The Foundational Tech Manifesto
What it will take to break through to America 2.0
ℹ️ OVERVIEW The goals of this manifesto are to make the case for 1) defining and proliferating the meme “foundational tech” and for 2) defining and developing an “American foundational tech ecosystem”—where foundational tech is technology that can greatly enable, preserve, and accelerate human or ecological flourishing; technology that can serve as foundational building blocks of a radically more resilient, self-sustaining, and dynamic America. The mission of the ecosystem would be to bring about “America 2.0”—a future where every American has the opportunity to flourish and the U.S. is leading the world in building, implementing, and sharing foundational technologies. The publication of this manifesto is just the first step in defining the American foundational tech ecosystem. The next step is to create a detailed report that will flesh out in detail what “foundational tech” and its ecosystem in the U.S. could be; so that investors and builders alike can be inspired to grow the ecosystem; and educators across the country know how to encourage their students to explore these technologies. If you’d like to contribute to the development of this inaugural report, fill out this form. Detailed instructions are at the bottom of this manifesto. I hope you find this to be a thought provoking and action inspiring read, and welcome your comments below. - Gary Sheng (By the way, you can listen to the AUDIO 🔈 version of this post here.)
A Future Worth Building
Picture this future, where we get the critical things about technology right:
It’s New Year’s Eve, 2035:
You wake up energized.
It’s day one of the Hawaii trip you’ve been waiting for.
The night before you flew in from Austin, Texas on a fully electric supersonic passenger jet.
3,650 miles in just 2.5 hours.
As you head to your kitchen for some coffee, you ask your AI assistant for a year in review.
As your coffee brews, you learn that your sleep and overall health metrics improved in the last 12 months. Breakthroughs in microbiome tech and personalized medicine helped you finally get the treatment you needed for your rare gut disease.
In your Austin community, homelessness is down and student learning outcomes are up. But this isn’t unique to your community. Thanks to breakthroughs in how we grow food, make houses, and personalize education, 99.6% of American children have access to the basic necessities they need to realize their potential (up from 86% in 2025).
More good news: 72% of American voters approve of the responsiveness of the American government (up from just 16% in 2025). This is thanks, in part, to tech breakthroughs in social media that supercharge collective sensemaking and healthy debate, and also, to huge strides in non-partisan democracy reform.
Across the globe, private sector investment in climate innovation is up to almost $1.5T/year (up from $130B in 2025). And you see the results every day. From the delicious cultivated meat that has become a staple of your diet, to the fusion energy plant that cleanly powers your neighborhood.
As you finish the last sips of your coffee, you reflect on how the pessimism, hyperpolarization, and sense of stagnation that characterized the first quarter of the 21st century seem like a distant memory.
It feels wonderful to be living in this time of extraordinary progression and dynamism.
That future will be very challenging to achieve—but it is possible.
The U.S. has everything it needs to level up.
How do we bring it all together to make this happen?
Let me explain.
Where We Are Today: A Make-or-Break Decade
Most Americans understand that our current situation is a shitshow, leading many to adopt a philosophy called "doomerism". A common belief across doomers is that the way society functions will likely cause civilizational collapse.
I am sympathetic to the doomer mentality.
The world is experiencing something like an everything-crisis—where our freshwater crisis, social cohesion crisis, food security crisis, housing crisis, institutional dysfunction crisis, and many other crises intersect and exacerbate one another. As each of these crises worsens, the consequences cascade across the rest—disrupting life and deepening the severity of other crises in a recursive doom loop.
Many of the worst fears of doomers could be our reality.
Imagine a future characterized by cascading systems failures that lead to famine and drought, supercharging chronic social unrest and political violence.
A future where technology’s legacy has been to further centralize corporate power, destroy the last semblances of personal privacy, help government bureaucrats move with unprecedented efficiency to cripple freedoms and eliminate dissent, and supercharge the ability for state and private actors to destabilize the world.
A future where instead of liberating us from drudgery and making positive changes to economic systems, robotic automation has created mass unemployment and an unprecedented underclass.
This picture is not preposterous dystopian thinking—it is possible if we continue our current trajectory.
While this is decade of existential risks, it’s also a decade of extraordinary possibility.
People tend to underestimate the pace and power of exponential growth, much less appreciate the flywheels of performance and adoption of technologies like solar energy—which governments and ordinary citizens increasingly recognize as foundational to the future.
Predictions about the future often fail to account for exponential S-curves of technology performance and adoption, much less stacking exponential S-curves.
The term “S-curve” points to the shape that explains the growth of technology that becomes widely adopted in society. Both performance and adoption start out slow, and then ramp up as success breeds success. Finally, that fast growth hits a wall, and slows down again.
Let's look at one S-curve: solar energy.
Many energy industry analysts, besides a small few like futurist Tony Seba, have consistently gotten predictions about the price and efficiency of solar energy wrong. See this graph:
Solar energy is now the cheapest energy source per kWh generated after being widely unaffordable as recently as a decade ago. And electric cars are now three to six times cheaper to drive in the U.S. than gas guzzling cars.
It was once laughable to predict this happening so soon.
Now, imagine many S-curves like solar energy stacking simultaneously.
It might be difficult to imagine. For most people, the future is a blur that looks almost indistinguishable from the present. But the present is radically different than even the recent past. Can you even imagine a world without a smartphone?
Now, remember that smartphone performance and adoption in the U.S. was built on the rising tides of many stacking S-curves, enabled by radical increases in:
Nation-wide cellular network technology
Cloud computing affordability
Semiconductor chip power
Digital music innovation
Social network adoption
Smartphones didn’t just alter a behavior or two. They changed everything.
Economist Carlota Perez described the impact of such moments in time in her influential 2003 book Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: “When a technological revolution irrupts in the scene, it does not just add some dynamic new industries to the previous production structure. It provides the means for modernizing all the existing industries and activities.”
Fast forward to today: countless technologies are being developed, and thousands are experiencing or could experience S-curve performance and adoption cycles.
For example, the technologies that enable the magic of OpenAI’s DALL-E 2 and chatGPT are experiencing S-curve trajectories. OpenAI CTO Greg Brockman talks about how even though it’s still early days, there will be a societal “paradigm shift” when the technologies that underpin OpenAI’s products hit their S-curve Growth stages.
Why is this paradigm shift possible? Brockman says his team can only do what it does thanks to a “full stack of better GPUs, great software for utilizing them, neural networks that we learned to harness more and more, the scaling laws doing all the science, and [AI alignment research] making sure [large language] models are not just smart but actually aligned with what humans intend.”
A great leap in human progress is possible in a short amount of time, if we’re able to stack the right kinds of tech S-curves.
What the future will be has everything to do with what tech is built and proliferated during this Make-or-Break decade.
Societal collapse is not inevitable, even if most people can't imagine an alternative.
This decade could be the beginning of a breakthrough: the beginning of something like the country of our dreams—America 2.0.
What is America 2.0?
A future where every American has the opportunity to flourish and the U.S. is leading the world in building, implementing, and sharing the technologies that are key to building a better world for all.
Same mission as America 1.0, shipped in 1776.
But way better at living up to its promises—with way faster innovation in the domains most relevant in confronting our huge internal and international challenges.
Imagine if water desalination, next gen geothermal, fully autonomous vehicles, housing prefabrication, advanced semiconductors, AI-powered creativity tools, synthetic biology, and many other areas reach the “Growth” phase of their S-curves during this decade thanks to a U.S.-led tidal wave of investment and student interest in contributing to these fields.
How could we not feel like we’re living in an era of progress and abundance?
And more importantly, how many more people than ever before could realize their potential to flourish?
How Do We Breakthrough To America 2.0?
Achieving breakthrough will not be easy.
We need to 10x increase the number of people building foundational tech—technology that can greatly enable, preserve, and accelerate human or ecological flourishing; technology that can serve as foundational building blocks of a radically more resilient, self-sustaining, and dynamic America; technology that collectively serve as the seed kernel for a Golden Age for humanity.
Examples of American startups I consider to be foundational tech companies include:
Phoenix-based Culdesac builds car-free neighborhoods from scratch, with their first neighborhood piloting soon right next to their Phoenix HQ.
San Jose-based OpenGov builds cloud software for public sector accounting, planning, budgeting, citizen services, and procurement—serving over 1,000 cities, counties, and state agencies across 49 states.
Chicago-based Nature’s Fynd builds the future of fungi-based protein—producing delicious meat and dairy free breakfast patties, yogurts, cream cheeses, and other high protein foods that require 90%+ less resources to produce.
Berkeley-based Pivot Bio builds agricultural technology that uses tiny organisms to give crops the nutrients they need, instead of using synthetic fertilizers that can harm the environment.
Cambridge-based Foray Bioscience builds biotechnologies—based on leading edge science in plant cell culture, materials science, and tissue engineering—that generate the wood and forest products we need, without cutting down a single tree.
San Francisco-based OpenAI builds leading AI models meant to serve the public interest—known for its explosively popular user-facing products that include chatGPT and DALL-E 2.
Los Angeles-based Hadrian builds unprecedentedly efficient, automated factories that will accelerate the entire advanced manufacturing sector and bring forth an abundant future.
These companies are not full of degrowthers, partisan culture warriors, professional critics, or people sitting idly, waiting for a world government to save the day.
They are full of optimists who understand that their optimism is self-fulfilling only if tied to thoughtful collective action. A different kind of activism that prioritizes building over talking. An activism that can inspire and unite across differences.
Foundational tech companies are not just important to the flourishing of Americans; their success supports the flourishing of people everywhere. Foundational tech operations can be efficiently scaled around the world, and foundational tech intellectual property can be easily developed in collaboration or shared with other countries (and even used as a way to negotiate peace).
I will refer to the number of foundational tech companies achieving traction as “Foundational Tech Velocity.” To achieve an order of magnitude higher foundational tech velocity, many aspects of American society and culture must evolve.
And to drive this evolution, I believe it’s worth defining and jumpstarting something like a movement of thinkers, builders, and investors who see themselves as working toward a common cause, which I am calling the “American foundational tech ecosystem.”
A quick note on why I believe it’s valuable to define and proliferate the meme “foundational tech”
Before I dive into the “American foundational tech ecosystem,” I want to explain why it’s important to turn “foundational tech” into a mainstream meme.
Zooming out, one of the reasons why you might want to define and proliferate a meme is to enable people to coordinate with each other to address an issue of shared concern. A meme that points at solutions to an issue can help mobilize a movement to form in common cause.
For example, the “climate tech” meme serves as an essential coordination tool to connect people who feel inspired to build and invest in technologies that reduce carbon emissions and address other issues related to climate change.
The “climate tech” meme enables certain VCs to call themselves “climate tech VCs,” certain entrepreneurs to call their startups “climate tech startups,” and for certain conveners to call their events “climate tech conferences.”
There was a need to coordinate collective action to address climate change through tech, and indeed, the proliferation of the “climate tech” meme has played a big role in the explosion of investment self-described by entrepreneurs and investors as “climate tech venture funding.”
“Climate tech” gave like-minded people a flag to rally around and has helped mobilize a global movement that has been growing exponentially over the past decade.
Inspired by the many instances of people manifesting memes into impactful movements, I’m motivated to define and proliferate “foundational tech” as a meme because I believe we need to coordinate far more resources and talent toward building tech that helps us break through to America 2.0, and I’m betting that this meme can help mobilize a lot of people to help do so.
I intentionally chose the word “foundational” to precede “tech” because it points to tech that can serve as “foundational” building blocks for America 2.0.
And to me, “foundational” has a sense of gravitas and virtue that something like “powerful” or “disruptive” or “emerging” does not. Many technologies are powerful or disruptive—but these qualities do not connote net-positivity. Some technologies are “emerging”—but the stage of a technology’s development doesn’t imply whether it is making a positive impact. The reality is that a small subset of technologies can be widely considered as a necessary part of the foundation of a next generation civilization, and we need words to more efficiently describe them and coordinate collective action to build them.
If “foundational tech” becomes a mainstream meme, it becomes a tool that we can use to kickstart lively debate on whether, say, web3/blockchain is foundational to America 2.0. I would say so—even if we just look at the privacy-protecting, zero knowledge identity solutions being developed today. But I believe it’s primarily up to domain/industry leaders to justify how foundational their tech is, and build applications whose utility to America (and the world’s future) speaks for itself.
By planting my flag on the “foundational tech” hill, I hope that this Substack (and my work in general) can serve as a default gathering place for people who believe in the power of certain kinds of tech to level up America. We need Americans who have been working hard to level up the way we do geothermal, nuclear, water desalination, democracy + government, public safety, food, healthcare, etc in this country to know they are on the same team, and help accelerate each other’s success.
Jumpstarting the American Foundational Tech Ecosystem
The idea behind the American foundational tech ecosystem is simple. In order for us to level up to America 2.0, we need an army of people obsessed with accelerating “Foundational Tech Velocity.”
So how do we make that happen?
For this ecosystem to greatly accelerate Foundational Tech Velocity, we have to jumpstart the “Foundational Tech Flywheel.”
The “Flywheel” is a concept introduced by Jim Collins in his seminal book Good To Great, used to state the fact that companies (or in our case: ecosystems) don’t become exceptional as a result of a single intervention or initiative, but rather from the accumulation of little wins that stack up over years of hard work until such a moment that momentum takes over to power sustained periods of accelerated growth—where that momentum greatly outstrips the amount of effort being applied at that particular point in time.
You can imagine in our case, after years of sustained effort and accumulating small wins, the American foundational tech ecosystem achieving something like “escape velocity,” with new successes piling up on their own with little need for centralized coordination.
How might the Foundational Tech Flywheel work?
Well, if the goal is to increase Foundational Tech Velocity (aka the number of foundational tech companies achieving traction), then tied for first for what we need to kickstart is far more media highlighting success stories of foundational tech companies.
What does this do?
It grows the public’s appreciation for foundational tech.
And this greater appreciation does a number of things, including increase the amount of government, university, and private sector support for foundational tech research and incubation.
Because these institutions are incentivized to support what they know people demand.
And if there is more institutional support, more builders and funders will be able to receive training and funding to proliferate foundational tech.
From there, we see the creation of more foundational tech startups, which will ultimately increase the number of successful foundational tech companies.
This success of these companies in accelerating human and ecological flourishing will trigger more positive press about the foundational tech ecosystem.
And the cycle continues.
A quick note on the importance of government support of foundational tech
Government support of foundational technologies is a key part of the Foundational Tech Flywheel for at least three reasons:
Government can and often needs to be the first customer of a capital intensive startup. Vaccines are extremely costly to develop. So are rockets, car-free neighborhoods, and telecom infrastructure. Governments making advanced market commitments that funds the development of new technology can pave the way for the tech to eventually commercialize and scale its benefit.
Government can keep local startups competitive with international competitors also getting government support. While the private sector can do a lot on its own, it can’t quickly marshal hundreds of billions of dollars to kickstart advanced semiconductor fabrication like the federal government just did with the CHIPS and Science Act. Of course, the efficiency of a particular government incentive can be hotly debated, and that debate should be welcome.
Government can’t guarantee an industry will succeed just because it enacts good regulations related to that industry, but it can definitely kill it with bad regulations. Let me explain below.
What is built and how much of it can be built is constrained by the regulatory environment.
All Americans need housing, healthy food, a good education, medical care, transportation, internet, material goods, and more—the building blocks of modern life.
And all the stuff we need comes from somewhere, whether from farms, factories, power plants, or gas lines. But there’s a growing sense that the American regulatory environment has greatly restricted the ability of Americans to build the things we need (which I call foundational technologies), to produce the end products and services Americans need to affordably thrive.
We need to change policy to encourage more supply and fight the rising costs of all of these building blocks of modern life.
We know we’ll have succeeded when we’re seeing progress across the country to rescind or pare down the…
Near-total bans on new nuclear power plants
Restrictions on construction of new housing and walkable communities
Restrictions on manufacturing and sale of drugs, diagnostic tests, and medical devices
And other policies that just don’t make any sense to keep if we want to see widespread flourishing in the coming years
By the way, I’m not saying all regulation of this sort is bad. But we should heavily scrutinize why regulations that constrict supply are in place, and remove the ones that never made sense or no longer make sense anymore in today’s age.
I’m optimistic about government support for foundational tech for at least a couple reasons:
Escalating geopolitical competition with China will encourage many U.S. political leaders to self-reflect on whether the U.S. has adequately made the case in the 21st century for liberal democracy over autocracy. If the U.S. can’t figure out how to better take care of its people in the next decade, can we blame anyone but ourselves if people around the world turn their back on the American-led global order? This Great Power Competition with China should greatly motivate us to level up our laws and regulations to proliferate tech that accelerates flourishing.
Many of the rules blocking production of what people need remain in place not because they have strong constituencies, but due to inertia and lack of awareness. This suggests there’s hope for change if reformers keep at it over this next decade—educating elected officials and other government leaders on how unblocking foundational tech can be a pure political win for them.
How we know if the Foundational Tech Flywheel is achieving escape velocity
Some of the best signals of whether the Foundational Tech Flywheel is ripping are the degrees to which foundational tech builders are…
1. Widely appreciated by the public ❤️🔥: Americans without technical backgrounds should widely understand and appreciate why we must build and support foundational tech for the national interest.
Pieces like this very manifesto are key to helping define and connect concepts that make it clear to people that we face a looming threat of societal collapse, that our future could be much worse than more of the same stagnation, and that foundational tech development is a big part of how we break through to a radically better future. America needs a subculture that incentivizes and celebrates foundational tech builders. These builders need to be seen as modern servicepeople. To do this, the ecosystem should invest heavily in covering and storytelling around 1) the companies that are already building foundational tech and making a difference, 2) the visions for America’s future that can be realized if more foundational tech is developed, and 3) the thrill of contributing to the growth of the ecosystem.
2. Can easily access high quality education 📚: Talented, passionate young people should be able to easily get the education they need to make the leap toward building foundational tech.
It is important that it is easy for people who are inspired to join and contribute to the ecosystem to get support finding their way to the existing educational programs that enable them to develop into foundational technologists focused on whatever issue(s) they care about. Foundational technologists must be supported not only in developing technical know-how, but also leadership skills like nobility, clear conscious, humility, and deep commitment to service for the greater good. More than ever, we need leaders who are true to their purpose.
3. Can easily fundraise from a diversity of sources 💰: People on the path to building foundational technologies should be able to easily get the funding they need to develop their solutions, find product market fit, and ultimately achieve financial sustainability.
For it to be far easier to raise money for a foundational tech company, leaders of the following groups and institutions need to be educated on the value of investing in foundational tech: family offices, Congress, government agencies, venture capital firms, philanthropic foundations, and more.
An Invitation To Unleash A Golden Age For Humanity
So much needs to be done to achieve the vision laid out in the beginning of this manifesto.
And the future history of how this will all unfold is far from clear.
But I’m confident in my next step: to create a detailed report that…
Articulates criteria for determining if a technology is foundational (or to what degree),
Establishes the identity of the ecosystem,
Spotlights canonical examples of foundational tech companies,
Curates best practices that have enabled said companies to succeed,
Identifies top challenges to the ecosystem’s success,
Catalogues funders and funding models (old and new),
Establishes the shared language and concepts that are required to help prospective ecosystem members decide whether it is right for them,
Ultimately, this report will flesh out what “foundational tech” and its American ecosystem could be; so that investors and builders alike can be inspired to do what’s needed to build the ecosystem; and educators across the country know how to encourage their students to explore these technologies.
If you’d like to contribute to the development of this inaugural report and the creation of this category, fill out this interest form:
Contributors to the report will also have the opportunity to design and demonstrate how an effective community of practice for and within the foundational tech ecosystem operates. This community will launch after the publishing of the report.
Imagine a network of leading…
entrepreneurs + developers
scientists + engineers
philanthropists + philanthropy advisors
content creators + storytellers
… all committed to learning and sharing knowledge and practices that advance foundational tech and build America 2.0.
If you’re not interested in becoming a contributor but would like to follow along on this journey…
Subscribe to my YouTube channel, where I post explainers of foundational tech companies, interviews with their founders, and other reflections on how we get to America 2.0
Subscribe to my new Substack newsletter (this is my first post!), where I will publish “brain drops” on all things America 2.0 every week. There’s something about the written word that will never lose its value.
Thanks for carefully considering these ideas. I welcome your feedback in the comments.
I’m confident we can level up America, if we build its new foundation together 🇺🇸
Special thanks to Abe Maslavi, Alex Baydar, Amber Brandner, Ashley Lin, Cameron Wiese, Carl Cervone, Caroline Nguyen, David Kobrosky, Dien Yuen, Jeffrey Kibler, John Montague, Josh Leonard, Louis Diez, Richard Ren, Tyler Tran, and a few other friends for their thoughtful feedback on this piece.
Thanks again for reading this Manifesto.
You might have been wondering “Why the emphasis on the U.S.?”:
First, I believe that people from any country should focus on issues that they have disproportionate ability to affect. On that note, just about everyone has more influence over matters to which they are in closest physical proximity to—whether they are matters affecting your family, your town, y- our city, your state/province, or country. As an American, I have more influence over what happens in the U.S. than in, say, Canada, Brazil, or Singapore. And I believe citizens of a country should be most invested in making improvements to the place they live.
Second, the issues affecting the U.S. are not identical to those affecting other countries, even if there are many similarities across countries. Thought leadership on, say, how we improve America’s regulatory regime, educate American family offices, or create media that inspires American students may have some use to movement builders around the world—but the only way that this manifesto and its eventual outputs can help level up America is if they are designed to provide great service to Americans dealing with U.S.-specific challenges.
Third, there is no question that knowledge and technology produced by an American-centric movement can and should be shared with builders in other countries. And in a way that doesn’t replicate the sometimes predatory models of international philanthropy and economic development of the past many decades. And if we want to help the world, it’s important that we know we can help ourselves. Let’s get our own messy house in order before arrogantly assuming we can help others.
Fourth, the US still arguably has the most access to resources and power in the world right now, and changes in the U.S. here have extraordinary leverage in setting positive trends that cascade across the world.
Finally, most of this manifesto can be forked by movement builders in other countries who recognize the applicability of this approach to future-building in their local environment. I welcome this wholeheartedly.
I loved this.. thank you for working on and kicking off a seminal piece of work. I hope this takes shape beyond these pages on the internet in the real realm. A few specific comments:
1. Love the fact that despite the doom and gloom, you choose be optimistic and push the envelope in painting the picture. Honestly there is no other way, but there is so much despair that these silver linings get lost
2. The vision for the future is very compelling and worth working for. Many things are already in play to make such a vision happen, but it is also nice to see it all come together with the picture you painted... makes it more tactile to work towards
3. (personal favorite) - I am a big fan of WaitButWhy and am so delighted to see you are too (and quoting from it!)
4. Tech startup lit survey is very rich and useful. I was drawn to several examples and dug further into many of them.. Thank you for this!
5. Flywheel - this is probably my only/main comment on possible area of future work. It wasn't very clear to me if this would actually get the flywheel going and if it will indeed exceed the escape velocity we talk about. The levers seem all fine and reinforcing, but it felt a little out of sight for me...maybe an area for future work to flesh this out more?
All in all.. great work.. so inspiring.. thanks for doing this!