TechCrunch Day 2
September 19, 2017
Author: Bianca Yang
Conferences are inherently exhausting enterprises. You spend a couple of days trying to network with and speak to as many startups and other attendees as possible while also keeping up with your favorite speakers. The condensed information sharing is useful because it will last you quite a while. I’d say the most useless part of a conference is the talks, because you can always go online afterwards and watch a recording of the conversation. Also, most of the talks I attended over these past two days, especially the ones I really looked forward to, were quite useless. This was largely due to the interviewer steering the speaker in rather unenlightening directions. For example, today’s interview with Sam Altman was not as eye-opening as I was hoping for. I have no attachment to Sam Altman, but with all the hype he receives as president of Y Combinator, I expected him to have some real insight into the state of the world. Most of the attendees, I think, were hoping for him to talk about OpenAI and some deep topics around startups, but the interviewer kept pressing him on pointless strategic things like where is Y Combinator going, are you going to expand into China, what are you political goals, etc., and we ran out of time to talk about OpenAI. He did comment a bit on the bubble of cryptocurrency, but his response seemed to parrot what other well-known people have said about bubbles.
Sebastian Thrun, on the other hand, was a really cool guy. I can feel his passion and his excitement about being a lifelong educator, which is something traditional colleges like Harvard and Stanford are unwilling to do. He’s also very excited about flying personal vehicles. I am happy that’s he’s passionate, and would love to work for someone like him with expertise and enthusiasm and devotion to the cause, but I think the airspaces are a much harder traffic problem to solve than underground tunnels. People already have enough trouble driving in 2-D, why add another dimension? I acknowledge his point that we already have super-fast direct highway from SF to LA (the airplane), but I don’t agree with his point that going from Palo Alto to San Jose by air takes 10 min while driving takes over half an hour with traffic. It may be true now, since you may be the only one using the airways, but once other people join, traffic will also emerge. Also, how do we coordinate flying pathways in the air? How do we ensure safety if two vehicles collide and fall out of the air? These problems are not really issues underground. Tunnel safety in earthquakes is absolutely better than safety above ground. The earth is great at absorbing shock. Besides, when was the last time you heard the metro collapsed during an earthquake? It’s always news on above-ground structures that collapsed. Perhaps these questions will be answered in the new Udacity class on flying cars, which was announced today!
The most useful part of these conferences is the opportunity to network. You are placed in a crowded pavilion with tons of other smart people with the same general interest in the conference theme. You may as well take advantage of this captive audience to sell yourself and your ideas, because you never know what kind of opportunities will fall out of the sky.
I am a bit disappointed by the companies featured in the startup pavilion, though perhaps this just reflects the current state of the world. Most of the applications feel gimmicky, like gadgets. There were lots of AR apps for trying on jewelry or tattoos or clothing. There was a diamond-backed cryptocurrency. There were five different blockchain companies, claiming to solve problems from debit cards to ride sharing tracking to general consumer use to patent search. I don’t quite understand the applications of blockchain. There is something there that’s cool, but this level of interest is simply beyond me. There were so many VR and AR gaming companies, releasing things from a Pokemon Go type Minecraft game (or is it a tool for architects?) to VR music to VR math to AR television (you use your phone to access enhanced content) to AR video dating. Then there were the tens of companies focused on SEO (for app store, for video marketing etc) and upping conversion rates and more efficient report generation and tracking “rage clicks” on your website and drinks on demand and travel planning (with different niches for nomads and traveling with friends and multi-city traveling) and the food discovery apps (Yelp for Cuba, some other restaurant discovery app). I don’t know what to call these companies, but they all have that same feel of sure it’s useful, but not really cutting edge. And then there were weird fintech apps like quantitative investing in fine art and crowdfunding for food and beverage and cryptocurrency investing platforms and voice password identity management. There were also so many app development or general purpose software development companies in the pavilion. Some were really just groups of engineers who make custom solutions and others were platforms like Koder, which help non-technical people with “good ideas” find technical producers. So many of these kinds of people approach Caltech, typically from MBA programs at USC or UCLA, thinking they have the next breakthrough medical records management app or whatever. If only they understood how trendy they were. I am using the word trendy to mean that they are in-tune with trends, which should likely be interpreted to mean that they are trend-followers. They have no hard skills, so they just repackage what they think is cool technically. And what they think is cool technically comes from the news, which is always at least 10 steps behind the cutting-edge.
Perhaps I’m just jaded and too cynical to see the future, but I feel somewhat more depressed after attending TechCrunch Disrupt. Perhaps I should just stop talking, though, because at least these guys are doing something, while I just sit at home and theorize all day about what the world “ought” to be like. I still don’t know what my purpose in life is. I’d like to submit myself to God as a Christian and follow Him into everlasting life, but I still suffer from that nagging fear of missing out. Yet, if I try to find what I like in the tech world, I feel upset and lost because nothing really appeals to me. So many things, like interior design and architecture and VR and gaming seem cool on a surface level, but when I probe a little deeper into how I feel, I don’t know if I care deeply about any of these gadgets.
Questions and comments go to my email. Find my other posts, resume, and contact info on my website: http://xrdt.github.io
有些書，不管我試著讀多少次都讀不下去。如果想西洋經典書的話，Catcher in the Rye 跟 Animal Farm 跟 Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 跟 The Sound and the Fury 是四本我實在沒耐心讀完的書。我曾經試過好幾次讀這幾本書，但我讀了幾頁就覺得非常無聊，除不可抗力以外，我真的沒辦法讀下去。我對「三體」的感應也是如此，所以我一個禮拜前就放棄那個事業，開始讀「天意」。