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Deep into the Forest
Deep Tech for a Better Future
2020 has been the most tumultuous year in recent memory. The chaos of the pandemic, the lockdowns, the murder of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, the US election in November, and most recently Trump’s attempted mob coup (at the dawn of 2021). Mass death and a year of isolation and perpetual uncertainty for many of us. And most jarringly, an utter failure of the US government to act effectively in the face of all of this turmoil.
Reinventing and rejuvenating American society will be a long and difficult path. One that may take the rest of our adult lives. 2020 has shown us that society is fragile. Seemingly unshakeable foundations can turn into sand and blow away in the wind in a single day. The pandemic has been a mighty disruption, but climate change, wars, and other troubles may be yet to come. Rather than placing ourselves at the whims of fate, let’s take the opportunity to build a better future.
One of the few bright spots this year has been the rapid development of a high quality vaccine. How can we enable more of our society to demonstrate the same excellence as our vaccine makers? I’m assuming that a lot of you are fellow scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. Perhaps you’re writing grant applications, working on an open source project, or even bringing a product to market. Or maybe you’re a student who wants to learn how to make meaningful change. What can people like us do?
Deep technology has a magic and power that unites people. That feeling at the SpaceX launches. The wonder of a new iPhone. A cure for a once untreatable disease. There’s been a shortage of that wonder recently. For me, deep technology offers an avenue to fix some deep rooted issues in our society. To be upfront, none of this is meaningful without just, well-informed, and equitable policy. But I think rekindling a sense of wonder and possibility can make a difference.
The weekly focus of this newsletter will be on practical matters of deep technology. What is deeptech? My definition is that it’s the technology of the real world, real devices, real experiments. Think biotech, agriculture, healthcare, energy, semiconductors, textiles, manufacturing, and more. Technology which creates a sense of wonder and magic - for issues that directly or indirectly affect our day-to-day lives. Cures for diseases. Rapid construction devices and 3D printers. Giant robots. Spaceships. Nuclear reactors. Semiconductor foundries. Particle colliders. This will involve a lot of discussion about cool new research papers, novel techniques, and fundamental scientific advances. But technology is not just science; so we will talk about other adjacent topics as well. What are the mechanisms for raising capital for deeptech companies? How can you talk to venture capitalists, to governmental funding agencies, and the public at large?
As part of the wave of globalization that swept the US in the 1990s and 2000s, many deeptech industries were outsourced. For a time, this felt like a mutually beneficial deal for all involved. New industries for other parts of the world and high margins for American companies. But increasingly the deal has soured for the US. Deep expertise in many foundational industries has departed our shores and settled elsewhere. Increasingly our universities focus on computational and theoretical disciplines and not on practical technology. I hope this newsletter can work in a small way to help rebuild this expertise by creating a community of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs who want to make a positive and meaningful change for our society.
The events of 2020 (and 2021) have revealed that there are deep fault lines in our society, that the rule of law is not equal for people of different colors and backgrounds. To do our part to help improve this state of affairs, this newsletter will also aim to highlight research, organizations, and initiatives led by members of underrepresented populations in tech. The society we want to rebuild is not the America of the 1950s, but a just and advanced democracy of the 2020s and beyond.
Highlights for the week
Here are a few interesting articles and resources I came across this week. Each week I will highlight a few deeptech resources I found compelling.
https://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/devices/intels-stacked-nanosheet-transistors-could-be-the-next-step-in-moores-law: Semiconductors and semiconductor manufacturing are one of the most important areas of deep technology that get the least attention from Silicon Valley at present. Paradoxically, the slowdown of Moore’s law means that the scope for potential hardware innovation has radically widened. Exotic constructions, new materials, and even new physics are all fair game for creating next generation semiconductors. You might ask what the relationship between quantum computing and classical computing is here. Won’t advances in quantum computing render work in semiconductors obsolete? Perhaps one day in the far future, but for the short term it looks to me like quantum computing will become something like a special purpose auxiliary system (QPUs anyone?). That means that classical computing and semiconductors still matter.
https://mjt.cs.illinois.edu/dlt/: An interesting set of notes for the theory of deep learning with a focus on succinct, simple proofs of neural network theory.
http://www.hartmanhep.net/topics2015/: A neat set of notes on quantum gravity. String theory has started to fall by the theoretical wayside due to its lack of testable predictions. This has meant a resurgence in the study of quantum gravity. Here’s an excellent set of lecture notes on the subject.
Feedback and Comments
This was the first iteration of the newsletter and our format will undoubtedly change as we grow. I plan to do deep dives on various technologies and hopefully guest posts from various experts. Stay tuned for more information.
Please feel free to email me directly (
firstname.lastname@example.org) with your feedback and comments!
Author: Bharath Ramsundar, Ph.D.
Editor: Sandya Subramanian