Author: Lux Capital

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A podcast by venture capital firm Lux Capital on the opportunities and risks of science, technology, finance and the human condition. Hosted by Danny Crichton from our New York City studios.
76 Episodes
Every quarter, Lux publishes our latest quarterly letter to our limited partners, highlighting the key themes we’re working on as a partnership. These topics are — unsurprisingly — bold, as the frontiers of science fiction transition into the world of the possible. But this time around, we’re emphasizing a new thesis that we think combines the future and the past, and might just help the entire world to boot. Lux co-founder and managing partner Josh Wolfe joins host Danny Crichton to discuss Lux’s new theme of “maintenance.” As Josh wrote, “Maintenance is not about preserving the status quo but thoughtfully fueling forward progress by improving on humanity’s past achievements.” Josh discusses the opportunity with maintenance, as well as why the repair of our society and its infrastructure is a growth industry since “the value of maintaining existing systems grows as entropy accelerates, and as we reach the Entropic Apex, that value becomes concomitantly unbounded.”
This week’s solar eclipse captured the imaginations of millions of Americans throughout an arc across the continent. One of those entranced was Sam Arbesman, Lux’s scientist-in-residence and a local of Cleveland, which sat in the full zone of totality. Sam also happened to live in Kansas City during the 2017 eclipse, so he has (accidentally) eclipsed-chased in his choices of residence. Briefly, Sam and host Danny Crichton talk about the eclipse, the mesmerizing impact of science, and the unique community that comes together in cities lying in the darkness. Lux is “light” in Latin, and so what happens when darkness descends across the Earth? Surprisingly, something magical and optimistic, showing how science and mathematics has the ability to transmute our passions into something great.
During a recent interview, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang emphasized his interest in how Nvidia’s AI processing chips could transform the science of life. He noted that this science, when properly understood, could evolve into a new form of engineering. Currently though, we lack the knowledge of how the extreme complexity of biology works, nor do we have models — namely AI models — to process that complexity. We may not have a perfect understanding of biology, but our toolset has expanded dramatically over the past ten years. Now, with the combination of data, biology and AI, we’re seeing the early signs of a golden era of biological progress, with large-language models that are able to predict everything from protein folding to increasingly, protein function. Entire spaces of our map are being discovered and filled in, and that is leading to some bullish scientists and investors to call the period we are living in the century of biology. But much remains to be done, and that’s the topic of our episode today. Host Danny Crichton is joined by Lux Capital’s bio investor Tess van Stekelenburg. Tess and Danny talk about Nvidia’s recent forays into biology as well as the new foundational model Evo from the Arc Institute. They then look at what new datasets are entering biology and where the gaps remain in our global quest to engineer life. Finally, they’ll project forward on where evolution might be taking us in the future once unshackled by nature.
Astrobiology has seen a series of revolutions over the past three decades that have completely reinvigorated the field. Scientists who were curious about life and biological organisms across the universe once had to handle the so-called giggle factor: the idea that they were kooky crazies searching for UFOs and little green men. With a dramatic improvement to the quality of our instruments and a torrent of new and better data, that giggle factor is now no laughing matter: we increasingly have the means to make progress here like never before. My guest today is Adam Frank, the author of The Little Book of Aliens and a professor of astrophysics who is focused on improving our ability to identify biosignatures and technosignatures of life throughout the cosmos. He’s just one contributor to a growing community of scientists reinventing our approach to the search for life, a vitality that is leading to the potential first dedicated satellite focused on the search, the Habitable Worlds Observatory. Alongside host Danny Crichton and Lux’s scientist in residence Sam Arbesman, we talk about the trilogy of revolutions that have brought new vigor to astrobiology, how artificial intelligence is upending the search for life, and what we can also learn about Earth and our climate in searching space for the answers of life.
Humans are enamored by a good story. The world overloads our mammalian senses, and so we seek any simplifying structure to narrate what we are witnessing and make it more accessible for processing. That simplification doesn’t just reduce the complexity of the world, but also makes it difficult to see the extent by which luck drives the successes of our geniuses — and the failures of others. From scientific discoveries and power-law venture returns to legislative breakthroughs and decisions during war, the world is, essentially, chaos. That might trigger a bout of deep existentialism for many of us, but for Brian Klaas, the hope is that confronting the stochastic nature of the world can lead to better governance and progress. In his new book Fluke, Klaas argues that we need to upend the simplistic statistical analyses and modeling that are common across social science and other domains and replace it with one that can encompass a theory of flukes. That means understanding timing, path dependency, and how the world is a complex system that is far more of a continuous variable than a binary one. With Lux’s scientist-in-residence Sam Arbesman and host Danny Crichton, we all talk about how chaos rules our lives; how a better understanding of complexity can improve investments, science, and life; Darwin’s luck of publishing his research on natural selection; the dangers of the human penchant for finding narrative; the random luck of our life experiences; and why understanding flukes can be a counterpoint to the ideas of moneyball.
Connections are the key ingredient for careers, society and AI neural networks to boot. Sometimes those connections arise spontaneously and other times they’re planned, but the most interesting ones tend to be planned that go in unexpected directions. That’s the story of David Ha, the co-founder and CEO of Sakana, a world-class generative AI research lab in Tokyo, Japan. We previously announced that Lux led a $30 million founding seed round in the company a few weeks ago on the podcast, but we didn’t dive deeper into the ricochets of David’s peripatetic career. Studying computer science and machine learning at the University of Toronto, he worked down the hall from now-famous AI researcher Geoffrey Hinton. He ultimately headed to Goldman Sachs in Tokyo doing derivatives trading, but on the side, he published a shadow and anonymous blog where he posted random experiments in artificial intelligence. A decade later of serendipitous connections later, and he is now leading one of the emerging national AI leaders for Japan.We talk through the stochastic moments that defined David’s career, why complex systems knowledge would ultimately turn out to be so valuable, the unique features and benefits of Japan, why openly communicating ideas and particularly interactive demos can spawn such serendipitous connections, why industry has produced more innovation in AI than academia, and why Google’s creativity should never be discounted.
The construction of Boston’s Big Dig highway tunnels has gone down in history as one of the most infamously delayed and over-budgeted infrastructure projects in the sorry annals of U.S. growth and progress. But Ian Coss sees the project radically different. In hindsight, he argues, the Big Dig was a steal: the good kind. Far from being a gargantuan boondoggle, the project resuscitated downtown Boston and ushered in urban economic benefits and spillovers that dwarf the costs of the project, however one might calculate them. Ian interviewed more than 100 people connected with the Big Dig and spent months editing a nine-episode podcast series titled “The Big Dig” for GBH News, Boston’s National Public Radio affiliate. Through the series, he covers everything from the environmental consciousness of the 1960s and colorful yet idealistic local political figures to the Department of Transportation’s inflation estimate policy and ultimately the decades it took to bring the dream of burying Boston’s unsightly Central Artery freeway. On today’s “Securities” podcast with host Danny Crichton, Danny and Ian debate the merits of the Big Dig megaproject, the complicated construction policies that made the project seem like a loser in front of the public, and just how hard it is to measure the true impact of a project that forever transformed one of America’s founding cities.
Home appliances are some of our most used and time-saving technologies, but they have barely evolved since their invention. A “smart” movement from major manufacturers tried to upgrade them with random tech features over the past decade, only to frustrate consumers with random crashes and mandatory web updates for a fridge. It was the nadir of user-friendly design and an embarrassing example of tech for tech’s sake. Impulse Labs wants to improve this miserable status quo. Funded by Lux, Impulse is rethinking appliances from the foundations up, evolving the experience of home appliances for the twenty-first century. What if our stoves could boil water all but instantly? What if we could perfectly and effortlessly cook a steak — every single time. And what if we could do all this while transforming the power grid and the availability of decentralized electricity for ourselves and our neighbors? That’s just part of the vision of Impulse Labs founder and CEO Sam D’Amico. Sam and host Danny Crichton talk about hardware product design, consumer marketing, what it takes to build the right supply chains as well as standing out during the chaos that is CES in Las Vegas.
Colonizing Mars has gone from the speculative fiction section of the bookstore right into the halls of Congress. Entrepreneurs led by Elon Musk have made “Occupy Mars” a tagline, and companies the Earth over are exploring the logistics of settling humans across the Moon and Mars. But what’s the true viability of a Mars settlement plan? Do we have the technology and legal systems in place to make this one-time fiction a reality? Popular cartoonist and author, Zach Weinersmith, wrote “A City On Mars” alongside his wife Kelly Weinersmith to explore that very question. Starting with an optimistic lens, they eventually conceded in the book that the project is one of extraordinary difficulty and are pessimistic at its chances. “A City On Mars” won a slew of best-of awards in 2023 for its delightfully engaging and humorous breakdown of complex physical and biological topics. In this first part of a two-part series, host Danny Crichton and Lux’s scientist in residence Sam Arbesman discuss with Zach the biological and psychological challenges of inter-planetary settlement and why every astronaut lies about their health in outer space. We also explore the challenges of reproduction in space, and what a second generation of settlers might have to endure in the far reaches of our solar system. Music composed by ⁠⁠ "Securities" is produced and edited
The current drive for a Mars colony revolves around two central axes: one is a fear of existential risk and the other is a search for existentialism. On the former, philosophers and probabilists remain deeply concerned about humanity’s Achilles heel: that our entire existence depends on the sustenance of a single blue dot in the Milky Way. Humanity’s fate is fundamentally tied to this single rock, which gives little redundancy from an asteroid strike, nuclear winter, or pandemic. At the same time, many entrepreneurs hear a rallying cry when they think about a Mars colony, arguing that a bold and long-term project is precisely what is needed to galvanize humanity to work together, overlook our internecine differences and find transcendence amidst the celestial cosmos. Even if outside our lifetime, a drive toward a space colony could be an existentialism that offers meaning and sustenance to our lives. In this second and final episode, Zack Weinersmith, who along with his wife Kelly Weinersmith are the authorial duo of A City on Mars, join host Danny Crichton and Lux’s scientist-in-residence Sam Arbesman to talk more about their negative prognostication for a Mars colony. Taking a more optimistic view, we also talk with Zach about what we should be doing to prep for a colony, including collecting more laboratory data and expanding science’s understanding of life under microgravity conditions.
The cost of launching a payload into low-earth orbit has shrunk dramatically over the past two decades as SpaceX has aggressively expanded its capability to repeatedly launch payloads into orbit at cheap cost. But accessing orbits farther away from Earth, such as Medium Earth orbit (MEO) and Geostationary orbit (GEO), remain expensive endeavors. Lux’s portfolio company Impulse Space, which is building the next generation of rocket propulsion for space, unveiled the design specs of its new high performance kick stage vehicle Helios today. The vehicle will allow operators to move objects like satellites from Low Earth orbit to orbits farther away at just a fraction of today’s costs, and it’s coming soon in 2026. I talked with Impulse Space’s CEO and founder Tom Mueller about Helios, as well as the growing concerns over space junk, a recent satellite emergency over Christmas, the television show The Expanse, space traffic control and what it means to move things in space and bring them back home.
Lux announced big news today: we are leading a $30 million founding seed round into Sakana AI, a Tokyo, Japan-based AI research laboratory that uses evolutionary methods, collective intelligence and character-level training to radically accelerate the training and development of nature-inspired AI foundation models. It’s a marquee check for Lux into the Asia-Pacific region, and represents the continuing democratization of the frontiers of computer science to all regions of the world, a trend we’ve championed for years now. I, your host Danny Crichton, wanted to spend some time on the economic and technological milieu that is changing the face of startups and entrepreneurship globally in 2024. In this episode, I walk through three themes that are driving Lux’s interest in Sakana AI and other companies, including the rise of national and indigenous AI foundation models, the return of Japan’s dynamic economy after decades of stagnation, and the broader ambitions of the Asia-Pacific region as China recedes from the minds of international investors in the midst of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on private entrepreneurship. Music composed by "Securities" is produced and edited by Chris Gates
Hey, it's Danny Crichton. 2023 was an incredibly busy year, and nowhere was there more fervent attention than on artificial intelligence. OpenAI launched ChatGPT at the very end of 2022, and its implications found purchase this year among more than one hundred million users and the regulators who serve them. Those product developments don't even get into the crazy governance crisis at OpenAI a few weeks ago, which saw Sam Altman and then the board of directors toppled in a story that likely outshone the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank as the most important tech crisis of the year. Billions of dollars of venture capital flowed into the AI space, with investors funding everything from data infrastructure and better model training to the applications that are already beginning to transform industries across the world. Governments have moved with alacrity to regulate this new technology, but progress is unabated and unstoppable. The "Securities" podcast has aggressively covered these developments throughout 2023, with interviews with more than a dozen experts in all facets of this new technology, from the corporate executives building these products and the generals using these new features for American defense, to the critics who caustically analyze AI's supposed truthful implications and the philosophers debating the theory of mind and consciousness of these systems. So as the final episode of the podcast this year, I wanted to connect all of these separate discourses around artificial intelligence together into one cohesive package. We clipped nine of the best segments from episodes across 2023 — special thanks to our producer Chris Gates on finding these treasures. A retrospective, an incitement to innovation, a warning — it's all here, so let's get started. This episode was produced, recorded and edited by Chris Gates Music by George Ko
In a world where science fiction often paints a pessimistic picture of dystopian futures and critiques of modern technology, novelist Eliot Peper stands out with his latest work, "Foundry." a thrilling exploration of the geopolitical intricacies of semiconductor manufacturing. In this episode of the "Securities" podcast, host Danny Crichton engages with Peper to discuss this engaging spy thriller, which goes beyond the surface to delve into how the tiny chips powering our phones and computers play a central role in 21st-century global politics. This book, Peper's 11th, began with a dream and unfolded line by line, leading to an unexpected journey through the complex realities of technological advancements and their impact on world affairs. "Foundry" is more than just a story; it's an invitation to ponder the unseen forces shaping our civilization. While semiconductors are a key topic, the conversation goes deeper, examining why Eliot continues to weave narratives in speculative fiction amidst a tech industry often bogged down by the weight of relentless pessimism. 
Ever wonder if your dreams were more than just dreams? Dive into an intriguing conversation with Erik Hoel on our latest “Securities” podcast with host Danny Crichton, as we explore the unexpected link between AI, neuroscience, and the enigmatic world of dreams.  What if dreams are our brain's way of preventing cognitive overfitting, much like synthetic datasets in machine learning? Could dreams be the human equivalent of synthetic data? This episode doesn't just stop at dreams. We end the conversation with a discussion of Erik’s essay “Why we stopped making Einsteins” delves into the intriguing question of why, despite the widespread availability of knowledge through the internet, there hasn't been a noticeable surge in the emergence of geniuses or a new golden age of intellectualism. Hoel argues that the decline in the production of geniuses, or world-historic figures, is closely tied to changes in education, particularly the decline in personalized, one-on-one tutoring. Could AI be the revival in one-on-one tutoring that we need to unlock genius?  With engaging insights from guests Josh Wolfe and Samuel Arbesman. Don't miss this captivating episode that merges the mysterious with the scientific, offering a fresh perspective on the wonders of the human mind and the future of AI. Tune in and be part of a discussion that's reshaping our understanding of consciousness.
In this episode of the "Securities" podcast, host Danny Crichton leads a discussion on consciousness with guests Erik Hoel, Josh Wolfe, and Samuel Arbesman. They dive into "The Consciousness Winter," comparing it to the AI winter in artificial intelligence. This concept highlights how consciousness studies were once sidelined but have since seen a revival. The conversation covers various theories, including Integrated Information Theory (IIT), and the importance of a mathematical approach to understanding consciousness.
Welcome to "Securities," a podcast and newsletter about science, technology, finance, and the human condition. In this episode, Danny Crichton and Josh Wolfe discuss themes from Lux Capital's Quarterly Letter, where techno-optimism collides with the despair of techno-pessimism. The conversation dives into the paradoxes of AI, oscillating between its awe-inspiring potential in transforming healthcare and education and the looming existential threats it poses. Danny and Josh dissect the complexities of AI, debating whether it's a Pandora's box leading humanity towards an unstoppable dystopian future or a beacon of hope promising unprecedented societal benefits. They also look at the critical role of error correction and criticism in the advancement of technology, advocating for a pragmatic middle ground in a world polarized between blind optimism and hopeless pessimism. The duo explores the necessity of competitive open systems in fostering innovation, warning against the dangers of AI monopolies. Josh sheds light on the concept of instrumental objectivity, emphasizing the urgent need for realism and pragmatism in technological and societal progress. They argue that while we aim for lofty future goals, the focus should remain on developing practical tools and instruments in the present. It's a must-listen for anyone interested in the future of AI, the role of innovation in society, and the fine line between utopian dreams and apocalyptic realities.
In this episode of “Securities” by Lux Capital, host Danny Crichton joins guests Brian McCullough, host of the Techmeme Ride Home podcast and General Partner at the Ride Home Fund; Shahin Farshchi, General Partner at Lux Capital; and Matthew Lynley, founder and writer of the Supervised newsletter to discuss regulation and competition in AI, questioning whether open-source or proprietary AI will dominate the future. With discussions ranging from the impact of large language models to AI’s encroachment on government agendas, this episode touches upon the battles shaping AI’s future. Are we on the brink of an AI utopia or a dystopia? This episode is a crucial listen for anyone wanting a snapshot of AI’s as it stands today.
Welcome to this enlightening episode of "Securities” Podcast with host Danny Crichton, where we navigate the intricate crossroads of technology, national security, and democracy. Our guest today is Miles Taylor, the author of "Blowback: A Warning to Save Democracy from the Next Trump." In this episode, we delve deep into the challenges and complexities of modern governance, the shifting landscape of national security threats, and the role of technology in shaping our society. We explore the impact of generative AI on the creative class and ponder the future of democracy in an increasingly digital world. Join us for a thought-provoking discussion that will leave you questioning the trajectory of the United States, its people, and where things are headed in this age of rapid technological advancement.
As the birthplace of semiconductors and computers, Silicon Valley has historically been a major center of the defense industry. That changed with the Vietnam War, when antiwar protesters burned down computing centers at multiple universities to oppose the effort in Southeast Asia, as well as the rise of countercultural entrepreneurs who largely determined the direction of the internet age. Today, there are once again growing ties between tech companies and the Pentagon as the need for more sophisticated AI tools for defense becomes paramount. But as controversies like Google’s launch of Project Maven attest, there remains a wide chasm of distrust between many software engineers and the Pentagon’s goals for a robust defense of the American homeland. In this episode of “Securities”, host Danny Crichton and Lux founder and managing partner Josh Wolfe sit down with retired lieutenant general Jack Shanahan to talk about rebuilding the trust needed between these two sides. Before retirement, Shanahan was the inaugural director of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, a hub for connecting frontier AI tech into all aspects of the Defense Department’s operations. We talk about the case of Project Maven and its longer-term implications, the ethical issues that lie at the heart of AI technologies in war and defense, as well as some of the lessons learned from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the past year.
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