Technology avalanches, AI & Education, and the contested college bundle
Recently I joined Avalanche.vc as a venture partner.
I met Katelyn at NFT NYC last fall, and we bonded over our skeptical crypto excitement. We started co-investing in edtech and crypto companies. Katelyn recently asked me to join her and Dalglish to put the second Avalanche fund to work. We're professionally pre-seed, and want to work with entrepreneurs building companies around massive trends. Or technological and social avalanches. Interested entrepreneurs, LPs, and others can reach me at email@example.com.
AI, Education, and Creative Generators
The AI Avalanche has been building for a long time. Today, AI is table stakes and frontier technology. Its potential power and impact have long been a perennial topic. And this year, a new -- AI-powered -- consumer experience emerges: creative generators.
These programs intake human prompts and respond with their best effort. At the speed of software. GPT-3 responds with words, and DALLE-2 & MidJourney return images. For example, I asked GPT-3 how AI will impact education:
OpenAI’s GPT-3 works by processing lots of natural language. In other words, the AI reads lots of published text on the internet, and develops a model of sounding smart. So it is able to return smart-sounding replies like the one above. But is this AI smart? It’s debatable. What’s clear is that this is a new and powerful tool. And tools extend our capabilities.
The more limbic creative generator turns human instructions into synthesized images. These tools extend the capability of a novice artist in extraordinary ways. For example, I can just instruct Midjourney to imagine: ‘beautiful rocky mountain landscape in the style of Van Gogh’
Or, rather, paint me a: ‘beautiful rocky mountain landscape in the style of Kandinsky’
Midjourney is my preference of the current competition, but I can imagine that OpenAI will release a DALLE-3 or 4 or 5 soon that will seem quite amazing. Playing with these products and thinking about this trend, I’m reminded of the Marshall McLuhan’s notion that with each new technology, we get both augmented and amputated. The augmentation with creative generators is awesome and obvious once you start using them. But, what set of knowledge, skill, and craft becomes irrelevant in a world widespread with these tools? What is the role of writing education, when an AI writes a 15 second first draft like this?
Unbundling college and Verci
There is the famous story of Jim Barksdale running late for a plane and saying “Gentlemen, there’s only two ways I know of to make money: bundling and unbundling.”
Higher education innovators have adapted this metaphor. The idea is that college represents a bundle of goods. And this bundle can not stand the tide of the internet and the digital revolution. The college bundle includes:
Access to Opportunities
Personal Transformation, and
Cognitive and Employable Skills.
Entrepreneurs are innovating in each quadrant and corner of the college value map. Recently, I made an angel investment in Verci, which is attacking the `Access to Opportunities` and `Personal Transformation` for would-be college consumers.
I met one of the founders of Verci, Ami, at ETH Denver. He grew up between Tokyo and NYC, and dropped out of both Lehigh and Columbia. When we met, I was mapping the web3education space so had heard of his project at the time: DropoutDAO. Verci is an evolution. They have a physical clubhouse in NYC, and are building community online. Their vision is to re-bundle the college experience — for dropouts and others — by starting with “social infrastructure.” Here’s Ami talking about how he sees it:
For most people, college is a really good package. But if you look at each specific thing, it’s pretty shit. Dorms, cool, but not best. Dining halls, pretty good, but not best for food, or community dining experience, or for health. Education itself, not terrible, but pretty shit.
A lot of people go to college for the social infrastructure — which includes, how to meet people, how do you have good conversations, and make deep relationships.
How many of these young people will continue going to accredited, degree-granting institutions? And how many will choose new alternatives? The traditional bundle is receiving more intense analysis from their prospective customers: young people. Many of them are finding that those recognizable brands are not focused on what matters most to them. Verci steps into this disrupted space with a message to entrepreneurial young people:
You don't need the old brands for a new career.
You should be having fun and building cool stuff with inspiring peers.
If you, or know someone who, fits this bill send them to this link.