020: Steve Jürvetson – polymath, world renowned venture capitalist, thinker of human evolution
“If you didn’t understand evolution, and somebody explains it to you, you have to take your ego down a notch. You have to say: “Wait a minute. so humanity is not the endpoint of purposeful design? Wait – we’re just kind of an accident”?!”
This is the 20th episode – as you know, every tenth episode we make is a special where I talk to someone who is of Estonian descent yet doesn’t speak the seemingly unintelligible language, or is a big friend of Estonia who is contributing to the success of Estonia. If you haven’t listened to our previous special episode with Jenik Radon, I encourage you to do so.
We’re recording this on March 24 2017, and my guest today is an Estonian-American polymath, a world renowned venture capitalist, and the Estonia’s first e-resident outside Europe – Steve Jurvetson. In his day job, he invests in bold human endeavors in quantum computing, deep learning, electric cars, rockets, synthetic biology, genomics, robotics, and other areas.
Selles episoodis räägime
His technology-infused, Estonian-subtext upbringing in Arizona.
How chip design and computing is undergoing a fundamental shift using biomimicry?
Why learning 9 programming languages is not as hard as 9 human languages, and what advice does he give to young people starting out in technology?
How does he think about the future of humanity in the light of accelerating rich-poor gap, automation, and why will robots be the slaves, not humans?
And his thoughts on why Estonia is competitive on the world stage.
“I think we are currently in the middle of a major renaissance in how we do computation and how we actually think of engineering in general. I think it is shifting profoundly, almost as profoundly as when we first came up with the concept of the scientific method as a way to accumulate knowledge as a species over time. Something as profound is happening in the field of machine intelligence.”
“What fascinates me is that our humanity’s capacity to compute has compounded over 120 years and across multiple technology modes including mechanical devices etc. The main takeaway for me that is so powerful is there is I think a reflection here of a huge phenomenon, even bigger than computers themselves, which is humanity’s information reserve — our knowledge, our learning is compounding.”
“In terms of advice, first of all, I think that everyone should learn computer science. Do it young, do it early, do it often. Most importantly, I would encourage people, once they have had any taste of CS, to force themselves to play around with neural networks, whatever they will call it in the future. The core of it is neural networks patterned on the brain.”
“It sort of clicked for me that there are power laws in income (meaning it looks in and there are power laws in the number of companies that succeed in the information age businesses. As businesses succeed, they become information-centric and global, it tends to be winner takes all dynamic. Couple that with the notion that I strongly believe every business becomes an information business over time, just at different rates of speed. … The worries around AI should be centered on the concentration of power and I think OpenAI is spot on to say let’s look to Google, should one company be that powerful?”
“In the future, you could imagine that all you really need is something that provides you your basic foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Food, shelter, and clothing should all be a dollar a pound. Today, the only reason there is a difference in cost is either intellectual property tied to the thing or that it is esoterically manufacturing processes, but things should be a dollar a pound. I would add to the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs education and healthcare. If Maslow was alive today, he would surely put that at the bottom of the hierarchy of needs.”
“I wish the reason we got connected to Skype was because of my deep Estonian roots and I took advantage of it and it would have been an awesome connection to highlight, but that wasn’t the case, unfortunately. It was the proactive enthusiasm interest from my partner Tim Draper. … Tim, when we had beaten down idea, his father invested personally and so we knew when the time was right, the pivot had occurred and we knew it could take off. So, we led the first venture round and I negotiated the deal myself. That is how we got involved. The insight and reason I thought it was that during that time we had been getting excited about things that could spread virally that were communications products mapped around the internet that restructured how humans communicate in various ways and we loved it.”
“Reflecting the earlier question that why does Estonia matter? I think increasingly small companies matter and small countries matter and small teams matter.”
Advice to Estonia – “Don’t lay around regulations, make it easier to form companies, make it easier to run experiments. If Estonia could maybe argue that it should run experiments on the behalf of the EU and actually collect data on what works better let’s say in voting: e-voting here vs whatever you are doing there. Also teaching everyone computer science, maybe deep learning jumps to mind as something brilliant.”
Recorded on March 24 2017.