When it comes to handling China, it’s about principles over profits
This week, Lux co-founder and managing partner Josh Wolfe testified in front of the Select Committee on the CCP chaired by Wisconsin congressman Mike Gallagher. Josh’s message was direct and summarized during one exchange:
Well imagine in a year, or two, or five that there is a cure for Alzheimer’s. Everybody would be giving it to their mother, etc. But what if we found out that was tested on a million Uyghurs? What would be the morality of that? And I think that it’s really important that we compete.
When I grew up, I grew up in a Jewish household, and I had two words that I heard all the time: “Never Again.” It is happening again, and as people have said, “Indifference to injustice is the gate to hell,” we should not be indifferent about the human rights abuses that are happening there [in China]. We should have more competitive science here, we should fund it, and we should allow the private market to commercialize it.
While Congress has often been lambasted by commentators for its lack of awareness of technological issues, the committee showed deep bipartisan engagement across a range of challenging technological and strategic issues that have strained U.S.-China relations to the breaking point. It was heartening to see.
Chairman Gallagher, Ranking Member Krishnamoorthi, and distinguished members of the Select Committee:
Thank you for inviting me to testify about the importance of U.S. leadership in critical and emerging technologies.
My name is Josh Wolfe, co-founder and managing director of Lux Capital, a $5 billion venture fund with offices in Silicon Valley and New York City.
I was raised in Coney Island, Brooklyn, by a single, public school teacher mother, amidst towering public housing, with a dream to be one day amidst the towering intellects of scientists and investors who showed that American science and entrepreneurship can be a force for good in the world.
Today, I have the tremendous privilege, alongside my Lux partners, to identify dreamers who are turning science fiction into science fact—critical emerging technologies from artificial intelligence and autonomous systems to Nobel Prize-winning biomedical research, aerospace, and semiconductors.
The hundreds of entrepreneurs we have funded are inventing at America’s technological frontier, turning the impossible into the inevitable.
Lux invests with purpose:
To secure our life and environment;
To supercharge productivity;
To enable creativity and free expression;
And to reduce human suffering and advance human health.
America’s open scientific culture and free speech is at our core.
We invest in matter that matters, and we don’t put profit over principles.
Cultures get what they celebrate.
And if we are to celebrate American entrepreneurs at the cutting edge, Congress must support long-horizon science, help bridge the world’s genius to America and vice versa, and defend America’s values from foreign interference.
None of Lux’s companies would exist without decades of foundational work by scientists exploring the vast unknowns beyond the current limits of human knowledge.
Unfortunately, researchers who are dedicated to extending those limits face debilitating competition for limited NIH grants; short-term funding for defense programs; musical chairs of leadership; scrambled reporting lines; and expiring congressional authorities.
To compete with the CCP, we must remain united in our shared pursuit of scientific and technological development to lead the globe in discovery and in influence.
We must show the CCP – and the whole world – that our diverse voices come together stronger than any authoritarian regime and our individual pioneers can propel us faster and further than any centralized plan.
America must commit to advancing scientific progress and its commercialization by upgrading current funding institutions and building new ones that cultivate long-term horizons of excellence.
America can and must do more to give our scientists the freedom they desperately need to consider the hardest questions — and answer them.
The American Dream is our greatest asset in the global competitive landscape, and we must continue our tradition of seeking and attracting ambitious individuals from everywhere.
Many of Lux’s brightest contributors are immigrants, from Vietnam, Pakistan, India, Israel, and yes, even China.
With intention, America should be attracting defectors and accelerating China’s brain drain to our national benefit by welcoming the best talent on the planet to the U.S.
Talent – human capital – like financial capital, goes where it is welcome and stays where it is well treated.
We must continue to welcome the best talent on the planet to the U.S.
America’s technological advantage is also strengthened through collaboration with our allies and should be vigilantly guarded from our adversaries.
While the CCP’s Belt and Road Initiative seeks to entice the developing world through centralized planning, simultaneously spreading its surveillance and control with callous disregard for human and property rights, America must seize the opportunity to offer a free and democratic alternative by exporting US ingenuity with talent from anywhere.
Through thoughtful engagement and sustained investments abroad, the US can provide a clear choice for nations in search of a more prosperous future.
We cannot afford to retreat from the world. Our country and our scientific prowess would suffer for it.
America’s greatest strength is the ability to speak freely, associate widely, and connect spiritually with others without legal restraint.
Political disagreements are necessary in a free democracy, but we can all agree that there is no place for foreign interference in our universities, scientific institutions, companies, economy, and political systems.
The CCP is working to attract American scientists through its Thousand Talents program, hacking America’s most innovative companies, and stealing our discoveries and know-how while punishing dissidents within and beyond its borders.
In contrast, our values — open ideas, unfettered markets, and fair competition — ensure that the best inventions win and America stays ahead.
Even as I speak, America’s scientific entrepreneurs are inventing a future that Lux finances every single day.
I also believe that failure comes from a failure to imagine failure.
To avoid failure, we need long-term scientific funding, contributions from the world’s most talented minds yearning for freedom, and well-resourced programs to share American values across the globe.
By doing those things, we will illustrate the clear contrast between a world led by the US and a world ruled by the CCP.
When I was growing up in Coney Island I could never imagine the honor of testifying before you and the American people today.
It is a privilege to engage in free and thoughtful discourse about the future of American progress.
Thank you, I look forward to your questions.
No comment on room temperature superconductors
The hot (well, lukewarm) debate in scientific circles this week was absolutely the publication of “The First Room-Temperature Ambient-Pressure Superconductor,” a working paper on Arxiv purporting to show the invention of what it says in the title. Superconductors could revolutionize the speed of computing (along with many other applications), but today they require extremely cold temperatures approaching absolute zero, which makes them impractical. A superconductor functioning at room temperature would transform society.
Huge debates and a history of similar papers being retracted has left scientists dubious but nonetheless curious about the published results. Replication is underway by many groups, and the scientific truth here — one way or the other — will emerge in the coming weeks.
Why Less can be More in AI
If credulity was sparse on superconductors, our Lux summer associate Siddharth Sharma has been researching and hacking on sparse large-language AI models the past few weeks. Unlike the extraordinarily intensive computational models that have driven the discussion around generative AI the past few months, sparse models are designed to aggressively prune neural network connections to make them cheaper to compute while maintaining their quality.
Researchers of sparse models are taking their cues from the human brain, where we have billions and billions of neural connections which are constantly being snipped to increase cognitive performance and save energy. As researchers push AI models onto resource-constrained devices like smartphones, the ability to create more efficient neural networks will increasingly be a dividing line between consumer-ready AI and everyone else.
Siddharth wrote up a history of sparsity mathematics and what the future holds for applying these techniques to artificial intelligence. Definitely check it out.
Podcast: The Science of Survival: Adapting Human Life for Other Planets
This episode is one of my absolute favorites we’ve ever produced.
When people think about humans heading to outer space, most people think about spacesuits and the life-support systems required to sustain our conscious in the vacuums of the ether. For Christopher Mason, a geneticist and computational biologist who has been a principal investigator of 11 NASA missions and projects, he flips that equation around: what if we could engineer humans for survivability first?
In this week’s “Securities” podcast, I sit down with Chris as well as our own Josh Wolfe to discuss how we could adapt our microbiomes for living in space, how to use gene editing to auto-synethsize Vitamin C in our bodies, and how we could adapt our bodies to cope with the rigors of the farthest regions, from changes to our circadian rhythms to how to handle space’s lack of gravity.
- Frequent guest on the “Securities” podcast Eliot Peper’s thrilling new novel, Foundry, is coming soon and it’s a blast of intense geopolitical intrigue centered around semiconductor chips. Snag a copy – I’ve already got mine.
- Friend of the “Securities” newsletter Guy Perelmuter of GRIDS Capital recommended to me the novel “Calculating God” by Robert J. Sawyer. In Guy’s words, “An alien walks into Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum and asks to see a paleontologist (no, that’s not the beginning of a joke). The protagonist learns that many worlds experienced the same five great mass extinction events as Earth did, and that the aliens believe this proves God tampers with the evolution of life.” Amazing.
- Clearly some themes are circulating the Lux offices: Peter Hébert recommends Business Insider’s look at the defense industry in "The US and China are gearing up for war — and America isn't ready.” “‘Deciding that chips, batteries, critical minerals, pharmaceuticals matter is easy,’ [William Alan Reinsch] said. ‘What about autos? Does our national security depend on the US being able to make enough cars to meet domestic demand? What about eyeglasses? Toasters? Where you draw the line matters.’”
- Grace Isford recommends a classic HBR article, "The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs.” “‘We made the iPod for ourselves,’ he said, ‘and when you’re doing something for yourself, or your best friend or family, you’re not going to cheese out.’”
- Our scientist-in-residence Sam Arbesman recommends Geoffrey Litt’s project on building graphical interfaces through ChatGPT. “A key point is that making this personal GUI is only worth it because GPT also lowers the cost of making and iterating on the GUI! Even though I’m a programmer, I wouldn’t have made this tool without LLM support. It’s not only the time savings, it’s also the fact that I don’t need to turn on my ‘programmer brain’ to make these tools; I can think at a higher level and let the LLM handle the details.”
- Our summer associate Sarah Pines highlights news that the Biden administration proposes new rules to push insurance companies to broaden mental health coverage.
- Finally, our summer associate Ken Bui recommends Ray Khan’s piece in War on the Rocks on "Charting the Military’s Path Across the Technology Valley of Death Using Bar Napkin Math.” “This article might be sobering for a business trying to break into working with the Defense Department. Only a minimal number of new technologies will attain successfully fielded status along with the ultimate reward of a long-term procurement and sustainment contract.”
That’s it, folks. Have questions, comments, or ideas? This newsletter is sent from my email, so you can just click reply.