One balmy May evening, thirty of Silicon Valley's top entrepreneurs gathered in a private room at the Berlinetta Lounge, in San Francisco. Paul Graham considered the founders of Instacart, DoorDash, Docker, and Stripe, in their hoodies and black jeans, and said, "This is Silicon Valley, right here." All the founders were graduates of Y Combinator, the startup "accelerator" that Graham co-founded: a three-month boot camp, run twice a year, in how to become a "unicorn"--Valleyspeak for a billion-dollar company. Thirteen thousand fledgling software companies applied to Y Combinator this year, and two hundred and forty were accepted, making it more than twice as hard to get into as Stanford University. After graduating thirteen hundred startups, YC now boasts the power--and the peculiarities--of an island nation.
Midway through the first of five recent matches between Lee Sedol, a top-ranked professional Go player, and AlphaGo, a computer program conceived by Google DeepMind, an odd thing happened: Lee's jaw dropped, hanging open for a nigh-cartoonish twenty seconds, and then he laughed. AlphaGo had just mounted an aggressive, and evidently unexpected, attack. The moment was reminiscent of a famous episode in Go history, when Honinbo Shusaku, a future legend of the game, squared off against Inoue Genan Inseki, an older and more experienced player, in 1846. The story goes that a spectator--a local doctor who knew little of Go--correctly guessed that the seventeen-year-old Shusaku was beating Inseki. Asked how he knew, the doctor responded that, after an earlier move, Inseki's ears had flushed red, a clear indication of surprise.