Steve Jurvetson Discusses His Favorite Books on The Tim Ferriss Show

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Key Takeaways (Steve Jurveston’s Favorite Books)


Book #1 –  The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind by Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff, and Patricia K. Kuhl

  • This is Steve’s most-gifted book, one he particularly likes gifting to “geek friends about to have their first child”
  • “It’s not a parenting book, but it never the less kindles an awe and awareness for the marvels of a baby’s mind, especially in the pre-verbal years when it might otherwise be difficult to connect” – Steve Jurvetson
    • One takeaway from the book: Babies signal their interest in things by where they focus their gaze
    • 🎧 “From what I can see, the best scientists and engineers nurture a child-like mind. They’re playful, open-minded, and unrestrained by the inner voice of reason, collective cynicism, or fear of failure.”Steve Jurvetson
  • One of Steve’s favorite quotes from the book:
    • 🎧 “Babies are just plain smarter than we are, at least if being smart means being able to learn. They think, draw conclusions, make predictions, look for explanations, and even do experiments. In fact, scientists are successful precisely because they emulate what children to naturally.
  • A few interesting facts from the book: 
    • At an age of 2-3, babies hit their peak with 10x the number of synapses (connections between neurons) as adults, and 2x the total amount of energy burn compared to an adult brain
    • When giving a cognitive recall test (reading 16 words, and after a short time, being tested on how many you can recall):
      • From your teens to your 30s, on average, people tend to remember ~12 words
      • In your mid-30s, the number of words you can recall starts to decline (at a fairly constant rate) with time
    • Lifelong learning is one of the best things you can do to prevent/limit cognitive decline

Book #2 – Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, & the Economic World by Kevin Kelly

  • This is the book that’s had the most significant influence on Steve, and one that’s guided many of his investment decisions
  • “The interesting thing is that this book was written in 1995, and it may have been 20 years ahead of its time. It was recently translated into Mandarin and is currently a best-seller in China.” – Steve Jurvetson 
  • In the book, Kevin explores the underlying principles of complexity theory as well as the properties of emergence, self-organization, and the “wisdom of crowds”
  • Another one of the book’s key principles: How our information systems (particularly neural networks) mimic biological development

Book #2 – The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence by Ray Kurzweil

  • Steve classifies this one as the most important book he’s ever read
  • “There’s a single graph in the book that itself makes it the most important book one could read…. the graph of the 120-year version of Moore’s Law” – Steve Jurvetson
    • Moore’s Law = the idea that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every two years, though the cost of computers is halved
      • In other words, the computational power that a dollar buys has doubled every 18 months for 120 years – this has held true through various economic cycles/events (the Great Depression, World War I and II, and various other recessions)
        • Realize how rare this is: “In the modern era of accelerating change in the tech industry, it’s hard to find even a 5-year trend with relative predictive value, let alone one that spans centuries” Steve Jurvetson 
    • “This book introduces the best abstraction of Moore’s Law that I’ve seen out there – one that’s understandable, meaningful, cosmological, and has predictive power” – Steve Jurvetson
      • Why is this important? – It’s critical to understand where tech is heading, and as most businesses become technology businesses, understanding how to predict the future is all the more important for planning
    • “I would assert that this is the most important graph ever conceived” – Steve Jurvetson
      • Why? – So many industries depend on continuing cost declines in computational power and storage density
        • “Moore’s Law drives electronics, communications, and computers, and has become a primary driver in drug discovery, biotech, bioinformatics, medical imaging, and diagnostics”
        • “EVERY industry on our planet is going to become an information business”
          • An as computational power becomes cheaper, information becomes more easily accessible 

Progress is Accelerating

  • 🎧 “We are in a pace of technological progress. We keep getting better – culturally, evolutionarily, in the way that we live our lives, in our overall happiness, in the amount of humans suffering… We just keep making progress.”Steve Jurvetson
    • Why? – “All new technologies are a combination of technologies that already exist… Innovation does not occur in a vacuum. It’s a combination of ideas before.”
      • Think of as innovation as the combinatorial explosion of possible idea pairings which grows exponentially as new ideas come into the mix
  • 🎧 “If disruption is what you seek, cognitive island-hopping is a good place to start, mining the interstices between academic disciplines. It’s this combinatorial explosion of possible innovation pairings that creates economic growth, and it’s about to go into over-drive… I think we’re going to be entering a period of innovation like never before.” – Steve Jurvetson
    • Why? – The internet allows for ideas to be exchanged more efficiently than ever before
      • And in the next 4-5 years, 3 billion people will come online for the first time to join the global conversation

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