A Few Things: Attia on Longevity, What You Need to Know About SVB and The Banks, Learning Machine, News You Might Have Missed, The Fourth Turning, GPT-4, Reid Hoffman on AI, The Trouble with AI....
March 17, 2023
This email is a summary of the most interesting things I learnt this week.
I spent hours this week reading, listening and learning and then synthesising and curating what I learnt into one simple email. I wanted to share it with you because I count you in the group of people I learn from and enjoy being around.
You can check out last week’s edition here: Genetic Enhancement, Michael Mauboussin, Tim Urban, News You Might Have Missed, What I Learnt in LA, How To Use Bing-GPT, The State of VC.....
Quotes I Am Thinking About:
“Middle age is when you’ve met so many people that every new person you meet reminds you of someone else.”
- Ogden Nash
“Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.”
- Marcus Tullius Cicero
“The constant lesson of history is the dominant role played by surprise. Just when we are most comfortable with an environment and come to believe we finally understand it, the ground shifts under our feet.”
- Peter Bernstein
A. A Few Things Worth Checking Out:
1. Peter Attia, MD (@PeterAttiaMD), is the founder of Early Medical, a medical practice that applies the principles of Medicine 3.0 to patients with the goal of lengthening their lifespan and simultaneously improving their healthspan.
He is the host of The Drive, one of the most popular podcasts covering the topics of health and medicine.
He recently published: Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity.
You can get the main ideas of the book from this podcast he did with Tim Ferriss.
Key bits of the podcast:
[07:00] How and why Peter’s muscle mass has increased significantly.
[23:19] Objective, strategy, and tactics.
[28:50] From Medicine 1.0 to Medicine 3.0.
[43:21] Revisiting why and how one should increase their medical literacy.
[52:44] Avoiding scientific method misconceptions.
[1:00:09] Are sleep trackers downgrading the quality of our sleep?
[1:02:53] Under what conditions does Peter feel alcohol might be worth its downsides?
[1:18:24] Underutilized metrics and tools for expanding health and lifespan.
[1:51:47] Helping your doctor understand and embrace Medicine 3.0.
[1:53:47] How much is an ounce of prevention worth to you?
[1:58:23] Early cancer screening.
[2:06:33] Outlive chapters.
[2:08:46] The chapter on emotional health that almost didn’t make the book.
2. A lot out there on what’s happening with banks and specifically SVB but not a lot of it’s great. Here are two things that were useful:
Could the blow up at SVB have been avoided? Whenever a major financial institution collapses and needs a bailout, it's easy to say, "Where were the regulators?" But that's only a useful question if you can pinpoint the specific regulatory choices that led to any particular situation.
On this episode of the Bloomberg Odd Lots podcast, they spoke with Columbia Law School professor Lev Menand, who discusses the defanging of bank supervisors in the run-up to this fiasco. With proper oversight, someone might have caught and put a stop to the unique set of risks the bank was taking. But without proper oversight, they were encouraged to go for all-out growth, regardless of the ultimate social cost. Good historical and operational perspective here.
Laurence Tosi at WestCap had a front seat for another banking crisis: He was the COO at Merrill Lynch and then CFO at Blackstone as the financial crisis swept up Wall Street. Today, Tosi runs an $8 billion investment firm called WestCap that invests in startups and venture capital funds.
Last weekend, as Silicon Valley Bank was unraveling, Tosi guided his portfolio companies on how to move their money out of the bank. Then, over the weekend, after Silicon Valley Bank failed, he talked to top banking executives, Senators, and members of Congress, including Representative Ro Khanna. On this Newcomer podcast with Tosi, despite his generally optimistic outlook, offered a bleak take on what this year will look like for the startup industry. He predicted a “hard landing” and that 2023 will be even tougher than last year for startups. “The worst is yet to come,” Tosi said. “They raised rates so fast, the shock to the body after so many years of such a dovish stance and zero rates, it’s going to take some time to work through the system.
3. Beautiful piece by Frederik Gieschen titled: Cranking The Learning Machine Up To 11.
Life is not a quest to read the most books and investing is not a race to out-read your competitor. Value is created by applying what you’ve learned through better judgment. This requires reading, repeated engagement to process and integrate, and even periods of disengagement to filter and surface what is important.
The next time you put down a book or article to jump to the next one, ask yourself first:
Should I immediately move on or could I use some time without any input to let myself process? Does my ‘input’ box feel full?
Did I fully grasp the key ideas? Am I leaving something on the table by moving on? Should I revisit this work in a week?
Has my understanding of the outer and inner worlds changed? Did I experience a shift in perspective? Did this make me wiser? Did it enrich my mind?
How should I change my behaviors and thinking based on what I learned? Is anything in my life going to change or did I just read this to tick a box?
Naval once commented that he’d rather read the best 100 books over and over again than open something new whose value was uncertain. That’s a step too far but it’s an interesting idea. What will make more of a difference: churning through another set of podcasts, books, and articles, or truly internalizing the lessons from one great work?
The danger is to confuse the learning machine with a reading machine. Don’t let the information FOMO of platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, or even your podcast feed fool you. The goal is not to beat the scoreboard of weekly consumption. The goal is to integrate and apply what wisdom we find. The goal is to change and to act. And that is hard and takes time. The risk is that you turn the dial to 11 without realizing that nothing is changing.
B. Charts and News You Might Have Missed:
1. Iran and Saudi Arabia, after 7 years, decided to restore diplomatic relations and reopen embassies within 2 months. The two powers, largely at odds due to religious differences, have not only shunned each other but have also fueled conflicts around the region, including in Yemen. The deal to make nice was brokered with China’s help, a sign of its growing influence.
2. Everything Everywhere All At Once won historically big at the Oscars, winning not just Best Picture but also Best Actress, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay and Best Editing, 7 wins from the ceremony and the best performance in above-the-line categories ever. That’s out of 11 awards they were up for. Other big winners included All Quiet on the Western Front, which nabbed 4 prizes including Best International Film.
3. MindGeek, the parent company of Prnhub, is being acquired by Ethical Capital Partners, a new private equity firm in Ottawa, Canada formed in 2022. LOL!!
The terms of the deal were not disclosed. It was the 12th most visited website in the world in 2022. In its most recent published financial results from 2018, MindGeek generated about $460 million in revenue with profit margins near 50%.
C. The Fourth Turning
I was speaking to a friend (Ben G) this morning about what is happening in France with Macron’s reforms, and then later in the day was discussing what is happening in the US between Republicans and Democrats. We have bank failures, mental health epidemics, hot wars, civil wars and rebellions.
This reminded me of the The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe.
It’s a fascinating book about the cycles of wealth accumulation and distribution in human society and the four stages that it goes through.
The authors wrote in 1997:
“The next Fourth Turning is due to begin shortly after the new millennium, midway through the Oh-Oh decade. Around the year 2005, a sudden spark will catalyze a Crisis mood. Remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation, and empire.”
The Fourth Turning is due to continue as the great unraveling runs its course until about 2027.
“Sometime before the year 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history, commensurate with the American Revolution, Civil War, and twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II.”
According to the authors, prior Fourth Turnings were monumental events:
The 1760s were followed by the American Revolution, the 1850s by the Civil War, the 1920s by the Great Depression and World War II. All these unraveling eras were followed by bone-jarring crises so monumental that, by their end, American society emerged in a wholly new form.
Each time, the change came with scant warning. As late as December 1773, November 1859, and October 1929, the American people had no idea how close it was. Then sudden sparks (the Boston Tea Party, John Brown’s raid and execution, Black Tuesday) transformed the public mood, swiftly and permanently.
Whether it is a contested election, or the potential for a Civil War after, America is entering its Fourth Turning.
Here is one of the author’s Neil Howe discussing their work:
The Four Cycles in History:
High: The First Turning is a High, which occurs after a Crisis. During The High, institutions are strong and individualism is weak. Society is confident about where it wants to go collectively, though those outside the majoritarian center often feel stifled by the conformity.
Awakening: The Second Turning is an Awakening. This is an era when institutions are attacked in the name of personal and spiritual autonomy. Just when society is reaching its high tide of public progress, people suddenly tire of social discipline and want to recapture a sense of "self-awareness", "spirituality" and "personal authenticity".
Unraveling: The Third Turning is an Unraveling. The mood of this era they say is in many ways the opposite of a High: Institutions are weak and distrusted, while individualism is strong and flourishing. Highs come after Crises, when society wants to coalesce and build and avoid the death and destruction of the previous crisis. Unravelings come after Awakenings, when society wants to atomize and enjoy.
Crisis: The Fourth Turning is a Crisis. This is an era of destruction, often involving war or revolution, in which institutional life is destroyed and rebuilt in response to a perceived threat to the nation's survival. After the crisis, civic authority revives, cultural expression redirects towards community purpose, and people begin to locate themselves as members of a larger group.
Do these sound familiar ?
D. The Technology Section:
Quick take on impact of AI: Given the potential speed at which AI is developing and the wide range of impacts it could have on every industry, a beginner’s mind analytical approach is merited, especially for established industries.
I am trying to reexamine all beliefs I’ve held as truth in light of advancing technology. The goal is to start from scratch and examine the range of potential outcomes for everything.
Software: Many existing software apps sold on a per-seat or usage basis, might need to transition to being sold on a value basis, i.e., factoring in the customer's cost savings for the employees that an AI app replaces. There is growing evidence that adding AI software tools affords ~50% productivity increases, which I would estimate might imply somewhere around 30% fewer seats for those tools.
Venture Capital: Does the rapid pace of AI development call into question the decade-long time horizon of VCs?
Human Capital: How messy will be the real world hangover as people will be repurposed to other, higher value tasks?
1. What you need to know about GPT-4
ChatGPT which has GPT-3.5 in its core had a worldwide ripple effect. Its successor GPT-4, a large, multi-modal model outperforms given models on pretty much all verticals, and has other capabilities that leave us in awe.
Creativity: GPT-4 is more creative and collaborative than ever before. It can generate, edit, and iterate with users on creative and technical writing tasks, such as composing songs, writing screenplays, or learning a user’s writing style.
Multi-modal: GPT-4 accepts images as input and generates captions, classifications, and analyses in painstaking detail.
Extended outputs: GPT-4 is capable of handling over 25,000 words of text ( roughly a quarter of a 270p. book), allowing for use cases like long-form content creation, extended conversations, and document search and analysis.
Long context input: GPT-4 is capable of accepting long contextual input information. It accepts up to 32k tokens, which is roughly 43000 words, which is roughly half of a 270p. book.
2. Straight forward and useful: How to…use AI to unstick yourself by Ethan Mollick. Concise and packed with good ideas.
3. Reid Hoffman (PayPal mafia member, LinkedIn co-founder, Greylock partner, and Microsoft board member) sat down with Eric Newcomer.
Hoffman has just stepped off OpenAI’s board of directors. Hoffman traced his interest in artificial intelligence back to a conversation with Elon Musk.
They dive into what Reid has been involved in and where AI is going.
4. For a deep dive on the Trouble with AI, Gary Marcus and Stuart Russell were on the Sam Harris podcast talking about both short term and long term risks in AI.
They discuss the limitations of Deep Learning, the surprising power of narrow AI, a possible misinformation apocalypse, the problem of instantiating human values, the business model of the Internet…..and a lot more.
Stuart Russell is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of California at Berkeley, holder of the Smith-Zadeh Chair in Engineering, and Director of the Center for Human-Compatible AI. His book, Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, co-authored with Peter Norvig, is the standard text in AI, used in 1500 universities in 135 countries. He is also the author of Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control.
Gary Marcus is a scientist, best-selling author, and entrepreneur. He is well-known for his challenges to contemporary AI, anticipating many of the current limitations decades in advance, and for his research in human language development and cognitive neuroscience. His most recent book, Rebooting AI, co-authored with Ernest Davis, is one of Forbes’s 7 Must Read Books in AI. His podcast Humans versus Machines, will come later this spring.
5. A new report from an Australian think tank suggests that China has a global lead in 37 out of 44 strategic technologies, from defence, space, robotics, energy, biotechnology, AI and quantum tech.
Shanghai in particular is positioning itself as the Chinese capital of AI, and has renewed the pledge to attract 20,000 to 30,000 AI stars to the city. Its strength lies in intelligent chip-design enterprises, but apparently lacks top algorithm talent.
6. I was at the Montgomery Summit 2 weeks ago. Highly recommend the annual gathering.
Here are my 2 favourite sessions. What makes them great is that you get to hear directly from the founders and operators about what is happening today.
A few of you have noticed the Pledge Support button on this email. I wanted to clarify some facts.
1. Firstly thank you to all of you that pledged. That gesture means a lot. Luckily I have no intention to charge for what I do here. I would do it even if no one was reading.
2. Substack has a business to run. One of the ways they make money is by charging a % of what a paid writer makes on their platform. Therefore they want to encourage me to charge and for you to pay.
3. After I hit send, but before you receive it, Substack adds the button on what goes out to you. I did not add it, and so cannot remove it.
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A special thank you to my friend Sami Laine for an amazing few days in Lapland.