Week 43: Why Memes Matter, Brain-Computer Interface, and Driverless Progress

October 27, 2021 - Max Osbon (4 mins to read)


  • Brands with large online communities that create memes have an advantage. Intangible brand value is often an unappreciated component of equity valuation.
  • Brain-Computer Interfaces have attracted considerable VC funding since Elon Musk started Neuralink and progress is happening quickly.
  • Amsterdam unveiled self-driving boats for its canals.
  • The IAC, Indy Autonomous Challenge happened over this past weekend, with the winner averaging 135 mph.

Why Memes Matter

During the Gamestop peak in Feb 2021, we started to hear the phrase, “memes control the markets.” While this phrase may seem silly or hyperbolic, there is truth to it. Memes represent the strength of a brand and the strength of a brand’s community. In a social media dominated world, brand perception is constantly shaped by online customer discourse.

Communities with high levels of interest and engagement create a lot of memes, and the associated brands are worth more as a result. Strong communities represent almost cult-like followings, which is great for brand equity value. Companies like Apple, Tesla, Nike, the NBA, Bitcoin, Gamestop, etc., have cult-like followings with robust internet communities.

Last week the new Trump social media SPAC ticker DWAC increased in price by nearly 10x in 2 days based on the perceived value and momentum of the underlying Trump brand.

Kai Wu of Sparkline Capital recently published a detailed analysis of this intangible value of brands, which you can read here. He highlights that traditional finance is not paying enough attention to brand equity value and the impact that has on future earnings and returns. I like his quote at the end by Seth Godin, “People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.” When you look at it that way, it’s much easier to understand how memes can end up having an enormous impact on market prices. If you pay attention to the memes generated and shared on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, you can get a pretty good sense of where a given company may be heading. The meme effect is especially true when these online communities have millions of followers representing millions of real-life customers.

Brain-Computer Interfaces

The fastest brain-to-computer typist is Dennis Degray, a paraplegic who can type 18-words per minute using nothing but his brain signals. For context, that’s about half as fast as the average person writing a text message. Robert “Buz” Chmielewski holds the record for most brain implants. With six implants, he can control two robotic arms simultaneously and receive tactile feedback from the robotic fingers. At Johns Hopkins, he was able to demonstrate cutting food and feeding himself.

Since Elon Musk first announced Neuralink in 2016, the brain interface area has had no trouble getting its hands on as much capital needed. More than $300m has gone into companies focused on brain-computer interfaces over the past 12 months. Researchers see more value in creating this technology to create positive therapeutic outcomes for spinal cord injuries. Investors see more immediate demand for consumer applications and the enormous financial potential of elective body enhancements.

A group of researchers worried about the future of this technology published their manifesto in Nature which you can read here. They are explicitly worried about privacy, identity, agency and equality. BCI (brain-computer interface) could give some an unfair advantage. Others are far more worried about controlling people remotely. This remote control effect has already been demonstrated in mice.

For paraplegics and stroke victims, early versions of this technology may be broadly available sooner than you think.

Amsterdam is ahead of the game, again.

We profiled Amsterdam months ago when they became the first city to unveil a 3D printed bridge. Amsterdam is now unveiling two ‘Roboats’ – self-driving cargo and taxi boats to operate within their canal system. Autonomous boats are somewhat more accessible than autonomous cars. Boats operate at much lower speeds, have fewer markings to keep track of, and don’t have to worry about pedestrians. Amsterdam is ahead of the game again.

IAC – Indy Autonomous Challenge was this past weekend

The first Indy Autonomous Challenge concluded over the weekend with $1.5 million in prize money for any team that could make a self-driving formula 1 vehicle drive four laps around a 2.5-mile oval track at a minimum of 60 mph. The winning team from TUM in Munich achieved a 2-lap average speed of 135 mph. Four Indy cars made contact with the walls, and the Boston Dynamics Robot dog “Spot” waved the checkered flag. Keep in mind that this Indy car must think for itself and drive for itself on the actual track at extreme speeds.

Each of the nine teams used proper $1m Indy Lights race cars. I suppose you could say that driving in an empty oval is not all that complicated. However, allowing computers to handle heavy machinery at intense speeds without crashing marks another step forward for robotics. One team achieved speeds north of 150 mph before losing control and running into a wall, demonstrating the car’s limits. Tests like this IAC race and the autonomous boats in Amsterdam help us get closer to rolling out autonomous systems in areas in desperate need of automation, like our entire global supply chain. Our supply chain can only ever be as fast as the slowest person.

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