back to article We have hit peak Silicon Valley: New crazy goal to disrupt entire cities

Ever wondered what would happen if you gave that stoner dude with the far-out ideas millions of dollars? Well, wonder no more, because like some bad 1980s comedy, we have startup funder Y Combinator's new research arm, YC Research – a venture with reportedly $100m to waste on hare-brained schemes. Just before the weekend, the …

  1. Youngone Silver badge

    How old?

    Adora Cheung looks to be about 22, so she probably knows nothing about the real world.

    A quick search finds she founded a cleaning company which gained a bunch of VC funding because it had a website.

    I remember what I was like at 22, I knew everything too, it's experience that taught me that I know nothing.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: How old?

      Don't remind me.

      I'm starting to shuffle of this mortal coil, but I still know nothing. On the other hand, I have the books that might tell me something. That's why I eagerly await the AI to go through the walls of text and perform some conclusions that I can depend on...

      That being said, I thought "Y Combinator" was just a discussion group about functional programming and combinatory logic, because, well Y Combinator. What's been going on??

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How old?

        try not to shuffle too fast - I enjoy your comments :)

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: How old?

      Perhaps it's not a complete waste, maybe someone will sell them a monorail.

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: How old?

        What is it with you and monorails? Done properly, they work like a treat. Operating since 1901-03-01. Not a typo.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: How old?

          Simpsons - Monorail

          * Other big budget projects which claim to fix everything are available.

  2. John Lilburne


    Is SimCity still a thing for these kids?

  3. MisterNineThousand

    What grumpy old man wrote this?!

    I mean yeah; I reckon there is a 99% chance that the project will amount to zero, but why is anyone whining that people are looking at ways to fundamentally improve human society? Even on a long shot I can see worse ways to gamble money than rounding up optimists and visionaries to re-examine basic assumptions. Giving them enough money to test promising ideas sounds like a grand plan, maybe this is where the 24th century will look back and say "Before YC, no one commuted to work on the trampoline network, in fact THERE WASN'T EVEN A COMMUTER TRAMPOLINE NETWORK!!!!" and all the dewy eye kids will shake their heads in disbelief.

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

      Re: What grumpy old man wrote this?!

      On the one hand, it's pretty much the mandate of El Reg to take the piss out of the technology industry, so the article is true to form. On the other, I agree with you that both the writers and the readers often have a decidedly conservative bent, wherein they seem to believe that the old ways are generally best, which is certainly one approach to writing about technology. I expect that Rupert Murdoch will be turning his eye to The Register sooner or later.

      1. Grumpy Fellow

        Re: What grumpy old man wrote this?!

        Wasn't me. Have an upvote!

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: What grumpy old man wrote this?!

      Because grumpy old men have seen this snake oil fail thousands of times.

      The only rich person in this world who seems to be doing anything practical at all for the average person is Elon Musk. Perfect? No. But nobody else is doing any damn thing at all except trying to figure how to screw the average person yet more.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What grumpy old man wrote this?!

      Every attempt in history from a group of "illuminati" to build a "better society" from scratch usually lead to the worst dictatorship and oppressive regimes. Because of course everybody who doesn't bow to the "Idea" becomes a dangerous traitor who must be eliminated.

      While researches on actual issues - if performed by competent people without their own agenda - are welcome, "utopistic" approaches will go nowhere, and just burn a lot of money you could actually use to *really improve* something.

      From Plato's Politéia to More's Utopia, the idea of "rebooting" a society and creating a better one is not new at all. But may lead to something like Nazi German, Soviet Union, or North Korea. No, thank you.

      1. strum

        Re: What grumpy old man wrote this?!

        >Every attempt in history from a group of "illuminati" to build a "better society" from scratch usually lead to the worst dictatorship and oppressive regimes.

        Oh. You've been to Welwyn Garden City.

    4. This post has been deleted by its author

    5. Jim84

      Re: What grumpy old man wrote this?!

      Yes the tone of this piece from the register is very snarky. I am a bit disappointed that it is mainly snark, as usually The Register points out the actual problems being faced in a newstory (much like that other excellent newspaper The Economist).

      It is annoying that Y Combinator have highlighted a series of problems with cities that been well know for decades - transport is fairly rubbish (congestion/slow public transit) + rents are too high and most housing is shit. But I don't think Y Combinator are actually claiming these as amazing insights (which seems to have annoyed The Register).

      The reason these problems haven't been solved yet is partly because the tech isn't ready, but also because there are incumbent systems and rules. Y Combinator did fail to point out that solutions have mainly been blocked due to political problems rather than tech ones. The Register should have been annoyed about this.

      There is some interesting tech Y Combinator could support:

      A proper 3D PRT ( is tech which may now be possible due to self driving cars becoming a reality, but it still has to go up against an existing 2D transport network (roads plus light rail), and still requires some new infrastructure in neighborhoods (and therefore needs political support).

      3D printing houses, or bolting them together out of flat panels could lower building costs, but new building is always resisted by locals who fear increased congestion, being shaded, or increased pressure on local public services. This is a particular problem in SF and is even retarding secondary economic growth from the Tech Boom:

  4. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

    To play Devil's Advocate

    These very pages have declaimed Silicon Valley's ability to solve only Silicon Valley problems. Well, Silicon Valley has some huge problems in the forms of inefficient housing layout, transit/transportation, and fragmented government, and the existing political structure has failed to deal with them in any kind of comprehensive fashion. While it's all very well to poo-poo the ideas being floated, at least these people are trying to come up with some by starting with a clean slate and seeing what ideas emerge. Obviously, not all of the ideas will be practicable or even good, and the implementers will ultimately be the same bureaucrats who have failed to solve the existing problems, but if there's a possibility of improving the system rather than just slapping Band-Aids on the broken bits, why not try?

    1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

      Re: To play Devil's Advocate

      "While it's all very well to poo-poo the ideas being floated"

      No, it would be a good idea to let the poo-poo float away.

      Upvote for the rest though. That's how seed/angel investors usually work. They knowingly invest in lots of silly projects, because there is no good way to recognise a future talent without sifting through the whole lot. And that's lots of sifting. About 80-90% of the initial investments will definitely fail. From the rest, 80-90% can barely provide a return. All the hope is on the remaining percent or two - maybe there's a golden goose hidden somewhere.

      It's all about early discovery of the young talent.

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: To play Devil's Advocate

      The only way to start with a clean slate would be to nuke the site from orbit.

  5. jcmetzger

    Make it NOT Like Silicon Valley

    Bravo to the Register for pointing out this latest "cash cow" project from YC. Checked out her LinkedIn. BS in IT, PhD "dropout" in Economics, headed a "cleaning company" that closed because of Workers' Rights law suits. Brilliant record. What about some credentials in city planning, urban geography, law, sociology, architecture, infrastructure? I know, let's gather some more "thinkers" and think big thoughts and gather a few billion in valuation.

    Rule #1 - why invent new cities when we have 35000+ cities in the US. Need more? I don't think so.

    Rule #2 - preserve the culture already there. Add to it, but don't obliterate it.

    Rule #3 - rehab don't bulldoze.

    Rule #4 - don't become an "invasive species", much better to meld in with what is already there.

    And the list goes on and on, something that you learn in city planning. I feel these "thinkers" should more out of SF, Austin, and the like, and try to start something in places that have more of a need for help. You know, places where people farm, build things, help their neighbors and community, boring stuff like that.

    The project has merit, really it does, but it requires more work than a few surveys, field trips, and white papers. This is the kind of work that is done daily as a type in planning commissions and the like in cities and towns all across the country.

    I think I might actually apply, since I have some of those talents, especially the one where I don't live in SF. Last question on the application: "Would you move to the San Francisco area? (Answering no does not disqualify you)". Right. Next to the last question: "Would you commit to this for the next 5 years? (Answering no does not disqualify you)". Why are millennials so stuck on "get rich quick and more on"? It will take that long to get the background for this undertaking.

    Just my $0.02 worth. And, yes to the previous comment: we'll just build it in SimCity and everything will just work out.

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

      Re: Make it NOT Like Silicon Valley

      "why invent new cities when we have 35000+ cities in the US."

      Because a lot of them are shit. Take a look at cities like Phoenix or Dallas. They're massively inefficient in design, resulting in a concomitant energy burn to live in or travel around. Or Detroit, which actually does need to be rebuilt from the ground up.

      "preserve the culture already there. Add to it, but don't obliterate it."

      See my previous point.

      "rehab don't bulldoze."

      What if "rehab" is not the best option? What if the existing structures are not fixable, are hideous, are inefficient, etc.? What if the new vision is actually a marked improvement.

      "don't become an 'invasive species'"

      Yeah, it's a little late for that. By their nature, cities tend to obliterate whatever nature was there before.

      "And the list goes on and on, something that you learn in city planning."

      Maybe that's part of the problem. The four points that you've stated seem short-sighted, so if that's what city planners are being taught, it's time for some new thinking.

  6. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    Oh dear.

    At best, this is the Athens Charter all over again.

    So thanks, but no thanks.

  7. ecofeco Silver badge

    More proof the rich are clueless

    Just more proof the rich are clueless. Or this is a tax write off.

    My money is on both.

  8. Ropewash

    More hot air.

    There are great things to be said for dreamers, but one of their worst failings is that they are, for the large part, all dream and no DO.

    It's all well and good to go around saying matter = energy, but at some point you actually need to come up with a formula that works in the real world.

    This sounds like a group that read some Buckminster Fuller and thought the "fund everyone and recieve inventions" idea was a great thing. (Operating Manual for Planet Earth iirc) Speaking as a total cynic I'll say 99.9999999% of those funded would fuck off to play XBox on your dime. By all means go ahead and try, but make sure MY dimes aren't involved. I work for a living thanks.

    The best thing I think these people could do would be to buy a shovel and get to work learning the reality of making the city better, by actually getting their hands dirty building it. Money down that by the end of month one no-one would be at the jobsite.

  9. find users who cut cat tail


    > Should we have human-driven cars at all?" (Spoiler: yes.)

    A few human-driven cars can be useful I guess. Still, most humans should not drive cars, they are pretty bad at it and prone to hurt themselves and other people. Letting any idiot drive a car is like letting any idiot carry gun in public... Wait a sec.

  10. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Solutionism isn't the solution

    The world is replete with studies of town planning: where it went wrong and where it went less wrong. But municipalities are at odds with the Libertarian VCs, like Peter Thiel, who think that municipalities have failed because they run on democratic and not commercial principles.

    Still, whether it's unproven or not probably won't stop places signing up for these kind of experiments. After all, it worked for Le Corbusier.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "We don't need to build cities by the river"

    Well, some large ports where those big Chinese container ships full of stuff that makes rich Silicon Valley are actually built by some large rivers.

    How do they believe to deliver their stuff? Hot air balloons? Oh well, with all the hot air they produce, it may be even feasible...

  12. Joe 59

    Ancient Athens would like to mention they talked about this bullshit a few thousand years ago. They didn't solve the problem either.

  13. CommodorePet

    Unlike Software, construction is not scalable

    Tearing down buildings and putting up new ones is an intensely manual process, also requiring hundreds of hours of (real) engineering (*1) and planning.

    This process doesn't scale at all - you can't bring in a hundred construction companies at once to speed up the process, and the resulting labour cost dictates the price of the new buildings. It doesn't get cheaper.

    Until robotic teraforming and house building machines are developed, there's no way to get there from here at low cost, and without lower cost it's just more of the same.

    *1 Civil & structural engineering, the ones where you need a license, rather than expertise at writing software and documents.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    so building the Company City all over again.

    where everything you have or own belongs to someone else, to be taken away the moment Management decides otherwise. And you'll like it because it's a "private company and can do what it wants". Like everyone defending Facebook societal manipulation.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon