What Lightspeed Is Reading, Listening To, And Thinking About AI

At Lightspeed, AI is not a fad. We’ve been investing in startups with artificial intelligence-based products and services for over seven years, with 30 companies in our portfolio, including SnorkelStability AI, and Tome, and we’re tracking dozens more.

Successful platform shifts always rest on a set of underlying foundational primitives and abstractions built to support the new paradigm. The AI revolution is no different. AI’s core building blocks have been stacking up for some time. Now however, the demand side has exploded. And we’re primed to seize the moment with our portfolio companies, present and future.

Lightspeed has placed over $850 million in service of these companies and their mission to build the future. Our investment decisions are based on deep research and analysis, candid communication, and establishing trust and common purpose with the founders we back.

To stay on top of this rapidly evolving industry, Lightspeed’s Partners read deeply and broadly across the field, taking in everything from the technical to the theoretical to the philosophical.

It’s impossible to be comprehensive, but here we’re sharing some of the reads we’ve found most compelling over the past few months. We’ve included some classic texts read in the context of a new excitement, and recent articles explaining the latest developments and dilemmas painting the AI landscape in general and in venture capital. We’ve also included several great aggregators across industry and academia that are seeing around corners in their coverage and analysis.

Foundational Books

An AI Classic Tome
Godel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter, a researcher in computer science. This book might have been published in 1979, but the questions it asks, like how consciousness emerges from darkness, and how similar thought patterns arose from three geniuses in diverse fields, are newly relevant. If you don’t have time to read a doorstop right now, read these posts on Mind Matters and Medium for a summary (or perhaps to whet your appetite).

The AI Long View
In Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans, Melanie Mitchell offers a comprehensive and pragmatic overview of the fundamentals of modern artificial intelligence. The book is a tour of the science, a biography of the creators of the technology, a history of invention, and a gaze into the future.

Who is Training Who?
One of the world’s leading academics on AI, Stuart Russell, offers up Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control an accessible primer on the risks that AI poses to humanity, and how we can approach the technology more responsibly.

AI x Startups, Strategy, Business

Do AI Moats Exist in SaaS?
In this ACQ2 podcast episode hosts Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal talk through b2b AI moats with Jake Saper, General Partner of Emergence Capital. Jake highlights that the likely moat for most b2b AI businesses will be not the LLM itself but the “good old fashioned building blocks of SaaS, like complex workflows, data integrations, advanced permissioning.” This “scaffolding” will create defensible generative AI-enabled businesses.

The AI Litmus Test
VC NFX argues there is a way to determine whether startups are building a “hard, unique, defensible” product. Read on for Morgan and Drew Beller’s hypothesis and a Donald Rumsfeld callout.

Frothy or Brilliant?
Rewind.ai got 170 offers for funding by running an extremely open fundraise, according to The Information. Can AI also change VC? CEO Dan Siroker also offered a closer look behind the already open curtain on Twitter.

AI McKinsey?
The New Yorker posits an interesting idea — AI as a management consulting firm, with the capacity to improve business, or do harm, based on inputs. The writer argues the next stage of capitalism will be based on how well “the consultant” is instructed in what its aim should be in helping a business evolve.

The ChatGPT MC
Sam Altman ignited a spark with ChatGPT’s release from his startup OpenAI. This recent profile chronicles his view of what AI can and perhaps will be, and in a Rosebud moment, includes a mention of a short story that is one of his favorite views of artificial intelligence, a sci-fi piece called The Gentle Seduction. (He also argued for AI regulation in a Senate hearing today.)

Does OpenAI have it wrapped?
Spark Capital VC 
Fraser Kelton writes that he doesn’t, “see how there’s anything but a small number of groups providing the largest, most capable models. At this point it seems clear that it will be OpenAI and Anthropic and then tbd on whether anyone else will join them.” Provocative! Here’s the leaked Google memo Kelton is responding to.

Pitchbook on Generative AI
Get a free look at what the research firm’s analysts think about the directions this emerging technology can go with their newly released report.

Regulation is Inevitable
In the New York Times Opinion section, FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan lays out a framework for AI regulation: she argues her commission is best equipped to insure equitable use of AI that limits fraud and abuse, and prevents a repeat of the worst excesses of the web 2.0 era.

Better minds, lives, and educators

With ChatGPT, a Runner is Born
This Twitter thread reminds us that prompt engineering is a thing of the present and future. Everyday.ai writer Greg Mushen used OpenAI to make himself a running addict, and lost 26 lbs. in the process.

AI for Education
Khan Academy founder Sal Khan argues in his Ted Talk, AI for Education that, “We’re at the cusp of using AI for probably the biggest positive transformation that education has ever seen.” (Here come AI tutors and teaching assistants.) Khan says educators and startups should focus on creating positive tools, not on enabling or detecting cheating.

AI for Mental Health
Can a chatbot replace a therapist? Startup Wysa aims to find out, but as with all health related ventures, patient safety and privacy are big concerns that require definitive answers. NPR looks into it. (Singles might need all the therapy they can get once they get a look at what AI dating might be like.)

Is AI Actually Composability?
Packy McCormick makes a case that what the new generation of AI tools really do is allow for composing knowledge and complex problem solving. They’re not so much an emergence of intelligence as an alphabet of complex ideas that can be arranged to derive meaning, just as actual alphabets help humans turn the physical world into ideas, concepts, and communication.

On That Note…
Computer scientist and philosopher Jaron Lanier argues in The New Yorker that “There is No AI” in the way it’s being conceived in the popular imagination — as something that has the potential to become an equal — or a competitor — to the human mind. What is being called AI right now are just complex tools — that like all human creations, can be used for good or for harm.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Money?

The AI Investor
Quant firm AQR backtested ChatGPT as an investment tool, and found using it would have outperformed the market from 2004 to 2019, according to a story in Institutional Investor. Unfortunately ChatGPT has only been trained on data up to 2021, and it’s forbidden to dispense investing advice. But you never know!

Fintech meets Generative AI
Bain Capital Ventures thinks that the fuzzy logic of AI has a role in the exacting world of Fintech, once the kinks are worked out. SaaS, meet GaaS.

Bloomberg Built a LLM
BloombergGPT is the company’s attempt to automate financial tasks, with a bespoke 50 billion parameter Large Language Model. Here’s the abstract and whitepaper.

Academic Research and Resources

NEJM AI in Medicine
Stay up to date on AI x Medical with the leading journal in the space, which is also soon spinning off a new journal focused on AI. More info here.

The Stanford HAI 2023 AI Index Report
“The annual report tracks, collates, distills, and visualizes data relating to artificial intelligence, enabling decision-makers to take meaningful action to advance AI responsibly and ethically with humans in mind.” And trust us, it is chock full of insights. From Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, which also offers a comprehensive reading list of books about AI. (More from Stanford: Center for Artificial Intelligence in Medicine & Imaging.)

AI Aggregators

Byte Size Updates
Ben’s Bites is a daily dose of what’s going on across AI. With over 90,000 readers across tech, including from Google, a16z, Sequoia, Amazon, Meta, and more, it’s known for wit and brevity.

A Faire List
Dan Hockenmaier of Lightspeed portfolio company Faire is keeping his own reading list of AI strategy, research, and papers, and it’s worth a bookmark or signup.

Work Smarter With Generative AI
The Lore weekly newsletter is one of our favorite overviews of the weekly key advances, products, and funding rounds in generative AI — with a focus on interactive consumer media and gaming applications.

A Newsletter for Nerds
The Batch is another great resource established as part of ML researcher Andrew Ng’s DeepLearning.ai, with a focus on research and the economics of LLMs that are core to AI’s functions and capabilities.

And finally, the bizarre
Text to video AI is in its infancy, as this Tweet of an alternatingly gross and perfect pizza commercial made with Runway ML Gen-2 shows. Pepperoni Hug Spot, here we come. Are you ready for best pizza of life?

If you have questions about the reading list or want to get in touch, drop us an email, we’d love to hear from you. 

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