“The time is right to build an investment firm based on the conviction that the greatest value creation will be driven by companies that are necessarily interconnected with improving the human and planetary condition.” - Sofia Hmich, Future Positive Capital
Deep Tech, Progress and Solving Problems
Progress is defined as the advancement of humanity to a further or higher stage, inclusive of growth and development, applied especially to manifestations of social and economic change or reform. Technological advances in combination with open markets have improved people’s standard of living, increased leisure time, helped reduce poverty, and lead to a greater variety of products, as explored by Matt Ridley in his book, The Rational Optimist.
Solving problems sometimes create new problems. If there is anything that history of progress teaches us, it is not to turn a blind eye to the impact of technological advances. The tools and institutions will continue to evolve. Their promises will be overstated and consequences understated. Any reward comes with associated risks. Here is a look at technologies in the past and their associated rate of progress:
The first true shift through technological changes came in the form of agriculture which marked the first instances of a more permanent, settled lifestyle that guaranteed shelter and food, a sign of progress. For centuries, very little changed until the middle ages when humans learned to selectively cross-breed plants and animals for optimal quality.
This era was the first time humans transitioned from a static world to a dynamic one with the invention of tools and create the means of understanding of how things work. Compared to the previous 100,000 years of the near absence of progress, the following 10,000 years - although sufficiently long by any modern standard - showed a multi-fold increase in progress.
This enabled higher productivity and with the advent of modern farming tools, the requirement of fewer workers, better soil replenishment, and the introduction of livestock solutions meant a shift of human resources from agricultural work to urban industries.
While this eventually led to an increase in the production of material goods and prosperity, there was little to no check on unsustainable and unethical methods introduced in factory farming. These include exorbitant resource consumptions, uncontrolled pollution, inhumane practices, and microbial diseases.
- Fossil fuels
Fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and natural gas, were formed as a result of geologic processes made from the remains of organic matter made of carbon around 3-4 billion years ago. When combined with air or oxygen, they produce heat while releasing gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, etc. into the atmosphere. The heat produced could drive machines and this built the foundation for rapid growth during the industrial revolution. Construction of roads and railways meant more exchange of goods and an open market provided more opportunities for innovation.
These innovations led to increased prosperity, comfort, and leisure time. And all these came at a cost, a rapid increase in global warming and climate change.
The era of the scientific revolution, renaissance or what David Deutsch calls Enlightenment, somewhere around the 16th and 17th century saw the true implications and potential of human knowledge. While the knowledge might have not been completely true or impactful in a positive manner, the leap in progress made by humans over the last 300-400 years is undeniable.
The information era fueled by the internet has indeed connected the world and driven large chunks of the recent economy that is transitioning to a digital world. The software revolution enabled tech companies to make a technological leap - finding clever ways to re-organize people and resources. And in turn, we have moved away from ownership towards access economy - owning cars to renting cabs to uber; owning music players to mp3 downloads to Spotify; owning DVDs to TV subscription to Netflix.
If anything, the world is more connected than ever and it has never been easier to transfer ideas as well as resources. This has exponentially increased our global knowledge over the last 50-60 years.
But the promises of the internet to be transparent and devoid of corruption as well as control have gone down the drain. Concerns about data privacy, misinformation, the effects of social media on mental health, the ease of social mob attacks, and the widening polarization have been on the rise.
Role of other institutions and Networks in progress
Needless to say, there were other players that helped shape the world as it is today. Institutions and networks such as democracy, capitalism and the internet, which supported the free market and technological innovation promised a brighter future and delivered on some of their promises which created progress. Even though these institutions enabled partial fulfilment of their goals, they also drove unintended consequences such as inequality, corruption, and climate change. These institutions definitely aren't the best but they have been better than the rest we have explored so far.
Solving Problems using deep tech
The present, for all of its imperfections, is a vastly progressive place compared to the past. The solution to the challenges we face in terms of growing inequality or climate change is neither stopping economic growth nor giving up on progress to lead a minimalistic life. Stopping the economic engine would hinder our capacity to both achieve sustainable development goals and push the frontiers of human exploration. The answer lies in finding alternate solutions that can address the current challenges while creating more prosperity for humanity as a whole.
“It is inevitable that we face problems but no particular problem is inevitable we survive and thrive by solving each problem as it comes up, and since the human ability to transform nature is limited only by the laws of physics none of the endless streams of problems will ever constitute an impassable barrier.” - David Deutsch
The theory of evolution by natural selection is defined as the changes that allow an organism to better adapt to its environment to ensure the survival of the species. What was merely a natural selection is now a choice for human beings. A choice that demands to be made to create a sustainable future. The decisions of the past have made us borrow time from our future descendants. The decisions of the 21st century should aim to invest in and create enterprises that solve humanity’s greatest challenges.
Solving complex global challenges requires radical innovations and the world today has a number of visionaries who have taken up the mantle to use new innovations to help solve these challenges. Deep tech is where seismic shifts in technology will come from, providing alternate solutions that drive progress while being sustainable and efficient. A new wave of innovations in deep technology is on the rise - advances in artificial intelligence, blockchain, quantum computing, robotics, synthetic biology, etc.
As discussed before, technology has always been about finding efficient solutions. It is imperative that technology won't be a one-stop solution for all problems. Utopian idealism will never be achieved but accelerating progress while solving the current pressing problems is necessary and deep technologies, combined with the right regulations and supportive ecosystems in place, can drive that change.
Most deep tech companies are inherently focused on either solving problems or advancing tech infrastructure, according to the report by Atomico. They do so by fostering disruptive innovations and sustainable economic growth.
These innovations will help push the boundaries of what is possible and help solve challenges - such as tackling climate change, fighting against physical and mental health epidemics, feeding the world in a sustainable way - as well as advance human civilization - through colonizing space, integrating humans and machines in a mutually constructive way and building technologies that will take us one step closer to help our understanding of this universe.
Based on genuine scientific advances, combined with long term research and ‘depth’ of expertise they’re built on, we believe, deep technology for solving problems and progress will go hand in hand. Having said that, even deep technologies are bound to have negative impacts that will be hard to predict, namely in the fields of Synthetic Biology and Artificial Intelligence. From automation taking away jobs to lab-created biological threats, these applications could have large scale implications.
Technology will remain a two-faced sword and only the future will tell us if we are ambitious while cautious. Let’s hope we will be on the right side of evolution. Problems are inevitable with progress but lack of progress is bound to leave us completely unprepared for future problems that could wreck civilization.
And we won’t say goodbye until we’ve thrown away our recommendations. We hope somebody out there is making use of it. We hope SETI does find someone for us.
- Book: The Rational Optimist - We have no clear idea why Matt Ridley chose this particular title but this book illustrates the progress that we have been making as one global civilization. An author who is vehemently hated by both climate change sceptics and climate change doomsayers, he describes how prosperity comes from everybody working for everybody else, the art of trade and distribution of work. It certainly is one of our top books even if we don’t agree entirely with him on quite a few of his topics.
- Deep Tech Ecosystem: Future Positive Capital- Hands down, one of our favourite deep tech ecosystem players. We absolutely fell in love with their thesis. A VC firm exclusively that invests in companies that use advanced technologies — novel technologies that offer significant advances over those currently in use — to solve massive global needs at the seed and Series A stage across Europe. They work and invest at the intersection of values embodied in business, society, science and humans.
- Deep Tech Startup: Circularise - One of the drawbacks of the modern-day world of abundance is the complexity involved in tracking the end-to-end impact of every product that caters to an individual’s use. The lack of transparency in the entire supply chain from how the product is sourced to where the product ends up after use makes it difficult for an individual to make conscious and positive choices in the wider framework of sustainability. Circularise aims to circularize the economy by bringing wider transparency to the global supply chain by enabling brands, suppliers and manufacturers to provide end-to-end information about products over an open-source protocol and decentralized network.
- Random Recommendation: Ben Howard - Totally off track but if you want to listen to a true magician in the world of music, Highly recommend him. Such depth in lyrics and voice, it is hard to find another soul who moves us so much. To each his/her taste and we definitely don’t claim he will be universally loved but to the ones he does touch, his music is soothing and ethereal.