a16z Podcast: AI, from 'Toy' Problems to Practical Application

When you have “a really hot, frothy space” like AI, even the most basic questions — like what is it good for, how do you make sure your data is in shape, and so on — aren’t answered. This is just as true for the companies eager to adopt the technology and get into the space, as it is for those building companies around that space, observes Joe Spisak, Head of Partnerships at Amazon Web Services. “People treat it like magic,” adds a16z general partner Martin Casado.

This magical realism is especially true of AI, because by definition — i.e., machines learning — there is a bit of a “black box” between what you put in and what you get out of it. Which may be fine… Except when you have to completely change the data being fed into that black box, or you’re shooting for a completely different target to come out of it. That’s why, observes Scott Clark, CEO and co-founder of SigOpt, “an untuned, sophisticated system will underperform a tuned simple system” almost every time.

So what does this mean for organizations going from so-called “toy” problems in R&D to real business results tied to KPIs and ROI? In this episode of the a16z Podcast, Casado, Clark, and Spisak (in conversation with Sonal Chokshi) share their thoughts on what’s happening and what’s needed for AI in practice, given their vantage points working with both large companies and AI startups. What does it mean for data scientists and domain experts? For differentiation and advantage? Because even though we finally have widely available building blocks for AI, we need the scaffolding too… and only then can we build something powerful on top of it.

a16z Podcast: The Rise of the CCO

There's a new C-level role in town: the CCO, or Chief Customer Officer. This episode (based on a previous event) is all about the rise of this new role, why it's so important -- and what the actual scope and function of the role should be.

a16z's Matt Levy, partner on the exec talent team, discusses with (CCOs all) Allison Pickens of Gainsight; Krista Anderson-Copperman from Okta; and Hatima Shafique from Databricks why it is that the Chief Customer Officer is becoming more prevalent across a number of different kinds of companies; what the strategic value of a CCO is (and how it's actually very different from a VP of Customer Success!); and finally, the career pathing of the Chief Customer Officer.

a16z Podcast: How Founders Hire a VP of Product

Hiring a VP of Product -- especially as the founder of the company -- can almost feel like handing over your baby to someone else to hold, observes a16z executive talent team partner Caroline Horn, who hosted an event on this topic earlier this year (which this podcast is based on). Featuring Vijay Balasubramaniyan, founder/CEO of Pindrop; Shishir Mehrotra, founder and CEO of Coda; Gokul Rajaram, Production Engineering Lead at Square; and Alan Schaaf, founder/CEO of Imgur -- and moderated by general partner Martin Casado -- the discussion covers everything from what the VP of Product role really is to how to hire and integrate it into your company.

Because if you're going to be handing your "baby" over... how can you avoid common pitfalls? And know that you pick the right person for the job?

Putting AI in Medicine, in Practice

There’s been a lot of talk about technology -- and AI, deep learning, and machine learning specifically -- finally reaching the healthcare sector. But AI in medicine isn’t actually new; it’s actually been there since the 1960s. And yet we didn’t see it effect a true change, or even become a real part our doctor’s offices -- let alone routine healthcare services. So: what's different now? And what does AI in medicine look like, practically speaking, whether it's ensuring the best data, versioning software for healthcare, or other aspects?

In this episode of the a16z Podcast, Brandon Ballinger, CEO of Cardiogram; Mintu Turakhia, cardiologist at Stanford and Director of the Center for Digital Health; and general partner and head of a16z bio fund Vijay Pande in conversation with Hanne Tidnam discuss where will we start to see AI in healthcare first -- diagnosis, treatment, or system management -- to what it will take for it to succeed. Will we perhaps see a "levels" of AI framework for doctors as we have for autonomous cars?

a16z Podcast: The Why Behind the Weird

Author and professor at George Mason University, Peter Leeson describes himself as not just an economist but as a "collector of curiosa." In his latest book, WTF?! An Economic Tour of the Weird, Leeson looks at just that -- the strangest beliefs, superstitions and rituals humankind has engaged in -- and using economics, uncovers the incentives and rational behavior that makes them, well, make a whole lot more sense.

In this Halloween Special, Leeson and a16z's Hanne Tidnam dive into the weirdest historical mysteries -- everything from ecclesiastic courts that put rats and rodents on trial, to judicial ordeals that determined guilt or innocence by boiling the accused's hands in cauldrons of hot water, to the economics and laws that governed pirate ships. All these practices, Leeson argues, use superstitions and beliefs like tools: a kind of technology -- in the broadest possible terms.

a16z Podcast: Revenge of the Algorithms (Over Data)... Go! No?

with Frank Chen, Steven Sinofsky, and Sonal Chokshi

There are many reasons why we’re in an “A.I. spring” after multiple “A.I. winters” — but how then do we tease apart what’s real vs. what’s hype when it comes to the (legitimate!) excitement about artificial intelligence and machine learning? Especially when it comes to the latest results of computers beating games, which not only captures our imaginations but has always played a critical role in advancing machine intelligence (whether it’s AI winning Texas Hold’em poker or beating the world human champ in the ancient Chinese game of Go).

But on learning that Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo can master the game of Go without human knowledge — or more precisely: “based solely on reinforcement learning, without human data, guidance, or domain knowledge beyond game rules” — some people leap too far towards claims of artificial generalized intelligence. So where can we then generalize the findings of such work — unsupervised learning, self-play, etc. — to other specific domains? What does it mean for entrepreneurs building companies (and what investors look for)? And what does it mean for how we, as humans, learn… or rather, how computers can also learn from how we learn?

Deal and research operating team head Frank Chen and a16z board partner Steven Sinofsky ponder all this and more, in conversation with Sonal Chokshi, in this episode of the a16z Podcast. We ended last time with the triumph of data over algorithms and begin this time with the triumph of algorithms over data … is this the end of big data?

machine learningartificial intelligenceAlphaGo


a16z Podcast: Platforming the Future

In this hallway-style podcast conversation, O'Reilly Media founder Tim O'Reilly and a16z partner Benedict Evans discuss how we make sense of the most recent wave of new technologies --- technologies that are perhaps more transformative than any we've seen before -- and how we think about the capabilities they might have that we haven't yet even considered. O'Reilly has seen more than one wave of new tech make an impact over the last three decades in Silicon Valley. But this time, O'Reilly argues in his new book, WTF? What's the Future and Why it's Up to Us, is different, partly because of the combinatorial inventions now possible.

But we are also in the midst of so much foundational change happening so fast, that we as a society have some very large questions -- and answers -- to consider. What, for example, is the relationship between big tech platforms and the broader ecosystem they're in? What strategic choices (and responsibilities?) do they make on behalf of those ecosystems? Why and how do some platforms compete with their own ecosystems? And finally, how are algorithms optimizing for economic culture and markets, and how aware are we?

a16z Podcast: A New Lab Rises

We’ve already talked quite a bit about the Algorithms, Machines, and People lab at U.C. Berkeley (AMPLab) — all about making sense of big data — so what happens when the entire world moves towards artificial intelligence — and the need to make intelligent decisions on that data? That’s where the new RISElab (Real-time Intelligence Secure Execution) comes in.

But what is a good “decision”, exactly? Beyond the existential question of that, what specific attributes make a “good” decision, both computationally and humanly? In this episode of the a16z Podcast (in conversation with general partner Peter Levine and Sonal Chokshi), computer science professor, entrepreneur (co-founder of Databricks), and RISElab director Ion Stoica answers that question. He also shares the “ingredients” of a working research lab model (one, dare we say, could also apply to many types of institutions?); the role of open source and building community; and the evolution of labs today given intense competition from industry and others… as well as what interesting projects — really, trends in decision making with AI — are coming next.

a16z Podcast: Mindsets for Engineering Biology

Head of the largest bioengineering lab in the world, former chairman of the FDA and one of the few recipients of the National Medals of Science and of Technology and Innovation, Bob Langer's work has spanned multiple fields and settings and has been applied across numerous fields, from pharmaceutical to chemical, biotechnology to medical device companies. What does it mean to move across disciplines like this, from science to engineering, both in the lab and into the field?

In this conversation with general partner and head of the a16z bio fund Vijay Pande (with Hanne Tidnam), Langer and Pande share the challenges and opportunities as people move across different disciplines, as well as the changing mindsets for innovation as applied to biotech: first principles, "rational" biology, do no harm, and others.

At the heart of it all is "the interface of engineering and materials" in biology and healthcare innovation. Especially as, thanks to tech, biology shifts from empirical study to engineering -- not just in startups but in academia too. Yet does that make the work too "translational"? And what of regulation? The guests on this episode explore all of these themes, and more.

a16z Podcast: Why Crypto Tokens Matter

with Chris Dixon and Fred Ehrsam

We’ve already talked about why bitcoin matters. But as the set of cryptocurrencies — and networks and “tokens” enabled by the underlying blockchain — grow (Ethereum being one of the fastest-growing ones), where do we go from here? How do we tease apart the signal from the noise, given all the buzz and critiques out there?

In this episode of the a16z Podcast, general partner Chris Dixon and Fred Ehrsam (former Goldman Sachs trader and a co-founder of Coinbase) break down the fundamentals of it all — from incentives, developer communities, and protocols, to new models of governance and the tradeoffs between centralized and decentralized systems (including central planning vs. letting a thousand experiments bloom). And then, given all the hype out there right now around crypto tokens and “ICOs”, how do we tell the difference between what’s promising/legitimate vs. a red flag? How could we value tokens? And what does it mean for incumbents when all the value that was created in the previous paradigm is being commoditized by the new one, and that value creation now has to happen at some new layer?

At the end of the day, the key word through it all is incentives. And it’s a testament to the power of getting incentive structures right that someone pseudonymously dropping a 9-page whitepaper onto the internet led to a $70 billion cryptocurrency, a whole ecosystem of companies and users, and the largest supercomputer network in the world. Then again… isn’t that how innovation happens?

a16z Podcast: The Case Study of Lyft and Local Governments

with David Mack, Joseph Okpaku, and Matt Spence

How should startups engage with policymakers, build their own government relations (GR) function (whether in house or with consultants), and just begin to figure out their GR playbook? Let alone explain their moves -- not just externally, but internally too?  "We really viewed our first mission as education. Explaining what we were and, possibly more importantly, explaining what we weren't," shares Joseph Okpaku, vice president of government relations at Lyft. Think of it as a campaign, observes David Mack, senior director for public affairs at Lyft, and remember, "You can either let your impact on the community be defined, or you can work to define it yourself."

Even though it isn't a zero-sum game (and don't make it one!), you only get once chance to really get it right... not just in terms of making a first impression, but in terms of setting regulatory precedent (as well as in drawing a line). So from where and who to begin with to how they did it, the guests on this episode of the a16z Podcast share some quick lessons learned for startups engaging with local governments, in conversation with policy and regulatory affairs team partner Matt Spence.

a16z Podcast: Exploding the Map

In this episode, Wei Luo, founding COO of DeepMap -- who build HD maps for autonomous vehicles -- and David Rumsey, founder of the David Rumsey Map Collection (one of the largest paper private map collections in the world, now at Stanford University, and *the* largest digital online private collection in the world, at 80,000 + maps) talk with a16z's Hanne Tidnam about how maps -- and mapmaking tools -- are changing in the age of autonomous vehicles.

New ways of mapping the world have always led to profound changes. In the Renaissance -- another golden age of mapmaking -- mapmakers used tools such as sextants to measure distance to the stars and compasses to navigate the world around them. Cartography is undergoing yet another major paradigm shift as it now evolves into HD mapping. So what kinds of data and information do maps now need to contain in order to allow cars (and other autonomous robots of all kinds) to navigate the world around them, down to only a few centimeters of accuracy? How will the nature of maps fundamentally change when they are made by self-driving cars, for self-driving cars, in the era of HD mapping?

a16z Podcast: Getting Applications Into People's Hands

with Juan Benet and Chris Dixon

The story of how innovation happens is a long one — from government funding early basic research, to the heyday of corporate R&D like Bell Labs, to startups as experiments before product-market fit. Through all that, we’ve ended up with “unprecedented superpowers” distributed through the internet, and people building on top of it. Yet there’s still a huge lag in going from brilliant ideas in the form of research papers to an application that’s actually working and in people’s hands, observes computer scientist, engineer, and entrepreneur (founder and CEO of Protocol Labs) Juan Benet.

Benet initially designed the peer-to-peer hypermedia protocol IPFS or “InterPlanetary File System” to help build a more robust, distributed, open web. But those ideas were around for a while — they just weren’t implemented in a way that people could easily use. The same was true for early computing revolutions as well… until Apple came along and vertically integrated from research to production, bringing together different groups of people (design, hardware, etc.) to make something amazing that everyone could use, wanted to use.

What if open source, online networks — enabled by blockchain and cryptocurrencies — could do something similar? [Full disclosure: we’re investors in the ‘Filecoin SAFT’ security mentioned in this podcast, but are not otherwise affiliated with Protocol Labs or Filecoin.] This episode of the a16z Podcast, hosted by general partner Chris Dixon, explores all of the above and more with Benet, going beyond the buzz around just “ICOs”. What’s the big picture?

a16z Podcast: The Asshole Survival Guide

Bob Sutton's book The No Asshole Rule was all about how to foster company cultures that don't tolerate asshole behavior. But sometimes, dealing with an asshole is unavoidable -- in life or at work. So what are the best tactics to both protect yourself and to stop the asshole behavior? This is the subject that Sutton tackles in his new book, The Asshole Survival Guide.

In this somewhat NSFW episode, a16z's Hanne Tidnam talks with Bob Sutton, professor at Stanford; and Michael Dearing, Founder of Harrison Metal and formerly at Stanford and eBay, about tackling asshole behavior -- everything from assessing it (are you dealing with an asshole?) to coping mechanisms, to how to systemize a way of squashing and preventing asshole behavior in the workplace. (Bonus: a surprising truth about EQ in the workplace!)

a16z Podcast: Adjusting to Trade... and Innovation

with Russ Roberts, Noah Smith, and Sonal Chokshi

Beyond the overly simplistic framing of trade as “good” or “bad” — by politicians, by Econ 101 — why is the topic of trade (or rather, economies and people adjusting to trade) so damn hard? A big part of it has to do with not seeing the human side of trade, let alone the big picture across time and place… as is true for many tech innovations, too.

Speaking of: how does the concept of “trade” fit with “innovation”, exactly? They’re both about getting more from less — as well as creating new opportunities — shares Russ Roberts, host of the popular EconTalk podcast (and fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, PhD in economics). But there’s another very provocative theory at play here — fast-forwarding us from the time of the Industrial Revolution to the 2000s — that could make us rethink the relationship between trade, capital, labor, productivity/economic growth, shares Noah Smith, columnist at Bloomberg View (and former professor of finance at Stony Brook University, PhD in economics).

And where does China come in — and out — of this picture? Put it all together, and maybe, just maybe, it could help explain why we’re investing in labor-saving innovations/ automation more than ever today. Because one thing is for sure, agree both Roberts and Smith — who otherwise argue with each other on this episode of the a16z Podcast (with Sonal Chokshi) — you can’t stop the march of technology. It’s here, it’s coming, and we’re just going to have to meet it, prepare for it, …roll with it.



a16z Podcast: The Macro and Micro of Parenting

We tend to talk about tech and parenting through devices and artifacts -- screen time, to code or not to code -- but actually, there's a bigger, macro picture at play there: game theory, economic incentives, culture, and more. So in this back-to-school episode of the a16z Podcast, two economists -- Kevin Zollman, game theorist and philosopher at CMU and author of The Game Theorist's Guide to Parenting; and Fabrizio Zilibotti, macroeconomist at Yale working on a book called Love, Money and Parenting -- share their expertise on parenting through the lens of economics.

The hallway-conversation (with Hanne Tidnam) covers how these theories play out in practice -- for example, when the kids are bickering in the back seat of the car -- to how parents can balance altruism vs. paternalism when it comes to thinking about their kids' future vs. their kids' reality of living in the now. And then finally, how do different parenting styles, corporal punishment, education, and of course, technology, play a role in how we parent?

a16z Podcast: Competing Against Luck

with Clayton Christensen, Marc Andreessen, and Steven Levy

In business, mistakes of omission may be just as bad as (if not worse than) mistakes of commission -- simply because of the loss in potential upside: new companies, new products, new opportunities for growth. Or even in the ability to respond to the disruption coming to one's industry and company... if it hasn't already. Sometimes, and in certain industries (such as hospitality and education), it just takes longer to pull off.

But it's not like people and companies are dumbly sitting around waiting for disruption to happen. In fact, having read the book on disruption for years -- 20 years, to be precise, given the anniversary of The Innovator's Dilemma this year -- many smart business leaders know it could happen, yet fully determine that it's not going to happen to them... and then, of course, it still happens, observes a16z's Marc Andreessen. Why? Part of the answer, shares father of disruption theory and Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, is they don't have a common language, logic, architecture, way to frame the problem. And that's where other theories and frameworks -- like jobs-to-be-done and modularity -- come in. A theory, after all, though never perfect can help.

So in this episode of the podcast -- from our inaugural a16z Summit event -- Christensen and Andreessen (in conversation with longtime tech writer and Backchannel editor-in-chief Steven Levy) share their thoughts for how such theories can play out practically in both managing business, and managing priorities in life.



a16z Podcast: Engineering Intent

"Young hungry and scrappy" is how Hamilton described his country, and it's how many -- including the guests on this episode -- describe startups... or more precisely, the mindset that engineers in startups need to balance both creativity and efficiency. But what happens as those startups scale, accrue technical debt, standardize their frameworks, and hire even more engineers? How do they deliver on their product while also staying on top of -- or better yet, using and also pushing forward -- new tech? (Even if that "new" tech is really the old, much-promised-before-but-finally-here, machine and deep learning?) And how do they do it all without getting mired in philosophical debates? Every Hamilton needs a Washington, after all...

VP of Engineering at Airbnb Mike Curtis and head of engineering at Pinterest Li Fan discuss all this and more (in conversation with Sonal Chokshi) in this episode of the a16z Podcast. The hallway-style conversation covers everything from taking an individual vs. company-wide view and the myth/reality of the "10x engineer", to the subtle nuances of how computers learn people's styles, intent, aspirations, and outcomes. And how all of this plays out as consumer tech increasingly connects the online to the offline world.

a16z Podcast: A Society Under Construction - Modernizing Infrastructure

What is "infrastructure" actually? In the 19th and 20th century, that usually meant the transportation systems supporting roadways, airports, trains... but we don't even really know yet what it might potentially mean in the age of rapidly changing technology, autonomous vehicles, drones, and self-driving cars. In this episode, a16z's Matthew Colford discusses the infrastructure of the future with Anthony Foxx, former secretary of transportation under the Obama administration and former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina; Keller Rinaudo, CEO of Zipline; and Jase Wilson, CEO of Neighborly.

The truth of the matter, says Secretary Foxx, is that we are still a society under construction. How do we think about not just modernizing the 19th century structures we inherited but making new infrastructure for the future anew -- as well as the possibilities of democratizing and crowdsourcing urban planning and public projects?

a16z Podcast: Cash, Growth, and CEO ❤️ CFO

with Ben Horowitz, Scott Kupor, and Caroline Moon

“The only unforgivable sin in business is to run out of cash” [so said Harold Geneen], yet startup CEOs “always act on leading indicators of good news, and lagging indicators of bad news” [according to Andy Grove]; after all, it requires a certain stubborn, headstrong optimism to start a company. So how to reconcile these views? At the very least, pay more attention to leading indicators of running out of cash, “because there’s just no going back”!

But doing all this — while also trying to balance growth, advance planning vs. constantly changing strategy, revenue vs. margin, coordination/communication/culture, and so on — is a lot harder than it seems on a finance spreadsheet. It requires understanding that the “math is not the terrain, the spreadsheet is not the business”… yet also knowing when to trade rose-colored glasses for darker rainy-day ones.

And that's where a CEO partnering productively with a CFO comes in. In this episode of the a16z Podcast -- moderated by (and based on an internal event for CEOs+CFOs hosted by) Caroline Moon, who leads the financial operations for startups practice on a16z's corp dev team -- Ben Horowitz and Scott Kupor share their personal insights as well as advice for founders: How DO you do it all?