Life in the Future? It’s Complicated

Can building a community of diverse thinkers and makers change that? Let’s give it a try.

By Josh Wolfe

At Lux Capital we have seen that the most groundbreaking, impactful ideas happen at the intersection of disciplines.

Yet much the world of science and technology remains a tower of Babel. Every discipline has its own language, tools and culture, its own values and beliefs, heroes and breakthroughs — even its own mysteries. These differences, like other differences in other areas of our lives, often get in the way of progress.

The level of complexity of the big, hairy problems we need to solve continues to expand exponentially. Think of stock markets, air traffic control and international public health. Add to that the complexity of solutions coming from genomics, internet infrastructure, a new space race with rockets and satellites, and artificial intelligence. It is impossible for any single discipline to tackle all of this. We need more scientists and technologists to bravely cross the mental chasm of a hallway that connects two (or more) labs.

Scientists and entrepreneurs who work across disciplines have made amazing discoveries. In the Lux family alone, we count at least two dozen companies whose core products rely on the mind melding of at least three different scientific disciplines. Matterport is enabled by innovation in computer vision, 3D reconstruction and rendering, and virtual reality. SOLS relies on new insights in digital imaging, materials science, 3D printing and cloud processing. Other companies combine robotics, machine learning and surgical instrumentation or mix advanced sensors, cloud processing and biology. In addition to blending scientific disciplines, these teams are age-, gender- and racially-diverse; they are suit-and-tie-wearing Nobel laureates as well as hot-pink-haired techno punks.

We want to help make even more of these connections. A number of our entrepreneurs and inventors have told us they want to be connected to a community of like-minded people. We’re pretty sure they meant like-missioned people — rebel scientists, inventors and founders who, like themselves, want to step outside the bounds of their trained disciplines to learn and share new ways of thinking and solving big problems together. This requires new approaches to ideation and invention, as well as new networks and skills in translation and inclusion.

To that end, we have hired Sam Arbesman, a computational biologist, complexity scientist and radical interdisciplinarian, as Scientist in Residence at Lux.

Sam has dedicated his life, research and writing to the interdisciplinary study of complex systems. This ranges from living organisms and ecosystems to social groups, the nature of cities and technological change. He has written widely about these topics, including as a contributing writer for Wired, and as the author of The Half-Life of Facts — a book that challenged many of the things we once believed were true. He earned a PhD in computational biology at Cornell University and was previously a Senior Scholar at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and a Research Fellow in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School. He is currently a Senior Adjunct Fellow of the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado; a Research Fellow at the Long Now Foundation; a Visiting Scholar in Philosophy at the University of Kansas; and an Associate of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University.

At Lux, Sam will serve as catalyst, content creator and community builder, helping us come up with new ways to promote productive interdisciplinarity and diversity of thought. This will include writing, playing with big data, hosting salons and workshops, teaming up with academics and foundations, running prizes for scientific advancement and most importantly, aiding scientists, technologists, entrepreneurs, science fiction writers, artists and others in their efforts to expand their possible solution sets through the sharing of ideas.

If you are an inventor, entrepreneurially-minded scientist, technologist or artist, and have an unconventional, unique idea or worldview, we invite you to reach out and join our community by emailing us here. You can also reach Sam directly here.