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How Frontier Tech Will Benefit Humanity

How Frontier Tech Will Benefit Humanity

Frontier tech has the potential to profoundly impact humanity for better and for worse. That potential is not lost on us. In order to address the downside risks, we published an ethical code for investing:

Invest in high-integrity founders making products people love and that our LPs will be proud to back.

This statement aligns our investment decisions with our core values, the values of our limited partners, and the importance of the founding team in an early stage investment. It also helps us address the reality that society can use any disruptive technology good and evil purposes. While it’s hard to predict the latter case, investing only in high-integrity founders limits the downside risk our investments may pose to humanity.

With these risks systematically and procedurally addressed as best we can, it is encouraging to consider the many ways frontier tech can impact the world for the better.

Management thinker Peter Drucker famously asked: How can we make society both more productive and more humane? We believe that frontier tech can and will accomplish both of these objectives.

Our Manifesto 2.0 outlines our investment thesis: We invest in frontier tech companies automating the world and building new ways to experience it. Automation will dramatically improve economic productivity. Machines will deliver speed, accuracy, and the ability to analyze a large amount of data. At the same time, humans will be driven to focus on jobs that require uniquely human skills: creativity, community, and empathy. Novel ways of experiencing the world and connecting with others will make the world more humane.

Herein lie the benefits of frontier tech.

Our Role in an Automated World

We’re often asked about humans’ role in an increasingly automated world. We think the answer is a simple economic function of comparative advantage. Humans will do things that robots cannot: creativity, community, and empathy.

  • Creativity: We believe automation will unlock more time for people to focus on creative pursuits, to explore their curiosity, and to master new forms of work and play. Entrepreneurs are pursuing machines that deliver some of the benefits of creativity, but they are fundamentally lacking other elements. Robots that paint, for example, produce remarkable works, but the emotional response to these works is more akin to a print than an original painting. They lack the human creation story, which adds value – sometimes the vast majority of the value – to a work of art. Conversely, automation will increase human productivity and enable people to focus on this uniquely human skill set.
  • Community: We believe new experiences — both virtual and real — will enable new points of human connection. As an example, our series on The Metaverse outlines a virtual world similar yet very different from our own. The Metaverse will be an integral part of the future of work, play, and communication because it will enable communities to gather in new ways. Technologists are pursuing various forms of digital companionship, but there remains a distinctly mutual form of community that only humans can share.
  • Empathy: Automation will force human labor to specialize in interpersonal connection, something that machines cannot offer (as we outlined in our piece on The Empathy Economy). In short, empathy will be increasingly core to the value proposition of human labor. People will act as a truly human skin on the work being produced by robots. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another based on mutual experience. By definition, a machine cannot deliver true empathy.

Frontier Tech Will Meet Fundamental Human Needs

Technology has always enabled humans to deliver creativity, community, and empathy in new and improved ways.

In our Manifesto, we explore six areas where Frontier Tech is already having an impact: the future of work, retail, transportation, communication, play, and the brain. Each of these futures involves great potential for increased creativity, community, and empathy. At the intersection of these futures and these three uniquely human skills lie many fundamental human needs.

  1. The Future of Work: This is perhaps the purest example of frontier tech’s benefit on humanity. We’ve already outlined the benefits of automation (productivity and freedom), but work itself meets various human needs. In an automated world, we will be free to focus less on productivity and more on these elements. Work provides an outlet for human creativity and our innate desire to bring order to the world. Work also provides a context for teams to build friendships, serve one another, and find fulfillment in mastering a skill. Finally, teams can foster mutual understanding internally along with the added benefit of meeting a customer need, all of which drives empathy.
  2. The Future of Retail: Stores have long been a center of gravity for community and human connection. And the retailer is uniquely positioned to understand a customer, consult, provide service, and provide value via empathy. Frontier tech will enable retailers to be super retailers – unleashing the power of data and personalization on the in-person shopping experience. We see the future of retail as a huge opportunity for tech to deliver against our need for creativity, community, and empathy.
  3. The Future of Transportation: Autonomous vehicles will profoundly impact the human experience. Transportation unlocks our ability to explore and learn, fostering creativity. It also enables us to gather and connect, fostering community. Ultimately, these are the building blocks of mutual understanding among individuals, groups, cultures, and communities.
  4. The Future of Communication: At its core, communication is about storytelling, a form of creativity. Communication is also a fundamental building block of communities. Groups develop unique communication patterns, dialects, accents, and language. And communication in some form is a requirement for empathy. As such, new experiences and new ways for communities to gather will require new forms of communication, driving creativity, community, and empathy in new ways.
  5. The Future of Play: Creativity is synonymous with play. The Marshmello concert in Fortnite was a great example of the future of play enabling new forms of creativity. The concert fused the digital and physical worlds enabling a new form of recreation for gamers — an entirely new experience. Fortnite also provides a novel context for connection between gamers, and new shared experiences support new and different forms of empathy.
  6. The Future of the Brain: The human brain differentiates the species from all others. As we harness the power of the brain in new ways, we will unlock higher levels of consciousness and mastery. The brain is also the root of all communication. Neurotechnology will allow for new forms of human connection and shared experiences, permitting us new ways to commune and empathize with one another.

As these fundamental human needs are met, Drucker’s imperatives are met, too. Frontier tech will make the world both more productive and more humane.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest or may invest: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. From time to time, we may write about companies that are in our portfolio. As managers of the portfolio, we may earn carried interest, management fees or other compensation from such portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making any investment decisions and provided solely for informational purposes. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections and the content on this site should not be relied upon. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make. 

Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Autonomous Vehicles, Neurotech, Philosophy, Retail, Robotics, Startup, Virtual Reality
5 min. read Show less
Google Enters Gaming, Unveils Google Stadia

Google Enters Gaming, Unveils Google Stadia

Google unveiled Google Stadia, its cloud gaming platform, during the company’s Tuesday GDC keynote. Google Stadia enables gamers to play on any of their devices with a chrome browser and even cast them to a TV. For gamers, this means access to great titles without purchasing a gaming console or high-end PC.

It might be surprising to learn that games are the single biggest form of entertainment in the world. Google backed up this claim with impressive data points explaining why we are seeing more Big Tech companies get into gaming. On YouTube alone, 200+ million people are watching YouTube Gaming content every day, totaling 50+ billion hours watched in 2018. Now that Google has thrown its hat in the ring with Stadia, the gaming industry accelerates its trend towards a similar transformation that film and music industries have undergone thanks to tech companies like Spotify and Netflix.

What we’re most excited about for players

  • Quality. Google Stadia games will be rendered at 4K, 60 FPS with HDR and surround sound.
  • Content Creators. Stadia was developed with content creators in mind. On Google’s new Stadia controller, there is a capture button built-in. This allows gamers to immediately share their content to YouTube gaming. Google also shared engagement features like Crowd Play, which will allow YouTube gaming viewers to join live games with content creators.
  • Voice Integration. The second built-in feature to the Stadia controller is a Google Assistant button. This gives gamers the ability to ask Google Assistant questions like “how do I get past this level?” This could bring up a YouTube video to show a gamer what they need to do next, without having them leave the Stadia experience.
  • Full cross-platform play. Google will make full cross-platform play available to everyone on Stadia. Gamers can use their existing hardware (mice, keyboards, controllers) to play anyone, on any device.
  • Frictionless Ecosystem: One of the more underrated features of Stadia is its approach to bringing video games into the social fabric of the internet. Twitch streamers can share a simple link to their audience and have them start playing that game in 5 seconds. No need to wait hours to download a game on your hardware to play. This points to a games subscription platform (Netflix for games) down the line to make the experience even less frictionless. Like music and movies, no more owning content, just streaming whenever and wherever you want it.

What we’re most excited about for developers

  • Distributed Physics. Traditionally, it has been difficult to implement online-multiplayer games with complicated physics. Since computation will be on the cloud, games can have much more accurate simulation on a larger scale than before. This opens the door for more realistic games and experiences that were not possible previously.
  • Optimization. Since Stadia will run on a set of known hardware, developers can optimize their games for improved performance on Stadia.
  • Hardware Scaling. Developers will have more freedom to create performance intensive games because the Cloud makes it is easy to add additional resources. It remains to be seen how pricing will be affected by using more than one Stadia instance to run a game.
  • Increased Security. Since memory is on the Cloud cheating/hacking is more difficult.
  • Multiplayer Experience. With the potential for lower latency games and distributed physics, it could be possible to create online games where hundreds or even thousands of players compete with each other. Maps for these games will likely be much larger than before. Since players won’t have to download games, maps can be much larger with more detailed textures.
  • Split Screen. Co-op modes in games have been on the decline. Part of this is due to the popularity of purely online formats (such as Battle Royale) but part is also due to hardware limitations of rendering two screens at the same time. With Stadia, there is a renewed opportunity for developers to create split screen games which would not be possible on today’s consoles.

What we don’t know

  • Quality. Google did not give us much proof they could deliver on their lofty promises. This is a red flag because if they had an impressive demo beyond the same Assassin’s Creed game they showed in October, they likely would have shown it off to address what they knew would be the #1 concern of the platform.
  • Launch Date. Google Stadia will launch in 2019, but that was as specific as they were willing to get.
  • Cost. Google did not mention the cost of Google Stadia. While it’s likely a monthly subscription to access the platform, it’s unclear how many titles will be included. Game developers and publishers are typically charging $60 for new AAA titles. Convincing them to change that model could take some time.
  • Content. Google didn’t give much information about what content will be available at launch. They announced a new first-party game studio led by Jade Raymond, which will develop content specifically for Stadia. Outside of that announcement, we know both Unity and Unreal will be supported on Stadia and that Google will work with external developers to bring content on to the platform. We learned that existing games cannot just be streamed on Stadia without undergoing a porting process by its developers that could take months per game.
  • User Experience. In theory, Google Stadia will be a great experience for gamers. Gamers will spend less money on hardware, be able to play games in more places, and engage with their favorite content creators in new ways. Until reviews from the first customers are in, we won’t know exactly how good the experience is. Gamers may be limited by their own internet connections at home which could impact latency. There is also the concern that data caps from ISPs may lead to higher costs associated with cloud gaming.

Bottom Line

Google Stadia shows great promise for the future of gaming, but there are a lot of unanswered questions which will determine the winner(s) in the space. As we’ve seen with streaming platforms, content remains king. While Google committed to first-party content, it lags behind Microsoft, who is also launching a cloud gaming platform soon and has a strong portfolio of studios. Wooing publishers to put their content on a cloud gaming platform is important. We’ll be looking for third-party content commitments in the next few months.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

Gaming, Google
4 min. read Show less
019 – Iris Coates McCall

019 – Iris Coates McCall

Iris Coates McCall is a Neurotechnology Researcher at Neuroethics Canada, University of British Columbia. Iris holds a Bachelors of Arts and Science in Cognitive Science from McGill University, and a Masters of Bioethics from Johns Hopkins.

Top 3 Takeaways

  1. There are three ways to apply ethical guidance to an organization.
  2. Scientific evidence can change people’s beliefs in the credibility of a claim.
  3. The ethics of augmentative neurosurgery are unclear.

Show Notes

  • [1:00] How does Iris spend her time researching?
  • [2:00] How Iris became involved in neuroethics
  • [4:00] Neuroethics in the workplace
  • [5:05] The ethicist’s practical toolkit
  • [6:10] What kind of regulation governs consumer neurotechnology?
  • [8:50] Enforcement of regulation
  • [10:00] Impact of scientific evidence on what people believe
  • [12:45] What’s the process for translating ethics research into policy/enforcement?
  • [15:20] Do profitability and social good go hand in hand?
  • [18:00] How can ethics be adjudicated?
  • [20:00] Pragmatic neuroethics
  • [22:00] Ethics of augmentative neurosurgery
  • [25:20] Iris’s book recommendation

Selected Links

Related Podcasts

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

Neurotech, Neurotech Podcast
1 min. read Show less