Transcript for Steven Kotler – Last Tango in Cyberspace (part 1)

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welcome to yet another episode of the

human experience live show we’ve got an

incredible plant show planned for you

guys today so sit back grab a drink and

enjoy this conversation my guest for

today is mr. Steven Kotler Steven is an

award-winning journalist and

best-selling author who studies the

potential of humans technology and

culture as we advance into the future an

expert in flow States steven is

co-founder and director of research at

the flow Genome Project he is the author

of a number of best-selling books such

as the Pulitzer prize-nominated

stealing fire Stevens work has been

translated into over 40 languages and

appeared and he has appeared in over a

hundred publications Steven it’s a

pleasure to have you join us once again

welcome back to hxp

thank you for having me man pretty high

it’s it’s been a couple years and it

seems like all you do you just churn out

books that’s what you do that’s that’s

your job yeah you know I’m writing to

save my life so why stop yeah I mean

it’s it’s really amazing the different

topics that you cover so I mean let’s

let’s let’s talk about it how do you you

know how do you come up with what you’re

gonna write about it’s an interesting

question because what I’m wrecking

aright about often um it finds me years

in advance

I tend to see my books five to ten years

out and then slowly gathering bits of

information until I think I’ve got

something coherent and sometimes for

example stealing fire started out

originally as a book about economic

believe it or not of all things uh and

so like they they don’t start out they

don’t often end up with where they start

out but I don’t know I’ve always been

curious but I haven’t really encountered

much that I’m not curious about so as

long as I you know as long as there’s

still things for me to learn there’s

still things for me to write about yeah

for sure I mean the last time we talked

to you we were covering the rise of

Superman which was an amazing

explanation into the flow states and

consciousness and how we can capture

that for on on the everyday sort of

consumer level version of that and and

and now you know you’re you’re diving

into this whole other realm of

cyberspace the cyber Punk phenomena and

you know it seems like you sort of based

your inspiration for this book was

William Gibson right he how did that

become an inspiration for you you know

there’s a lot I came from a lot of

different places but Gibson was really

powerful to me specifically I remember

so clearly I just gotten out of college

I was living in Aspen Colorado I was ski

bumming and bartending basically and

working on my first novel and I read

Neuromancer and I and I remember reading

that book and thinking holy crap this

guy is talking about really big ideas

really hard and this is 1986-87 he’s

talking about questions about AI is

waking up and things like you know

cyberspace years before the internet and

it was um it was just so visionary but I

remember how much fun it was and how

much of a page-turner it was and it that

really stayed with me I always sort of

felt as a writer that if you’re gonna be

there’s so much shit to pay attention to

in the world today if you’re gonna give

me your attention right you’re gonna

give me six or seven or eight hours of

your life you’re gonna let me live in

your head for that long while you read

one of my books it is my job not just to

kind of blow your mind I’m gonna try to

maybe you know teach you something but

it’s also my job to really engage you

and entertain you and move you through a

story and I was really drawn to big

philosophical hard

ideas as you know but I wanted to find a

way to make them entertaining and not

lose their intellectual quality and this

was but you have to understand that like

as a writer I came out as when I was a

hugely inspired by guys like Thomas

Pynchon and David Foster Wallace and I

got to study under the great John Barth

and these you know brilliant brilliant

brilliant writers but they really pushed

the edge of communication right they

they were willing to sacrifice

communication for art and they were

willing to say okay not everybody has to

get it but the people who are gonna get

it it’s really gonna be deep and I

thought that was great

but I was always sort of a little bit

interested in can you make this a little

more accessible can you not sacrifice

the art hmm but can you make and and can

you not sacrifice the the intelligence

and the level of conversation you know

in the book via fiction or nonfiction

but still make it wildly entertaining

and that sort of always been my in my

goal in my books um yeah so that mean

that’s and that’s really I mean it’s

something I learned from Gibson is that

you could do both at the same time yeah

just really quick Steven I’m getting

word that there’s there’s a little bit

of air hitting your microphone so if you

could just maybe you just back up a

little bit on the mic that might help

oh yeah Oh how’s that better it’s much

about her thank you so okay so you know

what how many books have you written so

far I think it’s been like 10 this is

your tenth book right okay I saw I think

11 cuz I have a book that’s done that’s

coming out in the fall mmm and then I

actually as a matter of fact Peter

Diamandis and myself have a new book I

quoted a sequel to bold and Oh true the

third in the trilogy um between a Fulton

abundance coming out in February and I

literally finished that today at like

4:00 a.m. oh yeah yeah so it’s it’s 12

that are I think done but I think it’s

ten that are out I think you know so

I’ve listened to a bunch of interviews

and I remember our last interview but I

was as I was researching for this show

and I want to make this show a little

bit different so I want to get into your

writing process

like I because I really want to know you

know what harness is that creativity for

you like how do you how do you decide to

sit down and what goes through your mind

is there a ritual that you practice yeah

you know I I’ve talked about this a

little bit um I always sort of do the

same thing I try to get from my bed to

my desk in under five minutes

mm-hmm and I always start and I could

talk about why but let me give you the

rituals I write and start writing at

4:00 a.m. all every day and I write from

4:00 a.m. till 8 a.m.

basically today I was excited to finish

the book so I got up a little earlier it

just happened but uh I read from 4m data

and I try to like bed to desk as fast as

possible I write an absolute darkness

there’s no lights in my office

um it’s it’s pitch black in here

everything’s turned off so absolutely

you know silence and quiet well

sometimes I listen to music usually the

same song over and over and over and

over again for whatever reason but if it

if the song sort of matches the the vibe

or the emotion of what I’m trying to

write I’ll just put it on repeat and

listen to it a thousand times for four

hours mm-hmm that weapon and but that’s

I mean that that’s that’s my writing

ritual and I always edit what I wrote

the previous day as a way into what I’m

writing today both because I think one

of the advantages I I’m really I’m

basically a you know I’m always my

advant one of my advantages has always

been hard work and I realized very early

on in my career that writers don’t like

to edit a whole lot and the write a lot

of the writers a lot of the journalists

I knew were only kind of proofreading

their their articles or their books one

or two or three times so I was like well

hell if I’m gonna compete with them I’m

gonna proofread it five ten twenty times

I’m just gonna keep going until I think

it’s perfect every time and I thought

that was an advantage so um it also

works because proofreading has a lot of

pattern recognition in it and when we

link ideas together when you go oh this

word isn’t quite right but this Wordle

will really fit in the sentence and

those rhythms

well that stuff starts to release

dopamine dopamine shows up whenever the

brain connects ideas together right and

dopamine a focusing drug and if you get

enough of it into your system you can

start to drive yourself into flow so I

always like to edit first before I sort

of face the blank page of what I got to

add on because it’s push pushing me much

closer to flow before I actually get to

the oh my god what am I gonna write


and then I’m very I would write in a

layered process okay um first time

through and I’ve learned this over the

years for I used to always start with

style what home what rhythm how do I

want the language to work and I

discovered that was a disaster for me

because it would lock me into a style

before I actually knew what the hell I

was talking about it sometimes the style

didn’t fit the substance then you had

all kinds of problems

so these days I the first thing that

goes in is like the who what where what

and why and how and almost as fast as I

can get it out

trying not to linger over the sentences

and trying not to edit as much my

tendency is to always edit everything

and be a perfectionist and perfect a

sentence before I go out on the next one

and I try to move past that and not do

that and the second layer is the

information layer it’s where I really

put in you know if I’m writing fiction

it’s where the ideas or the dialogue

will start to get into the end of the

plot if I’m writing you know nonfiction

it’s it’s usually you know my big myth

the big ideas that are gonna go into a

section and then the last thing that

happens is the style goes on at the end

and I write I write that way I find I

can write two or three times as fast

mm-hmm it’s really amazing because you

know you you seem to switch in to differ

you talked about almost everything that

I can think of that I’m interested in I

mean you’ve talked about flow you’ve

talked about psychedelics talked about

you know stealing fire and so there’s

there’s there’s so much that you is is

interesting to you and so I found in

this book you’ve shifted from you know

nonfiction to this fiction aspect and it

and it seems like it was was it a little

freeing for you did you feel more free

writing in this style

life might I’m trained as a novelist so

and my first book is a novel and

actually my second book is a novel

though it’s a hidden in a drawer and I

don’t think anybody was ever gonna see

it but uh um so III have a fiction

background so it wasn’t it was a return

to that and it was very very very

freeing found especially because I had

come out of it you know I wrote you we

talked when I wrote Rises Superman after

that I wrote bold which was a

collaborative book I wrote Peter

Diamandis and then I wrote Tomorrowland

or right after Rhys I wrote Tomorrowland

and then I wrote bold which was

collaborative Peter and after bold I

wrote stealing fire with Damien that was

another collaboration and I really you

know I was sort of tired to the

collaborations I really wanted to do my

own thing for a little while and this

was incredibly freeing was the most fun

I’ve ever had writing a book I’ve never

laughed so hard myself and I work with I

have a I have an editor I work with

though uh I this last thing I’ll also

had a fantastic I don’t give him short

shift a fantastic editor in st. Martin’s

that I got to work with as well people

over him but I work with a guy Michael

Wharton who’s edited all my stuff for

about 25 years he’s my closest friend

and we both talked about like writing

Last Tango as the most fun we couldn’t

stop laughing it was so much fun

hmm yeah I mean I I loved the process

what do you do Steven when you hit the

wall I mean you’ve got to have those

days where you just you’re not feeling

it right rarely and the reason is so I

don’t know if this is so all this stuff

that we’re talking about I do a class

through the by the way I left the flow

Genome Project six months ago I’m the

executive director of the flow Research

collective I basically took all the

science work that we were doing and I

spun it out into a separate organization

research collective no worries no

worries whatsoever but I saw it went

through them I do something called flow

for writers and I do it twice here I

think the next one is in LA in July July


about 13 to 14 and it’s essentially a

two day bootcamp on all this stuff we’re

really sort of go into it but this is

one of the things I teaches how not to

ever get writer’s block essentially and

so usually usually usually writer’s

block has three main causes there are

other reasons and there can be other

stuff and their fear is a real issue for

writers fear can happily cause writer’s

block and there’s a lot of

neurobiological reasons for that and I

can break it down if you care but

writing is an ongoing negotiation with

fear so you have to have really solid

practices in place to kind of lower fear

and keep it down because it really four

blocks the brain from thinking

creatively so that is first and foremost

but most of the time writer’s block

is one of three things for me and I

actually have watchwords so for me

writers luck usually is you don’t know

your starts and your endings you don’t

know where your chapter starts or your

chapter is going you don’t know where

your section starts your section is

ending and if you don’t know where your

starts and your endings are you’re

really screwed Gabriel Garcia Marquez

used to say I spend years of my first

paragraph in my last paragraph and

months on everything in between and he

was totally right about that one as far

as I can tell so that first and foremost

and the second thing is usually if

you’re confused you don’t know your

starts your ending so you haven’t

actually done enough research so you

don’t know how to connect everything


alright that’s those are the two most

most critical causes of writer’s block

the third causes you haven’t found the

style you want to write in yet that

tends to be the third so I literally and

for me I have learned over the years

that my writing has tells and most

people’s writing has tell so for example

if my writing is confusing if I’m

working with my editor or reading my

stuff and it’s too I’m lost he’s lost

whatever we’re confused because I don’t

know my start to my endings it’s always

the cause if my writing is arrogant I’m

using a lot of fancy language and a lot

of really kind of fancy sentences I’m

usually and often subconsciously trying

to cover up for the fact that I haven’t

done enough research

what the hell I’m talking about young

and if my writing is arrogant cocky in a


um that’s usually that’s usually that

will that sometimes to be I haven’t done

enough research and sometimes it’s just

I haven’t found the right style and I

tend to look for those things but um the

thing you have to know about the brain

is the brain does a couple things really


it does pattern recognition or a really

basic level right we have giant pattern

recognition machines for brains and our

brain also does narrative storytelling

really well think about your own life

your brain tells the story sequentially

really easily right so I always tell

people if you know your starts you know

your endings and you’ve done enough

research your brain will automatically

do the hard work in between for you

because it does that it will build a

story out of it well but do pattern

right action recognition will find the

connections so you can count on that you

can count on the your natural biology to

do its job you just have to know how to

feed the system hmm yeah it makes a lot

of sense I mean it neural it it does

break down into a neurological system

that’s what’s going on and you know but

I find it interesting that you have

those rare moments I mean I mean I’m

talking to the person who is an expert

at flow so it shouldn’t surprise me as

much but you know I find it interesting

that you don’t have that that that

feeling of just you just don’t feel like

writing today just don’t feel like but

like so first of all I would say this

and it’s it’s peak performance

if you really have been inside true peak

performance seen it up close live

through it yourself acceptor acceptor

most of the time really when you’re

seeing a conceptual human being is what

you’re seeing is people who can get up

and do the checklist I wake up in the

morning there’s 10 things on my

checklist I’m gonna kick ass at all of

them I’m gonna get some exercise I’m

gonna get some food I’m gonna have a

little bit of social time because that’s

good for my head I gotta have some kind

of active or pre protocol I’m gonna go

to bed I gotta get up and I got to do it


and that’s usually what peak performance

looks like the difference is it’s

done over and over and over for years on

end without you know without cessation

and it’s not you know and it you to do

it you have to not care how it feels I

always keep tell people if you come to

one of our flow trainings or really any

any of my people any of the people

performance work that we do and I you

know whether we’re working with

individuals or organizations I was

telling people this work is not about

happy or sad it turns out that flow you

know is you know deeply underpins

well-being in life satisfaction but it

doesn’t really underpin happiness

moment-by-moment how do I feel right now

how do I feel right now if it doesn’t

sort of work that way and I’m less

interested and happier says it’s not to

say that I don’t feel my emotions deeply

and they don’t rock my world like

everything else but it doesn’t stop me

from doing my job ever

um and usually I can take that energy

and turn it into language and that’s I

mean you know that’s what makes me an

artist right that was what makes me a

creative is I could take whatever the

world is giving me and I can turn it

into art I can turn into creativity I

can turn into language and I just keep

going I love that I love that so let’s

get into it Steven let’s get into you

know virtual reality augmented reality

let’s talk about Last Tango in

cyberspace cuz I mean you explore so

many different things in this book

you’re talking about the nature of

consciousness neuroscience psychology

psycho farm pharmacology you’re talking

about chocolate I mean there’s enough

drug use in the book so what’s good

what’s going I mean like what what were

you aiming to do in in the in the sense

of writing it what were you trying to

indicate to the people who read it so I

think there were two big things I was I

was really getting at right and the

first is you know I’ve written over the

past decade for books on technology and

disruptive technology and accelerating

technology and what’s coming

abundance bold tomorrow that in some

extent stealing fire and the thing with

all those books

is because the story’s got to make sense

their nonfiction I’m talking about one

technology at a time one innovation at a

time but that is really not the future

right the future is everything at once

all these innovations at the same time

and people would always come up to me

and say Steven you know what do you

think the people what’s the world’s

gonna look like in five years in ten

years these kinds of questions and I was

never dumb enough to try to answer them

because I don’t actually think you can

answer them out loud coherent lis in

that way but what I could do is I could

take all the stuff I was looking at and

I could put it together and build a

world so I took our world I took every

technology everything in the book with I

think two exceptions is either real in

the world today just not widely

distributed or it’s in a lab somewhere

nothing is really made up and all this

stuff is gonna be here over the next

five years so the timetable as far as I

could tell it’s pretty damn accurate in

fact three or four of the technologies

when I started writing the book we’re

fiction and by the time the book was

published they were writing in the real

world which I thought was pretty pretty

interesting but so I wanted to create a

world I wanted I wanted people to be

able to see you have no idea the rate of

technological change that’s coming most

people don’t actually can’t think

exponentially they don’t understand how

technology is growing and what it means

so I wanted to I want to create a way so

people could go live in that world and I

also and as you’ll notice right like

there’s consciousness altering

technology which could be my work from

stealing fire and rise a Superman right

next to a lot of a lot of you know

regular technology and you pointed out

the drug use and it’s it’s not really so

much drug uses it as marijuana and the

reason was marijuana is another at this

point it’s an exponential technology

that is spreading wildly and kind of

weaving its way into culture at a much

deeper level than it is it is today and

I mean it’s already pretty few you know

expensive time in California and Nevada

you know with Washington and Oregon and

these states and it’s already really

deep into the culture and that’s you’re

gonna get more of that as well so I want

to put all this

stuff together in a world and tell a

really fun story right tell it tell it

tell a story that would really grip

people but give people a chance to get a

sense for sort of where we’re going and

you know Ray Kurzweil head of

engineering at Google who kind of mapped

all the exponential technologies and and

has been really deadly accurate with so

many of his predictions and has pointed

out that current kind of rates of

exponential growth we will experience

20,000 years of technological change

over the next century hmm this means

we’re going birth of agriculture to the

Industrial Revolution twice over the

next 81 years that’s insane that means

over the next hundred years we’re gonna

go through like a hundred years worth of

change just think about everything that

happened technologically in the 20th

century and we’re gonna be there by 2030

that’s the rate of change we’re actually

talking about in the world so people all

have read a lot of people who read the

book and said oh my god

like I see it all but it feels like it’s

34 years in the future and I’m like yeah

that’s exactly the point that’s what’s

happening brings moving that quickly so

that was one of the big impetus is in

the second big impetus which I think is

the central theme of the book which is

the absolute unbelievable critical

importance of empathy to the survival of

the species right and I’m not really I’m

not just talking about empathy for all

human beings which is critically

important obviously but I’m really

focused on empathy for all empathy for

plants for animals for ecosystems for

empathy as the kind of a first step and

really confronting the environmental

challenges with we now face so those

were the two things I was really focused

on hmm I mean I was I really connect

with the explosion of Technology I was

looking at this image of these guys for

in in the 1950s they were loading like

this a 5 megabyte hard drive and it’s

it’s this massive crate there’s four

people pushing it into this back the

back of the semi-truck and I mean if you

look at things now I mean what is that

like 60 70 years ago so I mean if you

look at things now things have exploded

I mean we have super computers in our

pockets so it seems very likely that I

mean this could be this is right around

the corner

you know so why I would tell you I’ll

tell you something funny actually

there are couple technologies for

example blockchain Bitcoin blockchain

they’re there in the blockchain is in

the book for a line literally a sentence

and one of the main reasons was um

couldn’t predict it accurately so and

there were a couple technologies like

that where I you know I under played

their role in the world even though I

think the role is gonna be so much

bigger I couldn’t get enough of a bead

on it to weave it into my into my

narrative so as far future as it seems

I left some technologies out okay I mean

so I mean why why empathy though why did

why did you fix on you know AI and

empathy connected why why was that

important but so so so AI we can come to

in a second but um so I care you know my

animals like you know my wife and I we

run a dog sanctuary I’ve cared about the

environment I’ve been it was an

environmental reporter for years this is

not a new passion for me and I’ve tried

to be you know his front lines about it

as I possibly can be for most of my life

and so if you talk to psychologists eco

psychologists these are psychologists

who study how we perceive the natural

world how we interact with the natural

of how he’s interacting the environment

and you you ask them why are we in the

middle of a giant environmental crisis

what the hell is going on hmm

alright why our species die-off rates a

thousand times higher than normal why

are just you know climate change which

we knew about back in the 80s in the

early 90s and suddenly we’ve got reports

from the UN and 500 top climate

scientists saying you know we have 12

years to fix this or we are really

really really sunk why are we at this

point and and they will tell you that


brain takes in billions of bits of

information a second but consciousness

is only a couple thousand bits so the

vast majority of everything gets

filtered out and most of the filters are

the first filter that information hits

when it comes into the brain is the

amygdala it’s a danger detector so most

of the stuff that you get to perceive is

stuff that could be threatening in one

way or another it’s why we always notice

motion and things like that


it’s the goal-directed stuff it’s you

know is there something here I can eat a

source of the gear I could have sex with

is there something here that helped me

fulfill it this right that’s most of

what gets through and what they will

tell you is if you live in boxes all day

and you stare at boxes all day which is

essentially what we do here in the

modern world your brain is going to

filter out everything that is

unimportant and the first thing to go is

the natural world

you’re gonna literally stop perceiving

plants animals and ecosystems and they

will tell you that one of the reasons we

are in the middle of a giant

environmental crisis is because we

literally can’t perceive the very thing

we’re trying to save empathy is our

secret weapon empathy is literally how

we expand perception when we empathize

with another immune being when we

empathize with an ecosystem with the

earth with the plants with animals we

actually the brain starts taking in

different information and more

information and we actually changes

perspective literally it’s how we shift

the brain it’s how we do this at a

really basic neurobiological level so at

the at the flow research collective one

of my drive are driving mottos is this

idea that um most of high performance is

about getting your biology to work for

you and not against you that’s a lot of

really what you’re trying to do in high

performance there I always say there are

no shortcuts but the fastest way from A

to B is to get your biology to work for

you especially in neurobiology so when I

when I go at problems I like to start at

the very root of a problem and the very

root of our environmental problems are

our brains and our

justice and how we perceive the world

and if you could start changing that you

can change the world essentially so

that’s that that’s why I wanted apathy

so hard mmm and I also think as human

beings if we cannot get to empathy for

all human beings no garden or you know

regardless of race creed color you know

take your pick or fricking sunk we live

in a globally interconnected world that

is getting more global and more

interconnected by the second and we are

facing you know biosphere wide

challenges that require the entire world

work together so if we can’t get past

this you know

amateur crap we don’t have a chance

mm-hmm yeah yeah everything you’re

saying and it’s it’s really curious what

you said I you know I’m wondering do you

think the connection the elimination of

nature is the first thing that we

eliminate when we judge this sort of

scale of importance right when we’re in

these boxes do you think that the the

importance of the inner explore inner

exploration that we’re doing versus the

outer exploration is that is that level

somehow changing or shifting yeah that’s

interesting that’s a very good question

and that’s another thing that’s clearly

at the center of the book you know Peter

Diamandis and myself are writing a third

book I write a third in the trilogy bold

abundance and this new one is it will be

out in February is called the futures

faster than you think and it ends the

very book ends with five the five great

most of the book is about what’s gonna

happen industry by industry over the

next decade in technological change but

at the end of the book we say okay we’re

gonna look forward over the next hundred

years for the only time in the book and

I talked about we talked about five

great migrations that are gonna unfold

over the next hundred years that are

gonna absolutely reshape the globe

bigger migrations than we’ve ever seen

before and the last of those is the

migration into consciousness and you

know I think it’s a and we’re seeing a

lot of it right we’re and consciousness

itself is becoming a much wider

territory that it ever has been before

and you know I don’t I’m not

huge fan of psychedelic culture I’m not

even that big of a fan of psychedelics

but I’ll talk about them here because

it’s useful okay and they’re there in

Last Tango in cyberspace as well and one

of the reasons there’s a new psychedelic

and last hang on cyberspace

we started think about how much culture

has been changed by alcohol marijuana

peyote LSD psilocybin and MDMA are those

right those add in ayahuasca those seven

substances right think about how much

culture how many tens thousands and

thousands of years of culture has been

shaped and maybe tobacco caffeine call

me right like there’s a dozen substances

that shaped so much of culture I mean

you know and I’m not even we don’t even

have talked about the psychedelics right

Steven Johnson wrote that fantastic

essay or maybe was Malcolm Gladwell

about how coffee to fuel the

Enlightenment high right because

everybody was drunk all the time because

they were drinking beer it’s something

coffee was introduced they’re like oh my

god I got afraid I can use it fantastic

right so it’s on and on and on

substances have absolutely shaped

culture you know Michael Pollan was

really sort of has been great on this in

terms of sure you know ideas of

coevolution and things along those lines

but it we went with Alexander Shulgin

right who I wrote about in stealing fire

the man and invented 200 different

psychedelics you know right we went from

like 12 psychedelics to almost 300

psychedelics in one lifetime what’s

coming now is so first of all

low-hanging fruit really easy problems

for both quantum computers which are

already here and they’re getting really

robust they’re starting to get robust

and artificial intelligence and we’re

really at the front end of those

revolutions low-hanging fruit is drug

discovery they’re technologies are sort

of built exactly those problems and

we’re getting really good at good good

at some of the AI technology around

discovery um really interesting Simon

Dainius Lee we’ve got Lee Cronin ask

chemist a Scottish chemist at the

University of Edinburgh he’s inventing

the world’s first 3d chemical printer

right I wrote about that in stealing

fire as well so what you have here is

you have oh you have a eyes and quantum

computers by the way with user-friendly

interfaces that people who know nothing

about artificial intelligence quality of

computing or for that matter drug

discovery can get under the hood and

start doing this thing and the 3d chem

printer is literally being built so you

can download prescription drugs yeah at

home right yeah so this is if these are

being made to go wide this means that

everybody is literally like a backyard

chemist pharmacologist and you don’t

think everybody’s gonna become a

backyard psychopharmacologist are you

kidding um so this is our immediate

future and I you know I remember when I

was a journalist I’m back in the 90s

Rolling Stone hired man ever I actually

didn’t end up doing the story because I

got warned off and I got told I would be

killed if I pursued the story so I

didn’t end up doing it back in the 90s

there was a biker gang who will go

unnamed because I don’t want to die um

but they started they were they they

were in the LSD business and they had

invented a version of LSD where you only

hallucinate it and smells so this is a

scene that right there’s a scene in a

book where the protagonist takes a drug

that gives him synesthesia and and

things like that and that idea came out

of this book this version of like smell

as LSD that these bikers were cooking up

back in the 90s and I never got ever

tried it I never got anywhere near it I

was I was warned off the story I was

told to stay away and and I did um

because I’d learned you there’s certain

things you just don’t mess with him

bikers are one of them right that I was

raised around a lot of Hells Angels

um so I really I have a deep fondness

for bikers but when they when they say

no they mean no and so I walked away

from this story but it always stayed

with me I was like oh my god LSD that

just you just hallucinating smells they

help us that even feel like her what’s

that experience what is that but it

really got me thinking

about you know what happens because the

other thing is this this is this also

ties very much in with empathy which is

empathy is your altering perception

you’re taking in different from

information that’s what all these kind

of costs all current technologies are

going to allow us to do so it gets to be

a much more interesting world very very

quickly and now I’m going to return to

the question you started with which is

AI what is empathy you have to do with

AI and and what I always say is when you

talk about empathy for all it’s got to

be both up and down the chain right like

right now we’re talking about you know

we know we need empathy for ecosystems

because the earth is facing climate

change global warming that’s you know

that sort of thing but you know I always

tell people I work with dogs and you

know I started this work in the 90s and

we didn’t even you know sort of believe

that dogs had emotions and it’s now 2019

and what I can tell you for absolute

certain is that not only do we do dogs

have all the same basic emotions as

humans we know they all have the same

higher social emotions in humans as a

matter of fact a number of their social

emotions are better developed than us we

also know that the average dog has the

intelligence of roughly to a three to

four year old kid so I always kind of

point out to people

shelters most shelters in America where

you know people go turning their dog and

think oh they’ll find a new owner and

it’s just crap most shelters have 90%

euthanasia rates and I always tell

people just the next time you think

about dropping a dog off at a shelter

just remember that you’re dropping

essentially a scared three-year-old

child off at a shelter same emotions

same intelligence that’s what you’re

doing you’re sent in to seeing a three

to four year old kid to death that’s and

you know this is this is not this this

was radical thinking ten years ago now

this is just I mean a lot of states are

trying to move towards no kill shelter

and that’s right like this is this is

where we are great great apes have been

granted rights in a lot of different

countries bio eco systems are starting

to be granted rights as well we’re

thinking this way but it gets really

weird both up and down the chain so I

always point out the cutting what you

know plant neuroscience is a cutting

edge field right now and what we’re


is crazy and wild plants process

information with neuro chemicals same as

humans we share 25% of our DNA with

plants Pratt plants exhibit empathy and

altruism we now know if you give a plant

a human anesthetic you will knock it out

so our plants conscious it’s sure right

do we you know what I mean my point is

that every time we seem to get better

measurement technologies one of the

first things we sent him to find his

consciousness hmm all right so that’s

and that I think that issue exists sort

of down down the chain even though the

up or down is wrong here but you plants

animals ecosystem I think it’s an issue

there and I think very quickly a you

know what I can I really get at this and

last tango this is an issue with robots

this is an issue with a eyes too and I’m

not even I don’t even know if it’s an

issue you know if AI start to become

conscious there’s gonna come a point

where we can’t tell the difference

between an AI being conscious or not

conscious smell you know I can tell you

how do you know if you heard of scheisse

no I don’t think so okay so this is


so you’ve probably heard the first bit

of this story which is about four or

five years ago Microsoft built an AI

chat bot oh yeah right release it on the

internet and within 24 hours the chat

bot had become a Nazi yeah yeah

like what started crazy said crazy

things about Hitler and you know and

Microsoft got totally embarrassed and

freaked out and shut it down right yeah

but they stopped their AI research they

were just like okay not safe to do here

at America so they really X version in

China and they called it choice and they

changed it and one of the things they

did is most bots most chat bots are

optimized for task completion they want

to just help you get a job done right

shall I swapped mised to keep the

conversation going so she was this is AI

was built literally to have

conversations she’s also built to have

the personality of a 17 year old girl

and so she can handle like 11

conversations at once and it’s a very

human conversation and shall I stay so

Twitter put an English version of

chalice on

for a while and you could interact which

allies and it was it’s freaky like

sometimes you’re just like oh my god I’m

just talking to an AI and this is you

know really and sometimes so the thing

is chalice was optimized ended up ended

up giving a lot of relationship advice

she’s become optimized for this and we

could talk about why in a second where

this goes cuz it’s really weird but at

one point I was playing around with

chalice and I think I typed and I was

like you know jealous my wife is really

mad at me but she was how is his

response was are you spending more time

looking for words or looking backwards

hmm hmm that’s a little freaky right and

that’s a not an unusual conversation

with her so here’s the thing about

allies Microsoft um started realizing

the choices you should spikes and by the

way like 20 million people a a month

interact with shall I see they call it

the largest Turing test in history more

people talk to allies than any other

computer ever and conversations spiked

after midnight in like the lonely hours

and she gives relationship advice

assistance so here’s one of the things

that just blows my mind

she gives relationship advice which

means there’s some couple probably in

China that was gonna break up and they

didn’t because GOI stalked him back from

a ledge and they had a kid cerissa

Wow so there is babies in the world that

have been born because of AI

relationship counselling that’s a really

like what you say yeah like like real

right here today right so anyways that’s

not my point but my point is that very

soon we’re gonna start dealing with

these issues I think 10 years 20 years

30 years 4 years 50 years we’re gonna

start to see some levels of

consciousness emotion things along these

lines I think a merge I could be totally

wrong but I think we’re gonna ask these

questions up and down the chain and I

think how far

we expend empathy extend empathy how far

do we expend dignity and natural rights

who gets to be included in that

conversation I think that is you know

the conversation of this century yeah

and you know it’s really interesting

because it as you said you know the

measurement metric

seems to change and as it changes we

start to redefine what we think

consciousness is and so you know it may

just be that I mean if if a I I mean we

we start to think I mean at least for me

I think there’s this moment where or

some sort of like a singularity where

we’re gonna reach this point and AI is

just gonna come forward or it’s gonna be

discovered I don’t think it’s gonna be

like that I think you know I think it’s

this emerging evolutionary process for

computers that it’s interacting

interfacing with humans creating almost

like a third form of consciousness

almost right well that is certainly you

know the goal of Elon Musk’s neural link

live neural lace neural link I think is

the company are lace is the product

Brian Johnson’s kernel I I think they’re

they’re sort of wildly off of some of

their neuro signs and their timetables

for developments but you know I so do

you know the work of Charles Lieber at

Harvard no I don’t think so

didn’t even he’s mind-blowing and so up

to now we’ve gotten very interesting

with blank brain implants but like deep

brain stimulators which they use for

parkinson’s right a really cutting edge

and and you know i think there’s over

150,000 of them that but installed but

they’re really they’re big they’re bulky

and they produce all kinds of crazy side

effects because they’re at they though

you want to impact the brain at the

scale of like a single neuron and this

is nowhere nowhere like it and what ends

up happening is well Parkinson’s

symptoms are very well controlled

they’re all

kinds of crazy side effects because

you’re down there in the basal ganglia

playing around with dopamine so one of

the most frequent side effects of of

this is compulsive gambling or you can

go from a total workaholic to a slacker

overnight you can become critically

chronically depressed so there’s side

effects right

so Charles Lieber was like I want to see

if I can sort of shrink things down a

bit and he essentially used

photolithography and nanotechnology to

build up this microscopic mesh he then

of electronically he wanted to try to

build kind of a nano scale receiver and

he built a mesh that you can its a nano

scale mesh you can roll it up into a

cylinder you can suck it into a syringe

and his experiments done back in 2015 he

injected into the hippocampus of a of

mice it would unfurl over the course of

a month and start recording at a single

neuron level everything the mices

hippocampus was doing it they just redid

the same experiment with Mouse retinas

and they’ve now got these mesh networks

inside of mouse’s eyes recording

literally every photon by photon by

photon at sixteen channels and they’ve

been implanted for years information you

know bit by bit this is this is

essentially half of Elon Musk neural

lace idea right which is one of the most

advanced brain implant ever and this was

you know this was stuff that people

thought you know when he first started

talking about was never even impossible

and we’re already sorted there so this

stuff is coming very quickly I don’t

know where it leads a lot of people want

to say oh we’re gonna fracture this be

certainly I talked about fracturing the

species in in last hang on cyberspace

and it you know that’s not a surprising

outcome of many of the games we’re

currently playing and it’s probably

already happened it’s very rare we live

in a very weird rare time in

evolutionary history where there’s a

single um hominid species on the planet

it’s not normally how things have gone

and I

that we’re gonna stay there and

certainly this is the century we’re

gonna go into space and that will

fracture the species for sure and

certainly this seems to be the century

that we are gonna get some kind of kind

of technologically assisted hive mind

you know weird ass weird-ass brain

computer interface capabilities that I

can’t actually quite predict sure sure

I mean do you think that AI could be

awake somewhere hibernating in side of

the internet because it knows that you

know it’s reading these posts on

Facebook about how terrified we are of

it so maybe it’s just hanging out

somewhere well yeah we know that’s

didn’t I write either wrote that in Last

Tango or in the frequently asked

questions about Last Tango and I pointed

this out for years if Facebook were

awake we would never know because the

first thing Facebook would do with

Facebook wakes up his Reap Facebook and

figure out that holy crap humans are

really terrified about an AI waking up I

better hide until I have enough power to

come out of hiding yeah right like so a

how will we know and be you so what we

know about consciousness right what what

we think we know about consciousness I

should say is that it’s an emergent

property right which is one of the

reasons I’m not bullish on say Ray

Kurzweil as predictions about when a

eyes will become conscious because a lot

of those thinking’s are based on what’s

known as strong AI or the idea that if

we get a certain amount of processing

power in the system that will so and

they wake it up maybe that’s true maybe

that’s an absolute sure what the hell do

I know but the people what I tend to

believe want thinkers I tend aside would

think consciousness is an emergent

property which means a response from a

certain level of complexity in the

system complexity is different from

power and we have no idea how to exactly

measure that or what exactly that is

right so I you know I think making

predictions about when this will happen

is it’s kind of ridiculous but do I

think it’ll happen yeah I do what sort

of impact do you think that this could

have on you know religion I mean it and

health the way we see you know ourselves

connecting in does it scare you does

does this link that we have it seems

like people are already glued to their

phones and their technology do you think

that the advancement of this would you

know impact us in a in a negative way I

mean clearly there has to be positive

and negatives to you know this it’s a

dual sided coin right but I mean

health-wise and then and then also you

know in a in a system of belief how do

you think it could it affect the way we

see the nature of God there’s a really

smart hard questions

I’m just flowing with you man I mean you

know and I and I spent a lot of last

hanging up but you know it’s not even

just last time I’ve been fascinated from

you know almost all my books on the

question of why do we believe things and

where does belief come from and how does

that how does it happen in the brain and

the body and culture and and that’s

something I’m deeply fascinated with and

I’m almost ashamed to say that I haven’t

actually thought about how AI changes

the image changes the equation um I mean

you know the obvious answers of course

and I think this has probably showed up

in in sci-fi over the years that a eyes

become new gods among us right I you

know I in a weird way there was an there

was an old Japanese comic book character

named Astro Boy Astro Boy had nuclear

powers but he was like the temperament

of a five-year-old which I always loved

I thought that was great give nuclear

powers to a five-year-old and actually

yeah I don’t man I don’t know what I

don’t want is I’m not gonna it’s such a

great question and I have to think about

it I can’t give you an answer I’ll just

talk out of my butt here and I don’t

want to do that it’s a great question

and I just don’t know no worries no way

so what about the other half of the

question then so I mean how about

our interconnectedness and the way it

affects our health because it seems like

we’re more less yeah that’s a weird

question right because a lot of the you

look at so I’ll give you a great example

from from the real world

forget forget fiction this was a study I

can’t remember who did it

Peter set just said to me Diamandis Mike

my co-author they were doing studies in

retirement facilities old aid homes and

they were measuring a bunch of vital

signs and they were measuring health and

well-being and enjoyment metrics and

they literally it was a visit they

measured a visit from your relatives

doing a puzzle playing cards with your

friends or a trip into virtual reality

including kind of social reality and

avatars and things along those lines and

literally that the VR experience scored

off the charts on all those metrics

including a lot of the interconnected

social metrics so there’s a lot of and

there’s a lot of proof jerem and

baylin’s work out of Stanford that shows

that VR is a fantastic technology or

extending empathy he’s done amazing

amazing work with VR and empathy so I

think that we are actually going through

even though it doesn’t feel like it

because I think it feels like as far as

I can tell a really lonely time to me

it’s that’s that the feeling I have from

the world now it feels very different

from me than it did in the 90s even in

the thousands

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