Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
New Requests for Startups (ycombinator.com)
716 points by comatose_kid on Sept 12, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 390 comments

> What comes after programming languages?

I've been working on this for several years, though a startup seems the wrong vehicle for it. I think the description in the RFS is misguided:

"We’re interested in helping developers create better software, faster. This includes new ways to write, understand, and collaborate on code, and the next generation of tools and infrastructure for delivering software continuously and reliably."

There's a blind spot in prose like this that gets repeated all over the place in our community: it emphasizes writing over reading. I think we have to start with reading. My hypothesis is that we need to reform the representation of programs to address this use case: I download the sources for a tool I use, wanting to make a tweak. How can I orient myself and make a quick change in just one afternoon? This is hard today; it can take weeks or months to figure out the global organization of a codebase.

You can't "deliver software continuously and reliably" until you rethink its underpinnings. Before the delivery problem there's a literacy problem: we programmers prefer to write our own, or to wrap abstraction layers over the code of others, rather than first understanding what has come before.

More on my approach: http://akkartik.name/about

We already have the tools to deliver software continuously and reliably. They are called containers and virtual machines. The problem as usual is not with the technology. If you look back we had SmallTalk virtual machines some time ago that you could pause, ship over the network, and pick up where you left off.

Reading is not the issue as well because most code is terrible and it doesn't matter how easy you make it to read the code I'm still going to waste my time reading it. So I'd say that the problem again lies elsewhere. Few people have the aesthetic sense to write elegant code. It doesn't matter how many tools and abstractions you throw at the problem there are still going to be people writing terrible code.

Writing and reading code or doing anything else with it is in many ways like art. It is also like science and craft and a bunch of other things that require creativity. Even with the accessibility of paints and all the accompanying technology we still don't have the likes of Michaelangelo and Picasso being any more prevalent than they were around the time those guys were alive. Literature is another good example. We teach everyone to read and write but it doesn't matter how much money or technology you throw at it (ebooks, libraries, etc.) we still don't have any more great writers than we did a century ago.

This is not a technology problem. It is a culture and human problem for which you are not likely to find a technical solution.

Totally agree. My 2 additional cents.

Most reasonably skilled programmers can read code. They choose not to. Cultural problem not technical one.

I've been in the industry a long time and the best codebases I've seen had a handful of things in common:

* They were written by highly competent programmers who all had an interest in doing a good job. * The code was neat, well-document, and sensibly structured based on agreed upon standards. * The programmers writing them weren't forced to inject changes faster than they could compensate for them.

That's it. Most of the disasters in industry are the result of extrinsic demands. People not caring or people. People documenting nothing. People under extreme deadline pressure hammering in something that then has massive, long-term design ripple effects on the rest of the codebase. Do this several dozen times and you're almost certain to produce a disaster and some point.

Therefore, most software problems have to do with people in over their heads or making changes haphazardly to meet deadlines. These cultural issues seem largely to stem from people thinking that writing software is a deterministic process - it isn't, and has more in common with chaotic systems than linear deterministic systems. Hell, I've written virtually the exact same piece of software twice at one company and each time produced both identical bugs and completely new bugs.

We would probably benefit more from understanding what software actually is and educating people about that than attempt to technologize away our problematic understanding of technology.</screed>

> most code is terrible... Few people have the aesthetic sense to write elegant code...

Elegant code does not necessarily mean readily understandable code (or "readable" code). For example, some Haskell programmers like writing extremely elegant code -- so elegant that you can base a whole new (elegant) branch of mathematics on it -- yet it is no more readable than, say, many early BASIC programs.

But why pick on Haskell? I've never seen Microsoft Word's code, but let's imagine it were the paragon of OOP design. Then, I'd like to add a feature similar to the spellchecker, that tests whether consecutive sentences rhyme. Now, I could probably find the spell-checking code rather easily, only to learn that it is attached to the main program via the most beautifully intricate plugin system -- with lifecycle management, runtime loading and unloading and whatnot -- that it takes me a few days only to learn that bit.

The point is that software is complicated, and very non-standardized. Code readability rests only in part on its structure, and a lot on how many "advanced" language features are used, the number of libraries used and their familiarity. You'll probably find "terrible" code that uses a couple of popular, mature libraries, that you're familiar with, much easier to understand than the most "elegant" polyglot codebase (written in both Python and Haskell, because, you know, the best tools were picked for each job) that makes use of 10 of the newest, shiniest libraries you've read a lot about on HN and always wanted to learn but never had the time to.

I didn't say we need to teach people to write elegant code. See my examples at http://akkartik.name/post/tracing-tests. I take this perverse joy in coming up with ugly code that is suited to its surroundings, and I'm extremely well-suited for programming because when it comes to code our aesthetics are like George Costanza's instincts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Opposite).

I want programming to be like reading, with most people able to skim most article-length pieces of prose -- even if it's poorly written -- and get a sense for its global organization. That doesn't require teaching everyone to write like Shakespeare.

Good luck. I'm still not going to read terrible code no matter how easy it is. It took me a while to come to this realization but aesthetically unpleasant code is indicative of the author's abilities and without elevating the level of all programmers I don't see how making code easier to read is going to make much difference. Some tooling might make it easier/faster to come to the conclusion that some piece of software is not worth investing more time in but with enough experience that judgement is not hard to make. Note that LibreSSL was a fork and rewrite of OpenSSL. Even if it was easier to navigate OpenSSL it still would have been the correct decision to scrap large swaths of it because it was horrendous code, easy to read or not.

Thanks for the luck. We might be in violent agreement or disagreement depending on what code you consider aesthetically pleasant. Everyone can agree on the crap, but can you share examples of code that you liked that might help me triangulate on your aesthetics. Alternatively, I'd be interested to hear if my published projects are pleasant or not. To help you triangulate on mine: http://akkartik.name/post/readable-bad.

To reiterate, you're responding to things I didn't say. Code shouldn't have to be perfectly designed to be readable, and nobody should have to wade through utter crap either. Very often code starts out nice when it has one author or three, and gradually turns to crap as more cooks are added. I want to eliminate that dependency on author churn, to have it be beautiful or ugly based on the capabilities of the programmers involved, not on the difficulty they had understanding those who came before. To make progress on this project, I find it most valuable to utterly ignore aesthetics.

I don't think we are agreeing or disagreeing. I do want tools that make it easier to navigate and understand code and I also want cultural shifts in programmer communities that lead to better software overall. I'm just saying the communal aspect is more important than any given programmer's ability to navigate code but the two are obviously intertwined in complicated ways.

That article you linked to (http://alistair.cockburn.us/ASD+book+extract%3A+%22Naur,+Ehn...) connects the dots really well. Programming is really about building theories and then implementing them with computational building blocks and then transferring the understanding of those theories. Short of developing mind reading I think there is an irreducible complexity in that endeavor that is impossible to skirt around.

In light of that article I'd like to amend my comment about aesthetically pleasant code. Some programmers are good at structuring things so that the overarching theory is present throughout all code level structures. That kind of code is both aesthetically pleasant and easy to read. I don't know if this is some kind of special talent of if it can be learned but given that most software is a confused mess I'm willing to bet there is a large talent component.

Yeah, he may well be right and I might be totally barking up the wrong tree. But that just seems so depressing I can't help but tilt at this particular windmill. The hope is that his theory will become obsolete if the activity of programming changes radically enough.

I started out thinking you couldn't solve social problems with technical solutions. Now I think social problems arise in the context of configurations of technical energy barriers. Making something easier can make good behavior more or less likely to arise. So it behooves technologists to think hard about what they make easier. But this is getting abstract, and I need to show examples of what I'm trying, what I'm keeping and what I'm discarding. If you send me an email I'll show you what I have.

>>It took me a while to come to this realization but aesthetically unpleasant code is indicative of the author's abilities

Not necessarily. It can also be indicative of the circumstances in which the code was written. Even great programmers can write terrible code if they are stressed out or overworked. So you can't just look at the code they have written and jump to conclusions about their programming ability.

Yes times 1,000!

This is what we're trying to address at Sourcegraph (https://sourcegraph.com/). 80% of programming is about reading and understanding code, not writing code.

Why don't existing tools focus more on helping people read and understand code--and, more broadly, collaborate on a development team? Things like:

* seeing everywhere a function or class is used, in context (like https://sourcegraph.com/github.com/joyent/node/.CommonJSPack... on the right side)

* seeing who at your company knows the most about an area of your codebase

* seeing the history of changes, in terms of functions/modules added, not just lines (like https://sourcegraph.com/github.com/fsouza/go-dockerclient/.c...)

* having a long-lived discussion about a module/class/function that doesn't vanish after a commit is merged or the file's lines shift around

So far, most of the innovation in programming tools has been in editors or frameworks, not in collaboration and search tools for programmers.

While there are great editors and frameworks, the lopsidedness is unfortunate because making it easier for programmers to learn and reuse existing code and techniques, and to collaborate on projects, can have a much bigger impact than those other kinds of tools. That's because, in my experience, the limiting factors on a solo developer's productivity are the editors and frameworks she uses, but the limiting factor on a development team's productivity is communication (misunderstanding how to use things, reinventing the wheel, creating conflicting systems, not syncing release timelines, etc.).

FWIW, I think this is absolutely fucking genius and everyone should check it out...

...but I can't give you money without Java/Scala support. Roadmap? Pleeeeease? =)

Do the JetBrains IDEs support this?

Find All Usages and Jump To Definitions are the reason I spend 400 EUR on Resharper licenses, it makes reading code so much easier..

Yes please! Also, I didn't see bitbucket support; hopefully you folks are working towards that?

Yes, we are working on better Bitbucket support (on par with our GitHub integration). You can follow or +1 the thread at https://github.com/sourcegraph/sourcegraph.com/issues/213 so you get updates.

The site doesn't seem to list which languages are supported.

Currently it's Python, Go, Ruby, and JavaScript (node.js only; not client-side yet). Java is coming soon. It does say it on the homepage and the docs page. Where were you looking? We'll make it clearer.

Brooks addresses this:

Perhaps the biggest gain yet to be realized in the programming environment is the use of integrated database systems to keep track of the myriads of details that must be recalled accurately by the individual programmer and kept current in a group of collaborators on a single system.

Surely this work is worthwhile, and surely it will bear some fruit in both productivity and reliability. But by its very nature, the return from now on must be marginal.

Tools will not solve the essential difficulties of software engineering.

Thank you for the initial posting, so much true. Brook's comment is a bit old and there usually evolve things to adress issues: His integrated database system is: The web, (project-)wikis, issue tracking, version control, (discussion&help-)forums, the code and comments in code. Anyways, it's true: Reading code often is a nightmare... but at least for me also because of over-abstraction/complication (done by IT guys/colleagues) and misdevelopments/trends/hypes (mainly done by the IT industry).

I have similar needs to understand complex code base such as 5-20gb of Android platform code, so I wrote an webapp/site for that:

It lets you cross reference and document any language with gigabytes of code, e.g. Android platform code. Jelly bean ~9 gb of code.

Try it out: http://www.srcmap.org/s/sl.htm/p=android-4.2.2_r1

Sample Documents created from that app are here:





The ux is ok. A few gigabytes of code db running in a cheapest $5 instance of Digital Ocean.

The app is very simple ~8 mb of standalone binary, no external dependency do any other app/db.

What does the yc folks/alum think? Good enough to get into yc?

Who are you selling it to / what's your plan to grow any part of the biz?

For now, free for individual developers to help validate and get tractions, like to see if i can entice free higher level license with exchange for contents/sharings, Doesn't seem to be working.

I like to sell it as team/site license for large dev team in the future. The traction doesn't seem to be there yet.

Because my burn rate is < $150 per year, I have ~1500 users / month come to the site from pure google search alone.

I am just slowly experiment with different features/msg/channels.

Very cool! This needs Java support and integration with IntelliJ IDEA.

This is a great point. I am always struck by how there are so many times where, if I could sit down with the original program author for 5 - 10 minutes, I could understand more from that interactive back-and-forth than several hours of reading code in solitude.

This tells me it's not that understanding how that code works is intellectually difficult; rather it's discovering how it works is time-consuming.

It would be amazing if you could "interact" with the code about its structure and intent the same way you might interact with its author.

As it happens, I've been working on something like that. Still pretty half-baked, but send me an email and I'll show you what I have. Email in profile.

"There are so many times where, if I could sit down with the original program author for 5 - 10 minutes, I could understand more from that interactive back-and-forth than several hours of reading code in solitude."

Peter Naur wrote a paper in 1985 where he conjectured that this seemed to be a universal law. No matter how much documentation authors provided, new programmers still needed to talk to them. http://alistair.cockburn.us/ASD+book+extract%3A+%22Naur,+Ehn...

Would love to. Email sent.

Could it also be that the structure and intent of the code is ambiguous even to the author? I often feel this way when reading code, and also writing code or explaining it to others....

I always thought it would be cool to record audio the whole time the editor is open, and the programmer would just talk the whole time about his thought process. Then the audio would be broken up and indexed with the source code.

So you could choose to hear what the author was saying right when he was working on a certain area of the code. (You'd normally turn it off, but if you're really stuck it might be a good last resort.)

I do this with a notebook. When I'm coding I always jot down notes and thoughts. As long as you can remember the date when something was coded, you can see what I was thinking while writing it.

Has helped me figure out what the hell I'm doing many a time.

It also doesn't help that very few projects bother documenting for developers. I believe some traditional UML tactics and other documentation could often not only help with on boarding developers but also lead to a realization of just how convoluted the structure is currently.

That has got to be one of the most awesome mission statements I've read in a long time. Clear, directed, actionable, all good things.

FWIW I think you are exactly right, it made me sad that Google expected people to be 'useless' for anywhere from 6 to 9 months of their early employment as they tried to get their head around the code base and tools. Having the ability to eliminate that spin up time would probably triple their productivity numbers.

With any improvement in programming language technology, we narrow the disparity between human and computer representations of logic. In it's simplest form, this is the premise of language designers.

The biggest difficulty with current languages is their reliance on absolute determinacy. Programmers must express in exact form what computations ought be performs, and the languages possesses no intelligence in themselves. I think this needs to change. Inference should have applications outside type declaration, and the vast knowledge base that is the Internet should be taken into account.

At this point, there are two promising pursuits that I've seen. First is Wolfram Language, which you've all heard of. The other is Escher, which enables "programming in analogies". It's on early stages right now, but I'd encourage you to check it out at https://github.com/gocircuit/escher.

The problem with analogy-based programming is the lack of determinacy. There are no guarantees when it comes to abstract, knowledge-based inference. And so many concepts in modern programming would have to be abandoned to make this shift. Unit tests, for instance, would lost value dramatically.

In the end, an analogy-based approach seems inevitable though, especially once natural language-based inexact. grow popular. Everyday speech is littered with ambiguities, and programming "languages" need to handle these. They can't throw compilation errors upon each inexact command.

I'm not as confident as you, but yes I've been watching Escher development for some time.

Declarative approaches (like answer set programming, or satisfiability modulo theories) revolve around expressing what the final result should look like, with no regard for how the result is achieved.

I'm also surprised at this one.

The software fulfillment process has a lot of issues.

We are stuck in a local maxima and jumping the chasm to the next maxima with ideas like "what comes after programming languages" is really really hard.

Sadly, one of the biggest hurdles is self preservation because software developers don't want "software development accessible to the widest part of our society". I hate to say it, but there are Luddites among us.

So, I tend to agree that a startup is the wrong vehicle for this.

> I think we have to start with reading.

I agree with this point. People understand things differently. There should be multiple ways for people to read and understand software programs. Unfortunately, there is only one major way now and that is with source code.

I do think that tools like IFTTT are moving us towards more accessibility but it is a small step.

I like what you are working. Keep the conversation going.

> Sadly, one of the biggest hurdles is self preservation because software developers don't want "software development accessible to the widest part of our society". I hate to say it, but there are Luddites among us.

It's a strange form of Luddism that seeks to limit opportunities to integrate the existing skills of the labor force into the structure of production. We don't have much in the way of unions or guilds, so perhaps the only effective way to restrict the labor supply is to keep the tools user-unfriendly.

I think you're correct in that what you're working on comes before what comes after programming languages†; you're working on the penultimate paradigm. Being able to trace, visualize, give context to and zoom in and out of the relationships of code would be a significant multiplier in the way it will allow accelerated understanding of novel and forgotten code. The value of this can't be overstated. In key ways, which the smalltalk people are very diligent in making sure no one forgets, we've gone backwards in this area.

But are you sure the RFS actually disagrees with you? What you're working on covers 2/3 of what the RFS deems worth focusing on. Collaboration and understanding.

†I think it's clear what comes after programming languages. A return to their roots. Programming a computer today is like moving by telling every single muscle what to do. To make writing code easier we want to be able to do more with less, to have the code figure out from context what the best thing to do is. We want more intelligence in our compilers. It is telling how powerful the notion of AI is when so many world changing ideas (functional programming, OOP, search, Databases [influence goes: prolog -> datalog -> SQL]) are compromises, failed attempt and detritus of AI projects.

I think you're absolutely right. But the penultimate step is worth highlighting separately, the way the right lemma can render a proof obvious. Especially given how difficult a proposition this penultimate step is. It's like saying you want a better algorithm for multiplication when you use roman numerals.

So I'll stand by my statement that the RFS's phrasing is -- not wrong, but rather -- misguided as stated. Or maybe "misleading" would be better, but that carries connotations of malice.

I’ve seen a good example of this recently. Nipype [1] produces network visualization of neuroimaging processing code[2]. They still look like a gnarled nest, but, for other neuroimaging people, they’re a lot easier to read then the actual code.

1 http://nipy.sourceforge.net/nipype/ 2 http://nipy.org/nipype/0.4.1/_images/graphviz-01bb1b88b33f7c...

Absolutely, and this problem is so profound because it's become part of the platforms we are supposed to deliver stable products on.

Software engineering won't exist as a profession until it really is turtles all the way down, and not a pig on a fish on a tiger etc.

> a pig on a fish on a tiger etc.

Is this a reference to something, or should I point here if I want to reference this idea?

Emphasis on reading. In my experience writing good code or effecient writing/debugging of code only came after: 1. Learning to read the project code i.e. understanding idioms, structures, execution paths, project syntax+language 2. Learning to extrapolate i.e. anticipating answers or making good guesses for inevitable questions during code writing. Questions like where/when should I do this or where/when is this info I need actually available

Both those things literally only came after reading so much code! No shortcuts from the Dev environment (idea, docs) aside from navigation and search!

I am the founder a developer tools startup and I've thought a lot about the future of programming. To be honest, the developer tools market is extremely competitive ("everything must be free") and it is not for the faint of heart. That said, if anyone wants to chat sometime in the Bay Area about future dev tools and/or startups around them, I'd be happy to meet. (contact info at https://wukix.com/contact)

Hi Wes! I enjoyed your talk on Mocl at the Bay Area Lisp meetup last year.

Thanks! I hope there is another BALisp meetup soon. The recent Parallac thing was cool, although it clearly needed more Lisp :)

There are some interesting ideas that could help with reading and writing programs:

from Bret Victor:


and intentional programming from Charles Simonyi:



The first article is a great read.

I'm pretty sure that our assumption that programming languages will look like programming languages in the future is sort of like the assumption that phones will always have buttons on them.

Once Apple and other companies showed what the world looks like when a phone is a giant touch screen + giant battery, phones with buttons become a niche, not the norm.

I don't know what the programming paradigm is that completely changes that, but I do know that I haven't seen it yet and everything we've done so far seems to completely miss the mark.

Someone is going to come along with some other radical assumption about what designing/implementing software really is about.

I know that it is not about static vs dynamic, functional vs. imperative, etc. like we've traditionally thought. Maybe it will be more like using Excel or Gmail. Maybe it will be more like flowcharts, or maybe just like sketching out a structure and the machine knows how to wire it together for you. Maybe humans won't be involved at all.

Speculation is endless, but nobody has had the iPhone unveil of new programming paradigms yet.

Speaking from personal experience, the thought: "Take away languages. Now what do I use instead?" can be paralyzing.

I'll suggest an alternative approach that might stimulate your neurons. Look back at the ways that your life is improved reading code today compared to twenty years ago. When I look back, the highlights for me are:

a) version control, and

b) automated tests

Forget all their benefits to the people writing code. For me, the guy with one afternoon to make a tweak to an alien codebase, it has been invaluable to have not just the current snapshot of a codebase but a story of its evolution so that I can see what the skeleton of the program used to look like in a simpler time, and gradually play enhancements forward atop it[1]. It has also been invaluable to be in situations where I can go, hmm why do I need _, why don't I just rewrite it as _, try it, and find a failing test with an enlightening name.

What's common to these two ideas is that they are additive. You don't have to give up programming languages. You just need new ways to share information between programmers besides just the code that runs "in production". My current favorite candidate for the next augmentation for codebases is logs. More info: http://akkartik.name/post/tracing-tests. If that whets your appetite feel free to get in touch. My email is in my profile.

[1] More details of how this helps: http://akkartik.name/post/wart-layers

I agree on readability as a prime area for improvement. Thats one of the things I tried to tackle in Obvious (http://retromocha.com/obvious/) but readability is a human/social/communication problem.

Programming as it is now is a 2 way communication mechanism, we are writing code for other humans to understand, but for a machine to translate into what we intend for the machine to execute.

So, your point of making code a better human to human communication mechanism is absolutely correct.

What I really wonder about is what set of tools could exist that could solve whole sets of low level problems that we are specifying now that we shouldn't. Sort of like, right now we have blueprints and so on, and then humans look at those and build a house. Yet, with 3-D printed houses, you feed a set of materials and specifications into a machine, and you get a house built for you.

What is the programming equivalent that would allow us to "3-D print" software, so to speak? For physical things, it seems to be the combination of 3-D CAD systems, 3-D printers, and maybe some thought about how things need to be designed to fit this approach.

I have no idea exactly, but I could see a future where instead of paying people to hand craft all the code, that a series of features, modules, structure, etc. are specified, and the software is just "built". There would be more effort in the specification, but less on the build.

I remember programming a Lego robot with this visual puzzle piece method as a kid. It was awesome. I have a feeling something similar already exists for general purpose programming. I can definitely see something visual-based that hides a lot of unnecessary details working for a lot of basic applications - at least to get the skeleton of an MVP up.

My guess is that one thing that future software will have is automatic generation of user interfaces.

I think "naked objects" or "apache isis" are the best examples we've got for that for now , but they are rooted in somewhat complex java code, instead of being rooted in an easy to use tool, such that lets the business analyst who had some course , sit with the client and fully define a running system , step by step. In some cases the auto-generated UI would be good as it is , and the system will be used as-is.

In other cases , we might need easy tools to customize the UI.

The assumption that UI design must be done by hand is probably one of the most important "bottleneck" in software development.

When you think about it, the job of a designer is often quite systematic. You have some entities/data you need to communicate to the user, through whatever interface/device that's available to him. A touchscreen, a keyboard, knobs, LEDs, microphone, speaker, paper, etc.

When your "user" is a computer, JSON (while not perfect) seems to do the job as an interface. In the case of humans, JSON does a poor job at efficiently communicating information.

For humans:

- A calendar is better than "2012-11-05"

- A color is better than "#FF3300"

- An image is better than "http://example.com/image.png"

- A clickable link is better than "http://example.com/document.html"

The list goes on. We can easily generate a basic UI based on complex entities, and map specific types to custom/reusable templates if needed.

Now that your UI can automatically be generated from data, you can build an app (business model) once, and make it usable (and actually look and feel good/native) on any device. A smartwatch, a smartphone, a smarttv, etc.

Basically, the core of software development should be knowledge representation. Describe the world semantically (with RDF or similar technologies), and let the UI-compiler generate a UI for any given target platform, language, culture, user preferences. That's what responsive design should be all about.

What you're saying is reasonable, and there are lots of people attempting to make RAD systems. Unfortunately, they always place severe limitations on the kind of software that can be created with them, and hence none of them have become particularly popular.

It seems that there's something missing from all the existing implementations of your suggestion. Perhaps it is that the UI and data flow primitives that we have aren't flexible enough to express a lot of business models, thus requiring custom implementations.

Delphi, Visual Basic, FoxPro and Access were all extremely popular RAD tools exactly because they made creating a certain class of systems extremely easy.

I had the misfortune of using Visual FoxPro once upon a time. It was horrifyingly bad, but perhaps by that time (2002-2004) it was suffering serious impedance mismatch with the rest of technology which had moved on. Anyway, I wouldn't call it a good example :)

Regardless, that was kind of my point - all these systems are only good as long as you stay within their constraints. The unfortunate thing is that the constraints always end up being way too tight in practice.

I saw apache is as mention.it nearly the same what i doing now.consider as code block-From database column can create application.Upon combobox figure come foreign key value.The reason i do this,client keep playing what if scenario form like this is this suppose to validate or not?Why code block instead of user define validation.They will some part wanted to customize triple field combobox filter.It cannot be done via user define column based rule.

I just started a new job and have hopped into the first codebase I'll need to work with that I didn't write from scratch myself. I've just been pining for a way to browse through this code as easily as documents in a web browser. Maybe that's the wrong paradigm, but man, there's got to be a better way to read code that lends itself to understanding what's going on. Even though my IDE can "find usages" and I can set breakpoints and step through things, the breakpoints get hit so fast that it's hard to internalize things before hitting "play" again. But stopping for too long breaks the real-time nature of the system. Which I guess is too many words which essentially mean, "I've recently felt this pain, and I agree."

I recently had that experience as well... felt that the code was pretty terrible but didn't want to say anything as the new guy. Toiled at patching it for a month and a half before sitting down and having a talk with some of the more senior developers about my issues. Turns out that I kind of vocalized what a lot of people had been thinking and we rewrote it in less than half the number of lines in about 3 weeks. Not sure what the moral is here, other than that some code is bad.

I've really enjoyed your writing on your blog at http://akkartik.name which I found through your guests posts at Ribbonfarm. Have you been writing anywhere else about your work or thoughts about readable programs?

Thanks! No new projects/demos/prototypes yet beyond the links at the bottom of http://akkartik.name/about, but I have a half-baked project in the works. Let's chat more offline; I sent you an email.

I feel very strongly about this and have very crude ideas about what I want (e.g., expressed here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8283025).

Would love to get in touch with you.

That comments sounds earily close to what is shown in this video http://www.infoq.com/presentations/tools-language-workbench. It's all working and I think the eclipse website is already hosting most of it.

Thanks for this, exactly what I wanted to see. It has dragged my thinking forward by miles. I should invest time in MPS, embeddr etc.

Yes, I have opinions on this approach. In its favor, Charles Simonyi's working on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_programming. But let's discuss it over email. Mine is in my profile.

Would somebody please disrupt the textbook publishing industry?


$264.39, for students that work part time jobs at $7.00 an hour (before taxes).

Not only students are angry about this. Professors are angry, and authors are angry too. Bitter fights between professors and publishers are common.

Everybody wants to see the big players in this industry fail. Please, someone, make it happen.

It doesn't matter that a student can't afford their books on $7/hour. No one seriously expects a kid to make even a dent in the cost of his education anymore, because relative to cost of attendance (except at community colleges) kids in general just don't have the earning power.

Cost of attendance at my state flagship is $24,000. Full time at minimum wage is $15,080. Any education worth that kind of money is hard enough that you physically can't work full time while doing it. Student labor is pretty miniscule as a source of funding.

In other words, $264.39 is not actually 37 hours at McDonalds. It's a rounding error on a parent's 6-figure contribution over 4 years. Or a rounding error in your monthly loan payment when you're making $50k instead of $8k. Or it's coming out of interest on the school's endowment if the school is good enough and your family poor enough. Or it's coming from whoever funds your scholarship if you are one of the handful of people smart enough to get a merit-based full ride. Etc.

(No, your experience of putting yourself through a state flagship in the 80s is not relevant. Minimum wage is roughly what it was; tuition is decidedly not.)

I believe the textbook publishing industry could adapt (or be disrupted) to be more cost-efficient, but you would first have to vastly reconfigure the higher education system such that it's reasonable for students to pay their own way. Then you'd actually have incentives to price things for students.

A large proportion of my students work part time jobs for 20+ hours a week.

I don't really understand how they can afford tuition + room + board but need the $140 (less taxes) a week, but as it turns out this is very common.

It made a big impression on me when a student walked in to turn in his homework wearing a Chick-Fil-A cap. Asking around, I learned that this is typical at the university where I teach.

So, yes, here at least, $264.39 is 37 hours at McDonalds. Well.... taxes.... so make that more like 50.

>I don't really understand how they can afford tuition + room + board but need the $140 (less taxes) a week, but as it turns out this is very common.

As a student, maybe I can shed a little light on this. There are a few reasons working part-time at minimum wage can make economic sense for a student.

At least at my institution, few kids whose parents foot the tuition bill work.

The students most likely to be working 20 hours/week are the same students likely to receive some form of financial aid/merit scholarship. As such, the tuition + room + board costs may be significantly less than the sticker price. Considering this reduced expense, the ~$200/week from part-time work may make a considerable contribution to a student's budget.

Even if these students aren't able to completely cover the remaining cost of school not covered by financial aid, there are many instances where that part-time job replaces a potentially high interest student loan, reducing the overall cost of education in the long run.

In some instances, even students whose parents assist them with educational expenses require a part-time job for discretionary expenditures. I have more than one friend whose parents pay tuition, but do not cover the cost of gasoline/car repairs necessary for the student to go to class.

It's pretty simple: grants and loans cover tuition, fees, housing, and very little else, so that $150/week from working part time is what students are living off of.

When I was a working student, I was maximizing my student loans every quarter. My wages were going toward rent, credit card payments, and anything else I couldn't pay with credit cards.

I also worked 40-50 hours per week during the summer. Between that and loan distributions, I could just barely keep up with my typical costs. If anything went wrong--e.g., an injury (yep!), car repairs (yep!), fines (yep!)--the credit card debt didn't get paid off.

You might predict that I would graduate with a lot of debt. You would be right. In spite of having a merit scholarship for full tuition and $4500/year, I had over $35,000 in student loans and another $5000-10,000 in credit card debt when I graduated.

I also work 20 hours/week, but it's still nowhere close to covering room and board, let alone tuition.

I take classes at a decently ranked public school, and many of the students are not having tuition paid by scholarship or endowment. Their parents are certainly not paying the full ride - they may contribute a little, if anything. Students can't always get all the loans they would need, and it doesn't make financial sense to pile too much of that on. So plenty of people are paying out of their salaries. I do this and many of the people I speak with do this.

You talk about full-time classes and a full-time job. Actually some of my classmates are raising children or that sort of thing as well. But beyond that, you're correct that it is hard to take a hard STEM major full-time and also work full-time. It would be almost impossible to maintain a 4.0 or 3.9 or whatnot. The solution is obvious, don't take a full course load - take three classes a semester, or perhaps two, or perhaps one. It takes longer, but what is the alternative for those who can't afford full-time study?

If some 18 year old can't really afford full-time study...then don't do full-time study. Why make your parents shell out thousands they can't afford, as well as burdening yourself with enormous loans, for something you may very well not complete in four years. Some kids graduate and are not working - a lot nowadays. On this public school commuter campus, the smarter half of the CS major seniors I know have never heard of software version control, have no idea what git, Perforce, cvs etc. is. Most of our professors are good too - most of them understand their topics, and some are even good at explaining it. A dedicated person can get a lot out of the education, and then perhaps go get a Masters at a more prestigious school afterward if they want.

If people can't afford fulltime, don't go fulltime. Maybe the government should help more, maybe not, but if someone can't pay fulltime they should go parttime.

This only works because there's a captive audience, and the publisher knows that they can get away with charging anything since the students feel they have no other choice but to buy a copy. Far more specialized textbooks with far smaller audiences are routinely available for much cheaper (e.g. http://amzn.to/1ByBDLG).

The right place to target reform would be professors. They should take a stand to write and use only open textbooks that can be freely downloaded and distributed. This is already common at the research level, but it doesn't seem as common for intro textbooks.

Do you or does anyone know if there's any kind of existing market for pirated textbooks? I'm not a student but if music and films are pirated in large doses, it seems textbooks geared towards the same demographic would be popular.

Yes, textbook piracy is commonplace. When I was a student, I always pirated the textbooks that I could, using the student file sharing service at my university or the Pirate Bay. Eating food and saving my parents’ money were more important to me than having dead-tree copies of textbooks that I would use for ten weeks then never read again.

The bigger question may be why do we even still have "textbooks," at least in their traditional form? Are textbooks the optimal way to learn given all the technology we have today? I'm sure there are quite a few start-ups working on this problem.

I'd have to say there is a good use case for textbooks in engineering. Go into any mechanical engineer or chemical engineers cubical and you will find that they all have many of their college textbooks. Textbook chapters are a way better organized than websites when you are looking up values in tables, applying them to equations, and adapting example problems.

That's not anything that couldn't be solved with a better designed informational website or app. Those textbooks persist only because someone's making a lot of money from making them required parts of a course.

That's the main issue, textbooks are not the ideal form of learning for some subjects.

Studies have shown that text is not the ideal format for novices to learn a subject for the first time.

I'm a co-founder at https://www.clutchprep.com and that's what we're tackling. Students go to 300+ student classrooms, don't learn much and then have to rely on a $250 textbook to teach themselves (doesn't work well for most). It's a broken system.

Edit: fixed the link

I think it's pretty hard to find something more efficient than sitting down and reading a textbook and doing the exercises to learn something you actually want to learn.

I thought textbooks was a bad fit for me until I started my university studies. Turned out to be the most superior option...

Khan Academy comes to mind.

For software related jobs, pretty soon I'm going to start accepting candidates with substantial coursera credits. Furthermore, we'll be looking at courses in related fields.... Epidemiological Modeling in our case. Students who have successfully completed those core courses and have gained actual knowledge will easily come through in the interviews.

Is there no crowd sourced, open sourced textbook non-profit organization? Sort of like Wikipedia/Wikimedia but with textbooks. Ideally there would be a Wiki-like website with people constantly editing and revising and arguing over texts/chapters/paragraphs. A cursory Google search yields the site https://openstaxcollege.org/, which appears to be supported by Rice University. This has open sourced texts, but not crowd sourced.

As a recent graduate I remember shelling out thousands of dollars during my undergrad years to pay for textbooks. It was always a crapshoot because you never knew if the professor would not use the textbook at all or would heavily rely on it and assign reading/problems from the book.

There are definitely ways around purchasing expensive textbooks, but most are illegal, and none are convenient or guaranteed.

A wikipedia for textbooks? There's exactly that, though I can't comment on the quality. http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Calculus/Limits/An_Introduction...

I'm trying to do this with Penflip (https://www.penflip.com). It's like GitHub, but for writing. Just like GitHub, there are public and private projects. Anybody can contribute to a public project by submitting a pull request. A big hurdle is that the concept of 'open source' is a bit foreign outside tech, but I think there is some potential.

Here's an open source Java book on Penflip: https://www.penflip.com/lynnlangit/tkp-lesson-plans

I came across this nice looking statistics textbook a couple years ago:


Free online, <$10 in print. There is a high school level stats text book available as well. Its also not "crowd sourced", but the results seem solid.

Students are just pirating the books. If money issues are hindering your education, then it's easy to justify that.

Listen, Uber is an example: Not playing by the rules makes it easier to win and when you do a few will complain about your lack of ethics but only a tiny fraction will make that count against you.

JustFab? You may be upset about dark patterns but people love them. Apple, Google, et. al. intentionally breaking the law? No one cares, people still want to work for them. Intel's illegal anti-competition activities? Microsoft's? People still love them.

No one cares about the guy who worked his ass off so he could afford a book, if that work cut into the time needed to study, leaving him less educated. People celebrate the guy who, having pirated books, was able to concentrate on learning and has the free time to become better at many other things.

Screw the unversity, at this level people stop buying books anyway; if the book is too expensive, it's better to get a bootleg PDF or just borrow one from a library and xerox it for the whole year. No one cares, you don't need a textbook on lectures anyway.

But please oh please disrupt textbooks for schools. Parents are forced to buy new books every year because of social pressure. After all, you wouldn't want your kid to be known in class as "the one with parents too poor to even buy a textbook" and bullied for it. Not that adults would care about someone having a copied book - but the kids do. Recognition and respect of their classmates is of paramount importance to every kid in the school; publishers know this and they can charge whatever they like, and parents have to pay.

I have a side project I started in college for this: http://textbooksplease.com

The big problem I'm facing right now is how to subvert universities requiring super specific and customized versions of their textbooks. I think the solution is a crowdsourced list of textbook alternatives (ie: "your university says you need Biology Harvard Custom Edition, but that book is the same as Biology minus chapters 6 and 11. You can get the generic edition for $11").

That's really just a bandaid, though. A real solution would look something like https://www.boundless.com/ or Khan Academy.

One thing that they did at my university about 5 years ago to disrupt just this. A group of ex-students (I think) setup a container outside the main entrance, across the street. There they bought old textbooks from students that just finished a subject, and then sold it back to the students using it the following year.

Obviously the books changed slightly. But they kept change lists, so you always knew if you had the latest info or not. Sometimes, even the lecturers did this. E.g. "If you have ed4, it's on page 400-403, otherwise it's page 389-392 on the latest edition, etc".

There are plenty of less expensive books available for professors who care.

Yes, the problem is that the one picking the book (the professor) isn't the one paying for it (the student).

Some useful discussion here, including indications that cheaper options exist: http://suburbdad.blogspot.ca/2014/08/oer-erps-and-idea.html

Maybe what's required is a company that a) publishes cheap (probably older) textbooks, and b) rouses student organizations to push for their adoption.

Part b) is by far the harder one, and probably doesn't have a technical solution. It's a marketing/consciousness-raising thing.

It seems to me that the most powerful opportunity here would be not only to disrupt textbooks but also academic journals; in the process of tackling both areas as a unified problem of knowledge distribution, one might shorten the distance between the latest research and the established curriculum, as well as opening an avenue for better modes of teaching (as per the point made by `rcarrigan87).

I really like what PeerJ is doing in that space: https://peerj.com/

Really takes open access (which is great, but still expensive) to the next level. Very inexpensive publishing, and free preprints.

We're working on disrupting academic journals at Onarbor, https://onarbor.com

I'm currently looking at textbook industry and believe it's a part technology and part business model solution where we can draw from trends in some other industries. We have some ideas but it's a work in progress.

If anyone is interesting in this domain and would like to chat, please ping me. I'm in SF Bay Area, email is in my HN profile.

Check out boundless (boundless.com). They offer alternatives to the typical intro college textbooks for $20 each by leveraging open educational resources (OERs).

Chegg is doing this big time and they are already IPOd.

> We’d like to see new services that make it possible to invest in super low-cost index funds.

Sorry, this is not the right problem in financial services. Companies like Vanguard are already doing a great job of this and the costs are extremely low. Its a commodity product with razor thin margins that actually serves the needs of its customers well. Maybe there's a marketing issue where they aren't educating enough people, but that's not a technology problem.

As an alternative: Lower the Costs to IPO, disrupt Investment Banks

Sarbanes-Oxley, minimal competition between investment banks, and heightened SEC scrutiny have made the fixed costs to an IPO astronomical. These days a company, for the most part, cannot IPO for less than a $1 billion raise. This means that the broad public, including those index funds YC loves, is prevented from enjoying any returns at all for younger, high-growth companies.

There is room for startups to disrupt part or all of the process. It would be capital intensive and hard as hell. But, you're not looking for easy right?

Hey Max - Agreed - low cost index funds are a dime a dozen. Even "hot" startups like WealthFront / Betterment are a waste of money - you can spend a minute on the site, get their recommendation, hop over to Vanguard and carry it out yourself (and save thousands). Just send yourself a reminder to rebalance once a year and you're done. The biggest driver in building wealth, from our experience and that of working at Guide Financial, is using behavioral finance to automatically accumulate more assets over time - makes orders of magnitudes bigger impact than low costs/tax harvesting/etc

> using behavioral finance to automatically accumulate more assets over time

Can you explain what that means?

I believe that he's referring to sweep accounts and save-by-default instruments that have a pretty established track record of improving savings rates.

The index fund is the greatest investing technology ever invented. The under-adoption of this technology is a behavioral problem. The solution definitely isn't additional layers of asset allocators taking fees on top of this.

I'm kind of confused by what Sam is talking about in the RFS about enabling lower cost index fund investing. VFINX has a minimum initial investment of $3,000 and minimum additional investment of $100. At 17 bps that's literally $5/yr. on the Vanguard S&P 500 fund. You are basically talking about a nominal cost to service accounts (send statements, support, backoffice, etc). It would be interesting to think about how technology can lower these costs, but cost isn't preventing anyone from participating.

That is a solved problem and has been for well over a hundred years the F&C investment trust started in 1868!

And there are plenty of very low cost index trackers.

For a VC to make this sort of request is troubling as it indicates that they have very little knowledge on how investing works.

IPOs are sales problems, which require high touch interaction and networking. They are also dangerous to get wrong which is why companies pay high fees to do them.

Remember too that Google got burnt by trying to avoid the sales process entirely.

No, think beyond how they are now. For a start it is a high risk event because it is a big event, mainly because of the sales, it could be sold gradually. Also more data would mean that valuation was easier.

Warren Buffett wrote a letter to potential sellers of business that he (meaning Berkshire Hathaway) was interested in buying. It should be easy to find as I think it is reprinted in one of Berkshire's annual reports.

The basic idea is this: it's easy to make mistakes in business. As a startup or business in general you made many mistakes over the years that you've had to learn from and bounce back from in order to build you business into the success it currently is. You've earned this competence through your mistakes, and these mistakes cost you at the time you made them. Most businesses only get sold once (acquisition or IPO), so you want to go to the people who know what they're doing when you go to sell your business. For all the shit investment bankers get, they are very good at their jobs.

Selling gradually doesn't do anything and makes the entire process far more complicated and time consuming, as well as potentially pissing off investors.

As for data, it isn't something that has been lacking. Moreover, IPOs aren't priced according to valuation (though sometimes bankers reverse engineer a valuation to satisfy a price).

While I've always felt a strong attraction to YCombinator (especially the cameraderie that comes from being a part of it) and been very inspired to apply, I can't help but feel that I am in a phase of life that's simply not a good fit for YC, or at least the narrative that's pushed.

I'm no longer a mid 20-something that can live on Ramen and 16 hour days. I'm married and have a young child.

Are there YC founders in this phase of life that were able to make it work in YC? What did you do differently? Is YC interested in working with these kinds of founders? (it's certainly a different kind of "Diversity")

I had a pregnant wife and a kid at home when I went through YC last January. Another friend of mine had 3 kids and a wife he had to leave home.

Realistically YC doesn't care what stage of life you're in, they just want you in Mountain View for 3 months so you can significantly improve the chances of your company growing large. It's difficult to make it work, but I promise for me it was totally worth it.

My wife would kill me if I left her alone for 3 months with a baby whilst she was pregnant.

And she should, this is important to be present when baby is born and growing. Those who 'communicated' importance to their wives... I don't have good explanation honestly. You don't want to be their kid anyway.

Then you haven't done a good enough job communicating why it's important. :) My wife was really supportive because she knew it'd be worth it.

I guess for some families it depends a lot on how long they have been hungry, having to put off everything etc.

Not having money must be worse than beeing alone a few months?

One should consider statements Paul Graham has publicly made as to where he places his bets.

"This is one reason I'd bet on the 25 year old over the 32 year old."

"By 38 you can't take so many risks-- especially if you have kids"

I would be wary approaching an organization that has publicly expressed such age discrimination.

I think it is much better that he made it clear where he places his bets. If you have kids and over 40, it is very likely that a slower paced, bootstrapped business growth model will suite your lifestyle better anyway.

It's not "age discrimination" (in the negative-connotation sense), it's sober rational thinking.

"By 38 you can't take so many risks-- especially if you have kids" is a statement of fact.

"This is one reason I'd bet on the 25 year old over the 32 year old." is a reasonable conclusion.

Calling this age discrimination is like saying all employers are evil because they discriminate based on having or not having skills required for a job.

Even if we suppose it were "sober rational thinking" that doesn't mean it's also not a "negative-connotation". Fifty years ago a southern business would have been engaged in "sober rational thinking" to deny service to blacks or at worst to make sure they were "properly" segregated.

In more modern times a more apt comparison would be with respect to pregnant women. Suppose he'd written instead "This is one reason I'd take the childless, single 25 year old woman over the married 32 year old. By 33 she'll probably be pregnant or have a baby."

That's very clearly discrimination, and very clearly in the negative-connotation sense.

For similar reasons, PG's statements re: age are very clearly "negative-connotation" age discrimination. Moreover, there's nothing particularly "sober" or even "rational" about it, considering the heaps of evidence regarding age and people who are very successful in running businesses (hint: "young" isn't exactly a word that comes to mind).

We're absolutely interested in working with these kinds of founders. Shoot me an email at kat at ycombinator. Happy to talk more or introduce you to some of the founders who went through YC with families.

There were plenty of older, married founders in our batch (S14) at YC. Some with kids. Message me directly at andrew at bayesimpact.org, and I can connect you with some to speak to.

If you're willing to work hard and are talented, we'd love for you to apply. If you have those two qualities, I could care less about that number.

Only you can answer whether you're willing to do what it takes to make a startup succeed. I personally do not believe it requires sacrificing things like family and personal health. I'm not going to lie, it's easier when you have less obligations in your life (like when you're young), but not impossible.

There was a priceonomics piece recently about Founders with kids: http://priceonomics.com/founders-with-kids/

It's more a question of whether your life fits to everything that comes with being a startup founder, rather than YC itself.

My second child was born after submitting the application and before being accepted. The fact that I have kids was on my twitter profile and not hidden.

It's tough. But not impossible. My solution was to cut everything else out. But, I love my family, my co-founder is awesome, and building my company is what I want to do. So, "everything else" should probably have been cut out anyway.

SimpleLegal YC S2013

I was in that boat, but now if I was really motivated I could leave the family home for 3 months to do YC. The problem now is that everyone I know is in that same situation, so I've got NO co-founders to bring along. PG wrote a whole essay about why middle-aged guys don't do startups, but he also wrote one about the importance of cofounders. You solve one and end up not having the other...

It doesn't matter what your situation is, it's the same with any investor. If you have strong traction or a strong track record, you will get investment, be it YC or someone else, no matter if you're a parent or not. Of course you have to have a scalable startup.

It's a fantastic list; I'd like to comment on how some of the problems are already solved (outside the U.S.) or not cast properly.

> Healthcare in the United States is badly broken. We are getting close to spending 20% of our GDP on healthcare; this is unsustainable.

That's mostly a policy problem, not a technology problem. Countries with single-payer healthcare spend massively less on it per % of GDP than the United States with its pro-profit healthcare system, and American doctors and healthcare corporations end up being fabulously more rich than in those countries. (And they still have private healthcare, like in Sweden, which competes with public healthcare organizations.) The other reason healthcare costs are getting higher is that people are getting older and thus more sick. That's a generational bump, there's very little we can do about that. Not that I'm opposing the types of ideas YC is after in this sector (preventative medicine and better sensing/monitoring), just that the premise is wrong that it's a technological problem.

> At some point, we are going to have problems with food and water availability.

That's because we dedicate most of our water and land resources to feeding cattle that we then eat. Innovations that will have the most impact in that sector will involve weaning people from animal products. Stuff like Beyond Eggs and lab-grown meat.

> It’s not a secret that saving money is hard, and that people tend to be bad at doing it. The personal savings rate has largely been falling since the early 80s.

Sure, some super-low-cost index funds would help, but the main problem here is two-fold: 1) real incomes are stagnant, due to government policies favouring corporations and 2) government/pension funds are much better at providing good ROI on investment than individuals can. Once again policy change is much more likely to have a massive impact than trying to improve the individual worker's investment returns. Collect retirement contributions at the source, and have the best investors in the country manage them. Without taking a profit for themselves. It's done elsewhere.

Look at the top causes of bankruptcy...

#1 on that list is medical costs.

To quote the article: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/pf_article_109143.html "A study done at Harvard University indicates that this is the biggest cause of bankruptcy, representing 62% of all personal bankruptcies. One of the interesting caveats of this study shows that 78% of filers had some form of health insurance, thus bucking the myth that medical bills affect only the uninsured. "

So yea, fixing healthcare will also fix a lot of America's debt problem. There are only a couple ways to do that - decrease the costs or have a single payor. We've tried the 'decrease costs' part with college funding. That didn't work, because any time we subsidize funding to colleges, they request more money. College debt is huge now. So going the medical route and just subsidizing a broken system isn't going to fix it. It will only make the problem worse. We need to have medicare for everyone, and it should start before birth. If someone wants a college education, allow them to get it, only paying to re-take classes. That would wipe out most people's debts.

Note the Harvard study is from 2010. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) passed in 2010, started going into effect in 2014, and bans lifetime caps on health insurance payouts. The intent was to address exactly that problem--medical bankruptcies.

So the big policy change the parent asks for has already happened, and the U.S. will gain universal insurance coverage over the next couple years.

If we want to see healthcare costs drop in cost beyond that policy change, it's almost certainly going to need to be driven by technology in some way.

"That would wipe out most people's debts."

Yeah, but people being is debt is great for the part of the financial services industry that they owe money to, often with ridiculous and crippling interest rates (compare to the interest rates these players get from the government when they borrow, which is essentially 0% -- which is nice, for them). This is especially true when it comes to student debt, which can't ever be discharged. And these companies have a ton of political power (money begets power begets money).

Which all is to say I agree with frandroid. The root problem here is our political system is almost completely broken due to lobbying and lack of meaningful campaign finance laws and the best way to actually fix some of the issues listed here is fixing those core government/policy problems, but those problems aren't technical in nature and won't be fixed with a Ruby on Rails app.

Software may be eating the world, but if your only options for government leadership are (to put it in South Park terms) a "turd" or a "douche", both of which are controlled by big money whose interests are at odds with the overall populace then there are a lot of core problems that there will never be a software fix for (short of the call for better AI going really well and having a benevolent SkyNet take over).

I came here to say exactly that. The new projects YC wants to see are great and are defiantly problems worthy of effort, but the more pressing problems seem structural at the moment.

I also agree with your final conclusion ("skynet") and think it is inevitable given time. Remove human corruptibility from governance. Efficiency... it is selected for.

> Countries with single-payer healthcare spend massively less on it per % of GDP than the United States with its pro-profit healthcare system

Countries with universal coverage through other-than-single-payer systems do this, too. (every OECD country other than Mexico and the US has universal coverage -- but not all of them through single-payer -- and every OECD country spends massively less per GDP, let alone per capita, on healthcare than the US does; to the extent that many of those that do have public single-payer universal systems pay less in GDP for that than the US does considering public costs in the US alone, without considering the slightly-higher private costs in the US.)

But those systems tend to look like a "single-payer donkey with a free-market tail stuck on." The government decides the content of the basic packages, funds them for the poor, etc. If that sounds exactly like the ACA, you're correct, but you may have missed a very subtle and very important distinction -- take a closer look.

Page 6 of


gives a very thorough overview.

A friend of mine ran across this in Switzerland. It has a nominally free-market system, but when he moved there, he ended up automatically enrolled in a plan without doing anything at all. He was remiss in reading and translating all his mail upon moving there, and after some months of inaction: 1) he was signed up to a default insurance plan; 2) which was partially subsidized based on his estimated income; and 3) he was billed for the remainder. Nominally private-sector, but still quite state-supervised. There is a minimum standard for plans, you must have one, and subsidies ensure that everyone can afford it. Unlike Obamacare, the "must have one" part is not enforced by fining you $700 on your taxes, either, but rather by actually signing you up for one.

This is how vehicle liability insurance works in Sweden. You must have it, and if you don't, the government will just sign you up for a government-run default insurance pool and bill you for it. Certainly beats having to have "uninsured motorist insurance"...

Is there a practical difference between being billed for a plan you were automatically signed up for and being assessed a tax fine?

Well, in the first case you're actually enrolled in a health-insurance plan, whereas in the second case you aren't. This solves many problems; for example, everyone who visits a doctor's office or hospital can be assumed to have insurance coverage, so those institutions aren't left with the mess of what to do with uninsured patients.

> But those systems tend to look like a "single-payer donkey with a free-market tail stuck on."

I wouldn't use either of the terms "single-payer" or "free-market" in describing systems in which there are multiple private sector health insurers (payers), and it is mandatory for individuals to purchase a plan from one, with highly regulated plan provisions and operations.

They don't much look like "single-payer" anything, and don't very much look like any "free-market" bit has been stuck on (there is a market component, but its not free.)

> If that sounds exactly like the ACA, you're correct

The ACA is similar in outline, but the differences aren't particularly subtle (the ACA's isn't universal; the poor, elderly, and disabled -- rather than being subject to the mandate and operating through the same market, potentially with a public subsidy, instead are directed to one [in some cases, both] of two completely separate public insurance systems, etc., etc., etc.)

And two big pieces of the cost savings are:

1 - using buying leverage to negotiate prices, something republicans owned by the drug and device industry specifically banned (see eg [1])

2 - rationality about end of life care, which we spend a lot of money on -- 20%+ off the top of my head. As many doctors have shared, they often choose not to aggressively treat terminal illnesses and focus on quality of life. Unfortunately (remember Sarah Palin's death panels, and let's all thank John McCain for bringing that snowbilly grifter to the national stage), attempts to do things like pay doctors to sit down with patients and have end of life conversations, explaining what is happening have been successfully yet stupidly fought off. Whereas when doctors talk about how they die, they often chose to undergo very little treatment [2,3]

   Almost all medical professionals have seen what we call “futile care” being 
   performed on people. That’s when doctors bring the cutting edge of 
   technology to bear on a grievously ill person near the end of life. The 
   patient will get cut open, perforated with tubes, hooked up to machines, and 
   assaulted with drugs. All of this occurs in the Intensive Care Unit at a 
   cost of tens of thousands of dollars a day. What it buys is misery we would 
   not inflict on a terrorist. I cannot count the number of times fellow 
   physicians have told me, in words that vary only slightly, “Promise me if 
   you find me like this that you’ll kill me.” They mean it. Some medical 
   personnel wear medallions stamped “NO CODE” to tell physicians not to 
   perform CPR on them. I have even seen it as a tattoo. [2]
This doctor summarizes his choices as

   my physician has my choices. They were easy to make, as they are for most 
   physicians. There will be no heroics, and I will go gentle into that good 
   night. [2]
A different article

   Research shows that most Americans do not die well, which is to say they do 
   not die the way they say they want to — at home, surrounded by the people 
   who love them. According to data from Medicare, only a third of patients die 
   this way. More than 50 percent spend their final days in hospitals, often in 
   intensive care units, tethered to machines and feeding tubes, or in nursing 
   homes. [3]
There is almost always something that a doctor can do, but patient comfort is approximately priority F.

   More typical was an almost eighty-year-old woman at the end of her life, 
   with irreversible congestive heart failure, who was in the I.C.U. for the 
   second time in three weeks, drugged to oblivion and tubed in most natural 
   orifices and a few artificial ones. Or the seventy-year-old with a cancer 
   that had metastasized to her lungs and bone, and a fungal pneumonia that 
   arises only in the final phase of the illness. She had chosen to forgo 
   treatment, but her oncologist pushed her to change her mind, and she was put 
   on a ventilator and antibiotics. Another woman, in her eighties, with 
   end-stage respiratory and kidney failure, had been in the unit for two 
   weeks. Her husband had died after a long illness, with a feeding tube and a 
   tracheotomy, and she had mentioned that she didn’t want to die that way. But 
   her children couldn’t let her go, and asked to proceed with the placement of 
   various devices: a permanent tracheotomy, a feeding tube, and a dialysis 
   catheter. So now she just lay there tethered to her pumps, drifting in and 
   out of consciousness. [4]
And finally -- you should read all of [5], though it's heart-wrenching -- many terminal patients don't want to be aggressively treated when outcomes and the experience are fully explained. A close family member had to make similar choices and chose to die at home. The surgeons and oncologist where happy to keep going, but he was dying, and nothing the doctors could do would change that. They could only prolong for another couple months the inevitable, at the price of excruciating pain, repeated surgeries, and drugs that made him feel terrible. He chose to die at home. And not only is this far more humane, but far cheaper.

[1] http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2012/sep/04/t...

[2] http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2011/11/30/how-doctors-die...

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/20/your-money/how-doctors-die...

[4] http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/08/02/letting-go-2

[5] http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/08/02/letting-go-2

I also thought the Financial Services section was rather tame and un-disruptive.

The problem is not that it's hard to find good ways to save and invest, although that is a true statement. The problem, at least for most people in the US, is that besides Social Security, "personal saving and investing" is currently the only available way to secure one's future/retirement. An additional, related problem is that the only personal saving and investing option available to most people is "buy one or more Financial Services products": Savings accounts, stocks, bonds, funds, 401(k)s, Roth IRAs, even pensions which are long gone. They're pretty much all the same scam: Hand your own personal money to someone else, and in 50 years, it may end up bigger or smaller or the same, depending mostly on who you chose to give it to, and other factors totally outside of your control. If it ends up bigger, you chose wisely and/or got lucky, and deserve to retire comfortably. If it ends up a lot bigger, you chose brilliantly and/or got really lucky, and deserve to retire in luxury. If it ends up smaller, you chose stupidly and/or got unlucky and deserve to eat dog food when you're old.

Can we get away from "use your own personal money to buy a risky financial services product" being the sensible way to secure one's financial future? Now that would be a worthwhile problem to solve.

Not to mention the fact that "Saving and Investing" is only available to people who can actually afford to save and invest (which is yet another problem that desperately needs solving).

A Roth IRA and a 401k are investment vehicles - stocks, bonds, funds are investments. I don't think you quite understand investing which is why Financial Services needs to be disrupted.

You claim it's all a scam but the market has been going up and up over the last 100 years. The scam lies with the advisors and products that charge high fees and are not transparent. Companies like Betterment and Wealthfront are changing the game buy making these fees transparent and putting you in a good diversified portfolio.

The second problem is that like you mentioned saving and investing is only available to people who can afford to save. This is the same thought that 85% of millennials who don't save feel but the reality is, you can. There is just no easy way to do it...yet

https://www.wellsfargo.com/press/2014/20140610_millennials http://stockcharts.com/freecharts/historical/djia1900.html

Curious, what would that look like?

I dunno. Looks a lot like basic income, but it isn't normaly tagerted at retirement.

Or maybe ryandrake had a more "tax the rich" goal, with the usual set of problems. (It's usualy much better to solve the problem that people got rich exploiting [moraly or not], instead of simply taxing them.)

Don't know what it would look like, but for sure it would be ideal if it could be solved by the private sector without policy changes (i.e. taxes).

I think startups can prevail in terms of business model and not just technology.

Look at Uber, Uber has an app, but the real issue in Uber is creating a marketplace, managing a brand, managing relationships with drivers, fighting the taxi companies, etc.

Innovations in how health care is organized and delivered are very possible.

As for food and water I'll say that the case for vegetarian and veganism is often overstated. Out here in upstate New York we have plenty of water and plenty of hillsides that are good for grazing and not for tilling. In other places the situation is different, but in some places animal agriculture is part of the solution and not the problem.

I think both the single payer and pension arguments miss the fact that the US is at a hub of a system. Inflated drug prices in the US finance drug development and cheaper drug prices in the ROW. Similarly, what a government run pension fund can attain in another country is unrelated to what one can attain in the US.

I agree with the part about stagnant real incomes, which meshes with the rising cost of health insurance, housing and college, but I don't think professional pension fund managers do that much better than individuals in the long term. They may avoid stupid mistakes like selling all of your shares in the winter of 2008-2009, but the real advantage pensions have is that they can borrow from peter to pay paul, at least in the short term.

Agreed, I'm a Canadian living in the bay area, and I recently broke my collar bone in Canada. I went the the emergency room in Canada and again, when I touched down in the USA.

The room in Canada was paid out of pocket (because I'm not a resident) and cost $600 for 1 x-ray a consultation with 2 doctors and a room for the night, and another $30 for the pain meds (morphine)

The 60 minute consultation I had in the US was $150 co pay, which if I had no insurance would have been $2000 Which got me an x-ray and 15 minutes with a doctor and another $10 for "prescription" acetaminophen. (aka overpriced over the counter Tylenol)

Doctors aren't the problem, it's the insurance companies. I don't see how it's a technology problem as much as a political will (and maybe stubbornness in believing America is always the best even when it's not). The best we can hope for is technology can help by gathering political will.

I'd love to be proved wrong.

Water will be a serious problem, if I remember correctly Jordan has to import potable water. I'm sure they would be interested in any ycombinator ideas, and the government of California.

Where I live there is an abundance of crystal clear drinking water being wasted by fracking to sell LNG at bargain basement prices.

> That's because we dedicate most of our water and land resources to feeding cattle that we then eat.

As a farmer, I'm struggling to picture how we could change that land utilization in a significant way without technology to enable it. It's not quite as simple as consumer desires, although you are right that changing consumer habits changes the flow of money and where it is invested which would also spur on the necessary technology, presumably.

From someone who is not a farmer and doesn't know so much about this, for example could we grow vegetables and feed them to humans directly, rather than feeding grains to cattle?

I've been trying to feed vegetables to three small humans. Sometimes it works, but sometimes the humans seem to reject them and it fails.

That's probably a good idea, but it's worth noting that about 30% of the Earth's land surface is too dry for crops, but works fine for pasturing cattle.

I don't really think the issue with with grazing cattle on land that's suitable for it. I think the issue is that we're raising cattle in places that _arent_ suitable for it.

Take for instance the factory farms which have to constantly ship food in to feed the cattle. Another example is deforestation to create fields for cattle to graze.

I think the OP is right, we need to convince more people that beef is not a sustainable food with the rate at which we consume it today.

The problem is our taste for grain (and alfalfa) fed meats.

People probably wouldn't eat as much meat as they do now if it were from free range, non-grain fed animals.

>That's mostly a policy problem, not a technology problem.

Yep. You're not going to fix a problem caused by privatization with more privatization.

Also, a lot of this prevention can be tied back to diets, not a lack of sensors.

"That's mostly a policy problem, not a technology problem."

That's the point though: the right insight might provide a technology solution to what everyone could only think of as a policy problem.

I'm surprised no one has commented yet on the first couple of these - Energy, AI, Biotech, and Drug design.

These have traditionally been domains requiring a huge research apparatus with tremendous manpower, for only very long term gains. Not good for startups. In AI, how can a startup hope to succeed when academia has had almost no success in 50 years (and I am doubtful throwing more CPU/neuron layers will 'solve' the problem).

In addition, the people with the skills necessary to make progress are going to be advanced researchers with PhDs, who are good enough to remain in academia if they wish or who have already developed a proven-enough idea through their research career that they don't need Y-combinator-style money.

I am not trying to be a downer on the idea, contrarily I hope there can be success. Really I am fishing for anyone with a good perspective (or an answer) to these points.

Exactly. It is quite optimistic and borderline naive to believe that YC can replicate the Manhattan project in every one of these fields with a few hundred grand and a few months in a dorm.

This is just a huge lack of perspective by people who've only worked on commercial software. Real science is very hard, very expensive, and does not result in billion dollar IPO's within 3 years.

I'm hoping that once YC realizes that such projects will never succeed through a startup incubator, they will become politically active and spearhead the reversal of the current decay of government funded science. Only the government has the resources, time and foresight to fund 50 year research projects in the fields listed in the RFS. I hope this becomes clear in time.

EDIT - Here's a bit more of my thoughts on this issue from a previous comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7614344

I agree, I think this list is just going to make folks add AI or science! to their startup idea in the hopes it has a better chance of getting in to an incubator.

These have traditionally been domains requiring a huge research apparatus with tremendous manpower, for only very long term gains. Not good for startups. In AI, how can a startup hope to succeed when academia has had almost no success in 50 years (and I am doubtful throwing more CPU/neuron layers will 'solve' the problem).

This is a pure example of the AI Effect[1]. Academia has been extremely successful with AI Research, but you don't see it because as soon as something becomes successful, you disassociate it with AI.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AI_effect

Interesting link, but I still feel AI hasn't had much success: Do we really have much more today that A* search, neural nets with backpropagation, and HMMs/SVM/etc, which were all developed in the 1960s? The successes of AI that I see (eg OCR/speech recognition and Chess/Jeopardy) use these same old algorithms with only marginal improvements and more CPU. There have been no new major techniques or insights. I'm not an expert though, correct me if I'm wrong.

> The successes of AI that I see (eg OCR/speech recognition and Chess/Jeopardy) use these same old algorithms with only marginal improvements and more CPU.

Backpropagation training wasn't introduced until 1986 (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v323/n6088/pdf/323533a0...). SVMs weren't useful until the kernel trick was applied to them in 1992 (http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=130385.130401). Feature learning wasn't an active area of research until the 2000s.

There have been huge improvements in algorithms since the 1960s. The only things around back then were a few speculative papers on analytic methods. The current state of the art in learning algorithms is a huge advance over just having some ideas about the mathematical properties of learning and a few analytic tricks in obscure papers.

Huh, thank you for the informative reply. I will reconsider my view, which I had perhaps overstated before to make a point.

Wikipedia gives a citation for backpropagation going back to 1963 by the way, but looking more carefully you are right that the 1986 paper is important.

Of course research is iterative -- you wouldn't say other fields of math or science haven't had success/breakthroughs just because they are relying on old techniques.

That said, some more recent work comes to mind.

In terms of new algos: planning algorithms, deep learning architectures (ANNs without backprop), reinforcement learning, alife and multi-agent systems.

In terms of applications (which you already hint at): Deep Blue and Watson, both of which are great examples that shouldn't be regarded so trivially. Is the only difference between the "old algorithms" from the 1960s and Watson challenging people on Jeopardy is a matter of margin? No. It's not as if we were nearly there in the 60s and only needed to crank up CPU or RAM speed/storage. Read IBM's paper on it -- it took a complex architecture spanning natural language processing, databases, search, and machine learning. As for Deep Blue, even in the early 90s people said there would never be an AI to beat the best human Chess players. Once it happened, the paradigm shifted and "of course" AI can beat humans at Chess, as if there hadn't been who denied it was possible.

Some of the coolest more recent applications are in the realm of machine learning: self-driving cars, robots that learn to navigate or perform tasks, and image recognition (which has made an immense leap in the past ~2 years).

For a while Random Forest (2001) blew everything away, but more recently deep neural networks have been making huge progress. For example Google's work in image recognition: http://googleresearch.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/building-deeper...

The very incomplete high level overview: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applications_of_artificial_inte...

In AI, how can a startup hope to succeed when academia has had almost no success in 50 years (and I am doubtful throwing more CPU/neuron layers will 'solve' the problem).

I would say that academia have had tremendous success with AI research... but that's IF you accept that the goal doesn't have to be "a machine that thinks just like a human" and if you don't hold to an "all or nothing" outcome.

In terms of incremental improvements in techniques that make machines "smarter" and more capable of helping humans solve problems, there's absolutely been amazing progress. Look at Watson, for crying out loud.

So, if you accept that premise (that the goal is just "smarter" and not "thinks exactly like a human") I don't see any reason to think a startup can't make progress in this area. Will they invent the first full-fledged AGI? Maybe not, but I don't think that's the point.

We were a biotech in last batch (Ginkgo Bioworks) and got a lot out of YC. Would do it again in a heartbeat.

In biotech anyway, cost of doing the work is falling rapidly. It's not software development costs yet but we're getting there. Also YC offers a lot outside the check (alumni network, demo day, great partners, visibility, etc).

PhDs are an untapped founder pool in general. There are tons of great PhDs minted every year where academia may not be the best way to accomplish their goals. They are used to living on low salaries and working on open-ended problems. Great founders.

Dumb, but practical AI would be a game changer. Look, I don't need HAL. I need a simple robot with enough vision processing and brains to vacuum up my house, pick up dirty clothes, and load the dishwasher.

We can't be too far from that. Even if that thing sold at $10k it would have buyers lined up.

Agreed about y-combinator not being the appropriate format for hard nuts to crack. Mobile stuff and low hanging fruit like disqus and dropbox? Sure. Breakthroughs that define how business and society works? That's probably going to come out of larger institutions that dont consist of 20 somethings living off ramen. This format can be seen as working with breakthroughs that are out there, but haven't been applied the right way or are under-monetized. TBL didn't need to invest TCP/IP, fiber networking, server kernels, etc. He just had to write HTTP.

Startups create strong incentives to implement a simple solution to a severe problem.

"incentives" - because the founders can get rich if they succeed.

"implement" - because customers don't care about theoretical work, they care about solving the problem.

"simple solution" - because founders can't afford to design a complicated one.

"severe problem" - because the problem has to be bad enough for even a very simple solution to be worth paying for.

Now, to answer your question directly, why is there hope for startups even in highly technical fields where academia is slow and expensive? Because when people are laser-focused on solving specific problems like this, they occasionally make leaps of insight, either in terms of reframing problems to make them easier, applying newly available technology, or just thinking of a new idea on their own. Smart people can pick up skills surprisingly quickly when they're focused on solving problems.

Also, the incentives are strong enough that they can sometimes convince these skilled academics to quit/supplement their academic jobs with startup work.

the energy and biotech companies that went through YC this summer seemed to have a good experience. we can often help companies raise very large amounts of capital after YC.

Recall that today's dominant notion that the only startups worth f(o)unding are cynically-leveraged, hockey stick Internet frivolities is a relatively recent development [1] --blame pmarca et al. for that.

It isn't inconceivable, then, that today there ought to be enough liquidity and appetite for riskier, much less leveraged, longer-term growth modalities, as in the past.

[1] http://www.foundersfund.com/the-future

>Energy, AI, Biotech, and Drug design

If you want to advance these fields throw money at universities, not startups.

Are you implying that these fields are only pure science? I'm just curious.

No, but universities are (and always were) highly effective "startup accelerators" for science/engineering disciplines.

The thing YCombinator (and its ilk) did differently was to realize that software was atypical of science/engineering fields in that it didn't benefit as much from many of the services offered by universities, so you could strip out most of the "cruft" and form a "lean" university that was just as effective (more effective, in hindsight).

When you bring the focus back to science/engineering, suddenly the "cruft" doesn't seem so pointless. If you try to build an accelerator aimed at traditional science/engineering problems, you re-invent the university.

What is that "cruft"?

* Formal training and apprenticeships from experts in various fields

* Many-million-dollar macroscopic and microscopic fab facilities (shared but not specialized)

-- Fancy microscopes (optical, electron, etc)

-- Fancy spectrometers

-- Nanofab junk (mask writers, aligners, chemical benches, CVD machines, etc)

-- Chemistry junk (NMR machines, MS machines, Chromatography machines, etc)

-- Physics junk (telescopes, accelerators, etc)

-- Engineering junk ($50k oscilloscopes and logic probes, test machines, FPGAs, CAD/CAE software, expensive simulation software)

* ~$1MM-ish labs (highly specialized but shared less)

-- Strange chemicals, gasses, and the tools required to deal with them

-- Strange biologicals (animal lines, cell lines, specialty constructs, reagents)

-- Fume hoods, centrifuges, schlenk lines, etc

-- 3D printers, milling machines, highly specialized fabrication and diagnostic apparati that are custom-built and one-of-a-kind

* Library/journal access

* Connections to cheap labor (no comment)

* Connections to funding for both blue-sky research

* Connections to funding for seed-stage commercial prospects

YC specializes on the last bullet point and mixes in business training. It could certainly have something to offer to startups in science/engineering fields (especially if their ultimate product was software), but we shouldn't forget that it has relatively stiff competition once it starts wandering outside of its core competency into more traditional fields.

AI doesn't mean AGI/strong AI/human-level AI. In the last few years deep learning methods have advanced the state of the art in different areas a great deal. Natural language processing, machine vision, and even some results in reinforcement learning. And these are all things a small startup could reasonably do.

Many problems in AI, such as NLP, are AI-complete. While it's possible to solve subsets of the problem without creating a human level intelligence (and many companies have done so), these solutions do not "seem" very intelligent. Based on Sam's blog post it sounds like he does mean human-level intelligence. Which unfortunately does seem out of reach within our lifetimes though I hope to be proven wrong.

An important trend is the API-ification of everything. As more and more businesses are accessible with a web API, the Internet becomes more and more powerful.

I'd like to invite people to try the early release of Empire API, which is one API for every enterprise SaaS:


Empire is an API for accessing enterprise SaaS services such as Salesforce, Zendesk, Google Apps, etc. It provides a uniform, database-like interface to every service that it supports. Empire makes it easy to integrate data from multiple enterprise services into your own enterprise app.

You can click Login to create an account, and we'll send you an API key. Or you can just sign up for the mailing list.

SaaSaaS? ...which of course leads to the general form, S(aaS)^n.

Alternately, it's an API of APIs.

We're hoping that S(aaS)^n = SaaSaaS for n >= 2, and we can prove by induction that ours is the last enterprise API you need to learn ;)

I don't know if you're looking for fundraising, but if so, you have a nice opportunity here. Make it trivially easy to build investor metrics (like, I dunno, suggest queries around the tools startups are using, like mixpanel, intercom, stripe) and graphs, and then you'll be in every deck that they see.

I looked at a few companies in this space when I was at a VC, and the fundamental problem was that they didn't provide enough value to the end developer.

Aggregator APIs tend to provide extremely reduced functionality compared to the source API, and the ease-of-use doesn't compensate for this. In most cases it just makes more sense for the developer to spend a day building a custom adaptor for the API.

That said I think the SQL front-end is an interesting twist. While developers find it easier to use the source API there are many people (i.e. business analysts, etc.) who can't program but can use SQL and that might be an interesting market to go after (and also a market more willing to pay).

Thank you. The pure SQL is a cool twist, because you can instantly start getting fancy, e.g. doing JOINs between different services.

In terms of value to the end-developer, there are a handful of value-add services we'll be rolling out that are a pain for people to implement:

- Authentication

- Federated search

- ETL / caching

- Record matching / fuzzy inference of foreign-key relationships

- Entity de-duplication

We also feel that Empire API will be exciting for pure client-side apps and apps that don't want to run a backend, e.g. the sort of apps that would build on Parse or Firebase.

Very interested in your product. With Catalist[1], we are approaching each of these SaaS functions from the ground up. Integrating your product would be huge for onboarding and creating a seamless transition. Let's definitely chat[2].

[1][www.catalist.me] [2][sumedh at above]

neat, but SFDC alone is unbelievable ... as in i do not believe it. API limits, governors, etc. will all kill your fancy meta-api. working a lot with SFDC, an API on top of an API is simply performance hell.

co-founder here. it's a good point. yes the Salesforce API limits are still there, and you still need to work around them, but we don't make it worse.

you also get the advantage of having a datastore to conveniently persist data that you extract from Salesforce and other data sources, so that you can process data in batches easily.

Interesting premise, but I can't see a list of services you support on your site. Do you have such a list?

Check out the Services section in the docs: http://empiredata.com/doc/

We currently have integrations with Salesforce, Hubspot, Gmail, Google Spreadsheets, Zendesk, Mailchimp, Stripe, and CallRail.

If there's another integration you need, feel free to email us: hello at empiredata dot co

[edit: I have added the current and upcoming integrations on the home page: http://empiredata.co/#supported-platforms]

You don't list Stripe on that page, FYI. Add Intercom and you have a customer.

@pbiggar Thanks for that catch. We updated the homepage.

I'll reach out to you over email because I'm curious about your intercom.io use-case.

I'm also going to try it on our webapp, so we can dogfood it.

While interesting - the thing that surprised me the most was not seeing "security" (take that for what you will) on the list. Given the year of disclosures, the heartbleed incident, and all other sorts of things - I feel like this field is ripe for a disruption.

Between the staid companies that have been providing tools for decades that can be better, the tools that don't really exist that need to - I think we're ready. Similarly, with the security world starting to consolidate (FireEye buying Mandiant, likely goings public of companies like Rapid7 and TripWire), I'd think it's an ample rate/return option.

> Internet Infrastructure

> We can’t imagine life without the Internet. We need to be sure it keeps working–this includes everything from security to free and open communication to infrastructure.

I see that as internet/communication specific. But with meshnets, darknets, increasingly privatized communication networks and the like, I see these as two separate callouts.

The YC one is 'internet specific' - at least as I read it.

Yep, I was surprised too. We submitted our infosec company and hopefully there'll be others who are doing the same thing. There aren't enough easy to use security tools, maybe one of us will be caught in the net.

Awesome, good luck!

I liked this line: "the government is a very large customer with very bad software."

It could also be written like this: the government is a very bad customer with very large software.

"the government is a very bad customer" is better statement of the problem. The real problem with government is the system of software procurement and management.

This includes decision makers who often play favorites and often have zero expertise or sound counsel to leverage in making key technology related decisions.

The healthcare exchange is not an exception to the rule. It is the status quo of most government technology related initiatives.

Selling to governments is very difficult and time consuming. The company I work for has spent over a year now trying to get approved to sell our software to the NYC schools (not land a sale, just get approved to try to land sales), and it looks like we may have hit a dead end.

You may find some catharsis in this essay I wrote many years ago... Why the DMV Website Sucks: http://wademeredith.com/2011/05/why-the-dmv-website-sucks/

One of the previous places I did some freelance stuff for solved this by partnering with a vendor that was already on the approved list.

So there is an opportunity here for a company that does nothing by handle the ugly administrative stuff on the government end, presenting a cool hacker-friendly work environment on the other? And pocketing a hefty cut for the service, I presume. Sort of a general contractor with very different inside and outside cultures.

"Yes, we launched it and it works. We have a great technical staff, and we've won some very lucrative contracts. We called it EnterpriseAdaptor, thinking the geeks would go for that but everyone persists in calling it CondomCo."

Interesting thought. One of the challenges will be that they look at stuff like how much capital you have and how long you have been in business.

There are a number of companies that can help you (Lockheed Martin, CSC, and IBM being three) if you find yourself in a position where you have something you need to sell in to government and don't have the credentials to land the contract directly. They do essentially what you describe... take a cut off the top in exchange for doing some of the paper work and taking some of the liability if things go awry.

There was a company advertising on HN's latest "who's hiring" about specifically improving government IT. They don't seem to respond to email, though.

Ditto 'the enterprise'.

Yes at the surface. However, I think there are opportunities in enterprises at the lower levels or through guerrilla style tactics (e.g. Yammer). Through a combination of free and price points that allow individual or middle management authorization there are opportunities.

>Specifically, lightweight, short-distance personal transportation is something we’re interested in.

Doesn't this already exist, in the form of the bicycle?

Yes, this one was licked in 1885. The problem is not something amenable to a startup company. It's a huge entrenched cultural preference for terribly inefficient vehicles and development patterns that go with them.

Bicycles are not an 80/20 solution, they're a 99% solution, with the appropriate kind of bicycle and accessories. You can haul all kinds of crap - construction equipment, children, appliances, etc. - with a bicycle.

There are many other kinds of bicycles that make them accessible to people with reduced mobility: tricycles, hand-cycles, electric assist. Further - active transportation also counts as exercise and physical therapy, even further reducing the number of people who end up with reduced mobility in the first place!

I don't really know what a startup could possibly do in this area that's not already being done by the dozens of active transportation advocacy organizations at every level of society.

Everyone in this thread keeps bringing up the same argument about these catagories: "The problem is not something amenable to a startup company."

Isn't that the point of these requests? To inspire new and innovative ways of addressing a small (or, a chance at a larger) piece of these huge problem spaces?

It doesn't matter if you don't think these are realistic requests. YC is just trying put out an image that it wants to invest in historically "hard" market startups.

(As an aside, I'd say that bikes are not a 99% solution until the majority of people aren't afraid of riding them around cars.)

How do you deal with weather? It's certainly a lot more comfortable to drive somewhere in pouring rain than it is to bike, even when well prepared. And that preparation takes time and effort. Not to mention trying to bike in winter.

I really really hate cars, but I can see why people prefer them.

In cities I can imagine an apparatus not unlike a retractable roof in function, spanning the gaps between buildings. It would capture rainfall and prevent flooding while keeping citygoers dry. The "rooves" themselves would channel water as would an aqueduct, possibly reorienting themselves to better handle local downpours. The underside would need to emit light, whether transmitted natural light or otherwise.

Such a system would bring ancillary benefits of improving travel safety in the city, and reducing the need for road maintenance and vermin control (esp. mosquitoes).

I imagine the biggest technical challenge to be durabiity: The need to be resilient against hail, high winds and flying debris. And should it fail at the worst time ... an awful thought! But levees are a similar technology in that regard.

Or in the extreme heat you can get during the summer. Not fun showing up to work drenched in sweat because you biked in.

Not long ago a brilliant inventor, Dean Kamen, created a startup that tried to solve this. The product received considerable hype before launch. When Steve Jobs saw a prototype, he reportedly said: "This will change the way cities are designed."

The final product -- Segway -- didn't, though. I'm not sure anyone is willing to try again soon.

Don't see your Jobs quote in this account, although there are many more skeptical quotes, such as "Jobs said he lived seven minutes from a grocery and wasn't sure he would use Ginger to get there."


Looks like the Jobs quote was a rumour, at least according to BusinessWeek in 2001:

"Other stories claimed that Apple Computer co-founder Steven P. Jobs got an early peek and made the wacky prediction that cities would redesign themselves around the device. (Jobs denies he ever said this.)"


But then, I wrote "reportedly", and it was indeed widely reported at the time :)

The bicycle already exists, but I read that section assuming ideas related to it like:

- bike/scooter/... share programs

- new designs for bikes to improve safety, could work with the existing market

- while you're at it, new additions to other forms of transportation etc. to improve safety too.. even if a lot of it is policy, but even things like self-driving cars fall into this category

- new designs for bikes to improve ease of use. I don't ride bikes because I have never found any seat and any amount of cushioning that isn't immediately painful, while bikes that accommodate that (like recumbent bikes) are typically not as portable

Some of this is outside the scope of YC or it's definitely something else like policy, but just a thought. I especially like the idea of improving rideshare programs, and that is very doable. I was going to try out SF's program but there's no bikes near me since the company behind the rideshare program went out of business. :(

Many people with reduced mobility (e.g. my grandmothers) can't ride them, though. There's space for alternatives.

The bicycle is a 80/20 solution, but it's hard to make VC-level money in the business. Plus, a few more decades of high-tech short-distance personal transportation and we'll all look like in Wall-E and the bicycle will become 20/80.

Don't dismiss it out of hand. The world bicycle market is $70B/yr. A Silicon Valley company, Specialized, makes $500M/yr revenue. If you had the next thing that millions of people would commute short distances on, there's more than enough potential for VC.

Uber for Rickshaws!

I am very happy to see this list.

I came to Demo Day in 2010 (as an investor) but left without investing in anything, because I was so demoralized by the way it seemed everyone was trying to start lame web sites doing relatively trivial things.

If Demo Day looked like the stuff on this list, I'd be banging down the door to get in again.

Energy generation, transmission, storage and consumption technologies are the opportunity of our lifetime and it is great to see Energy as #1 on this list (though there might not be a correlation between rank and YC weighted importance).

Generation - Solar & Wind

Transmission - Distributed Grid

Storage - Batteries

Consumption - Electric Vehicles

> We believe economics will dominate - new sources must be cheaper than old ones, without subsidies, and be able to scale to global demand.

The world uses a huge amount of energy and it is vital that any technology is 1.cost competitive and can 2.scale on a globally. These are no small feats, but like Airbnb the assets already exist, but our access to them does not. This is a distribution and financing problem, not a creating new technology problem.

S.A. is talking about general-purpose AI (position 2 in the RFS). This means processing natural language. There is a lot of progress but it's just slow so it's almost invisible.

Also it's a very difficult field of science. Now you need to be proficient in AI, machine learning, computational linguistics, linguistic corpora research, cognitive sciences, statistics, and sometimes physics if the text changes over time. Of course, you also need to be a good programmer. This combination of skills is very rare. Thus, very slow progress.

I suggest to start with well defined practical problems. For example, no one seems to do much with user generated reviews. There is some sentiment analysis but that is just a binary text categorization problem - not even close to general purpose AI.

It would be much more interesting to show a seller a time ordered stream of clustered reviews that depict only the most representative review for each cluster. This way a seller can see how his/her fixes/changes impact user reviews. Also it would be a great source for features and bug fixes requests. This is an ideal testing bed for clustering, novelty detection, categorization and mild inference. The inference is required because of sparseness of data.

This would create a good data set for a more general purpose AI. We would have reviews and text documenting changes and improvements of a new version of a product. Now the computer could start learning the dialog between users and product developers. Then, we are just one more step from statistical inference based question-answering system. Not a brute force system like "Watson" or a hand crafted rule base system like "Siri".

[EDIT:] I was thinking more about a decision support system that can recommend product changes. But in a way that maximizes customer satisfaction and minimizes the cost of implementation. The dialogue between past changes and customer reaction would give us the surface that needs to be optimized. This would generalize well to other domains where there is a text for request and a text for response - just to name one: clinical text in healthcare (position 5 in the RFS).

I have stated this previously to the AGI community and think that the way to go is that QA recommendation engines will be the first killer app for AGI. Not recommendation like the ones you see now with the "others who bought...", but ones that look more like "concierge" QA services.

From what I understand from speaking with Selmer Bringsjord, Bloomberg has an outstanding internal QA system, so there is progress, the trouble is that it's all behind corporate firewalls.

There was a silly little online game that came out a few years ago called Akinator [1] that would "guess" a public personality and did so by "learning" based on user inputs - very naiive implementation of CTL but gets the gist of how you can implement a mock AI to get damn good results.

If you did a little delphi to stack the initial deck of results, say for a car buying QA recommendation service, I think you could have a pretty powerful tool that could be replicated across services.


For anyone else that wasn't sure, AGI means "artificial general intelligence".

I loved seeing VR on this list as an Oculus enthusiast.

The http://www.reddit.com/r/oculus, http://www.reddit.com/r/oculusdev/, and https://developer.oculusvr.com/ are jam packed with excited hackers cranking out their projects and with the Oculus Connect conference coming up I'd love to see some of this talent pointed towards Y-Combinator

VR can be so much more than what Oculus and its associated acts are about. In fact, they cast a shadow over it that will probably be harmful to it in the long run.

The Oculus acquisition by Facebook is possibly the worst thing that could have happened to VR. With the Rift, Oculus had the opportunity to chart a brand new low cost platform accessible to millions, and be the next IBM/Microsoft/Apple/etc of their day. They had everything going on for them: a founder who knows the field by heart, which allowed him to act the moment he saw the curves of "state of the art" and "realistic potential for a consumer product" intersect. A lucrative vertical (gaming) in which to get their v1 out. Industry titans believing in and joining the company.

I don't know about you, but this reminds me of things like the Macintosh: the potential for brand new applications (with VR, "computer assisted design" takes on a whole new meaning). The potential to reach brand new audiences, and to make existing audiences experience thing they could have never experienced on traditional 2D screens.

But they went the acquisition route. Now they're owned by Facebook, which means that everything they do has to go through all the motions that a large company has. They can't do anything really risky, they can't say "fuck you" to the status quo (because Facebook is the status quo). What are we going to see from Oculus? Locked-in app stores. Social networking bullcrap à la second life (pro tip: we've been trying to make "social VR" a thing since the very first days of the internet, and it's always failed. The Palace (1995), Second Life (2003), etc. Every 10 years, like clockwork, someone tries it again and miserably fails. It makes for great science fiction -presumably why people are so intent on trying to make them happen in the first place- but in reality, it just doesn't work out.

What will we see from Oculus? Most likely nothing ever really revolutionary. As far as gaming goes, we'll probably see half-assed VR from Microsoft and Sony.

But as far as truly disruptive uses of VR goes? Well, it certainly won't be Oculus. Maybe someone else will pick up the torch where Palmer Luckey dropped it, but it seems like the window of opportunity has closed.

I completely agreed with you in the weeks following the Facebook acquisition.

BUT in the months now following my opinion has changed.

There remains a vibrant and resilient ecosystem of devs working on amazing homebrew stuff that everybody on day-one predicted would close up shop.

But since a lot of the work is unity based, the end platform almost doesn't matter and people realize that.

Oculus will start out as the PC enthusiast / high-res experience and FB gives them the dry powder to actually get the hardware out the door.

But in the long-ball view EVERY smart phone, console, etc etc etc will be capable of VR and it's largely thanks to the preliminary oculus effort and their inclusive structure of opening the platform to small devs.

Think about MineCraft as an example.

Brilliant concept, single dev (then small team), and now basically universal adoption that is completely device and platform agnostic

And of course large studios will throw huge budgets against the VR platform, and maybe Oculus isn't the long-term leader but they are wholly responsible for the coming renaissance!

>As far as gaming goes, we'll probably see half-assed VR from Microsoft and Sony.

Look at all the amazing things the Kinect did. I played a few Kinect games. The effect is amazing. Imagine if Facebook bought it instead of MS. I don't see why MS or Sony would make things half-assed. If anything, VR gaming might be a natural monopoly from a commercial entity instead of some open standards things Oculus kinda-sorta is pushing.

Reminds me of how people are baffled that there's a near MS monopoly on the dekstop and why Linux can't break through. Natural monopoly here as well.

VR gaming might be a console-only affair with a small "pc master race" types telling us how much better their experience is. Meanwhile, Jane Console Gamer puts on her headset and enters the world of Minecraft or whatever is going to be the big time waster, with little fuss as it all because it "just works." Meanwhile Joe PCGamer is whining on forums why $video_game isn't working with his Oculus and he has no one to support him.

> Look at all the amazing things the Kinect did

Mmh, what amazing things did he do? Last time I checked, there is no killer app for the Kinect. Microsoft tried to force it on everyone by bundling it with the Xbox One (because no one wanted it otherwise), and now they're removing it because even when their console is bundled with it, no one does anything with it.

It certainly was explosive on the 360. As an Xbox One owner, there just aren't too many games that make use of it, compared to the dozens on titles on the 360. There's a dance game and a token fitness game and not much else. I think if the console launched with 5-10 good Kinect games, it would be a different story. It looks like MS was too afraid of being a second run console if they waited too long after the PS4's debut and launched with very few titles and very few good titles, let alone kinect titles.

They took VC money to get Dk1 out and prep Dk2. Then Facebook came knocking and they were forced to sell so the VCs could get their ROI. No one wanted to do it, least of all the top man.

> It’s not a secret that saving money is hard, and that people tend to be bad at doing it. The personal savings rate has largely been falling since the early 80s.

There already several startups in the "personal saving" space largely based on index funds, though some of them have large minimums. Complex schemes may not be worth the effort for those with only a few bucks to spare:




It would be cool if Vanguard had an API so we could do the same thing open-source rather than incurring the extra management fees from these companies which are mostly based on Vanguard funds.

I think you are kind of missing what the hard part is for many people, which is not choosing where to put the savings, it is choosing to save at all. Many live paycheck to paycheck, even go deep into debt on credit cards and payday loans. There's a whole broad class of apps like Mint, where it will show you all your costs and income and give you tips about how to reduce your spending, save more, refinance debt, etc..

Then there's a whole broad class of lifestyle apps that could be written, like a saving social network where you are socially rewarded for not spending a lot, win status in a game, etc.. E.g. maybe an app where you make a bet with a friend, if you spend under $100 on food this week, they owe you $100, and vice-a-versa. That would keep you both watching your spending and actually having something to save.

As nerfhammer mentions, for some reason YC focused on the "invest" side of "It’s too hard to find good ways to save and invest" in their description. It would be good if they clarified that that's really what they intended.

I find this confusing as well because while simpler investment mechanisms would help some people who already have money to invest, for the majority of people getting this initial money is the problem.

It's improvements in personal finance tools and systems to help people make better decisions that let them save (and hence invest more) that could make the most difference for the most people. It doesn't necessarily have to be games or social networks though. Even just presenting the right information at the right time could work.

Notwithstanding as written YC's description seems to match exactly what these companies are doing:

> Most people either pick individual stocks and bonds and expose themselves to high volatility, or pay very high fees to mutual fund managers and lose to the index anyway. Most people are also non-experts when it comes to portfolio rebalancing and tax optimization.

> This seems to us like something software should help solve. We’d like to see new services that make it possible to invest in super low-cost index funds (in a normal account or a retirement account), do some customization around individual stocks, and otherwise set it and forget it.

Basically exactly what those companies are doing.

You're supposing that saving is a potential choice. Even a glance at income numbers in the US would fix that for you. For example, median household income as of 2012 is where it was in 1989 [1]. Of the increasing small middle with the ability to save, they seem to be pretty well served already.

[1] http://billmoyers.com/2013/09/20/by-the-numbers-the-incredib...


Oh yes, yes, yes. Everyone is talking about the quantified self but human augmentation would be so much cooler. I don't care if a watch can tell me my heart rate at all times (I know when my body is tired, or out of breath, because I live in it!!!)

But there are so many senses that I would like to have; for example, be able to always know where the North is relative to me. A device that would let me feel the North would be so cool and useful (I wear a Tissot T-Touch for that reason, but it's a very poor solution to this problem).

I think I heard the Apple watch will be able to do this, in some cases; but it sounds like an afterthought. I would pay serious money for a wrist bracelet or some other wearable that would do only that, but do it well.

the only thing more exciting than new senses is improving our current ones. the sky is the limit once we have strong understanding of how our brain interprets its inputs.

replace your eyes with cameras (20/20 vision, ability to see "invisible" frequencies, night vision, 360 degree vision). replace your ears with microphones (hear "invisible" frequencies). if we can do that, we can also directly input synthesized sources (think oculus rift without the headset. or your iPod without the headphones.)

granted, if we can do that we've built the matrix sans software and at that point all bets are off. not that I think it's a bad thing, a body is a pretty shitty vessel for a consciousness.

im not sure we will have such a reliable interface in my lifetime, but it's amazing to live in a time where it seems completely possible.


Watches and wearable things are just the tip there. The issues with implants is that they are 100% against the Hippocratic oath. No doctor would ever do one if you are healthy. Implants are a long way off, and wearable enhancers may ease the road to them, however a new ethical system for doctors, or an extension of doctors without such oaths, would be required. Think about it for more than 30 minutes, it gets heeby jeeby real quick.

Before implants one could build sense enhancers that are just worn, not "plugged in". Running shoes are "capability enhancers" that don't involve a doctor unless you're running professionally. Glasses usually involve a doctor but you can buy simple ones without seeing an ophthalmologist.

A simple device that would buzz on your skin isn't "medical".

No different from Breast Implants or other enhancement surgeries which are already mainstream.

Very cool to see this list expanded. My own personal interest lies in programmer tools and their inevitable evolution, so it's great to see them listed on there.

A few of the accelerators I'd applied to in the past don't see the business opportunity present in developer tools (Who pays for those?) so it's a relief that YC recognizes the opportunity there.

It helps that many of the YC partners are developers themselves.

Absolutely. The final decision makers at other accelerators were often non-technical and (understandably) did not immediately see the value in developer tools.

Thankfully, companies like Jetbrains, Github and Light Table have made a lot of progress in demonstrating that a viable market exists here.

>This seems to us like something software should help solve. We’d like to see new services that make it possible to invest in super low-cost index funds (in a normal account or a retirement account), do some customization around individual stocks, and otherwise set it and forget it.

This exists already, there are a ton of discount brokers with very competitive pricing.

That whole paragraph was bizarre. Yeah, lots of people are doing things wrong, but there is a competitive industry of index funds and ETFs out there. I'm sure they could be squeezed a little bit more, but not much.

I think this and the grandparent miss the point. The paragraph starts "it's too hard". Too much choice, lack of metrics, lack of clear comparisons can make things as hard as no choices. The availability of discount brokers doesn't solve the problem, as evidenced by the number of people making mistakes.

"Most people either pick individual stocks and bonds and expose themselves to high volatility, or pay very high fees to mutual fund managers and lose to the index anyway. Most people are also non-experts when it comes to portfolio rebalancing and tax optimization."

Education, clear UI, consistent metrics and prioritisation are all potential issues. Do all these services exist outside of your country? What if I move countries? How do I explain it to my mother? What if I only have $1000 to invest?

Too much choice

So we are going to make another choice?

What if I only have $1000 to invest?

Put it into your savings account because you need a rainy day fund.

When you have $3000 to invest, put it into Vanguard's S&P 500, and call it a day. You are already beating more than half the managed funds out there. You spend time with your kids.

This is slightly more complicated than YO, but only slightly.

Not another choice, just a simpler way to choose funds, with recommendations, etc. Wealthfront and a few others have offerings that do a pretty decent job at this, but they don't cover 401k plans, and their fees are high for something that should be set and forget. Target date funds are actually pretty good at doing this, and some have relatively low fees.

A lot of the 401k providers just dump a list of 40 funds on your lap, and let you figure it out, but it's information overload.

I really want something that can help me decide what type of risk I can handle, and then properly choose funds / balance between all of my accounts. Financial advisors are able to do this, but software can do it better and cheaper.

Basically, I want something like Mint that connects to all of my investment accounts, and sends me an email once or twice a year with specific instructions for rebalancing.

I think the app I'm working on (https://www.RetirementPlan.io) is in the right ballpark for what you are asking for. Can you try it out and provide feedback? It's free while in beta.

It's missing the Mint-style auto-connect, but it largely does the rest of it (the actual hard math).

The paragraph I quoted and replied to was pretty explicit, claiming that discount brokers selling index ETFs don't yet exist.

Telling people to just invest in an S&P500 ETF (metrics and comparison don't matter because people don't understand them anyway) doesn't seem like a great business, financial writers are already advocating it pretty regularly and investment in index ETFs is growing steadily.

> Too much choice, lack of metrics, lack of clear comparisons can make things as hard as no choices.

Sure, but next ask "why." What is the motivation to provide metrics? Who will compile and compare them? How will they stay impartial? Who benefits?

We don't even have as much as a comprehensive internet offer comparison.

Awesome, ambitious and inspiring list of the challenges humans need to solve to move forward. One huge issue forgotten though: animals and wild life. They also inhibit our planet and part of our lives, but many quickly disappearing.

Well said, we share our planet. Poor animals and plants dont have their own voice, but certainly need more represntation in our daily thinking.

Would be great to hear from the leader of the startup world. Even if only to bring attention to their cause

What would be some good startup ideas here?

My only idea is a company that manages National/Regional parks and has a monetary incentive like a)Being paid by people who visit their parks. b) Being paid as a service per square foot they manage. What other incentives can we create to make sure the companies are kept honest without involving too much government oversight?

Couldn't agree more. Protecting wildlife is like protecting nature's most valuable works of art, and it's a real tragedy that they have become so marginalized in our anthropocentric system. It would be fascinating to focus on solving problems that go beyond our own species. One of the main issues is the economics of biodiversity — how do you put a price on the preservation of an ecosystem or a species? It's certainly not a straightforward answer, but it's a question that's well-worth thinking about.

Have any previous RFSes been filled? Have any been successful?

> We want to fund companies that have the potential to create a million jobs.

I still am curious about this one. Is there any startup that has successfully done this in recent history?

Keep in mind, there is a big difference (IMO) between creating new jobs and shifting existing ones.

Lots of startups are creating or shifting lots of jobs, but I'm not sure they're the right kinds of jobs. I wish that that was explicitly mentioned. I'm not sure the creating/shifting is a big problem as much as it is just what the job is.

For example, all the rideshare companies are creating jobs, but if they're working longer and longer for less pay like the drivers are claiming, then I don't know if that's a good thing. Homejoy and Handybook etc. take a big cut from what I can tell, to the point that I'm considering just getting a cleaning company/individual directly instead of going through the convenient middleman. Alfred, the latest Disrupt winner, is just like huh? How is that supposed to pay more than minimum wage? Plus everyone loves the contracting workaround, which tends to benefit companies more than the contractor. Even the one company I can think of that doesn't seem to be too bad - Instacart - contracts as far as I can tell.

My side biz is owning a burger shop and I'm trying to pay more than minimum wage and giving out overtime to share what little wealth I have - and it makes me really happy when I see my employees happy and buying new iPhones and MacBook Airs. Would be nice if others followed suit. Not just a startup problem either... it's a potentially huge reason as to why Americans don't have disposable income any more. :/

This is a tough one to understand since traditional technology solutions reduce the need for many jobs with a net effect of eliminating many jobs since those workers no longer have the skill set. If you look at this differently, it's a case for new ways of thinking about worker education (Codacademy/One Month/etc.) but in a way more focused on employment (General Assembly/Hack Reactor/etc.) The former group of companies is built to scale whereas the latter is a high touch, franchise model.

Another case where jobs are being created is in the direct service marketplace with the shared economy (Uber/Airbnb/etc.) as well as the general assistance (TaskRabbit/VA positions/etc.).

With the rise of mobile, I think we'll see more situations where knowledge workers can provide quick and dirty value to lower tech industries in ways that are highly targeted and very efficient. Making money on the side should be higher value than answering surveys but easier and with less commitment that ramping up a full consulting business or getting a part-time job at a b&m store. /rant

I think it would have been a lot more interesting if they had requested startups that significantly reduced the average cost of living and/or moved us closer towards a world where not everyone has to have a job.

They did. Housing is the main component of cost of living in the developed world, but to a significant extent that's a problem of transportation, which was mentioned. In the US, housing, healthcare and college fees are the big three, and the latter two were explicitly mentioned.

I think if you look at an ecosystem as a whole the. It has happened. Google is a good example. The actual enterprise has thousands of jobs but has created over a million. You have upstream hardware manufacturers and downstream developers. There is SEO, advertising, X-Prize, managed services, etc. If someone deleted google today the net loss to jobs would probably be well over 1m jobs.

It's a good point. I was also thinking SalesForce too, but then thought to myself "actually I know tons of former SAP people who now just work for SalesForce/partners and thus just shifting the jobs elsewhere". Selling CRM software in 2001 is not dissimilar to selling SaaS CRM in 2014.

I'm genuinely curious about YC's mission here and some examples. I'd love to position a concept towards that goal but can't quite grok it.

It's also somewhat in opposition to the robotics goal...

> what comes after programming languages

Isn't this like asking what comes after spoken language? Arguably the answer is nothing because language is what structured thought is.

Excatly. Nothing. The computer should be able to figure out what to do on it's own.

Not really. IMHO programming languages should become more and more expressive to the point of being as closed as possible to spoken language, in a distant future.

Spoken language makes no sense. Maybe you just mean expressive, but the last thing I want is a programming language anything like the spoken word, because at least English is a colossal mess of inconsistent jibberish.

I've always been interested if someone ever tried to make a sensible spoken word - use all the enunciable syllables of the human voice (go read wikipedia on all the sounds you can make that are defined by one of the 26 English letters) with combinatorial and sensible word structure and straightforward sentence structure.

And the, ironically, best way to define something like that would be like how you define a programming language.

> because at least English is a colossal mess of inconsistent jibberish.

Yup. Every natural language is. The reason we can work that way is that conversation is a tight feedback loop and people look for voluntary and involuntary clues telling whether the others understood them properly, and keep correcting until the (perception of) understanding is reached.

Huh? This looks like a laundry list of everything, not a specific request.

I'm also reminded of Gartner's Hype curve:


>An important trend is the API-ification of everything. As more and more businesses are accessible with a web API, the Internet becomes more and more powerful.

This is a bad thing. Replacing opens standards with proprietary APIs locked behind access tokens hardly makes the internet more accessible.

Walled gardens are great for making money though…

The alternative to known and published APIs is no API, not closed APIs. In general the API companies we do fund are of the open sort and they accomplish something useful in the real world, eg Lob, EasyPost, Hellosign.

There is no such thing as an open web API. They are all proprietary alternatives to open data formats or protocols. If those companies used open and standard data formats or protocols (I admit that in many cases this might mean proposing a new standard) there would be no need for a custom API at all. Standard data formats can still exist behind a paywall, so it's not an issue of free-as-in-beer. It's an issue of user lockin.

For a bunch of things it won't matter one way or the other because not many people will ever use it, and there isn't much likelihood of other organisations offering the same data anyway.

Take Google Reader API though, where we ended up with a bunch of clients that only targeted the proprietary Google Reader API. When Reader shut down clients had to be rewritten to work with the APIs of other RSS syncing services, services had to try and recreate the Reader API to ease migration and so on. All to arrive at a situation that isn't much better than before - a bunch of clients hard coded to specific services that will have to be altered if those services go away. If Reader had been based on an open protocol then switching would have been trivial for everybody - you just point your client at the address of your new rss syncing server.

I want a world where switching between providers and clients is trivial(ish), like email, rss or the web itself, not a world like Google Reader where we are all hard coded into proprietary APIs that are one cost-cutting meeting away from being closed, leaving everybody with a lot of work to do to migrate.

I'm sure there is less opportunity to make money that way - you can't lock people in as easily and so on. However it's not like most of the companies we are talking about here are ever going to be profitable. The game is about getting bought out. I'd rather we at least create something a bit more lasting while we play the buyout lottery.

If a data format is open, startups can still provide proprietary metadata & analytics, which could be distributed via API. The presence of open data would encourage startups to define a common, open API. The challenge is convincing startups that they should invest limited resources into building an ecosystem, instead of a walled garden.

I think you might be confusing the "scrapability" with openness. If the information was behind a login / paywall to begin with, whats the harm in needing a token to access that API?

I have to admit I'm a bit more cynical. Sure somethings are just private/charged for etc and access tokens are just part of a paywall. That is fair enough. I think in a lot of cases it's really about control though. Information that isn't behind a paywall, but that requires a token to access through the API. The classic example would be Twitter, when they shut down most of the third party clients.

There is of course a decent argument that it's their service and they can put whatever T&C on it that they like. However YC didn't seem to care about T&C when they funded AirBNB and defended their (ab)use of Craigslist.

Most "blue sky" innovations have come from the state sector (either universities, publicly funded research institutes or majority state-funded private companies). They are commercialized by private companies afterward.

Why does YC think that it will be different now?

Two things I think are missing from the list:

1. It has often been commented that the next Google will come from the company who develops a palatable version "next generation TV". Hollywood 2.0 really covers only part of this.

2. A YC generator. YC emerged as an anomaly in the VC field and became widely successful. How can its success be replicated, both for US and in other countries. This was on a 2008 list that pg posted (http://old.ycombinator.com/ideas.html).

You'd have to replicate Silicon Valley first.

Ok, put that on the list then

I think pg has written about this a couple times. Checking...

Yep. In order from oldest to most recent:




Truthcoin satisfies 8 of the 22 requests: https://github.com/psztorc/Truthcoin

my implementation: https://github.com/zack-bitcoin/Truthcoin-POW

Science/Drug development: truthcoin allows for a new method of funding public goods that is far more impact per dollar than taxes.

Government: http://hanson.gmu.edu/futarchy.html

One million jobs: Successful traders can do it as a job. Every job that involves nothing more than decisions making can be replaced by a trader. Doctors, Governors, CEOs, various boards and counsels, Congressmen, Supreme Court Judges, etc. are all in danger of being replaced by anonymous, potentially uneducated, traders.

Diversity/Developing Countries: It will give modern financial instruments to everyone with internet connection. Insurance to hedge everyone's risks.

Enterprise Software: prediction markets are very unconnected today. Each business has a separate in-house prediction market built. They have to be heavily regulated. Truthcoin makes prediction markets as available as google or facebook.

Financial Services: prediction markets are a financial service. They are illegal. Use of a blockchain circumvents the law against prediction markets.

Regarding enterprise, our approach with Catalist is a combination of 1. (Making the Expensive Cheap) & 3. (Digitizing Every Industry). We are providing companies with easy-to-use solutions based on the basic systems they understand. Half our companies come from competitor's tools while the other half are just getting started with a tech solution for their general workflow. Our hypothesis is that majority of workers wear multiple hats and spend more time figuring out what to do by assessing their responsibilities across multiple tools. We give these workers and their teams one place to address their system. This gives everyone on the team a clear idea of what actually needs to be done with full context.

Our favorite use case is a medical office that has made the jump to EMR. Much of their data is digitized but there is little benefit directly to them. However, once that digital data becomes a part of their workflow they actually see the benefit in it.

We are trying to think more generally about each of these problems and providing guidance to our individual customers specific to their vertical. Although it may seem we are still finding product-market fit, the small business market is always fragmented and diverse so this is just the reality of the situation.

These new RFS are awesome. I hope YC help accelerate a few startups that doing these type of RFS. It would be game changing. I can see allot more investor interest in YC if a non tradition YC backed company based on one of these RFC makes it big.

I had my doubts about @sama but he is pretty much on the right track and and seems to be the right person for the job. They are fighting the typical SV stereotype about not funding big ideas. Go YC keep on disrupting!

> Science seems broken. The current funding models are broken and favor political skill over scientific genius.

Isn't that already catered to by experiment.com, a YC company?

They fund multiple companies in a vertical...

"lightweight, short-distance personal transportation is something we’re interested in"

I think that's called the bicycle.

(Of course there are plenty of barriers to people actually using the things, especially in the US, but those have little to do with the machine itself and everything to do with the social context in which it's used. If a startup can manage to solve those problems then more power to them. Start by talking to the Dutch perhaps.)

ENTERPRISE SOFTWARE > Making The Expensive Cheap:

I have been working (and still am working) with incredibly expensive software from IBM. Now it's somewhat trivial what it does and I have open sourced it (http://www.use-the-tree.com). Feel free to contact me. My dream is to find a team, apply to YC and crush IBM (I am somewhat serious).

(US-based comment.)

While a great list, the mistake is being made of assuming disruptive startups (through technology, business processes, or both) will solve problems in several of the sectors. Some being Healthcare, Pharmaceuticals, Energy, Transportation & Housing, Telecommunications, and--most of all--Government.

It's not because smart people haven't developed solutions to the problems they see in these sectors. It's that government--through policy and/or bureaucracy--often prevents those solutions from being implemented.

For example, I have family who are in the pharmaceutical industry. PhDs and all. The amount of money spent on the bureaucratic steps to obtain government approval (FDA and others) to bring a new drug to market is the vast majority of development costs.

I won't even go into my experiences working with various levels of government on technology projects. Suffice it to say, never again.

You want great, efficient solutions to hard problems? Get government out of the way. Government involvement hinders progress, and makes what progress there is extremely expensive.


"An important trend is the API-ification of everything. As more and more businesses are accessible with a web API, the Internet becomes more and more powerful."

I think a POSTman style Zapier, love-child would go down very well. Also products like Mashery where you provide APIs as a service and charge.

Notably missing from the list...

- Anything related to travel.

- Anything related to storage

- Anything related to video (Maybe that's Hollywood 2.0?)

Let me reply regarding travel:

- is full 99% of so established players, with lots of money. To enter this marked requires either equally amount of money or something truly truly innovative...which brings to point 2:

- what is left to invent in this area to be so disruptive so that a start-up in this area makes sense? I'd love to be contradicted, but I think all important things in travel have been invented.

> I think all important things in travel have been invented.

In decades, if not years, you will look back and laugh at yourself for this.

Let's see:

- When should I buy a ticket, what is the punishment for not buying right now?

Kayak has a "when to buy" feature, but I can't think of anyone else. Microsoft Travel stopped doing it and even then there's was only for US.

- How often is the flight I'm booking delayed? For how long? Airport or Airline fault?

Some Airlines show you the delay/arrival percentage but its not aggregated anywhere AFAICT. Also I believe airplanes have a lot of leeway before a flight is considered "delayed" Also people suggest never to land/fly out of O'Hare in Chicago if possible but is there evidence for this? Would someone outside the US who is not a frequent flyer even know about this?

- How much space does this airline's seat provide?

I'm willing to spend a little more for more space on longer flights...

- Does this plane have power outlets? And not the ones that EmPower plugs, those don't count. I'm looking at you United!

The problem is there's actually very little accurate information except the cost of the flight, and thats what most people choose to pick their flight. Sometimes even willing to take weird layovers/extra stops to do it. If it can be shown that your comfort and stress would be better cared for by purchasing a ticket that cost $50 by next Wednesday.... well no one has done that.

> - How much space does this airline's seat provide?

> - Does this plane have power outlets? And not the ones that EmPower plugs, those don't count. I'm looking at you United!


How about this:

If you travel quite a bit (say 10 international flights/yr), would you pay 15k/yr to never have to think about travel? You book meetings on your phone "Jan 20, Calcuta | Feb 23, Tucson, etc | OScon in X, etc" and everything else happens behind the curtains.

The startup books flights, hotels, taxi, shuttles, trains, etc, and your Google Now just talks to you: You have a flight tomorrow at 8:00. When you land: Take train A293 at 3pm, etc.

The more you travel, and based on feedback, the app learns (less train, a little more up-scale hotels, she doesn't mind taking the bus, etc)

Like being a millionaire with a full-time assistant, but for the middle class. Does that exist? Could AI tackle it? Maybe a semi-automated version?

Unfortunately, established players often means full of legislation protecting those players. There are plenty of ideas in the travel space - but they require the ambition to challenge governments and lobbying. Uber, Lyft, and AirBnB are a great examples.

> what is left to invent in this area to be so disruptive so that a start-up in this area makes sense? I'd love to be contradicted, but I think all important things in travel have been invented.

Not even close. Travel is sooooo god damn complicated and inaccessible to most people. Even though traveling should be popular, on a population basis basically nobody travels. This can change with better software, I'm sure of it.

> Even though traveling should be popular, on a population basis basically nobody travels. This can change with better software, I'm sure of it.

I see this sort of attitude a lot from SV-types, but the reason most people don't travel is because they lack time (well, time flexibility--ie. they have regular obligations at home) and/or money.

You're travelling to a new city you've never been to before and you're looking for a hotel that's cheap but decent quality, in a safe area and well connected via public transport to the tourist areas.

How many steps does it take you to find a hotel ?

How many steps should it take ?

I can think of two very easily: Sub-Orbital travel and medical tourism.

>Hollywood 2.0

Actors are now being hired based on the amount of followers they have on twitter. If you have a lot of worldwide followers you're guaranteed to be casted since that's where all the money is these days.


The problem with this is dealing with government technocrats who will never deploy your software as is and will demand all sorts of complexity, basically creating the same garbage they were using before. If you can somehow survive this insanity there are gigantic contracts up for bid, for example many post offices are using Microsoft Mobile devices and looking into some kind of wearable scanner that doesn't charge hefty MS licensing fees. Then there's the Integrated Case Management software contract for $182 million that still doesn't work http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/government+million+co...

Nice to see programming tools listed here. In 2011, investors couldn't've cared less. That description could almost have been written for CircleCI: "delivering software continuously" and "better software, faster".

That said, I had more success building what wasn't in the RFC (dev tools in 2011), than what was (journalism stuff in 2010).

How far off is singularity? Seems like quite an interesting topic.

How far off is singularity?

It seems like the question can be rephrased as, "At any point in history, have humans been able to advance technology in a substantial way simply because they wanted to, rather than by stumbling upon a way to do it?"

Most technology is incremental. Take flight, for example. The glider had already been around for a substantial amount of time before the Wright brothers solved the "control problem" and the engine problem. Those two problems were the only two left before powered flight was a reality, and the Wright brothers knew it.

For the singularity, on the other hand, there's no clear laundry list of problems to solve in order to achieve it. In fact, there's no clear way to even define AI, or at least define it in a way that can be meaningfully translated into current technology.

Maybe the advent of quantum computing will change this. I've suspected that AI is fundamentally impossible to implement on a Von Neumann architecture. But this is very easy to say from the point of view of a society which hasn't remotely discovered how to make AI work yet. It's similar in spirit to someone from the 1500s saying "I think electricity is fundamentally impossible to harness, because there's no proper medium to channel it" even though metal was quite widespread at the time. Humans just hadn't figured out how to fashion wires yet.

The only thing we can say for certain is that we don't know what we need to know in order to make the singularity a reality, let alone how long it will take.

In fact, there's no clear way to even define AI,

It's easy to define, but the term has been stolen by people wanting more media attention for less work.

AI is just "what we are" without all the squishy parts. AI ("hard" AI, AGI) is a fully thinking, doing, feeling software system implemented in non-biology.

I've suspected that AI is fundamentally impossible to implement on a Von Neumann architecture.

Balderdash. We haven't discovered any computation problem that our universal computing architecture can't compute because... universal. It's not "universal \ things-that-can-generate-thoughts." Universal simulation machines can simulate things... universally. Now, we may not have the software architecture discovered yet, but it's certainly doable given our current hardware.

We haven't discovered any computation problem that our universal computing architecture can't compute because... universal. It's not "universal \ things-that-can-generate-thoughts." Universal simulation machines can simulate things... universally.

And yet, the Game of Life is completely deterministic and is the opposite of real life in pretty much every way, even with the new advances. Quantum may change this.

There are certainly problems which are tractable only on quantum computers. Shor's algorithm is of course the classic example. Saying that Von Neumann architecture is a universal problem solver is a rejection of the idea that quantum computing allows any new problems to be solved, but we have evidence that that's not the case.

Game of Life is completely deterministic and is the opposite of real life in pretty much every way

My computer also can compute 5 + 5 and that is the opposite of real life in pretty much every way too. Not every algorithm results in life [and it requires algorithm + data + continual input, which the GoL doesn't integrate].

is a rejection of the idea that quantum computing allows any new problems to be solved

Because the idea quantum computing solves new problems has no basis in research or reality?

"Quantum" != magic

A tiny, currently impractical, factorization algorithm isn't a new problem current computers can't solve. They just take the long way 'round.

The fact that a previously-intractable problem can be solved in a tractable amount of time on a quantum computer is important. It doesn't mean the problem didn't exist before, but rather that the problem can now be solved.

For all we know, making an intractable problem tractable is the necessary step to make AI a reality. In fact, it's hard to argue that it isn't, so quantum computing becomes very interesting.

For all we know, making an intractable problem tractable is the necessary step to make AI a reality.

But, we know that's not a necessary step. We have computer vision systems working essentially the same way our brains perceive images (and since the new systems are on computers, we can speed them up millions of times to recognize millions of images quickly instead of relying on our dumb 10Hz to 100Hz brain clock).

so quantum computing becomes very interesting.

But quantum computing doesn't magically reduce difficult things to non-difficult things: http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=206

Also, required reading on why no quantum juju is required: http://www.scottaaronson.com/papers/giqtm3.pdf

I didn't say quantum computing magically reduced anything. You've set up a strawman and proceeded to beat it with a hammer. I said that quantum computers can solve previously-intractable problems.

We don't know what steps are necessary to reach AI, so we don't know what is or isn't a necessary step. Vision is a tiny part of cognition, as evidenced by the fact that there are fish which have no vision (or at least no human-like vision) since they live in absence of light. Yet they are alive: they reproduce, they seek food, they think, they do all of the things a living creature does, except see light.

You're confusing computing performance intractability with conceptual intractability. Shor doesn't do anything new for AI, it just speeds things up.

Never would I have guessed that saying "Quantum computing may open up new avenues of exploration" would be so controversial.

I said quantum computing makes previously-intractable problems tractable, and that it's therefore interesting for AI. I used Shor's algorithm as an example of a problem which could not be solved on a classical computer, but could be solved on a quantum computer, not as an example of a new AI problem.

That's still an incredibly unclear definition (c.f. the Chinese Room Argument, P-zombies, etc., etc.).

And that human intelligence is an entirely computable process isn't exactly universally accepted.

isn't exactly universally accepted.

Good point. People will always believe in magic and gods and meeting dead friends again too, but while they continue to stand firm in their fantasy beliefs, we march forward creating an actual future.

By some reasoning we're already past it, in the middle of it, it's just around the corner or it will never appear. It's a totally meaningless question without first defining what the singularity actually is. The world we live in today is already very far removed from the one that I was born in but the linkages are still there to be followed.

To know how far the singularity is 'off' is by definition impossible, it means that you have knowledge of which linkages are required to get to the point that you won't be able to predict the ones after that.

After all when the singularity is here the world we will end up in will have no relationship to the one we are in today.

For the record, I think we will see a period of accelerated progress and then we will either fuck up or things will slow down again, I don't believe there will be a runaway event.

There are a lot of different definitions of "singularity" but generally it means creating superhuman AI, which then makes better AI and does things we can't imagine and so on.

Depends a bit how you define it. I quite like (output of stuff)/(hours of human labor required) going infinite which should happen when robots can build better robots without us. Unlike the 'singularity' in most of the literature that one is actually a singularity in the math sense. 2040?

About as far off as the second coming of Jesus Christ, the reunification of the Beatles, and Duke Nukem Forever (ah oops, maybe scratch that last one).

If anybody is working on the financial services one I would love to talk to you about it. My day job is in that industry and I think there is a ton of room for innovation. Sometimes it is hard to convince people in the industry of that as they retain the ideas they came up with. I recall hearing somebody say in a talk (or maybe on Twitter) recently that industry disruption happens from people outside of the industry rather than people inside the industry.

Ultimately I think something that provides a whole financial picture is what is needed (I think Learnvest is trying to do that). I picture something along the lines of a combination of Credit Karma, You Need a Budget, and Vanguard as being the way to go.

My email and twitter are in my profile if you would like to talk.

Reading the new list of Y-Combinator “Requests for Startups”, the Financial Services request really resonated with me.

Probably the best investing advice for people is really straightforward; you need to start saving now in order to reap the benefits when you retire.

A set of simple questions, such as your age, whether or not you are contributing to a 401k, and your net worth would probably get you 90% of the way there; from that information alone, most investing advice would follow based of basic mortality statistics, historical stock market performance, and the average retirement age.

The hard part is to start putting money away; that is, to start saving a significant portion of your savings and investing them in the market.

One way to do that might be to make it a one-time decision. What if there was a site where in order to sign-up you were required to setup direct deposit to special investing account? The investing account would, in turn, take a percentage of your salary, and invest it in age-appropriate index funds. The remainder would be re-deposited into a person’s local checking account. That way, it would feel like you only had the net amount that ends up in your checking account, and the invested amount would be removed before you had a chance to contemplate spending it.

A setup like this is something that someone could easily do for themselves using a discount broker, but a site that would more or less make it a one-time decision could be really helpful, because it would remove much of anxiety and education that a person typically has to go through to get this right.

For Education, I really like this approach: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/davinci-flight/davinci-...

Learn by making awesome things to solve problems, then attach rockets and see what happens. It's a good approach, that's more fun for all and more accessible to folks that don't learn from the book & lecture model well.

I really like the prototype, simulate, 3D print approach. Being able to take home a flying model at the end of a lesson is just awesome.

Full Disclosure: Chris, the lead on the project, has been one of my best friends for the last 25 years so I'm biased.

Would the Semantic Web (e.g. vertical knowledge graphs) qualify as AI?

We need business models which support partially-open graphs, e.g. object IDs and some metadata are open, some metadata is closed via API. Open metadata can be cached offline and standardizes models within a vertical market, driving demand for paid metadata. API revenue grows as the open graph grows.

Semi-open knowledge graphs reduce the cost of adversarial algorithms. Better to have many competing skynets than one big skynet. The open part of the graph lowers the cost of consumption. Multiple, closed annotations on the graph compete to support AI use cases, and can optionally become open as value moves to higher-order representations.

Would the Semantic Web (e.g. vertical knowledge graphs) qualify as AI?

Anything resembling OpenCog or Freebase isn't AI—it's just a database with clever retrieval through traversal hierarchies.

The world does need better ways to analyze data sets, but conflating information retrieval with self-directed AI is misapplying the term "intelligence."

In practice, "AI" is used as an umbrella term that definitely includes that kind of stuff. I can't speak for YC, but IMO Semantic Web work should probably fall under the AI umbrella in this case.

(Edit: in the interest of full-disclosure, my startup is doing a lot of work with Semantic Web technologies, particularly in terms of applying them to Enterprise knowledge management)

I think there's two viewpoints. There's "outside in" when the media calls things like Siri "AI" then there's the scifi AI perspective where we want talking starships.

Siri++ doesn't get us closer to sarcastic GSVs. If saying a structured connected wisdom of the crowds folksonomy is actually AI helps people get funding/attention/growth, that's what people will do.

There's also "middle out," but that's a talk for another day.

FWIW, when you talk about the Semantic Web, that also entails reasoning and reasoners, and there's no requirement that those reasoners be simple deductive logic based reasoners. Work being done to make a more useful reasoner could certainly be "real" AI work. I'd also personally say that "knowledge representation" is part of AI, and KR problems are also being attacked by the SW community. Those, among other reasons, are why I say that one should classify SemWeb "stuff" as AI.

But you're right to say that there are different definitions, and it does depend on who you talk to. The media definitely take a more expansive view of AI than probably most of us, but what can ya do? shrug

A third and important viewpoint is academia. In that realm, you'll often hear people give the definition: "AI is search," which would encompass reasoning algorithms, knowledge bases and ontologies like the Semantic Web. Deep Blue and Watson come to mind as the best examples of AI as reasoning through search.

It's not information retrieval if there's no information to be retrieved in a vertical market. With the right incentive structures and business model, new vertical data sets can be generated, which enables new applications of existing algorithms.

Hopefully the term AI still includes cybernetics (e.g. Biological Computer Lab), and is not limited to currently fashionable neural nets. In cybernetics, the vertical observer is as important as the observed "data".

I have a natural language question answering system build on top of information repositories.

Understanding the intent of questions is an AI topic for sure.

Given sama's enthusiasm for SpaceX, including as a "great example" in his blog post on the original new RFS, it seems unambitious for the RFS to mention space only in the context of robots and science.

> The personal savings rate has largely been falling since the early 80s.

That's not because saving is complex or low-yielding, it is because middle class non-disposable expenditures have gone up. (see Elizabeth Warren)

With less than a month left to the deadline, its really challenging to build a decent MVP with some traction in one of these fields. And I think that seem to be at least the minimum requirement to get into YC.

you certainly do NOT need an MVP to get into YC. lots of people get in with just a compelling idea.

maybe i will write a blog post about this.

You should. I was under the apparently mistaken impression that people who get into YC at least have a functioning demo, and generally have users already. So when my friend and I were applying, we limited ourselves to ideas for which we could create a semi-functional demo in the few weeks before the application deadline. We ended up getting rejected because of the idea that we chose, and rightly so, but I wonder what ideas we would have come up with if we had not felt so time constrained. (I am glad that we were rejected because I don't think that we were ready to start a company yet, but I am curious anyway.)

[Edited for clarity.]

please do. in the last few years, the model for seed funding seems to have moved largely to having an mvp, if for no other reason than demonstrating technical ability.

thanks, that would be great !!

"You shouldn’t start a company just because it’s on this list."

From the post: "Responding to an RFS will never be the deciding factor in who we fund. "

I agree. I am just saying if it clicks my idea bulb, its probably tough (still possible) to build it.

Maybe it's a marketing stunt? I mean, they're in for the money, so they have to fund stuff, that pays out later. BUT they have to appease their critics, who say "all you fund is the next snapchat!!".

With this list, they can say "Oh we wanted to cure cancer, the people who wanted funding for it just got no skills!"

Yes their last batch startups were targeting pretty serious problems. I remember 2 of them were around nuclear energy so definitely relevant to the list.

They actually already have startups working on cancer, like Bikanta (YC S14).

Was interested to see nothing mentioned about news & current events information startups. This seemed to be a re-occuring "problem worth solving" on YCombinator lists, and is notably absent.

Do you mean things like Flipboard, Circa, etc.? Not very surprising to see them absent on YC's list. Like the more recent waves of social networks, they don't offer much and just add to the noise.

Who will remember these companies in 10, 20, 50 years? Most likely no one.

Who will remember companies that solve problems related to healthcare, energy, food allocation? A lot more people.

There's much to like about this list. It's ambitious in a tangible and actionable way. YCombinator realizes that if we don't want there to be a second bubble burst in Silicon Valley, we need to reach escape velocity and leave the social networks and iPhone news apps behind. That's a solid trajectory for them to take.

No, I didn't mean like Flipboard or Circa. I also wouldn't expect much support for these kinds of things.

I meant companies that are trying to change how news is consumed and produced, not those that prettify how it is presented for final consumption.

PG outlined the problem pretty clearly in 2008[0]. Perhaps you believe the news industry is healthy and functioning in delivering accurate current events to world citizens as it is. I do not believe that that is the case.

I was thinking of companies like Grasswire or non-profits like Ushahidi and Standby Task Force for this category. I'm sure there are others changing this space significantly.

[0]-http://old.ycombinator.com/ideas.html (item 3)

Cool, I wasn't sure what you were talking about so your examples help.

I'm not sure that the news industry is healthy and functioning, but I do know that world citizens seem to be very happy living in a world of celebrity photos and memes and " listicles" these days. The fact that PG's examples are Perez Hilton and TechCrunch demonstrates that pretty well.

The only thing that has really changed news is that now everyone has a camera on their phone and can post footage of events on Twitter, Instagram, etc. That stuff does bubble up to the top when it happens- I'm not quite sure where we can go from here.

Put more cameraphones in the hands of oppressed citizens, sure. Besides that, I think the world of news is going to stay where it's been in the past couple years: ridiculously dumb websites for the masses (Buzzed et al.), sites with high quality content for extremely small niches (but a small niche of 10k people each paying $10 a year can easily support an independent journalists or two, so great), and cameraphone footage as primary sources for everything (which is wonderful- it's raised awareness tremendously in the recent years for things like police violence).

Appreciate your thought out reply.

>I do know that world citizens seem to be very happy living in a world of celebrity photos and memes and " listicles" these days.

Like they were happy using nokia 3600 phones before there were touch screens.

Listen, I'm not saying it's a guaranteed money maker or something; I'm saying it's a category of industry that could use improvement and attention from startups. It is poised for profound change.

>The only thing that has really changed news is that now everyone has a camera on their phone and can post footage of events on Twitter, Instagram, etc.

That's very true. I've found it quite interesting that ordinary citizens have been breaking stories before professional journalists could even make it to scene for a number of years now. Makes me think the industry could use a change.

I hope we could see more change than you predict, but wouldn't be surprised if you were right. I'll leave it at that.

EDIT: Cut an unfinished thought.

I think you really shortchanged the section on transportation by only focusing on personal transportation. The real opportunities are in commercial transportation and logistics. The US spends more on truck logistics every year than the market cap of the top 5 global car manufacturers combined. And the trucking industry is only 50% of the total logistics contribution to US GDP. Even a mildly successful startup in a tiny niche of logistics could result in a wildly profitable company.

It seems like driverless trucks are likely to come to market as a precursor to mass consumer adoption. Trucking as we know it will be deeply changed.

Is it just me, or are these RFSes too vague to be inspiring or actionable. It looks like you perhaps had a good list of actual ideas, which you redacted to death ?

I think they're seeds for thought, nothing more.

Yes, it's just that we're used to more focused initiatives from YC.

It would be awesome if programming could actually be as easy as you imagine it to be in your head. Any non-tech person could program in their head: When this happens, do that, except for when this happens. It's more of the hidden bugs and shit just not working for no reason that makes programming so difficult and frustrating, but if there was a way that things would "just work," that would be game changer.

Best RFS yet. Well done Y Combinator. I hope this orients more technical people toward problems that really matter.

If anyone is interested in exploring ideas for SE Asia email me (in my profile). I'm based in Bangkok and have 15 years of experience living and doing business in this part of the world. I have a network and access to capital but would be interested in finding some fresh blood to help me execute.

This a surprisingly promising list of ideas, especially for an incubator to suggest. Things like internet infrastructure, ideally, are in the non-profit sector. And though YC does fund non-profits, I can't imagine they'd be happy with a swarm of unprofitable applicants coming in next round.

"What comes after programming languages?"

Maybe somewhere in the direction Meteor and Light Table are heading?

I'm glad the disrupt Hollywood rfc is now Hollywood 2.0, before it seemed needlessly antagonistic.

If anyone else is interested in Hollywood 2.0, hit me up (check profile). Tinj is reimagining content ratings, reviews and recommendations.

Great to see diversity on the list. I notice that gender isn't on the list of what you're looking for ("all ages, races, sexual orientations, and cultures"). Just an oversight or a conscious decision?

Which ones are the new ones?

Many were slightly tweaked. But these are the new categories:

Pharmaceuticals Government Human Augmentation VR and AR Programming Tools Hollywood 2.0 Diversity Developing Countries Enterprise Software Financial Services Telecommunication

It's interesting to see the progression of YC's RFS over the years. The ideas behind the new RFS seem to driven by fundamental problems of society, not just market opportunity.

This is a great list! Our startup, Glassbreakers, is focused on diversity and enterprise software to help women within organizations find mentors- applying for YC's winter batch!

There used to be an advertising category in the previous version of this document. Wonder why it has been dropped. Did the field get too crowded? Are the existing solutions adequate?

I was sure you will not cover human mind augmentation, which possibly is the easiest and more difficult to improve, but here it is, fairly vague described, but there.

I have a governance/citizen participation startup that I will be applying with in 2020 according to my current progress speed.

There is a minor typo in the "Government" section: s/INternet/Internet (or just "internet"...)

"New Ways to Distract People From Building Startups to Disrupt Existing Our Startups/Investments"

I'd like to see a diff between this and the previous RFS(s). How often has this list been revised, anyway?

Last time was July 2014.

I see what you did there: "We deserve a simpler, more elegant solution for a more civilized age"

I'm really glad to see AR on the list, we are excited to be at the inflection point of that medium.

> Celebrities now have direct relationships with their fans.

I have a side project where I am aggregating celebrity generated content and one of the things that surprised me, though it really shouldn't have, is how bad the underlying content is. New tools aren't really going to help here beyond creating an incentive for celebs to create better content.

Well, I already applied, but I guess I can update my app. Human Augmentation ftw!

Yes, you can update your app all the way to the deadline.

Maybe something related to "Fixed the current problems?"

What YC is really looking for is a better language or communication framework.

In practice, this probably means something like a "Semantic Marketplace + Contract and Reputation Management".

When are they going to explicitly ask for it? I don't know. Time will tell.

but no mention of photosharing? videosharing? the current YC batch had this smuggling startup, where is the black market stuff?

great marketing, kudos.

We should be able to comment on start-up requests if we are involved in a start doing specifically what is mentioned in the request. This way we can help expand start-up awareness!

Hmm... No photo sharing apps? SnapChat for X?

What about the YC motto "Make something people want."?

I mean, reading over these requests, my guess is that, while some of them, if successful, would help lead to a better life for nearly everyone and save the world, so far not many people would "want" the results in the sense needed by a startup.

Some of the requests are nearly hopeless: E.g., the US Federal Government via DoE, NSF, and NIH have been spending billions on research in energy and medicine for decades. The idea that a YC start up could do a lot better makes most long shots look like sure things.

Next, a lot of these requests ask for some darned challenging research projects, and just a research project is one of the worst insults passed out by the venture capital community. Instead, no matter what the Web sites of early stage venture firms suggest, such firms want to see traction, not research projects, not even projects to write software for research already successfully done, not even to go live with software already written from research projects already done.

Example? Okay, want a research project to solve a big problem? Okay, consider security and reliability of the complex systems of large server farms and networks. We'd like to do better, right? For this, the first step is essentially near real-time monitoring for ASAP detection. So, we want detectors.

First big problem is getting a good combination of rates of false alarms and missed detections; I'm correct here; think for a few minutes and otherwise trust me on this one. Or, we're trying for a good combination of false positives and false negatives. Or for a good combination of Type I and Type II error.

Right, you guessed it, oh how you guessed it: Such detection has just two ways to be wrong -- a false alarm where we say that the system is sick when it is healthy and a missed detection where we say that the system is healthy when it is sick. Inescapable. Have any doubts, then think for two minutes. With me again now?

Okay: So, right, such monitoring and detection is a case of ASAP, essentially real-time, statistical hypothesis testing. I know; I know; you don't want anything that is just statistical. Neither do I. Tough stuff. We're necessarily, inescapably stuck-o never the less. Or, want a detector with no false alarms? Got that one for you -- just turn off the detector. Want a detector with no missed detections? Got one of those, too -- just sound the alarm all the time. Yes, some detectors occasionally make correct detections and have essentially no false alarms, but such detectors will detect only problems of a very narrow kind and otherwise have a high rate of missed detections. Arguing is futile -- the hard stuff isn't here, and I'm correct here. We're talking research here, like YC now seems to want to see, and research can be tough stuff to swallow. Keep reading ....

Now, what the heck to do about this? Okay, we've got some good news that, right Andreessen Horowitz should understand quickly: We can get data on each of several variables, maybe dozens or hundreds, at data rates of a point each few seconds up to hundreds of points a second. At a big, complex system, we're talking big data. So, we want our statistical hypothesis test to be multi-dimensional. Sure, go to the library and find a lot of those, right? Wrong. You won't find much. Next, most of the material you see on statistical hypothesis tests wants the probability distribution of the data when the system is healthy. Tough since for these complex systems there's no theory that will give you means of finding such distributions (we're talking multi-dimensional), and, even with big data, anything like accurate estimates of multi-dimensional distributions is agony with the curse of dimensionality. So, now what? Okay, we want to be distribution-free, that is, have a statistical hypothesis test that makes no assumptions about the probability distribution.

So, how many multi-dimensional, distribution-free statistical hypothesis tests did you find in the library? Not a lot. Maybe the only ones you found were mine. Mine? Yup.

But, when the dust settles, we do get a (large class of) genuine statistical hypothesis tests that are both multi-dimensional and distribution-free. So, right, with meager/standard assumptions, as is standard we can calculate false alarm rate and set it in advance and get it exactly in practice. For detection rate, as is usually the case we don't have enough data to use the best possible Neyman-Pearson result, but there is good reason to regard the detection rate as relatively high.

So, any large server farm or network doing important work and interested in security and reliability, , that is, nearly all of them, will be interested, right? And any VC firm, too, right? Nope. Don't hold your breath waiting. I only wrote nearly every information technology venture firm in the country, indeed, some months before the bubble burst in 2000. Responses? Even during the days of big bottles of Wonder-Bubble, none or f'get about it.

Lesson: Research, even for a big problem at important enterprises, even done research, even with algorithms to make the computing fast, even with prototype software running, even with a research paper that passed high quality peer review, doesn't get venture funding. I learned that lesson. Here HN and YC can learn it now or learn it later. Now is easier.

bits v/s atoms anyone?

Nothing about the Web 4.0 that's weird! http://slideshare.net/Facehacks/web-40-is-coming

Applications are open for YC Winter 2023

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact