196: Duncan Davidson Why Machines and People Are Going to Live Happily Ever After

Tuesday 18th June 2019

Duncan Davidson is a multi-time billion-dollar company creator turned venture capitalist. He co-founded Bullpen Capital in Silicon Valley. In this episode, he talks with Christopher Lochhead about the coming robot apocalypse and what to do about it, the impact of universal basic income and whether we should have one, and why machines and people are going to live happily ever after.

“There are people building these AI-assisted support systems… What it means is a truck driver who’s at least an empathetic character can get plugged into this computer support system, totally different job, and very, very quickly become extremely successful.” – Duncan Davidson

Three Things We Learned

    A history of the Luddites

In the early days of automation, people who worked in garment factories lost their jobs when steam engines were installed to run the spinning machines. These people, called the Luddites, complained about their loss and asked for financial assistance for their trouble. The powers that be never listened to them, and they treated this with violence, prompting their exile to a foreign land as criminals.

    History repeats itself

If we look at the history of technology since the Luddite situation back in the 1800’s, there’s a recurring trend. Every thirty years, a new technology comes along—the steamship, railroad, electricity, cars. People lose their jobs, and they lobby for their rights, but the authorities turn deaf ears to them, and life goes on in the new era.

    More jobs are created than displaced by new technology

Ten times more jobs were created by automation than were lost by the Luddites. They did lose their specific jobs, but because of the new opportunities for other people, nobody else raised concerns. New technology often signals a wonderful time for humanity, and still, there are modern Luddites who will ask after what a truck driver is going to do now that he’s lost his job.

There has always been the debate of whether any new occurrence of technology will be different than the last. But looking into history’s natural course, should we really concern ourselves with the feared robot apocalypse when it’s bound to birth ten times more jobs than will be lost?


Duncan Davidson is General Partner at Bullpen Capital where he focuses on forward-leaning technology investments.

He is a serial entrepreneur who most notably founded Covad Communications (the leading independent DSL provider, went public and reached a market value of $9B) and Sky Pilot Networks (developer of outdoor wireless mesh systems, acquired by Trillium in 2009 for connectivity to smart meters).

He served as the SVP of Business Development at InterTrust and led the IPO in 1999 and the second in 2000 (InterTrust reached a $9B market value in 2000).

He spent four years as a managing director at VantagePoint Venture Partners where he focused on digital media and telecom investments including Widevine (acquired by Google) and Livescribe.

Prior to Bullpen, he co-founded one of the first mobile social app companies, Xumii, later sold to Myriad Group and now powering over 200M users in the developing world.

At Bullpen he focuses on SaaS, blockchain and IoT investments, and is an advisor to or sits on the boards of Drive Motors, Filament, Hologram, Illumeo, SpaceIQ, Verbling and Wag Labs. He received a Sc.B. in physics/math from Brown University, with Honors, and a J.D. magna cum laude from Michigan Law School, where he was Order of the Coif and a member of the Law Review.






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