24 Comments
Jan 25·edited Jan 25Liked by Dave Karpf

So as you know, basic research is often called “Deep Tech” in VC circles. And, yes, it gets a fraction of the investment of software or marketplace or e-bikes. The life of a fund is typically 10 years - so if your potential business can’t get a “liquidity event” in that time, it’s a non-starter.

In Australia, the most prominent Deep Tech VC firm (Main Sequence) was founded by a govt agency (CSIRO) - Mazzucato‘s revenge. A local, well-respected university is starting a pre-seed fund to support their scientist’s inventions because the commercial VCs won’t.

Expand full comment

Well argued and laid out. Building on your “markets / demand for cloning point” I’d argue that the demand shook out more on gene modification rather than full on cloning. It seems there is a market for and active work around gender selection and other modification to reduce the chance of genetic disease or attempts to select for characteristics. In certain parts of society there is considerable demand to “design” your children.

Expand full comment
Jan 30Liked by Dave Karpf

Dave, what's the correct link about the Myhrvold-Epstein issue? The link in the article is not working for me.

Expand full comment
author

Ugh. That's annoying. Here's a Daily Beast article that discusses the relationship. https://www.thedailybeast.com/bill-gates-praised-pedophile-jeffrey-epstein-kind-of-intriguing

It was reported in Vanity Fair years ago, but that's got a paywall now. Bunch of Bloomberg articles as well, also paywalled.

Myhrvold maintains that he and Epstein were friends, but just through hanging out at TED and other events. Part of Alan Dershowitz's current defense is "no no, I didn't do all that. You must be confusing me with Myhrvold."

So the relationship is well-established. The courts will get to work out just-how-shady it was.

Expand full comment

"the heroic scientist model is bullshit!": Thank you! As a scientist (Google-Scholar me if you care), I'm sooo sick of the wildly unrealistic notions of how science works that are sooo prevalent in popular culture. Granted, it's a minor matter compared to all the psychotic nonsense floating around these days, but I find it particularly irksome.

Expand full comment

A family friend had an occasion to sit in on a meeting once with William Foege, a doctor-scientist who pioneered a good deal of the epidemiological strategy behind smallpox vaccination and is probably in the top ten human beings in history for "yes" to the question "has my work been the most beneficial for humanity on the whole". He did it all as a team player at universities and global heath agencies and apparently in manner "is pretty much like a deacon at a Lutheran church". (Which it turns out he is).

Expand full comment

It comes from the fact that the general concept of science in popular culture comes from science fiction, and science fiction writers aren't actually scientists.

Expand full comment

Bad sci-fi, of which there's a lot.

Kim Stanley Robinson is at least married to a scientist, which may have something to do with why the depictions of science in his sci-fi are less cringe-inducing than most.

Amusingly, one section of Robinson's "Mars trilogy" is titled "The scientist as hero", but it isn't about the "heroic scientist model" Dave was talking about. Sax Russell, a physicist who had been driven underground for political reasons, gets plastic surgery and re-enters society incognito. We see him doing things scientists actually do, such as attending conferences and discussing technical questions with colleagues. Eventually, alas, he's recognized, so it ends badly for him.

Expand full comment

I first read Mars Trilogy in high school and Sax Russell is the first character I remember to be written as clearly on the autistic spectrum.

Expand full comment

The “heroic scientist” thing is very funny to me because if you’ve ever met a scientist—esp. in an academic setting—you know how wildly off it is.

Expand full comment

You're 100% correct on the inevitability questions. Nothing is inevitable, and certainly not things grandiose market opportunists want should never be deferred to as inevitable.

I have a fact question, for which I don't know the answer however. We know about Dolly the sheep, and I assume the research was replicated. Leaving aside human cloning, why did the cloning of livestock not develop, at least on any noticeable industrial scale? Humans have long done many things to non-human organisms to produce more desirable meat or milk production, etc. And selective breeding does not always achieve the optimum --for instance Secretariat was arguably the best race horse ever, but when he was put to stud, none of his progeny came close. Even setting aside cloning the actual steer that gets sliced up into your steak, beef producers would definitely spend lots for exact copies of the very top, most successful breeding bulls--it would eliminate a lot of risk out of their investment. Yet I've never heard of such applications. It's not because it was prohibited was it? I wonder whether it just turned out to be a technology that wasn't that reliable or scalable.

Expand full comment

This link demonstrates the kind of money that's at stake in the livestock breeding industry. $1.5 million for a single bull.

https://chassmiddleton.com/blog/new-world-record-price-angus-bull

Expand full comment
author

I looked into this a bit for the essay, but admittedly only a bit.

Basic impression is that the research has continued, but the industrial applications have been narrow. From Genome.gov's 2020 "Cloning Fact Sheet": "Reproductive [animal] cloning is a very inefficient technique and most cloned animal embryos cannot develop into healthy individuals." (https://www.genome.gov/about-genomics/fact-sheets/Cloning-Fact-Sheet)

Add to that the breakthroughs in gene modification with CRISPR, and (as Connor pointed out in his comment) animal cloning ends up being sort of a dead end.

Expand full comment

That makes sense. But human cloning was going to yield perfect copies easily? I mean those top end cattle breeders would pay $3 million for 10 perfect clones of the very top bull, so wastage would be ok with them, but this seems to indicate that it's unlikely that the clone would in fact have the desirable characteristics, esp of size, muscle distribution & health of the original.

Expand full comment

Greatly appreciate this topic and approach - looking forward to the book!

Expand full comment

Really interesting; crazy how short our memories are and surely this will be relevant in a few years looking back on all the AI hype. I was super curious to read about Myhrvold ❤️ Epstein but that link appears dead?

Expand full comment

Here's a working link: https://www.thedailybeast.com/bill-gates-praised-pedophile-jeffrey-epstein-kind-of-intriguing Dave just replied to a comment of mine with it.

Expand full comment

Great article. I will definitely be lining up for the book.

Expand full comment

Excellent points. There's a great podcast from the University of Michigan called The Received Wisdom which clarifies a lot of these themes around technology and society and the shift in thinking in U.S. policy toward "all new technology is progress" and away from specific goals for a better society.

Expand full comment

True. Very true. The interesting backstory of all of this — I think — is our own intelligence, the psychology of our minds. The Sutskevers and Andreessens (Altman seems is a bit shifty now and then, I don't know what he believes) of this world are exemplary instances of the psychological property of humans that our convictions steer our observations and reasonings much more than the other way around. We mostly see what we want to see. We mostly reason towards predetermined outcomes. There are good evolutionary reasons for this (see the second part of https://ea.rna.nl/2022/10/24/on-the-psychology-of-architecture-and-the-architecture-of-psychology/): we need mental efficiency and speed to be the 'fit to circumstances that survives', both as an individual as well as a group. We may have much more agility and adaptability than other species, but we still need the stability of our convictions is a prerequisite of that evolutionary pressure for efficiency/speed. A real irony is that our widely held conviction that our convictions follow from observations and reasoning is probably necessary to trust our convictions and thus keep them more powerful than observations and reasoning.

The inevitability myth is a widely held conviction and as all successfully spread convictions it is contagious. The little analytical and observational skills that we have are our immune system, but it is easily over powered. In all of us.

You rightly point out the similarities I suspect we will have the same in another 30 years. Because the stable element here is the human psyche/mind...

Expand full comment

found this beauty https://www.wired.com/1997/03/ff-push/ great comments too.

Expand full comment
Jan 30Liked by Dave Karpf

Dave covered this article here: https://davekarpf.substack.com/p/the-reverse-scooby-doo-theory-of

Expand full comment

I realize the line about the TV show "The Chair" is an aside, but for what it's worth, plenty of women in academic leadership positions found its representations of race and gender politics to be quite believable. You don't really lose anything by skipping that particular reference.

Expand full comment
author

Good note, thanks.

Expand full comment