“If Animals Have Rights, Should Robots?”

I guess Westworld has made this a hot topic, but even better (or at least shorter) is this article “If Animals Have Rights, Should Robots?

It turns out that, for a host of reasons the author covers, we feel moral regret when we cause or observe pain, even if the recipient can’t feel that pain, such as a robot.

At one point, a roboticist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory built an unlovable, centipede-like robot designed to clear land mines by crawling forward until all its legs were blown off. During a test run, in Arizona, an Army colonel ordered the exercise stopped, because, according to the Washington Post, he found the violence to the robot “inhumane.”

Or consider this experiment involving the Pleo, a “lifelike” robot dinosaur.


In an experiment that Darling and her colleagues ran, participants were given Pleos—small baby Camarasaurus robots—and were instructed to interact with them. Then they were told to tie up the Pleos and beat them to death. Some refused. Some shielded the Pleos from the blows of others. One woman removed her robot’s battery to “spare it the pain.” In the end, the participants were persuaded to “sacrifice” one whimpering Pleo, sparing the others from their fate.

Of course the ultimate issue isn’t that we fear the robots are going to become sentient and revolt but rather “The problem with torturing a robot, in other words, has nothing to do with what a robot is, and everything to do with what we fear most in ourselves.”

How We Almost Gamified Copyright Infringement Detection on YouTube (& Ideas for Fake News)

Over the past decade YouTube has constructed one of the most efficient and useful copyright management systems [dramatic tone] EVER CREATED BY MAN. The company works closely with rights holders of all sizes to identify fan-uploaded clips which may contain third party video or audio assets, and presents a set of simple business choices – take the infringing clip down (or “mute” the music, if it’s just audio infringement); monetize the clip on behalf of the rights owner; or just track the clip but take no action. The path of least resistance would have been to build a DMCA Takedown Engine but instead the talented team at YouTube solved an enormous challenge in a much more productive manner.

While this system was in its infancy, a group of us were brainstorming creative approaches to copyright management outside of this more complex design. One engineering lead started riffing on an idea that has always stuck with me: build a version of Hollywood Stock Exchange (HSX), but for copyright violating content. HSX is a site where you can trade movies (and actors & actresses) like stocks — the value is related to the box office dollars. So, for example, if you think the next Star Wars movie is going to be a huge hit, you’d “buy” virtual shares in the movie and sell at a higher price once it breaks all attendance records. At scale HSX may also function as a prediction market if you believe the participants as a whole are creating an efficient view into the enthusiasm (or lack thereof) the viewing public will have for a film.

Here’s what we back-of-the-napkin’ed for YouTube:

  1. When a video was uploaded into the system, its “IPO” price would be determined by a number of algorithmic factors such as performance of other videos from that account, the type of content it contained, the mix of referral sources and so on.
  2. Over time, a video’s “price” directly correlated to its view count. So if you saw a video with a low viewcount that you thought was going to go “viral,” you’d want to “buy” it in hopes that its value would skyrocket once it became popular.
  3. However, if a video was eventually removed from the system because it was infringing on someone else’s copyright, the “price” would go to zero. And in the process, you’d lose all the virtual currency you had invested in that video.
  4. Participants (registered YouTube users) would start with a slug of virtual currency with which to start their video portfolio and you’d go from there.

Using this mechanic, a video with a viewcount that was increasing quickly but did not have many buyers *should* signal there was a risk associated with the video being removed. Just as YouTube relied upon its community to proactively flag content which violated the site’s ToS around nudity, violence, and so on, perhaps this game mechanic could assist in the signaling of what *may* be copyright infringement. Basically we talked about this once or twice, usually with alcohol involved, but never implemented.

[note: there are a number of reasons we didn’t want to be in the business of proactively reviewing content for copyright determination. YouTube’s practices around the DMCA were upheld by courts. Also hold aside questions around whether this game would result in incentives to spam the viewcount of videos you “owned,” etc.]

Sooooo, Facebook and Fake News.

There are lots of smart discussions online these days about whether (and how) Facebook should evolve to help counter fake news from spreading on its platform. Most ideas involve some combination of URL blacklists, machine learning as to what fake content looks like and user flagging. It’ll be interesting to see what Zuck and team choose to do – and I think they have a responsibility because it’s directly linked to the trust many users have in Newsfeed.

But how would you turn identifying Fake News on Facebook into a game? Would there be a way to gamify fact-checking? Would be much more difficult in some ways than the YouTube scenario because Fake News seems to get stuck within echo chambers where its consumers *want* it to be real and may otherwise be disincentivized to play the adjacent metagame.

Any ideas?

Bunch of Homebrew Funding Announcements

The majority of our Fund II investments have remained quiet about their funding, even as many operate in plain sight. Myriad of reasons but a trend we generally think is healthy. That said, several reached operational milestones where discussing their funding became appropriate.

Joymode is making life more fun without having to buy more stuff

Winnie is helping parents and caregivers find kid-friendly places to play, eat, learn and rest

Perlara is using technology to research solutions for heretofore “too rare to cure” diseases

Cardiogram is using heartbeat rhythm data to help build healthier habits, especially for those at risk of chronic conditions

We’re thrilled to be working with these founders and their teams!

On Risk and Control

My daughter has always enjoyed climbing. As a toddler she would scale cabinets, jungle gyms and any other object upon which she could get a foothold. San Francisco playgrounds introduced me to The Crippler. Imagine a 20 ft Christmas tree-like structure, except it’s made of metal chain lattice, in order to allow kids to climb to the top where you’d put the angel. Oh, and it spins. You can spin the tree very quickly, and watch kids tumble off like ornaments and candy canes.

I felt nervous watching my daughter ascended The Crippler. We’d resolved to raise her to be brave and risk-seeking, the goal to create her own ability to assess risk and make good judgments, rather than flinch every time she scraped a knee. But man, The Crippler.

For those first few months I needed to either be standing by while she climbed, imagining that I could at least catch her before she hit the ground. Or I needed to be totally ignorant of her climbing – as in, I wanted to be out of sight so that I didn’t know what she was doing. If I could see her climbing The Crippler but wasn’t within range to potentially catch her, my chest tightened like I was about to have a stroke.

Over the last year or two this need to have some sense of ability to save her from harm has subsided, at least with regards to The Crippler. She knows how to hold on, no longer gets distracted by the other kids climbing next to her and is loud enough to call for me if she needs anything. I’m sure there’s another Crippler-like experience waiting around the corner for me – maybe it’ll be a physical risk she takes, or a situation more socioemotional. And I’m more cognizant of the difference between stopping her from taking a risk vs proactively being there to save her vs reactively being available vs hiding in order to protect my own feelings.

Oh, and something about startups and seed stage investing🙂


Crowdfunding a Community in Haiti After Hurricane Matthew: Checking in With New Story’s CEO

YC started accepting nonprofits a few years back. Every Demo Day, these teams are consistently among the most impressive startups presenting. In Aug 2015 I interviewed New Story to learn more about what they got from the YC experience. Earlier today, their CEO Brett Hagler shot me an update which I wanted to share.

Accomplished since Y Combinator S15

We finished Y Combinator in September 2015 at a total of 116 homes, and today we have a total of 610 homes funded. Each home is still about $6,000. What’s next is a focus on building sustainable communities, not just homes. You can think of it like a community platform – New Story supplies the land and homes – then we curate partnerships (school, income opportunities, better health, etc.) for other components of a community. Right now, we are crowdfunding a community in the area of Haiti hit worst by Hurricane Matthew. All of our 211 homes built in Haiti withstood Hurricane Matthew.

Different Now

Last year we raised our “seed” round of funding for operations – a total of $750,000 to last us through 2016 and a little of 2017. We are now raising our “A Round” of operational funding with a goal of $2M ($1.7M committed to date) to last us through 2018. The funding will be primarily used to grow our team with top talent (developers, marketers, ops, growth, video, head of content). This funding comes from a private group of donors (mostly venture capitalists and tech executives from the valley) known as The Builders.

Help Haiti After Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew destroyed 4,000+ homes in Haiti, and we are on a mission to rebuild the area hit worst by the hurricane. We have a goal of $1M to build 180 – 200 homes. You can start a personal crowdfunding campaign, or your company can start a team crowdfunding campaign here:

151 homes.png

151 Homes built in Haiti

If you liked this. There. Are. So. Many. Places. To. Find. Me.