Marc Andreessen Talks Killer Robots, Unicorns, and The Future of Tech
Few folks on the planet are as recognized for thinking about the future as Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz (a16z)* and one of the world’s most prolific venture capitalists by number of investments. Marc likes to discuss the future. A lot. Tad Friend captured Marc’s forward thinking nature in his mega-profile on Marc in The New Yorker stating, “Andreessen is tomorrow’s advance man, routinely laying out ‘what will happen in the next ten, twenty, thirty years,’ as if he were glancing at his Google calendar.”
At Optimizely, we spend a lot of time thinking about the future too: how we can continue to help our customers turn data into action, and how we can build a great company, and always deliver the best product possible.
So it was fitting for our Co-founder and CEO, Dan Siroker to invite Marc to discuss the future of technology, privacy, and disruption at Opticon, our annual user conference.
It is rare that my tweet dexterity is tested. I am not usually in such a rush to get those 140 characters out in real time, but listening to Marc and Dan chat was one of those times.
Here are the 5 quotes from Marc’s conversation with Dan that really captivated the attention of the audience and gave them a birdseye view of how Marc sees the world evolving.
This quote came up after Dan asked, “Is there going to be a moment where everyone in this room is replaced by a computer?”
While Marc said he believes there are situations where machines can do things better than humans — such as disarming a bomb or in some cases making medical diagnoses — he thinks “tools help us as humans magnify our abilities.” “They [robots] don’t take away from what we can do,” he told the crowd. “They help us do more than we could possibly do before.”
He acknowledged that new technologies (such as killer robots and artificial intelligence) are often scary when they first come out but then become an indispensible part of society.
Take the automobile for instance… When the motor car first came out, the sight of this thing that looked like a mechanical horse moving at 15 miles per hour was so terrifying to people that drivers were required to have people walk hundreds of yards in front of car waving red flags to warn people that the car was coming. All that said, when Marc finds a startup focused on building that killer robot, he promised to let us know.
Dan has always felt that data can help make the world better. “We do believe we’ve built a platform that can help this group do that for their customers,” Dan said. Data helps humans make more informed decisions while unleashing a wave of creativity that can yield amazing results. When Dan asked Marc why he likes optimization, Marc talked about experiences. Marc believes that everything — experiences people have in the workplace to the experiences they have when traveling — can always get a little bit better. Big improvements can come from a whole bunch of incremental gains. This gets to the root of why we’ve announced Optimizely Personalization, our next product designed to help people craft and deliver tailored content and experiences that delight their customers while increasing revenue and customer satisfaction. “You make the experience a little bit better here and a little bit better there and you magnify it out across all these users, all these clicks, all these points of engagement, and everything gets better,” he said.
Marc said that out of all the companies a16z has invested in, Optimizely may be the one with the most leverage to make the whole world better. Wow. Thank you, Marc!
In Marc’s view, this fact is intimately related to the future success of Bitcoin. As he described it, at a time when hackers and other threats run rampant, Bitcoin is “a new technology that basically makes it possible for people to do business online with each other…. in an environment that establishes and maintains trust.” The exponential spread of smartphones globally and the use of Bitcoin up-levels the capabilities people have in many countries to do business with each other in a way that establishes and maintains trust, which Marc believes is a key reason why adoption rates of Bitcoin are extremely high in Africa, southeast Asia, and Latin America.
But he said people in the U.S. don’t necessarily realize the immediate need for Bitcoin because we have systems that work. “In the U.S., for example, they look at it and they go, ‘Why would I use Bitcoin if I could do a credit card transaction with Visa?’
After the thorough discussion on virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and Bitcoin, Dan asked Marc to give the audience practical advice on how to relate these technologies to their day-to-day business.
Marc called on our uniquely human ability to think creatively and imagine what these ideas might look like when applied to our businesses and everyday lives. What would the virtual reality experience of a car dealership look like? What if you could attend a class at a top research university while sitting in your home out in the middle of nowhere? Or experience a basketball game like you’re sitting court side?
“For every single kind of human experience, there are going to be these new options that people are going to have with this technology that they’ve never had before,” Marc said about virtual reality. In a nutshell, Marc argued that virtual reality makes impossible experiences possible. And, as Marc put it, “I think it’s going to be amazing. I think a lot of people’s lives are going to be made a lot better.”
He emphasized the need for experimentation and incremental improvements. “It’s easy for me to sit up here and say that this stuff is going to sweep the world in the next twelve months. It may happen fast, it may happen slow,” Marc said. “And so being able to run experiments, being able to trial things, being able to make small bets instead of making large bets, and being able to learn as you go is incredibly important.”
For the record, Marc is not a huge fan of the term “unicorn,” which refers to a private tech company that is valued at more than a billion dollars. But this quote came up during his conversation about a report Andreessen Horowitz recently released that examines the flow of money into tech and the outcomes in terms of the number of new companies out there and how valuable they are in total. The a16z team put this deck together to analyze whether the world has gone crazy with outrageous valuations, or, whether the flow of money into tech is more normal than people think. What they’ve found is that companies are staying private much longer today than they used to. Late stage financing rounds are becoming substitutes for IPOs. “In the old days, Uber would be public today, and Lyft would be public, and Airbnb would be public, and all these companies would be public,” he said. Their research shows that if you adjust for the IPOs that are not happening, then it’s almost a flat amount of money actually flowing into tech. Interested in the full conversation? Watch the video recording or listen to the podcast. If you were you part of the crowd at Opticon 2015, what struck you about the conversation?