The Long Game 73: Hacking Darwin, Dream Teams, Inspiration4, Good Predictions

💉 Theranos, Learning a New Language, Callin, Walking Away, Munger, and Much More!

Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at Vital, and this is The Long Game Newsletter. To receive it in your inbox each week, subscribe here:

Some cool updates about Vital are coming soon. Stay tuned!

📣 We are hiring at Vital, help us build the “Strava for Health.” We are currently looking for:

  • Senior Backend Engineer

  • Senior Frontend Engineer (Flutter)

  • Senior Designer

  • Growth Associate

Find all our openings here.

We are offering $1,000 in Bitcoin if you refer to us a candidate we end up hiring.

In this episode, we explore:

  • Hacking Darwin

  • I Just Walked Away From My New Venture Fund. Here’s Why.

  • The Munger Operating System

  • The Core Dream Team

  • Dopamine

  • Theranos

  • Inspiration4

Let’s dive in!

🥑 Health

🧬 Hacking Darwin

I already talked about preconception screening and embryo selection in the newsletter, but this topic fascinates me, so I read Hacking Darwin by Jamie Metzl this week. It’s an excellent book that I highly recommend. The scale of the disruptions coming in genetic engineering is astounding and deserves to be discussed in society. Whether we like it or not, genetic engineering is coming.

Here are some notes I took on the book:

  • Until now, humanity has evolved through the natural selection of heritable traits.

  • Thanks to AI and big data analytics, our biology is becoming another form of information technology. Our technology to read DNA has evolved a lot in recent years, and it has become faster and cheaper. The cost of sequencing an entire human genome has fallen from $100 million in 2001 to around just $100 today.

  • Now the challenge is to make sense of all that data. Some traits like eye color or diseases like cystic fibrosis are single-gene mutations. But for the most part, the human genome functions in complex ways that we have yet to understand. That’s where AI and big data analytics come in.

  • Advances in assisted reproductive technologies will lead to embryo screening for increasingly complex traits. Now we can select embryos without major genetic diseases, and even more recently, with companies like Orchid selecting for embryos having fewer chances of developing diabetes, cancers, etc.

  • That’s only the start of embryo selection. Within ten years, we’ll be able to screen for traits such as height, intelligence, and personality. In other words, you’ll be able to select that your child will have a 70% likelihood of being tall.

  • By around 2045, IVF will replace sex as the primary reproductive method. Currently, IVF makes up around 1.5 percent of all births in the United States. It has been embraced by older women and mothers with high risks of hereditary diseases and has allowed same-sex couples to have a biological child. But the author predicts that IVF will soon be adopted by the mainstream.

  • As IVF grows to circumvent more and more genetic mutations, prospective parents will increasingly opt to give their children the best chance for a healthy life. If type 1 diabetes or cancer becomes avoidable, for example, it’s easy to imagine a future in which conceiving through sex will be stigmatized.

  • Advanced research into gene-editing will lead us into an era of genetic manipulation that goes far beyond healthcare. In Japan, for example, scientists have already used gene editing to make purple flowers white. With today’s research into injecting human embryos with human or animal DNA, it won’t be long before people can choose skin colors from any color of the rainbow. In the very distant future, we might be able to give humans enhanced dog-like hearing or eagle vision.

  • But scientists aren’t only working toward editing our genes. Progress in the field of synthetic biology suggests that we’ll one day be able to write them from scratch.

  • Individual, societal, and national opinions on the genetic revolution will be divided. We can already see it with genetically modified crops. The fearmongering led by anti-GMO activists, who see GM crops as dangerous, leading to their being banned by seventeen countries in the EU.

  • Competition will drive the genetic revolution forward: China is already making aggressive moves in the genomic direction. What if they start to select for IQ and other traits? Other countries can either follow or risk becoming far less competitive places.

  • It looks pretty likely we’ll enter a genetic engineering race.

  • The genetic revolution raises critical ethical questions regarding diversity and equality. Will the universal adoption of embryo selection lead to a homogenous monoculture? Or will genetic enhancements result in new class hierarchies? And how will we treat parents who decide not to engage in genetic engineering? These are just a few of the ethical questions we must face as we march forward into the genetic era.

  • Public education and discourse will be essential to prevent catastrophe.

Finally, while reading the book, I remembered that what we call “human beings” was composed of multiples species in the past that ended up with Homo Sapiens prevailing. Genetic engineering technology could also lead to different species of humans in the distant future 🤯

🌱 Wellness

✋ I Just Walked Away From My New Venture Fund. Here’s Why.

This is an essential article by Steve Schlafman on making important life decisions.

A week ago I sat down at my computer. Still staring at the blank screen, my heart rate began to spike. The butterflies in my stomach were going wild, and my inner voice started agitating: Are you really going to do this? Are you really going to walk away from months of hard work? Are you really ok walking away from millions of dollars?

Deep down inside, I knew the answer to each question was yes.

I accessed my email, opened a draft, and hit send. The recipients—50 investors, including many friends, former colleagues, and people I respect—had committed to invest millions in a new venture fund I was on the verge of launching. They were expecting an email from me telling them it was time to wire their capital. But the one they got told them I wasn’t moving forward with the fund.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the dreams of others and live life on auto-pilot.

I needed a break from the echo chamber. I’ve been in technology for two decades. It’s a big part of my identity. I love being in the ecosystem. However, over the past six months something shifted. When I opened Twitter, browsed Product Hunt or read the tech press, a rush of anxiety would wash over me. Unicorns. Decacorns. Building in public. Crypto. Tweetstorms. Clubhouse rooms. NFT mania. New rolling funds. Victory laps galore. Endless expert opinions. All of this began to drain me; I sensed it was time to unplug and reset.

Finally, Steve reflects on taking on too much. This is something most of us tend to do. Accepting too many commitments will almost undoubtedly lead to being everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Achieving great things requires an insane focus.


🧠 Better Thinking

🛣 The Munger Operating System

I found a lot of essential wisdom from Charlie Munger in this article. This especially resonated with me:

To get what you want, deserve what you want. Trust, success, and admiration are earned. 

It’s such a simple idea. It’s the golden rule so to speak: You want to deliver to the world what you would buy if you were on the other end. There is no ethos, in my opinion, that is better for any lawyer or any other person to have. By and large the people who have this ethos win in life and they don’t win just money, not just honors. They win the respect, the deserved trust of the people they deal with, and there is huge pleasure in life to be obtained from getting deserved trust.

⚡️ Startup Stuff

🚂 The Core Dream Team

This video of Steve Jobs fascinating. He explains why, as a founder, you should obsess over who will constitute your founding team of 10 people. The best talent wants to work with the best talent.

I wanted to start reading more biographies and thought it would be great to start with Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I’ll share more about the book in the coming weeks.

📚 What I Read

2️⃣0️⃣5️⃣0️⃣ On Making Good Predictions for 2050

I’m not sure I totally agree with this (the rate of change in the past doesn’t ensure it will stay the same, especially at the dawn of the exponential age), but it’s still an interesting piece:

If you want to predict the future accurately, you should be an incrementalist and accept that human nature doesn’t change along most axes. Meaning that the future will look a lot like the past. If Cicero were transported from ancient Rome to our time he would easily understand most things about our society. There’d be a short-term amazement at various new technologies and societal changes, but soon Cicero would settle in and be throwing out Trump/Sulla comparisons (or contradicting them), since many of the debates we face, like what to do about growing wealth inequality, or how to keep a democracy functional, are the same as in Roman times.

🍄 How Should We Do Drugs Now?

Michael Pollan on how society should rethink its relationships with some compounds called “drugs” today.

The long history of humans and their mind-altering drugs gives us reason to hope we can negotiate a peace with these powerful substances, imperfect though it may be. We have done it before. The ancient Greeks grasped the ambiguous, double-edged nature of drugs much better than we do. Their word for them, “pharmakon,” means both “medicine” and “poison” — it all depends, they understood, on use, dose, intention, set and setting. Blessing or curse, which will it be? The answer depends not on law or chemistry so much as on culture, which is to say, on us.

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 Delay and Grandparenthood

A thought-provoking piece about delaying the age of parenthood and its influence on the age of becoming a grandparent.

In a society where the age of first birth is 20 years old, the generational structure looks like this:

  1. 0-year-old baby

  2. 20-year-old parent

  3. 40-year-old grandparent

  4. 60-year-old great-grandparent

  5. 80-year-old great-great-grandparent

When the age of first birth climbs to 30, it looks like this:

  1. 0-year-old baby

  2. 30-year-old parent

  3. 60-year-old grandparent

  4. 90-year-old great-grandparent

If it climbs up to 40, you get this:

  1. 0-year-old baby

  2. 40-year-old parent

  3. 80-year-old grandparent

Every year that you move the age of first birth back causes the age of grandparenthood to move back two years and the age of great-grandparenthood to move back three years. Waiting a few extra years before having kids is not much for a parent, but when you double or triple it, which is what happens to grandparents and great-grandparents, it can add up pretty quickly.

🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week

This week in podcasts:

  • Controlling Your Dopamine For Motivation, Focus & Satisfaction

    • An essential episode covering everything related to dopamine. Dopamine has been popularized in recent years, but a lot of misconceptions prevail in the general public.

    • A crucial idea of the episode is: Even with a balanced life, if all your activities (drinks, dancing, food, sports) are in the pursuit of spiking dopamine, you might end up with a low dopamine baseline and feel burnt out after a while. Dopamine is a currency. The antidote is to stop combining things that spike dopamine (exercise with music, for example) and engage in activities that aren’t in the pursuit of spiking dopamine (mediation, for example.)

  • General Stanley McChrystal — Mastering Risk

    • “The idea that we want to mitigate risk to zero before we act is really common and really costly.”

      — General Stanley McChrystal

🍭 Brain Food

💉 The False Narrative Around Theranos

As the Theranos trial currently unfolds, this piece by Elad Gil is a good reminder that the Theranos fiasco isn’t an example of what is happening in other Silicon Valley startups.

One of the interesting aspects of the Theranos trial is the degree to which some folks are buying into part of the defense's narrative that "Theranos was just acting like every Silicon Valley startup". This is of course blatantly false, but it is being adopted as some form of truth. 

The claim is that every tech founder somehow pushes the envelope of truth, and therefore that is all Theranos did (versus potentially committing fraud over a 15 year period, lying to regulators, physicians, employees and investors while endangering patients).

This analogy breaks down on multiple levels. 

There is a big difference between drunk driving at 90 mph in a school zone versus driving 5 miles too fast on the freeway. (Or, in the case of most tech companies, simply respecting the speed limit).

While there are obviously some bad actors in tech, there does not appear to be quantitative evidence to suggest this is any worse than in non-profits, finance, media & hollywood, or any other sectors. 

Where the analogy breaks down between Theranos and the "average" tech company:

  1. Most technology companies do not lie about their product or service.

  2. Over its 15 year history (and $700 million raised), Theranos never had a working product. It appears possible Theranos' approach was potentially unlikely to actually be able to work based on the chemistry/biological contamination of the approach.

  3. The company launched a fake product to living, breathing patients whose potential course of treatment and therefore life and death situations depended on accurate results.

  4. The scale of lying was exceptional.

  5. Theranos raised no real mainstream venture capital.

  6. Theranos was a diagnostics company, not a "tech" company.

🎥 What I’m Watching

👩‍🚀 Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space

It seems like Netflix finally listened to our need for more optimistic shows about science and technology! This is a great series on the Inspiration4 Mission. The first episode is about Shift4 Payments CEO and mission lead Jared Isaacman, quite an incredible person. (Use a VPN in Canada to watch it!)

🗺 Polyglot Speaks 20 Languages. Here’s How He Did It

I’ve been interested in language learning lately because I’m learning Serbian. This is a good video on the best technique to learn a new language.

🔧 The Tool of the Week

📻 Callin — Social Podcasting

As you might know by now, we did a slight pivot at Vital to be a verticalized social app and make health optimization social. I strongly believe verticalized social apps will be huge, and I’m always eager to try new apps taking this approach. Callin is a social podcasting app built by David Sacks. I think they took a better strategy than Clubhouse, and I recommend it.

🪐 Quote I’m Pondering

I don’t stop when I’m tired. I stop when I’m done.

David Goggins

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👋 EndNote

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Until next week,

Mehdi Yacoubi

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