The Book in Three Sentences
In this summary of The Anthology of Balaji, you’ll learn how to thrive in an unknowable future. In the book, Eric Jorgenson curated Balaji’s wisdom and turned it into a timeless guide that people will be using for years. The Anthology of Balaji is divided into three concise parts: Technology, Truth, and Building the Future.
The Anthology of Balaji Summary
Balaji Srinivasan is an entrepreneur, engineer, investor, and futurist. Jorgenson compiled Balaji’s podcasts, posts, and tweets and turned them into a book where you can learn his biggest ideas.
Balaji grew up in Long Island, New York. His parents were Indian immigrants who worked as physicians. At school, he felt like an outcast and spent a lot of time in detention where he would read. By the time he was in high school, he was athletic. Balaji soon discovered that originality was his unfair advantage.
He really started learning new things when he got access to Google in 2001. Balaji got a BS, MS, and PhD in chemical engineering at Stanford. Soon he founded a startup which he ended up selling for hundreds of millions. Balaji then turned his attention to angel investing and he mainly focused on cryptocurrencies. He also teaches computer science.
Part I: Technology
The Value of Technology
Building What Money Can Buy
Balaji isn’t motivated by money, he wants to use money to build things that don’t yet exist. Progress means different things to different people, but to him, it means life expectancy.
Faster, Better, and Cheaper
The most important thing about technology is the tools we create with it, not the goals we have. The purpose of technology is to lessen scarcity and the ultimate purpose of technology is to stop mortality. That’s why breakthroughs are often described as “faster, smaller, cheaper, and better”. Time is our most valuable asset because our life spans are limited. Extending our life to the fullest could be the greatest invention in history.
Value Creation Comes from Technology
Value doesn’t come from labor. On the other hand, value comes from the impact it makes and one of the things that has impacted people the most is technology. Eventually, everything that can be done over the internet will.
Unlocking Unseen Value
Outdated regulations get in the way of new technologies. There’s value in seeing how changing those regulations can make a positive impact on the world. Without regulation, there would be unseen innovation. New regulations are fast and precise. Nowadays, people don’t tolerate risk. They want to be safe, but being conservative when it comes to risk, leads to systemic risk. This is when you don’t take risks and you’re stuck with an old system. In the field of medicine, for example, nobody wants to be the first to try a new drug. This is what’s unseen and to get there, we must reward early adopters.
More Technology; More Progress
Past failure doesn’t mean something is impossible. A lot of people think that technological breakthroughs require sacrifice. Giving up our values or exposing ourselves to undesirable side effects, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
When a new technology is invented, there are wrinkles to iron out. As time goes by, they become safer and more reliable. A clear example is airplanes. Human flight seemed impossible at some point. When the first airplanes started flying they were unsafe and over time, they became something we take for granted. This was possible because someone thought the problem of flying was solvable.
Technology propels us forward. This means a new invention comes out and it changes the world. Although seemingly easy from the outside, most things involving technology are incredibly complex. In fact, making technology accessible and easy to use is one of the hardest things. The easier it is to use, the harder it is to design. New technologies seem frivolous at first, but they often lead to some groundbreaking discoveries.
The Impact of Technology
Technology Lowers Prices
Every area influenced by technology is getting cheaper and cheaper. We all have access to the same tools which means we all have access to the same opportunities. This creates equality.
Technology is the Driving Force of History
Throughout history, there have been many disruptive influences: mapmaking, the state, feudalism, guns, and of course, technology. Whether we like it or not, technology can be used for conflict and not in the traditional sense. You don’t destroy places and lives, but you can use it for terrorism, cancellation, hacking, or social media. There’s moral innovation, as well as technological innovation. Some of the new technologies are exciting (cryptocurrencies, reverse aging, digital nomadism, AI, virtual reality), but it will take time before the mass population embraces them.
Technology Determines Political Order
Some laws need to be changed and re-examined now that technology has come into the picture. Technology should limit the government, not the other way around.
From Centralized to Decentralized
During the twentieth century, most technologies were centralized (broadcast media, production, and armies). At the same time, those technologies were run by centralized states. Little by little, the situation started to change and technology-enabled decentralization. While in the twentieth century, everything was homogenized (this means everyone was consuming and doing the same things), now the landscape has changed drastically. Decentralization isn’t about anarchy, but about choice.
This has advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that people are exposed to different ideas from a very young age. They have access to the biggest library of information for free, they can find like-minded communities, they can be self-educated, and they can work remotely. The disadvantages are that people stare at a screen all they, they don’t read books, and they’re distracted.
Our Digital Future
Physical, Then Digital, Then Nature Digital
The future is digital. Books, movies, and currencies will all be entirely digital soon. While we can foresee certain changes, others are harder to predict.
The Blockchain Disruption
Cryptocurrencies will disrupt technology in the same way that technology disrupts every other area. This will probably take a few decades, but it’s coming. With the popularity of social media, people are realizing they can’t control the platforms and they’re not getting paid as much as they could. Crypto gives them exactly what they want and that’s digital property rights. Blockchain will change everything.
Technology to Create Alignment
Crypto creates alignment. This idea will transform education because there will be institutions like Harvard where you don’t have to pay anything. Given enough time, Bitcoin might become a global government. Bitcoin is trustworthy because it’s more transparent than most finance systems.
The Digital Frontier
The virtual frontier opened in 1991 and everyone with a keyboard could join. Now people participate in online communities of shared beliefs. Smartphones encourage people to spend more time online and VR might do something similar. VR makes everything more real and tangible. In the digital alternative of the real world, everything just works, so people default to it.
All Value Becomes Digital
Wealth will become digital. While most goods will exist in the physical world. In the future, most things will be automated. Value will be created online. Robotics will impact many areas of life, including food delivery, warfare, agriculture, and manufacturing. Being good at engineering and software gives you higher leverage.
Our Physical World
Automation Delivers Abundance
Drones will be more important because they’ll be autonomous, but you’ll also be able to control them to do things that are far away. To price things, we can measure the energy we need to produce something. Human labor, on the other hand, will be tricky. Industrial robotics will change manufacturing because the process will be faster and cheaper.
Self-Measure to Live Forever
We should be allowed to take risks with our health. This means trying new medicines and treatments. Ironically, we have outsourced our nutrition to capitalist institutions, and their values and ours, don’t align. The overabundance of sugar is bringing all sorts of problems and we’re ignoring them.
Not Life Extension, Youth Extension
The top priority of technology should be to stop death. This is known as “youth extension” because by making some adjustments, you could be twenty-something physiologically for longer.
Transhumanism: Self-Improvement with Technology
Transhumanism is about becoming the best version of yourself. It’s self-improvement, but with technology. Examples include external devices (phones, watches, glasses), body modifications, super-soldier serums, cognition-enhancing drugs, genetic modifications, and so on. It’s using technology to power up humans. Technology is what makes us humans and without it, we’d just be animals.
Part II: Truth
The Types of Truth
These are the things you should pursue and in this order: truth, health, and wealth. Learn what’s true. Pursue health because, without it, you’re done. Finally, pursue wealth. There’s truth and there’s social consensus. The fact that everyone agrees on something doesn’t make it right. There are two kinds of facts: political facts and technical facts. Political facts become true when enough people think that’s the case. Technical facts are the result of physical constants and they’re true regardless of what people think about them.
What does it mean when we say something is based on science? There’s a phenomenon, someone studies it, that person writes a paper that’s peer-reviewed, and then it’s published. Balaji refers to a peer-reviewed journal paper as a form of science that differs from the substance of science. The substance of science is independent replication.
Put simply, don’t confuse genuine science (Newton’s laws, Maxwell’s equations) with “science” (papers that came out recently). When you have to make decisions, don’t use a recent study, use something that has several independent replications. To know whether you should trust a scientific truth, determine if it can be independently verified.
Technical truths are absolute. This means they’re true even if others don’t think that’s the case. Math is greater than science because it’s exact.
Politics isn’t about truth, it’s about tribes. In politics, nobody tells the truth if it annoys the tribe. Truths that can do that, go untold. To determine if something is true or not, we must go to the source, but few people do that. Instead, most people repeat the same idea over and over. The problem is that popularity isn’t the same as truth.
Facts matter because they lead to technological and economic strength. Also, to make decisions, you need the truth. People determine if something is true or not if there’s money involved.
Cryptography provides decentralized truth. Regardless of who you are, where you live, or what you do, you know exactly how much Bitcoin you have and you won’t dispute it. This is innovative and it should be applied to other areas. The blockchain is the ultimate truth: it’s verifiable, replicated, unfalsifiable, and provable.
We should get to the point where all the data from different areas is integrated in the same place and people will have access to verifiable facts about everything. Everything we do has a digital component, so in the future, we might use this data to check the history of a community. In a way, this is like a log of our activity and we’ll be able to save every meaningful event.
Protecting the Truth
To change the world, we must discover facts that are true and distribute them. That combination is rare and therefore, extremely valuable.
Modern Media Is Misaligned with the Truth
The media shows reality in a distorted way.
You Are What You See
In a way, media is how we know what do do, a sort of computer program but for humans. Media reinforces certain concepts by sheer repetition. What you see determines what you think. This holds tremendous power over you. The information sources you’re exposed to shape your opinions and priorities.
The True Nature of Legacy Media
Media tries to enrage people because that’s how it keeps them engaged. Sadly, TV shows that divide and polarize are everywhere. The only one who wins in that conflict is the publication behind those shows since the parties involved don’t get anything out of the fight. The problem is that this model encourages media to incentivize conflict.
The NYT Said Rockets Could Never Work
In 1929, the New York Times said in an editorial that rockets couldn’t work in space. A rocket was launched into space in 1944 and the Apollo mission took place (successfully) in 1969. The New York Times took back its words fifty years later by writing: “The Times regrets their error”.
Media Has Its Own Motives
Since media companies are corporations, their interests often don’t align with yours. Sometimes media distorts facts so that it fits their interests. This is why tech founders often avoid traditional media corporations and they build their own media branches. Media attacks people to drive traffic, but you can’t put a price on someone’s reputation. If their only incentive is traffic instead of the truth, you get information that’s often incorrect. Not all stories are fake, but they’re not neutral either.
How to Realign Media
To solve the problem of media, we must build something better.
Creating High-Value Media
Media should increase your skills and abilities. It focuses on production, not on consumption. When people watch something to understand a topic deeply, the purpose of media changes and you look at it differently. Also, media like this (such as tutorial videos) can’t lie to us, so you learn and you fact-check as you watch. Some information encourages you to take action (the weather, stock prices). Train yourself to have a healthy information diet. Infotainment (social media, streaming) is useless and empty.
Media Driven by the Reader’s Benefit
Platforms like Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and Quora have something in common: randomness. When using these apps, there’s no sense of progress because you’re not building toward anything. There’s novelty, but no purpose. Ideally, the first thing you should see each morning should be the metrics you want to improve, not random stories someone picked for you.
Aligning Incentives for Writers
Ideally, tech, media, and society should realign. For instance, the Minority Report movie inspired the Xbox Kinect peripheral. When this happens, the writer who adds value should be compensated for it.
Building a Fact-based Media
We should do a better job of covering tech. Tech articles should be fact-checked. This wouldn’t be expensive, but it would be useful.
How Media Gets Us to Mars
To get the kinds of technologies that will drive us forward, we must write about them. The simple act of writing about technology shows support for it. Ideally, you’d optimize for sentiment, not for clicks.
Building a Better Truth Machine
Social Media Is a Huge Vat of Brains
Media gives us a script to run on and we don’t even realize it. We’re mimetic creatures, so we mimic everything we see. Being online and on the same platforms means we get exposed to the same ideas. When a headline comes out people are passionate about it, but that passion evaporates after a few weeks. Social media rewards being rude to strangers, but the offline world doesn’t. Don’t forget that likes determine popularity, not the truth.
The Future of Media Is Decentralized
First, there was mainstream media, now there’s social media, and our destination is decentralized media. Decentralized media involves decentralized reporting, sourcing, hosting, distribution, payments, bounties, predictions, reputation, verification, consensus, and truth. The main problem with legacy media and social media is that their concept isn’t open source. Decentralized media is.
Creating Pre-Narrative News
For mainstream media to improve, we should make some drastic changes. This is the idea of a neutral feed or pre-narrative news. Sports scores and stock price movements are two of the best examples. A lot of media we consume are articles or videos wrapped around public data structures (a tweet, a box score, a company’s financials). Eventually, the news will become a single, giant feed. We’ll see raw facts and polarized content will be downranked.
Separating Facts from Narratives
Balaji sees oracles and advocates in the future of media. Oracles provide facts. Advocates are humans who interpret those facts. Consumers should be able to see what was included as well as what was omitted. Oracles are all about facts and advocates are all about narratives.
Becoming City Journalists
There are many things we do today that would have been impossible a couple of decades ago. One of those things is breaking an important story as a regular citizen. One person can make the difference.
Joining a New Media Community
Followers support you, but they don’t pay you anything. “Dollowers” are engaged and pay you for your effort. The latter are scarce. If we can create a media ecosystem full of content, we might challenge media corporations and make a living.
Part III: Building the Future
Achieving a Mindset of Abundance
Win-and-help-win is one of the best mentalities you can cultivate because it makes you profit in the long term. The two metrics we should pay attention to the most should be life expectancy and net worth. In other words, health and wealth.
Creating Your Own Wealth
Despite what most people think, you can create wealth. Wealth isn’t a zero-sum game where you gain something from someone else’s loss. There are numerous examples of people who have created something that made them rich (J.K. Rowling, Nakamoto, and Notch). The problem is that to obtain a reward, you first have to take a risk.
Your Simple Formula for Financial Independence
We know that money can compound, but the same is true for knowledge and impact. Don’t consume, produce. Instead of burning money, it’ll compound. Reduce your cost of living, don’t increase your net worth. The best thing that money gets you is free time.
To become financially independent, build your personal runway (this is the time you can go without working). Balaji explains this using a simple equation:
[Your Current Savings] ÷ [Your Yearly Expenses] = [Personal Runway]
Most companies started in a garage even pharmaceuticals and aviation companies. Of course, competitors and regulations made it more difficult, but for a while, progress happened because you didn’t need much money to start a business and nobody forbade you from doing it. This means there weren’t any regulatory, technological, or physical frontiers.
Finding a Frontier
Finding a frontier is the thing that drives people to seek progress and it leads to greatness. Technology helps with this. The four possibilities for the frontier are the land, the internet, the sea, and space.
Bad Leaders Divide. Great Leaders Create
Balaji ranks the types of leaders in the following way: Socialist > Nationalist > Capitalist > Technologist
- Socialism is the easiest way to become a leader because their message arises passion
- Nationalism stops internal conflict and gives people a common purpose
- Capitalism unites people so that they can fight someone else in the market
- Technologists bring something new to the market
As you move from one leading style to the next, the difficulty increases, but so does the value you create.
Don’t Argue. Build.
You can gain status in two ways. You can build something, accomplish something, or add value. Alternatively, you can argue, complain, or critique. Don’t argue. Build. Ideally, you want to build something you can’t buy. When the thing you want doesn’t exist, you have to invent it.
Every project starts with a humble idea. The only chance for that idea to take off is if you believe in it. Founders create from scratch. They are legitimate and competent.
Starting a company requires you to search for a market. Then, you need a goal. Ideas alone don’t mean much, but a good idea and some perspective can help you avoid certain pitfalls. The best ideas are the ones no one sees coming. They seem inconceivable or downright impossible. The moment you start reading about ideas in the media, it means they lost some of their value. New ideas are unpopular. Look for technologies nobody knows about or technologies that don’t work.
We’re transitioning from having physical versions of things to internet-native things. This pattern is everywhere and if it isn’t, it means there’s an opportunity to innovate. The only writing factor usually involves humans. The slowest part of sending an email is a human writing it, for example. Digital productivity has a ceiling because humans are involved.
When you’re selecting a project, go with the one that has the larger market. You want to do a simple calculation to determine if your business can get you far. You’re aiming to create a product with an economy of scale;e. This means that costs go down the more units you sell. Now four things will happen. First, what seems inexpensive at first pays off in the long run. Second, we see how much money we need to break even. Third, we realize pricing is important. If you don’t have any competition, charge the highest price to get profitable as soon as you can. The higher the price, the more value customers will see in your product. Fourth, the market has to be large enough to reach economies of scale.
Startups are supposed to grow rapidly. Rapid growth requires the use of technology. There are seven stages to turn ideas into reality:
Engineering involves developing something so that it works well enough for people to buy it. The position requires you to be versatile because you’re going to run into issues you didn’t consider.
Be specific about your first customers: write their names, phone numbers, and what you’ll tell them. The moment you launch your product, you expect compliments, but you’ll either be ignored or attacked. To solve this, you must sell more products. Selling gives you social proof, as well as money to make improvements.
The problem with a new product isn’t criticism, it’s indifference. Balaji describes two models for innovating:
- The Paladin: have something popular and make it profitable (social power, electric cars). They might go bankrupt.
- The Dark Knight: people want to buy from you, but you annoy your customers (Uber Paypal). They might get banned.
Some of the biggest companies of the last generation (Instagram, WhatsApp, Minecraft, and Bitcoin) had really small teams. The best teams are those with smart and hard-working people who work well together. Your job is to hire up-and-coming people. They are at the beginning of their careers, so they have a lot of potential and they can teach you new things. Degrees aren’t as important as you might think. Ideally, you want to hire people who are better than you.
As your team grows bigger and bigger, you must manage it. In a way, the role of the manager is to keep the organization aligned. As the scale of your product increases, the alignment decreases. Alignment happens when people do things without anyone telling them they have to. The best thing you can do for a company is the ability to run without you.
Determining the way in which consumers will get your product is important. If a startup isn’t growing, it means the competition will outgrow it soon.
Execution involves doing things on your to-do list and nothing else. This isn’t easy because you have to say no to everything else. The best approach is to follow Peter Thiel’s “one thing”: everyone’s in charge of one thing and they must do it. Put simply, executing involves figuring out the non-obvious things and avoiding them. Then, doing the obvious thing. Ideas are meaningless without execution.
There will always be problems to solve., There are a lot of things that can go wrong in a startup. Your job is to figure out your next move even when it doesn’t look like you can do anything.
The Productivity Playbook
By writing down your goals, you live by design. By not writing down your goals, you live by default. Goals are useful because they give you a sense of direction. Focusing on more than one thing is hard, but this has benefits. Unless you cultivate the skill of saying no to most things, you won’t be able to say yes to the important things.
Sustain a High Output Over the Long Term
Ideally, you’d want to maximize the number of hours you can work. Never sacrifice your health to do more work. Also, what you expose your brain to in the morning matters. The best thing you could do is spend time offline, so consider using pen and paper if you want. Writing longhand forces you to focus and you can always digitize that document later. If you intentionally spend time offline, nobody can bother you and you can focus on your priorities.
Learning to Learn Well
Read the newest technical papers and the oldest books. Their facts aren’t popular, but the truths you learn are monetizable. The best thing you can learn is how to learn quickly. To really learn, you have to use that information.
Learn to Think in Multiple Ways
Learning math is helpful. Mathematical concepts come in six ways: verbal, visual, algebraic, numerical, computational, and historical. To improve your understanding of something, do all six.
Build Broadly Applicable Skills
You want to apply the skills you already know to new domains. This means that you’re never starting from scratch, you’re always building on the foundations of previous skills. This brings value at the same time you learn something new. Some mental models are useful wherever you go (such as algorithms or data structures), so focus on those first. The author calls these universal languages and they include math, computer science, and statistics. Coding is also extremely important because it’s simple, it’s universal, and it’s valuable.
Invest in the Future You Want to See
Investors should invest in somebody knowing full well that that person will be richer than themselves. This is an unusual trait.
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