Weekly Dose of Optimism #44
Brain Implants, Airships, Renewable Costs, Fourth Trimester, A Crypto Future, Succession
Hi friends 👋,
Happy Friday and welcome back to our 44th Weekly Dose of Optimism. The Obama edition.
MDW is the unofficial kickoff of summer and we intend to treat it as such! We hope you find some time to rest, rejuvenate, and maybe even read this newsletter. Enjoy the long weekend and go catch some rays.
Let’s get to it.
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(1) A Paralyzed Man Can Walk Naturally Again With Brain and Spine Implants
Oliver Whang for The New York Times
In a study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers in Switzerland described implants that provided a “digital bridge” between Mr. Oskam’s brain and his spinal cord, bypassing injured sections. The discovery allowed Mr. Oskam, 40, to stand, walk and ascend a steep ramp with only the assistance of a walker. More than a year after the implant was inserted, he has retained these abilities and has actually showed signs of neurological recovery, walking with crutches even when the implant was switched off.
The Times profiled the incredible recovery story of a 40 year old Dutch man who’s gone from paralyzed to being able to walk again, thanks to a device that translates his thoughts into physical movement. Brain-spine stimulation has been around for a few years, but this new interface is different in that, “The stimulation before was controlling me, and now I’m controlling the stimulation.” The advance in the technology, according to the research team, was in part due to the use of an “AI thought decoder” that could translate electrical signals in the brain and match them to muscle movements.
When new technologies come on the scene — BCI or AI in this case — it’s easy to think of all the downside negative consequences. Superintelligent humanoids using the atoms in our bodies as spare parts etc... Maybe one day, but in the meantime, we’ll be here applauding new tech helping paralyzed people walk.
(2) Sergey Brin Has a Secret Plan to Put Airships Back in the Skies
Ashlee Vance for Bloomberg
Exactly why Brin wants a fleet of airships remains a partial mystery. He has declined many interview requests to discuss LTA. Still, over the past couple of years, Weston has let me observe the construction of Pathfinder 1 and the early stages of its successors, and Brin’s rationale seems straightforward enough: He just likes airships.
One of the benefits of having billionaires is that they can build things for humanity just because they like them, without worrying about returns. Example 1a) Sergey Brin and airships. By some estimations, Brin has already invested over $250M into his airship company LTA and, from what I can tell, there’s really no end in sight on the cost front and no major plan to start monetizing in a meaningful way. Brin, worth north of a $100B, just likes airships…so humanity gets airships.
There are a few examples of this already — the most obvious one’s being Musk & SpaceX (although more returns focused) and Bezos & Blue Origin (less returns focused). Longevity is another current cause célèbre. If you have other examples of billionaires that have turned expensive hobbies into companies/industries that have had a big impact on society, let us know in the comments.
We think we’ll see a lot more of this in the coming years. A lot of nerds who grew up reading sci-fi have made a lot of money selling software over the past couple of decades, and we suspect they’ll put those profits to bring sci-fi to life, sometimes for returns and sometimes because they just like airships.
(3) An Interesting Thread on Renewable Energy Cost Curves
Link to thread from @JohnArnoldFndtn
The gist of John Arnold’s thread is that the cost of solar and wind energy have actually increased in the last couple of years. At Not Boring, we often talk about renewables’ learning curves and major cost decreases, so we were interested when this thread popped up noting that costs are actually going up. Even still, there’s good news.
The factors driving up costs are less technological than they are macroeconomic or bureaucratic. The major drivers are interest rates, tariffs, permitting, labor costs, etc. All very real (and frustrating) cost drivers, but also all cyclical and/or solvable. Over a long enough time horizon, our best bet is that these spikes will be indiscernible on renewable’s smoothing, decreasing cost curve.
(4) 10 Thoughts From the Fourth Trimester
Tim Urban for Wait Buy Why
10) Having a baby really makes you think about the future: Every parent in history has brought their baby into a world with an uncertain future. But our future is the uncertainest. My baby might live a life a lot like mine, just a little more futuristic. Or she might live to 500. She might live most of her life with a brain-machine interface implanted in her head, thinking with her own superintelligent AI. She might suffer through civilizational collapse. She might live in a world that would seem like utopia to us today. She might live on Mars. She might meet aliens. She might die in the apocalypse. There’s just no way to know. It makes all of those fun, exciting, terrifying conversations about the future hit just a little harder.
Tim Urban’s superpower is breaking down life’s most complex topics — time, relationships, careers — into understandable, bite-sized truth nuggets. He wielded that superpower in his most recent essay, a reflection on what it’s like to be the parent of a newborn baby.
I am not a father. I hope to be in the not-so-distant future. And Tim’s first 9 observations may help me more smoothly navigate those first 3 months when the time comes. But observation #10 really struck me: having a baby really makes you think about the future.
(Packy here: that is 100% true and you can see it in the things we write about in Not Boring.)
Humans have no idea what the world of their children will look like. Some humans envision the worst case scenario. Others envision a futuristic utopia. But the truth is, we’re really bad at predicting the future on a macro scale, let alone predicting the micro-experiences of an individual. And that’s kind of the point. That uncertainty seems to be what makes parenting so hard, yet so exhilarating. How do you prepare your kid for a future you know nothing about?
There’s no right answer. But we humans will keep on making babies and trying to figure it out! Tim Urban FTW, per usual.
(5) A Crypto Future
& Compound Crypto
Crypto-enabled tools and their privacy protection guarantees are showing real promise – first for rare disease data collection aggregation, which has led to meaningful scientific breakthroughs that weren’t expected so quickly.
A mid-sized city (100k-500k people) in North Texas proposes a complete energy independent infrastructure powered by an emerging crypto network.
Packy again. One of the things I admire most about Compound is that they write about and invest in wild, futuristic things in a balanced and hype-free way. Counter to the “crypto to AI” meme, they’ve been investing in crypto and AI since before both were cool, and are as quick to point out the risks and bubbles as they are the upsides.
All that setup to say that I loved reading their measured but optimistic take on the evolution of crypto over the next few years. The piece is in the Tell Good Stories genre, writing about the future as if it’s happening in real-time, and full of very specific predictions, good, bad, and neutral. I found myself alternating between nodding and shaking my head, a good indicator of the piece’s balance.
Despite the bear market and the very real headwinds, there are a ton of tailwinds for crypto, too. I particularly appreciate the intersections they highlight with DeSci, energy, VR/AR, and AI. When we look back in a decade, I believe the biggest impacts are going to come from products that take advantage of a bunch of different technologies to create delightful experiences and solve big challenges.
A good reminder as we head into the long weekend to zoom out.
Bonus: Succession Series Finale
If you read Not Boring, chances are you also watch Succession. The Shakespearean spoof of media mogulism comes to an end this Sunday night. The show, which was relatively under the radar for the first 1 or 2 seasons, is now considered, by many, to be among the greatest television series of all time. We tend to agree. Hell, I actually enjoyed watching what was basically a livestream of a funeral last week.
We’ll save you our predictions — you’ve probably been bombarded with them elsewhere — and just leave you with this, one last time:
That’s all for this week. We’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday. Enjoy the long weekend.
Thanks for reading,
"One of the benefits of having billionaires is that they can build things for humanity just because they like them, without worrying about returns."
This has to be one of the most tone-deaf write ups ever. Call it what it is- a tremendous waste of resources on vanity projects. These things aren't "for humanity" they are closely guarded and privately held and controlled. Why should we be optimistic because billionaires have the means to help people who are literally starving or dying because they are shitting themselves to death (dysentery) but instead choose to waste it or build a bunch of crap that's tangential to the actual problems humanity faces on THIS planet? Or are you trying to say that we'll all somehow mysteriously benefit downstream in the long run by this when we all get to pay to get these services? Don't hold your breath.
This is just another sloppy trickle down economics argument, and we all know how well that works.
Other cool things built by billionaires
The Long Now Clock (Bezos)
The first ever free public library (Carnegie)
Neuralink - Musk