Sam Altman is Super Smart — Who Knew? 😉

That Was The Week 2021, #10

By Keith Teare • Issue #10 • View online




This week’s That Was The Week is proof of the aphorism that “less is more”. We have way fewer curated articles but they are full of weighty and thought-provoking ideas.

Leading the way is Sam Altman’s Moore’s Law for Everything essay. Inspired, or perhaps provoked by, his work at OpenAI, Altman contemplates the near future when AI and robotics have reduced the price of labor for most things to zero. This is a likely future that we have talked about before in this newsletter, here and here. Altman hits the nail on the head with his essay, and that is the collapse in the price of labor as fewer and fewer functions require it. This collapse also implies a collapse in prices as less and less new labor is embodied in the things we produce. Permanent growth at zero marginal cost seems utopian but it is inevitable.

So how does society capture this growth and redirect it to the now workless human race? Altman:

We should therefore focus on taxing capital rather than labor, and we should use these taxes as an opportunity to directly distribute ownership and wealth to citizens. In other words, the best way to improve capitalism is to enable everyone to benefit from it directly as an equity owner. This is not a new idea, but it will be newly feasible as AI grows more powerful, because there will be dramatically more wealth to go around. The two dominant sources of wealth will be 1) companies, particularly ones that make use of AI, and 2) land, which has a fixed supply.

I think this is correct but also misses the final step. Companies really will not exist once automation is ubiquitous. Taxing Capital is the same as socializing wealth. The only thing that makes capital, capital, is that it is private. By taxing it we make it social. That act reduces the productive forces to a method of production, divorced from the wealth it creates. Then we can — as a human race — prove that Francis Fukuyama’s End of History prognosis was premature. And we can do what Altman suggests — distribute ownership and wealth to citizens.

This answers the age-old question of how we could afford universal income.

AI will lower the cost of goods and services because labor is the driving cost at many levels of the supply chain. If robots can build a house on land you already own from natural resources mined and refined onsite, using solar power, the cost of building that house is close to the cost to rent the robots. And if those robots are made by other robots, the cost to rent them will be much less than it was when humans made them.

The collapse in prices driven by reduced labor will make it possible for life’s needs to tend towards being free. Food, care, education, housing, health, and more, would all move towards being free. It is no longer necessary to be utopian to see this possibility. But this economic change will require social change if it is to benefit all.

I think Altman is really smart to focus on who owns the wealth created by automation. Without that the social outcome would be decidedly dark. One where wealthy individuals controlled everything. We would be in the dark world of Plato’s Republic, where power was denied to all but the elite. The Socratic democracy would have gone forever.

The section on Nation-states, Money and Tech reinforces some of the changes a distributed wealth society might draw on, as well as the challenges it may face.

Along with Altman, also smart, Disney. We cover a patent filing showing the Company’s belief that streaming and interactivity will fuse into a new audio-visual experience. Not streaming, not zoom, but both. This is the future vision shared by one of my portfolio companies — Millicast, and its founder Dr Alex Gouaillard, and they are ready to deliver it. Disney owns ESPN. Both Disney and ESPN are key players in the future of “digital interactive seats” at events. The Millicast implementation of WebRTC, and associated technologies, will enable Disney’s vision to be realized. Private seats along with millions of others, at major events, while being able to interact with remote friends as if they were present, is the future of sport and much entertainment, education, and much besides. 4k video with the AV1 codec, surround sound, and HDR, near-zero latency, and synchronized streams are all in our future. Encrypted and secure end to end.

We end this week with Shaan Puri’s Twitter stream about the likely failure of Clubhouse. It directly relates to the Disney patent and the future of real-time interactive streaming.

Automation, AI and, Universal Income

Moore’s Law for Everything

My work at OpenAI reminds me every day about the magnitude of the socio-economic change that is coming sooner than most people believe. Software that can think and learn will do more and more of the work that people now do. Even more, power will shift from labor to capital. If public policy doesn’t adapt accordingly, most people will end up worse off than they are today.

We need to design a system that embraces this technological future and taxes the assets that will make up most of the value in that world–companies and land–in order to fairly distribute some of the coming wealth. Doing so can make the society of the future much less divisive and enable everyone to participate in its gains.

In the next five years, computer programs that can think will read legal documents and give medical advice. In the next decade, they will do assembly-line work and maybe even become companions. And in the decades after that, they will do almost everything, including making new scientific discoveries that will expand our concept of “everything.”

This technological revolution is unstoppable. And a recursive loop of innovation, as these smart machines themselves help us make smarter machines, will accelerate the revolution’s pace. Three crucial consequences follow:

  1. This revolution will create phenomenal wealth. The price of many kinds of labor (which drives the costs of goods and services) will fall toward zero once sufficiently powerful AI “joins the workforce.”
  2. The world will change so rapidly and drastically that an equally drastic change in policy will be needed to distribute this wealth and enable more people to pursue the life they want.
  3. If we get both of these right, we can improve the standard of living for people more than we ever have before.


Interactive Real-Time Streams — The Future is Now

Disney Patent Would Bring Video Game Interactivity to Streaming Services Like Disney+

As more homes “cut the cord” by disconnecting from cable television and satellite providers, viewers have turned to streaming services like Disney+. Streaming services put a nearly endless amount of content at our fingertips, but lack one thing: interactivity. A Disney patent application published March 4, 2021 would bring new levels of interactivity to nearly any streaming service.

The patent application details the difficulties involved in adding interactivity to video content. Usually, interactivity is added by coding a container that layers game-like features over the streaming video. The issue with this method is that the container code must be rewritten to add new features.


Nation States Money and Tech

‘We Must Not Let Zuckerberg Become a Central Bank’: European MP

In brief

  • Facebook’s Diem project has caught lawmakers’ attention.
  • Some want to give the European Central Bank more power to regulate such projects.

With Facebook’s Diem project opening a path for other Big Tech firms to establish their own cryptocurrencies and stablecoins, European Parliament legislators are attempting to give the European Central Bank (ECB) more regulatory power.

“We must not let [Mark] Zuckerberg become a Central Bank,” Dr Stefan Berger, a European People’s Party Member of the European Parliament (MEP), told Decrypt via email after proposing amendments to a bill calling for more regulation of digital asset issuers.

The September proposal, the European Commission’s Markets in Crypto-assets (MiCA) Regulation, would mandate that the ECB “establish uniform rules for crypto-asset service providers and issuers at EU level.”


Image: Roblox SEC filing

Roblox Is at the Nexus of Digital Currencies and the Creator Economy

Roblox Is More Than Just a Gaming Platform — It’s a Growing Economy. Our kids understand it better than we do. And it’s training them for the token economy.

The stock market, still caught up in the GameStop trading frenzy, recently put a spotlight on the gaming industry’s latest entrant: Roblox. It debuted on the New York Stock Exchange last week via direct listing and was valued at a mind-boggling $45 billion. The gaming platform of the future has proven itself to be a pandemic mainstay among youth, with daily screen-time usage nearly doubling in the past year alone.

For many parents, this marks a crucial inflection point as many witness an innocent pandemic pastime transform into a booming business. The last time emotions were riding this high was when “Baby Shark” hit the Billboard Hot 100’s Top 40 list. But Roblox is more than just an annoyingly addictive tune — it’s a moneymaking machine. Throughout the past year, even if parents haven’t participated on the platform directly as gamers, they were either observant bystanders or reluctant financial endorsers, loaning out their credit cards for in-game purchases. That’s a role Roblox is more than happy to let them play.


Morgan Stanley Set To Offer Clients Access To Bitcoin Funds

Presently, only clients with an “aggressive risk tolerance” who have at least $2 million in assets with Morgan Stanley would be allowed to invest in the funds. Meanwhile, investment firms looking to tap in would need to hold up to $5 million with the bank and their account must be at least six months old. Morgan Stanley is also going to be limiting investors who meet all of the above criteria to investing only 2.5 percent of their total worth into the bitcoin funds.


Gossip of the Week

Uber Says Its UK Drivers Are ‘Workers,’ but Not Employees

FOR YEARS, UBER has deployed lobbyists to world capitals to protect its business model. Its lawyers have argued that Uber drivers are independent contractors, using a service that connects them with people who need rides. Uber? It’s just a tech company matching customers with business people.

For a long time, that argument worked. Now, following a UK Supreme Court decision, Uber has shifted, saying it will treat its UK drivers as workers. That unusual employment category — used in the UK — entitles drivers to minimum wage guarantees after expenses, paid holidays, and pension contributions, but drivers will not be employees. Just a few weeks ago, Uber had insisted that the case only applied to a handful of workers. The new policy will not apply to workers for Uber Eats, the company’s growing delivery service.

“It’s a pretty significant U-turn, not only on Uber’s stance in the past decade but its stance since the Supreme Court judgment,” says Paul Jennings, an employment and discrimination lawyer with the firm Bates Wells, which represented a group of Uber drivers in the case that made it to the Supreme Court. The UK is responsible for 6.4 percent of the company’s ride-hailing business. Following the news, Uber shares were down by 4 percent on Wednesday afternoon.

But Uber’s announcement is far from a clean win for drivers, and will likely prompt more legal wrangling, in the UK and elsewhere. It also shows how Uber increasingly is pushing for recognition of a “third category” of work, providing gig workers with some traditional employment protections, but falling well below those provided to employees.


Google Play drops commissions to 15% from 30%, following Apple’s move last year

Google will lower its Play commissions globally for developers that sell in-app digital goods and services on its marquee store, the company said, following a similar move by rival Apple late last year. The Android-maker said on Tuesday that starting July 1, it is reducing the service fee for Google Play to 15% — down […]


Image Credits: Harry Murphy / Contributor / Getty Images

Trading platform eToro to go public via SPAC merger in $10B deal

Multi-asset investing and trading platform and Robinhood competitor eToro announced Tuesday it will go public via a merger with SPAC FinTech Acquisition Corp. V in a massive $10.4 billion deal. Once the transaction closes sometime in the third quarter, the combined company will operate as eToro Group Ltd. and is expected to be listed on […]


UK pulls away from France and Germany on VC funding despite Brexit — CNBC


  • The U.K.’s tech start-ups raised more in 2020 than start-ups in any other country except for the U.S. ($144 billion) and China ($44.6 billion), according to Tech Nation’s annual report.
  • The U.K.’s start-ups and “scale-ups” are now valued at an estimated $585 billion — more than double what they were valued at in 2017, Tech Nation said.
  • By contrast, Germany, the next most valuable start-up ecosystem in Europe, is valued at $291 billion.


Startup of the Week: Stripe

Despite IPO stampede, Stripe sticks with mega-rounds in private market | PitchBook

Many of the world’s largest VC-backed companies are rushing to take advantage of the best public market conditions in over 20 years. But some fast-growing companies are in no hurry to join them.


From Tipperary to Silicon Valley: how Stripe became vital cog in digital economy

Brothers Patrick and John Collison’s online payments empire is now valued at $95bn

The latest fundraising round by the digital payments firm Stripe has boosted the net worth of its co-founders, Patrick and John Collison, to about $11.5bn (£8.3bn) each, catapulting them into the top bracket of the world’s millennial billionaires. Not bad for two brothers from the tiny Tipperary village of Dromineer, population: barely 100.

Related: Silicon Valley’s Stripe valued at $95bn after fundraising


Tweet of the Week

Recording feature ships.

Sadly — it flops.

When creators care more about the recording, they stop inviting in random audience members. The fun of “live” is gone.

Listeners: what’s the point of showing up live? why not just listen to the podcast later?

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