"If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn't." - Emerson M. Pugh
As technologists, we are naturally fascinated by Elon Musk. His business savvy is widely celebrated, but what really makes him an intriguing and atypical individual is his staggering, unlimited ambition, combined with an otherworldly ability to achieve it. For this reason, we follow his comings and goings closely, and sometimes this leads us to some inspiring insights into his vision and drive.
A few days ago, he delivered an update on his Starship venture, which is ostensibly aimed at enabling mankind to become a multi-planetary species. You can watch it by clicking on the below image. In his introduction, Elon Musk explained that there are two driving forces behind his next-generation rocket that may eventually transport humans to Mars. The first is the fact that there are non-zero odds that a calamity could destroy the Earth, and the second, the one that was unordinary and caught our attention, was the fact that "life can't just be about solving problems."
Elon Musk expanded for several minutes, adding that "there have to be things that inspire you, that move your heart. Going out there and making science fiction not fiction forever…that's one of those things." Later on in the presentation, he highlighted the significance of his new rocket, scheduled to have its first orbital test flight in the coming months, by reminding that "when the Wright Brothers first took off…they would not have imagined that there would be tens of thousands of aircraft flying to every corner of the world. So, this really could be a profound situation and we really can't even imagine all the use-cases at this point."
We found these words to be powerful, and particularly à propos to the nascent industry of the Metaverse. Making the utopian vision of the Metaverse a reality is indeed about removing fiction from science fiction. This grand project is also one that moves hearts, for its potential goes way beyond the otherwise perfectly honorable goal of simply solving problems. Similarly to the 1903 Wright Flyer, the earliest iterations of the Metaverse are going to lead to a chain of events that will have use-cases that surpass our most creative predictions. While one of our goals with this newsletter is to showcase the Metaverse's applications and impacts on different industries, we would be unwise to claim that we can come anywhere close to predicting all its ramifications. Elon Musk said that we should "go out there and find out what this universe is all about." Let us now go out there and continue finding out what this Metaverse is all about.
Below is our weekly update on a list of companies that could play a role in the Metaverse. We routinely update it to feature different companies, and reiterate that inclusion in this list is only for informational purposes and is neither an implicit nor an explicit investment recommendation in any way whatsoever.
We cannot overstate the role of semiconductor companies in enabling the realization of the full vision of the Metaverse. Since, as highlighted in a previous newsletter, computing capacity needs to increase dramatically to enable a scaled Metaverse used by billions of concurrent users, semiconductor companies are hard at work crafting the chips that will do just that. This week, both Intel and Qualcomm, longtime competitors, made respective announcements that confirmed their ambition to play a leading role in the work necessary to get there.
Intel announced the upcoming launch of a new chip specifically designed for the blockchain, replete with circuit innovations that integrate ultra-low voltage circuits. This new chip, scheduled to be shipped to its first customers Block (formerly Square), Argo Blockchain, and GRIID Infrastructure later this year, would make blockchain mining much more computationally and energy efficient. This dual goal is critical because blockchain technology will form the backbone of the economy of the Metaverse, and will therefore see its use continue to skyrocket. At the same time, it will also help address the increasing carbon footprint of an electricity thirsty technology. Specifically, Intel estimates that this new chip has over 1,000x better performance per watt than the mainstream GPUs mining blockchains today. Needless to say, a chip that is more powerful, and more environmentally friendly, is a win-win.
In parallel, San Diego-based Qualcomm also made a noteworthy announcement this week, unveiling the opening of Extended Reality (XR) Labs Europe and increased investments in XR in general. Looking to build on top of its SnapDragon mobile device chip platform, which powers the high-end Samsung phones among others, Qualcomm is looking to direct its expertise toward the development of "sleek headsets that will transform everyday consumer experiences and many market verticals from industrial manufacturing and healthcare to education and retail." We definitely hope it accelerates the path to headsets that are sleeker than the Oculus, which we estimate will sooner rather than later find its place in a museum next to the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, the first handheld mobile phone.
Qualcomm and Intel are an interesting couple as they are leaders in the semiconductor industry operating with very different business models. While Intel, founded in 1968 by Gordon Moore (of Moore's law fame) and Robert Noyce, both designs and manufactures its chips, Qualcomm, founded in 1985, operates what is called a fabless manufacturing model, which means it only designs the chips and outsources their manufacturing. This explains the different angle of their respective announcements last week. Currently, these two rivals have reached equivalent market capitalizations of just under $200 billion, with Qualcomm widely outperforming Intel in the past few years. What is at stake is therefore not just a new business segment for them, but also the pecking order of their companies. As they pursue this healthy competition for market share in the Metaverse, we will be glad to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
“We propose that a 2-month, 10-man study of artificial intelligence be carried out during the summer of 1956 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. The study is to proceed on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it. An attempt will be made to find how to make machines use language, form abstractions and concepts, solve kinds of problems now reserved for humans, and improve themselves. We think that a significant advance can be made in one or more of these problems if a carefully selected group of scientists work on it together for a summer.”
What a difference a summer can make. With the above proposal to the Rockefeller Foundation, John McCarthy, Marvin Minsky, Nathaniel Rochester, and Claude Shannon would go on to lay the foundation of a computational revolution and the birth of modern-day Artificial Intelligence. As this is one of the technologies that will be prevalent across the Metaverse's infrastructure and through its entire ecosystem, we are devoting a three-part series to it, which we begin with the historical backdrop that is useful to understand the state of things today.
The Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence, which took place in the summer of 1956 as its organizers requested, is a watershed event that is credited with creating AI as a field in itself. An exclusive 20-person group consisting of some of the sharpest minds of that generation gathered for eight weeks to dive into ways to make machines 'intelligent.' It is following this conference that the first computer programs were written to solve mathematical problems. This was a significant advance, and optimism filled the air that quick progress would continue being made on the way to building an intelligent machine.
Some of this optimism was misguided, however, as it turns out building a truly intelligent machine is much more complex and protracted than originally imagined. Following an 'AI Winter' in the 1970s-1980s that featured little progress, skeptical investors, and therefore vanishing funding, the next decades saw a rollercoaster ride between optimism and dejection. It is in the past couple decades that the picture has become rosier with the numerous advances in computation. We don't know whether the goal as stated in the Dartmouth Conference proposal, that is to get machines to simulate any and every feature of human intelligence, will be achieved as originally envisioned. However, we do know that were it not for this summer conference and these giants, this newsletter would not be in your inbox today, for more reasons than we can count, and we would be much further from the guiding principle of "making science fiction not fiction forever."
As mentioned above, we look forward to pursuing our AI series with Part 2 next week that will focus on some of the leading companies in the sector. Following the conclusion of the AI series, we will then move on to look at other critical technologies underlying the Metaverse.
Thanks for reading, until next week,
The team at MetaObservations.
Disclaimer: This newsletter is distributed for general informational and educational purposes only and the opinions expressed therein are not intended to constitute investment advice.
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