marc andreessen kevin kelly

Why We Should Be Optimistic About the Future – Kevin Kelly Interviews Marc Andreessen on the 16z Podcast

Check out the a16z Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • We’re getting close to every single person in the world having internet access
  • Successful technologies often have 25-year (or more) backstories 
  • Voice tech may be the foundation of augmented reality
  • Decades of computer advances that aren’t dependent on Moore’s Law lie ahead
  • Economic growth is necessary for prosperity, a positive-sum political climate, and declining resource utilization 
  • To improve our future, we need to double down on expanding markets, economic growth, the scientific method, capitalism, and spreading free speech 

Books Mentioned

  • One of Marc’s favorite books from the past year: More from Less by Andrew McAfee


Although Exciting, Society is Unprepared for Everyone Being Online

  • We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting close to every single person in the world having internet access 
    • And once this happens, who knows what the long-term effects will be?
  • In a way, everyone being online is a new beginning point – the real beginning of a global mind
    • “It feels like the internet’s impact on culture is just beginning… It had to get universal before it could set the culture, but that’s actually happening now.” – Marc Andreessen
  • “I think the most exciting thing happening in the world right now is Mukesh Ambani, who has this program called Jio where he’s literally providing internet access to the 500 million lowest income Indians.” – Marc Andreessen

Successful Technologies Have 25-Year (or More) Backstories

  • “Every successful technology that I’m aware of, the things that are all of a sudden the next big thing, like the iPhone in 2007… they all have this incredible 25 or 40 or 50-year backstory to them” – Marc Andreessen
  • Why does this matter?
    • We’re amid these backstories with things like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), so be patient

Future Artificial Intelligence (AI) Business Models

  • Two obvious ones:
    • A horizontal platform provider for AI (analogous to computer operating systems)
    • Vertical AI applications
  • But there’s an even bigger question to ponder: Is AI a feature or an architecture?
    • If AI’s a feature, every product will have AI “sprinkled” on it (and this is entirely possible)
    • “We’re [Andreessen Horowitz] more believers in the scenario that AI is a platform, or an architecture”Marc Andreessen
      • (In the same sense that the computers, internet, and the cloud are all architectures)
      • And when there’s an architecture shift, everything above the architecture gets re-built from scratch:
        • “You’re no longer building a website, you’re no longer building a mobile app, you’re no longer building any of those things. You’re building, instead, an AI engine.”
          • Therefore, we’re facing some giant industry shifts (the same way things changed with the advent of the internet)

What Are We Likely to Get Wrong About Voice Technologies?

  • “If we’re going to get something wrong about voice, I think it’s going to be that it’d be a one-to-one replacement for existing user interaction models” – Marc Andreessen
    • Stated differently: Voice won’t replace keyboards, the mouse, or touchscreen tech
    • Instead: As human-computer interactions improve and computers come to better understand speech, more of an open question is created as to what these types of technologies are used for

Voice May Be the Foundation of the AR World

  • “When I think about the AR mirror world. I find it very hard to imagine it without having a voice component” – Kevin Kelly
    • Marc adds: “I’d go so far as to say it may be the case that voice actually is the key to the AR world. Voice may actually be the foundation of the whole thing.”
  • Think about AirPods – they were a HUGE breakthrough
    • You can wear them all day without even noticing – what’s going to happen when they become even smaller/sleeker? 
  • “The visual overlay of AR will obviously be important and valuable, but it might be that the visual overlay is supportive on top of the voice experience” – Marc Andreessen 

The Biotech Turning Point

  • Biological sciences is at a turning point
    • More specifically, we’re moving from discovering how biology works to being able to engineer biology
  • One way this might change things: The idea of “drug discovery” may just shift to “drug engineering”

Decades of Advances That Aren’t Dependent on Moore’s Law Lie Ahead

  • What’s Moore’s Law?
    • In the broadest sense, it means that the number of transistors able to be placed on microchip doubles every two years, though the cost is halved
  • The bad news:
    • Moore’s Law seems to be coming to an end (it’s become much harder to make progress as we’re nearing the limits of fundamental physics)
  • The good news:
    • 10-15 years ago, the computer industry started focusing more on what you can do with a large number of chips in parallel (compared to trying to make a single chip more powerful)
      • And the full form of using thousands of chips in parallel? – The cloud
    • Chips are becoming more specialized, presenting opportunities for further optimization
      • For example, there are now dedicated chips for things like neural networks

Don’t Count Moore’s Law Out Just Yet

  • To build off the above, we have more mind power working in this area than ever before – who knows what could happen?
    • Realize: Neither the transistor or microchip was obvious, yet somehow both were invented
  • There are several technical proposals for how to get to the next levels of Moore’s Law (related to things like quantum computing)  
    • “Throughout the next like 20 years… Put it this way: this is one of the world’s largest prizes. If you’re the engineer who figures out how to re-accelerate Moore’s Law or how to shift computing onto a new substrate like biology, that is THE thing to do. That’s the largest prize. That, historically, has been pretty motivating.” Marc Andreessen 

Future Companies Will Be Structured Much Differently Than Today’s

  • Today, there’s a well-known template for the typical Silicon Valley venture-backed company: It’s a C-corp. based in the U.S. with a large percentage of on-site employees
  • 30 years from now:
    • It’s uncertain where the majority of tech companies will be located
    • Will companies even have physical locations, or will they be completely virtual?
    • Will companies have actual employment relationships with employees? Or will every employee essentially be free to do as they please and paid sporadically through crypto?

Long-Term Thinking is Essential But Difficult in the Face of Uncertainty

  • 🎧 “One of the things about the Valley that I find outsiders miss the most is that it feels like it’s all moving so fast, and yet, any of the important companies or any of the important products take a decade or more to build. Everything important takes a long time, so a lot of it actually feels quite slow. Long-term orientation is absolutely necessary, and I think we probably can all agree there’s not enough of it in the world.”Marc Andreessen 
  • Long-term thinking comes naturally when you know something’s going to work, but when crossed with uncertainty… it’s a different story

The Best Companies Run Experiments Against Their Goals

  • The best companies run multiple experiments in parallel against their goals, trying to figure out what does/doesn’t work
  • On running a company:
    • “You want to have a great deal of conviction of where you’re trying to head, but you want to have a lot of flexibility inherent in how you’re going to get there and what the tactics are. Then, you want to be able to run a lot of experiments against that, and you can diversify your risk against any one theory by doing so.” Marc Andreessen 

Economic Growth is Necessary for Prosperity and a Positive-Sum Political Climate

  • “I’m a very strong proponent, a strong believer, that growth is absolutely necessary” – Marc Andreessen 
    • With fast economic growth, we have positive-sum politics and a continuous discussion about society’s options 
      • Economic growth leads to material prosperity, job creation, and productive political conversations
    • With no growth/negative growth, politics become zero-sum
      • A zero-sum political outlook leads to recession, anti-immigration, anti-trade, etc.
      • “If the world’s not growing, all that’s left to do is fight over what we currently have”

Economic Growth is Necessary for Declining Resource Utilization

  • “Globally, carbon emissions are rising, and resource utilization is rising. In the U.S., carbon emissions and resource utilization are actually falling… We have figured out how to grow our economy while reducing our use of natural resources, which is a completely unexpected twist.”Marc Andreessen 
  • When economies advance to a certain point, they get good at doing more with less
    • This results in energy efficiency, conserving environmental resources, recycling, and dematerialization (taking things that used to require atoms and turning them into bits, like people going from burning wood to heat their homes to using efficient solar technologies)
    • “My view on the environmental issue is you’ve got a global problem; you have too many people in too many countries stuck in a mid-Industrial Revolution. They’ve got to grow to get to the point where they’re in a fully digital economy like we are, precisely so that they can start to have declining resource utilization.”

Why We Should Be Optimistic About the Future

  • 🎧 “Science fiction authors always talk about what’s called the singularity. The singularity is what basically happens when the machines get so smart that all of a sudden, everything goes into exponential mode, and the entire world changes. My reading of history leads me to believe we’re actually in the singularity already and that it actually started 300 years ago.” – Marc Andreessen
    • Look at any chart of human welfare over time (like child mortality). Things were relatively flat up until 300 years ago, but then, as societies started to make progress, every indicator of human welfare went up and to the right (brought on/in conjunction with economic growth, the rise of markets, the rise of the scientific method, human rights, free speech, etc.).
  • Building off the above:
    • “I would argue we have the answers. We don’t need new discoveries to have the future be much better. We know how to do it.” – Marc Andreessen
      • How? – Double down on the systems that we know work: Markets, economic growth, the scientific method, capitalism, the use of technological tools, etc.
        • As long as the world’s getting more democratic, free speech is spreading, our markets are expanding, etc., we’re moving in the right direction

Additional Notes

  • Whaling expeditions in the 1600s were the first venture-funded endeavors
  • Marc invested in a company called Honor, which might loosely be thought of as “Uber for in-home senior care”
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