Announcing: ODX

a $100M+ Community-Backed Accelerator by On Deck

Editor’s note: Hey everybody. We just launched something today. It’s basically what we’ve been building up to for the last 5 years, and I wanted to share the news with you. Lest you think this is now just a blog about On Deck, I’ll have you know that my next post is about an economic theory known as Market Monetarism.


Announcing: ODX — a $100M+ Community-Backed Accelerator by On Deck.

On Deck’s mission is to expand the global startup economy. We help people start and scale companies, get impactful jobs at companies, and invest in their careers.

We believe:

Humanity primarily progresses through technology. 

Great technology companies all start out as startups.

But most startups have partially or poorly formed founding teams, and many more never even get off the start line because their founders didn’t have the capital, the access to early customers or collaborators, the community behind them to take the leap. The opportunity cost of this wasted human potential is a trillion-dollar drain on society.

That’s why On Deck is excited to announce ODX — a $100M+ community-backed fund to accelerate the next wave of global founders.

Here’s how it works:

We’re taking everything that makes On Deck such an impactful place to start your founding journey, and adding capital, structured support, and more resources.

Capital comes in two forms:

  • The ODX accelerator — customized for every founder’s unique journey, we invest $125k for 7% and set each team up with a dedicated Build Partner to help them build a plan, stay accountable, and navigate the On Deck network over the course of the program.

  • Runway Grants — up to $25k available over 3-6 months for “explorers” who are participating in our flagship “ODF” program, to provide additional support—personal runway—while building conviction around an idea.

With today’s announcements we are putting capital at the center of our community, allowing hundreds—and soon thousands of On Deck Community members to invest, put some skin in the game—to help us expand the global startup economy.

ODX: $125,000 and our network to hire, fundraise and scale

Founders need more than just capital: they require customers to partner with, world-class talent to enlist in their journey, advice from operators who’ve done it before, and much more. 

Traditional VCs start with capital, and then try to build networks on top. 

On Deck is different. We started with networks. Since 2016 we’ve been building the best founder-focused community in the world. Over the past two years we’ve built a network of programs where the most talented people in tech go to start, scale or join companies, or invest in their careers among a cohort of their peers.

Now you can tap into all of it to fundraise, hire and scale.

At On Deck, we don't just have a Talent partner, we have thousands of operators you can connect with via our Talent Marketplace, or pitch to in our weekly Talent Demo Day, where companies like Spora are already making key hires.

Similarly, if you’re looking to raise the next round of funding, you won’t just have a Fundraising partner who helps you build slides for Demo Day — instead, you’ll have continual access to some of the world's best angels and investors via programs like On Deck Angels, and ODVC.

Same thing with distribution. So many now can build great software products, worldwide. What's elusive & scarce today is getting that initial network of connected early-adopters to commit to a product. AcrossOn Deck you’ll find advisors, early users and customers — many of whom will already have some skin in the game with your success, via their investments in the ODX community fund.

Hari Raghavan, founder of AbstractOps and former COO at Forge, explained this way:

I’ve hired 5+ employees (including execs), raised from 20+ investors, found 10+ customers, met 200+ awesome people, and made many dear friends through the On Deck community over the last two years.

But don’t just take Hari’s word for it, view 50+ testimonials.

A community that has your back

Back in the 90's and early 2000's, capital and credentials were bottlenecks to starting a technology company. Anyone can start up... so long as you can get an MBA and $10M from Sand Hill Road.

In the mid 2000s, that all changed. With the rise of AWS & open source software, the cost to spin up new software products plummeted. Now, anyone can start up... so long as you can code. Engineering skills became the new scarcity.

Today, it's never been easier to get started. Knowledge & content are ubiquitous. No-code tools and dev infrastructure are powerful. Sprawling social networks help you discover and serve niche audiences. Anyone can start a tech co, anywhere in the world.

But the scarcity has shifted, again.  

Today, what’s hardest is cutting through the noise—to find the right co-founder, get your product in the hands of early users, hiring the right early team. The #1 enemy of any aspiring founder is obscurity. Community is the new scarcity.

The highest-leverage thing you can do as a founder is surround yourself with a community of people who will be early collaborators, possible customers, and care enough to give you raw, real feedback.

ODX is a community fund – by virtue of being funded by hundreds of world-class founders, operators and investors all incentivized to support ODX companies, you can now build with a community at your back.

You will get not only the capital you need to start a company, but the support of thousands of investors, potential co-founders, early users, and customers who are all invested in your success.

Want to invest? The spirit of building shoulder to shoulder is at the heart of the community, and is something we want to strengthen. That’s why we are now allowing anyone, anywhere, the ability to request an allocation to invest alongside On Deck at our terms, backing ODX companies and participating in their success.

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The world needs more founders – start a startup with ODX.

Until next time,

Erik

On Solitude

Note: I am releasing myself from the obligation to write weekly. I will publish more sporadically now, perhaps with breaks in between. I will be putting more time towards my team-oriented pursuits, so it’s fitting that I close this phase of weekly posting with a post about solitude. Writing this newsletter has been rewarding for me. Thank you for reading.


Over 15 years ago, I took my first device-free, silent, solitude experience. 15 years and 100s of “solos” later, I can say the following with confidence: If I could give any bit of advice to my younger self, it would be to spend one or two Saturdays a month in device-free solitude (keywords: “device-free” and “solitude”).

Backstory: In college, I took an 8 week study abroad trip to Maine (no phone or computer) and channeling our inner Thoreau, we all took what we called “Solos” — a weekend without talking to any people or, of course, using any devices.

When I first began my solo, I remember being restless, playing with branches, kicking leaves — I was bored. I was hungry. I wanted to come back to mainland. Then, two hours later, I experienced my first solitude high — a feeling I’d seek out for the rest of my life.

It came out of nowhere. I was journaling, and suddenly, I came up with a nice thing to say to someone. Then another. And another. I couldn’t stop. One was an apology. Another was a note of gratitude, far overdue. I started fiercely writing letters, with a clarity of spirit that I hadn’t felt before. I also started to untangle the knots in my head and my heart. with my parents. A friend I didn’t talk to anymore. 

I began to cultivate what John Keats calls negative capability — when a man is capable of being in uncertainties & doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.

I have always been happier when I have kept my solitude practice regularly. I have improved my relationships, come up with my best ideas, and generally acted with more integrity when I have taken time for myself.

Although it can seem daunting to “waste” a day—the time you save in having less fights, less stress, and less bullshit is priceless.

It’s the strangest thing: When I am alone for extended periods of time, I feel closer to others. When I am offline, away from devices, I feel like I am connected to something bigger than myself. 

Paradoxically, solitude begets solidarity. 

“Labor is a craft, but perfect rest is an art.”

OK. So what do I do during the “solo”? Literally nothing. During the week I am held hostage by inputs: Texts. Notifications. Podcasts. No moment goes un-utilized. On sabbath, no inputs. No podcasts while eating. No checking my phone during down time. No people. No conversations. 

Nothing.

At first, it’s really f-ing boring. It reminds me of David Foster Wallace’s book on boredom (“The Pale King”), where he describes the accountant lifestyle just to give you a sense of what boredom truly is, and it bores you in the process of reading it. I’m bored just thinking about it.

But then the thoughts come. At first they’re mundane: Did I get back to this person. Respond to that email. Overthinking a (unnecessary) comeback to some small thing someone said months ago. Then the ideas come. Compliments (& apologies) you should give people. Ideas for hangouts. Lists of things I should start or stop doing. 

And then the questions come: Why am I still friends with this person? Why am I not in touch with this other person? Do I still want to work or live in the same place? What are the important but not urgent things in my life that, if I did more of, would make me significantly happier? How can I act with more integrity?

Overtime, you untie the mental knots that keep popping up. Tensions you have with people. Limiting beliefs you have about yourself. Other bottlenecks that are preventing you from connecting with yourself, and thus, other people. Then the feelings come. Regret at mistakes you made. Anger. Pain. Sadness. You haven’t felt actual feelings in so long. Some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only solitude can help you find them again.

You emerge with more sympathy, because you can now separate observations & judgments Maybe when he said that hurtful thing he was going through something of his own, you reflect. You forgive. Hearts & minds are reclaimed during solitude. Perspective shifts—they happen here. So does healing. 

You become more compassionate, untethered, and proactive: How can you be a better friend to her, better partner to him, better colleague to them? You ask these questions, brainstorm solutions, and then enact processes to operationalize the solutions

The process takes time. The thoughts are sporadic and are surface level before going deeper. It’s as if you’re hacking at a tree, several trees at a time. Whack-a-mole. With enough hacks, you get at the root. Normally, an input blocks a deeper hack. But with silence, you hack away…

Or maybe it’s like fishing. Just wait. You’ll catch the Good Thoughts—the ideas, feelings, the paradigm shifts. Or, more accurately, they’ll catch you.

Sometimes you will lie there for hours. Other times you will be seized with a desire to write something down. You trust the process. With enough time, Your mind reconfigures your thoughts, like a Rubik’s Cube solving itself. Or puzzle pieces. Or Tetris.  Sometimes it's painful. You sit with this harrowing memory. It hurts. It’s hot.

Your heart becomes like Wolverine’s body — the wounds heal themselves, if you let them. “Time heals all wounds”, they say, but they forget to say that it’s the right kind of time--solitude.

Normally when my brain is about to go deeper, it gets distracted. One notification here, one “like” there. Alone, there’s nowhere to run to. You have to face your thoughts. Some are pleasant, some are sad. They flit by. You bide your time, until the cycle begins again. Like clockwork.

You’re like - “How can I uplevel myself—what if I had a virtual assistant?”

Or OH—Remember the idea of spaced repetition? Maybe you should do that

Or OH—why don’t you hang with college friends anymore? You should plan a retreat.

Or OH—it’s your friend’s birthday! You should plan a surprise.

I have to admit—the whole thing sounds random. It feels random. If someone looks at you, it sure as hell looks random

It’s not even meditating. It’s just sitting there. Zoning the fuck out. Sometimes I meditate. Other times I fall asleep. 100% not judging the process.

Not judging the process is key. I try to do it weekly - but realistically it’s like every 2/3 weeks for me. Sometimes it’s one day. Other times, it’s 3. I try to alternate between sabbath and weekend trips/experiences.

Unlike meditation retreats (which are great & serve different purposes), I don’t focus on the mind. I just let it wander. Unlike religious sabbath, not strict or historical, although the fact that people have sought solitude for thousands of years is another indicator of its importance

The only rules are *no phone* and no*people*. Do I follow these rules? No. I end up checking my phone a couple times. I remember I was on a 3-day self-imposed meditation but I needed to know whether Kawhi Leonard had gotten traded. (He had.) But that’s OK. The fact that my device is off for most of it is what matters. Also like meditation, the key is to not to judge yourself during the process. 

One interesting side effect is that it makes you conscious of what you put in your mind. A conflict can drive you crazy.  A passive aggressive remark can eat at you. Even a simple song could get stuck in your head.

Want new ideas? Spend one full day alone doing nothing. Want to be more in touch with yourself? Spend one full day alone doing nothing. Want to have greater appreciation and connection with others? Spend one full day doing nothing.

Don’t think it’s worth a full day? Spend two days.

Of course, if you have kids or other responsibilities, device-free solitude may be impossible. Like any retreat in general, It’s a privileged thing to be able to do it, and if you're unable, maybe take little bouts of deliberate solitude when one can.

When do you know you’ve had a good “solo”? When you’re hungry to see people again.

Hence another paradox of solitude : the problems that solitude can help you overcome often make it hard to take the time to do the solitude in the first place.

But the time I take gives me back double. I’m so much more effective, so much more precise. So much more in tune, in sync.

With that, I’ve just scheduled my next one for next Saturday. I haven’t taken one in months, and needed to write this to keep me accountable.


Until next time,

Erik

The Hunter Economy

How status is conferred to curators

In a previous post we discussed digital signaling. To summarize, the internet turned what was scarce (information + distribution) into something abundant, which, in turn, created new forms of scarcity.

Quoting the piece:

“There are different kinds of positional scarcity, as Alex Danco aptly describes: 

There’s curation: an abundance of people creating music creates demand for record labels, DJs, and other tastemakers to do the job of picking, “Out of all these options, which song should get heard? (e.g. Product Hunt, Gartner)

There’s prestige: an abundance of prosperity makes it harder to preserve and distinguish high status: “Now that everyone has a car, how do I make sure that my car is the most impressive, and everyone knows it? (e.g. Porsche, Tesla)

There’s access: an abundance of people all vying for each others’ attention and patronage creates a high premium for moving to the front of that line: “How much would you pay to skip the congestion and get to where you need to go?”

In a world of abundance, scarcity evolves. While pre-internet scarcity was about a physically constrained, or otherwise limited, number of resources, post-internet scarcity is about separating signal from noise.

Similarly, signaling pre and post-internet evolves too. Pre-internet signaling was all about IRL flashiness (a Louis Vuitton bag) while post-internet signaling is about digitally-native flashiness (a Cryptopunk NFT). 

Since the prior post was about signaling on the internet, this post will be about IRL signaling — particularly around “The Hunter Economy.”

So what exactly is The Hunter Economy?

Let’s use angel investing as an example, and refer to Alex Danco’s positional scarcity post where he explores the status benefits of angel investing:

“Angel investing is an exercise where rich people spend their money (and occasionally see a return) in order to be able to say, “Look what I curated!”, and earn prestige in doing so. If you were an early investor in Stripe or something, that’s a huge status symbol – not just because it means you’re rich, but because it means you demonstrated excellent curation ability, and that’s a high-status thing to have.”

Angel investing is high status partly because it implies wealth, but also because it implies good access and taste. Not everyone has wealth, but many people like to believe they have access and taste. And as we explained in the reputation markets post, this access & taste manifests as social capital — which may be worth more than financial capital. 

It’s this ability to curate that makes us who we are — what do we like/dislike? Who do we like/dislike? How much do other people value our opinions?

(Side note: I’ve always wondered what “angel investing social capital” would look like. Perhaps it’d be some form of peer-to-peer credentials, but we’ve yet to see an implementation that worked at scale. Maybe On Deck will bring back Cosign one day… Only time will tell.)

This tweet is a parody, but it hints at a very real phenomenon — the desire to be the "first social capital in," which in some ways is more valuable than the first dollars in.

As we’ve explained, financial capital is easier to accrue than social capital. So when you spend your social capital, it means a lot

Think about how it felt when someone important took an early bet on you. Their belief in you probably catalyzed more for you than whatever immediate rewards you got from it. It’s this “belief capital” that matters disproportionately, and it matters across more domains than just careers & angel investing.

So angel investing is a category where people earn economic and social rewards for their curation, and also build their identity around it in the process. And yet angel investing is just one form of curation, so why not extend these benefits for other forms of curation?

Many people want to be the first person to discover a new trend, a new brand, or a new artist (“I liked them before they were cool”). Why not seed-invest, but into things other than tech startups? Think scouts, spotters, agents, A&Rs, VCs, etc.

Receipts could be an interesting data set that has a lot of signal around what you care most about. Imagine all purchases tied to how early you were to buy something relative to other people. Or imagine an AngelList profile, but instead of your startups it’s your travel destinations, your music purchases, the charities you donate to -— it’d be a more comprehensive view of what you care about.

Enter “The Hunter Economy” — a whole class of startups that'll be built to incentivize & reward early adopters both economically & socially. They'll exist for discovering new products, new people, and new ideas. I was going to call this the "Hipster Economy" since it more acutely identifies the phenomenon of taking joy in discovering things early, but it also has a negative connotation I don't imply. But it's essentially that same phenomenon — a joy in early discovery — “I liked it before it was cool” — which will exist everywhere: bands, newsletters, people, you name it! 

For example, everything you subscribe to could list your place in line so you could demonstrate how early you were. With crypto involved, you could also be financially incentivized to be a curator. A great example of this is Yup.io, which rewards curators across the internet for liking & commenting on things they care about — things they already do natively in web2.

With projects like this, I’ll soon be able to let people know I was the 30th subscriber to Stratechery, the 50th person to discover Homeboy Sandman, or the 100th person to speculate on the midwit bell curve meme (I wasn’t, but even if I was, I couldn’t prove it!)

I want to take that idea even further and bet on abstract terms or ideas. I’m excited to see a world where someone discovers some meme, idea, or artist and then stakes their reputation on it. Economically it’d look like speculation and socially it’d look like collectibles, effectively quantifying sentiment. You’d go to a website and see that “communism is down 20% today.” Or, in addition to ideas, I’d like to see people speculate on a Twitter or Instagram account, or Google Trends. Basically prediction markets without the yes/no prediction — you’re making a seed bet on a person or concept getting more popular over time.

This is the Hunter Economy: a series of products that will enable people to gain status as hunters and curators, gaining social and financial capital in their favorite people, businesses, and ideas in the process. Product Hunt, Reddit, and Kickstarter may be to the next generation of Hunter Economy startups what Web 2.0 will be to Web 3 more broadly—the inspiration for what was next to come.

Reputation Markets

Note: I’ve renamed this newsletter “Ideas & Musings” to better describe the spirit of this newsletter, which I see as emergent, experimental, and evolving.


We’ve talked a lot about markets. We explored how software is eating the world and how there’s no going back. We looked at prediction markets and how they productize the wisdom of the crowds. We discussed how the internet cuts intermediaries out of markets, better aligning value creation & value capture. This week we’ll dive into markets for reputation.

Like any market, reputation markets have their own economies, complete with incentives to earn & spend various forms of capital.

It’s interesting to think about the exchange rate between financial & social capital. If you had to lose all of your either financial capital or your social capital, which would you choose? Most people, the richer they are in dollars, the more they’d be willing to give up financial capital before social capital if forced to choose. Why is that? 

For the rich, money is easier to reacquire with high social capital. But social capital is a different story — it’s much harder to build up. Hence the famous Buffet quote, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

We can extend this analogy to financial capital on other dimensions. :

Reputations, like stocks, have P/E ratios. Someone’s P/E ratio is effectively measuring the substantive value of X and the multiple above that we’re evaluating X at. CEOs who are good at building hype (e.g. Elon Musk) effectively have high P/E ratios that afford them cheap cost of capital, lower CAC, and better recruiting pipelines. As a result, people with high P/E ratios also earn social capital or knowledge at a rate far above their peers with lower P/E ratios. One’s P/E ratio is effectively measuring "what's the substantive value of X and what is the multiple above that we’re evaluating X at?" A high P/E ratio enables you to get a cheap cost of capital, or, in non financial markets, social capital or knowledge.*

This is good for the capital aggregator to the extent that they can generate strong ROIC on that form of capital, which allows them to get it for cheap. And they usually can, especially if the cheap cost of capital unlocks a constrained resource. But if that resource doesn’t generate high ROIC, then it could be awkward when it’s price converges with reality.

Similarly, reputations, like stocks, have bubbles: Consider a “reputation ponzi scheme”: the idea of building up a reputation based on affiliations with other impressive people with nothing tangible to back it up. 

Other social capital bubbles: If there are just more people willing to vouch for more people, then you end up with too many bad ideas getting funded. And you also end up with people optimizing for getting recommended versus optimizing for building something good. You see both of these in venture capital a lot. 

The problem with these reputation ponzi schemes is that they’re self-reinforcing — each one causes another, resulting in larger social capital bubbles. 

Other market failures exist too: Nepotism is a credit market for reputation rather than cash. Like financial banks, there are social capital "banks" willing to lend social capital to ppl who don't need it and not willing to risk social capital on new & risky people. Except unlike financial markets there is no global Fed that can step in. It all happens locally.

So: reputation markets are inefficient, which means we need to find ways to incentivize social capital investing. What could an AngelList for social capital investing look like? P2P credentialing could be one approach.

*= This paragraph came from Kevin Kwok on my podcast conversation with him. Thanks also to conversations with Byrne Hobart and Zach Davidson which inspired ideas in this piece.

What Happens When Software Eats The World?

Previously we discussed how software and markets are eating the world. We discussed how the internet ate media, and how it needs to eat education and healthcare. 

How much more will it eat? It certainly won’t stop at newspapers, that’s for sure. 

The truth is there’s no limit: Software will eat every part of the world until it wears down the fabric of reality to the quantum level. 

What does this mean?

Zooming out: At some point in their history, all prior civilizations have collapsed, allowing new ones to take their place. From the Mayans to the Greeks to the Romans, we’ve seen history repeat itself time and time again — civilizations rise and fall, except now things are different because we have exponential technology. Thanks to increasing non-zero-sumness, we’re all increasingly interconnected, and one civilization’s collapse could mean the collapse of all civilizations (think MAD). And because our global supply chain is so integrated with our biosphere, one civilization’s collapse also threatens our planet at large.

Think about it. We have exponentially more people making exponentially more impact per person, and the resulting exponential growth is reaching escape velocity. Eventually you just can't externalize anymore.

Our intuition isn’t scoped for the challenge we now face. We increasingly have the power of the gods without the wisdom of the gods, and any society that has an exponential increase in risk without an exponential increase in choice-making capacity faces the risk of self-termination

So for the first time one civilization’s collapse is truly existential. We can’t put the technological curve caps back in the bag — we must innovate our way through.

Balaji says that the internet increases variance, and in this context we could say that though things are currently getting exponentially better, they could also just as easily become exponentially worse, leading to destabilization. 

How does this relate to software eating the world? Software and markets are paperclip maximizers. They’re systems optimized to reduce everything complex into something simple — like making a tree into wood or money, for example. 

Solving existential risks requires root cause analysis — if you try to solve one without finding its root cause, you’re just playing whack-a-mole. One of the root causes of societal collapse is the presence of and our participation in rivalrous or “zero-sum” games. Rivalrous games are inherently zero-sum — in order for you to win, I have to lose, or vice versa. It’s a fragile system: I can only advance my own well being at your expense, or at the expense of the commons.

Anti-rivalrous games are the opposite; they’re “positive-sum” — either we both win together, or we lose together. These games are anti-fragile since everyone’s incentives are aligned; I can advance my own well being to your benefit and to the benefit of the commons. 

A rivalrous good is valuable because it’s scarce, like gold or Bitcoin. An anti-rivalrous good is valuable because it’s abundant, like language. If only two people use a language, it’s not as valuable as if a million people use it, which is a bit backwards: If air isn’t worth anything, because there’s enough of it for everybody, and I can’t increase my competitive advantage over you by hoarding more air, then air is literally worth nothing. Even though we all die without it, it has no economic value to any of us. As a result, we pollute the air, fill it full of CO2, and pull out the O2 as we oxidize hydrocarbons simply because it’s not a scarce asset. Protecting air doesn’t provide any individual person a competitive advantage, so we don’t give it much weight. Gold, on the other hand, we fight wars over and destroy entire environments just to mine it. We don’t care about the same environments that create the oxygen in the air because we’ve found we can put other, more scarce, assets like gold in a safe deposit box, look at it, and profit as a result.

Put differently: Abundant things become economically worthless, even if they’re foundational for life. Scarce things make people rich, even if they’re meaningless. These ideas incentivize people to artificially manufacture scarcity and avoid abundance everywhere, and this perverse incentive model results in what we call “multipolar traps” — scenarios where the things that work well for individuals locally are directly against global well-being.

For example, if I don’t develop AI or cut down trees, I’ll lose, because I’ll be worse off today without new technology or the products trees could provide. But if I do do those things, I won’t lose now, but we’ll all lose later. This is a scenario where the short-term incentive of the agent locally is directly against the long-term global wellbeing. And if I’m internalizing externalities, but you’re not, then I’m losing. So no one can internalize externalities and still survive.

These multipolar traps occur all over society, both in the private and public sectors: Take two employees at the same company, for example — both want the same promotion and try to sabotage each other, even though that harms the company. They act this way because their individual incentives are at odds with the company’s incentives.

Our government provides another example: Different government agencies competing for the same chunk of budget will sometimes seek to undermine each other to get a bigger slice of the pie.

When things that should be positive-sum become zero-sum, bad things happen.

Patents are a good example of taking something that should be positive-sum (knowledge) and making it zero-sum. Look at this this way: the best computer the world could build doesn’t exist because Apple has some of the IP, Google has some of the IP, and 10 other companies have the rest.

If someone made software they could give to the whole world for free (after covering costs), but instead they patent it and sue you if you pirate it, even though they have no marginal cost, that blocks innovation and enriches the individual at the expense of society.

These multipolar traps and rivalrous games have always caused the collapse of civilizations, but this time is different because eliminating our civilization means eliminating the rest of the planet along with it.

Regulation falls short of fixing these problems because you can’t legislate against long-term incentives. If you make a law that says it's illegal to do X, but it's still profitable to do X, companies and governments will still do X.

Even our sacred democracies can’t solve these problems. When Winston Churchill said democracy is the worst form of governance (except for all the others), he was conceding that getting lots of humans to agree on anything is just a hard thing to do.

We need to take rivalry out of our systems, making them positive-sum in the process for all participants and the commons. The incentive of every agent in the system and that every person or group has to be better aligned with the well being of every other agent *and* of the commons writ large. This  involves a real-time balance sheet of the commons that internalizes more externalities, and we now have new technologies that can help us do exactly that (Sensor grid, IoT, and satellites to name a few).

We know there has to be a structure whereby actual innovation is rewarded in proportion to its value in a way that rent seeking is eliminated entirely and the reward takes into account externalities produced by innovation.

We also need new governance systems. How can we avoid both top down organizational models of consensus making and bottom up models which make decision making increasingly time consuming to the point where we’ve missed the boat on solving the problem entirely?

As Robert Wright wrote in Nonzero, any time there’s an increase in social complexity, we’ve needed an increase in moral progress to complement it. 

Today is no different. We need a change in consciousness that acknowledges the interconnectedness of our fates. When we identify as interconnected parts of an interconnected universe (rather than separate discrete things) we inherently become more positive-sum. In effect, we stop thinking there is any definition of success for oneself that isn't also success for the whole.

Native American tribes did a good job of this. When kids asked their elders "What's that?”, rather than saying “It's a crow” or “It’s a tree, the elders would say, "that's the great spirit expressed as a crow" — their initial semiotics/ontology had the interconnectivity of everything first, and then the distinction second.

Consider for a second what or who you are without the context of the world around you: What are you without the atmosphere? What are you without the plants that generate the atmosphere? You don't even exist.

So understanding the interconnectedness of our society helps solve the rivalry problem, because zero-sum games require a separate sense of self, leading to rivalrous competition for some scarce asset. If instead, however, we see ourselves as emergent properties of everything, then we can't get ahead at the expense of that which we're connected to. When we internalize interconnectedness, we become positive-sum by default.

For inspiration for what these new anti-rivalrous and totally positive-sum systems could look like, consider the human body.

The heart and lungs are not rivalrous. They’re not competing to extract scarce resources and hoard them. Instead, they operate in this radically necessary symbiotic relationship. And if you tried to model these organs in a relationship where the heart and lungs were competing for scarce resources, the body would die very quickly.

So in conclusion, software will eat the world down to the quantum level, and that will encourage us to fundamentally re-imagine all elements of society, introducing exponential benefit but also exponential risk.

This piece was inspired by conversations with Daniel Schmactenberger and the broader Game B community.


Until next week,

Erik

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