TikTok and the Next Communication Breakthrough

Updated: Jul 22


Perhaps technologically uninspiring, watching TikTok on our smartphones is a major breakthrough in communication. Communication breakthroughs are consistently followed by periods of radical economic growth, suggesting they are major catalysts of progress. TikTok is a breakthrough in communication powered by developments in AI and smartphone penetration. While TikTok focuses largely on entertainment, CIRCLES is bringing the current generation of breakthrough communication to professionals. CIRCLES is designed for sharing knowledge, laying the foundation for a global and interconnected professional community. We believe our work towards expanding access to the world’s knowledge will be a major driver of progress.

Communication breakthroughs present themselves as drivers of radical economic growth

Technology seemingly fell short with smartphones and TikTok

What left turn brought us to the technological present? In 1940, the very pragmatic car expert Henry Ford predicted flying cars were on there way. Futurists of the so-called golden age of capitalism predicted these and many other fantastic inventions for all of us today to enjoy. Instead, Louis Black griped a common gripe when he said, “This new millennium sucks! It's exactly the same as the old millennium! You know why? No flying cars!" What we got instead: powerful smartphones and TikTok. As Cloudera cofounder Jeffrey Hammerbacher said, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads”.

Actually technological breakthroughs in communication are likely major drivers of progress

I believe we landed somewhere better. Our smartphones and TikTok feeds amount to a communication breakthrough. Breakthroughs in communication have consistently preceded step changes in human progress. In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg invented the first printing press, enabling authors to reproduce their ideas at scale for a literate audience. As Steven Pinker notes, however, it wasn’t until around 1700 that literacy rates and book production converged to create a communication breakthrough. Between 1700 and 1800, the global population doubled.

This pattern holds with all major breakthroughs in communication

Later breakthroughs in communication were followed by even more rapid step changes in human progress. After the invention of the Telephone in 1876, global life expectancy doubled within a 50 year period. Following the development of the internet in 1983, global gdp doubled in a 20 year period for the first time ever. With greater communication, every individual is empowered to do more of the work they want, and to do it better than before. The impact of communication breakthroughs on a global scale are likely exponential.

TikTok represents the current generation of breakthrough communication

Tiktok is the beginning of another breakthrough in communication

For all its intellectual junk-food content, TikTok represents the current generation of breakthrough communication. The average Gen Z’er is consuming over 2 hours of video per day on TikTok. This is longer than a blockbuster movie, 6 episodes of high-production television, or a live broadway play. Teenagers and young adults are watching this much video content, every day, from strangers all over the world. This is a breakthrough in communication.

This communication breakthrough is powered by AI and smartphone penetration

Powering this breakthrough is a confluence of advancements in AI and near universal smartphone penetration. Firstly, smartphone penetration has reached 83% globally, allowing anyone, anywhere to download and upload video from their phone. Hardware advancements in smartphones have enabled each user to record high-quality film with their smartphone camera and edit the footage on-device with powerful CPUs and GPUs. Secondly, advances in AI related to reinforcement learning and video understanding have enabled TikTok to efficiently match videos with viewers. Now, any creator can have their video quickly distributed to millions of viewers, so long as new viewers are watching the video. Viewers can consume an endless feed of relevant content without ever searching by keyword, following a creator, or giving explicit feedback on videos. TikTok has created a globally interconnected community of creators and viewers out of anybody with a smartphone and decent signal.

TikTok falls short of a universal breakthrough in communication

A billion people communicating daily on TikTok doesn’t make flying cars feel any closer. For all the creativity TikTok has inspired in music, dance, comedy, fashion, and beyond, the platform is designed around its mission: to inspire creativity and bring joy. Creator tools are designed for creative, curious and silly teens with full afternoons to kill. Music is a core component of every video. Detailed information on the creator is non-existent. From the viewer’s perspective, TikTok is the McDonalds Happy Meal of content. It’s the cheapest (free!), fastest (instantly!), most fun way to fill up your free time. Some creators hop on the latest TikTok trends for the sake of corporate development or education, but few viewers are settling for “candied kale” in a place that smells like french fries.

CIRCLES is bringing the current generation of breakthrough communication to professionals

CIRCLES is designed for sharing knowledge with professionals in mind

Our mission in building our short video platform is to expand access to the world’s knowledge. For professionals who have lots of specific knowledge but no time to produce videos, CIRCLES provides tools for sharing knowledge in an engaging way through video as fast as possible. For viewers looking to spend their free time productively, AI generates a personalized feed that surfaces short, clear, useful videos for each individual. Every user is identified in their profile by their role and company, ensuring accountability in videos, as well as the ability to form new professional relationships and audiences.

Our platform lays the foundation for a global and interconnected professional community

Too many people today lack access to the network and the knowledge they need to do the work they want to do. This is measured as labor or career mobility, worker productivity, and social mobility. With an easy way to share knowledge in short video, CIRCLES enables professionals to get attention for their work. Professionals can now build a public reputation on the experience they have developed rather than on their role and brand affiliations alone. Watching a personalized feed, professionals can discover opportunities, best practices, or new developments that they wouldn’t have known to search for. With each video, the viewer is also building a network through discovering potential collaborators, hirers, or investors in their field. We believe that access to shared knowledge should never be a barrier to doing the work one wants to do. We believe that we all have more to gain by building relationships and sharing our experiences and learnings with others.

We believe our communication breakthrough will be a major driver of progress.

With CIRCLES, a founder in Spain can leverage the specific knowledge and experience shared by industry leaders in Silicon Valley and perhaps avoid failure. A student in Belgium can discover a passion for the research being done by an AI researcher in Israel, and that research can draw the attention of a startup in New York City looking for a CTO. A designer can leave their corporate job to freelance for clients across the world, because she can clearly showcase her experience and knowledge, as well as bring her work to the attention of her relevant audience. We see a more purposeful and more productive workforce on CIRCLES today. If previous breakthroughs in communication saw the population double, our life expectancy double, and our economic productivity double, what will the future look like with CIRCLES? We don’t know for sure, but we hope to see it from our flying cars.

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