Contrary Newsletter #20: The latest updates on carbon removal, nuclear power, and chips; plus, an exploration of commercial fishing

What's New:

  • In this week's issue of How We Work, we spoke to commercial fisherman Corey Arnold, who previously appeared in Season 2 of Deadliest Catch, a reality TV show.
  • We recently announced our investment in Moment, which raised a $20 million Series A led by Andreessen Horowitz earlier this month.
  • Join us for our first Tech Talk in NYC on Thursday, October 5th featuring demos from Hugging Face, Graphite, Replit, Nomic, and Slingshot AI.
  • Contrary and Thrive are co-hosting a B2B AI Founder Meetup during NY Tech Week on Tuesday, October 17th. Register here for the chance to join.
  • At Contrary Research, a new Research Radio episode with Common Room CEO Linda Lian along with updated memos on Replit, Kraken, and Cohere.

How We Work

Today, over 3 billion people globally rely on either wild-caught or farmed seafood as a significant part of their diet. Over the last few decades, the fishing industry has undergone a significant transformation. Enhanced sonar and GPS systems have made it easier to locate fish schools, while improvements in boat design and equipment have allowed for more efficient harvesting. At the same time, globalization and changing consumer appetites have opened up new markets, shifting demands and influencing the species most lucrative to catch.

To understand the job of commercial fishermen and their evolving place within the broader fishing industry, we spoke to commercial fisherman Corey Arnold. Corey has been based in Alaska for almost three decades. Now largely fishing for sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay, Corey also spent time as a Bering Sea crab fisherman and appeared in the second season of Discovery’s Deadliest Catch.

Foundations & Frontiers

Foundations & Frontiers is off this week and will resume with an essay on manufacturing in two weeks. In the meantime, we’ve compiled a digest of updates across three of the topics we’ve written about previously. Below are some of the most interesting new developments that have happened in the spheres of carbon capture, nuclear fission, and chip design. Read on, and make sure to give the original essays a read if you haven’t already!

Carbon Removal

A recent Foundations & Frontiers essay discussed the burgeoning desalination industry and emphasized its growing capacity to convert seawater into fresh, drinkable water. Oceans, covering over 70% of the Earth's surface, offer a substantial carbon sink; oceans hold 50 times more carbon than the atmosphere. Approximately a quarter of all CO2 emissions are absorbed by the oceans, causing increased ocean acidification as carbon dioxide reacts with water. Over two centuries, the ocean's average pH has fallen by 0.1 units, indicating a significant 30% rise in acidification. Several companies are now actively working to extract excess carbon from oceans.

One such company, Captura, has established a pilot system off Newport Beach, using renewable energy for electrodialysis to extract one ton of CO2 annually from ocean water. This captured carbon dioxide can be stored or converted into renewable fuels. Captura plans to scale up with a larger facility capable of removing over 100 tons of CO2 from the water each year. Equatic, on the other hand, takes a unique approach by extracting CO2 from ocean water and converting it into calcium carbonate, which is used by marine creatures like crabs and lobsters for shells and exoskeletons. As a byproduct of this process, Equatic produces hydrogen gas, which it turns into hydrogen fuel. The company has secured an agreement with Boeing to supply 2,100 tons of green hydrogen over five years, showcasing innovative ways to mitigate ocean carbon levels.

Nuclear Fission

While small modular nuclear reactors have generated a wellspring of newfound interest in fission technology, NASA has been developing nuclear ambitions of its own. In particular, the agency believes that a nuclear-powered rocket engine will be necessary for long-distance travel to Mars or other locations within the solar system. As such, NASA has tapped Lockheed Martin and BWX Technologies to help collaborate on DRACO, the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations.

Though the concept of nuclear-powered engines has been with us ever since we learned to harness nuclear power, this project will be the first time we actually attempt to build and test one. The major advantages of fission-powered engines for space travel are reduced fuel mass and more powerful thrust which can sustain longer space-faring voyages. NASA and DARPA announced the existence of the project in July 2023, and they are expecting to have a prototype engine ready by 2026. They plan on testing the engine's performance in orbit 700 km above the Earth, such that any radioactive exhaust would remain in space and not re-enter the Earth's atmosphere for hundreds of years.


The introduction of ever more powerful language models into the digital landscape has been a massive development this year. These models, capable of responding to human-readable prompts, are sparking discussions about their future roles in devices, and the future of personal computing in general. A key consideration in these discussions is the substantial computing power required to operate such models.

Currently, when using systems like ChatGPT, the processing happens on external servers to reduce the workload on local devices. However, for privacy reasons, this imposes limitations on what users feel comfortable asking or sharing. Efforts are underway to optimize the size of models like Llama-2, enabling them to be downloaded and run even on devices like iPhones. Simultaneously, specialized microchips are being developed, such as one by IBM, which demonstrates remarkable energy efficiency, especially in tasks like speech-to-text conversion. As the trend leans towards incorporating AI capabilities into personal devices, the development of chips for local model execution may present a promising avenue for chip designers like Intel, seeking to adapt in a post-Moore's Law era.


Join us on Thursday, October 5th for our first Tech Talk — an evening of technical demos and conversation featuring senior leaders from Hugging Face, Graphite, Replit, Slingshot AI, and Nomic.

Space is limited - register here for the chance to attend this in-person event in NYC.

Contrary and Thrive are co-hosting a B2B AI Founder Meetup during NY Tech Week on Tuesday, October 17th. Register here for the chance to join.

Contrary Research

Contrary Research publishes thoughtful analysis of the best private technology companies.

Replit: Replit is a collaborative integrated development environment (IDE) with the goal of offering the first fully integrated computing environment on top of simple components. Newer developers can more easily get access to the majority of tools they need to build software. By lowering these barriers, Replit can work towards its mission of “bringing the next billion software creators online.” Read the full report here.

Kraken: Kraken is a global cryptocurrency exchange for retail and professional investors looking to buy, sell, and use blockchain assets. The company focuses on offering cryptocurrency traders secure advanced trading options with low costs for high-volume trades. It also attracts users by providing centralized exchange services taking advantage of new developments in the blockchain industry. Read the full report here.

Cohere: Cohere provides NLP models for businesses. It allows companies to infuse NLP into applications without having to develop their own models in-house, which can be costly, time-consuming, and expensive. Cohere builds general-purpose language models and provides access to them via an API. Companies can use the models out of the box or fine-tune them to their particular use cases. Read the full report here.

Startup Search

The best startup jobs on the internet.

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What's New: Today's Foundations & Frontiers essay, The Growing Importance of Desalination, explores how we might increase the water supply. For our most recent issue of How We Work, we spoke to a tunnel engineer about the world of subterranean construction. Join us for our first Tech Talk in NYC on Thursday, October 5 featuring Hugging Face, Graphite, and Replit. Applications for 2023 Contrary Venture Partners are now open. Over at Contrary Research, a podcast episode with the CEO of Hex...

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