Episode 231 - Brothers Of The Singularity
Published December 17, 2015
SPECIAL GUESTS: Scott, Tom, & Zack (Singularity Bros podcast). In this episode, we're joined by the hosts of the Singularity Bros podcast, to chat about the Singularity, transhumanism, life extension, AI, VR, and more future-y goodness than you can shake a hydrated pizza at. Join us and learn more about the wonders of the Singularity... Bros. Recorded 12/15/2015.
Mike & Matt's Recommended Reading:
The Singularity Bros site
The Bros on Twitter
Episode 017 - Robot Overlordz, the episode of Singularity Bros where we appeared
More coming soon...
Alpha: Welcome to another episode of Robot Overlordz, episode #231. 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 Scott, Tom, and Zack from the Singularity Bros podcast. Guys, thanks for coming on the show.
Scott: Thanks for having us.
Zack: Yeah, we’re excited to be here.
MJ: Fantastic. So to start out, I guess could you guys, maybe one at a time, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Scott: I’ll take this one.
Scott: I’m Scott. I feel like I should go because I’m the common person here. I’m how Zack and Tom know each other.
Tom: You are the common person.
Zack: Yeah, you’re like a commoner.
Scott: Correct. I went to college with Tom, and we did not invent AI, we mostly just drank and were jerks. After college, I moved to my ancestral home of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and I became friends with Zack. We had many friends in common, but we weren’t friends ourselves, and probably were enemies, somehow.
Zack: Yeah, I think that’s accurate. [laughs]
Scott: Then we ended up being friends and living together and working together for many years. We were kind of like our own echo chamber of our own ideas, most of them which we got from the internet and TED talks and our local public library, but not a thing like we would really take out into “the commons” for fear of being mocked or burnt at the stake.
Scott: So we were like, “Yeah, this AI stuff is really interesting!” and then we would have, like, hours of conversation about it, like AI everything, you know? Like Singularity Bro stuff. And we would be like, “This is really interesting. We should do this somehow; we should publish these ideas somehow.”
Zack: I remember often saying, “We should’ve recorded that,” which is probably hugely narcissistic and we’ll realize later that we shouldn’t have recorded any of this, but we thought the topics were interesting enough that we kept sort of circling them for years.
Scott: Yeah, and I think then finally when I reconnected with Tom after a few years of us both being out of college…
Tom: It was a decade.
Scott: Just don’t make it sound so bad…
Scott: But he had come to many of the same conclusions and interests and all these things, and it wasn’t just in our shared living room, so I was like, “Oh, maybe we’re not as crazy as I thought we were, because another person who I think is smart and has common sense is also seeing the writing on the wall.” And then three of us started talking about this and it became, you know, we thought, publish-worthy.
MJ: For someone who’s maybe just hearing about it, what is the Singularity Bros podcast? What are some of the kinds of things you guys talk about?
Tom: We cover basically whatever is current in technology, science; we’ll get into different developments in ethics and morality research, basically everything that circles around the idea of the singularity, which if folks aren’t familiar with it, and I kind of highly doubt that’s the case with your show, but it has many definitions…
Scott: But all of them true.
Tom: One of them that we like is that there’s going to be a time where our technological advancement sort of outpaces our ability to keep up with it. And there are better ways of describing it, but we like to just sort of talk about technologies on the horizon, things that are happening in current events… As we get closer to the singularity, give folks a better picture of what it looks like.
Scott: We emphasize the “bros” part because we are not scientists, we are not technical people. We’re doing our best to understand this as regular 1.0 humans.
MB: And you’re not even brothers either, so.
Scott: We’re not.
Tom: Well there it goes. We just sunk that battleship, didn’t we?
MB: [laughs] Sorry.
Scott: We mostly took our inspiration from—I don’t know if you know these guys—the Mechanized Tyrants. They’re my favorite.
Zack: Who?? Oh, I see. [laughs]
MJ: Nice. So, you guys mentioned AI. What are some of the areas of AI technology or things about AI specifically that you guys might dig into, or that really seem of interest?
Zack: This is Zack now, and I think one of the things that strikes me about AI that’s so interesting isn’t even necessarily what AI, Artificial Intelligence, itself can accomplish, but more kind of the questions it raises about what it means to be human, our own human identities, how we see ourselves in the universe, especially if there emerges a new consciousness or new—we call it artificial intelligence, but artificial just, I think, indicates that it’s not human. But if there’s another intelligence on the planet that’s as capable or more capable of rational thought, abstract thought than we are, what does that mean for us as people? How does our culture change? How do our ideas about ourselves change? What ideas become antiquated the second something like that comes online? Those are the questions that I’ve typically found most interesting, not just the technical aspects of what artificial intelligence is.
Scott: Yeah, a lot of these technologies are making kind of age-old philosophical conundrums actually relevant. I mean, not to say they weren’t relevant before—I have a philosophy background and I like that stuff—but now they’re pertinent, we have to figure things out. It’s not just, like, debating endlessly about the trolley problem. If we have to start writing ethics into AI programs for instance, we have to decide how we want it to solve the trolley problem, for instance.
MJ: Yeah, I think we would agree with you, definitely. So, what has the reaction to the podcast been like?
Zack: So far, so good. People have been very supportive and I think—I hope we don’t come across as claiming any sort of like final knowledge on any subject. We’re kind of just playing with the ideas, and people seem open to it, we’ve had people from all over the world contact us through various means just to either give us their two cents or turn us on to some interesting things that we might not have known about, and we really appreciate it so far. You guys, in particular, have been incredibly both supportive, and just as other people in the space, role models for us, so we’ve appreciated that.
Scott: Yeah, we’re fans.
MJ: Cool. Yeah, I know I personally—and I probably speak for Matt too—we’ve found Twitter fairly supportive as a community, and just the people that are out there, their willingness to connect, and really everybody that’s kind of interested in this whole futurist and singularity and transhuman kind of topics, there’s a pretty neat energy online about it.
Scott: Yeah, it’s a really great time to try to join this conversation—and a lot of it is tech-driven. I mean, I think if we were really industrious, we could’ve had a podcast years ago, but it is a lot easier now.
Zack: Yeah, I mean how would you have even really explained to someone what a podcast was ten years ago? I think they existed, but if you, basically the year the Singularity (EDITOR'S NOTE: Zack is talking about The Singularity Is Near, by Ray Kurzweil) came out, decided to have a singularity podcast, no one would’ve had any idea what you were talking about for 20 years. I mean, they still don’t know what you’re talking about now, so.
MB: [laughs] I still have trouble, like especially with—my parents ask me about it, they didn’t even know what a podcast was, I had to explain it to them and show them how to use it, and, you know, the whole nine yards. So I think there’s some kind of generational thing in there. And the first time I heard about a podcast—this was, I don’t know how many, more than ten years ago probably, and I thought, “Who the hell is going to listen to somebody yammer on on the internet? I don’t need any of that.”
Zack: Out of curiosity, how do you describe a podcast to your parents?
Zack: I’m probably just going to steal it.
MB: [laughs] I basically told them it was kind of like a radio show that you can listen to whenever you want. That was the only way I could really get it across to them and something that they would understand.
MJ: I’ve used that description, too. I actually lucked out in that my brother had been doing a podcast for, I want to say it’s like six years now, on video games, so I’d kind of lucked into, my parents already knew what a podcast was. But for some of my other relatives, the radio show description seems to go a long way for the older folks.
Scott: I like how we’re talking about this like we have to come out as podcasters to our family.
Zack: [laughs] Sit them down at Christmas. “Look, mom, dad…”
Scott: “There’s something you gotta know…”
Zack: You bring out your laptop, you’re like, “This is my special friend…”
Scott: [laughs] But the radio comparison also, when we were putting this together and I was, like, trying to stoke my own confidence in doing this, I’d listen to just radio, like AM radio or FM radio—no, not FM radio, but like talk radio—and I was like, “You know, if people listen to this shit…”
Zack: Yeah, like we’re often embarrassed by what we do, but I don’t think anymore than anybody else is. There’s space out there to just be a real person in the world, like warts and all.
Zack: We’re pretty self-conscious, but…
MB: Well I think podcasts are nice in the fact that you can have a specific subject that you always talk about, like obviously future stuff, or Mike’s brother does video games, but they’re small enough topics that you could never get them on the radio because there’s just not enough people who would listen that way. But you’re opening it up to the entire planet, whereas AM radio is just whatever the city you’re in.
Tom: I think it’s a timely space for us to get into this too because we’re starting to see sort of the fruits of the law of accelerating returns, which is something that we talk about in almost every episode, kind of take place. We’re going to have autonomous vehicles, and when we have autonomous vehicles on the road, that’s going to be way more popular soon, all of these technological advances are going to start coming at us really hot and heavy. So to be able to talk about this stuff semi-intelligently once a week, I think…I mean, it’s great now, but forecasting it out as some of these really interesting technologies come out—virtual reality, augmented reality, all that good stuff—is just going to get more and more interesting.
MB: Yeah, Mike and I, we’ve been doing like basically an email interview with a guy that we had on as a guest and he proposed a question like that with the future, and I started thinking about how back let’s say in the ‘20s or ‘30s, these people would make these predictions, “Someday we’re going to be living on the moon, everybody’s going to have a flying car” or whatever, but I don’t think they ever thought, “Well, it’ll happen in my lifetime. It’ll just happen someday.” But I think with futurists now, you can kind of look at it and go, for a lot of the things that we’re predicting, we’re predicting things that we’re probably going to see.
Scott: Yeah, and the future is a lot closer, so you don’t have to predict 100 years in advance, now it’s like 10 years and you’ll be a little closer to the mark. But I also think it’s fun, it’ll be very fun if we ever get to look back and see predictions that we made that are just god awful. I read Gibson’s “Neuromancer” recently, and that guy predicts AI and the matrix and all this awesome stuff, but there’s also, in the world, still payphones.
MJ: And no cell phones.
Scott: No cell phones, yeah.
Zack: I’ve been reading, once again, a lot of Larry Niven, the sci-fi writer I’ve loved forever. He’ll talk about the far future and people are still printing up things on paper. They have like these really rudimentary computers and they have to, like, print stuff out. It’s just amazing how we miss that.
MB: Yeah, we did a whole episode on “Back to the Future Part II” and went through basically everything that they had…and they didn’t predict a single thing right. And that wasn’t that long ago, that movie wasn’t made that long ago.
Scott: I did eat a microwave pizza once.
MJ: But was it hydrated?
Scott: No, and it didn’t expand. It was awful, too.
MB: I do have fax machines all over my house. That was one of the…
MJ: Especially in the bathroom, right?
MB: Exactly. My boss told me I was fired, he sent me a fax.
Scott: The video phone was kind of right, right?
MJ: Sort of. They’ve been predicting that though since, what, like the ‘50s or ‘60s, even. If you think about it, we haven’t even really connected the entire human race yet to the internet. There’s still literally, seems like billions of people that haven’t yet come online, and we’re really only 20 years into that as a technology that affects most people.
Tom: Yeah, and there’s this whole concept of “bottom billion,” and how things are going to change even more radically once they do get online. That process is going to get faster and faster. I don’t want to put a timeline on it, but you can imagine that within the next ten years there’s probably going to be another billion or more people online in the developing world, and what that’s going to do for economies and culture and social growth is going to be pretty amazing.
MB: Yeah, definitely. We had talked at one point there was—it was actually a TED talk, I think—but there were tribes in Africa that were sharing information with other tribes to teach each other how to grow certain crops in basically the crappy climate that they were in, and what crops grew and how to grow ‘em and stuff. And so you can kind of see that, as we basically share the knowledge of every living person on the planet; this is the first time in human history we’ve had access to basically all the knowledge at our fingertips.
MJ: But also all of the stupidity. [laughs]
MB: Well, yeah.
Zack: That’s true, yeah. I mean there’s also never been more distractions than we have right now. You could just get lost in an endless sea of entertainment mindlessness forever in a way that you couldn’t in the past, but you can also be more productive than ever before, too. I just wonder if there will ever be—I don’t think anything’s either purely good or purely bad, they’re just incredibly potent technologies, whatever they are. They’re just powerful. That’s, I think, kind of what got us into this, is just trying to see the various angles on—these technologies might not be good, they might not be bad, they’re just here and very different than what we thought we were going to see 20 years ago.
Scott: Comparing our 2015 to the 2015 of “Back to the Future”—was it supposed to be 2015, actually, in that movie?
MB: It was, yeah.
Scott: Okay, yeah. It’s as different—it’s probably more different—but it’s just not at all the things we predicted. It’s funny—I mean, again, talking about predictions and how we’re likely to get them wrong—I feel like a lot of things that are, like, common fodder for sci-fi, we might just skip right past them if we go hard into whole brain emulation or something. I mean, like, nobody really wanted hoverboards and those self-lacing shoes it turned out, but then our other technologies were just so advanced that they made them nearly as a joke.
Zack: Oh, the self-lacing shoes, yeah. [laughs]
Scott: Because they made the self-lacing shoes this year, right? It was, like, in honor of…
Scott: Yeah, so it was like, “The future didn’t need this, but we’ll just do it anyway because we can,” and I wonder how many other things will just be boutique stuff like that, where’s it like, okay, we didn’t actually need cyborg arms, but people just get it because they can.
MB: Yeah, you kind of wonder, like had it not been for “Star Trek,” would we have had flip phones at one point?
Zack: Star Trek’s interesting because that’s something I thought about with the Holodeck. So many people have tried to figure out, “Will we have a Holodeck?” I watched Michio Kaku have this incredibly convoluted system where you’re suspended in mid-air and you’re walking on these kind of pillars that move under your feet. But if you just have either a full-immersion VR that just tricks your senses into thinking you’ve done that, then there’s no reason to build this ridiculous structure that has smell phones that come out of the ceiling that blast scents into your face. So, I think a lot of those technologies that we thought we once wanted just don’t actually meet the requirements that we think we want or we find ways to meet them in a much smoother way without having to develop hard holograms. What are they called? Hard light holograms, from Star Trek? Yeah, so those are fun.
MJ: Or even in a more direct way, you mentioned the Holodeck and how it might compare to VR. If you plug into like the matrix and you’re just getting those signals shot straight into your brain, you bypass all of that, you don’t have as much equipment laying around. I don’t know if you guys have tried any of the VR systems yet.
Scott: Only cardboard.
MJ: I notice on the Oculus, and Matt, maybe you noticed this too, that sort of screen door effect when you’re looking at it.
MB: Yeah, I have not tried the cardboard version yet, but obviously I got to try Mike’s actual Oculus, and to me I think VR is going to change everything going forward.
Zack: Yeah, well I think we agree with you on that, for sure.
MB: But I also always, every time I think VR, everybody sitting in VR, I think of that picture, what is it, Cartman from “South Park,” where he’s just sitting in the corner, like with the thing on, just drooling and not moving.
Zack: That’s a real possibility though, right? I mean if you have VR that’s more interesting than real life, or so people think it is…
MJ: That seems to be one of the “solutions” they’ve kind of come up with to the Fermi Paradox. You know, that aliens get to be so advanced to the point where they just kind of disappear into their navels and stay in virtual worlds, and they basically just live in the matrix.
Tom: Well if any of you guys have played “World of Warcraft,” you know how possible that is.
Scott: Back on the note of how hard it is to predict things, if AR and VR change our marketplace so much that everyone’s spending most of their time in virtual worlds and not the physical world, then a lot of other market needs will be created. So, like, health and fitness products will be marketed toward a person spending like 20 hours a day in a chair. At some point someone will be like, “Well, why do we even need the bodies at all?” We’ll just, like, start offering services where they put your brain in a vat, like the old philosophical standby there, the “brain in a vat” scenario. So there’s all these ways that it could go that kind of aren’t—like while we’re on one other entirely different and exciting front, tinkering with biotech and potentially curing diseases forever and engineering humans that’ll live indefinitely, then on another front we’re like [removing] the need for a human body at all.
Zack: And I think that’s where things get super interesting, because if we are able to do that at some point, that brings up these huge questions about identity and who we are as people. If we are able to copy our consciousness, which one is you? Those questions stop being merely philosophical oddities and start being, like, how you actually have to plan your life in the future.
Scott: Have to, like, raise kids like that, you know?
Zack: Yeah, with the understanding that, “Hey, you have an identity that’s not…there’s no real self.” Like you have to figure out ways to behave in the world that don’t get to pretend that those are questions you’ll never have to face anymore.
MJ: I think that poses an interesting question. I mean given the chance to, say, extend your life out to 200, 300, maybe 400, 4,000 years, would you guys take it?
Zack: I think yeah, for sure. As long as it’s not I spend 400 years as a 95-year-old, you know?
Scott: Yeah, with that stipulation too, I also take it.
Zack: As long as you don’t just keep getting older in the same ways we have historically…
Scott: Oh my god, that’d be terrible.
Zack: …Where you’re now just an alive 400-year-old, then yes.
Scott: What about you guys?
MJ: I totally would. When we were talking to Zoltan, the transhumanist candidate for president, I think I used this line, but for me, I don’t want to speak for Matt or anything, but having made some detours in my life that I’ve learned from and would not make again, that would give me space, that if you’re looking at the sort of the “standard human lifespan,” it’s kind of depressing to have made those. But if you extend that out, suddenly it just becomes “Oh, those were learning experiences.” So, I’m actually really kind of geeked about that. I personally really hope it happens, and I’m probably betting on it fairly strongly.
Zack: That made me think of an interesting question, because I also have gone through some detours. One of the fears I think a lot of people have is just about the job market in general. If you wanted to enter into the job market for the first time at 40, you might have a tougher time getting hired than someone at 20-years-old. But if people are living to be 400 and say they want to change their occupation, it might be harder to get hired by some company that just wants to, like, basically grind up 20-year-olds in their call center mill than we have now. So that would, just by having life extension and keeping people at an age where they can still be productive, changes how we have to go about hiring in huge ways.
Scott: So we have to keep our jobs for 300 years now?
Zack: Or we have to rethink the entire nature of work.
Tom: I think artificial intelligence will make us do that too, let alone all the automation that we’re going to undertake here in the next 20 years and beyond.
MB: Yeah, I think that it brings up all kinds of… Number one, can the planet support it? We’ve already doubled the population in, what—is it the last 30 years or something the population of the world has doubled? Something crazy like that. So if you have people living to 400-years-old or whatever, and everybody is living to be 400-years-old, you’re going to have a lot of people on the planet. We’re already waiting for the older generations to hurry up and retire so we can, you know, get some of their jobs. There are a lot of issues, I would think, with people living to 400 or 1,000 or whatever-years-old.
MJ: If you confine us all to this planet. I mean if we start spreading out, I think that’s certainly one answer. Also people not having kids so much.
MB: I always go back to the beginning of the movie “Idiocracy,” but it seems like the people who shouldn’t be having kids always are, and the people who should be having kids usually don’t, or have one, so.
Scott: Well going back to the idea of the bottom billion and those people coming online… I also feared “Idiocracy” for a while, but one thing that seems to be a trend is that as you make people’s lives better, you increase prosperity, they have fewer children. It’s a good thing, because we also want to make people’s lives better, at least maybe we should. If it also leads to a cap on this population growth, or maybe even a slight reversal of it, then it’s a win/win.
Zack: If your prophylactic is a free college education, you’re killing a lot of birds with one stone there.
MJ: Yeah. Well, and it’ll give us all plenty of subjects to talk about on podcasts.
Zack: [laughs] For sure. Something interesting too about living to be 400 is our morals and ethics change kind of as the older generations die off. Like can you imagine if we look at it retroactively, where people who were alive 400 years ago were still alive in large numbers and still having a say in how we treat each other humanely? Just imagine what those people 400 years ago thought of people of different races, thought about gender issues… So that gets sticky, too. Do we want to basically ship these people off to the moon at a certain point just so society can progress? Those are interesting questions. I mean maybe as you approach 400 and you’re in the body of a 30-year-old and you don’t have the same fears that start to set in as you reach, you know, old age, it’ll be more flexible. I don’t know, but those are questions we’ll have to face as well.
MJ: Yeah, I think that presents some interesting possibilities for neuroscience research on things like brain plasticity on how people learn, how people are able to be flexible in their opinions, the kind of experiences people might have that suddenly change their opinions or that make them more open to changing. But certainly I think you’re right, just knowing sort of the attitude conflicts I have with my parents… I mean Matt and I kind of talk about our parents quite a bit, and I know for myself anyway, my parents live in a very 20th century way. I mean I bought them a TiVo and they still are doing appointment TV and they still watch the commercials!
Zack: [laughs] Oh man, that’s heartbreaking.
Tom: I think that’s a good point about neuroplasticity and neuroscience generally though, Mike, because it kind of takes home the point that all of these different technologies and sciences are going to converge in this whole idea of the singularity. We’re not saying that we’re going to actually hit some kind of technological black hole where the world becomes completely unrecognizable, but there is going to be a massive convergence of all of the progress in all of these different spaces of scientific growth, and the world is going to change pretty radically. So, being a part of these podcasts and having these conversations and preparing the people that do listen to them, or just getting those questions asked, I think is a really neat thing to be able to do.
MJ: Yeah, I would agree. Where can people find you guys if they’re looking to find you and your show?
MJ: Okay, Scott, Tom, Zack, thanks for joining us.
Zack: Thanks for having us.
Tom: Yeah, thanks a lot guys.
Scott: Thank you.
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.