Announcing Terminal

Announcing Terminal

Joe|October 16, 2017

Hello, World!
Announcing Terminal, by Joe Lonsdale and Jack Abraham

Talent is the technology ecosystem’s most precious resource. Innovation occurs when gifted and hard-working entrepreneurs bend their wills to solve the world’s most challenging problems. A primary indicium of a healthy startup is the talent of the engineers involved. At Palantir, Addepar, Zenreach, Milo and the other companies we have started, we focused on building the kinds of organizations that attract the best minds. There is no formula for innovation, but the best proxy is a group of brilliant, highly motivated people clustered together, working towards a shared goal.

A decade ago, popular opinion suggested that this talent had to physically cluster together — in Silicon Valley. That’s no longer true. First, attracting and retaining talent in Silicon Valley is more difficult than ever; startup founders are spending most of their time and money chasing around engineers to join (or stay with) their companies. Second, proximity is now as much virtual as physical; today everything is in the cloud and deskmates often chat first via tools like Slack before talking across the table. Empirically, the majority of entrepreneurial engineering talent is no longer concentrated in a 15 mile radius but rather all across the globe, in localized emerging talent hubs.

Until recently, mathematical and systems thinking talent remained an untapped resource in many parts of the world. The spread of the Internet and everyday visibility of major technology companies such as Apple and Google has drawn attention to the importance of these talents. Technological literacy rates are rising, and increasing numbers of universities are adapting their curricula to emphasize STEM skills. In fact, the 10 best countries for computer programming do not include the US.

Young people thousands of miles away from Silicon Valley increasingly have the chance to become engineers, scientists, and programmers in top technology companies without immigrating to the US. China is already home to a huge amount of top talent, and is even eclipsing the West in certain specializations. Leading talent from India has thrived in Silicon Valley for decades, and is now building an impressive technological ecosystem on the subcontinent. Despite restrictive government regulation, Western Europe has been unable to suppress the entrepreneurial tech talent emerging in London, Paris, and Berlin. Talent from South America, Australia, and Africa has become part of the global technology community in the last decade.

World-class tech hubs are emerging in distant, sometimes unexpected locations. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam is now a major technology hub in Southeast Asia. Business and engineering are the most popular majors for Vietnamese studying abroad, and LG, Panasonic, and Toshiba are establishing R&D operations in Vietnam. Eastern Europe, with its strong tradition of mathematics and computer science, is also emerging as a powerhouse. Eastern European programmers consistently take first place in international competitions, and AVG Technologies, Codewise, and Prezi are all exports from Eastern Europe’s capital cities. Israel remains a technological powerhouse, punching far above its weight in fintech and cybersecurity. “Start-up Nation” features the most SMEs per capita in the world, and Israeli startups raised a record $4.8 billion in 2016.

Some forward-thinking governments have helped shepherd this surge of talent by creating R&D programs and other initiatives. One great example is Canada. The late Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was not only one of the most respected G8 finance ministers, but a visionary with respect to technological progress. Canada’s 2012 budget pledged CAD $1.6b to support R&D and innovation through grants and credit programs, and this number has grown substantially in the past 5 years. Canada also pioneered a startup visa geared specifically towards technologists.

Canada’s efforts have helped bridge its strengths in scientific research, applied science, and experimental development to the business world, particularly technology markets. The public/private MaRS Discovery District in Toronto and the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) are at the forefront of AI and machine learning research, and the latter has attracted partnerships with Google and IBM. Many of Canada’s top universities — Waterloo, Toronto, Montreal, and McGill — are producing highly talented computer science graduates. Canada is a desirable place of residence for engineers (as well as professionals in other industries) and recently, Toronto startups have experienced a reverse brain drain with double-digit increases in job applications from the US. These political and cultural developments have made it possible for a group of Silicon Valley veterans to create a talent program aimed at nurturing the Canadian tech industry to maturity.

For that reason, we are pleased to announce the launch of Terminal — a company which builds and scales elite engineering teams for the very best technology firms. We funnel talent to top technology firms that maintain the highest standard of conduct and consistently pursue impressive missions. Terminal provides full stack recruiting, comprehensive infrastructure and back-office support for talent. Members of our organization cluster and develop their skills in supportive, stimulating environments, which simplifies the hiring and employment process for potential employers. We already have “terminals” in Kitchener-Waterloo, Montreal, Vancouver and plan to open more soon.
Terminal helps talented individuals across the country find berths in the best technology companies, and helps technology companies locate the employees they need to thrive and grow. One of our central pillars is to ensure that our partner companies will commit to treating their new employees as a first-class citizens rather than replaceable parts. By cultivating mutually respectful relationships between tech companies and prospective employees we are strengthening tech cultures in productive, valuable ways. Our co-founders are Dylan Serota, who built and scaled the successful Eventbrite platform team largely in Mendoza, Argentina, and Luke Finney, who has led teams of Navy SEALs around the world. Together we will expand Terminal to the global scale, and ultimately plan to open “terminals” in all emerging tech hubs.

We strongly believe that the hardest problems in the world will be solved by technology companies. Talented technologists are tackling some of the most difficult problems in healthcare, government, financial systems, and other broken industries. Concentrating and structuring teams of great minds to work on these problems is what the startup ecosystem is all about. We hope our efforts at Terminal will enable great companies to partner with tens of thousands of leading technologists in the coming years.

Kleiner's Laws

Kleiner's Laws

Joe|September 5, 2017

Good things happen in eights. In 1957, Eugene Kleiner and seven other engineers quit their jobs at Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory. Kleiner, a Jewish émigré of Austrian extraction, secured a $1.5 million investment from Sherman Fairchild to found Fairchild Semiconductor, the first major computer chip manufacturer in Silicon Valley. In the subsequent decades, the “Traitorous 8” founded a host of spin-off companies so wildly successful that Fairchild and its offspring are today reputedly worth over $2 trillion.[1]

Kleiner pioneered the archetype of the Technologist-VC. Though he referred to himself as an engineer to the end of his days,[2] he occupied the various roles of Scientist, Entrepreneur, and Investor at different points in his life. In 1968, Kleiner made a major bet on Intel, a company founded by another two members of the Traitorous 8, and now the largest semiconductor manufacturer in the world. In 1972, Kleiner cofounded a venture capital firm called Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers. KPCB went on to become one of the most prolifically successful venture capital firms in history, with notable investments in Genentech, Sun Microsystems, Compaq, Amazon, Google, and over 350 other companies.

Kleiner was a calm man with a rich baritone, famous for his formulations of entrepreneurial and investing wisdom. Kleiner’s Laws — a collection of pragmatic and occasionally culinary aphorisms — have achieved the status of folklore in Silicon Valley. Though Kleiner passed away in 2003, his principles remain vital to running a successful start-up or venture capital fund. Here are a few of our favorites:[3]

1) Make sure the dog wants to eat the dog food.

The technology may be groundbreaking and the team may be world-class, but if people don’t want to buy the product the company will be a failure. Product-market fit is a fundamental element of any start-up’s success, and some venture capitalists regard it as the controlling variable.

2) Build one business at a time.

Entrepreneurial ambition often outstrips reality. Founders may devote their attention to developing a scattered array of bells and whistles rather than to the core product. The appropriate time for sideshow experiments is once a company has scaled to maturity; in the early years of a company’s life, sustained, precise focus on a singular business mission is vital.

3) The time to take the tarts is when they’re being passed.

Venture capital exhibits a cyclical, seasonal quality. The strategic founder should take advantage of funding when it is available, and not attempt to time funding according to the business’ stage of development.

4) It’s difficult to see the picture when you’re inside the frame.

Boards of Directors and Advisory Boards aren’t a formality, they are a vital source of perspective and feedback on the direction of a business. Kleiner famously quipped that “a good board will give you better advice than your mother.”

5) Even turkeys can fly in a high wind.

In a similar vein, investors should factor in macroeconomic indicators when assessing the value of a company. Tailwinds of irrational exuberance often drive company valuations into artificially high ranges. The intelligent investor understands that few companies can really survive in such thin air.

6) After learning some of the tricks of the trade, some people think they know the trade.

Though entrepreneurs commit this fallacy, venture capitalists are more likely to mistake superficial knowledge for robust understanding. Both founders and financiers should beware dilettantism and make sure they have a deep grasp of the industries they deal with.

7) Venture capitalists will stop at nothing to copy success.

Second-rate investors will often attempt to replicate the strategies of top investors with catastrophic consequences. The winner-take-all dynamics of modern technologies — especially but not exclusively software platforms — mean that it’s usually better to fund companies with first mover advantages.

8) Invest in people, not just products.

To make good dog food, you need a good team. Kleiner famously maintained very close relationships with the founders he invested in, and he was always a source of patient guidance on operational issues. A great company will combine an excellent team, product, and market.

Today, Kleiner’s Laws remain at the heart of what we do as technologists and investors. Kleiner operated from first principles as an entrepreneur and an investor, and his approach yielded enormous rewards. The best culture an investment firm can foster is to constantly invoke, reflect on, and argue from basic principles — and to help their founders do so as well. Only in this way can a firm remain methodologically sound, and make confident decisions. A founding father of Silicon Valley, Eugene Kleiner remains a perennial source of wisdom.

Thanks to Harry LeFrak for reminding me to write this piece.

[1] Morris, Rhett. “The First Trillion-Dollar Startup.” TechCrunch, Jul 26, 2014.

[2] Meyer, Peter. “Giants of Poly: Eugene Kleiner.” p. 22


Jobs, UBI, and Inequality - Joe Lonsdale, 8VC

Joe|June 10, 2017

Joe Lonsdale, Founder of 8VC discusses jobs, universal base income, and inequality and many other dangerous topics with Sam Lessin.

Click here to listen to this podcast


Dialectical Wisdom

Joe|April 21, 2017


I am not by any means a philosopher although I have worked with some talented people in the discipline. But certain philosophical concepts deeply inform the way I think about the world. The idea of "opposing truths at extremes" is a powerful concept that I came to appreciate in my twenties.

My personality has sometimes been called a little intense. When I spend a lot of time reading, discussing, or thinking about an area, I'll often really appreciate why a strong viewpoint is true and come to very firm conclusions. But if I am later exposed to a strong opposing view I frequently find this countervailing view persuasive as well. I found this initially confusing. How could two extreme, contradictory viewpoints both be true?

One great thinker on this issue is G.W.F. Hegel:

The abstract thinking of the understanding is so far from being something firm and ultimate that it proves itself, on the contrary, to be a constant…overturning into its opposite, whereas the rational as such is rational precisely because it contains both of the opposites as ideal moments within itself.[1]

This is what I mean by a “dialectic”, where the truth exists at different extremes and the actual truth is a complex interaction between an initial understanding and its negation. The idea is that most polarizing viewpoints, whether practical or theoretical, contain within themselves apparent contradictions which seem to drive one to the opposite pole. But much as a Zen master appreciates both sides of a koan, one should strive to recognize that two contradicting extremes can often be simultaneously valid.

Many people are sloppy thinkers, and opt for “middle of the road” positions when faced with two opposing extremes. But compromise is often even less accurate than the extreme poles of a dialectic. In my experience, it's common that deep truths exist at both extremes of a dialectic, and the wisest stance on an issue will incorporate “both of the opposites within itself”.

Deeply understanding something and being a passionate advocate on one side of a debate (even in a way that may make others uncomfortable) is a great start, and the path to wisdom. But with maturity comes the insight that you should remain open to ideas and views totally incompatible with your own. I have learned that if I only see and deeply appreciate one side of an argument it means I am probably missing something important.

OK, that was a bit abstract. Let's go over some examples...

An obvious one is the product part of an organization. It's true that a great product team will collect lots of user feedback, systematize it, and make data-driven decisions – a “scientific” approach to product. However, as we know from Sony in the 1980's, Steve Jobs, and other iconic product organizations, it's also true that greatness in products requires leaders to tell customers what they want, not merely to ask and respond to customer data. This requires leaps of creative intuition, or an “artistic” approach to product.

These are conflicting methodologies, but extreme forms of both must exist inside of a product organization for it to be great. It's easy for experienced company-builders to see how mistakes will be made by only relying on one of these and not the other.

Another example is the dialectic between entrepreneurial vigor and lawyerly/bureaucratic restraint. As an entrepreneur, I had a strong bias to move quickly and decisively. I found it frustrating and suffocating when legal counsel or management restricted my freedom to experiment. I understood that most big corporations and government institutions function in massively inefficient ways (which created huge opportunities for Palantir and other ventures). Although I remain committed to these views, I have now grown to appreciate that a bunch of ardent entrepreneurs with large risk appetites can be too volatile; that you need corporate governance and procedural checks to keep a company from blowing up. What’s important to recognize here is that a company should not strive for a middling balance between these two extremes, it should cultivate both at once. Great executives understand that they need to incubate ambitious entrepreneurs with a bias towards fast iteration and “breaking things,” while ensuring that experienced leadership and legal personalities keep the company on a stable trajectory. It’s a very challenging paradigm to master.

A third example is the dialectic between breadth and depth. It has been my experience that deep, obsessive focus at the expense of other areas of life yields exponential returns. The curve tracking productive output against the time a person invests in a single subject matter is highly convex. Yet I have also come to realize the importance of building bridges and relationships across disciplines, and in equally vital pursuits such as family life. A fully torqued engine burns out more quickly. I have discovered that extra-disciplinary conversations spark my intuition and create important synergies for the businesses I have been a part of. My bias is to work extremely hard and dive very deeply into topics, and I attribute some of my greatest work (such as at Palantir and Addepar) to periods of extreme focus. But developing relationships with experts outside of my chosen fields and cultivating other personal interests has helped me expand my worldview and pinpoint opportunities I might have otherwise missed entirely.

These are a few examples for how I apply Hegel’s insight when thinking about startups, but of course dialectics surface nearly everywhere. One profound dialectic I have encountered is between what I’ll call “Nietzschean behavior” and “altruistic virtue.”

A very small proportion of human beings – perhaps the top 1% - has a wildly oversized impact on our political fate and the progress of our species. I am “inegalitarian” with respect to talent. I believe that a small cadre of industrialists, thinkers, artists, and statesmen dominate world affairs largely because of their natural talents and internal will to power – though sheer luck certainly plays a role as well. Effective leaders will understand how to learn from and leverage the extraordinary talents of elite members of society. Great leaders often live extremely uncommon lives, and Nietzsche points out that many elite leaders develop a “pathos of distance” from the affairs of the ordinary person. This remove may stimulate the severe self-criticism and “constant self-overcoming” which enhance a leader’s ability to impact and transform the world.[2] An effective leader will understand when to withdraw from normal life and apply herself to grand projects.

But while it’s true that talent is unequally distributed, a thoughtless, self-glorifying aristocracy is a very dangerous thing. Is it any surprise that Hitler and Mussolini displayed the cruelest forms of Nietzschean behavior – even drew directly upon Nietzsche as inspiration for their atrocities? I believe that truly great leaders are those who embrace the dialectical counterpoint of moral equality among persons, and cultivate a deep sense of altruistic virtue. I personally believe this egalitarianism finds powerful expression in Judeo-Christian principles: compassion for the meek, mercy, and love for thy neighbor as thyself. Powerful individuals often find themselves pulled in different directions by the forces of elitism and virtue, and in fact this is a healthy tension. Many great leaders have both a strong sense of exceptionalism and an unwavering moral compass.

To recap, I believe that wisdom is very often dialectical in nature. Extreme, conflicting viewpoints are often simultaneously true – whether in business or more broadly in human life. It is the hallmark of a wise individual to eschew the milquetoast path of middling compromise, and instead to embrace these “antinomies” of reason and fuse them into a concrete course of action; to be patient and comfortable with cognitive dissonance. I encourage young entrepreneurs, dreamers, and other visionaries to strive to explore both sides of every issue. Dialectical wisdom has been integral to my success and well-being.

[1] Hegel, G.W.F. “The Encyclopaedia Logic” Trans. T.F. Geraets, W.A. Suchting, and H.S. Harris. Hackett, 1991. p.133

[2] Nietzsche, Friedrich. “Beyond Good and Evil.” Trans. Judith Norman, Cambridge U.P., 2002. p.151

The Future of Labor pt. II - New Job Creation

The Future of Labor pt. II - New Job Creation

Joe|April 12, 2017


“[With] the substitution of machinery for human labour…there will necessarily be a diminution in the demand for labour, population will become redundant, and the situation of the laboring classes will be that of distress and poverty.” – David Ricardo, 1817.[1]

An increasingly popular concern is that robots will eat up labor’s share of income at an accelerating rate, leaving ordinary workers impoverished and unemployed. A common topic at dinner conversations in Silicon Valley is universal basic income, and the typical argument advanced for UBI is that we are destined to indefinitely continue losing jobs faster than we replace them. Variants on this theme have circulated since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Improvements in farming technology have been greeted with skepticism since ancient times for these reasons. Mechanical contraptions for sewing and other tasks were decried as potentially ruinous to workers in Elizabethan England. Around the same time that working-class Luddite Rebellion and Captain Swing protestors rioted and destroyed machinery, upper class Victorians issued treatises on the bleak prospects for most workers.

There is always a grain of truth to these complaints, because technological innovations inevitably displace some segment of the workforce. In general, the current technological revolution is displacing those workers whose jobs consisted of routine, repeatable tasks. The information architecture underpinning the work processes of all our major industries is being upgraded to cloud and mobile ecosystems and is leveraging big data in thousands of new ways – a trend we describe in The Smart Enterprise Wave. One consequence is that many cashier, telephone operator, mailroom, clerical, stenographic, and data-entry jobs are on the way out. In addition, advances in machine learning and robotics make it possible for manufacturers to accomplish more with fewer workers. We may also experience temporarily higher unemployment as semi-autonomous vehicle technology enables a pair of truck drivers to safely navigate a convoy of multiple trucks. Roughly 50% of jobs in the US economy have been replaced with new forms of labor every 60-90 years.[2]

Technological unemployment is always scary because it’s hard to understand what the future will hold – but despite spikes during brief periods of disruption, unemployment rates have not appreciated over the course of the last three centuries. Innovation is the only sustainable way to make society wealthier and better-off. In terms of real GDP, Americans are on average more than 8 times wealthier today than they were in 1917[3]. In the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth was practically the only person wearing silk stockings. In the 21st century, any American woman can. A similar point holds true for cars, plumbing, electricity, and a variety of other modern wonders that began as luxury goods. When technological unemployment occurs, laid-off workers seek retraining and private sector leaders create transitional infrastructure to reabsorb them into the economy. Innovative technologies create more wealth and better jobs in the end by eliminating unpleasant rote work and increasing overall productivity.

In the past 30 years we have experienced a complicated period of globalization. Global inequality has actually decreased as emerging markets have prospered from market reforms. However with global competition, prosperity in the West has been unequally distributed – many working class families have struggled in the face of stagnant wages. But we should not lose sight of the positive 100-year trend of rising standards of living for all demographics of American society.

Imagine that you are an average American living in the late 19th century: a time when workplace fatalities were 30 times more likely than current levels, there were rampant disease outbreaks of typhoid, cholera, and tuberculosis, and many farmers were barely able to sell enough crops to survive. Even if you were a wealthy, talented visionary, you still wouldn’t have been able to imagine the new kinds jobs that would be available by the 1980s. If a time traveler attempted to explain the concept of MTV, a Best Buy, or an air traffic controller to you, you would have been completely lost. You would have been justifiably worried about the future unemployment of the bobbin turners, candle makers, and small-time agrarians of your day. But hundreds of millions of new employment opportunities would open up, as living conditions continued to surge upwards. Neo-Luddite fears about technological unemployment are limited in the same way as our ancestors’ worldviews. The late 19th century was not the end of history, nor is today.  Innovation has consistently led to greater productivity - meaning society can produce more with less - and an increased demand for new jobs and services.  To avoid the Luddite mistake, we must think about the future of labor with a healthy dose of creativity and an expansive frame of mind.


  • Jobs of the Future

The “creative destruction” driven by innovation is scary because it’s hard to predict what a future, wealthier society looks like. Imagine explaining software engineering to your great, great grandparents! Here are twelve example ideas for areas where we might expect future jobs.

Hollywood and gaming industries will collaborate to create customizable virtual realities populated with avatars based on real-life actors and tailored to your specific preferences.


  • VR/AR and Personalized Entertainment – As virtual reality hardware and software evolve, whole new historical novels and science fiction adventures will be tailored to people’s individual personalities. Demand will rocket for talented creatives or human actors who control dynamic avatars in personalized storylines. Hollywood and gaming industries will collaborate on building interactive environments in multiple dimensions – employing millions. Already many gamers have found work entertaining massive audiences on virtual platforms such as Twitch and Caffeine, and performing other services such as “mining” items.
  • Nanotechnology – The nanotechnology market has exploded since 2000, currently employing over a million Americans and growing. We may see substantial advancements in semiconductor technology, hyper-targeted drug therapeutics, and aircraft construction. We may eventually see clothing that molds to your skin and “utility fog” particles that allow rooms and spaces to shape themselves around you and your work, sports, and entertainment.

Advances in “foglet” technology will allow individuals to direct their surroundings to change in shape and tone by reordering nanoparticles in a room – customizing their homes at will.


  • E-marketing – Designing, building, and managing community marketplaces for brand and business purposes can probably also employ millions of Americans part time. UX designers and content writers; social media influencers such as style bloggers, YouTube stars and Instagram celebrities; digital marketing consultants, and other e-marketing professionals will find employment opportunities in our changing economy. How we understand and measure communities and influence is likely to change, and new roles will develop for people with different interpersonal skills to contribute to this sector of the economy.
  • Space Economy: If Elon Musk is right, in the next 10-30 years, advances in spaceflight technologies will create an entirely new economy in our solar system. Construction of new habitats on the moon and Mars will create colony design, terraforming jobs, and work building vehicles to handle the new terrain. We will see everything from construction of caves for shelter to asteroid ice mining for water, to create hydrogen-based fuel and possibly agriculture. We will see all sorts of new entertainment, from Ender's Game-like competitions to guides for Zero-G party “experiences”! Commercial spaceflight will generate tourism and shipping industries which will require trained crews of astronauts, technicians, and service workers.


Baby boomer retirements will create a wave of demand for senior-care services which treat our elderly with the attention, compassion, and respect they deserve


  • Senior care: When the Baby Boomers age out of the workforce, they will require high-quality residential assistance with health, hygiene, transportation, meal preparation, housekeeping and more. Given how spoiled Baby Boomers are, these wild children of the 60s and 70s will no doubt respond well to new forms of attention and entertainment! Taking care of our nation’s elderly in a tender, loving way – if done well – will generate millions of new jobs. I am excited about a company called Honor, which sources local home care for elderly individuals who require comfort, affection, and respect.
  • Energy – technological breakthroughs in fracking and the renewable energy sector have created jobs for millions in America. As energy technologies develop and drive down prices, this industry will continue to expand. In addition to creating jobs for technologists and scientists working on carbon capture, petrochemical refining, and more, we will continue open up lower-skill jobs installing solar photovoltaic panels and wind-turbines, and retrofitting energy efficiency monitors and appliances on to older buildings.
  • Coaching – Professional coaching will be in high demand as the American economy moves forward, also creating new jobs in the millions. New technology will quantify aspects of your emotional reactions, self-discipline, baseline outlook, and a new class of psychological coaches will emerge to help people improve their personalities. Large numbers of employment opportunities will also emerge for educational tutors, athletic/fitness instructors, love-counsellors, motivational speakers, online/video game content creation and more. We want the help of other people in holding ourselves accountable and improving our relationships with the people and projects we care about. An obvious source of economic value is helping others in this regard.

As psychometric computing becomes exponentially easier, new jobs will emerge. Coaches able to track your emotional state with quantitative precision may be able to give you specific feedback on how to be happier, more logical, how to avoid certain classes of cognitive mistakes, or maybe even how to be more ethical.


  • Organic data analysis – scores of new jobs will open up at the juncture of data analysis and human opinion. Businesses will look to collect data on aspects of the marketing, design, features and more while also testing potential markets by sending out exploratory surveys. Amazon’s “Mechanical Turk” is the prime example of this form of man/machine symbiosis, where workers rank options, perform sentence evaluations, and take short surveys from their devices to share their thoughts and feelings.
  • Creation/Care of New Species: CRISPR/Cas9 and other new techniques in synthetic biology are now making it possible to genetically engineer plants and animals from scratch. Some groups are already drafting plans to revive mammoths in Siberia for environmental purposes (and hopefully anyone planning Jurassic Park will be more careful with the raptor DNA!). We will witness large demand for chimera pets and emotional support animals, as well as new species of animals to use in new and existing industries. We will also see genetically modified plants and fungi with new medicinal properties such as cancer-killing small molecules. Creating new species will keep millions of scientists, designers, medical researchers, caretakers and others busy.


We are only scratching the surface of what it’s possible to build with synthetic biology. Imagine landscapers working with exotic alien flora, or children growing up with minatiurized hippo pets who become happier when the children study hard! With developments in plant modification we may be able to create super-vegetation that curbs global warming, cures common ailments, or even just complements a favorite varietal of wine particularly well.



  • Chamberlains & Stewards – As technology enables a greater number of talented individuals to create large amounts of wealth, a plethora of staff roles will emerge for executive and personal assistants: individuals to whom people can delegate organizational, administrative, and communication tasks. Tens of millions of people wish they had house and event managers, personal assistants, masseuses, personally-tailored chefs, personal trainers, tutors for their children, staff to take care of pets and more. With new staff, the upper-middle class will live better than the lords and ladies of old. More social esteem will accrue to these kinds of positions, which are stimulating, fast-paced, and vital to the efficiency and success of our leaders.
  • Sharing Economy – Our newly-minted sharing economies are a creative expansion of the service industry. You can now serve someone else by renting them your room on AirBnB, giving them an Uber ride in your free time, or renting them your power tools. Information technology is expanding our capacity to serve each other by performing new kinds of delivery and freelance work in the “gig economy.”
  • Human Contact – Jobs requiring direct human contact and interpersonal energy will emerge in the millions. New technology will open up richer worlds of human interaction as we develop new techniques for measuring and understanding our humanity. Nursing jobs, jobs in psychiatry and psychological therapy, business consulting work, human resources positions, cultural interpreter work, and customer experience analysis roles will all open up. The specifically human traits of empathy, language comprehension, and creative flexibility will all be at a premium.


But Doesn’t AI Destroy All Jobs?

Many of our friends believe that we are on the brink of developing superhuman artificial intelligence which will replace human labor, radically transforming our productivity function. Views that AI poses a serious existential threat or constitutes an incomprehensible inflection point in the history of our species have taken on the character of a religion in Silicon Valley. While post-humanism is a fascinating obsession, and many take for granted the notion that computers will soon exceed human beings at nearly everything, I believe that the singularity is much farther away than people imagine. Machine learning is slowly improving and impacting many important industries, but is nowhere near the level of general human ability. If we all merge into a godlike super-consciousness or face events of similarly biblical proportion, concerns about employment will pale in comparison to more fundamental questions about the meaning of existence. But although some in every generation are eager to believe that a version of the messiah is soon to arrive, it is much more likely that in the meantime history will continue to unfold according to the economic logic of innovation, creative destruction, and job growth we saw in the 20th century.

While some view AI as a kind of salvation, others have responded with anxiety. Policy rooted in fear tends to be irrational and repressive. The pro-jobs response to disruptive innovation is to cultivate a flexible economy that can swiftly adapt to technological change. First, we should increase upward mobility by making it easier to move and participate in high growth economic areas. This means fighting NIMBYism and poor zoning laws, and developing more suburbs in inexpensive areas 100-300 miles outside of our top cities. It also means introducing faster modes of transportation which enable people to live nearby and commute. Deployed with tunnels where necessary, the Hyperloop, for instance, would make it possible for millions of people to live in inexpensive areas but access upward mobility in metropolitan centers. Second, we should make it easier for entrepreneurs to start new firms and employ more people in new forms of work. Wealth is only ever actually created from the bottom-up, with free people employing their distinctly human creativity and finding ways to serve and employ others. To make sure we're creating new jobs we need to cut the red-tape of over one million rules that make our economy sclerotic and deter new business formation - and allow the market to rapidly evolve on its own terms to find new ways of employing millions of people.

Fear is the wrong response to technological unemployment. Focusing on economic flexibility and adaptability - with special attention to eliminating the barriers we've accidentally created to the mobility of the working classes - is the right response to technological disruption. With sound policy in the context of a free and open society, I am optimistic that the coming advances in AI will massively reduce the cost to live a good life, and increase wealth and opportunity for all.

Technological unemployment is scary for those affected – but has always gone hand in hand with economic progress. In the next few decades we will continue to invent new ways to entertain, educate, serve and delight others, employing billions in the process. Populists will predictably vilify innovation - fear and hatred are powerful political weapons. But as our society grows more prosperous in absolute terms, raising the bar on the very definition of poverty, we will continue to create opportunities for people from all walks of life. The human mind and body remains the most complex, powerful machine on the planet, and we will adapt and thrive in a world of accelerating technological change. We owe it to our grandchildren to continue innovating.




















[1] Ricardo, David. “Principles of Political Economy and Taxation,” 1817. Chapter 31., On Machinery

[2] See: Wyatt, Ian D. and Daniel E. Hecker. “Occupational Changes During the 20th Century.” Monthly Labor Review, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006.

[3] Jones, Charles I. “The Facts of Economic Growth.” Stanford GSB and NBER, December 2015. p. 2

The Future of Labor pt. I - Keynes

The Future of Labor pt. I - Keynes

Joe|January 31, 2017

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” — (Genesis 2:15)

In 1930 the economist John Maynard Keynes wrote a short, influential essay entitled Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. The Depression had not yet hit rock bottom, but Keynes was worried about a macroeconomic trend he called “technological unemployment” — namely, “unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour.”[1] Automation anxiety is an ancient phenomenon, and includes a lineage of distinguished British thinkers dating back to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. In the following decades, Keynes’ essay became the focal point of a large literature on the idea that machines will create widespread structural unemployment.

Today, we are likely in the very early innings of another major wave of innovation and technological unemployment.For this reason, it is useful to think about what Keynes got right and wrong.

Keynes projected that 100 years hence, the standard of life in Western countries would approach 8 times the level it was in 1930. His prediction was remarkably accurate. Since 1930 GDP per capita in the US has increased 6.5x, and should hit 7.5x by 2030.[2] Keynes thought this enormous increase of wealth would gradually liberate human beings from the necessity of working at all — but he had drawn the wrong implications from his economic data. The great thinker predicted that in the superabundant 21st century “three hours a day” would be enough to satisfy most people. But for the average American the number remains close to eight.[3]

The explanation for this discrepancy is that in the past hundred years we have found myriad ways for wealth to raise our standard of living. Any living American feels “poor” if he lacks access to inventions such as cars, indoor plumbing, and modern medicine. We adapt to technological progress by raising our minimum standards of living and working to stay above this rising threshold. Consequently, the cost not to be “poor” today is higher than it was in Keynes’ time. There are still at least hundreds of years of progress to be made in science, medicine, and technology. There are new corners of the human psyche to be explored with the tools of psychology and neuroscience, transportation systems and metropolitan infrastructure to be reengineered, and advancements to be made in literacy, numeracy, and sanitation. We have yet to fully explore depths of the ocean floor or the other planets in our solar system. As we progress as a species, we will unlock new means for enhancing our lives at every turn — and our conceptions of wealth and poverty will evolve in tandem.

Technological innovation will empower us to live lives of plenty. But it is not in our nature to pursue lives of leisure. Critics of capitalism often describe work-ethic in terms of greed and unending materialism. They ask: what reason do we have to continue working hard once our biological needs are met? The answer is that work is in fact profoundly positive-sum. Hard work enables us to improve ourselves and the world around us, to combat injustice, reduce suffering, and increase human freedom. It allows us to live out the principles of progress, humaneness, and service to others known as “Tikkun Olam” in the Jewish tradition. Hard work makes us better people and helps our communities flourish.

Keynes’ fundamental error is to conceive of work as purely instrumental to a good life. He argues that technology will ultimately solve the “economic problem” of providing for our basic biological needs, thus freeing us of any obligations to work at all. In Keynes’ post-economic utopia supply and demand will dissolve away — much as they do in the aftermath of Karl Marx’s “proletariat revolution.” In a world where labor is automated and capital resources are widely available, “it will be those peoples, who can keep alive, and cultivate into a fuller perfection, the art of life itself and do not sell themselves for the means of life, who will be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.” Keynes is careful to note that this future will take a long time to materialize, writing that our work ethic and “intense purposiveness” will remain strong within us for many generations. But ultimately labor will go the way of the lamplighter and we will be left to pursue the art of life in days of complete leisure.

John Maynard Keynes — (1883–1946)

To really get to the bottom of Keynes’ essay, you need to understand his taxonomy of biological needs. Keynes thinks human needs are twofold. He claims that we feel “absolute needs” — preconditions for biological survival and psychic stability — regardless of the circumstances of our fellow human beings. We also feel “relative needs” to be superior to other human beings…what Hegel called the “dialectic of lordship and bondage”.[4] Although our cravings for relative status are infinite and insatiable, our absolute needs have natural limits — adequate shelter and food supply, companionship, and possibly entertainment. For Keynes the “economic problem” consists in adequately covering these basic needs for the entire human population. He writes, “We have been expressly evolved by nature — with all our impulses and deepest instincts — for the purpose of solving the economic problem.”

Unlike Keynes we think that our needs are mostly relative in principle. The human outlook is deeply grooved with assumptions of scarcity at the level of the human genome. From the perspective of evolutionary biology we are wired to assume that calories, sexual reproduction, bodily security and companionship are scarce goods. Keynes’ taxonomy of relative and absolute needs isn’t useful in thinking about genetic determinants on human behavior, because from the perspective of the gene all of our desires are limitless. It is a wonder that this idea was lost on Keynes, who famously described market decisions as the result of spontaneous urges in the form of “animal spirits”! Instead, there are infinitely many ways in which we can improve our societies, as befits our finite, corporeal nature.

There is always something to fix, improve, create or amplify. Therefore, labor is not a zero-sum game of working the precise amount necessary to satisfy a limited set of natural desires for food, shelter, security and community. If it were, most of the Western world, staggeringly wealthy by historical standards, would surely have stopped working hard in the early 1900s. The distinction between the “developed” and the “developing” worlds is a false dichotomy — the difference is not a matter of kind but of degree. We are all developing towards a more prosperous future. In other words, Keynes’ “economic problem” should be recast as a perennial challenge: how can we improve our circumstances on earth today? While Keynes gets the evolutionary story partly right, he draws the wrong philosophical implications.

“Temporary spates of technological unemployment will be followed by golden eras of human liberation.”

We intrinsically crave heightened sensual experience, superior physical health, a richer understanding of our world, and elevated artistic achievement — as well as more extensive peace, prosperity and justice for our fellow man. It is in our nature to continue to climb. This drive has gone by different names in different times; for the Platonists it amounted to a telos of divinity, for Nietzsche it was a secular “will to power.”[5] Buddhist and Stoic traditions counsel a repudiation of these earthly drives — and there is much to say for a wisdom of detachment. But for those who choose to remain engaged in the world, hard work is a clear path to human flourishing. It is no surprise that great thinkers have often commented on the way in which meaningful work determines a person’s self-respect. John Rawls, for instance, argued that the lack “of the opportunity for meaningful work and occupation is destructive not only of citizens’ self-respect, but of their sense that they are members of society and not simply caught in it.”[6] Work empowers us not only to survive, but also to thrive; to improve the lives of others by inventing new solutions to social problems even as our own lives are enhanced by others’ creativity.

Keynes’ “needs-satisfaction” paradigm is an impoverished way of thinking about our place in the world. Levels of humanitarian engagement with developing countries are soaring in Europe and the United States, even as we work to improve our own societies. We are creating new and more varied forms of art, cuisine, and entertainment as technology and wealth free up people to exercise their creative ability and help others. Keynes’ mistake was to miss the unbounded spirit of progress animating these developments. There is much more we can do to improve the condition of humanity, at home and abroad. Over the course of the next century, technology will lift most people out of poverty as-currently-defined, satisfying the material needs of the global population in creative and more efficient ways. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that true poverty in 1916 was far worse than most “poverty” in the 21st century. If we are able to maintain a society which holds fast to the Western tradition of markets and property rights, we will continue to foster innovation and economic progress.

In the coming years, new jobs will be created in industries that require the cognitive skills of creativity and intense analytical reasoning, as well as in areas where human contact is at a premium. We will see an explosion of jobs in health and senior care, professional coaching of all kinds, e-marketing, and an expansion of executive assistant and chief of staff roles catering to the needs of our swelling upper-middle class. The mechanization of rote tasks will allow Americans to focus on the distinctly human advantages of complex sensorimotor skills, social intelligence, and lateral thinking. Work in the 21st century will be more fulfilling for Americans than the manual labor and “human middleware” jobs that characterized the last half of the 20th century. Temporary spates of technological unemployment will be followed by golden eras of human liberation in which we channel our talents towards improving our society in unforeseen ways.

There is much to be said for Keynes’ vision of the world. His macroeconomic calculations were startlingly accurate, and we admire his optimism about the possibility of creating conditions in which all human beings can live healthy, meaningful lives. He was correct to identify technological unemployment as a true social problem. But in conclusion we would do well to remember that Keynes’ central view in Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren has not withstood the test of time. We are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Keynes’ generation. Yet here in the 21st century — several factors wealthier than Keynes’ generation in real terms — we are more fully ingrained in a global economic order than ever. We believe that as the automation of old jobs continues, people will find new and exciting ways to employ their distinctly human faculties. In the spirit of progress, we will continue to transform the world around us into a more beautiful, plentiful, and empowering place. Only in so doing will we cultivate the art of life to its most vibrant expression.

This is the first installment in a two part series.Here we unpack the philosophical and evolutionary assumptions at work in the debate over technological unemployment. In Future of Labor II, we discuss the economics of new job creation and chart several industries of the future which will create employment opportunities for American workers. Future of Labor II was published by WIRED and can be read here.

Is the end of labor nigh? Here are a few well-known philosophers and economists who all mistakenly thought so:

Aristotle, “Politics.” Trans. Benjamin Jowett, 350 B.C.E. Book 1, Part IV.

“The servant is himself an instrument which takes precedence of all other instruments. For if every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, like the statues of Daedalus, or the tripods of Hephaestus, which, says the poet, ‘of their own accord entered the assembly of the Gods’; if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves.”

Mildmay, (Sir) William. “The Laws and Policy of England: Relating to Trade, Examined by the Maxims and Principles of Trade in General; and by the Laws and Policy of Other Trading Nations.” 1765.

Under these circumstances the following proposal may be offered to our consideration namely, that since the price of a manufacture depends so much on the wages paid, and the numbers employed in making it, so consequently the fewer that shall be employed about it, the cheaper will be the manufacture: no in order to complete a work by few hands, engines and machines are contrived to supply the place of a greater number…here it may seem strange that in a discourse concerning the benefit of employing our people, a recommendation should be offered of that which must destroy the necessity of their labour: all that can be alleged in answer to this is that since other nations do make use of such engines and are thereby enabled to offer their productions at a low rate, it is in vain for us to preserver in toilsome methods.”

Mortimer, (Sir) Thomas. “The Elements of Commerce, Politics, and Finance: In Three Treatises on Those Important Subjects.” 1772.

“But the machines I never wish to see introduced into a commercial nation, (which is required to be fully peopled, that is, to have a sufficient number of hands for all the classes of life already described) are saw-mills, and inventions of that stamp, which are calculated to exclude the labour of thousands of the human race, who are usefully employed in dock-yards, in those of timber-merchants, private ship, and house-builders, cabinet-makers, etc. A more pernicious scheme could not be devised…It is possible there may be counties in England where one such machine might be wanted, from the scarcity of hands for other branches; but surely every other expedient should have been first tried…”

Kay-Shuttleworth, (Sir) James. “The Moral and Physical condition of the working classes employed in the cotton manufacture in Manchester.” 1832.

“Population, nevertheless, increases the supply of labour in at least as great a ratio as the demand existing under a restrictive system. Every invention, therefore, which diminishes the quantity of labour necessary to produce the objects of barter, lessens its price, and excludes, for an indefinite period, a great part of the population from employment. By this system the profits of capital are increased, though not in the same ratio as the wages of labour are for a time diminished.”

Ricardo, David. “Principles of Political Economy and Taxation,” 1817. Chapter 31. On Machinery

“I am convinced that the substitution of machinery for human labour is often very injurious to the interests of the class of labourers…the same cause which may increase the net revenue of the country, may at the same time render the population redundant and deteriorate the condition of the labourer…as the power of supporting a population, and employing labour, depends always on the gross produce of a nation, and not on its net produce, there will necessarily be a diminution in the demand for labour, population will become redundant, and the situation of the laboring classes will be that of distress and poverty…the opinion entertained by the laboring class, that the employment of machinery is frequently detrimental to their interests, is not founded on prejudice and error, but is conformable to the correct principles of political economy.”

Marx, Karl. “The Grundrisse: Fragment on Machines.” 1857.

“Capital advances the worker the wages which the latter exchanges for products necessary for his consumption. The money he obtains has this power only because others are working alongside him at the same time; and capital can give him claims on alien labour, in the form of money, only because it has appropriated his own labor. This exchange of one’s own labour with alien labour appears here not as mediated and determined by the simultaneous existence of the labour of others, but rather by the advance which capital makes. The worker’s ability to engage in the exchange of substances necessary for his consumption during production appears as due to an attribute of part of circulating capital which is paid to the worker, and of circulating capital generally. It appears not as an exchange of substances between the simultaneous labour powers, but as the metabolism of capital; as the existence of circulating capital…capital here — quite unintentionally — reduces human labour, expenditure of energy, to a minimum. This will redound to the benefit of emancipated labour, and is the condition of his emancipation.”

Joe Lonsdale
General Partner, 8VC

[1] Keynes, John Maynard. “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren.” 1930.

[2] Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce. “Table 7.1: Selected Per Capita Product and Income Series in Current and Chained Dollars.” 2015 data.

[3] Bureau of Labor Statistics. “American Time Use Survey Summary.” 2015.

[4] Hegel, G.W.F. “Phenomenology of Spirit.” Trans. A.V. Miller, Oxford U.P., 1977 [1807].

[5] Nietzsche, Friedrich. “On the Genealogy of Morals.” Ed. Walter Kaufmann. Trans. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale. New York: Vintage Books, 1989. Section 1.13

[6] Rawls, John. “The Law of Peoples: With, The Idea of Public Reason Revisited.” Harvard U.P., 1999.