Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Some background on my inspiration for this book:


Technology has been a big part of my life since I first visited the Museum of Holography in New York City during a high school field trip in 1981.  From that moment I knew my life would somehow be connected to technology, I just didn't know exactly how.  As it turned out, I didn’t enjoy engineering curriculum in college and ended up moving into sales and marketing in my early twenties, but my interest in technology was never far in the background, and in the mid 80’s I got involved with a pioneering company called LA Holographics.  The company ultimately failed, but it did fuel my passion for physics, and it also contributed to pop culture as the creative catalyst for the “Holodeck” in Star Trek, The Next Generation, which came about through my involvement with a Paramount Pictures recreational softball team.  The team’s pitcher, Peter Lauritson, happened to be a producer on the show, and he took interest in my perhaps over zealous explanation of holographic concepts, and he and his writers worked some of the ideas we talked about into the show’s storyline, exercising an appropriate, if aggressive, amount of Hollywood style creative license. 
Many years later I had the privilege of joining an exciting early stage start up company in LA, EarthLink Network, during the early wild west days of the Internet.  I fell in love with the fast paced environments of the high tech world, and went on to start or join several early stage Internet-related companies, some of which failed, but several of which became significant successes.  The most defining start up experience of my early career was my time at Idealab’s GoTo.com, which is one of the inspirations for this story.  As described in this book, Idealab was one of the first startup incubators, and while it has produced several successful companies over the past fifteen years, none have been more impactful than GoTo.com.  This company was based on the crazy, and to some, offensive, idea of including sponsored content, or advertisements, within Internet search result pages, brazenly crossing the religious barrier between advertising and editorial content.  As with most revolutionary ideas, no one saw this coming, but GoTo's improbable business model went on to fuel a huge percentage of the internet advertising economy (as high as 60% in the early 2000s, and today ~40%), generating many trillions of dollars in economic value since first introduced in 1998.   Notably, this estimated total value includes Google's revenue, because in grand tech industry tradition, Google imitated GoTo’s innovation of placing paid search advertisements adjacent to search results, and that model now powers over 90% of Google's revenues.  This incident led to an intellectual property infringement legal battle that was ultimately settled for ~200 million shares of Google stock, creating well over $1B in value for Yahoo—clearly the bargain of the century for Google if you consider the settlement amount is a small fraction of Google’s ~50B in annual revenue produced on the back of GoTo.com’s improbable business model.  It’s interesting to note that Google is using some of that money to invest in quantum computing research and development, so in a very real sense, GoTo.com will become a founding godfather of quantum computing. 
Though most of my time is spent on the front lines of the Internet economy, my passion for physics has always remained strong, and I’ve followed industry developments with great interest.  After all, quantum and theoretical physics is the point of the spear in humanity’s ongoing push to understand where we come from, where we’re going, and how and why we’re here.  How’s that, you may ask?  Quantum science is the purest attempt at understanding the fundamental building blocks of all that is; the very essence of our physical universe.  Paradoxically, this incredible journey towards understanding the building blocks of the physical universe leads us into a very unphysical world—the world of general relativity, special relativity, dark matter, black holes, string theory, quarks, quantum entanglement and, one of my personal favorites, quantum superposition, which basically states that a quantum object can be in any and all of it’s potential states/positions at once.  If true, does that mean I can be late for work and early at the same time?  Or does it mean that this reality is just one of many realities unfolding around us in parallel—the idea of parallel universes? 
Another incredible concept in quantum physics is the observer effect, which basically states that an experiment can be impacted by the very act of observing the experiment.  Put differently, quantum theory states that particles exist in a state of uncertainty until they are "observed,” which implies that observers—us—help define the universe around us by the very act of observing it.  Talk about creating your own reality! 
Perhaps my favorite idea in all of quantum physics is called quantum entanglement.  This scientifically proven phenomenon, that baffled Einstein himself, holds that two related particles (a pair of electrons or other kinds of relationships) can be separated by thousands of miles or thousands of light years, and if you stimulate one, the other will react. This suggests that distance in space may be an illusion, and that all things are ultimately connected.   
If you think these concepts seem to cross into spiritual or metaphysical realms, I couldn’t agree more, but I bet they’d call smartphones “metaphysical" a hundred years ago.  That’s why science is so compelling—it shines the bright light of knowledge and understanding on the dark, mysterious and unknown, advancing the human condition along the way. 
While these ideas demonstrate the remarkable amount of scientific and technological progress we’ve made over the past hundred years, we still have a lot to learn.  But I'm incredibly excited about being alive at this moment in time because we’re in the midst of the most incredible period of knowledge advancement in human history.  Our understanding of the universe around us is accelerating at unprecedented rates, and science is leading the way.  Consider where we’ve come from in the last century, where the very ideas of inventions like TV, telephones, cell phones, computers, X-rays, Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, airplane flight, space flight, antibiotics, nuclear power or the internet would be rejected as pure madness.   So, what will the next century bring?  Based on progress in quantum physics alone, the future looks breathtaking.  Several companies—including Google—along with universities and governments are actively developing quantum computers, so it’s a matter of when, not if, they’ll be in mainstream production—probably within a decade.  When quantum computers finally arrive, they will exponentially increase computational speeds, which is at the heart of our ability to drive better scientific progress, because faster computational speeds drive faster experimentation, allowing us to accelerate the test, learn, iterate process—the very engine of the Scientific Method.  This virtuous cycle will inevitably lead to rapid advancements across almost every field of research, impacting every aspect of civilization, from medical research around managing DNA sequences, to Artificial Intelligence, which, depending on your point of view, could yet again profoundly accelerate human advancement, or lead to our demise.  Either way, we’re in for one hell of an exciting ride.  
This book is a product of my passion for innovation, startup companies and quantum physics.  The idea for the story hit me while on a morning run near Mammoth Lakes, California, and I had one of those “you have to do this” moments—a message that certainly didn’t arrive with a lot of information about how I would get it done, how long it would take, or how challenging the process would be.   I don’t know if the inspiration came from a parallel universe, a practical joker version of my future self, or just appeared out of the thin mountain air, but I felt compelled to act on it and see it through to completion.    
I want to make clear that the opinions communicated in this book are mine and mine alone, although I've inevitably modeled some of the character attributes in this story after people I’ve come across during my many travels and adventures. I’ve included Idealab and Bill Gross as central figures in this book because it connects the story to my life in ways that are meaningful to me, and Mr. Gross graciously, if reluctantly, agreed to let me use his name and Idealab in the story.  None of the ideas or opinions conveyed in this book are his.  However, let there be no mistake, GoTo.com and the profoundly innovative and impactful paid search business model are his inventions. 
I hope this story has been a source of enjoyment for you, and I also hope it's sparked an interest in science, quantum physics or the incredibly exciting and dynamic world of high tech innovation and startups.  And, finally, I hope you share my sense of profound optimism for the future.  We are on a grand adventure that will ultimately lead to understanding the mysteries and secrets behind all that is.  Yes, we're in for one hell of a ride, indeed.