Andreessen Horowitz posted this interesting conversation on cobalt – the mineral helping power our phones, electric vehicles, and more.
The conversation got me thinking about a piece I wrote back in 2015 (time flies!) on Jean-Yves Ollivier, Marc Andreessen, and the common interests they share in minerals that power the global economy.
There has been a lot written about how problematic cobalt mining is because of the extent to which child labor is involved in Democratic Republic of Congo where much of the world’s cobalt is currently produced. Companies like Tesla and Apple are working on improving the sourcing of these minerals.
While the adoption of smartphones is rapidly growing, we’re still in the early stages for electric vehicles. According to Clean Technica, about two percent of vehicles sold last year were electric vehicles to give you a sense of how far there is to go.
So, if the world moves to electric vehicles we could be consuming a lot more cobalt. In the piece I wrote, I link to a BBC piece on a city in Mongolia called Baotou. The city is a hub for the production of some key minerals in smartphones and other complex devices. There’s a lake near the city that is extremely toxic as a result of industrial waste.
We hear a lot about artificial intelligence and are moving towards the technology becoming more and more a part of our lives. Devices will come along with this: cars, sensors, devices connected to our brains, and more. Proponents of artificial intelligence say the technologies could create something of a utopia where we’re able to focus more on caring for others, the arts and more.
My worry is that this supposed utopia would be layered on top of an underworld like Baotou. I had never heard of the place before reading that BBC piece.
Perhaps we’re really moving to the singularity and an artificial intelligence-driven world like Ray Kurzweil says we are. Maybe Elon Musk succeeds in driving the global adoption of electric vehicles. If that’s so, we’ve got to be sure we’re thinking through to the outer edges of the supply chain to ensure we’re treating folks and the environment well.
In his acceptance speech at the NAACP Image Awards this weekend, Jay-Z recited a quote that struck me: “It’s not the number of years in your life that count. It’s the amount of life in your years.” The quote echoed a question I had been pondering a couple days before I saw his acceptance speech on Sunday: “If today was your last, how would you assess the extent to which you’ve lived a full life?” Later Sunday evening, I learned Nipsey Hussle was murdered. I’ve had several conversations with friends about his death. This man was having a real impact in his neighborhood, and had a big vision. He wasn’t finished yet. His death is a reminder to remain focused on the reason we’re on this earth and handle our business there.
So, Andreessen Horowitz isn’t a venture capital firm anymore. Wow. The firm recently registered all of its employees as financial advisors and gave up its venture capital exemptions in order to be able to invest deeper in the cryptocurrency space. I’m not quite sure what to make of this, but I am curious to see how it impacts recruiting. I don’t get the sense that folks interested in VC are particularly interested in taking financial advisor reviews and being audited.
I’ve been skeptical of opportunity zones for some time now, and this piece reinforces my feelings. It’s been quite distressing watching firm’s like Anthony Scaramucci’s Skybridge Capital lay the groundwork for massive funds to take advantage of the incentives in program. The opportunity zone program is supposed to foster investment in distressed communities, but I worry that firms like Skybridge will muscle out investors like Nipsey Hussle who was also laying the groundwork to take advantage of the program. This article does a nice job laying out the roots of the opportunity zone program about which I knew little. I look forward to learning more here.
Marc Andreessen’s frenetic pace on Twitter has fascinated me for the past year. He seems to devour a ton of information and makes nice connections between the current technology landscape and the history and theory that got us to this point. The New Yorker did a helpful profile on him – the kind that makes more human a titan some may worship.
Jean-Yves Ollivier is a new name to me, but one that I will be keeping track of after reading this Bloomberg piece on his energy sector dealmaking in the Republic of Congo. Apparently, he is trying to shape his brand through the media. Perhaps he should get on Twitter and fire off some Tweetstorms like Mr. Andreessen.
There’s a BBC piece on a lake in Mongolia made up of extremely toxic waste from rare earth minerals largely used in our smartphones and renewable energy sources like wind turbine engines and electric vehicle batteries. While the majority of these minerals are mined in Asia, some African countries like Malawi are exploring their potential to produce these minerals. South Africa was a leading producer half a century ago.
The unicorns (companies with $1 billion valuations) for which Marc Andreessen spends his time looking, largely rely on the smartphone. In defending against concerns that we are in a bubble due to the massive amount of money going into funding startups, he points out that the technology sector of 2000 did not have a conductor like the smart phone to enable the growth of the industry, hence the bust. We have the smartphone now and he believes that the software on those phones is eating the world, and the technology industry’s growth is here to stay for quite some time.
The robots that Mr. Andreessen envisions taking over menial jobs, freeing us up to do what we want, will most likely need parts from minerals in parts of the world like Mongolia and Malawi. Unless we come up with clean ways to source these materials, we could see lakes like the one in Baotou pop up in southern Malawi. Brokers like Mr. Ollivier are helping make these deals happen, enabling the creation of the smartphones, robots, and other tools that people like Mr. Andreessen believe will drive our future world. Two men. Two different worlds. Perhaps.