Weekly Dose of Optimism #45


Hi friends 👋,

Happy Friday and welcome back to our 45th Weekly Dose of Optimism. Last week was the Obama edition, so it’s only fair that this week we’re making Optimism Great Again!

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Let’s get to it.

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(1) Ketamine versus ECT for Nonpsychotic Treatment-Resistant Major Depression

From The New England Journal of Medicine

A new study suggests that, for some patients, the anesthetic ketamine is a promising alternative to electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, currently one of the quickest and most effective therapies for patients with difficult-to-treat depression. The study is the largest head-to-head comparison of the two treatments. (Quote from the NYT)

A new head-to-head study in the The New England Journal of Medicine, found that ketamine was at least as effective as ECT in patients with treatment-resistant depression. Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, has long-established efficacy but it comes with some unwanted side effects (potential memory loss, muscle pain and weakness) and a tough stigma (think getting strapped to a table with a leather shock helmet) that makes it unwanted by some patients. Ketamine, on the other hand, does not come with the same side effects, but does come with a stigma of its own — that it’s a horse-tranquilizing party-drug.

Overall, though, it’s about giving people safe options in treating the otherwise horrible affliction that is treatment-resistant depression. ECT is one option, ketamine another, and there is new and exciting research coming out on a whole host of other psychedelic-based treatments that are showing promise.

(2) ‘Almost magical’: chemists can now move single atoms in and out of a molecule’s core

Mark Peplow for Nature

Now head of a team at the University of Chicago in Illinois, Levin is among a cadre of chemists pioneering these techniques, aiming to more efficiently forge new drugs, polymers and biological molecules such as peptides. In the past two years, more than 100 papers on the technique — known as skeletal editing — have been published, demonstrating its potential.

Skeletal editing on the rise: A chart that shows the increase in the number of research papers published in the past two years.

Sometimes we cover stories of individual breakthrough discoveries or wave-making studies, but those stories are usually the results of graphs like the one above. A flush of excitement, research, and resources on a specific topic leads to a major innovation.

According to this Nature article, we may be on the cusp of one such breakthrough in “skeletal editing.” Skeletal editing is the process by which a molecule is edited by deleting, adding, or swapping single atoms in its core. It has the potential to transform how organic chemists design molecules, and may lead to, among other things, speedy drug discovery.

With the momentum we’re seeing in AI, skeletal editing, immunotherapy, gene-editing, and early detection (will get to this later) — it just seems like we’re on the cusp of developing treatments and cures to some of the diseases that have long ailed us.

(3) Causal evidence that herpes zoster vaccination prevents a proportion of dementia cases

From Markus Eyting, Min Xie, Simon Heß, Simon He, Pascal Geldsetzer

We then show that receiving the herpes zoster vaccine reduced the probability of a new dementia diagnosis over a follow-up period of seven years by 3.5 percentage points (95% CI: 0.6 – 7.1, p=0.019), corresponding to a 19.9% relative reduction in the occurrence of dementia. Besides preventing shingles and dementia, the herpes zoster vaccine had no effects on any other common causes of morbidity and mortality. In exploratory analyses, we find that the protective effects from the vaccine for dementia are far stronger among women than men.

Take, for example, dementia and Alzheimer’s — seems like these terrible diseases are close to having effective treatments, if not cures, over the coming years. In a new study, it was shown that recipients of the herpes zoster vaccine (Zostavax) were considerably less likely to develop dementia later in life.

The study compared adults just a week apart in age but differing in vaccine eligibility, and found that receiving the vaccine decreased the likelihood of a new dementia diagnosis by 3.5 percentage points over a seven-year period, which was a 19.9% relative reduction. The study concluded that the varicella zoster virus may play a significant role in the development of dementia, especially among women, and further randomized trials are needed.

While this is not, of course, a cure for dementia (or even a treatment), it gives researches a better understanding of what causes dementia in the first place. And from this understanding, they can develop new treatments, therapeutics, and vaccines to potentially prevent or cure the disease down the line.

(4) Rwanda’s Health-Care Success Holds Lessons for Others

Cameron J. Sabet, Alessandro Hammond, Simar S. Bajaj, Belson Rugwizangoga for Think Global

Owing to these efforts, in 2020, more than 90 percent of Rwanda’s people had some kind of health insurance. This stands out relative to other low-income countries, where on average 31 percent of people have health insurance. Experts say that coverage has helped contribute to a massive rise in Rwanda’s life expectancy, from 49.7 years in 2001 to 69.6 in 2022, and empowered the country to tackle prominent causes of mortality. Indeed, Rwanda is the only sub-Saharan low-income country to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals of reducing maternal mortality and reversing the spread of malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS. 

A man receives a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Masaka hospital in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 5, 2021.

A few weeks ago I got a call from my sister and she informed me she was in Rwanda. “Rwanda?” I anxiously asked. From the tone of my voice, she could tell that I was scared. And she knew why I was scared. Rwanda, at least in the West, is associated with genocide. You don’t want to get a call from your sister and have the first words come out of her mouth immediately conjure images of genocide.

She quickly assuaged my fears. Rwanda, she informed me, was now like the “Singapore of Africa.” Since 1994, under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, the country has experienced rapid economic development and stabilization. It’s where my sister goes on the continent to get banking business done quickly. Its tourism economy has rebounded. And, as the story above notes, it’s developed somewhat of a playbook for developing countries in increasing healthcare availability and lengthening lifespans.

The government, to be certain, does face criticism. But overall, the country is starting to become known more forward thinking policies on healthcare, technology, and gender equality and less known for its darkest moment.

(5) Statement on AI Risk

Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.

This statement isn’t the “everything is going to be OK, don’t even worry about it” flavor of optimism. But it is an official acknowledgement, from some of the most powerful figures and organizations in AI (OpenAI, Google, Anthropic, Geoffrey Hinton, etc.) that AI is such a powerful tool/trend/technology that it deserves societal-scale attention, and yes ultimately, societal-scale regulation.

There’s two pessimistic ways to view this statement:

  1. Holy shit…AI is as dangerous as pandemics and nuclear war.

  2. This is just AI industry leaders pulling up the ladder by all-but begging for regulation.

I think both are partially true. Yes, the worst-case AI outcome is that civilization goes bye-bye. And yes, OpenAI, Google, and Anthropic all benefit from stricter AI regulation.

But I also think there are two ways to view this statement more optimistically.

  1. I’m a sucker for societal-scale collaboration. Manhattan Project. Smallpox Eradication. The Marshall Plan. Space Race. All the results of some looming fear that catalyzed societal-scale responses, which engender both direct and indirect positive outcomes.

  2. We have ultra-powerful AI. This wasn’t true even just a few years ago. Now it is. It’s so powerful that it may destroy civilization. It’s also so powerful that is may fix every problem that civilization has ever encountered.

However you view it, it’s an important story that we think merits some further thinking over the weekend.

(Bonus) Ezra: The Quest to Kill Cancer

Packy McCormick for Not Boring by Packy McCormick (lol)

As cancer treatments improve simultaneously, I hope the combination of earlier detection and better treatments combines to make a cancer diagnosis as benign as cataracts. Hopefully, one day in our lifetimes, cancer will join tuberculosis, pneumonia, and polio in the growing list of once-fatal diseases that we’ve managed to overcome. That day can’t come fast enough.

Yesterday Packy published a Sponsored Deep Dive on Ezra. Ezra is on a mission to detect cancer early for everyone in the world. The company offers full-body MRI scans in order to catch cancer earlier to increase the odds of beating it.

As part of the piece, Ezra also announced its biggest leap to date: the 30-minute Full Body Flash scan, which cuts both the time and cost of getting an MRI to screen cancer in half. Ezra Flash, the AI powering the new scan, has recently received FDA clearance, enabling Ezra to launch the world’s first 30-minute Full Body MRI scan.

As part of his research, he got himself a scan…and revealed that he hadn’t been to a doctor’s office since 2009. Packy’s personal experience is entertaining, but we’re hoping this analysis of the cancer screening industry brings more attention from other operators, investors, partners, and clients to an important (and potentially life saving) topic.

Not to bury the lede, Packy was cancer free. If you want to get yourself checked out, book your Ezra scan and use the code PACKY150 to get $150 off.

That’s all for this week. We’ll be back in your inbox on Monday. Enjoy the long weekend.


Thanks for reading,


Weekly Dose of Optimism #44


Hi friends 👋,

Happy Friday and welcome back to our 44th Weekly Dose of Optimism. The Obama edition.

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MDW is the unofficial kickoff of summer and we intend to treat it as such! We hope you find some time to rest, rejuvenate, and maybe even read this newsletter. Enjoy the long weekend and go catch some rays.

Let’s get to it.

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(1) A Paralyzed Man Can Walk Naturally Again With Brain and Spine Implants

Oliver Whang for The New York Times

In a study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers in Switzerland described implants that provided a “digital bridge” between Mr. Oskam’s brain and his spinal cord, bypassing injured sections. The discovery allowed Mr. Oskam, 40, to stand, walk and ascend a steep ramp with only the assistance of a walker. More than a year after the implant was inserted, he has retained these abilities and has actually showed signs of neurological recovery, walking with crutches even when the implant was switched off.

For more than a decade, Gert-Jan Oskam has been paralyzed from the waist down. On Wednesday, scientists described implants that provided a “digital bridge” between his brain and his spinal cord, bypassing injured sections and enabling him to walk.

The Times profiled the incredible recovery story of a 40 year old Dutch man who’s gone from paralyzed to being able to walk again, thanks to a device that translates his thoughts into physical movement. Brain-spine stimulation has been around for a few years, but this new interface is different in that, “The stimulation before was controlling me, and now I’m controlling the stimulation.” The advance in the technology, according to the research team, was in part due to the use of an “AI thought decoder” that could translate electrical signals in the brain and match them to muscle movements.

When new technologies come on the scene — BCI or AI in this case — it’s easy to think of all the downside negative consequences. Superintelligent humanoids using the atoms in our bodies as spare parts etc… Maybe one day, but in the meantime, we’ll be here applauding new tech helping paralyzed people walk.

(2) Sergey Brin Has a Secret Plan to Put Airships Back in the Skies

Ashlee Vance for Bloomberg

Exactly why Brin wants a fleet of airships remains a partial mystery. He has declined many interview requests to discuss LTA. Still, over the past couple of years, Weston has let me observe the construction of Pathfinder 1 and the early stages of its successors, and Brin’s rationale seems straightforward enough: He just likes airships.

One of the benefits of having billionaires is that they can build things for humanity just because they like them, without worrying about returns. Example 1a) Sergey Brin and airships. By some estimations, Brin has already invested over $250M into his airship company LTA and, from what I can tell, there’s really no end in sight on the cost front and no major plan to start monetizing in a meaningful way. Brin, worth north of a $100B, just likes airships…so humanity gets airships.

There are a few examples of this already — the most obvious one’s being Musk & SpaceX (although more returns focused) and Bezos & Blue Origin (less returns focused). Longevity is another current cause célèbre. If you have other examples of billionaires that have turned expensive hobbies into companies/industries that have had a big impact on society, let us know in the comments.

We think we’ll see a lot more of this in the coming years. A lot of nerds who grew up reading sci-fi have made a lot of money selling software over the past couple of decades, and we suspect they’ll put those profits to bring sci-fi to life, sometimes for returns and sometimes because they just like airships.

(3) An Interesting Thread on Renewable Energy Cost Curves

Link to thread from @JohnArnoldFndtn


The gist of John Arnold’s thread is that the cost of solar and wind energy have actually increased in the last couple of years. At Not Boring, we often talk about renewables’ learning curves and major cost decreases, so we were interested when this thread popped up noting that costs are actually going up. Even still, there’s good news.

The factors driving up costs are less technological than they are macroeconomic or bureaucratic. The major drivers are interest rates, tariffs, permitting, labor costs, etc. All very real (and frustrating) cost drivers, but also all cyclical and/or solvable. Over a long enough time horizon, our best bet is that these spikes will be indiscernible on renewable’s smoothing, decreasing cost curve.

(4) 10 Thoughts From the Fourth Trimester

Tim Urban for Wait Buy Why

10) Having a baby really makes you think about the future: Every parent in history has brought their baby into a world with an uncertain future. But our future is the uncertainest. My baby might live a life a lot like mine, just a little more futuristic. Or she might live to 500. She might live most of her life with a brain-machine interface implanted in her head, thinking with her own superintelligent AI. She might suffer through civilizational collapse. She might live in a world that would seem like utopia to us today. She might live on Mars. She might meet aliens. She might die in the apocalypse. There’s just no way to know. It makes all of those fun, exciting, terrifying conversations about the future hit just a little harder.

Tim Urban’s superpower is breaking down life’s most complex topics — time, relationships, careers — into understandable, bite-sized truth nuggets. He wielded that superpower in his most recent essay, a reflection on what it’s like to be the parent of a newborn baby.

I am not a father. I hope to be in the not-so-distant future. And Tim’s first 9 observations may help me more smoothly navigate those first 3 months when the time comes. But observation #10 really struck me: having a baby really makes you think about the future.

(Packy here: that is 100% true and you can see it in the things we write about in Not Boring.)

Humans have no idea what the world of their children will look like. Some humans envision the worst case scenario. Others envision a futuristic utopia. But the truth is, we’re really bad at predicting the future on a macro scale, let alone predicting the micro-experiences of an individual. And that’s kind of the point. That uncertainty seems to be what makes parenting so hard, yet so exhilarating. How do you prepare your kid for a future you know nothing about?

There’s no right answer. But we humans will keep on making babies and trying to figure it out! Tim Urban FTW, per usual.

(5) A Crypto Future

& Compound Crypto

Crypto-enabled tools and their privacy protection guarantees are showing real promise – first for rare disease data collection aggregation, which has led to meaningful scientific breakthroughs that weren’t expected so quickly.

A mid-sized city (100k-500k people) in North Texas proposes a complete energy independent infrastructure powered by an emerging crypto network.

Packy again. One of the things I admire most about Compound is that they write about and invest in wild, futuristic things in a balanced and hype-free way. Counter to the “crypto to AI” meme, they’ve been investing in crypto and AI since before both were cool, and are as quick to point out the risks and bubbles as they are the upsides.

All that setup to say that I loved reading their measured but optimistic take on the evolution of crypto over the next few years. The piece is in the Tell Good Stories genre, writing about the future as if it’s happening in real-time, and full of very specific predictions, good, bad, and neutral. I found myself alternating between nodding and shaking my head, a good indicator of the piece’s balance.

Despite the bear market and the very real headwinds, there are a ton of tailwinds for crypto, too. I particularly appreciate the intersections they highlight with DeSci, energy, VR/AR, and AI. When we look back in a decade, I believe the biggest impacts are going to come from products that take advantage of a bunch of different technologies to create delightful experiences and solve big challenges.

A good reminder as we head into the long weekend to zoom out.

Bonus: Succession Series Finale

If you read Not Boring, chances are you also watch Succession. The Shakespearean spoof of media mogulism comes to an end this Sunday night. The show, which was relatively under the radar for the first 1 or 2 seasons, is now considered, by many, to be among the greatest television series of all time. We tend to agree. Hell, I actually enjoyed watching what was basically a livestream of a funeral last week.

We’ll save you our predictions — you’ve probably been bombarded with them elsewhere — and just leave you with this, one last time:

That’s all for this week. We’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday. Enjoy the long weekend.


Thanks for reading,


Weekly Dose of Optimism #43


Hi friends 👋,

Happy Friday and welcome back to our 43rd Weekly Dose of Optimism.

We got Advance Market Commitments putting their money where their mouth is, novel approaches to fighting climate change, promising brain research on both Alzheimer’s and major depressive disorder, and some space cells. Big week.

Let’s get to it.

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1) Frontier buyers sign first $53M in offtake agreements with Charm Industrial

From Frontier

Frontier has facilitated its first set of offtake agreements with Charm Industrial, totaling $53M. Frontier buyers will pay Charm to remove 112,000 tons of CO₂ from the atmosphere and store them permanently underground between 2024 and 2030.

Charm Industrial converts biomass into a stable, carbon-rich liquid and then pumps it deep underground, where it is stored permanently.

We’ve written about Frontier, the advance market commitment (AMC) from Stripe, Alphabet, Shopify, Meta, and McKinsey a few times since it was first announced. Frontier is most notable for two reasons: 1) its focus on carbon removal and 2) its “advance commitment” structure, which reflects a “if you fund it, they will come” philosophy.

On Thursday, Frontier announced its first actual carbon offtake agreement with with Charm Industrial, totaling $53M. Charm, which is led by former Segment founder and CEO Peter Reinhardt, has a unique approach to carbon removal. Charm Industrial converts biomass into a stable, carbon-rich liquid and then pumps it deep underground, where it is stored permanently.

This is likely the first of many similar Frontier projects, as the AMC has committed over $1B to fund carbon removal projects. It currently has 16 organizations in its portfolio that are taking novel approaches to carbon capture and removal.

(2) Seaflooding

Tomas Pueyo for Unchartered Territories (h/t @TamarHaspel)

Sea levels might rise by one to two meters by the end of the century.
What if I told you there was a way to mitigate that, while creating new habitats and more life, growing the economy, and making money along the way?

Let’s call it seaflooding.

While Frontier funds carbon removal projects, even more creative solutions to climate change are being proposed — like this one, dubbed “Seaflooding” from Tomas Pueyo. The general idea of Seaflooding is to flood sub sea-level areas with water turning vast deserts into flourishing (and energy producing) ecosystems. The top two candidates for such Seaflooding, according to Pueyo, are the Dead Sea and the Qattara Depression.

Here’s generally how it would work:

  • Build pipelines from a sea into a sub sea-level desert area

  • Generate electricity from the flow of seawater into desert area

  • Slowly a new, flourishing natural ecosystem develops

  • Infrastructure, communities, and economies follow

It’s tough to comprehend the scale, complexity, and timelines of a project like this, and frankly we’re not in a position to cast judgement on its feasibility. But, at face-value, it seems like an idea that, if properly executed, could both a) generate a cheap electricity and b) transform deserts into vibrant sealine communities.

(3) Mutation Protected Man From Alzheimer’s Disease, Hinting at Treatment

Gina Kolata for The New York Times

More than six million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s, a disease that has been notoriously difficult to treat. Yet here was a man with a mutation that causes the most severe and rapidly progressing form of Alzheimer’s. And his disease was delayed for two decades. If a drug could do what the mutation did, resulting in most people getting Alzheimer’s very late in life, the outcome could be transformative.

A hand points to a computer screen on a desk with many small scans of a human brain on it.

This story, from the NYT, is based on a new research paper published in Nature earlier this week. The paper investigates the unique story of a man who, according to all biomarkers, should have developed the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in his early 40s but did not show signs of the disease until he was well into his 60s. The development of his Alzheimer’s, which itself is caused by a gene mutation, was stunted by a separate gene mutation which blocked the disease from entering his entorhinal cortex.

The finding is important because if a drug could accomplish what this mutation did, it could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s for years and even decades. Animal studies are already underway, but FDA approved drugs are likely years away. This is, of course, just one approach to delaying or curing Alzheimer’s — but we’re encouraged by the number of promising Alzheimer’s treatments coming out in just the last couple of years.

(4) Researchers treat depression by reversing brain signals traveling the wrong way

Nina Bai for Stanford Medicine News Center

Powerful magnetic pulses applied to the scalp to stimulate the brain can bring fast relief to many severely depressed patients for whom standard treatments have failed. Yet it’s been a mystery exactly how transcranial magnetic stimulation, as the treatment is known, changes the brain to dissipate depression. Now, research led by Stanford Medicine scientists has found that the treatment works by reversing the direction of abnormal brain signals.


Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) has been used to treat major depressive disorder since the late 1990’s, but researchers have just now discovered how exactly is works. New research from Stanford indicates that TMS works by works by reversing abnormal brain signals. The research found that the flow of activity between the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex is reversed, and this reversed flow correlates with the severity of depression. This is an important finding for two reasons:

  1. It gives researchers a better understanding of how this treatment actually works.

  2. the reversed flow could potentially serve as a biomarker for diagnosing and triaging depression.

Generally TMS is a non-invasive and safe alternative treatment method for patients that have not taken to medicine or psychotherapy.

(5) Is space the place for stem cell manufacturing? Scientists will soon test that on the ISS

Helen Floersh for Fierce Biotech

The world’s second-ever private astronaut mission to the International Space Station will not only ferry up the first Saudi Arabian woman to go to space but also a first-of-its-kind experiment that will test whether scientists can create induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs, in microgravity. The experiment is part of a series that could eventually lead to new ways to manufacture stem cells en masse.

International Space Station, ISS, space, NASA, EArth

The most interesting stuff happens at the intersections. In this case, the intersection of space and biotech.

There’s already evidence that microgravity might be an ideal growing ground for stem cells, and this mission is meant to give a team of medical researchers a real-life 5 day view if that’s truly the case. Of course, a mission like this is, at least in part, due to that drastic decrease in launch costs brought on by SpaceX that makes a whole slew of new space endeavors possible.

Stem cells are particularly interesting because they can be reprogrammed into any type of cell. But a whole slew of chemical and drug development projects could benefit from the unique characteristics of space. This idea, that manufacturing in microgravity is now both possible and advantageous, is the core insight behind Not Boring Capital portfolio company Varda. You’ll be hearing more about them soon.

Space drugs. Woah man.

BONUS: Not Boring Biotech Partner, Elliot Hershberg, is attending and speaking at the SynBioBeta Conference from May 23 – May 26th in Oakland, CA. SynBioBeta is the largest synbio conference of the year and a great opportunity to learn from and meet many of the leading researchers, operators, and investors in synbio today.

Prior to the conference, on May 21st, Not Boring is hosting an event with Fifty Years called “Viriditas Feast.” You can apply to attend!

EVENT DESCRIPTION: What if we could grow anything? How can we enable a beautiful and abundant future for an expanding population? How can we manifest the Bioeconomy? These are some of the central questions for the growing field of synthetic biology. Let’s explore answers to these questions together. Join us at the Fifty Years HQ in San Francisco for an evening of food and conversation with a community of scientists and leaders from the biological frontier.


That’s all for this week. We’ll be back in your inbox on Monday.


Thanks for reading,


Weekly Dose of Optimism #42


Hi friends 👋,

Happy Friday and welcome back to our 42nd Weekly Dose of Optimism.

It was honestly hard to choose what to include and what to cut this week because so much good/big/optimistic news dropped over the past few days.

Energy. AI. Cancer Vaccines. The important stuff that makes our lives better and helps our civilization progress.

Let’s get to it.

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(1) Microsoft Bets That Fusion Power Is Closer Than Many Think

Jennifer Hiller for The Wall Street Journal

In a deal that is believed to be the first commercial agreement for fusion power, the tech giant has agreed to purchase electricity from startup Helion Energy within about five years. Helion, which is backed by OpenAI founder Sam Altman, committed to start producing electricity through fusion by 2028 and target power generation for Microsoft of at least 50 megawatts after a year or pay financial penalties.


Sam Altman. So hot right now. Sam Altman.

As if leading the generative AI renaissance wasn’t enough, Altman’s nuclear fusion company, Helion, just inked the first ever commercial nuclear fusion deal. The deal between Helion and Microsoft is a bold one: it’s based on Helion’s commitment to start producing and providing electricity through fusion in the next 5 years. The main hurdle is, of course, that neither Helion nor any other organization in the world has ever produced commercial-scale electricity through fusion.

Fusion is the Holy Grail of energy. As Altman put it, the promise of fusion is that it will “power the world and to do it extremely cheaply.” Such abundant, cheap energy would have second and third order effects on progress that are hard to predict. However, nuclear fusion has been one of those technologies that’s always, as Fran Fraschilla* would say, “a couple years away from being a couple years away.”

When scientists at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory finally achieved net energy gain in December 2022, the excitement was matched with reminders that commercialization of fusion might still be decades away. Welp, at least on paper, the commercialization of fusion is upon us.

Whether Helion hits the 2028 goal or not — and it has to pay financial penalties to Microsoft if it doesn’t — absurdly ambitious timelines can be useful in accelerating entire industries. See: Tesla and SpaceX.

*Yes, we just quoted basketball scout Fran Fraschilla in our analysis of nuclear fusion.

(2) US support for nuclear power soars to highest level in a decade

Akielly Hu for Grist

A Gallup survey released in late April found that 55 percent of U.S. adults support the use of nuclear power. That’s up four percentage points from last year and reflects the highest level of public support for nuclear energy use in electricity since 2012. 


Not be outdone by its nuclear brother, nuclear fission is also having a bit of a moment. The oft-misunderstood energy source, which produces about ~20% of electricity in the U.S., reached its highest level of support in the US since 2012.

As we wait for truly commercially available nuclear fusion, increased nuclear fission energy output presents one of the best paths towards a cleaner energy future. Despite its current output and future potential, nuclear fission struggles from a pretty bad stigma that prevents it from gaining widespread support. The public stigma stems from two primary sources:

  1. Historical Events: Chernobyl in 1986, the Three Mile Island in 1979, and Fukushima in 2011.

  2. Lack of Understanding/Word Association: People associate nuclear power with nuclear bombs. Not a great comp! Second, people are afraid of nuclear waste and radiation. Third, it’s hard to not worry when you think Homer Simpson is responsible for keeping you safe. D’oh!

But when you peel back the stigma, it becomes quite obvious that the promise of nuclear far outweighs the negative. Or at least, that’s an opinion, according to this Gallup survey that more and more Americans are starting to adopt.

That’s a good backdrop for nuclear startups. A couple weeks ago, a16z’s American Dynamism practice announced that it’s leading the Series B for Radiant Industries, which “is building portable 1-megawatt nuclear reactors, the size of a shipping container, that can reliably produce power for 20 years.” We’re pretty excited about Aalo Atomics, too.

(3) Google I/O 2023 Keynote

(Relevant Generative AI Search section starts at here)

OpenAI is old news.

Google Search is the future of AI.

But 99% of you idiots don’t even know how to use it.

Here are 69 ways to boost your productivity using Google AI 👇

So, Google came out swinging this week with the full reveal of how it is infusing AI across its suite of products. Admittedly, we haven’t done a deep-dive on how the keynote was received (other than just watching smashups of Sundar saying AI repeatedly) but at first glance: this was a strong response from Google.

In “The Unbearable Heaviness of Being Positioned,” Packy argued that Google was so deeply Positioned in search, which it monetizes through links, that it was susceptible to a potentially superior search product that delivered answers, like ChatGPT.

It’s obviously too early to tell, but based on the demo this week, it seems like Google may have found a nice middle ground. Build AI-powered search that provides answers and build monetizable links/modules into those answers.

Ultimately, competition is good for consumers and, in generative AI, we’re getting that in spades right now. Google vs. OpenAI vs. Meta vs. any number of smaller, fast-moving startups. It’s going to push innovation, force companies to really build for users, and ultimately result in better products.

(4) Sohn 2023 | Patrick Collison in conversation Sam Altman

The Sohn Conference was held virtually this last Tuesday, and it was filled with heavy hitters and cross over interviews that nerds us like dream about (all of which you can find here). O’Shaughnessy x Karniol-Tambour. Sokoloff x Druckenmiller. And of course, Collison x Altman.

It’s not super often that you get to watch the CEO of one tech darling (Stripe) interview the CEO of another (OpenAI). Aside from Altman’s insights on the current and future landscape of AI and some great discussion across a number of progress-related topics, it’s kind of cool to watch Collison jab Altman with jokes about SBF and Worldcoin. Maybe these guys aren’t that different from us, after all.

And like most of us, Altman mostly uses ChatGPT for summarizing stuff and hasn’t fully adopted the other uses cases or plugins.

So the next time you see some dumb thread about all of the 10x productivity hacks you’re missing out on by not using AI properly, just remember Sam Altman basically just uses it to read emails more quickly.

(5) Pancreatic Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise in Small Trial

Benjamin Mueller for The New York Times

On Wednesday, the scientists reported results that defied the long odds. The vaccine provoked an immune response in half of the patients treated, and those people showed no relapse of their cancer during the course of the study, a finding that outside experts described as extremely promising.

Anne Weston/Francis Crick Institute, via Science Source & NYT

Abstracting away much of the scientific complexity, here’s what happened: a team of researchers at BioNtech developed personalized vaccines that successfully provoked an autoimmune response in pancreatic cancer patients and those people showed no relapse of their cancer during the course of the study.

While the study was small and the commercialization of the vaccines is still early, this was a milestone for personalized cancer vaccines. The team was able to develop and deliver personalized and efficacious vaccines to patients within roughly 9 weeks of having their tumors removed. It’s not hard to imagine a world in which there is almost instantaneous development and delivery of highly personalized vaccines that treat all kinds of diseases.

Here’s to a world in which nuclear fusion is providing abundantly cheap energy to power endless AI search and instantaneously personalized and delivered vaccines.

Bonuses: Humans did more amazing stuff this week than we could fit, so if you want a little extra, check out how generative AI is building better antibodies, smelling things in the metaverse, and some space porn via James Webb.

That’s all for this week. We’ll be back in your inbox on Monday.


Thanks for reading,


Weekly Dose of Optimism #41


Hi friends 👋,

Happy Friday and welcome back to our 41st Weekly Dose of Optimism.

We’re feeling pretty pumped up about everything going on in the world right now.

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Let’s get to it.

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(1) The amazing AI super tutor for students and teachers

Sal Khan for Ted

Sal Khan, the founder and CEO of Khan Academy, thinks artificial intelligence could spark the greatest positive transformation education has ever seen. He shares the opportunities he sees for students and educators to collaborate with AI tools — including the potential of a personal AI tutor for every student and an AI teaching assistant for every teacher — and demos some exciting new features for their educational chatbot, Khanmigo.

Improving education is the best way to make sure the pages of the Weekly Dose will be filled for decades to come. Education is upstream of everything.

Sal Khan basically invented internet-scale education when he launched Khan Academy in 2006, so we take his thoughts on AI’s impact on education quite seriously. Through AI, Khan sees an opportunity to give every student a personalized tutor and every teacher an amazing teaching assistant. Just how impactful is that? According to a 1984 study, 1:1 tutoring yields a two-sigma improvement on educational outcomes — turning an average student into an exceptional student. has a great three-parter on aristocratic tutoring, starting with Why we stopped making Einsteins.

Khan Academy has been on a decades-long mission to create that type of personalized, scalable tutoring offering, and according to Khan, it’s getting much closer to that goal with the release of Khanmigo — the company’s AI product. The whole product demo is worth watching. Who knows if Khan Academy will be the winning provider of these AI-powered tutors in the future (although it seems well-positioned), but it’s tough not to be optimistic about the future of education after watching Khan get this excited about this product release.

(2) GPT AI Enables Scientists to Passively Decode Thoughts in Groundbreaking Study

Michael Zhang for Artisana

A team of scientists has made a groundbreaking discovery by employing a Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT) AI model similar to ChatGPT to reconstruct human thoughts with up to 82% accuracy from functional MRI (fMRI) recordings. This unprecedented level of accuracy in decoding human thoughts from non-invasive signals paves the way for a myriad of scientific opportunities and potential future applications, the researchers say.

Welp, I guess AI can read our minds now. That was pretty quick.

A team of researchers from UT-Austin used a custom trained LLM to decode human thought from non-invasive brain signals. The applications here are far reaching — think of any use-case in which it would be helpful to automatically translate our thoughts into transmittable words: communications, entertainment, education, and more. Of course, there are also privacy concerns. Your private thoughts are now non-invasively decodable.

It’s easy to let your mind go all Minority Report here — is pre-crime going to be a thing? — but we’d encourage you to think off all of positive capabilities this unlocks. Like Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI), the first use cases here will probably be for the disabled — blind, deaf, and mute populations seem like they could meaningfully benefit from this type of technology.

Further down the line, if text is the universal interface, this brings us one step closer to bringing worlds to life simply by imagining them. Dreams and reality are moving ever closer to each other.

(3) Scientists find link between photosynthesis and ‘fifth state of matter’

Louise Lerner from The University of Chicago via Kyle Russell

The study found links at the atomic level between photosynthesis and exciton condensates—a strange state of physics that allows energy to flow frictionlessly through a material. The finding is scientifically intriguing and may suggest new ways to think about designing electronics.

Now this is exciton news! (that’s a quasiparticle joke, you’ll get it if you read the article.)

Studying what happens at the molecular level during photosynthesis, UChicago scientists discovered that the process is similar to what happens in Bose-Einstein condensates, sometimes referred to as the “Fifth State of Matter,” when atoms are cooled down to near absolute zero temperatures. As the article explains is, “In this material, excitons can link up into the same quantum state—kind of like a set of bells all ringing perfectly in tune. This allows energy to move around the material with zero friction.”

The fact that the something similar occurs normal temperatures amidst the disorder of nature opens up possibilities for new technologies. As Kyle tweeted, “What if solarpunk and AGI take off because we genetically engineer big leafy supercomputers and grow them everywhere.”

But there’s also just something beautiful about the strange connections that happen at the quantum level, that the way atoms behave at near-zero temperatures in a lab and the process that lets plants feed themselves from the sun’s light rhyme with each other.

Co-author David Mazziotti said, “We think local correlation of electrons are essential to capturing how nature actually works.” Read Web of Relations for an expansion of this idea via Carlo Rovelli.

(4) New UBC water treatment zaps ‘forever chemicals’ for good

Lou Corpuz-Bosshart for The University of British Columbia

Engineers at the University of British Columbia have developed a new water treatment that removes “forever chemicals” from drinking water safely, efficiently – and for good.

How DuPont may avoid paying to clean up a toxic 'forever chemical' - PFAS  Central

Forever chemicals? More like never chemicals, amiright? Yes, I am right, thanks to a team of engineers at UBC that developed a new treatment for removing “forever chemicals” from drinking water.

Forever chemicals, formally known as PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances), are a large group of substances that make certain products non-stick or stain-resistant. Think non-stick pots and pans. Companies are definitely safer about releasing this stuff out into the wild these days, but there was a period of time when DuPont was really wildin’ out on Teflon and spraying this stuff willy nilly into the environment…where, true to their name, they’d stick around forever.

The UBC team’s technique, which according to initial data, safely and effectively removes PFAs from water, is not yet commercial available and still needs to go through some real world testing. But the hope is that technologies like this could prevent nightmare situations, like the one documented in “The Devil We Know” from ever happening again.

(5) A Bacterial Culprit for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Hannah Thomasy for The Scientist

Researchers reported a strain of Subdoligranulum bacteria that may drive Rheumatoid Athritis development (2). Some people at risk for the disease have antibodies against this bacteria, and Subdoligranulum activation of T cells was more prevalent in people with RA than in healthy controls. Perhaps even more intriguingly, mice given this bacterium developed a condition similar to human RA.

According to The World Health Organization, more than 23 million people wordwide live with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Chances are, you know somebody that does. It’s an autoimmune disease which means that your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake, causing painful swelling in the affected parts of the body, most often your joints.

There is currently no cure for RA and treatments vary widely depending on the individual. The cause of RA is also unknown, but it’s long been suspected that the microbiome influenced development of the disease. Now, researchers are reporting that a strain of Subdoligranulum bacteria may be the root cause of the disease. Understanding where the disease comes from (which was previously unknown) means researches can better design therapeutic treatments that target that specific bacteria.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: fuck Subdoligranulum.

Bonus: Joel Embiid’s rise to NBA MVP: The Process and people who fueled him

Rich Hofmann for The Athletic


You didn’t think we’d make it all the way through without mentioning the Sixers’ playoff run and Joel Embiid’s MVP, did you?

This isn’t a Philly sports blog, but it’s written by two Philly sports fans, and over the past year or so we’ve had a lot to write about. Phillies World Series appearance, Eagles Super Bowl appearance, and now the Sixers are in the Eastern Conference semifinals. And this week, Joel Embiid, the Sixers’ center, was named NBA MVP.

Joel’s personal story is inspiring — a Cameroonian immigrant who picked up the sport in his teenage years, battling injuries, doubters, and a long “Process” to finally win the league’s most coveted individual award. It’s tough to not like him (although I’m sure some of you think otherwise.) But Embiid’s story is part of a larger Sixer’s story, one which if you read Not Boring, you are likely familiar with. The Process.

The Process, crafted by former Sixer’s GM Sam Hinkie, was a controversial strategy which involved prioritizing long-term success over short-term gains by intentionally fielding a non-competitive team to secure high draft picks. The driving idea behind the process is that you need a top tier superstar to win a championship, and in order to draft a top superstar you need to lose a lot. While the Sixers haven’t fully fulfilled The Process’ prophecy of winning a championship, Embiid’s MVP award is a clear signal that it did yield an undisputed superstar — one capable of leading a team to a championship.

One of the great things about sports is that they’re contained environments that can serve as practice grounds and metaphors for the bigger, messier world. The Process is chock full of lessons on taking the longest view in the room, zigging when others zag (being differentiated), and sticking to your convictions in the face of setbacks.

This is as good of a time as any to draw your attention back to Sam Hinkie’s leaked resignation letter, which beyond being a peek behind The Process curtain is one of the best pieces of general strategy writing we’ve come across.


That’s all for this week. We’ll be back in your inbox on Monday.


Thanks for reading,


Evolving Minds


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Evolving Minds

The two most important intellectual turning points in history followed a similar pattern:

A new knowledge transfer technology unlocked radical new modes of human thought. 

The phonetic alphabet preceded the creation of math, science, and philosophy in Ancient Greece. Humans began to view the things that happened on earth and in the heavens through the lens of natural laws instead of the whims of the gods. 

The phonetic alphabet enabled the composability of ideas. It broadened access to reading and writing beyond professional scribes, who had an interest in maintaining the status quo, and allowed any intelligent (upper class) person to express and share complex ideas more easily. 

The printing press preceded the creation of the scientific method, Heliocentricity, Newtonian physics, and calculus during the Scientific Revolution. Humans began to systematically investigate and understand the world around them using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and mathematical tools, challenging long-held beliefs and assumptions.

The printing press enabled the composability of science. As SlateStarCodex wrote, “If a scientist discovers something, he can actually sent [sic] his work to other scientists in an efficient way, who can then build upon it. This was absolutely not the case for previous scientists, which is why not much happened during those periods.” 

In both cases, we used new tools to better understand the world so that we might better control it. 

I’m writing about this now on the off chance that we’re in the beginning of a third intellectual revolution, one that enables the composability of knowledge and complex problem-solving.  Large Language Models (LLMs) shrink the gap between thought and execution, giving anyone with good ideas access to conversational formats in which to test them against humanity’s accumulated knowledge and to bring them to life in code. 

The pattern goes something like this. Humans create scattered knowledge, a knowledge transfer technology comes along that lets us harness and spread that knowledge, some humans use that technology and generate a fresh insight about how to better understand the world, and we create better knowledge until the next major knowledge transfer technology comes along, when, paired with a fresh human insight, allows us to view and work with all of the prior knowledge in new ways. 

Of course, it remains to be seen if LLMs (or some new AI architecture) are the third major intellectual advance. I would have guessed the internet would be. And if it is, it’s impossible to predict what new leap in human thinking it unlocks. If I knew, I’d be up there with Anaximander and Copernicus. That’s for one of you to figure out. 

What I do know is that it won’t be LLMs that make the next counterintuitive leap. It will be humans. That’s our role in this dance. I suspect that leap will require that we use new tools to push the limits of our minds’ unique capabilities. 

“We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” This John M. Culkin quote, often misattributed to his more famous contemporary, Marshall McLuhan, captures the two-way relationship between humans and technology that I think is missing from the current dialogue about humans’ role in an AI powered future. I certainly hadn’t given it enough thought. 

Too frequently, those explorations, mine included, view human performance as a static thing. We can retreat ever further into the remaining “uniquely human” skills like creativity and empathy, while we wait to see if AI can outdo us at those skills, too.

But humans and technology coevolve and contribute different pieces to progress. 

The phonetic alphabet facilitated the growth and dissemination of knowledge, and if writing sharpens thought, changed how we think. But the phonetic alphabet couldn’t challenge prevailing belief, shared by all cultures to that point, that the gods were behind everything that happened on earth. 

Not even today’s most advanced LLM could do that. Making that leap required a radical human insight, one that came from knowledge, experience, and intuition. 

That’s the argument I’m going to make today. If AI is the third inflection point in humanity’s intellectual history, it will be through a combination of the powerful new capabilities at our fingertips and those unique, transformative insights that only human minds have demonstrated thus far.

Those world-shifting insights are harder to come by today than they were when people thought the earth was a flat thing floating on water or held up by turtles, or when knowledge was acquired through passed down truths and deductive reasoning. But we can get smarter, too, and I expect that we will through a combination of training with AI, a renewed focus on mind-expanding techniques like meditation, breathwork, psychedelics, lucid dreaming, and sleep, networked collaboration, hands-on experiences, and even biological and technological enhancements. 

Far from rolling over and letting AI do our thinking, we’ll need to use all of the tools at our disposal to ensure that our contributions to human-technology collaboration keep pace. To make the argument, we’ll cover: 

  • Anaximander and the Phonetic Alphabet. How technology spurs new ways of thinking, and new ways of thinking change the world. 

  • Chess and Go. Humans have gotten much better at both chess and Go since computers first beat our very best players.  

  • Doubling Down on Our Minds. A renaissance in the exploration and enhancement of our minds’ capabilities. 

Technology alone won’t be enough. To make counterintuitive leaps requires new perspectives and fresh insights. The kind that Anaximander made with the help of the phonetic alphabet. 

Anaximander and the Phonetic Alphabet

Anaximander is the most underappreciated thinker in human history, and maybe the most important. That’s the premise of Italian quantum physicist Carlo Rovelli’s new book, Anaximander: And the Birth of Science, and the book is convincing. 

We’ll explore Anaximander’s contributions, and how he arrived at them, to better understand the interplay between new knowledge transfer technologies and new kinds of human thoughts. 


Born around 610 BCE in Miletus, an ancient Greek city located in what is now modern-day Turkey, Anaximander was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. Anaximander’s contributions were vast: he set the earth floating in space, explained the weather without blaming the gods, surmised that humans evolved from fish, proposed a substrate that we can’t see, and even came up with something like the Big Bang. 2,600 years ago!  

According to Rovelli, “His is the first rational view of the natural world. For the first time, the world of things and their relations is seen as directly accessible by the investigation of thought.” 

That’s a monumental shift that’s hard to appreciate from today’s perspective. But let’s try.

Imagine that everyone you know believes that the earth is a flat thing surrounded by water, and that Zeus sits above the earth throwing lightning bolts down whenever he gets mad. Your parents, your friends, your wife, your priest – they all believe that and talk about it as if it’s just a simple fact. 


But you don’t think that sounds quite right. It doesn’t fit with your experience. You’ve never actually seen Zeus, but you have seen the clouds crash into each other during thunderstorms. And if the earth is a flat thing by water, then where do the stars go when they dip below the horizon? 

The mental leap it must have taken to realize that everything everyone you know believes is untrue, and that maybe things have naturalistic explanations, is nearly impossible to fathom. 

How was Anaximander able to make the leap? Rovelli cites three things that made Miletus particularly fertile intellectual ground during Anaximander’s time:

  1. Democracy 

  2. Cultural Crossbreeding

  3. The Phonetic Alphabet 

In Rovelli’s telling, democracy seems to have been born of the same factors that led to naturalistic thinking – an informed citizenry, healthy debate, and criticism among equals. Cultural crossbreeding, particularly with the Egyptians, may have shown Thales, upon whose work Anaximander expanded, and Anaximander himself, the limits of their ideas. Importantly, the Egyptians could have shown them that it was even possible for their ideas to be wrong. 

But the phonetic alphabet seems to me to be the most impactful of the three on the contributions Anaximander would make. 

Prior to the eighth century BCE, the world’s alphabets all used hieroglyphs, cuneiform, logograms, or consonants. As a result, reading and writing “remained the domain of professional scribes for millennia.” 

The Phoenecian alphabet that the Greeks adopted in 750 BCE had no vowels and seven more consonants than the Greeks needed to capture their consonantal sounds: α, ε, η, ι, ο, υ, ω. No vowels meant that you couldn’t just listen to a word and write down the sounds, or conversely, couldn’t just sound out words by reading them. 

At some point, in the process of adopting the Phoenecian alphabet, a Greek or group of Greeks had an idea: turn those extra Phoenecian consonants into Greek vowels to capture all the sounds their voices make when speaking. That was an enormous unlock. “Instead of recognizing the written word, one could simply pronounce it and recognize it by the sound, even without preliminary knowledge of the particular written word in the text,” Rovelli writes. “The first technology in human history capable of preserving a copy of the human voice was born.” 

Correlation may not equal causation, but as Rovelli observes: 

In the seventh and sixth centuries BCE in Greece, for the first time in the history of the world, writing became accessible to many. Knowledge was no longer the exclusive heritage of a closed confraternity of scribes: it became a heritage shared by a large ruling class. Shortly thereafter came the immortal words of Sappho, Sophocles, and Plato.

And came Anaximander, who changed the way we see the world. I suspect that the phonetic alphabet contributed to his radical insights in a few ways:

  1. Access to Knowledge. Had he been born a couple of centuries earlier, even as an upper class member of society, Anaximander would not have known how to read or write. He wouldn’t have been able to draw as easily on the knowledge of others, or to put his thoughts down in a way that could survive to influence future thinkers. 

  2. Bigger Pool. There were likely others with minds and experiences like Anaximander’s pre-phonetic alphabet, but unless they were among a small group of scribes, they wouldn’t have been able to read or write. The phonetic alphabet increased the odds that the smartest people with the most novel ideas could learn and be heard. 

  3. Expansive Critique. Rovelli credits Anaximander with discovering a third way for dealing with master’s insights, between “absolute reverence” and “rejection of those who hold different views.” Anaximander built on Thales’ work – appreciating it without being afraid to point out shortcomings. He set off the process of successive refinement that defines scientific progress. That seems a much easier thing to do when you’re able to sit with a prior text, understand it, keep the good pieces, and reject the ones that don’t fit. 

  4. Drafting. Writing sharpens thought. “Putting ideas into words is a severe test.” Without the ability to play with his own revolutionary ideas in private, to put them down on tablet, prod them, tweak them, revise them, it’s hard to imagine that Anaximander could have gained the confidence to share ideas so counter to prevailing wisdom or formed them in such a way as to convince people. 

Anaximander’s writings are lost to time, and even less is known about his thought process, so this part is guesswork. I can imagine, though, Anaximander sitting down with a wax tablet and working through his ideas in private before committing them to parchment and the critical eyes of a wider audience. You don’t want to bring out your half-baked idea that the gods aren’t that powerful, actually, without a little sharpening. 


Whatever the specifics, it’s likely that without the phonetic alphabet, Anaximander would not have been able to form or share the ideas that would give birth to science. It’s equally unlikely, though, that any technology, even the best we have today, would have been able to make the mental leap that Anaximander did. 

Anaximander saw the sun, moon, and stars move in the heavens with his own eyes. He felt the rain on his skin after feeling the sun beat down on his head. He heard the rumble of the thunder, and when he looked up, he saw the clouds crashing in the sky. He had never met Zeus. He must have felt in his bones that something was amiss in the explanations he’d been given, and in his mind, he must have felt that nagging curiosity familiar to all of us when something doesn’t seem quite right. 

His was a very human insight, aided by the best technology available at the time. But even today’s best technology couldn’t have made the leap Anaximander did. I asked ChatGPT, and it admitted that, if fed everything written and said to that point, it couldn’t have explained things via natural laws

Anaximander’s story is useful in its simplicity: one technology, one man’s radical insight, many discoveries. We could tell similar stories from the Scientific Revolution with more characters: Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon, Newton. 

Born just 33 years after the invention of the printing press, it’s not hard to imagine that Copernicus was one of the first sufficiently genius humans to have access to the works of Aristarchus of Samos, Ptolemy, Islamic astronomers, and Neoplatonic philosophers. He reinterpreted the astronomical data from Ptolemy’s Almagest through the lens of his radical new insight: what if the Sun was at the center and the earth orbits around it? 

Francis Bacon was born into the Renaissance, a period that saw a resurgence of interest in ancient Greek philosophies, including Aristotle’s advocacy for empirical observation and logical reasoning. He planted the seeds of the scientific method in a critique of the existing Aristotelian approach, arguing instead for empirical observation paired with inductive reasoning and experimentation.  

Both heliocentricity and the scientific method required counterintuitive leaps off of the accumulated knowledge made broadly available by the printing press, and in turn, the printing press enabled the spread of Copernicus’ and Bacon’s ideas for further refinement by other thinkers, which shaped them into the forms that survive to this day. 

If all of the radical mental leaps that need to be made to understand the universe and our own minds have been made, if there’s no need for further Anaximanderian or Copernican insights, if the rest is just experiment and calculation, then AI might solve the remaining mysteries of the universe with or without our help. 

That may be the case, but I find it highly unlikely. Anaximander’s contemporaries didn’t suspect that godless explanations were within the realm of possibility. Physics was pretty much settled after Newton, until it wasn’t. My overwhelming suspicion is that AI will help uncover new discontinuities that will require fresh human insights, and that at the outer edges of science, humans will make new leaps that we can explore with the help of AI. 

In that case, I don’t think the framing of AI as simply a tool that we’ll use to do things for us is quite right. I think we’ll use what we learn building AI to better understand how our minds work, define the things that humans are uniquely capable of, and use AI as part of a basket of techniques we use to enhance our uniquely human abilities. 

Even as AI gets smarter, it will fuel us to get smarter and more creative, too. Chess and Go provide useful case studies. 

Chess and Go

Games are a testing ground for AI. With clearly defined rules and goals, even the most complex games are “tame problems” as compared to the “wicked problems” of carrying on nuanced conversations, pushing the frontiers of scientific knowledge, and understanding the human mind. So it’s instructive to look at how humans responded when AI captured those first frontiers to understand how we might respond as it captures more. 

As AI became superior at chess and then Go, instead of giving up, we got better, too. 

In 1997, IBM’s chess-playing computer, Deep Blue, faced off against humanity’s best chess-playing human, Garry Kasparov, in a six game rematch. The year prior, in their first matchup, man had defeated machine. And then the machine got smarter, upgraded with faster hardware and better training.

There was a bit of hysteria around the event, as often happens. Washington Post staff writer Joel Achenbach captured the sentiment in the lede of his mid-contest article: “The greatest chess player the world has ever known is struggling to defeat a machine. It’s another wonderful opportunity for the human race, as a species, to engage in collective self-loathing.”

Achenbach went on to categorize the dire proclamations made by competitor publications:

The Guardian newspaper of Great Britain said Kasparov’s job was to “defend humankind from the inexorable advance of artificial intelligence.” Kasparov himself referred to his match last year with an earlier version of Deep Blue as “species-defining.” Newsweek’s May 5 cover story on the match set new records of portentousness with the headline “The Brain’s Last Stand.” The magazine declared, “How well Kasparov does in outwitting IBM’s monster might be an early indication of how well our species might maintain its identity, let alone its superiority, in the years and centuries to come.”

Sound familiar?

You know how the match turned out. Deep Blue beat Kasparov 3.5 to 2.5. Kasparov had failed to defend humankind from the inexorable advance of artificial intelligence. Our species was defined as losers. The Brain lost its Last Stand. Early indications of how well our species might maintain its identity, let alone its superiority, in the years and centuries to come were not good. 

Some commentators even questioned whether there was a point to playing chess anymore. What did it mean to be the best in the world at chess if computers would always be better? 

But something funny happened after Deep Blue. Chess grew in popularity, and its players grew in skill. 

Looking at the Elo rating of the top chess players each year, the upward trend continues unbroken after Kasparov’s defeat. The best kept getting better – that’s interesting1

Data from ChatGPT

What’s more interesting is how many people played great chess before and after Deep Blue. 

Only five Super Grandmasters, players with Elo ratings above 2700, achieved their highest rating in the 25 years from 1972 to 1997 (inclusive). In the 26 years since, 127 Super Grand Masters have broken the 2700 mark. 

Again, this data isn’t perfect2, but the shift is so dramatic that even if the data isn’t pristine, it’s directionally correct. Not only were the best getting better, many, many more people were getting very, very good. 

Inflation aside, the explosion in the number of Super Grandmasters can be explained by a combination of more players, from anywhere in the world, training with improving chess engines – engines good enough to beat the world’s best player, now handily – and honing their skills online in competitions against each other and the machines. 

This doesn’t mean that it’s now easy to be a great chess player, or that everyone is now a Super Grandmaster. You can’t bring the chess engine to a competition (and if you try to have it send you messages via anal beads, you’ll get in trouble). But it means that more people with the requisite talent and the willingness to put in the work can get great at chess than before. The machines have pushed the humans to get better, and helped make them better. 

Whenever AI achieves something, though, the goalposts move. Of course a computer can beat a human in chess, it’s just brute force calculations. Now Go, there’s a complex game. 

Go is an ancient Chinese strategic board game in which two players take turns placing black and white stones on a grid with the objective of capturing territory by surrounding their opponent’s stones and controlling more of the board. There are 10170 possible Go moves, dwarfing the number of atoms in the universe and a whole googol (10100) more complicated than chess. We lost chess, but surely computers couldn’t beat us in Go, right? 

You know this one too. In 2015, DeepMind’s AlphaGo beat the top European player, Fan Hui, five games to zero. The next year, it beat the world’s top player, Lee Sedol, four to one. There’s a great documentary on the whole thing available for free on YouTube:

As with chess, instead of discouraging human players, AlphaGo led to an increase in both popularity and human skill. As the dramatic contest made people aware of the game, Go boards sold out worldwide. And AlphaGo pushed the best to get better. 

Here’s Lee Sedol:

It made me question human creativity. When I saw AlphaGo’s moves, I wondered whether the Go moves I had known were the right ones. Its style was different, and it was such an unusual experience that it took time for me to adjust. AlphaGo made me realize that I must study Go more.

The documentary ends with Fan Hui walking through a vineyard, daughter on shoulders, reflecting on playing against AlphaGo: 

It’s just when I play with AlphaGo, he shows me something. I feel beautiful, just it. I see the world different, before everything begin. What is real thing inside the Go game? With this thing, I will change something with my game. Maybe he just can show humans something we never discovered. Maybe it’s beautiful.

AlphaGo also improved the quality and novelty of human play dramatically beyond the greats. In a March 2023 paper, Superhuman Artificial Intelligence Can Improve Human Decision Making, a team led by Minkyu Shin analyzed 5.8 million move decisions made by human Go players over the past 71 years for quality and novelty. 

See if you can spot where AlphaGo beat the human world champion for the first time. 

Those charts are beautiful. They show that not only have human players gotten better at Go because of AlphaGo, they’ve also gotten more creative. 

What’s interesting to me is that, while AI has improved the level of play in both chess and Go, it’s had a more significant impact on creativity in Go, because, according to ChatGPT, “Go is a more complex game with a larger search space and more possibilities, which allows for a greater scope of innovation and creativity.”

That should be cause for optimism as the things AI gets good at become increasingly more complex, with larger search spaces and more possibilities, as it moves from tame problems like games to wicked ones like conversation, scientific research, and understanding the human mind.

Doubling Down on Our Minds

If there’s one key message I want you to take away from reading this, it’s that new knowledge transfer technologies unlock new and better ways of thinking. 

Human brains are not static; they’re dynamic, and capable of improving. New technologies can spur those improvements. The phonetic alphabet and the printing press didn’t just help spread ideas, they made us smarter in the process. While we’re still early in the development of AI, chess and Go provide early proof points that we’re not done improving. 

Genetic evolution is a slow process, but our minds haven’t evolved through genetics alone for millennia. As Daniel Dennett highlights in From Bacteria to Bach and Back, our brains have coevolved with memes, “words striving to reproduce.” New information – new words, ideas, arguments, images – can be “downloaded to your necktop,” where it mixes and mashes with all of the other memes you’ve downloaded and becomes part of your personal reasoning capabilities. 

Phonetic language, the printing press, and AI serve to distribute memes further and faster, so that we can upgrade our minds and provide fresh new insights. 

Dennett addresses AI directly in the closing paragraphs of his 2017 book, writing: 

Or we may continue to thrive, in an environment we have created with the help of artifacts that do most of the heavy cognitive lifting their own way, in an age of post-intelligent design. There is not just coevolution between memes and genes; there is codependence between our minds’ top-down reasoning abilities and the bottom-up uncomprehending talents of our animal brains. And if our future follows the trajectory of our past — something that is partly in our control – our artificial intelligences will continue to be dependent on us even as we become more warily dependent on them.

This separation of powers and codependence is what I’m talking about. It mirrors the phonetic alphabet and the printing press. Give them more of the heavy cognitive lifting so that we might focus on our minds’ top-down reasoning abilities, on the rare and novel sparks of insight that people like Anaximander were able to conjure. 

I don’t know what those insights will be. What I do know, what I have a strong human intuition about, at least, is that if we are at the foot of one of these technological/human insight-powered turning points, people are going to spend a lot of time and effort training their minds in order to generate those insights. 

Far from giving up on learning because AI is smarter than us, pushing our brains is only going to get more popular, and we’re only going to get better, just like we did in chess and Go. 

By pushing what AI can do and learning how it thinks, we’ll learn more about how our own minds work, and what makes them unique. 

We’ll come up with wild theories, like this one from Kevin Kelly – “That our brains tend to produce dreams at all times, and that during waking hours, our brains tame the dream machine into perception and truthiness.” He came up with it while playing with generative AI, by noticing similarities between AI’s hallucinations and our dreams and making a uniquely human leap based on his intuition. 

Wild theories based on facts, experience, and intuition (which we’ll then subject to the scientific method, of course) will be at a premium. I suspect that we’re going to see an explosion in the popularity of things like meditation, breathwork, psychedelics, lucid dreaming, ongoing education, sleep, nootropics, writing, walks in nature, tutoring, exercise, alcohol-cutting, in-person group experiences, debates, and all sorts of ways that might assist in their creation.

We can even use AI to help us train in new, personalized ways, like Greg Mushen used ChatGPT to get himself addicted to running: 

This tweet is a good metaphor, because while AI can assist in our training, we still have to go out and run the miles ourselves. Part of what makes human insight valuable and different is the hands-on experience of doing, of feeling the frustration when something doesn’t quite make sense, of feeling the joy of figuring something out after a long struggle. 

We’ve all worked for middle managers too far removed from the day-to-day to add much value; we’re at risk of something similar happening if we hand too much of our thinking over to AI. Intuition is earned.

Some people will be happy letting AI do the grunt work. Not everyone will see AI’s advance as a challenge to meet, just as I have not taken advantage of chess and Go engines to become better at either of those games. But I think, as in chess and Go, more people will get smarter. The process will produce more geniuses, broadly defined, ready to deliver the fresh, human insights required to ignite the next intellectual revolution. 

If we can walk the line, the result, I think, will be a deeper understanding of the universe and ourselves, and a meaningful next leg in the neverending quest to understand and shape our realities.

Thanks to Dan and Puja for editing!

That’s all for today! We’ll be back in your inbox on Friday with a Weekly Dose of Optimism, and we mayyy drop a little extra in there on Thursday, too.

Thanks for reading,



Note that this data isn’t perfect – it’s surprisingly hard to find a list of the top Elo rating achieved each year, and I didn’t want to waste time going through year by year here, so I went with ChatGPT and spot checked. It’s close enough and the trend is correct. That 1999 spike is real though – it seems as if losing to Deep Blue gave Kasparov a jolt of motivation.


There’s an ongoing debate over whether there’s been inflation in the Elo ratings over the past few decades. For an explanation of how the Elo rating is calculated and whether there has been rating inflation, I asked ChatGPT to summarize. You can see the conversation here.

Weekly Dose of Optimism #40


Hi friends 👋,

Happy Friday and welcome back to our 40th Weekly Dose of Optimism. This October paper, which made the rounds earlier this week, is why we write the Weekly Dose.

Rozado, Hughes, and Halberstadt in PLOS

Full slate this week, and if you’ll allow us, a bit of shameless (but hopefully helpful) self-promotion. So throw on some tunes…

And let’s get to it.

The Weekly Dose is brought to you by… Composer

You know Composer. I love Composer — the investing app that helps you achieve superior returns with logic, data, and now AI integrations. Since founding its algorithmic trading platform in 2020, Composer has helped over 20,000 customers trade 100s of millions of dollars. I’m one of them — my Composer portfolio is actually up since I started using it last year, which is incredible because the portfolio of individual stocks I own is … not.

And Composer is now integrated with ChatGPT-4 and ships new features seemingly every week. Two features to call to your attention (the video above explains it even better)

  1. Composer —> ChatGPT: easily copy+paste Composer symphonies into ChatGPT and get plain language explanations of the sophisticated trading logic powering your trading strategies.

  2. NEW: ChatGPT—> Composer: modify trading strategies in ChatGPT, copy+paste code back into Composer, and your symphony is automatically updated.

Composer was already the smart way to invest, and with its ChatGPT-4 integrations, it just got a lot smarter. Check it out for yourself, and as a Not Boring reader, you can get an extra free week of Composer’s trial offering by entering “Not Boring” in the “Where did you hear about us?” section. This exclusive offer lasts until Friday 5/5 at 11:59pm EST, so check out Composer now:

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(1) Not Boring: 200K Subscribers

Dan here — Packy’s going to hate that I’m leading off with this self-promotional story. He’ll probably even demand that I remove it. But the cool thing about your boss also being your brother is that you can sometimes tell him to fuck off.

Last Saturday Not Boring crossed 200,000 subscribers. That’s 3x the amount of people that fit into Lincoln Financial Field, the home to our beloved Philadelphia Eagles. It’s a big milestone for Packy personally, and also an important marker for Not Boring on our mission to make the world more optimistic. We’re starting to make a dent.

Packy’s been publicly quieter about the Not Boring journey over the past year — building in public isn’t always fun — so I thought I’d share three observations about how he got here and how he built Not Boring (with $0 in ad spend or pre-existing audience) into one of the largest publications on Substack. These might seem like a bunch of abstract cliches, but I’ll try to make them actionable:

  1. Consistency: Packy publishes about 45 Monday essays per year. Each essay is somewhere between 5,000 – 10,000 words. They’re a pain in the ass to write. Think about cramming out a 1,000 word essay on a late Sunday night in your college library, but doing that basically every single week with 200,000 professors waiting to grade it. Action: make a public promise, and follow through with it.

  2. Quality: Packy’s standards for quality are exacting and sometimes frustrating — trust me, I’m his editor. He’ll write an essay for entire week, wake up Saturday morning, decide it’s shit, and then spend the next 48 hours writing something entirely different. Quality is the main driver of shareability, which is how our audience grows. Action: put out work that you’re proud of and that people want to share.

  3. Risk: When Packy started taking Not Boring seriously, he was unemployed, recently married, and had a kid on the way. Not Boring had less than 1,000 subscribers and made $0 in revenue. It’s not that he didn’t have other prospects — he had built a solid career — it’s that he was truly obsessed with writing about tech and strategy. Action: everyone has their own risk:reward ratio, but if your goal is to accelerate your success (in whatever it is that you do) you need to take some risk.

If you want to learn more about Packy’s journey, this Acquired episode (filmed right before 100K subscribers) is a good place to start. OK, that’s it for now. No more self-congratulations until a million subscribers 🤝.

Of course, none of this is possible without our smart, curious readers and subscribers. Thank you. Your support allows us to do what we love.

(2) Cruise robotaxis now run all day in San Francisco

A Cruise Robotaxi in SF

Frank Sinatra famously proclaimed that if you can “build self-driving in SF, you can build it anywhere.” Ole Blue Eyes was ahead of his time. And Cruise, the GM-owned self-driving company, is proving him right.

On Tuesday, Cruise founder and CEO Kyle Vogt tweeted that Cruise is now running 24/7 across San Francisco. During the day, Cruise employees and power-users will get free access to the self-driving robotaxi and from 10pm-5:30am the service is open to paying customers in the general public. This is a big step in the broader commercial rollout of long-awaited self-driving taxis.

In his tweet, Vogt noted that building self-driving in SF has always been the litmus test and hinted that that company will soon launch the service in other markets.

The joke about self-driving cars is that they’re perpetually just a few years away. Now that Cruise has pulled it off, joke’s on its doubters.

(3) Brain Images Just Got 64 Million Times Sharper

Dan Vahaba for Duke Institute for Brain Sciences

The hope is that by making the MRI an even higher-powered microscope, Johnson and others can better understand mouse models of human diseases, such as Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and others. And that should lead to a better understanding of how similar things function or go awry in people.

A coalition of researchers, led by a team out of Duke, released MRI technologies that produce images 64 million times sharper than today’s standard MRI imaging technology. The imagine technology uses incredibly powerful magnets, a special set of gradient coils, and the equivalent of 800 laptops’ worth computer power all to produce one brain image.

While the technology has only been tested on mice, the hope is that the enhanced brain imaging will enable doctors to better understand diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases. Go Duke.

(4) Lego breaks ground on first US manufacturing facility

Sara Samora for Manufacturing Dive

The $1 billion, 1.7 million-square-foot site will house 13 buildings and draw its power from rooftop and ground solar panels, as well as an on-site solar plant when completed in 2025.

Lego is opening up a new, $1B manufacturing facility about 15 miles outside of Richmond, VA in a plan that will create about 1,700 new jobs. It’s Lego’s first US manufacturing facility, and will use on-site solar to be carbon-neutral.

On a micro level: good for Lego and good for the city of Richmond!

On a macro level we expect to see this type of reshoring become more common over the coming years. It’s not that every company needs to total scrap their international manufacturing efforts — that’d be an obvious overcorrection to the last few years — but it can’t hurt to bring a portion of capacity back to the U.S. More jobs, more stable supply lines, and less dependency on China. Everything is awesome.

“The next big thing will start out looking like a toy manufacturer moving to the U.S. – Chris Dixon” – Dan McCormick

(5) Immigration is back in the US

Rana Foroohar for FT

Immigration is back, in the US at least. Over the past two and a half years, immigration into the American labour market has increased by 4mn workers, and the working age immigrant population has now finally reached its pre-pandemic trend level. This is likely to be a central factor in strong employment growth, particularly in leisure and hospitality. It is also part of the story on increasing workforce participation, as well as being good news for the fight against inflation.

Immigration, so hot right now. Immigration.

After a a multi-year period of immigration declines, due to Trump-era policies and the pandemic, immigration rates are back up. And the rise immigration is one of the driving forces keeping our economy afloat — tempering inflation, driving workforce participation, etc.

We often talk about the importance of high-skilled immigration to the U.S. because, frankly, that’s simply just a win-win for everybody. But the recent rise in all kinds of immigration, and its positive impact on the economy is a reminder just how important it is to the stability of our economy. Immigrants (they get the job done!)

BONUS: Interactive Mutation Browser

From Not Boring Biotech Partner, Elliot Hershberg, in

Interactive Mutation Browser in Action

From Elliot: With each ChatGPT update, more and more people are experiencing the power of Large Language Models firsthand. But have you heard of Protein Language Models? These new models are taking the biotech by storm. In parallel, scientists have developed fast and flexible 3D Web-based molecular graphics systems. The Interactive Mutation Browser weaves these two threads together to explore the impact of genetic variants in real-time in the browser.

Even if you’re not a biologist, you should give it a spin: Interactive Mutation Browser. It helps make an abstract concept like protein structure more tangible. It’s cool to think that our kids are going to be able to learn using tools like this.

Book Rec: Anaximander by Carlo Rovelli

This is the main characteristic of scientific thinking: what seems most obvious to us about the world can be false. Scientific thinking is, therefore, a continuous quest for novel ways of conceptualizing the world. Knowledge is born from a respectful but radical act of rebellion against what we currently think.

Packy here. I’m a simple man: Carlo Rovelli writes something, I read it.

The book is a celebration of Aximander, a 6th century BC Greek philosopher and, Rovelli argues, the world’s first scientist. It’s also celebration of science as a rebellious act. What I loved most about the book was Rovelli’s ability to put the creativity and boldness of Anaximander’s thinking in the context of his time. Seeking to explain the world without deus ex deus — explaining everything by saying “the gods did it” — was truly radical, and set the stage for 2600 years of scientific progress since.

How many of the universe’s secrets remain to be unveiled by shifts in perspective?

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That’s all for this week. We’ll be back in your inbox on Monday.


Thanks for reading,


Weekly Dose of Optimism #39


Hi friends 👋,

Happy Friday and welcome back to our 39th Weekly Dose of Optimism.

We got exploding rockets, a case for AgARDA & a case against safetyism, and longevity learnings. At bit all over the place, but in a good way.

If you like it, subscribe! We’re tantalizingly close to 200k:

Subscribe now

Let’s get to it.

The Weekly Dose is brought to you by… Axios Pro

Listen, it’s tough at there right now: layoffs, multiple compression, interest rate uncertainty, and even sudden banking crises — there’s a lot going on and the Axios Pro newsroom is here to provide clarity. Axios’ industry-leading journalists — like Dan Primack — help contextualize how this downturn is impacting dealmaking in your industry.

Why it matters: Optimism doesn’t mean putting your head in the sand. Get data. Not Boring readers can download Axios Pro’s latest industry report for free to learn what the current economic cooldown means for your bottom line, and how to plan for a possible recession.

Go deeper: The Axios Pro newsroom delivers aggregated data and analysis from the biggest players in VC, PE and M&A, plus key industry trends and takeaways to inform every critical decision you’ll make this year.  If your work touches fintech, health tech, climate, media or retail (which if you’re reading this, it likely does) this might be the most important report you read all year. 


(1) Starship Flight Test

On 4/20 (of course, nice), SpaceX achieved its primary objective of getting Starship off the ground.

Starship, which will eventually attempt to take humans to the moon and Mars, is the largest and most powerful rocket ever constructed, and is now the largest and most powerful rocket ever to launch. Even though the rocket exploded minutes after launch, it was a big accomplishment to just get this bigboi in the air.

We’ve been critical of Elon’s work at Twitter. It’s easy to forget that he’s working on civilization-changing, big engineering problems like Starship when he’s being a poopoohead on his rotting website. But props where props are due. Duality of man and all that.

While Elon’s biggest critics and those who generally dislike cool shit are focusing on the fact that the rocket blew up, launching and learning on a budget that’s minuscule compared to NASA’s is a big accomplishment. SpaceX continues to make the world stop and stare in wonder, and we need more of that.

(2) How did solar power get cheap? Part I & Part II

Brian Potter in Construction Pysics

Solar PV’s low cost is the result of it steadily falling in price over many decades. In 1957 solar PV electricity cost roughly $300,000 per megawatt-hour in 2019 dollars. By 2019, in the sunniest locations that had fallen to roughly $20 per megawatt-hour, 15,000 times less. And it’s still getting cheaper.

Brian Potter / Our World in Data

We love us a good learning curve here at Not Boring. From Moore’s Law to DNA sequencing to solar PV prices, these curves show costs declining and performance improving exponentially over time, as if by magic 🪄

But the most magical thing about learning curves is that they’re not magical at all. They’re the result of millions of individual, corporate, and national efforts over decades that somehow shake out into these relatively smooth, beautiful curves.

In this two-part piece, Brian Potter, the author of one of our favorite blogs, Construction Physics, which breaks down why things are built the way they are, explains everything that’s gone into shrinking the cost of solar PV electricity by 15,000x over the past seven decades.

From the earliest exploration of the photovoltaic effect in 1839 by the dad of the guy who discovered radioactivity to the invention of the modern PV cell at (where else?) Bell Labs in 1954 to the first big solar PV purchases by (who else?) US and Russian aerospace and defense agencies in 1958 to the international competition across the US, Japan, Germany, and China to produce the most and cheapest cells, Potter’s piece is a comprehensive look at how one of the world’s most important curves came to be.

We celebrate humanity’s big, flashy achievements here, but sometimes, it’s the composition of small improvements that power the greatest progress.

(3) The Case for AgARDA

Adin Richards for The Institute for Progress

ARPA programs succeed because of intense focus on a few important objectives, pursued nimbly with whatever technology is best suited to meet the goal. AgARDA should focus on three primary technological areas: 

  • Passive monitoring of crop fields and livestock for known and novel diseases

  • Genetically engineering more productive, stress-tolerant plants that are less reliant on farming inputs

  • New ways of producing calories — such as precision fermentation or microbes that process waste — that are less susceptible to climate and disease threats than field crops and livestock

Institute for Progress

The U.S. was once the leader in farming innovation, but that position has weakened over time as we’ve transformed into a services economy. Richards makes the case that the government needs to fund and support the new Agricultural Advanced Research Development Agency (AgARDA) it created in the 2018 Farm Bill and details the top three initiatives the agency should focus on. Ultimately, it comes down to protecting a U.S. leadership position in food and monitoring threats against our food supply.

The ARPA/ARDA (Advanced Research Project/Development Agencies) model is fascinating and effective. You likely know DARPA (Defense Advance Research Projects Agency), which was deeply involved in the development of the Internet, GPS, and drones. Because of DARPA’s effectiveness in funding moonshot tech and shepherding it to market via DOD contracts, the government has begun experimenting with more ARPA/ARDAs recently, like ARPA-E (2009) for energy and ARPA-H (2022) for biotech and health. While results have been mixed, these programs have the potential to combine the resources of the government with the flexibility of venture-like funding models.

As with solar and so many of our biggest technological achievements, we can tackle bigger challenges when government, academia, and industry work together effectively, and we hope AgARDA can have a DARPA-like impact on food.

(4) Against Safetyism

Byrne Hobart and Tobias Huber for Pirate Wires

Now, whether we think that an AI apocalypse is imminent or the lab-leak hypothesis is correct or not, by mitigating or suppressing visible risks, safetyism is often creating invisible or hidden risks that are far more consequential or impactful than the risks it attempts to mitigate. In a way, this makes sense: creating a new technology and deploying it widely entails a definite vision for the future. But a focus on the risks means a definite vision of the past, and a more stochastic model of what the future might hold. Given time’s annoying habit of only moving in one direction, we have no choice but to live in somebody’s future — the question is whether it’s somebody with a plan or somebody with a neurosis.

Eliezer Yudkowsky | Know Your Meme

Call it safetyism. Risk aversion. Doomerism. Call it whatever you want. (We’ll call it safetyism for consistency’s sake). But freaking out about the future, and letting that freakout prevent advancement has become an increasingly popular stance. Pessimists sound smart, optimists make money. Safetyists sound smart, optimists make progress.

Friend of the newsletter, Byrne Hobart, and Tobias Huber explain why safetyism is both illogical and dangerous. These two quotes capture the crux of the argument:

Obsessively attempting to eliminate all visible risks often creates invisible risks that are far more consequential for human flourishing.

Whether it’s nuclear energy, AI, biotech, or any other emerging technology, what all these cases have in common is that — by obstructing technological progress — safetyism has an extremely high civilizational opportunity cost.

We worry about the potential risks of nuclear energy, we get the reality of dirtier and more deadly fossil fuels. Often, the downsides created by safetyism aren’t as clear as the nuclear example: “by mitigating or suppressing visible risks, safetyism is often creating invisible or hidden risks that are far more consequential or impactful than the risks it attempts to mitigate.” While we worry about AI killing us all, for example, millions will die of diseases that AI could help detect or even cure.

This isn’t a call to scream YOLO as we indiscriminately create new technologies with zero regards for the consequences, but it’s an important reminder that trying to play it safe is often the riskiest move of all.

(5) Peter Attia – The Portfolio to Live Longer

Longevity and optimism are intertwined. Longevity folks want to live longer because they believe life is worth living for as long and as well as you can. Your average optimist probably has a pretty similar perspective, even if they are not singularly focused on the length and quality of life. To care about living well is to be an optimist.

So if you’re reading this newsletter, you’re likely interested in longevity (or healthspan) — and Dr. Peter Attia is the world’s leading (or most popular) expert on the topic. He recently released his long-awaited book “Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity” and went on Patrick O’Shaughness’y podcast to discuss it at length (see what I did there?).

According to Attia, there are five areas over which we have agency that can meaningful impact healthspan: nutrition, exercise, sleep, pharmacology (drugs, supplements, etc), and tools around mental health. But these are not all created equal: exercise has a disproportionate impact on longevity and healthspan.

Speaking of exercise and supplements…

Bonus: Dan on The Danny Miranda Podcast: The Creatine King

Packy here, sneaking this in while Dan’s not looking. Dan did his biggest podcast interview yet, talking about creating Create, working on Not Boring, and family. I’m very grateful that I get to work with my brother and proud of everything he’s doing (HUGE day yesterday despite being attacked by an unscrupulous competitor), and this is as good an overview of Dan’s world as there is.

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That’s all for this week. We’ll be back in your inbox on Monday.


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Weekly Dose of Optimism #38


Hi friends 👋,

Happy Friday and welcome back to our 38th Weekly Dose of Optimism.

Not too much to report on our end heading into the weekend. Lots of good stuff happening out there in this ole world of ours. We’re here to bring it to you.

Let’s get to it.

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(1) E.P.A. Lays Out Rules to Turbocharge Sales of Electric Cars and Trucks

Coral Davenport for The New York Times

The Biden administration is proposing rules to ensure that two-thirds of new cars and a quarter of new heavy trucks sold in the United States by 2032 are all-electric.

It seems as if EVs are not only here to stay, but that they’ll nearly 10x over the coming decade. Politics and views on government overreach aside, this is an ambitious plan that puts the U.S. on track to achieve its emissions slashing goals.

Are EVs our planet’s saving grace? I don’t think so. They may be part of the story, but not the whole thing. I think some combination of technologies that make solar, nuclear, and fusion abundant will do more to solve our climate issues than restricting combustion engine cars.

Whatever your views on Elon, he was about two decades ahead of his time on this whole EV trend. And if you subscribe to Tim Urban’s theory of Elon, this proliferation of EVs from other automakers was always part of the plan, too. High end EVs —> mass-market EVs —> automaker competition —> more sustainable energy future…a long and winding path for sure, but it’s seems like things are tracking to plan.

(2) One of the biggest battery recycling plants in the US is up and running

Julian Spector for Canary Media

This is an early example of a nationwide movement to cost-effectively recycle and repurpose EV batteries as more and more drivers go electric. In previous decades, companies hadn’t invested much in lithium-ion recycling, but investment soared in the last few years to match the spiking demand for battery materials.

As EVs proliferate, so too will demand for the critical minerals and components that make EVs possible, like lithium-ion batteries. While the price of lithium has plummeted in the last few months, our view is that there will be steadily increasing demand for these materials over the coming decades as the clean energy revolution trucks along. And with 50 million+ (Not Boring estimation) EVs being produced each year by 2032, we’re going to need a way to recycle and repurpose those cars’ components.

In the U.S. those EV component recycling facilities are already coming online. The new factory mentioned in the story will be able to recycle over 70,000 EV battery packs annually (almost 9% of US EV sales in 2022.)

As with any new major technology, there will be shakeups, but new industries and job (such as EV battery recycling) will be created to fill the void.

(3) Mortality in the past: every second child died

Max Roser for Our World in Data

The chances that a newborn survives childhood have increased from 50% to 96% globally.

Youth mortality rates over last two millennia 2

There is perhaps not a more convincing statistic that life, broadly speaking, has improved than: “In our lifetime, the global death rate of children declined from around 50% to 4%.”

Comparatively, no other stat really even matters. Literacy rates? Doesn’t matter if you can read if you’re likely to die before high school. Living older? Adding an incremental 2-3 years towards the end of life does basically nothing to age averages when 50% of the population dies before 15 (leaving 40+ years on the table). Democracy? That’s doubled in the last 50 years, but what good is freedom when you die before you can even vote.

You get the idea. Life has gotten much better because much more life has been lived (on average) over the past 50 years. And much more life has been lived largely because less children are dying.

(4) 2023 State of Crypto Report: Introducing the State of Crypto Index

Daren Matsuoka, Eddy Lazzarin, Robert Hackett, Stephanie Zinn for a16zCrypto

a16z crypto

Packy here. On Tuesday, a16z crypto released its annual State of Crypto Report, and its chock full of optimistic data on web3. I particularly like this framework, which the team developed a few years ago, showing that token prices drive the things that actually matter: consumer interest, developer activity, and new companies. Those things grew in 2022 despite the fall in prices.

a16z crypto

It’s also timely. On Monday, I wrote Crypto (Could) Fixes This, and one of the main critiques I received is that you don’t actually need crypto. Mastodon exists, and it doesn’t touch crypto. Here’s my response:

Mastodon is a pretty brutal experience, and most of the people who onboarded when Twitter looked to be falling apart had stopped using it just a couple months later. But because crypto incentivizes developers to build all sorts of composable software that makes crypto more usable generally, the experience of onboarding to a decentralized social platform like Farcaster and the apps built on top is already much easier than Mastodon, and constantly getting better. Bubbles have value if they leave behind useful infrastructure, and a16z’s framework captures that well.

Not all of the data in the report is great for crypto/web3. a16z’s new State of Crypto Index, which looks at innovation and adoption indicators instead of price, is down 5.86% YoY (much less than prices).

a16z State of Crypto Index

But the biggest lesson I took from the report is captured by the graphic I put at the top of this section — great startups are built in every kind of market. I’m excited to see the logos that get added to that graphic over the next few years.

(5) Generative Agents: Interactive Simulacra of Human Behavior

Joon Sung Park, Joseph C. O’Brien, Carrie J. Cai, Meredith Ringel Morris, Percy Liang, Michael S. Bernstein

As this tweet (thanks Elon) pointed out, a team of researchers created what is basically an AI-powered The Sims. The study uses “generative agents”, powered by ChatGPT, to simulate believable individual and social human behaviors…and it worked. The “agents” were making friends, dating, and even pulling off things we humans can’t, like coordinating arrival times to parties.

Something something the next big thing will start out looking like a toy something something. First, this seems like it’d be pretty important in any kind of rollout of the Metaverse. Interact with NPCs in a realistic, human-like way. Maybe Westworld isn’t that far off. Secondly, and perhaps more realistically, a tool like this could help simulate scenarios and inform decision making — how will x population react to y, what characteristics of q would z find most attractive? Play those scenarios out a million times in seconds, using agents that behave like humans, and my bet is that result will be pretty similar to how real humans would behave.

Bonus: The Problem of Abundance (🔒)

Martin Gurri for The Free Press

We in the twenty-first century benefit from a revolutionary historical process that has lavished on us unprecedented amounts of wealth and leisure. Deirdre McCloskey has christened this the Great Enrichment. But we could just as well call it the Great Emptiness, since it has drained from our lives the old implacable conditions that once structured meaningful behavior.

This one is paywalled, but it’s worth the read if you subscribe to The Free Press or have a friend who does. Gurri, the author of The Revolt of the Public, discusses something we’ve been wrestling with in Not Boring: the messy fact that abundance doesn’t equal happiness, and in some cases, might actually detract from it.

We put this in the Bonus section, because it’s not optimistic. It’s counter to a lot of what we want to believe. But it’s a good reminder that as we celebrate the incredible things humans are able to build and achieve, we need to put as much effort towards figuring out how to replace the meaning people derive from struggling to survive.

Double Bonus: Our portfolio company, Oasis, launched Oasis AI in the App Store this week. Essentially, you talk into the app, and it transcribes your words and turns them into emails, essays, tweets, and more. It’s magical, and I use it daily to capture the random thoughts I have when I’m running around. Check it out here.

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Weekly Dose of Optimism #37


Hi friends 👋,

Happy Friday and welcome back to our 37th Weekly Dose of Optimism.

No big intro this week — but one favor to ask: if you enjoy reading The Weekly Dose of Optimism, the best way to support is to share us with a friend. The Weekly Dose of Optimism is weekly publication that highlights five stories that make us more optimistic about the world. We celebrate humans and the great things we have and will achieve.


Now, let’s get to it.

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(1) Quantum Computers, explained with MKBHD

From Huge If True

We’re big fans of Cleo Abram’s Youtube series “Huge If True” in which she explains important, often complicated topics in simple language and with some dope video editing. The combo of the the two means that even guys like us can start to understand topics as complex as quantum computing.

In the WDoO #31, we covered that a team of Google researchers had achieved the second of six milestones on the way towards producing a “useful quantum computer.” Quantum computing may be closer than we think, and the ways in which it could transform the world are hard to imagine because these are not simply bigger, faster computers…they’re something different. They are 158 million times faster than the most powerful supercomputers we have today.

Cleo was joined by big-time tech YouTuber, Marques Brownlee, to take on the topic. If you have 18 minutes to spare this weekend and want to get smarter on what will be a very relevant topic in the future, we recommend watching!

(2) Checks and balances: Machine learning and zero-knowledge proofs

Elena Burger for a16z

The question isn’t “will AI be tremendously valuable,” the question is “how do we build these systems in such a way that anyone interacting with them will be able to reap its economic benefits and, if they so desire, ensure that their data is used in a way that honors their right to privacy.”

Packy here. Something that I feel very strongly about but have only started to put into words is the idea that AI and crypto were made for each other, different technologies that came to be at right about the same time through a mix of riding similar waves and that everything happens for a reason je ne sais quoi.

Venkatesh Rao captured the idea best in one of my favorite essays of the past few months, The Rise of Mediocre Computing:

It feels like AI and crypto are mathematical evil twins of sorts; that each is somehow deeply incomplete without the other. The mild culture-warring between the two tribes is in fact a symptom of deeper kinships.

The hints are subtle and all over the place. I’ll take an inventory in a future post, but here’s one as a sample: AIs can be used to generate “deep fakes” while cryptographic techniques can be used to reliably authenticate things against such fakery. Flipping it around, crypto is a target-rich environment for scammers and hackers, and machine learning can be used to audit crypto code for vulnerabilities. I am convinced there is something deeper going on here. This reeks of real yin-yangery that extends to the roots of computing somehow. It’s not just me hallucinating patterns where there are none.

Unifying AI and crypto at a foundational level smells like a problem on par with unifying relativity and quantum mechanics in physics.

Elena’s essay focuses on one of the more immediately compelling intersections of the two domains: ML and ZKPs. She adds more meat to the bone than VGR or I did.

The question, she writes, isn’t whether AI will be valuable — of course it will be — but how to best distribute that value and allow people to control their own data. The answer Elena proposes isn’t to halt progress, but to “push for models that are open-source, and in cases where model providers want their weights or data to be private, to secure them with privacy-preserving zero-knowledge proofs that are on-chain and fully auditable.”

The whole piece is worth reading — Elena goes in-depth on five ways ZKPs can be applied to ML and on shortcomings that remain to be overcome — but there’s one point I want double-highlight:

High demand for blockchain compute has incentivized zero-knowledge proof research.

As we’ve covered here before, ZKPs are going to be useful beyond crypto, but research on them has only accelerated so quickly because of crypto. It’s pretty incredible how these things line up.

(3) Artificial intelligence has advanced despite having few resources dedicated to its development – now investments have increased substantially

Max Roser for Our World in Data

The developments in the past happened despite the fact that funding and brainpower dedicated to AI were quite limited. As these charts have shown, this has changed. Across a range of metrics, the resources dedicated to AI development have increased substantially.

The fact that the field advanced with relatively small resources, and now has much larger resources at its disposal – leading to rapid advances in the last few years – is one reason why I expect AI technology to continue to develop rapidly and to exert a larger and larger influence on our world. 

ChatGPT and other Transformer-based models have captured the world’s attention, but AI advancements may just be heating up. Why? The corporate investment in AI has gone exponential in the last three years, with no signs of slowing down.

In the three years prior to the publication of “Attention Is All You Need” — the 2017 research paper from Google that introduced Transformers — about $75B was invested in AI globally. In 2021 alone, that number more than doubled to $160B. And with the recent GPT-hype, I’d be willing to bet 2023 will be closer to $300B. That’s a >10x increase in annual investment over the last decade.

If we think things are crazy now, imagine what $300B+ of annual AI R&D and a useful quantum computer will yield…

Back in the present day, you can’t check Twitter without getting hit with at least 2-3 very cool AI products/advancements each day, spun up by individuals without funding. Here are two that caught our eye:

  1. GPT-4 Coding Assistant

  2. Task-driven autonomous agent

(Twitter has seemingly restricted embedded Tweets in Substack — thanks Elon!)

(4) UK develops genetic early warning system for future pandemics

Robin McKie for The Guardian

The ultimate aim of the project – the Respiratory Virus and Microbiome Initiative – is to create a system that would deploy DNA sequencing technology to identify all viral, bacterial and fungal species in a single sample collected from a nose swab from a patient.

Red viruses with hairs and rough texture floating on a dark red background

The Respiratory Virus and Microbiome Initiative aims to use DNA sequencing technology to spot new diseases. Photograph: Alejandro Miranda/Alamy

Remember back in 2020/2021 when new variants of Covid were popping up in specific geographies and we were able to pinpoint the severity and the infectiousness of those variants? That information, and our ability to access it quickly, was the result of genomic sequencing technology and it played a vital role in containing the threat of the pandemic.

Now that same technology is being targeted at other viruses including influenza, RSV, and other coronaviruses to help us better surveil, track, and ultimately fight the viruses. The technology, which was developed in the UK and only accessible to a few other developed countries, is now going global.

We don’t know when or where the next pandemic will start, but this time, thanks to a surveillance network of more affordable and advanced technologies, we may be more prepared to take it on.

(5) Rex Woodbury on Optimism

From Rex Woodbury

Index Partner and author of the Substack Digital Native Rex Woodbury dropped a worthwhile 🧵 (link to tweet) on how capitalism and technology are drivers of positive social impact at scale. He gives reason to be optimistic on topics ranging from climate, biotech, work, and even dating. Life has certainly gotten better over the past 200 years, and that has almost certainly be the result of accelerating technological advancements.

There’s a lot of pessimism out there, but we agree with Rex that the good outweighs the bad and we thank him for the healthy dose of optimismporn.

And now, to those of you who celebrate:

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Weekly Dose of Optimism #36


Hi friends 👋,

Happy Friday and welcome back to our 36th Weekly Dose of Optimism.

It’s hard to write a post on optimism the week of another school shooting, this time in Nashville. It’s embarrassing, sad, and pathetic that this keeps happening in America, and that it doesn’t seem like anyone’s willing to do anything about it. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families.

Despite the tragedy, humans did do some pretty amazing things this week, and it’s our job here to try to balance the bad news that streams constantly on the news and your social feeds with the many more good things happening out there.

Let’s get to it.

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(1) Possible

From Reid Hoffman and Aria Finger

Possible is a new podcast that sketches out the brightest version of the future—and what it will take to get there. Most of all, it asks: what if, in the future, everything breaks humanity’s way? Each episode has a companion story, generated by GPT-4, which will serve as a jumping-off point for a hopeful, speculative discussion about what humanity could possibly get right if we leverage technology—and our collective effort—effectively.

We’re not alone in our quest to spread optimism. Reid Hoffman, along with co-host Aria Finger, launched a new podcast with a twist. Each episode, they explore the brightest version of the future of a specific topic — so far entertainment, fusion, and clean energy. The twist is that after exploring this future with a guest, they also prompt ChatGPT to explore that bright future as well…and compare how the two match up.

✅ Reid Hoffman podcast (big Masters of Scale fans)

✅ Optimistic storytelling and exploration

✅ Working in ChatGPT into the podcast about the future of entertainment, very meta!

In the episode linked above, Trevor Noah shared his perspective on the relationship between technology and optimism, saying, “In order to be a technologist, you have to be an optimist because you have to believe the future you’re designing for will exist or you have to believe that what you’re creating will contribute to that future.”

Amen Trevor.

(2) Malleable software in the age of LLMs

From Geoffrey Litt

All computer users may soon have the ability to author small bits of code. What structural changes does this imply for the production and distribution of software?

A robot and a human coding together. Image from Midjourney.

From GeoffreyLitt.com, presumably made with Midjourney or Stability

Litt explores the implications of LLM on the democratization of software creation. What happens when everyone, with a little bit (OK, a lot of bit) of help from their friendly LLM assistant, can write code? As Litt views it, a more democratic digital landscape in which end-users create and control software that fit their specific needs.

LLMs help ‘Liberate the Last Mile,” or the final leg that would-be developers need to traverse to execute code. Us normies have all been there — we have a great idea, maybe even have a bit of technical chops, but can’t bridge the gap between insights and actually deploying a useful piece of software. Essentially, writing and executing code from end-to-end is a lot more complex than it looks, and LLMs represent a step-change in a normal person’s ability to do so.

As someone who is deeply fascinated by tech, but can’t really code (any often gets caught up in the Last Mile when I try), this is a super exciting vision. For top professional developers, I don’t anticipate LLMs will make them obsolete, but instead allow them to focus on more and more complex problems.

(3) Existential risk, AI, and the inevitable turn in human history

Tyler Cowen for Marginal Revolution

I would put it this way.  Our previous stasis, as represented by my #1 and #2, is going to end anyway.  We are going to face that radical uncertainty anyway.  And probably pretty soon.  So there is no “ongoing stasis” option on the table.

This was a big week for the AI safety debate, kicked off by this Marginal Revolution post by Tyler Cowen, followed by an open letter calling for a 6-month pause to “giant AI experiments” signed by Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, Max Tegmark, and others, and capped off by an even more extreme call to “shut it all down” by Eliezer Yudkowsky in Time.

How AI is going to impact society — from how it will impact jobs and meaning to whether it’s going to kill us all — is an important conversation, and even the AI optimists believe it’s one we should be having. Sam Altman talked about it on Lex Fridman and Nat Friedman talked about it on The Lunar Society.

When things are moving so fast, and are so uncertain, it’s useful to step back and take the historical perspective, which Cowen did beautifully in his post. He argues that during recent times, most of us have been living in a bubble “outside of history” for two main reasons:

  1. American hegemony over much of the world, and relative physical safety for Americans.

  2. An absence of truly radical technological change.

AI represents the end of #2 (and Ukraine/Taiwan may represent the end of #1) and all of a sudden, we’re going to be living inside of “actual ‘moving’ history. It will panic many of us, disorient the rest of us, and cause great upheavals in our fortunes, both good and bad.”

Cowen believes that the good will outweigh the bad, but more centrally to the piece, he argues that whatever happens, our previous stasis is going to end anyway and no one — neither the doomers nor the optimists — knows how it’s going to turn out. In his view, the question is no longer “go ahead?” but rather “given that we’re going forward with this, what good can we get out of it?”

We can’t change the direction of progress’ arrow; in SlateStarCodex’s words, we are the Puppets and technological progress is “the vastest and most formless Vast Formless Thing of all.” We can only fight to make the positive outcomes vastly outweigh the inevitable negative ones.

The closing paragraphs capture our kind of optimism well — of course there will be challenges, but we’re here to overcomes

Besides, what kind of civilization is it that turns away from the challenge of dealing with more…intelligence?  That has not the self-confidence to confidently confront a big dose of more intelligence?  Dare I wonder if such societies might not perish under their current watch, with or without AI?  Do you really want to press the button, giving us that kind of American civilization?

So we should take the plunge.  If someone is obsessively arguing about the details of AI technology today, and the arguments on LessWrong from eleven years ago, they won’t see this.  Don’t be suckered into taking their bait.  The longer a historical perspective you take, the more obvious this point will be.  We should take the plunge.  We already have taken the plunge.  We designed/tolerated our decentralized society so we could take the plunge.

See you all on the other side.

(4) The Age of Average

From Alex Murrell

I believe that the age of average is the age of opportunity…So, this is your call to arms. Whether you’re in film or fashion, media or marketing, architecture, automotive or advertising, it doesn’t matter. Our visual culture is flatlining and the only cure is creativity. It’s time to cast aside conformity. It’s time to exorcise the expected. It’s time to decline the indistinguishable.

Instagram Face, from Alex Murrell

OK, to be fair, Murrell’s estimation of the world isn’t overly optimistic…but unfortunately, appears to be pretty accurate. The article argues that “creative fields have become dominated and defined by convention and cliché” and this has led to everything looking the same. Airbnbs have the same interior decoration. Coffee shops in Copenhagen and Nashville go for the same vibe. Modern brands, regardless of what they are selling, have the same sans serif copy and playful color scheme. Even models (see above) all adopt the same “Instagram Face.”

This is not necessarily a bad thing — places, things, and people conform to what people like or has proven to be successful. Something starts off as new and unique, this attracts attention, and copycats — realizing the best strategy is to copy first, and differentiate later, soon follow. But it does lead to a world, ultimately, in which everything looks the same.

There are two ways to view this:

  1. Everything looks the same; therefore creativity is dead OR

  2. Everything looks the same; therefore there is an opportunity for creativity to thrive.

We tend to subscribe to the latter world view. As more creative work is aided by AI, we can envision where the sameness issue gets even worse. That means there will be a growing premium on folks who can produce the different.

(5) Accelerating Genetic Design

Elliot Hershberg for Century of Biology

(Elliot, a Not Boring Bio Partner, provided a short summary of his recent essay below, but the whole essay is worth a read!)

Biology is rapidly making the transition from a natural science to an engineering discipline. In large part, this is driven by exponential progress in genetic technologies—specifically DNA sequencing and synthesis. Together, these tools can produce massive data sets that make even the “big data” of the Internet Age look small. This opens the door to building powerful predictive models of biological systems using AI. I refer to this paradigm as the 4-S model, and it’s poised to dramatically change our relationship with our bodies and our planet.

The main application of this tool stack so far has been to engineer new types of proteins—which are the molecular machines that make up our bodies. We can rapidly synthesize variations of these molecules and test their behavior using DNA sequencing. This is pretty cool. Engineering new molecules and proteins has produced new cellular receptors that can convince immune cells to cure cancer, and enzymes that power chemical plants that produce no waste.

Ultimately, proteins and other molecules are individual parts that are composed into more complex circuits within cells. A longstanding challenge for the field of synthetic biology has been to move up a layer of abstraction and reliably engineer new genetic circuits. This type of progress would unlock a future of programmable medicines and materials, where our medicines—and maybe someday our clothes, buildings, and physical infrastructure—flexibly adapt and compute based on their environment.

In this recent essay, I explain exciting new research from a synthetic biology lab at Rice University that aims to accelerate genetic circuit design by leveraging recent advances in DNA sequencing. It’s a great example of the promise at the intersection of genetic engineering and AI. Could we someday produce a ChatGPT that speaks the language of cells? Come for the cool Matroyshka doll art, stay for a primer on AI-driven biodesign.

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Weekly Dose of Optimism #35


Hi friends 👋,

Happy Friday and welcome back to our 35th Weekly Dose of Optimism. We had an intro here about how everything seemed to be stabilizing after a wild few weeks, and then lol. On Wednesday afternoon, the SEC hit Coinbase with a Wells Notice (Coinbase’s response here). Then less than 24 hours later, OpenAI took a flamethrower to huge swaths of the generative AI startup landscape with the release of Integrations. Can’t wait to find out what we have coming this afternoon!

Things are going to keep getting crazier on that winding slope upward.

Let’s get to it.

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(1) David Deutsch and Naval Ravikant on The Tim Ferriss Show

We’re big David Deutsch fans here at Not Boring. You might know him from his Principle of Optimism — “All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge.” — which we cite every week or two. Maybe you’ve read his books, The Fabric of Reality and The Beginning of Infinity.

If you haven’t, or even if you have but need a little refresher, this conversation with even bigger Deutsch fan Naval Ravikant is a great place to start. Here’s what Naval had to say regarding Deutsch’s two books:

The last few years of my life, from a reading perspective, have been a rabbit hole exploration into these books and the ideas and thoughts that they have spawned. It’s a strong claim, but I can make it for myself. They’re the two most important books I’ve read.

This wide ranging conversation between Ferriss, Ravikant, and Deutsch covers:

  • Knowledge and understanding

  • How criticism and conjecture give us a basis for optimism

  • Artificial General Intelligence

  • Wealth and resources

They cover a lot of ground in under two hours, and if you have those hours to spare this weekend, it might just change your entire worldview.

(2) ChatGPT Plugins

Plugins are tools designed specifically for language models with safety as a core principle, and help ChatGPT access up-to-date information, run computations, or use third-party services.

Yesterday, OpenAI announced Plugins and people are losing their minds…for good reason. Plugins connect the power of OpenAI’s ChatGPT with the functionality and real-time nature of other websites. Take for example: cooking. Previously, you could ask ChatGPT to suggest a 3-course Mexican-themed meal and it would return a delicious sounding menu, along with an ingredients list, preparation instructions, and nutritional information. Now, with the Instacart Plugin…you can automatically order those ingredients and get same day delivery.

Taken a step further, plugging in a general purpose tool like Zapier opens up a pandora’s box of possibilities. LLM-powered automation workflows could actually be the thing that frees up billions of working hours each year.

Plugins are like an AI-native, more flexible version of Google Flights or Google Shopping. It allows the user to input a query, and not only get relevant information back, but also automatic next steps on how to action against that information.

Plugins are also another step for OpenAI in turning ChatGPT into a platform. It launched with a few select partners, but over time, you can imagine a whole ecosystem of developers and partners building useful plugins on top of ChatGPT. And because you can imagine that happening, it follows that it’s very hard to actually predict that type of things that will be built. That’s the beauty of a platform.

Speaking of the beauty of platforms, a guy who knows a thing or two about them recently shared a few thoughts on AI….

(3) The Age of AI Has Begun

Bill Gates in GatesNotes

I’m lucky to have been involved with the PC revolution and the Internet revolution. I’m just as excited about this moment. This new technology can help people everywhere improve their lives. At the same time, the world needs to establish the rules of the road so that any downsides of artificial intelligence are far outweighed by its benefits, and so that everyone can enjoy those benefits no matter where they live or how much money they have. The Age of AI is filled with opportunities and responsibilities.

Just a few weeks ago, in Internet Computers, we surfaced a memo that Bill Gates wrote to Microsoft’s leadership team in 1995 on The Internet Tidal Wave. “In the next 20 years,” he wrote, “The improvement in computer power will be outpaced by the exponential improvements in communications networks… The Internet is the most important single development to come along since the IBM PC was introduced in 1981.”

He was right. And now, for the first time in 28 years, Gates is calling the next Tidal Wave. “I’m lucky to have been involved with the PC revolution and the Internet revolution. I’m just as excited about this moment.”

But in this moment, instead of running Microsoft and strategizing internally on how to use the internet to maximize Microsoft’s profits, Gates runs the Gates Foundation and is strategizing publically on how to use AI to solve the world’s biggest problems: saving the 5 million children under 5 years old who die each year, reducing inequity by improving education, fighting climate change, and more. 

With the Gates Foundation’s resources and infrastructure, and these tools, we might start knocking down huge global challenges at nearly the rate OpenAI ships new products.

(4) F.D.A. Panel Recommends 2 R.S.V. Vaccines for Older Adults

Christina Jewett for The New York Times

The shots, if approved by the agency, would be the first vaccines publicly available against a respiratory virus that kills thousands a year. Some advisers did cite a small but identifiable health risk.

We’ve previously written about R.S.V., our own personal stories with the infection, and encouraging vaccine developments. Early this week, those developments took another step forward: an F.D.A. advisory panel recommended the approval of two different R.S.V. vaccines for adults 60 and older. While final approval is still in the hands of the F.D.A., the agency typically abides by the recommendations of advisory panels. The two approved vaccines were somewhere around ~80% effective in treating R.S.V. in older adults.

Infants, the other population group impacted by RSV, are still waiting for the approval of an RSV treatment tailored for them. Both AstraZeneca and Sanofi are seeking F.D.A. approval of a treatment aimed at protecting infants and toddlers up to 2 years old.

We like writing about the big breakthroughs, but the important thing is getting results, and this is a good step in that direction.

(5) This Banking Crisis Won’t Wreck the Economy

Tyler Cowen for Bloomberg

One reason for (relative) optimism is simply that the world, and policymakers, have been preparing for this scenario for some time. Not only do memories of 2008-2009 remain fresh, but we are coming out of a pandemic that in macroeconomic terms induced unprecedented policy reactions in most countries.

Over the past few weeks, the state of the banking system was at best uncertain and at worst, scary. Afterall, the last time there was a risk of a banking crisis…it actually happened, and it crushed the economy. It may seem like a distant memory for some, but it was only 15 years ago. For people over 30, the experience is still relatively fresh.

Tyler Cowen explains why this time is different and why there is reason to be optimistic that we’ll make it through this one relatively unscathed.

  1. We actually learned from 2008. The regulations put in place post-GFC are meant to handle the exact type of problems we are facing today. These are understood challenges with direct solutions.

  2. Household balance sheets are in a better place today than they were in 2008 to weather a downturn. Back in ‘08, everyone was levered to the gills, today less so. So if things turn bad, there is less risk that we slide into economy-wide declines in consumption.

According to Cowen, of course things aren’t great — but we could be in a much worse situation. He think’s we’ll get through this like we always have: patching up the present, at the expense of the future. This robbing Peter to pay Paul approach has been a profitable bet for the U.S. historically (largely due to innovation and a strong talent base) — here’s to hoping this time is no different.

Bonus: Succession

Succession Season 4 Trailer and Key Art Revealed

This is a public service announcement, the first episode of the last season of Succession airs this Sunday night at 9pm ET.

When we think and write about optimism here at Not Boring, that often means covering groundbreaking scientific research or explaining breakthrough technological developments or sharing a chart that shows how some terrible aspect of life has actually gotten much, much better over the last 50 years.

And sometimes, writing about optimism means recognizing and celebrating the great creative things that humans achieve that make life worth living. Succession is one of those great things. Most “serious TV people” would count it as one of the greatest television shows of all time — mixed in with The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones.

According to ChatGPT, Succession masterfully weaves Shakespearean tones into its darkly comedic narrative, as a wealthy media family’s power struggles and dysfunction create a modern-day tragedy teeming with ambition, loyalty, and betrayal. We just love cringing on the edge of our seats for an hour.

Over the last 5-10 years, we’ve been lucky enough to live through “The Golden Age of Television,” and Succession has been one of its stars. This final season is the end of an era, but if we had to guess, the beginning of an even more creative one.

Here’s a live look at me in my apartment on Sunday night:


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Weekly Dose of Optimism #34


Hi friends 👋,

Happy Friday and welcome back to our 34th Weekly Dose of Optimism. What a week, huh? It’s been one for the history books, filled with low lows and high highs.

Last Friday, we mentioned the struggles at Silicon Valley Bank. Later that morning, the FDIC took over and uncertainty reigned until the US government stepped in and backstopped deposits on Sunday night. In the process, the tech industry managed to piss a whole lot of people off.

And then… we got the easiest week ever to write about optimistic things. GPT-4, Midjourney v5, space manufacturing, TikTok bans, delivery drones. Whiplash.

Let’s get to it.


The Weekly Dose is brought to you by…Masterworks

I don’t own much great physical art, other than a set of vibrant Takashi Murakami prints that a friend gave to me. I can’t afford the good stuff. But on the internet, I own paintings by Basquiat, Haring, Warhol, and even Picasso. Well, I own shares in those paintings at least, thanks to Masterworks.

I’ve been working with Masterworks for years, and personally investing with them the entire time. In the beginning, before they’d sold any of the pieces they’d purchased, I just thought it was a really cool way to access an inaccessible and less correlated asset class while beautifying my portfolio. Over the past year, though, they’ve begun selling works in the portfolio for a gain. In fact, every single one of Masterworks’ 11 exits to date has returned a profit to their investors, totaling more than $30 million in payouts. Pretty, pretty good!

They’re proving out their thesis: that art can perform well even when other assets don’t. A majority of those sales weren’t in the go-go era of “everything goes up”, meme stocks, and bitcoin at 60k… each one was sold for a gain, even during times of soaring inflation and finical market plummets.

New offerings are launching every week, and tend to sell out fast. But as a longtime partner I’ve secured some VIP passes to skip their waitlist at the Not Boring link:

Explore Masterworks

(1) GPT-4

From OpenAI

We’ve created GPT-4, the latest milestone in OpenAI’s effort in scaling up deep learning. GPT-4 is a large multimodal model (accepting image and text inputs, emitting text outputs) that, while less capable than humans in many real-world scenarios, exhibits human-level performance on various professional and academic benchmarks.

We’re not sure if you heard, but OpenAI released GPT-4 this week. Early reports indicate that people are able to do some cool stuff with it:

By all accounts, GPT-4 is a marked improvement over GPT-3.5. If you like keeping up with the daily ins-and-outs of AI developments, we recommend subscribing to Ben Tossell’s newsletter Ben’s Bites.

(2) U.S. Threatens Ban if TikTok’s Chinese Owners Don’t Sell Stakes

John D. McKinnon for The Wall Street Journal

The Biden administration is demanding that TikTok’s Chinese owners sell their stakes in the video-sharing app or face a possible U.S. ban of the app, according to people familiar with the matter.

Finally. We have long been proponents of U.S. regulation of TikTok, and it looks like the Biden Administration is now going to force the sale of TikTok in the U.S.

As Alec Stapp put it on Twitter: “We would never have allowed the Soviet Union to control programming on CBS, NBC, or ABC during the Cold War. Same applies to TikTok and the CCP.” For better or worse, we are in the beginnings of the Second Cold War, and this time our adversary is the CCP.

We’re not warmongers. We’re not geopolitical experts. I deeply wish that both the U.S. and China could be less zero-sum in their approach to all of this. That being said, it makes zero sense that the U.S. allows TikTok (in it’s current form) to operate in the U.S. My argument isn’t tit-for-tat: just because Meta and Google can’t operate in the China, doesn’t mean that TikTok shouldn’t be able to operate in U.S. My argument is more objective: our primary adversary controls the most powerful social technology in our country, and said adversary has a long track record of using powerful technologies to spy and manipulate on certain groups of people. It just doesn’t make sense.

Is the U.S. forcing TikTok to sell an optimistic story? Maybe not. But is it a story that American’s should feel very positively about? Absolutely.

(3) The Vesuvius Challenge

TL;DR: About 300 years ago, we discovered ancient scrolls (Herculaneum Papyri) from the library of Julius Ceasar’s father-in-law’s villa (79 AD). The scrolls were carbonized by volcanic heat, but preserved. They’re currently too delicate to unroll, but if we were able to read them it would double the corpus of literature we have from antiquity.

A team of researchers recently developed a method called “virtual unwrapping” that digitally unrolls and reads the scroll without physically opening it.

Now, a team led by Nat Friedman and Daniel Gross open sourcing the challenge to read the Herculaneum Papyri. After 275 years, the ancient puzzle of the Herculaneum Papyri has been reduced to a software problem. The prize is $250K and the bragging rights that come with unlocking the wisdom of antiquity.

(4) Drugs in Orbit: One Startup’s Big Idea for Microgravity

Ashlee Vance for Bloomberg

Numerous promising drugs can crystallize when stored, rendering them unusable on humans. Infamously, this issue forced a stop to the sales of the pill form of the HIV drug Ritonavir in the late 1990s, after years of research and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. Varda’s executives think the company can use orbital labs to kick-start development of new versions of many older drugs in safe pill and injectable forms.

relates to Drugs in Orbit: One Startup’s Big Idea for Microgravity

Varda co-founders Delian Asparouhov and Will Bruey, Spencer Lowell for Bloomberg

It’s been a good week for atoms, too! On Wednesday, Not Boring Capital portfolio company Varda announced that it “has been awarded a $60m Air Force STRATFI contract to advance our nation’s hypersonic capabilities.” Varda manufactures things in space and then sends them back to earth in a re-entry vehicle; the Air Force will use that re-entry vehicle as a test-bed for hypersonics during the return trip. 🇺🇸

The same day, Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance wrote a piece unveiling exactly what it is that Varda will be manufacturing up there: drugs. Specifically, Varda can take advantage of microgravity to develop small molecule pharmaceuticals that can’t be made on Earth, starting with the HIV drug Ritonavir.

Biotech in space. Things are going to keep getting crazier at the intersections.

(5) Zipline

Speaking of flying things, Zipline unveiled it’s new drone-powered delivery system that aims to reduce the carbon footprint of delivery logistics and deliver on a decades-old promise of drone delivery. The company has been around for a while now and is already executing thousands of deliveries per day, but this is the most public showing of its future plans. Zipline is, of course, not the first company to take on the drone delivery challenge. Amazon has likely invested billions of dollars into the project, and been stymied by a mix of infeasibility and government regulation.

Zipline’s approach — clean, quiet, faster, safe, integrated — seems like a good one. We are not in a position to say whether or not Zipline will be successful, but we are rooting for more cleaner, faster, and cheaper delivery options. There’s enough volume to go around for everybody. It’s why we backed Pipedream. Here’s to a future in which Zipline dominates the skies, while Pipedream rules the earth.

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Weekly Dose of Optimism #33


Hi friends 👋,

Happy Friday and welcome back to our 33rd Weekly Dose of Optimism. With the struggles at Silicon Valley Bank, things are as shaky in the markets as they’ve been in a while. So let’s zoom out and take a look at all the good things happening out there.

If you enjoy receiving this newsletter each Friday, please share it with a friend or post about us on your platform of choice. We think we’re onto something with this whole optimism thing, and now it’s just a matter of getting the word out.


Let’s get to it.

The Weekly Dose is brought to you by…Pesto

Pesto helps you attract, curate, and manage top global developer talent — with no upfront cost to your team. Companies like Rippling, Google, and Polygon rely on Pesto to source top-tier, affordable developer talent from overseas.

We’d hope you agree that talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Europe, India & some parts of Africa have great tech talent but it’s a headache to find, interview, and hire them. You need to do recruiting, vetting, interviewing, and overcome time-zone and language barriers. That’s where Pesto comes in.

With Pesto, you can hire pre-vetted developers at a fraction of the cost and in just 3 weeks. Here’s the cool part: Pesto does Boba Onboarding: they ship you a boba bubble tea during your onboarding session and make sure you’ve scheduled interviews with developers before you can finish the boba. Exclusive offer: Pesto is offering Not Boring readers 50% off their first developer hire…plus, of course, free boba.

Check Out Pesto

(1) The Scientific Breakthrough That Could Make Batteries Last Longer

Aylin Woodward for the The Wall Street Journal

U.S. scientists say they have produced the first commercially accessible material that eliminates the loss of energy as electricity moves along a wire, a breakthrough that could mean longer-lasting batteries, more-efficient power grids and improved high-speed trains.

Dr. Ranga Dias with a laser inside one of his University of Rochester laboratories where he and other researchers test superconducting materials.

Another step towards energy abundance, this time in materials science. A team of research scientists from the University of Rochester published their findings on superconductivity in Nature this week. The breakthrough makes superconductivity commercially viable within the decade.

So what does superconductivity mean? It’s a phenomenon in which materials exhibit zero electrical resistance and perfect diamagnetism at temperatures close to absolute zero, allowing for the efficient transmission of electrical current with zero energy loss. The breakthrough from Dr. Dias’ lab is that the materials it created can be deployed in normal temperatures and with much less pressure applied.

So what will the commercialization of superconductivity looks like? Longer lasting batteries in our devices, long distance EVs, more efficient powergrids, better magnets used in nuclear reactors, and the list goes on.

As a bonus, superconductivity also demonstrates what is called the Meissner effect, which is when a material expels its magnetic field. Put a superconductor near a magnet, and it will levitate.

What is A Superconductor and Quantum Levitation? superconductivity (field of study) levitation (character power) discover-quantum levitation GIF

(2) US, EU to launch talks on free-trade-like status, easing EV trade dispute

Andrea Shalal and David Shepardson for Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are expected to agree on Friday to begin negotiations on ensuring free-trade agreement-like status for the European Union…Working with allies to reduce U.S. reliance on China for critical minerals would aid U.S. energy and economic security, the spokesperson added.

G20 summit in Bali

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen speaks with U.S. President Joe Biden at the meeting of G20 leaders on November 15, 2022 in Bali, Indonesia. Leon Neal/Pool via REUTERS

Brandon at it again with the diplomacy. This time, President Biden is tightening relations with the EU in order to sure up the U.S.’ critical mineral supply chain. Remember how we just mentioned the importance of material science in the story above? Well it turns out, those rare minerals are sourced from around the world. Historically, the U.S. has relied pretty heavily on China for mineral sourcing, but as the Second Cold War heats up the Biden Administration is looking to wean off of this China dependency.

Geopolitics aside, we support the Biden Administration’s focus on strengthening (or at least lowering dependencies) supply chains and investing in clean energy technologies. We, of course, don’t blindly support everything the Administration does or believes, but a story like this, which lies at the intersection of supply chains and clean energy, is something we can get behind.

(3) ERC-4337 Explainer


Back in September 2021, a group including Vitalik Buterin submitted an Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP), ERC-4337: Account Abstraction Using Alt Mempool. Last week, at ETHDenver, it went live.

Without going too deep into the details (you can read the thirdweb thread or this one or this one or this one or the proposal itself), ERC-4337 allows for Smart Accounts that would solve a lot of the issues with Externally Owned Accounts (EOAs), like your Metamask wallet.

Instead of forcing people to write down their private key or seed phrase and do a bunch of clunky things in order to transact, and leaving them out to dry if they lose that key or seed phrase, wallet and dapp developers can build in a bunch of features that make the experience feel a lot more like normal financial products or apps. Think account recovery, transaction limits, improved security, gasless transactions, and subscriptions. It enables all of that while preserving decentralization.

Might seem kind of wonky, but we’re including it here because it addresses a bunch of problems that web3’s critics argued would force either permanently shitty UX or inevitable decentralization. While prices remain depressed, the infrastructure keeps improving.

(4) PaLM-E: An Embodied Multimodal Language Model

We propose embodied language models to directly incorporate real-world continuous sensor modalities into language models and thereby establish the link between words and percepts.

LLM 🤝 Physical World.

A team of researchers from Google and the Technical University of Berlin have infused a LLM with real-world continuous input. “PaLM-E” is the combination of Google’s PaLM (a LLM similar to GPT) and “E,” which stands for Embodied, or the infusion of the sensory information and robotic control.

Taken together, PaLM-E can perform a variety of tasks in the real-world, without the need for retraining. It’s able to learn and operate within its physical surroundings. Interestingly, PaLM-E also exhibited “positive transfer,” meaning it takes the skills and knowledge gained in performing one task and can apply it to a new task. Unlike an old dog, LLMs just keep revealing new tricks.

We’re not there yet, but this is a meaningful step towards the creation of autonomous, human-like robots. AI is already scary good, but as more multimodal applications roll out, it’ll become more obvious just how these technologies will impact our daily lives.

And rumor has it GPT-4 may be dropping next week…

(5) Can money buy happiness? Scientists say it can.

Adela Suliman for The Washington Post

Two prominent researchers, Daniel Kahneman and Matthew Killingsworth, came to this conclusion in a joint study published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, overturning the dominant thinking that people are generally happier as they earn more, with their joy leveling out when their income hits $75,000.

I knew something seemed fishy with that whole “money can’t buy happiness” mumbo-jumbo. A recent study from Kahneman (yes, that Kahneman) and Killingworth found that “happiness continues to rise with income even in the high range of incomes.”

The main exception to this finding is of course that a certain percentage of people are going to be miserable whether or not they have money, and a percentage of those peoples’ misery will only increase as wealth increases.

While this article is a bit clickbaity, I do think the underlining finding on wealth and happiness is important. In fact, it’s one of the central ideas driving this whole capitalism thing that we do. If happiness is what life is all about, and there’s a strong correlation (and perhaps causation) between happiness and wealth, then we should continue to pursue innovation that makes more people wealthier. But, the authors caution, “if you’re rich and miserable, more money won’t help.”

Bonus: Not Boring Shameless Plugs

  1. Internet Computers: Packy’s 12,000 word essay on the history and future of the internet browser. The essay is on pace to be Not Boring’s most popular piece ever and we think it’s an important read for folks interested technologically market dynamics.

  2. Not Boring Founders: Trevor Bacon, Kellan Grenier, Jason Lewris (Parcl)

    Packy sat down with the three founders of Parcl. Parcl bridges traditional real estate investments with cutting-edge blockchain technology to provide data-driven solutions for investors. Parcl is a Not Boring Capital portfolio company, and a good example of the type of bits-based hard company we like to back.

And finally, let’s wrap this thing up with a little Wonder:

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Weekly Dose of Optimism #32


Hi friends 👋,

Happy Friday and welcome back to our 32nd Weekly Dose of Optimism. This was one of those weeks where, come Thursday morning, I had no idea what I was going to write about. But, if you look harder enough, in the right places, it turns out there’s tons of optimistic stuff happening all around us.

Let’s get to it.

The Weekly Dose is brought to you bySprig

Sprig lets you go beyond analytics and improve your product experience with user insights, delivered fast. The world’s best product teams, including those at Notion, Loom, and Robinhood, use Sprig’s in-product surveys and prototype tests to capture insights rich from their users and build better products.

Sprig is powerful on its own, but you can unlock its real power when you integrate Sprig with the rest of your tech stack to effortlessly turn insights into actions. That’s why Sprig is excited to announce a new one-click integration with Amplitude. This highly-requested integration helps product managers pair Amplitude’s product analytics with Sprig’s qualitative user feedback to understand the “why” behind users’ actions. Imagine launching an A/B test and actually knowing why one version outperformed the other. Or noticing a drop-off and being able to precisely identify the cause of it.

Here’s what you can do with the Sprig and Amplitude integration:

  • Continuously track your critical user journeys to surface pain points and understand how to solve them. 

  • Detect trends in your conversion or onboarding flow and pinpoint the exact reasons driving them.

  • Collect user feedback and analyze the results by segment or create your own cohorts.

Explore Sprig & Amplitude

(1) Eli Lilly to Cut Price of Insulin Drugs by 70%, Cap Patient Costs at $35

Peter Loftus for The Wall Street Journal

The company also said that on May 1 it would reduce the list price of an unbranded insulin it sells to $25 a vial from $82 a vial, the lowest level for any insulin that diabetes patients take around mealtimes, and less than Lilly’s list price for a Humalog vial in 1999. And it plans to improve a program capping patients’ out-of-pocket costs at $35 a month.

Eli Lilly commits $470m for new pharma manufacturing plant in US

Eli Lilly Headquarters, from Pharmaceuticaltechnology.com

It is hard to praise a company for lowering its prices on a necessary drug by 70%. Why? Because that means they’ve been price gouging for years. That said, this move is life-changing for diabetes patients that are not properly insured or are otherwise financially insecure. I personally couldn’t imagine having to decide between dinner or medication, and for many people, that is the choice.

Again, we’re not going to praise Eli Lilly or any specific company here, but the hope is that a move like this drives down the price for similar medications on the market and generally makes predatory pricing practices in pharma a bit more unacceptable.

Profits are important. They are the incentive for startups and big pharma companies alike to take financial risk, innovate on moonshot drugs, and spend years and years on expensive R&D and arduous approval processes. And Eli Lilly for sure has thoughtful rebuttals on how manufacturer rebates have gone up, and market pricing dynamics, and yada yada, but the fact is that they have priced-out life saving drugs from people that need it the most. We’re just glad these cuts are in place.

(2) SpaceX launches its 9th crewed mission as it heads to space station

Russel Lewis for NPR

Early Thursday morning, SpaceX launched its Crew Dragon capsule with four people aboard from the Kennedy Space Center. This is SpaceX’s ninth time sending astronauts into space over the last 3 years, and the seventh time they’ve done so in partnership with NASA.

The mission is meant to swap out the astronauts currently stationed at the International Space Station. Important work indeed, but nothing overly groundbreaking from a news perspective. But, at least in my mind, manned space missions are still a big deal. You can hear mission control getting all fired up in the video. It’s obviously still a big deal for them. Here’s to hoping for a future in which manned space travel is as common as commercial airflight, and cheering upon takeoff/landing is just kind of a weird kitschy thing we do.

(3) Stable Diffusion with Brain Activity

Yu Takagi and Shinji Nishimoto from Osaka University and NICT

Here, we propose a new method based on a diffusion model (DM) to reconstruct images from human brain activity obtained via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). More specifically, we rely on a latent diffusion model (LDM) termed Stable Diffusion.

Soooo Stable Diffusion can read people’s minds now.

Researchers in Japan showed people images, scanned their brains in an fMRI, and performed visual reconstruction of the images in Stable Diffusion. It worked surprisingly well — those pictures above show the images people were shown and the images Stable Diffusion reconstructed.

What’s maybe most incredible is that no training or fine-tuning of the deep models was needed to make it happen. The only training required was creating models that map fMRI signals to latent diffusion model components, essentially giving Stable Diffusion something it could read.

The paper hasn’t been peer reviewed yet, but it’s a pretty stunning testament to the surprising out-of-the-box capabilities of these models.

Speaking of which… Zack Witten discovered that Bing Chat can play chess. There are already chess-playing models, of course. Deep Blue beat Kasparov in 1997, and most top chess players today use the Stockfish Chess Engine. But Bing doesn’t use a Chess-specific model, it uses GPT-X. The fact that a general LLM can play Elo 1100-1200 chess with no specific training is pretty unbelievable. It seems like we’re just scratching the surface on what large language and latent diffusion models can do.

(4) Apartment Rents Fall as Crush of New Supply Hits Market

Will Parker for The Wall Street Journal

Apartment rents fell in every major metropolitan area in the U.S. over the past six months through January, a trend that is poised to continue as the biggest delivery of new apartments in nearly four decades is slated for this year.

Rent is Falling, WSJ

Thank the Lord. Living in Manhattan for the past year has been disgustingly expensive. Manhattan rent has always been expensive, but the last year really felt like landlords were taking out some Covid-induced stress on prospective renters. “Yes, remember those Covid deals you all signed and bragged about in early 2021? Well this is similar a deal, but monthly rent is going up 10% and those two free months are gone…so net rent is effectively up 30%.”

And there’s a reason NYC landlords and landlords all across major U.S. cities could pull this off. There simply aren’t enough apartments to comfortably accommodate all of the people moving to major cities. But supply is starting to come on line to meet that demand, and that is lowering (or at least stalling increases) rents.

This is a reminder that building is good. More housing, all else equal, means lower living costs. A win for YIMBYs!

(5) The Build-Nothing Country

Noah Smith for Noahpinion

Oops, we did it again. Another Noah Smith post. But, in fairness, this is already his most “hearted" post on Substack (from what we can tell) and directly relevant to the post on building above.

The essay is, essentially, a well-evidenced rant on America’s inability to build new things and the consequences of that inability. He takes on housing, transit, green energy projects, and even semiconductors.

His conclusion is that America is willing to spend on big projects, but that spending doesn’t necessarily manifest as changes in the built world. $5B earmarked for green energy projects in some bill, doesn’t necessarily mean we’re getting $5B worth of green energy projects. It just means that $5,000,000,000 lives somewhere in some beaurocrat’s spreadsheet.

Why is this the case? According to Smith, this is the great American subsidy. America’s ability to spend, but inability to build is preserving the built environment around us. Your house value stays high, your neighborhoods remain spacious, your streets inaccessible via transportation to rifraf, This seems like a no-cost subsidy but it’s not.

The costs are real, and Americans pay the costs. They pay them in the higher tax bills that citizens pay to fund infrastructure. They pay them in the increased prices businesses have to charge to make up for higher land costs. They pay them in higher rents. They pay those costs in more expensive electricity and increased carbon emissions. They pay them in the lower wages that workers earn because their cities can’t build sufficient housing near to the areas of greatest economic opportunity. They pay them in lower productivity because cities can’t grow big enough. They pay those costs in lost wages and incomes from disinvestment, when companies decide that America’s obstacles to land development make it a bad country to build a factory in. And eventually they pay the cost of a weak country that doesn’t have the economic strength to stand up to rivals like China.

The stakes for building are high. And if America doesn’t step up to the plate (we’re hopeful we will) some other country will.

Bonus: Not Boring Founders: Andrew Herr, Fount

We’re going to pump our own book for a second here, but in this case, we think it’s mutually beneficial. Packy and Andrew Herr, founder and CEO of Fount, just dropped a new episode of Not Boring Founders. They discuss Packy’s fitness and health journey. Packy went from a low-energy, kinda fat new dad to this (asked for shirtless selfie, but did not get approval) largely thanks to working with the Fount team.

The name of the game is customization. Whatever plan works for Packy today, may not work for Packy 6 months from now, and definitely won’t be optimized for you. Andrew’s company Fount takes customization to a whole new level: bloodwork, personalized supplement plans, nutrition and fitness plans, 1-on-1 training with former Navy Seals, etc. Today, Fount is expensive, but that’s just part of its larger plan to make customized health programs available to anyone. It’s running a series of experiments on early customers in order to build data sets and software that make customized health plans accessible to everybody.

Health and wellness awareness is seemingly becoming mainstream. Huberman’s podcast is the #4 podcast in the entire world right now. And with this rise, there’s been a rise of questionable health information and influencers springing up. Andrew Herr is not one of them. Check out the convo for a real Fount of knowledge.

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Weekly Dose of Optimism #31


Hi friends 👋,

Happy Friday and welcome back to our 30th Weekly Dose of Optimism. Relatively quiet week on our end, but a bunch of good stuff happening around the universe that we’re excited to share.

Let’s get to it.

Today’s Not Boring is brought to you by… Wander

Wander Surfside Beach, California

Wander has gotten more clicks than any sponsor in the history of Not Boring…and there’s good reason: the vacation homes are exquisite. Puja and I are currently planning our next trip at a Wander…maybe at Surfside Beach, looks lovely. Plus, its Atlas vacation rental REIT presents a unique investment opportunity. 

Wander is a network of smart vacation homes that come with inspiring views, modern workstations, restful beds, hotel-grade cleaning and 24/7 concierge service –– combining the quality of a luxury hotel with the space and comfort of a vacation home, only better. Wander is sweetening their offer for Not Boring readers: you can use promo code notboring500 (case sensitive) for $500 off your next trip. (Offer expires Friday 3/3 at 11:59pm ET). Explore now.

But that’s only part of the story. Wander recently launched Atlas –– a first-of-its-kind vacation rental REIT that gives you the chance to own a piece of their magical portfolio of homes. With Atlas, accredited investors have the opportunity to earn income and diversify their portfolio without the headache and hassle of buying a property, renting it out, or maintaining it.

Plus, new Atlas investors may get the chance to invest in Wander’s next round of funding. 1

Explore Atlas

(1) Trial Run of 4-Day Workweek Wins Converts

Lora Kelley for The New York Times

Fifty-six of the companies, or 92 percent, said they would continue with a four-day week, according to the new report, and 18 confirmed that the change would be permanent. The study also found that companies’ revenue stayed broadly the same on average over the trial period — and that attrition among employees dropped significantly. In a survey about halfway through the study, most of the companies reported no loss of productivity during the trial.

Progress is great. There’s this pervasive fear that productivity gains will take everyone’s jobs, but as we wrote about in our piece on Formic, what actually happens is that people find new, more interesting jobs. A much lower percentage of us work on farms to feed our families than we used to; now some people get to do silly things like write newsletters for work.

But something else happens, too. Instead of some people losing all of their work, most people get to work less. Kids don’t go to work on the family farm at ten years old; they go to school. Fewer people work until the day they die; many retire at 65. The two-day weekend, something we take for granted, didn’t become widespread until the 1930s.

Today, remote or hybrid work means less time commuting and more time at home. Some companies are even experimenting with a 4-Day Work Week, and the results of this study out of Britain are promising: less work, no productivity loss.

We McCormick boys are no future of work experts. Our situation is unique: Packy and I both work from home, do some amount of “work” 7 days a week, maybe talk about work-related topics live once per quarter, send a few Slack messages a day, manage a small super-liquid team, and haven’t changed out of sweatpants in three years. Some people are working on all-consuming, ambitious missions that require seven days a week, in-person, and we’re all for that too. But if people in a lot of jobs can get just as much shit done in four days as they do in five days, then why not give them back an extra day to pursue their non-work lives?

If all we get from this technological progress is 14% more time to do the things we love doing vs. working, that’s still pretty powerful.

Which is why we were pumped to see the positive results of the largest 4 Day Work Week Trial ever:

  • 92% of trial companies plan on continuing the 4 Day Work Week model

  • No reported loss of productivity

  • No measurable decrease in trial company revenue

  • Lower attrition rates

The real question is: we taking off Mondays or Fridays?

(2) Genetically Modified Trees Are Taking Root to Capture Carbon

Margaret Osborne for Smithsonian Magazine

The San Francisco-based venture, called Living Carbon, intends to plant 4 to 5 million trees by the middle of next year, which they say will help with the looming climate crisis. This may be the first time genetically modified trees have been planted in a U.S. forest outside of a research trial or commercial fruit orchard, per the New York Times’ Gabriel Popkin.

Four trees

Living Carbon’s modified trees on the left next to unmodified trees on the right.

There are two ways to reduce our carbon footprint:

  1. Emit less carbon (most impactful)

  2. Capture and remove carbon we’ve already emitted (less impactful, but still important)

We’ve written extensively about projects that are focusing on the latter. Carbon removal is the focus of Frontier, the advance market commitment, lead by Stripe and other major tech companies, to buy an initial $925M of permanent carbon removal.

Living Carbon, a SF-based startup that, as far as we can tell, is not associated with Frontier but is partnered with Stripe, recently became the first organization to plant genetically modified trees in the U.S. outside of trial or commercial forests. The trees are designed to grow up to 53% larger, suck up 27% more carbon, and store the carbon in a more permanent way than natural trees. The startup plans on planting 4-5 million of these freak-trees in the next year and hope to capture 600 megatons by 2030. They won’t solve climate change, but they’ll make a dent on removing carbon we’ve already emitted.

(3) Google’s quantum computer hits key milestone by reducing errors

Davide Castelvecchi for Nature

Physicists at Google have reached what they describe as their second milestone along the path to a useful quantum computer. At a laboratory in Santa Barbara, California, they have demonstrated that they can lower the error rate of calculations by making their quantum code bigger.

The base of Google Quantum AI computer showing shiny silver wires and gold connectors linking the bottom to top of device

Google has set a quantum-computing road map for itself with six major milestones. Credit: Google Quantum AI

We will not attempt to explain this quantum computing milestone from a technical perspective — that’s way above our paygrade. But the breakthrough, most easily summarized as error reduction in quantum computing, is noteworthy because it’s the second of six milestones achieved by Google on its roadmap to producing a “useful quantum computer.”

We don’t know exactly when quantum computing will be “useful” but it’s worth noting that the progress does seem to be lining up with breakthroughs in AI. Quantum computers, in the simplest terms, allow for really big complex math problems to be performed more quickly. That may be an understatement: quantum computers are 158 million times faster than the most sophisticated supercomputers in action today.

So imagine an AI that is run on a computer 158 million times more efficient than whatever OpenAI is using today…and then imagine what the world will look like with that type of AI running around. Eliezer weeps.

The big question is: when quantum computing is commercially viable, will Google have what it takes to commercialize it, or will they really be the modern Xerox PARC?

(4) Technology over the long run: zoom out to see how dramatically the world can change within a lifetime

Max Roser for Our World in Data

Longterm timeline of technology

Source: Our World in Data

Speaking of imagining how technological progress will shape the future (and the past), Our World in Data released a new report on technological progress throughout the course of history. The main takeaway for me is that the slope of technological progress exploded upwards starting in the 1800s. We went a million years between controlled fire and the invention of the steam locomotive. And 145 years between the invention of the steam locomotive and the first nuclear bomb.

Compounding is a hell of a drug, and save any catastrophic misstep, I anticipate that society will continue to compound its way on the long upward slope of progress for the foreseeable future. The type of progress that humans living today have experienced is more linear than exponential…but the introduction of something like a quantum-powered AI might just shoot that slope vertical. The not-so-distant future (100 years from now) will likely be less recognizable to humans today than the distant past.

(5) Two Essays from Noah Smith

Noah Smith for Noahpinion

We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: if Noah Smith keeps putting out bangers, we’re going to keep covering them. He published five worthwhile pieces in the last week alone, but we’ll focus on two:

  1. The U.S. Cannot Afford to Turn Against Immigration: In this piece, Smith makes the case as to why the U.S. needs more immigration and offers a compromise to make immigration more palpable for anti-immigrationists.

    • Why we need immigration: “We need continued robust immigration flows, especially of high-skilled immigrants, in order to keep our nation both prosperous and secure.” Smith’s argument here is two-fold: immigration keeps the American populace young (undoubtedly a good thing) and high-skilled immigration is crucial for invention and scientific research (especially in the age of an AI-focused potential Second Cold War.)

    • Compromise: Increased border security is paired with increased legal pathways to immigration.” Smith argues that the chaos brought on by illegal immigration is not worth it. It’s a third rail issue that muddies one issue (southwest border immigration) with another more important issue (high-skilled labor immigration.) Tightening border policy quells the anti-immigrationists fears and allows for a more productive conversation to be had about high-skilled immigration.

  2. Don’t Be a Doomer: This essay is Smith’s response to the below tweet from Taylor Lorenz. Listen, we’re not in the business of Lorenz-bashing (it’s a crowded and competitive industry) and neither is Smith. Smith’s rebuttal is a data-driven clear-headed response to the doomerism that Lorenz encapsulates in that tweet. Let’s go 1-by-1:

    1. Critique of Late Stage Capitalism

      • Smith’s Response: “Even as capitalism has conquered the world, humanity is richer now than it has ever been, and for the last three decades income growth has been concentrated in low-income countries. Poverty is down at every level, not just in rates but in absolute numbers”

    2. U.S. has “0 social safety net”

      • Smith’s Response: U.S. public social spending has risen steadily as a share of GDP. We have Social Security, SSDI, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, Section 8 housing vouchers, SNAP, the EITC, the child tax credit, and many other safety net programs.”

    3. U.S. has “0 job security”

      1. Smith’s Response: “The average tenure of employment has stayed the same since the 1990s. Except for a spike during the pandemic, the layoff rate has fallen slowly but steadily since the turn of the century.”

    4. Covid

      • Smith’s Response: “Meanwhile, despite a steady drumbeat of new variants, Covid deaths in the West are stable, with nothing like the big waves of the first two years. This is due in part to the amazing efforts of human science, which developed safe and effective vaccines in record time. Those vaccines are now reckoned to have saved millions of lives in the U.S. alone, and tens of millions worldwide.”

    5. Climate Change

      1. Smith’s Response: “Climate change is definitely going to be a bumpy ride for the planet, and it’s not yet certain that we’ll defeat it in time to save ourselves from major harm. But recent progress is extremely encouraging.”

Once Smith properly addressed Lorenz’ claims, he delves into a full explanation as to why this type of doomerism is net bad for the world: it doesn’t allow for focus on the most important problems (ie Long Covid vs. Climate Change) and de-motivates people from trying to solve those problems.

We’re obviously in the optimistic camp here. We’re not blind to the troubles of the world, but we subscribe to David Deutsch’s Principle of Optimism states that “All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge.” In order to cure those evils, we need to get back to a society that prioritizes truth and doesn’t get caught up in doomerism.

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You can learn more on Wander Atlas’ website.

Weekly Dose of Optimism #30


Hi friends 👋,

Happy Friday and welcome back to our 30th Weekly Dose of Optimism. The big 3-0. Thanks for supporting this far. You keep reading and we’ll keep optimisming 🤝.

Let’s get to it.

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(1) What’s Our Problem?: A Self-Help Book for Societies

A review of Tim Urban’s (Wait But Why) forthcoming book

Packy here. If you’ve been reading Not Boring for a while, you know how much I love Tim Urban’s work. I based my Fount essay on his Neuralink piece. The second sentence in my piece was: “No one alive is better at explaining technology, humans, or Elon than Wait But Why’s Tim Urban.”

So it was a career highlight when Tim sent me a pre-print of his new book, What’s Our Problem? earlier this week. (I’d already pre-ordered it. It comes out Tuesday.)

I’ve been ripping through it over the past couple of days and am about halfway through. It’s even better than I expected.

If human history is a 1,000 page book, each page covering 250 years, we’re turning to page 1,001, which excites and scares Tim because of three facts:

  1. Technology is exponential.

  2. More technology means higher stakes.

  3. My society is currently acting like a poopy-pantsed four-year-old who dropped its ice cream.

We talk a lot about exponential technology in Not Boring and I’m obviously optimistic about all the good things that technology will help people achieve, but there’s a real risk that we fumble the opportunity. One of the saddest facts about the current state of affairs is that, “Everything is amazing and nobody is happy.” It’s gotten worse since Louis CK said that on Conan 13 years ago, and What’s Our Problem? examines why that is, how we got here, and what to do about it.

Our problem, according to the book, is that hypercharged tribalism is winning out over the search for truth. Tim is willing to piss off people on both sides by calling out the “low-rung” thinking that dominates both parties — Trump Republicans and Social Justice Fundamentalists — in order to defend the quest for truth and liberal ideals.

David Deutsch’s Principle of Optimism states that “All evils are caused by insufficient knowledge.” In order to cure those evils, we need to get back to a society that prioritizes truth over tribe. It’s going to be difficult to get out of this rut, but naming the problem and explaining it in a way that anyone can understand is an important first step.

Reading What’s Our Problem? has made me more optimistic that we can get out of this mess if enough people snap out of and push back on the base tribalism that’s taken over. It’s certainly made me rethink my own positions. Unless something goes horribly wrong in the back half of the book, I can safely make this claim:

America will be a better country if everyone reads this book. 🇺🇸

More pre-orders means it will shoot to the top of more lists, which means more people will read it. Do your part. Order it.

(2) How a pioneering diabetes drug offers hope for preventing autoimmune disorders

Elie Dolgin for Nature

Teplizumab is a type of antibody therapy. It blocks T cells, the ’attack dogs’ of the immune system, stopping them destroying insulin-producing islet cells in the pancreas. It’s also the first drug proven to delay the onset of an autoimmune disorder. And its development provides a roadmap for the discovery of pharmaceuticals to stall or prevent other conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

The effectiveness of Teplizumab in treating Type 1 Diabetes is significant for two reasons. First, over a year’s long study the treatment was shown to delay the onset of T1D symptoms by an average of five years. For patients like Mikayla (profiled in the Nature piece) it’s delayed her need for insulin therapy for 6.5 years (and counting). Second, Teplizumab is the first drug of its kind to delay the onset of any autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Teplizumab is an antibody therapy, that blocks T-Cells from destroying insulin-producing islet cells in the pancreas. There’s been a recent wave of advancement in T-Cell therapies, which prompted this tweet from Not Boring’s own Elliot Hershberg:

(3) Blood test for early Alzheimer’s detection

From the NIH

These results suggest that SOBA could detect toxic oligomers in the blood even before cognitive impairment occurs. It could thus form the basis for early diagnostic tests of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.

This study was published back in December ‘22, but for whatever reason was trending on Hacker News this week, and given its significance we thought we’d re-surface it. A new test, which is not yet widely available, is able to detect the early biological signs of Alzhiemer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease involves formation of toxic aggregates, called oligomers, which start to form 10-20 years prior to the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms. The new test, called SOBA, can detect these oligomers early and allows for intervention prior to Alzheimer’s causing irreparable brain damage.

Variants of the SOBA test may also be able to identify oligomers associated with other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, well before signs of cognitive impairment. Early detection FTW.

(4) Binge Drinking May Be Curbed With a Pill

Ted Alcorn for The New York Times

By the end of the 12-week study, those given naltrexone reported bingeing less frequently and consuming less alcohol than those who had been given a placebo, a change that lasted for up to six months. The most commonly reported side effect of naltrexone was nausea, although it was generally mild and resolved itself as people adjusted to taking the drug.

Prompt: revolutionary binge drinking treatment party vibe 1950s. Source: Stability.ai

The pace at which new therapies, treatments, and drugs are being introduced is quite dizzying. But sometimes, advancement is merely a matter of repurposing existing treatments for new use cases. One example here is semagltude, a drug traditionally used to treat diabetes that is now being repurposed as a highly effective weight-loss treatment. Another example is naltrexone.

The drug has been used for decades in treating patients with severe alcohol disorders. Now, a new study finds that it may also be effective (and feasible) for more casual binge-drinkers. “Casual binge-drinker” seems like an oxymoron, but nearly half of American drinkers report “binging” — defined as four drink for males and three drinks for females in one setting. If occasionally drinking four+ drinks during a single sitting is cool, then consider me Miles Davis…or something.

The double-blind study, which tracked 120 men, found that taking naltrexone prior to drinking resulted in less frequent binging and less alcohol consumption. The most common side effect was nausea, but that generally subsided as the participants’ bodies acclimated to the drug.

If you’re one of those “casual binge-drinkers,” it may be worth asking your healthcare provider if naltrexone is right for you. And at the very least, mix in a water.

(5) Beautiful News

From informationisbeautiful.net, h/t @jmwass

The Weekly Dose of Optimism was founded on the core idea that a lot of really positive stuff is happening in the world, but for whatever reason, that information doesn’t make its way into the news cycle. Optimism doesn’t usually bleed, so it doesn’t usually lead. So we understand the importance of conveying optimistic stories in a way that’s easily digestible, entertaining, and consumable. We (try to) do that through writing. But a picture is worth a thousand words — which is why we were excited to discover information is beautiful, a website that displays positive news/facts/trends in beautiful infographics. It’s like Our World in Data, but if the charts were designed for Instagram. We highly recommend you spend a moment “Progress Scrolling™” before you head off for the weekend.

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