The 2024 Tech Hypegeist: AI Growth, Crypto Awakening, Robotics' Promise, and the Energy Revolutionby@kamilaselig
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The 2024 Tech Hypegeist: AI Growth, Crypto Awakening, Robotics' Promise, and the Energy Revolution

by Kamila SeligJanuary 25th, 2024
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2024's tech scene unfolds with a focus on AI's transition from experimentation to production, fueled by a 36% annual growth in generative AI spending. Crypto and blockchain resurge, driven by events like the bitcoin halving and institutional purchases. Robotics, once perceived as distant, sees potential applications like roof installation, while the energy sector witnesses significant funding and enthusiasm, paving the way for an era of abundant, clean energy. Dive into the intricacies and opportunities shaping the tech landscape in 2024.
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If a few years ago someone had said “Start ramping up on LLMs”, what would their take be at the beginning of 2024?

After taking stock of tech substacks, 2024 analyst predictions (either general consulting, like Deloitte or Gartner, or industry-specific, like Messari), and what’s going on with VC funds (either via reporting services, or content like a16z’s), four areas stand out: AI (duh), crypto & blockchain, robotics, and nuclear energy.

AI will continue printing money, use cases, apps, and opportunities

Tracking the predicted scale - and direction - of growth is a captivating past time, because I want to steer my career into the growing markets. It’s easier to grow quickly, and have an outsized impact, when the whole industry grows alongside of you.

“Spend On Generative AI Will Grow 36% Annually To 2030”[1]

Two trends pique my attention: the move from experimentation to production, and the progress on AI agents.

After a year of experimenting with what genAI can do, companies will start deploying, whether internally to employees or externally to customers, spurring the next wave of projects:

4 out of 5 firms said they planned to increase their investment in [AI] by over 50% by the middle of 2024 [The Economist].

Also, startup ideas will start materializing in the market. For consumers and smaller size businesses, this will be a much more approachable and visible innovation than what’s happening inside enterprises.

In 2023 VC investors poured over $36bn into generative AI, more than twice as much as in 2022 [also The Economist].

Rabbit R1 (and its hype!) shows what the first step towards consumer AI agents might look like, and how much interest they can generate (TBD if long-lived).

For businesses, AI agents are appetizing, because they promise to streamline hours of labor; the impact will land somewhere in the middle between eliminating tedious tasks in our jobs and eliminating the entire job families. Forrester predicts top 10 agencies will spend a combined $50 million in partnerships to build custom AI solutions for enterprise clients [3].

Google Searches for AI agents, interest over time

For many of us, this prompts some questions:

It’s not too late. From Deloitte:

“substantial human intervention was required [in working with generative AI tools], supporting our point that in the era of artificially intelligent machines, humans are more important than ever (…) In the age of creative machines, creative humans matter more than ever”

Lastly, when it seems that the space moves too fast to catch up and that it’s easier to throw in the towel - I like to think that the noticing alone means we’re in the right place, at the right time, moving at the right pace. Chaos creates the perfect conditions to innovate and experiment.

From Forrester:

“Experimentation with generative AI will occur amid a tense social and economic background: High-stakes political elections around the world will create moments of acute societal tension; employee engagement and sentiment are likely to slump; and inflation will continue to cast a long shadow, with the overall macroeconomic picture remaining cloudy. Despite this uncertainty, the greatest risk is to wait by the shore hoping that someone else will figure out the way first. Generative AI will be the fulcrum that businesses rely on to enhance, empower, and engage employees and customers — with or without you. Embrace the misstep, and think big.”

Ok, but what does this mean in practice?

There’s only so much experimenting to be done with generative art, or so many arxiv papers to read, and simply using ChatGPT doesn’t feel conducive to “using it to get ahead”. I’ve asked myself the same, so I started compiling an “I want to know the practical things about genAI and LLMs” deck. It’s not shareable yet, but you can subscribe on Substack to get it once it is.

Blockchain and crypto are waking up from their (perceived) slumber

We’re about to start hearing a lot more about it, after a year of relative calm (which, inevitably, will manifest itself in activity on - and I say that lovingly, as a crypto optimist); for blockchain as a pure tech, enterprises will continue to explore its use cases, nearing a viable application, which we might see IRL.

On the crypto and finance side:

  • Several events are driving the bullish narrative and the overall mainstream interest: the next bitcoin halving expected in late April, the already-approved bitcoin ETFs, plus the rumors about the approval of the Ethereum ETF. Historically, BTC halving had preceded a bull market; this time, it might compound with institutional purchasing.

  • Despite a relatively quiet year in 2023, the overall crypto index is up: the number of transactions and addresses increased; BTC (up ~85%) and ETH (up ~50%) appreciated more than the S&P 500 (up ~20%)

  • Crypto developer libraries and verified smart contracts have grown - an early signal that more apps, solutions, and products will hit the market.

On the blockchain and tech side, the specifics of solutions are murkier, because they’re so enterprise-centric (Real World Assets? Insurance? AI?), but the one clear signal is that the investment is sizable and growing:

Blockchain spending will hit 19B in 2024, mostly banking and manufacturing [4]

Robots are entering their spring?

For the last ~10 years, any retail-ish application of robots has always seemed too far into the future to be worth paying attention to, but that might be changing?! My enthusiasm was weirdly sparked after learning about Renovate Robotics, who are building a robot that can install roofs:

As Henrik Karlsson writes

What would have made me jump off my chair if I had read it six months ago? If you have figured out something that made you ecstatic, this is what you should write.

But I’m keeping my ambitions here cooled. Reports from CES are pretty underwhelming, with lots of focus on better cars, better monitors, novelty home equipment. The few widely-covered robots sound, frankly, like an IRL version of Clippy, or an Alexa on plastic wheels:

When the user returns home, the [LG Robot] greets them at the front door, discerns their emotions by analyzing their voice and facial expressions, and selects music or other content to suit their mood. It also assists users in their daily lives by providing transportation details, weather updates, personal schedules or reminders to take medications. [5]

I don’t need a robot to pick music for me, I need someone to fold my laundry and unload the dishwasher. Re: Tesla's Optimus:

Lastly: I’m rooting for energy that’s too cheap to meter

Diving into the field of energy was full of surprises:

  • Startups are getting funded: climate tech attracted twice the amount of VC funding as GenAI did (🤯‼️) in 2023 [6].

  • VCs are betting on fusion paying off within the next 10 years, with IPOs in the early 2030s; “there are now 43 private fusion companies in operation and 2023 saw 14 fusion startups raise funding rounds, a record number” [7]

  • Public interest is growing and the sentiment is increasingly positive.

Why does energy matter in the context of tech?

There’s an opportunity to shift the world from the approach of energy austerity - conserving energy at all costs - to abundant, clean, and safe energy that enables the next technological leaps. From Packy McCormick:

With practically unlimited cheap energy, we’ll be able to suck CO2 out of the air, mitigate the effects of climate change, and have enough left over to meaningfully improve the quality of life for billions of people around the world. (…) Energy use is the bound of civilization. If you increase it, civilization grows and progresses. If you limit it, civilization stagnates. (…)

Numerous studies have found a long-run, direct, causal, and bidirectional relationship between energy consumption and economic growth. Researchers found that a 1% increase in real GDP per capita increases total energy consumption by 0.6%. It works the other way, too—a 0.9% increase in electricity use in OECD countries led to a 1.7% increase in GDP. For non–OECD countries, a 2% annual increase in electricity use increases GDP by 3.8%.

Simply put, more energy means more progress, and vice versa, across the board.

And from the UN

Energy is central to nearly every major challenge and opportunity the world faces today, including poverty eradication, gender equality, adaptation to climate change, food security, health, education, sustainable cities, jobs and transport.

Thanks for being here.

I share pragmatic takes on emerging tech and its opportunities, with a sprinkle of deep dives into data and market insights to understand how the next 3-5 years will shape up. You can subscribe here.

Also published here.