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Standford CS183—Possibly the best class on start-ups ever is back

Stanford’s CS183 course is back and open to the public.

The first class was taught by Peter Thiel, and the class notes written by Blake Masters were so popular, they’ve become a book, Zero to One, co-written by Thiel and Masters.

The new class is titled CS183b How to Start a Startup and is being taught by Sam Altman, who runs Y-Combinator. The Paul Graham class is a good place to start.

Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think

ISIS! Ebola!

Fear sells—it’s an evolutionary selection bias we all have and probably for good reason—better to be safe and all.

But the fact is that the world is safer and more prosperous today than it has ever been. Violence per capita is falling, income per capita is on the rise globally. In 10 years, it will be better; in 50, even better. There have been world wars and pandemics, to be sure, but if you step back and look at the trends, they all continue climbing up and to the right with only small dips for what we perceive to be large events. This will continue as we are more connected, more dependent, and hopefully, more empathetic.

Abundance, written by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, outlines these biases and trends and gives us a peak into what our future may look like. Diamandis runs the X-Prize Foundation, which grants cash awards for scientific achievement, such as private space flight and cleaning up oil spills.

The book is the best summary of the not-too-distant technological future I’ve come across. It covers genetics, healthcare, robotics, driverless cars, and myriad other technologies that will be here sooner than we think. It’s an uplifting summary of our future, or better yet, the adjacent possible.

The book can be found here, and the website for Abundance here.

It’s Not Bits vs. Atoms

We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters. —Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel was recently quoted as saying you can either invest in bits or atoms, his opinion being that there are too many bits companies right now (WhatsApp, SnapChat, etc.) and not enough atoms companies (Tesla, SpaceX). Generally speaking, I would agree—a lot of capital is pouring into digital (mobile and social in particular) and not enough into infrastructure (water, energy, transportation).

However, these two sectors are not mutually exclusive. The most interesting start-ups seem to sit at the intersection of the two—they use bits to manipulate atoms. Think about Lyft or Uber, which have changed our model for transportation and may ultimately change the structure of car ownership. The same can be said about AirBnB, which is disrupting the hotel industry. These all are enablers to a more asset-light life.

The really interesting questions are how you use bits and what is their inherent ability to scale to address the large, complex problems of atoms, which tend not to scale. In energy, smart grids have this potential. The companies that combine bits and atoms to build smart feedback loops (a Nest thermostat with mostly bits but also some atoms, for example) are the ones that may end up having the biggest, most advantageous effect on energy consumption.

The hardest problems are always atoms—they exist in reality (climate change, food production, etc.). The bits are just tools to solve these problems. At the end of the day, bits without atoms are really not that interesting.

Thiel: What Happened to the Future?

An excellent look at venture investing and technology. This along with Blake Masters’s course notes from Peter Thiel’s CS 183 class are a must read.

We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.

What Happened to the Future?
CS 183 Course Notes

Krugman: The Kitchen Test (2011)

Better yet, think about how a typical middle-class family lives today compared with 40 years ago — and compare those changes with the progress that took place over the previous 40 years.

The Kitchen Test