Max Levchin says that shows how human beings do not understand exponential growth.

In an op-ed, I asked for consistency from people that praise Elon Musk for recommending chloroquine and downplaying the COVID-19 infection yet bash Donald Trump for the same attitudes. Musk is now committed to making ventilators, but that did not come with apologies for what he said before or for keeping Fremont and SpaceX working when California already had concerning contamination numbers. Max Levchin, Affirm founder and PayPal co-founder, must see this in the same way. In essence, he said Musk is “probably slightly embarrassed” for previous comments on the pandemic in an interview for Bloomberg Technology

You will probably have a look at the video yourself, but what Levchin states there is this:

“I think that everyone who has made fun of this thing as just a tougher flu or a silly problem that is going to go away with the first ray of sunshine is probably slightly embarrassed by those comments and that excludes no one.”

Levchin even gave an explanation for bright people like Elon Musk to have been skeptical about the COVID-19 pandemic in the very beginning.

“I think it is a great illustration of how it is really, really hard for human beings to understand exponential growth. Even if you’ve been in Silicon Valley your entire life and you watched the viral spread of the social media kind growth from nothing to everything, it is still incredibly difficult to internalize this idea that yesterday we saw one or two infections and today we are seeing hundreds and really expect more. It’s just staggeringly difficult to imagine that steeper growth.”

Levchin also used the “criticize and praise” strategy to send a clear message: being humble is essential even if you are brilliant.

“On the negative side, you have a bunch of people that say: ‘You know? I am no doctor or epidemiologist but step aside. I’m smart, I can do better.’ I think that’s hubris and mostly unjustified, especially unjustified in situations like this virus. On the other hand, you do have this spirit of Silicon Valley. It extends beyond the physical Silicon Valley where, when you’re given direction and you’re given a good idea, we know how to mobilize and inspire and just go through walls and buildings. So, in that sense, if Elon is committing to build ventilators, by God he’s going to build a lot of ventilators and they are probably going to be quite good.”

Source: Bloomberg Technology