Welcome to Lux’s new newsletter
This week, we are launching a beta version of “Securities” — a weekly newsletter that will investigate and analyze science, technology, finance and the human condition.
Over the last several years, Sam Arbesman has carefully built Lux Recommends into a regular source of interesting science and complexity news. We’re going to continue that mission and expand upon it, bringing all the previous great highlights with even more analysis and insight. Thanks to Sam for his years of hard work. Thankfully, he’s going to continue writing, including a piece below today.
“Securities” for the 21st Century
We’ve branded our little corner of the web “Securities” — why?
When I look around the world today, it isn’t hard to get cynical. Right now in Kazakhstan, authoritarian president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has ordered his security forces to “shoot to kill” protesters fighting rising fuel prices and government corruption. The Omicron variant is laying waste to health care systems throughout the United States and across the planet.
Thousands of motorists in Virginia were stranded for more than a day this week on I-95 due to extreme weather, and climate change has wrecked global havoc affecting billions of people. Supply chains remain mired in backlogs, authoritarianism is on the rise, and if tech stocks are any indication the past few weeks, the global financial system seems poised for a crisis of confidence.
The bedrock of innovation — the fundamental kernel that allows all of what we do in startups and entrepreneurship to function — is security.
Health security ensures that founders and innovators have the physical and mental capacity to do their best work. Capitalism and markets function when workers and investors alike have the economic security to take risks and be rewarded on the upside and cushioned on the downside. Defensive technologies ensure that liberal democracies don’t fall flat against rising militaristic totalitarian regimes.
The story of progress we have witnessed the past two centuries thanks to the Enlightenment, capitalism, science and democracy has offered the world an incredible bounty. Yet, that progress feels like it has entered a period of malaise, perhaps even decline.
At Lux, we see the forefront of science and technology every day, and we know the future can continue to witness the progress we have seen over the past decades. New scientific instruments, new therapeutics for disease, better access to space, automation to improve industrial output, complete transformations of agricultural crops and nuclear power plants, instant and accessible mobility — the future has so much wonder in store for us that founders are building as I write.
Yet, the story of progress is entwined with the story of finance — the other half of “securities” and the source of our little double entendre. VCs are too often afraid to go head first into the deepest depths of technology, choosing companies with better sales motions over companies delivering fundamental tech that changes the quality of life of present and future generations.
With “Securities,” my hope is to make the deepest reaches of science and technology accessible and popular to the widest possible audience, everyone from other VCs and founders to policymakers and citizens. It’s about bringing “lux” to bear against the darkness, overcoming the cynicism that is increasingly creeping into our collective meditations.
Sam Arbesman: We need to create and foster new types of scientific organizations
There are many activities that are valuable for science. However, only a small subset of these are actually valued by scientific academia; in other words, there are only certain activities that will get you tenure (certain kinds of research, certain types of scientific publication).
As a result of this, we need to create and foster new types of scientific organizations, ones that make space for a broader set of research activities that are valuable for science, whether it’s allowing for more interdisciplinary science, undertaking longer-term research projects, or building software tools to spur further discovery.
While it’s certainly a good thing that research can be conducted within universities, corporate industry labs, or even within deep tech startups, we must recognize that these are just a few points within a high-dimensional space of potential research institutions. We need to begin exploring this high-dimensional space more deliberately and find new models to allow for the full spectrum of science to occur.
Beginning over a year ago, I began to compile a list of these kinds of new research institutions in the Overedge Catalog (there are also educational institutions included, as well as other “misfit” organizations). And since then, I’ve been delighted to see that there has been an acceleration in the construction of new organizations, from Arc Institute and New Science to Arcadia and Convergent Research .
The institutional models of all of these organizations compiled in the Overedge Catalog, both the new ones as well as the more established ones, are quite varied. Some of these organizations are more traditional in structure or funding style and some are weirder (in the best sense!), some are for-profit and some are non-profit, some are distributed and some have physical spaces, some fund projects and some fund people. But all of these are important attempts that merit following closely.
I liken this work to an evolutionary process, with a Cambrian Explosion currently happening in scientific institutional innovation, with many new attempts being tried and new forms being created.
Which ones will succeed? I have guesses for what might work, but in the end I am reasonably agnostic, and am more invested in this evolutionary process overall. Some will succeed and some will fail, and that’s okay, because we need to begin to explore this high-dimensional space as thoroughly as possible. Only then can we discover new models for how science can be done, new models for institutions to allow the full spectrum of scientifically valuable activities to be accomplished.
- “An Eikon of instrumental progress” by Danny Crichton— one of the big pieces of news out of the Lux portfolio this week was that Eikon received about $518 million in Series B funding to build its live cell imaging technology. The creation of new scientific instruments has often ushered in the largest transitions in science, and this piece looks at their history, the James Webb Space Telescope and more to contextualize why these investments are so important.
- “Finally, patent troll forum shopping may finally be on its way out” by Danny Crichton — one of the major overlooked announcements this week came from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who called for reforms to patent litigation that could increase the rate of startup innovation by lowering the costs of handling patent trolls.
- “Constructing Signposts in the Memescape” by Sam Arbesman. Sam looks at how ideas spread and the power of a pungent phrase to induce additional distribution of smart concepts.
- “Best Articles I Wrote (2021 Edition)” by Danny Crichton — in the department of pure self promotion, before I joined Lux Capital at the end of last year, I was the managing editor at TechCrunch. If you’re curious about what I wrote about in 2021, including U.S.-China trade relations, disastertech, climate change, and more, be sure to read some of my favorites.
That’s it, folks. Have questions, comments, or ideas? This newsletter is sent from my email, so you can just click reply and castigate me.