Hi! In case you are new around here, I am Om. If you are new around here, here is something About Me and why you should read my newsletter. In this letter, I share what’s on my mind, my latest writings, articles worth reading from around the web, my recommendations & sometimes my photography. It’s mostly about technology and how it impacts our present future.
In this issue, I address the following:
- What I have been up to: Ai, Ai, Ai
- What I am thinking about: The Death of a bank
- Worth Reading: 5 good reads
“It’s easy for someone who’s lived in Silicon Valley for 15 years to forget that the seamless experience they have when they pull out their phone to message a friend is not universal. Not everyone has their own personal phone that they upgrade every two years or an unlimited data plan; nor does everyone have access to reliable wifi or a speedy network connection.”Signal Blog!
What I have been up to:
For the past few weeks, I have immersed myself in various generative AI tools. It has been a while since I have woken up and been excited about what every new day will bring. There are so many tools and apps to try. And new things to learn. We may have a long way to go — ChatGPT is spectacularly wrong about my bio — but still, this feeling of something new is afoot is like a jolt of energy after taking a sip of an ultra-strong coffee. Again, don’t get me wrong — this phase of “AI” comes with all sorts of risks. However, there is no need to avoid it or not understand it.
Wayne Shorter & Herbie Hancock, in an open letter to the next generation of artists, extoll them to think differently and think anew.
The world needs new pathways. Don’t allow yourself to be hijacked by common rhetoric, or false beliefs and illusions about how life should be lived. It’s up to you to be the pioneers. Whether through the exploration of new sounds, rhythms, and harmonies or unexpected collaborations, processes and experiences, we encourage you to dispel repetition in all of its negative forms and consequences. Strive to create new actions both musically and with the pathway of your life. Never conform.
As we accumulate years, parts of our imagination tend to dull. Whether from sadness, prolonged struggle, or social conditioning, somewhere along the way people forget how to tap into the inherent magic that exists within our minds. Don’t let that part of your imagination fade away. All that exists is a product of someone’s imagination; treasure and nurture yours and you’ll always find yourself on the precipice of discovery.
The reactions to these tools are either of amazement, and wonder. Or those of fear and doom. It is hard not to appreciate both points of view — after all, we must confront the idea of something so new that we might be forced to adapt and reinvent ourselves or be left behind. As someone who lives at the end of technology and creative arts, I can’t help but feel excited at the prospect of trying to reinvent myself for this new future. As an older person, I find these new tools are challenging my brain and sending synapses in a different part of my brain, making me wonder — what I can do with this.
As a photographer, I can’t help but see something like Stable Diffusion, Dalle 2, Microsoft Designer, or MidJourney as spiritual descendants to Thomas and John Knoll’s 1987 experiment that eventually became the media manipulation and creative tool behemoth that it is today, Photoshop.
My early experience with these new tools (for the lack of a better description) has me convinced that they will help foster new art forms, more digital, for a future where we consume media and information through a mixed reality layer. And even today’s tools will benefit from this group of technologies we have labeled “ai.”
What I am thinking about:
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there was only one topic that dominated my thinking over the past week or so — Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and its eventual collapse. There has been a lot of Monday Morning quarterbacking about the collapse, its long-term impact, and how it changes Silicon Valley. For me, the reaction has been emotional. I had worked with folks from SVB, first when I was a founder, later as an investor, and now as an individual. My first interaction with SVB was back in 1992. This long multidimensional relationship made it clear that it was more than just a bank. Of course, that status as a local bank has now exposed them to ridicule.
To recap: SVB Financial, the company that owned SVB, the 16th largest bank in the US with almost $200 billion in assets, failed last week. SVB had been a beneficiary of the recent boom in the tech industry. SVB’s deposit balances tripled to $198 billion. The bank invested most of the deposits in low-yielding instruments, befitting the low-interest reality of the post-pandemic economy. When the interest rates went up, the value of SVB’s securities declined. The cooling tech economy and declining venture investments didn’t help. New deposits started to dry up. A series of events led to an eventual bank run, further exaggerated by social media. FDIC ultimately seized SVB, causing confusion and panic among the bank’s deposit customers.
The lack of clarity allowed fear and rumors to create even more dread among investors, startup founders, and others in the Silicon Valley ecosystem. As I noted on the blog, it added to a very tough weekend — perhaps the toughest I have experienced in my three decades in the technology industry. The bank’s failure also exposed Silicon Valley to the harsh reality: the larger world hates the tech industry and what it represents. The outsized nature of the success, matched by the outsized bravado and machismo of its fake prophets, has eroded all goodwill for one of the most critical sectors of the US economy.
Here is what I wrote on my blog:
“Whether politicians and media like it or not, the technology sector is one of the few engines of growth that we have in the US,The long-term war with our new geopolitical rivals will continue to be fought on the technology front. A disruption in the innovation ecosystem means a setback whose impact will be felt over the long term. I can understand that the general population, populist politicians, and media have faint regard for Uber-rich tech giants, blowhard billionaires, and the lack of empathy and morality in emergent technologies — but that’s missing the forest for the trees.”
Eventually, the help arrived. In days to come, when I am less emotional, I will write my postmortem and what we need to do. First, we must stop the loud few hijacking and become the face of technology. I have been critical of loud and shrill voices on social media, which have caused long-term damage with their selfish rantings. As I told NBC News’ Dave Ingram, “There are certain voices on social media that are loud and shrill, and they don’t speak for tech. All of the actual problems that we experienced over the weekend as a community were taken care of by people who were not on Twitter.”
Things are returning to normalcy. But things will never be the same again. “Before SVB sprang to life, it was difficult, if not impossible, for a startup to secure a relationship with a large, established bank,” Michael Moritz, a partner at Sequoia VC who counts Google as one of its investments, wrote in The Financial Times.
The startup ecosystem is already feeling the loss of SVB. The bank had built institutional knowledge to understand startups, the risks involved in being a venture-backed company, and the needs of a startup. The bulge bracket banks will likely step in to provide banking services, but they won’t have the same service, intimacy, or understanding of their clients. As Moritz noted, we are again putting the fates of thousands of small technology companies and the vitality of the startup economy back in the hands of strangers.
Here is my article for The Spectator, reinforcing the importance of the bank, and why we needed the Fed to help the depositors.
On Big Technology Podcast:
The fallout of Silicon Valley Bank’s failure — a conversation with Alex Kantrowitz, Chris Tolles, and me
- AI is not your friend: Ewen Bell writes that the lines between photography and digital art are blurring more and more. (Also, how to get the most out of Stable Diffusion.)
- AI is going to cause a textpocalypse. Or will it?
- 3D printing is changing everything. And I mean everything.
- Do you know why we need to be post-Google? Here is why
- The Global Fallout of SVB’s Failure.
- Check out The Misalignment Museum in San Francisco, a museum dedicated to future dystopia. (Wired had nice things to say about it.)
- I recommend this small outpost called Alaska Sausage and Seafood if you want some fantastic Alaskan salmon. I brought some smoked salmon home.
Kottke, one of the more interesting blogs, is now 25 years old.
My photography: I would love for you to check out my latest photographs.
- Streaks of gold: Images from a visit to Utah in winter
- San Francisco is brooding
PS: Some of these photos are available for sale as prints. Drop me a line if you are interested in adding them to your living space.
March 16, 2023. San Francisco