Episode 187 - The Singularity Muscle
Published July 14, 2015
SPECIAL GUEST: Paul Vazquez. The Singularity. By definition, it's basically unknowable what lies beyond that point in time. And yet we are drawn to speculate, to try to understand this change, profound and wonderful, that may be upon us. On this episode, we're joined by Coach Paul, from the Union Of Muscle podcast, to talk economics, fitness, the Singularity, Transhumanism, and even a little on the wonderful world of BitCoin. Recorded 7/9/2015.
Mike & Matt's Recommended Reading:
Union Of Muscle site
Union Of Muscle on Facebook
Union Of Muscle on Twitter
Episode 180 - FutureSchool (with guest Peter Bishop)
Episode 177 - FutureWear (with guest Heather Schlegel)
More coming soon...
Alpha: Welcome to another episode of Robot Overlordz, episode #187. On the show we take a look at how society is changing, everything from pop culture reviews to political commentary, technology trends to social norms, all in about thirty minutes or less, every Tuesday and Thursday.
Mike Johnston: Greetings cyborgs, robots, and natural humans. I’m Mike Johnston.
Matt Bolton: And I’m Matt Bolton.
MJ: And joining us on this episode is Paul Vazquez, aka Coach Paul. Paul, thanks for being here.
Paul Vazquez: Hey, thanks guys for allowing me to come on your podcast and talk with you a little bit, and talk with your audience. I really appreciate it.
MJ: Thanks so much for being on. I guess to start off a little bit, can you tell our audience about your background?
PV: Whoa. Well, I mean, how far back do we want to go? I think I’ve led a pretty diverse life, but probably most recently I’ve graduated from law school, my first degree was an undergraduate degree in economics. And while doing all of that, I had a chance to get into investments, I had a chance to work with the Singularity Network. I was asked to be the vice president of the Singularity Network, so I’ve been working with them a little bit as well and getting into that community. Do you guys go on that website, or have you had a chance to visit the Facebook page?
MJ: I’ve been on a couple of the singularity sites. I’m not sure if that one is… Well, I lose track of them a little bit.
PV: Right, yeah, it can be easy to do. And so, yeah, I’ve been back and forth with a few people there. I’ve had quite a few of the transhumanists people on my podcast who are in Transhumanist Political Party, had conversations with them. So, I’ve got a lot of connections in that community as well as many others. I’ve worked with politicians, oil tycoons. What I do like to talk about sometimes, as an intro to who I am, is that I have been to the end of the world. I’ve been to the end of the world and I’ve heard the whale songs. I’ve been to the burning forest and the land of a thousand lakes. I’ve been in tornado-force winds and walked through that with pebbles coming up, blew right into my eye. I’ve been in the blizzards and the deserts and the land that goes on forever and the sky never ends. So, I’ve seen different areas in the world, I’ve seen the most impoverished people and I’ve been in the houses of some of the most rich. So, I do have a bit of a breadth of experience and knowledge about where we are in the world.
MJ: Let’s talk about transhumanists for a minute. How did you discover that kind of philosophy and the whole idea of the singularity? And what about that do you think speaks to the moment in time that we’re at right now?
PV: So I was creating a methodology of understanding human interaction. I was creating this methodology and seeing what we could do with—it was a combination of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs along with some other ideas—how humans handle taste and preferences. Because that’s the big question in economics, right? We have all these ideas about how markets react, but it comes down to the variabilities in the T&P, the TP, the Taste and Preferences. And so I was examining that and I was saying, you know, with the way our current US economic structures are, the only way I could see to really make change is not government control, because you often find that it’s easy to be corrupted. But you could do it through business, and I know a lot of people are scared of big corporations and things like that, but you can always take them down. If they’re not doing well, you stop buying their products; there’s competition that can come and subvert the railroad so that the railroad is no longer as powerful as it used to be. So, there’s always a way of correcting for bigger organizations. And then I read “The Singularity Is Near,” and I said this guy is thinking what I’m thinking but in very technical terms of how we can use, in my mind, business, in his mind, technology. But my mind was using the business to create the technologies in order to bring about a better tomorrow without forcing anybody to believe what you believe. That’s one thing I like about the idea of the singularity of transhumanism, is if the technology works well enough, you don’t have to force anyone to believe as you do. It’s just cars are going to drive themselves, so you don’t have to convince anyone not to drink and drive for the most part, because the car is going to do it for them. If the technology works well enough, you don’t have to be so manipulative and controlling of individuals and the public as a whole.
MJ: Well, that’s a particularly interesting one and we’ve talked about that quite a bit most recently with Heather Schlegel a couple episodes ago. But, you know, the idea that technology like self-driving cars, you sort of remove the ability to go out and get drunk and drive and then hurt someone. But I think that sort of leaves open the question though for society of do we allow that technology to actually achieve that full potential of it just eliminating drunk driving… To me, once you have that technology, it seems kind of silly to police “drunk driving,” someone being that drunk in a car, the same way as once you have a self-driving car. To me, that’s a question that society really hasn’t even begun to look at. If you keep the laws the way they are, it seems like we’re headed towards not really getting the full value out of this technology.
PV: I think what may happen, and I don’t know how much time you guys spend in the courtroom, I get there pretty regularly so I get a chance to see how things go down. Sometimes these laws that are not necessarily used properly or are relevant to today’s society can sometimes be used as options for the prosecution and the defense. So, they have a way for it to be such like a lesser offense. Or it could be a way of raising the severity of a crime. Let’s say somebody was involved in public drunkenness, which could still be a crime even if you have a self-driving car because you could still be out on the street causing mayhem with your drunkenness. But they do something so egregious, like maybe they disabled the self-driving vehicle. Then yeah, that law would still be important if they then got into a car after disabling it somehow, that it couldn’t drive itself. So, there’s different ways that can happen. I think, though, this helps bring up the idea of technological unemployment, which you guys like to talk about from listening to your podcast.
MJ: Oh yeah, we love that one. [laughs]
PV: I’ve been doing a bit of research on millennials, and millennials, if the audience doesn’t know, is classified as those who are born between the years 1980 and 2000. So if you’re born in that timeframe, they like to call you the millennials. Now, some people stretch it back to ‘75 or ‘76, or something like that. But recently in the June edition of Money Magazine, they had a spread where they talked about relationships for millennials, and they started listing off how millennials expect more from their mate, they expect them to be better with money than, say, the baby boomers did—there are numerous comparisons to the baby boomers. And they’re expected to be better in bed, they’re expected to be sexier, they’re expected to be more than what previous generations were, which is very interesting because we’ve just had this economic collapse that they say mirrors those of pre-baby boomers. That great generation… those who had gone to WWII, who have seen the Great Depression, produced what we call the greatest generation. I think millennials have that same opportunity to become a great generation because of the turmoil that we’re having to deal with in our current economic system not only due to the economic collapse but jobs that used to be created aren’t being created in the same way. There’s a lot of upheaval in understanding what the job market currently needs and what the job market will need in the future, and I think this is where millennials do have to ask more of ourselves. I think a good key for millennials to become more stable in this market is to first find something that the market is currently demanding, and secondly it’s even possibly more important to start creating the jobs and the fields that the future needs. So, we have to look forward a little bit and begin to develop those new industries that the future needs and wants, and that takes a lot. But we have to be able to do both: we have to be able to serve our current economy and we have to be looking at what innovations and what type of businesses the future economy will need.
MB: Do you think a lot of that has to do with the education system, though? I don’t know about you, Mike—Mike and I went to the same school, so kind of the same experience. Everything I learned in junior high and high school and what not, even in college, I never really thought that any of that really helped me. It got me in the door somewhere, but I didn’t learn anything—I learned on the job. I think our education system… there’s all these arguments about Common Core and all this other stuff, but it seems to me that we’re just teaching kids the wrong stuff. We’ve talked about this before, too. In high school and college, I never learned how to balance a checkbook, I never learned how to trade stocks in the stock market. I never learned those things and those are things I think we should be teaching kids in school as opposed to a lot of the stupid crap we teach them now.
PV: I’m going to kind of mirror a little bit of what I was chatting with Zoltan—I always say his name wrong. Last night, I was chatting with him a little bit on Messenger about his political aspirations and what he’s doing, and I’m going to mirror the kind of ideas I was relaying to him, whether he takes them or not, probably not. The way technology seems to be going is that information is becoming ubiquitous, and it’s becoming very accessible through the internet and all these other technological means. And the internet is spreading all over the world, people in different areas are getting more and more access to it. So as information becomes ubiquitous, it’s going to become more important that we develop skills on how to take all that information and put it in a useable format, put it in such a way that the people who need that information can use that information. And so if there is going to be any type of future education system that’s as structured as it is right now—we could have leaps and bounds when it comes to technology if we allowed individuals to progress at their own pace. If we had a system that was so robust that you no longer had to worry about keeping a whole classroom up to a certain level, based on improving the skills of that individual, both their strengths and their weaknesses; if we had a system that could pinpoint those individual needs, it would change the face of education and our society would grow by leaps and bounds. I don’t know if I really answered your question, but I’m saying that there’s a new way to look at education.
MB: Yeah, and I think there needs to be. Yeah, I get exactly what you’re saying, and we’ve talked with other people about this, too. It seems like a completely broken system—
PV: But it’s what we have right now. And it may take parents getting more involved. I know we like to say that, and it’s hard because parents are getting torn in many directions. The single breadwinner family is really a thing of the past. Everybody has to be earning an income in order to keep afloat in the economy unless you’re one of the lucky few, and then maybe you have someone at home who can then really focus on providing for those individual needs, to find the systems that are going to help that child succeed on their own no matter what’s going on in the schools. The schools, it’s a hard thing. We’ve had so many recent reforms in it but they’re not catching on and it’s always going to be hard because of the rate of increase of technology. Our technology is increasing so rapidly that we have to look beyond the jobs. We have to look at, I think, bringing us almost back to what the public school system was first intended to do, and that was to create well-informed citizens, give them skills by which they could be enriched as a person, that they’re more cultured, so to speak, and that they’re more than one facet. It’s not that they can just score well on tests, it’s that they’re cultured. They have something more that they’re getting; their personality is enriched and they’re able to contribute. But that kind of went away with the industrial revolution.
MJ: Paul, I guess what I’m getting out of what you’re saying is that really it’s almost incumbent on people to be more entrepreneurial and almost self-learners, whether it’s through something like Khan Academy or… We just talked recently with Peter Bishop about a program he was developing called Teach The Future to get kids in high school and college to kind of start thinking about future scenarios and scenario planning. I think this is what you’re alluding to, is really there’s all these resources on the internet, so some of the things that Matt mentioned, like balancing a checkbook or selling and trading stocks, there’s all these resources out there and yet they’re not really in a school system anymore. It seems like the school system is becoming somewhat—Matt, correct me if I’m not summarizing you right—but a little bit an anachronism, that they’re focused on last century’s problems: the standardized testing, the attendance, the showing up on time and regurgitating information and doing tasks repetitively. Exactly like you just said, Paul: those are industrial-age things and yet we haven’t yet migrated to an information age education system.
PV: We’re stuck in between right now the old ways and the new ways and this is what I think millennials need to be a bit more proactive about, is creating the tomorrow that we want to see, because we’re given this opportunity right now. Because the economy is in such an upheaval, we have the opportunity to begin to create the future that we want to see and the future that we need, and the future that our children need. There is a benefit to that social interaction, for the kids to go amongst their peers and play—that play seems to be very important when dealing with emotional stability, which is very important. We still need to have that playtime where kids are able to get together and learn “Hey, you know, hitting Johnny isn’t cool. If you don’t get your way, it’s not cool to throw a temper tantrum.” Siblings, my sisters and I, we always liked to tease each other sometimes to tears. But what it did is it gave us an idea of what was acceptable in society and it was in such a way that me and my siblings, and my friends, we still loved each other. We weren’t really trying to make the other one feel like garbage or anything like that. We just lacked the sophistication to teach and to learn in a higher state, so we did it through play. We did it through play, sometimes we did it through making fun of each other, and sometimes we went home crying. But that’s kind of part of the experience of being a social species.
MB: I think nowadays, and we’ve talked about this before too, is kids are very rarely on their own anymore. Very rarely do you see kids just doing something without any parental supervision whatsoever, and I’ve read a lot of stuff about that and it’s extremely important for kids to be able to have that time. They learn negotiating skills and all these other things that you just don’t get if there’s a parent or somebody hovering around. We did stuff when I was a kid that I wouldn’t have done if my parents were—not necessarily that they were bad things, but they were things I wouldn’t have done if my parents had been standing right behind me. I think kids need that and they’re not getting it, and it’s almost damaging kids at this point because they’re just never on their own.
MJ: Some of it was bad. [laughs]
MB: Well, yeah, some of it, obviously.
PV: [laughs] So to answer, maybe, your question about do I think people need to be going towards the computers: I think we need a more robust way of looking at it; a dual system where there is something that analyzes what that kid needs personally but then it could be in some type of group setting where each individual may have these tasks that they’re working on individually but they’re still amongst their peers, they’re still getting that peer interaction. Maybe I’m still part of the antiquity in feeling that there is a benefit to having that proximity, or maybe the technology just isn’t there yet where we can have proximity other than actually being right next to somebody.
MJ: I would totally agree with you. Do you think that’s also true of people as they’ve maybe gotten older and out in their careers? I mean, both Matt and I are now I think technically defined as middle-aged here, although it hurts to say. I know in talking to my peers out in the world sometimes—I used to work at AT&T and I was incredibly frustrated there because a lot of the people that I worked with, they just wanted to come in, do their task, punch the clock and go home and that’s where their real life was. And here I was all interested in technology and reading about all this stuff and trying to talk about it, and I got a lot of either deer in the headlights kind of stares talking about the way the world is changing, or “Oh, I found this cool course on Khan Academy.” People seriously would look at me like, “What the hell are you talking about? Why would you do this stuff?” I know a number of the people that Matt and I went to high school with, once they have kids, they disappear into that and they seem to be full on helicopter parents. I think that maybe there’s also something that older people can learn from what you’re saying, Paul.
PV: Well, it’s not going to stop; the progress that’s going on isn’t going to stop, and you’re right. But this is why, once again, I feel it’s so important that we focus on bifurcating a little bit, on diversification, if you like. So if you’re going to diversify your investment portfolio to help handle risk and fluctuations in the market—if you’re in an unstable job position, I would really recommend people look at this because not everybody is able to do that. Not everybody is going to be able to diversify their workload in such a way where they’re giving what the market currently needs and they’re developing what’s in the future. And that’s fine, because not everybody needs to be the developer of the future. Some people don’t want that responsibility, some people just want to be able to go to work, punch the clock, come home to their loving family and to enjoy their company. Some people just don’t like to work, but they’re doing jobs that fulfill a need in society and that’s good enough for them, and that’s fine. But for those people who feel that call, that call to help generate the future, now is the opportunity to do that, no matter if you’re a millennial, older, younger.
MJ: Do you think that presents a problem? You mentioned earlier technological unemployment, and I think we’ve sort of talked around that so far. The idea that as more and more technology is able to take on roles, whether it be robotics or software algorithms or AI—as those technologies advance, if there aren’t the jobs for the people that just want to come in, be told what to do, and then go home to their loving families, it seems like that is definitely going to create some social issues and really something that we, as a society, should probably start talking about before it’s upon us.
PV: And if we’re not creating the proper jobs for the future or the proper industries of the future. So if you can imagine a future where these monotonous, repetitive jobs are no longer in existence as far as individuals go, but more of a technological innovation that’s doing all of that stuff, how are people going to define the meaning in their life? If they’re not able to say, “I’m this, I’m Joe Plumber, I’m John who works at GM,” if they can’t identify themselves with that job, who are they? They have to begin to define a new meaning as to who they are as a person, as to what their purpose is in life and there creates the opportunity for a new industry of tomorrow. It will become about having an experience. And this is why I do fitness podcast, Union of Muscle—shameless plug—is that I think that’s one industry that can transition well into an industry in the future because all the information about how to do great workouts, great diets is all there. But individuals have a hard time wrapping their minds around “What’s going to work for me?” I’d rather have somebody there figure all that out, what’s going to work for me, and give it to me. Now, you may have a computer that actually does that in the end, but it’s still nice to have a person there motivating you, discovering with you, and that’s what it’s going to be about, that experience. Now, eventually maybe that one thing will go away, but I think the future will be about creating an experience. This is what we’re almost doing right now. I don’t want to have a long phone conversation with somebody just to set up a time to go meet. Like, just text it to me. Text it to me, we’re good. Let’s go have an experience, and a quality experience. If we’re going to meet up for coffee, let’s make sure it’s a quality experience. Let’s leave all the little details of this and that. Let’s just take care of that technology-wise, text about it, email, whatever, and really have a good one-on-one experience. So, I think that’s where our economy can transition into a place where we’re generating an experience, a way that people can define meaning. If you can help people define meaning in a society, where their worth isn’t defined by a job but by either being a part of an experience, contributing to an experience, or creating an experience, that’s where I think jobs can be really safe. Because it’s going to be a lot harder for a computer to be able to do that right away, and sometimes we want to participate in that, we want to participate in the creativity of that.
MJ: I totally agree. Paul, you mentioned already your podcast, Union of Muscle. Could you tell us a little bit more about that? We haven’t really talked about it in-depth yet.
PV: Sure. Thank you for giving me a quick opportunity to talk about that. I do a simple podcast designed to inform and inspire people to live fitness lifestyles. If you’re into living long, healthy lives, it’s a great place to start. Even if you think there’s going to be technology that will do it for you in the future, you’ve got to live healthy enough to get there. And so that’s what I’m starting to do with the Union of Muscle, I’m creating a gamified way of doing that, in that you can earn points for participating in fitness activities. As you accumulate these points, you can cash it out, so to speak, for prizes like Rubber Arm Muscle Rub, which is a pain-relieving cream. You can get massages, you can get tanning sessions, you can get comic books, you can get discounts. We even just got discounts with MMA fights, so you can go see fights at a discounted rate. There’s lots of things that I’m trying to hook up for you guys to be able to be a bit more incentivized to live a healthy fitness lifestyle. So when you’re sitting at the restaurant line and you’re going “Do I want the greasy or the clean baked chicken that?” there’s a bit more riding on the line than just a quick satisfaction, there’s also that comic book you’re wanting to earn or something like that. Whatever it is that inspires you, we can try to find a prize that will work for you. But if you want, we’ve even got a code. If you’ve listened to this episode, go over to my website, www.UnionOfMuscle.com, and go to our subscribe button. There’s a button that says “subscribe” at the bottom, click on that, that’ll get you on our mailing list, and where it says “reference,” put the code 410. If you put 410 where it says “reference,” I’ll know that you learned about FitCoins, you learned about the Union of Muscle through this podcast and I will reward you with a FitCoin for doing that. So you don’t even have to do a pushup, I’ll start you off right away with one FitCoin to get you going. That’s kind of my answer to the Bitcoin issue, which I’m not a fan of, to be honest.
MJ: Why not?
PV: Okay, yeah, I left that can of worms open so I can talk about it. So from my economics and legal background, I was very intrigued by the idea of Bitcoin until I got a little bit deeper. They like to say that Bitcoin is decentralized. I disagree. I think it’s recentralized because there is a group of people, these programmers, who are writing the code and they’ve even had one time where they decided to change that code and it created almost an inside 51% attack, if you know these terms, to where a certain portion of the people running the software, the blockchain, they have all these servers and that’s actually kind of not all over the world, that actually ends up being in a few of these server houses that can do it faster, quicker, for cheaper. And half of these guys ended up on the old network or program algorithm, and half of them ended up on the new one. So, they had to decide amongst themselves. Someone can go in there and decide to change the code, and there’s lots of ways that system can get taken down, and also what it incentivizes people to do is not participate in the market, because if that were the case, there’d be more participants. What it’s incentivizing people to do is to buy computer equipment and energy. Now is not the time to think about how to increase our energy consumption. We need to find ways of having either less energy consumption or changing it over to a new reusable form of energy. And it’s got all the wrong incentives as far as what it actually does. We want money to work so well that we forget it. Like your oil in your car. Oil in the car works so great, I only have to check it every now and then. I go “Oh, okay, is there oil in there or not? Go over here and get an oil change real quick.” But other than that, my car is running smooth.
MJ: Yeah, I think there are a lot of problems with Bitcoin. All the things you mentioned, that reminds me of—I don’t know if you’re familiar with Lawrence Lessig, but he wrote a book about code, it was one of his first ones. But it was basically how code is similar to law and the people that write the code, in the same way that people that write laws, kind of control society.
PV: Yeah, I think there is a great point to that. I think you can go even further and say that design—if I asked you how to enlarge a picture, you know exactly how to do that. How would you enlarge a picture? Pinch and zoom, right? So because that became such a great technology about how to enlarge a picture, just pinch and zoom—most people don’t know how to use Photoshop—but most people know how to pinch and zoom their iPhone or whatever phone they’ve got to make that picture larger. So, design can do that. Bitcoin… Once again, programmers are really smart, really intelligent, but they spent a lot more time learning how to program and not so much about economics. Digital money has existed for a very long time; M2M3 is what it’s called. So, digital US currency has been around for a long time. There’s a certain velocity of money out there already that money is even created through interest and offering loans and things like that. Because if you look at it, money is actually sitting there in that bank account but the value of it is being loaned to someone else and they’re paying it back and money actually has a certain velocity, they call it the Velocity of Money, and there’s different things that Bitcoin… It’s almost like those guys decided that they’re going to create the formula for everything. Forget what all the guys in the past did, “Forget what Newton’s done, forget what Einstein’s done, we’re going to come up with a theory of everything.” Usually what happens is they solve one problem but everything else doesn’t work anymore. That’s what I see has happened with Bitcoin. They’re like, “Oh, we’ll fix this one thing,” and they didn’t even do it that well. Sorry Bitcoin lovers, don’t hate me too much. But they saw one problem, they tried to solve it. They missed out on what’s the purpose of money. It’s to help make sure that the guy who does heart surgery can still buy bread even when he keeps getting offered wheat. He doesn’t need that much wheat anymore. He’s got all the wheat that he wants, but he still needs heart surgery and all you can offer him is wheat. So, that’s where money came into play. It allows them to transact without them having to lose value there. And you want it to work so well you don’t even know it’s there. I think that future can be. I doubt it’s going to be in some way that we have to teach people once again how to use money in a computerized format, but I do think there is value in creating point systems which incentivize certain activities, and that’s what I hope to do with FitCoin.
MJ: Cool. Well, we look forward to hearing more about it. Paul, thanks so much for joining us tonight.
A: That’s all for this episode of Robot Overlordz. Are you interested in the future and how society is changing? We’d love to have you join our community. Visit our website to learn more and to connect with others that share that interest. You can find us at RobotOverlordz.FM. The site includes all of the show’s old episodes along with complete transcripts, links to more information about the topics and guests in each episode, and our mailing list and forums. We’d also love to hear what you think about the show. You can review us on iTunes or email us.
A: We hope to see you again in the future…
MJ: Thanks everyone for listening.