Weekly Dose of Optimism #76
Figure, Rabbit, Emissions Decline, Blood-Brain Barrier, RetroPFG
Hi friends 👋,
Happy Friday and welcome back to our 76th Weekly Dose of Optimism. The year is off to a HOT start…Ackman proving that chivalry isn’t dead, Jewish tunnels in Brooklyn, the Epstein list, and shaky Boeing planes. We can’t predict exactly what the future will look like, but if the first 12 days of the year are any indication, things are about to get a lot crazier.
And amidst those chaotic, headline grabbing stories above, we’ve also had some major developments in robotics, AI, energy, and medicine. As always, we’ll focus on these stories.
Let’s get to it.
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(1) Figure Status Update - AI Trained Coffee Demo
Figure released a video of one of its prototypes making coffee. What’s the big deal? Humans and machines make coffee all of the time. We’ve even had coffee robot startups, like Cafe X (s/o JCal), since the mid 2010s.
The big deal is that Figure’s robot wasn’t designed or programmed specifically to make coffee. It learned to make coffee. The AI powered robot was trained on just 10 hours of observing humans making coffee and then went out and completed the task itself, correcting its own errors in the process.
People have made robots make coffee before, but this seems to be an example of a robot learning new tasks in a general purpose way. The wild part is that once Figure has a fleet of robots out there, each time one learns something, they can all know that thing via software updates. “I know Kung Fu” at scale.
Last week, we covered Mobile ALOHA, another AI robot that was learning by observing and could complete any number of complex tasks like cooking shrimp…and just a few days later Figure dropped this demo. The rise of the robots is upon us; we need to get these things down the cost curve pronto so I can stop flipping my own shrimp.
Speaking of demos, this one lit the internet one fire this week.
Rabbit released its new AI foundation model (LAM) and hardware device. The “Large Action Model,” which “understands human intentions,” essentially turns human direction into actions…without the need for standard app interfaces. Order food through Doordash, but not on Doordash. Send an email through Gmail, but not on Gmail. Hail a car through Uber, but not on Uber.
LAM translates natural language into directions, and then goes one step further by directly integrating with apps’ backends to turn those directions into actions. I am not smart enough to predict how humans will interact with computers in the future, but this seems like a step in the right direction.
On the hardware front, Rabbit’s partnered with the legends at Teenage Engineering to produce something simple and shockingly affordable. It’s simple (by design), comes with table stakes tech, and serves its purpose for the LAM. Notably, however, it is CHEAP at just $199, with no ongoing subscription.
Who knows how the AI hardware race is going to shake out. Plenty of people on the internet pretty strongly believe Rabbit will not emerge victorious. But it’s awesome to see so much innovation happening in hardware again.
After two years of emissions growth, while the country rebounded from the pandemic and its associated economic disruptions, we estimate that emissions were down 1.9% year-on-year in 2023, while the economy expanded by 2.4% over the course of the year. US emissions remained below pre-pandemic levels and dropped to 17.2% below 2005 levels.
Boom! GDP Growth + Emissions Decline — that’s what we love to see and that’s exactly what the U.S. pulled off in 2023, according to new research from The Rhodium Group.
At a sector level, the power and buildings sectors saw emissions reductions due to decreased coal generation and milder winter weather, respectively. Warmer winters means less energy needed to heat our homes! OK, a bit backwards, but still we’ll take this small win.
Transportation experienced a 1.6% increase in emissions as people and businesses hit the road again hard in 2023, while industrial emissions grew by 1% due to rising domestic oil and gas production.
On both emissions and GDP growth, 2023 looked a lot like 2019, meaning things are starting to normalize back to pre-pandemic levels. But the work is not done yet, the U.S. will need to reduce emissions 6.9% each year until 2030 to meet the US's climate targets under the Paris Agreement (if that’s still a thing that we’re doing).
Rezai et al, in The New England Journal of Medicine
This new study in The New England Journal of Medicine covers a novel method of delivering Alzheimer’s medication (Aduhelm) by temporarily opening the blood-brain barrier using focused ultrasound. The blood-brain barrier is quite a useful thing — it keeps our brain from being flooded with toxins and infections and other foreign substances — but it can also restrict the flow of otherwise useful substances to the brain, like say, Alzheimer’s medication. Now, researchers are exploring how to temporarily open-up the blood-brain barrier using ultrasound and microbubbles to let the medicines flow.
The early-stage experiment, conducted on three patients with mild Alzheimer’s, showed a 32% increase in the dissolution of plaque when the barrier was opened using these methodologies. This increased flow is particularly important for Aduhelm, which cost $28,000 per year, because only 1 percent of the antibodies injected into the bloodstream generally slip past the blood-brain barrier. Increase the flow of antibodies into the blood-brain barrier and, at least theoretically, you can decrease the cost of the drug for patients.
But the implications of the research aren’t limited to Aduhelm — any number of drugs could become more effective and affordable were they able to more efficiently pass through the blood-brain barrier.
The Optimism Collective
Public goods builders and creators are beginning to rely on RetroPGF as an alternative to traditional, often inaccessible, funding sources. Rewards are determined by badgeholders, who review submissions and award projects that demonstrate their positive impact, whether they’re consistent contributors, or teams and individuals contributing to the Collective for the first time.
Packy here. Big week for crypto! After a little will-they-won’t-they, the SEC begrudgingly approved the spot Bitcoin ETFs, which began trading yesterday.
That’s not what I’m writing about, though. Yesterday, the Optimism Collective announced 501 recipients of its third round of Retroactive Public Goods Funding (RetroPGF) awards. They handed out 30 million OP tokens (worth over $100 million at current prices).
RetroPGF is one of the most interesting mechanisms to come out of crypto, and one that I hope gets adopted much more broadly at some point. Essentially, Optimism (an Ethereum L2) badgeholders vote on projects and people who have contributed most to the Optimism ecosystem and retroactively reward them for their contributions after the contributions have been made.
It’s a way of encouraging people to build things, write things, and do things that support the ecosystem — public goods — and of making it financially feasible for more people to do so. It’s also a way to signal that good work will be rewarded without choosing what to reward ahead of time. Capitalist af.
Among the recipients include ZachXBT, who does free onchain detective work to thwart scammers and help people recover stolen funds. He received 149,455 OP tokens (worth over $500k) for his work. You can find all the recipients here.
One of the things that gets me excited about crypto is that it’s a laboratory for experimenting on solutions to complex problems, and public goods funding fits the bill. Great to see people get rewarded for their contributions, and I hope others fork the idea to encourage more people to get out there and do good things in the world, even if those things aren’t typically fundable in other ways.
That’s all for this week. If you have some time this weekend, check out Alto.
We’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday.
Thanks for reading,
Dan + Packy