Here is an essay version of my class notes from Class 15 of CS183: Startup. Errors and omissions are mine.
Four guests joined the class for a conversation after the lecture:
- Danielle Fong, Co-founder and Chief Scientist of LightSail Energy;
- Jon Hollander, Business Development at RoboteX;
- Greg Smirin, COO of The Climate Corporation; and
- Scott Nolan, Principal at Founders Fund and former aerospace engineer at SpaceX (Elon Musk was going to come, but he was busy launching rockets).
Credit for good stuff goes to them and Peter. I have tried to be accurate. But note that this is not a transcript of the conversation.
Class 15 Notes Essay—Back to the Future
I. The Future of The Past
Sometimes the best way to think about the future is to think about the way the future used to be. In the mid-20th century, it was still possible to talk about a future where the weather would be precisely predicted or even controlled. Maybe someone would figure out how to predict tornadoes. Or maybe cloud seeding would work. Transportation was the same way; people expected flying cars and civilian submarines. Robotics was yet another exciting frontier that people thought would be big.
But fast-forward to the present. Things haven’t really worked out as people thought they would in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Weather still kind of just happens to us. People have pretty much accepted that as inevitable. The prevailing sense is that trying to control the weather is dangerous, and we shouldn’t tinker too much with it. Transportation has been similarly disappointing. Forget flying cars—we’re still sitting in traffic. There has been some progress in robotics. But certainly not as much as everybody expected. We wanted the General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot from Lost in Space. Instead we got the Roomba vacuum cleaner.