experiences. Companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are investing billions of dollars to make VR and AR more immersive, comfortable, and affordable.
People sometimes think VR and AR will be used only for gaming, but over time they will be used for all sorts of activities. For example, we’ll use them to manipulate 3-D objects:
To meet with friends and colleagues from around the world:
And even for medical applications, like treating phobias or helping rehabilitate paralysis victims:
VR and AR have been dreamed about by science fiction fans for decades. In the next few years, they’ll finally become a mainstream reality.
4. Drones and Flying Cars
“Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need… roads.” — Dr. Emmet Brown
GPS started out as a military technology but is now used to hail taxis, get mapping directions, and hunt Pokémon. Likewise, drones started out as a military technology, but are increasingly being used for a wide range of consumer and commercial applications.
For example, drones are being used to inspect critical infrastructure like bridges and power lines, to survey areas struck by natural disasters, and many other creative uses like fighting animal poaching.
Amazon and Google are building drones to deliver household items.
The startup Zipline uses drones to deliver medical supplies to remote villages that can’t be accessed by roads.
There is also a new wave of startups working on flying cars (including two funded by the cofounder of Google, Larry Page).
Flying cars use the same advanced technology used in drones but are large enough to carry people. Due to advances in materials, batteries, and software, flying cars will be significantly more affordable and convenient than today’s planes and helicopters.
5. Artificial Intelligence
‘’It may be a hundred years before a computer beats humans at Go — maybe even longer.” — New York Times, 1997
Artificial intelligence has made rapid advances in the last decade, due to new algorithms and massive increases in data collection and computing power.
AI can be applied to almost any field. For example, in photography an AI technique called artistic style transfer transforms photographs into the style of a given painter:
Google built an AI system that controls its datacenter power systems, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs.
The broad promise of AI is to liberate people from repetitive mental tasks the same way the industrial revolution liberated people from repetitive physical tasks.
“If AI can help humans become better chess players, it stands to reason that it can help us become better pilots, better doctors, better judges, better teachers.” — Kevin Kelly
Some people worry that AI will destroy jobs. History has shown that while new technology does indeed eliminate jobs, it also creates new and better jobs to replace them. For example, with advent of the personal computer, the number of typographer jobs dropped, but the increase in graphic designer jobs more than made up for it.
It is much easier to imagine jobs that will go away than new jobs that will be created. Today millions of people work as app developers, ride-sharing drivers, drone operators, and social media marketers— jobs that didn’t exist and would have been difficult to even imagine ten years ago.
6. Pocket Supercomputers for Everyone
By 2020, 80% of adults on earth will have an internet-connected smartphone. An iPhone 6 has about 2 billion transistors, roughly 625 times more transistors than a 1995 Intel Pentium computer. Today’s smartphones are what used to be considered supercomputers.
Internet-connected smartphones give ordinary people abilities that, just a short time ago, were only available to an elite few:
“Right now, a Masai warrior on a mobile phone in the middle of Kenya has better mobile communications than the president did 25 years ago. If he’s on a smart phone using Google, he has access to more information than the U.S. president did just 15 years ago.” — Peter Diamandis
7. Cryptocurrencies and Blockchains
“If you asked people in 1989 what they needed to make their life better, it was unlikely that they would have said a decentralized network of information nodes that are linked using hypertext.” — Farmer & Farmer
Protocols are the plumbing of the internet. Most of the protocols we use today were developed decades ago by academia and government. Since then, protocol development mostly stopped as energy shifted to developing proprietary systems like social networks and messaging apps.
Cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies are changing this by providing a new business model for internet protocols. This year alone, hundreds of millions of dollars were raised for a broad range of innovative blockchain-based protocols.
Protocols based on blockchains also have capabilities that previous protocols didn’t. For example, Ethereum is a new blockchain-based protocol that can be used to create smart contracts and trusted databases that are immune to corruption and censorship.
8. High-Quality Online Education
While college tuition skyrockets, anyone with a smartphone can study almost any topic online, accessing educational content that is mostly free and increasingly high-quality.
Encyclopedia Britannica used to cost $1,400. Now anyone with a smartphone can instantly access Wikipedia. You used to have to go to school or buy programming books to learn computer programming. Now you can learn from a community of over 40 million programmers at Stack Overflow. YouTube has millions of hours of free tutorials and lectures, many of which are produced by top professors and universities.
The quality of online education is getting better all the time. For the last 15 years, MIT has been recording lectures and compiling materials that cover over 2000 courses.
“The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone.” — Dick K.P. Yue, Professor, MIT School of Engineering
As perhaps the greatest research university in the world, MIT has always been ahead of the trends. Over the next decade, expect many other schools to follow MIT’s lead.
9. Better Food through Science
Earth is running out of farmable land and fresh water. This is partly because our food production systems are incredibly inefficient. It takes an astounding 1799 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef.
Fortunately, a variety of new technologies are being developed to improve our food system.
For example, entrepreneurs are developing new food products that are tasty and nutritious substitutes for traditional foods but far more environmentally friendly. The startup Impossible Foods invented meat products that look and taste like the real thing but are actually made of plants.
Their burger uses 95% less land, 74% less water, and produces 87% less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional burgers. Other startups are creating plant-based replacements for milk, eggs, and other common foods. Soylent is a healthy, inexpensive meal replacement that uses advanced engineered ingredients that are much friendlier to the environment than traditional ingredients.
Some of these products are developed using genetic modification, a powerful scientific technique that has been widely mischaracterized as dangerous. According to a study by the Pew Organization, 88% of scientists think genetically modified foods are safe.
Another exciting development in food production is automated indoor farming. Due to advances in solar energy, sensors, lighting, robotics, and artificial intelligence, indoor farms have become viable alternatives to traditional outdoor farms.
Compared to traditional farms, automated indoor farms use roughly 10 times less water and land. Crops are harvested many more times per year, there is no dependency on weather, and no need to use pesticides.
10. Computerized Medicine
Until recently, computers have only been at the periphery of medicine, used primarily for research and record keeping. Today, the combination of computer science and medicine is leading to a variety of breakthroughs.
For example, just fifteen years ago, it cost $3B to sequence a human genome. Today, the cost is about a thousand dollars and continues to drop. Genetic sequencing will soon be a routine part of medicine.
Genetic sequencing generates massive amounts of data that can be analyzed using powerful data analysis software. One application is analyzing blood samples for early detection of cancer. Further genetic analysis can help determine the best course of treatment.
Another application of computers to medicine is in prosthetic limbs. Here a young girl is using prosthetic hands she controls using her upper-arm muscles:
Computers are also becoming increasingly effective at diagnosing diseases. An artificial intelligence system recently diagnosed a rare disease that human doctors failed to diagnose by finding hidden patterns in 20 million cancer records.
11. A New Space Age
Since the beginning of the space age in the 1950s, the vast majority of space funding has come from governments. But that funding has been in decline: for example, NASA’s budget dropped from about 4.5% of the federal budget in the 1960s to about 0.5% of the federal budget today.
The good news is that private space companies have started filling the void. These companies provide a wide range of products and services, including rocket launches, scientific research, communications and imaging satellites, and emerging speculative business models like asteroid mining.
The most famous private space company is Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which successfully sent rockets into space that can return home to be reused.
Perhaps the most intriguing private space company is Planetary Resources, which is trying to pioneer a new industry: mining minerals from asteroids.
If successful, asteroid mining could lead to a new gold rush in outer space. Like previous gold rushes, this could lead to speculative excess, but also dramatically increased funding for new technologies and infrastructure.
These are just a few of the amazing technologies we’ll see developed in the coming decades. 2016 is just the beginning of a new age of wonders. As futurist Kevin Kelly says:
If we could climb into a time machine, journey 30 years into the future, and from that vantage look back to today, we’d realize that most of the greatest products running the lives of citizens in 2050 were not invented until after 2016. People in the future will look at their holodecks and wearable virtual reality contact lenses and downloadable avatars and AI interfaces and say, “Oh, you didn’t really have the internet” — or whatever they’ll call it — “back then.”
So, the truth: Right now, today, in 2016 is the best time to start up. There has never been a better day in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/ risk ratios, better returns, greater upside than now. Right now, this minute. This is the moment that folks in the future will look back at and say, “Oh, to have been alive and well back then!”
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