Where are the next frontiers?

https://luttig.substack.com/p/when-tailwinds-vanish

This is relevant to the question of ‘Why is there only one Elon Musk?

Great founders generally don’t get started in industries where progress has slowed to the point where the average incumbent can remain incumbent.

So, in the spirit of pragmatic action (rather than just intellectualizing the problem) – where will the next highly-lucrative frontier fields be? Where are the entry-points and opportunities?

My answer: perfect machine vision poses a similar risk to the current Fortune 500 as the internet originally did. It does not exist and we are perhaps 5 years prior to its arrival.

The underlying technology will be commoditized but the integration will be a multi-trillion-dollar problem with a long tail that prevents the value being accumulated into a single company.

Great founders generally don’t get started in industries where progress has slowed to the point where the average incumbent can survive.

idk man. Are you sure about this?

How is “perfect” machine vision different from the almost perfect machine vision we’re going to get in the next few years with deep learning?

I hear regularly that biology is the new frontier. I can’t see it.

I can make a case for a good number of new technologies being created (carbon capture, perhaps production of some drugs/food/materials), but I can’t make a good case for the business models of much of the Fortune 500 being made obsolete by new developments in biology.

Can someone explain why it’d be a multi-trillion-dollar opportunity over a decade or two, with a long tail of opportunity that would allow for many new entrants?

That’s a very interesting point. re: biology. I agree with Vitalik’s recent take that it’s simply the last frontier. When there’s nothing else to improve on, people want to use biology. I don’t necessarily disagree regarding biology’s impact on existing businesses but I don’t have problems imagining that it will create entire new industries that did not exist before (like production of completely novel materials using live organisms).

I don’t have problems imagining that it will create entire new industries that did not exist before (like production of completely novel materials using live organisms).

Right; and on the materials side, there’s an analogy to the petrochemical industry in the 1930s-1950s. Perhaps we’d expect to see most of the value absorbed by a handful of conglomerates (Gingko and a
few others, mapping loosely to Dow Chemical, BASF, etc), lots of inventors who end up with footnotes in textbooks but for the most part are unable to capture the value of their discoveries (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Perrin), lots of opportunity at the employee level and a ton of press attention/hype/moralizing.

Perhaps VC changes this equation. I don’t know. I guess the internal question I ask whenever I find some smart ambitious outsider going into biology is: given that the odds of extreme success for unknown outsiders seem so lousy, do they (0) have information I do not, (1) have a distorted or incomplete view (i.e. will they regret the decision), (2) have an unfair advantage (that is not just unique perspective and capacity for hard work) (3) simply not care about achieving an extreme (>$10^8) level of success?

I’d also be very concerned whether internet fame maps onto ‘value captured’ in the same way that it has done in software.

I agree with Vitalik’s recent take that it’s simply the last frontier

Right, I certainly agree with this over the long-term (as far as I can tell), but the previous concerns would still be top-of-mind if one’s goal is to make a dent.

One counterargument might be ‘life-extension is the most significant bit, so one should heavily index on directly helping gestate a solution to this problem before any of the others’, or ‘it’s a bad idea to over-optimize these things, just follow obsessions and let the dots connect in reverse’.

If any of this reasoning sounds wrong I’d love to hear it!

Do you find many smart ambitious outsiders going into biology? I’m going into biology now and spending a lot of time learning everything about it and learning people doing it before trying to make anything big.

Do you find many smart ambitious outsiders going into biology?

Very rarely and usually spot them online rather than in person. Many of the people I’m thinking of ended up moving into neighbouring fields (often neural interfacing, next-gen chip design, or the intersection of deep learning and chemistry, sometimes robotic automation or crypto). If you’ve spent more than a few weeks looking then you’ll have a bigger sample size than me.

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“The next frontier” is where those with money want it to be, more or less. It was the government contracts plus a few scientists that started all that computer stuff going on now [1]. And today the government has virtually everything it needs, except maybe more data, more control on information. The public face recognition tech is already good enough, imagine what the military can do. Also, it can’t be the next big thing, because the application is too narrow.

But the government is not the only player anymore. As @voice_of_raisin said, there are Fortune 500. But it doesn’t really matter if something will become “obsolete” or not (maybe it will, we don’t know), because new industries, as @guzey already stated.

What does matter, is the people, who own those companies. They are extremely wealthy, and they are going to die pretty soon (relative to the future possibilities), if nothing changes. There are already some big players investing in biotech. Alexey, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe there are no problems with money in a bio research at all [2].

So, combining those points, my best answer for this thread would be something like user-friendly quantified self tech, with maybe a little more biology going on. It has everything for everyone: data for the government/corporations, longevity/extreme lifestyle quality boost for individuals, AI/NN for those on a hype train, and it will be a part of the IoT market, which is a very promising one, too.

The next company to combine all those things and make it relatively accessible will win. Neuralink? And, oh man, since everyone likes dopamine addiction so much: if you add some virtual reality/general entertainment stuff to it… What, Neuralink again?


[1] The first high tech company (which started the Silicon Valley) was the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory, which was a division of Beckman Instruments, which was and is, basically, a scientific/medical devices company. And Arnold Beckman—brilliant guy—was, mainly, a chemist. A large part of his inventions, surely, were sponsored by the government—as stated in Other secret projects, Computers and automation on his wiki page.

[2] Well, except there’s a problem with people, maybe? I am probably biased, because I don’t know shit in bio, but I also don’t think there are enough resources to get started easily in this field at all. Furthermore, it is a highly academical one -> higher education/academia is in a crisis now -> the progress in bio is even more delayed.

I disagree with all of the bolded points, especially the last one.
Can you elaborate a bit more on the first point? Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you, but in my mind a “frontier” is dictated by more or less physical reality – e.g. in what places or applications can you create a lot of value per man-hour, or just with a bit of creativity? It’s certainly true that government actions spawned a frontier but that seems to me to be a side-effect of more practical concerns. Again, I may be misreading you.


Also, as a sort of tangent - I think physical frontiers (places where there isn’t already human civilization) are worth thinking about in parallel with intellectual / technological frontiers. A couple of things they have in common, IMO:

  • fewer rules; reward signals are tied more strongly to “value added” than in more established fields or areas.
  • things that “just seem fun” have the side effect of being valuable

Happily, most of the known universe is a physical frontier.

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