The Second Renaissance

June 09, 2024

A common criticism of today’s large language models is by virtue of their training, they know a little about a lot and a lot about a little. Some people take this to suggest that LLMs will never create new knowledge and won’t be helpful to experts.

Geniuses like Leonardo, Charlie Munger, and Paul Graham show the power that a breadth of knowledge brings - analogies, perspectives, and techniques from any given field often have surprising applicability to other fields. Those who have a diverse set of mental models and experiences are often the same people who move humanity forward.

Becoming an expert in multiple fields has gotten harder as the frontiers of knowledge have advanced. Scientists can have successful careers in smaller and smaller subfields. There hasn’t been any human who could claim to have read a significant portion of all the written works available to them since the 1500s at the latest.

Lost Robot Hiker
Technically my Kindle library has more books than Leonardo read in his whole life!“

Now, though, we actually do have tools that can replicate this breadth of knowledge. In fact, a current discussion in AI is whether scaling will be limited by the total tokens available on the internet. Llama 3 was trained on 11M tokens vs. a total estimate of around 50M high-quality tokens in the world. And only another 2-3X above that if we include conversations on social media.

LLMs are going to usher in a world in which humans are specialists and their tools are generalists, and I expect we will start to see examples of highly effective Renaissance Men (and women) again, but this time it will not be just a single person, but a human + AI. Some results I’d expect to see

  • Global media properties developed by a single person - movies, music, characters, comics, games, etc. Someone with taste, creativity, and the ability to manage AI tools for execution.
  • More high-impact software companies with small teams. The right engineers and AI agents will be able to scale their impact nearly infinitely.
  • More scientific advancements from small teams and societies.

These trends are already happening, with creators like Mr Beast, companies like WhatsApp being acquired with 55 employees, and companies like SpaceX pushing forward the technology of spaceflight. Expect more acceleration - as always, today is the slowest day of the rest of your life.

Stay curious!

m [at]