What Do I Actually Want To Do?
The world was full of wonder and excitement for me as a kid, just like every kid. One of the main driving forces behind this excitement was my ignorance in how things in our everyday lives worked. I was curious about everything because even though things seemed magical, i knew that there has to be a scientific explanation behind everything.
Studying engineering has been a hugely rewarding experience in every aspect. Most notably, it gave me time to examine how everything came to be from the ground up. Along with this knowledge is a new way of thinking: anything physically possible can be eventually created given enough time and effort.
Now the question that everyone in tech is interested in is how do we accelerate the rate of innovation so that people can live better and more fulfilling lives? Here, the word innovation is not limited to things, but also new processes, ideas, ideologies, government policies, institutions, or social dynamics of small groups of people.
With the increase of VC and angel funding, the world has seen a explosion of new startups aimed at solving new problems while generating new jobs in every facet of our lives. Sometimes the competition is fierce, which allows the consumers to get the best deals. Sometimes, a startup takes advantage of a true scientific breakthrough and commercialize the technology at a lightning pace to benefit thousands of people at a time.
When I joined Aura Health as the first employee, I loved the opportunity to be a jack of all trades and work on the full tech stack, as well as the flexibility to come up with my own ideas to improve the product. At the same time, I was given the responsibility to ensure the quality of the whole app, as well as the development tools and process. Through implementing more than 60 A/B tests and addressing many user feedbacks in the course of several months, the three of us at Aura significantly improved the user experience and clarified the app’s value proposition. As a result, user retention increased significantly, and user conversion more than tripled. Besides improving metrics and directly addressing user concerns, we’ve also tried delighting the user with surprise features, but without much success.
It is with this try fast, fail fast mentality that Aura is able to compete with Headspace, Calm, InsightTimer, Simple Habit, or other apps out there, with a fraction of the available resources. Through these trial and errors, Aura has found a unique value proposition that benefits users the most, and distinguishes it from the competitors.
I have also learned in the meantime that I don’t have a lasting passion in a meditation software company. Without true passion, the startup grind with long hours can be easily overwhelming, which is why I left Aura Health.
It is good to note that big companies today can be as nimble as small companies thanks to focused goal, small teams, and streamlined infrastructure. It is in the interest of a startup to apply radically new technology within a niche area. Large companies will only have infrastructure for older technologies, so everyone will on the same playing field when it comes to new fields.
During a prolonged period of confusion in my next career move, I looked back to my favorite role models for guidance and insight. They are theoretical physicist Michio Kaku and inventor Ray Kurzweil. While looking through hours of interviews of the two, I found that both of them seem to agree that the next waves of innovation will come from Artificial Intelligence, Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology. There are many compelling reasons on the internet on why this might be case.
Looking forward, I think the greatest value will be generated by leveraging humanity’s capability to learn new frontier technologies, and then record, democratize, and ultimately commercialize their findings. Once the general framework for one of these technologies is setup, there will be fresh new land fertile enough for many billion dollar industries.
Personally, I’m beginning to think that learning mechanical design, hardware and electronics won’t be the best use of time as existing hardware capabilities and knowledge are adequate to integrate with future technology. There is less room for innovation than software.
There are plenty of emerging opportunities in biology, but these often require funding and held back by the necessary bureaucracies in research institutions along with heavy regulations.
The case of nanotechnology, chemistry might be a hit in 15 years.
The intersection of Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and humans is very interesting. The internet is ripe with software demos that shows how AI agents are capable of performing an increasing array of tasks. We are also beginning to see this being implemented in the real world in autonomous cars, rovers, and drones to benefit the humans. There is a gap in talent in this area since applying AI on real hardware with sensors is not trivial. There are many interesting challenges to be solved in this area, and the infrastructure to enable more companies to do these kinds of things is severely lacking.
More resources are also needed for research in developing strong AI which is quite different from weak AI that individual companies are working on today.
Personally, learning AI and its applications in automation will be a challenging and rewarding journey. Humanity will benefit tremendously from future AI systems if the necessary precautions are in place.
My hope is that this new type of intelligence can help people solve the biggest open problems in biology (AI that cures a certain disease) and physics (AI that finds a way to prove a certain theory), so that the next set of interesting mysteries that we don’t know about today are unveiled.