Weekly Dose of Optimism #52
South Park AI, Llama 2, Geothermal, Alzheimer's, Molecular Manufacturing
Hi friends 👋,
Happy Friday and welcome back to our 52nd Weekly Dose of Optimism.
This week’s edition represents a year’s worth of optimism. To be fair, it’s been 54 weeks since we kicked off the WDoO, but during that time we took two weeks off from publishing the Weekly Dose.
The biggest learning from the past year is that while so much good, hard, and interesting work is happening in the world, so little of that work makes it into the mainstream. My full-time job is basically unearthing amazing stories, and very rarely do I find it on the front pages. I have to dig. Doom sells, but those headlines are only part (the less interesting one) of the story.
The other big learning is just how steady, and now accelerating, progress has been for humans over the last 200-300 years. Almost all measures of quality of life have improved over the last few decades — not just for rich Americans, but for humanity as whole. It’s easy to look at the world in front of you and think, “Things were so much better back then.” The reality is that for the first 300,000 years of human existence things just weren’t that much different “back then.” And for the last 200 years, things were objectively worse “back then.”
We have our problems, but I have never been more confident in the upward slope of progress than I am today, after 52 editions of covering all of the amazing things we humans can pull off.
(P.S. We’re taking on sponsors for year two of the Weekly Dose. If interested, you can email Dan directly at email@example.com)
Speaking of sponsors … The Weekly Dose is brought to you by… Create
As many of you know, in addition to writing the Weekly Dose, I (Dan) run a creatine monohydrate gummy business called Create. Not exactly what you’d expect, right?
But here’s a fun fact: Creatine is the fastest growing category in VMS (vitamins, minerals, supplements). It’s expected to grow >100% YoY. Our business alone has 3x’d in just the past 4 months.
Why are more and more people taking creatine? It’s both safe and scientifically proven to increase strength, build muscle, enhance recovery, and improve cognition. And increasingly, they’re turning to Create’s convenient and tasty gummies for their daily creatine dose.
We present our approach to generating high-quality episodic content for IP's (Intellectual Property) using large language models (LLMs), custom state-of-the art diffusion models and our multi-agent simulation for contextualization, story progression and behavioral control. Powerful LLMs such as GPT-4 were trained on a large corpus of TV show data which lets us believe that with the right guidance users will be able to rewrite entire seasons.
The team at Fable Simulations just created an entire South Park episode that was actually a little bit funny with AI. I could explain it, but you should just watch it.
We’re now ready to open source the next version of Llama 2 and are making it available free of charge for research and commercial use. We’re including model weights and starting code for the pretrained model and conversational fine-tuned versions too. As Satya Nadella announced on stage at Microsoft Inspire, we’re taking our partnership to the next level with Microsoft as our preferred partner for Llama 2 and expanding our efforts in generative AI.
Zuck. So hot right now, Zuck.
Meta is open sourcing its LLM, Llama 2, and doing so in close partnership with Microsoft. This announcement is significant for a couple of reasons:
Now anyone can build on top of Llama 2, for free. And since the models are open to builders, they’ll get improved, fixed, and stress-tested more quickly.
Within the announcement, it was revealed that Llama 2 is approaching (and in some areas beating) other LLM (like GPT 3.5) benchmarks. This means that Meta is open sourcing a LLM just about as powerful as any closed LLM in the world. Still not at the same level as GPT4, but we’ll see how open sourcing this changes that over time.
Meta is doing all of this in partnership with Microsoft. This is a win for Microsoft’s Azure business, an LLM diversification hedge, and a strong alliance against Google.
Right now it seems like Zuck and Satya are operating on different levels than their Big Tech counterparts, and doing so in ways that benefit developers and end-users.
Michelle Ma for Bloomberg
In a landmark step for enhanced geothermal technology’s potential as a dependable carbon-free energy source, startup Fervo Energy has completed a performance demonstration of its commercial pilot. Geothermal power plants are carbon-free and can operate any time, making them a critical part of a 100% carbon-free electric grid.
Over the past couple of months, we’ve written a fair amount about new (and rapidly progressing) renewable energy technologies. One area that we haven’t covered much is geothermal. Geothermal harnesses the heat inside the earth to produce energy. Think of a geothermal power plant like a giant tea kettle and the heat inside the earth as a giant stove.
Geothermal is promising because it’s a dependable (there will always be heat inside the earth!) carbon-free energy source. However, like so many promising technologies, geothermal has always been a few years away from being a few years away. The technology simply wasn’t there yet to commercialize geothermal at scale.
However, this breakthrough from Fervo accelerates previous consensus timelines on geothermal. At its Utah site alone, the company is now predicting it will produce 400 megawatts by 2028, enough to power 300,000 homes. Even prior to that, Fervo produced energy will power Google data centers as early as later this year.
Things are starting to..umm..heat up in renewables!
Among participants with early symptomatic Alzheimer disease and amyloid and tau pathology, donanemab significantly slowed clinical progression at 76 weeks in those with low/medium tau and in the combined low/medium and high tau pathology population.
Alzheimer’s research is another area that comes up often in the Weekly Dose. It’s a topic near and dear to our heart, as our grandmother suffered from a pretty horrible case of it and members of our family are at higher risk of developing it. Packy’s fear of Alzheimer’s and memory loss is what motivated him to write in the first place!
So we’re excited when findings like this are published. The NYT has a solid summary here, but the gist is that a treating Alzheimer’s as early as possible — when symptoms and brain pathology are mildest — provides a better chance of slowing cognitive decline. The study found that patients taking the drug donanemab can modestly slow the progression of memory and thinking problems.
There’s no cure to Alzheimer’s but it’s becoming increasingly clear that early detection and treatment provide the most hopeful path to reducing decline and increasing healthspan.
Anna-Sofia Lesiv for Contrary
Of course, atomic or molecular scale manufacturing wouldn’t just revolutionize domestic life, it would have consequences across all domains of industry with massive implications for chemistry, material science, construction, medicine, and biology writ large. Two prominent thinkers exploring molecular machinery, J. Storrs Hall and Robert Freitas, estimated that “mature nanotechnology could replicate the entire capital stock of the United States – ‘every single building, factory, highway, railroad, bridge, airplane, train, automobile, truck, and ship’ – in a mere week.”
Packy here. At this point, you know how much I love J. Storrs Hall’s Where is My Flying Car? In it, Hall predicts the coming of the Second Atomic Age, brought about by a trio of technologies: nuclear energy, AI, and nanotechnology.
Hall believes that nuclear energy can provide the power needed to run large-scale nanotech manufacturing facilities. AI can be used to design and control these facilities, as well as to develop new nanotech products. Nanotech can then be used to create new materials, devices, and systems that can solve some of the world's most pressing problems.
We talk about nuclear energy and AI a bunch in Not Boring, but when I was listening to a conversation between Hall and Eric Jorgenson the other day, I realized that I had no idea what was going on in the world of non-bio nanotech.
Then, the very next day, BAM. Contrary’s Anna-Sofia Lesiv shared the best primer we’ve found on molecular manufacturing, covering its history, technology landscape, and potential future use cases.
We’re still a few decades away from precision manufacturing at the atomic level, Anna-Sofia claims, but advancements in molecular manufacturing are already pushing boundaries in everything from chip to cellular design.
And while we may be a few decades out, the potential of nano-scale manufacturer — ie the ability to design and build basically anything in a lab — is so enormous that it merits attention today.
Read this one, and then go read everything that Anna-Sofia writes in Foundations & Frontiers. She’s one of my favorite writers out there right now. One of the best ways to make people realistically optimistic about the future is to help them understand the tech, and Anna-Sofia’s deep tech explanations are both in-depth and approachable, a hard balance to pull off.
Bonus: Ezra CEO Emi Gal on Not Boring Founders
A few weeks ago, Packy wrote a deep dive on Ezra, the startup using screening to catch cancer when it’s most treatable. A ton of you signed up to get your own Ezra screening (saving lives over here with our little newsletter) and many more reached out saying how happy you were that Ezra exists and asking follow-up questions. So Packy had Ezra’s CEO Emi Gal on Not Boring Founders to dive a little deeper and keep spreading the good word. Fuck cancer.
That’s all for this week. We’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.
Thanks for reading,
Dan + Packy