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The Future Will Not Be Podcast
12 minutes | Nov 12, 2019
30 Big News & Hiatus
Alex has an exciting life update to share. We will also be taking a break from the show, with an eye on bigger guests, topics, and conversations in ... THE FUTURE. Thank you so much for listening, and we'll chat with you soon.
55 minutes | Oct 29, 2019
29 The Best and Worst Tech Companies
Our media, politics, interpersonal communications are dominated by 5-10 massive tech companies. Which of these have had the best impact on our society, and which have had the worst? We stack rank the value these tech giants bring to our lives, and discuss the trade-offs we reconcile when using platforms where our privacy and ethics are at risk of compromise. Also, how might we build the Internet differently, knowing what we do now?
55 minutes | Oct 15, 2019
"Most people know so little that if they were transported 200 years into the past, they wouldn't be able to invent anything any quicker." This viral "shower thought" posted to Reddit is the starting point for our discussion of modern skills. What makes a skill "valuable?" Is a brilliant data analyst who depends on spreadsheets and smartphones less skilled than a woodworker who can build a bench, a campfire, and grow his own food? Are modern skills only as good as the network that connects them? We discuss the generational shift in learning, specialization economies, and skills in the context of their own time — and hypothetical time travel.
52 minutes | Oct 1, 2019
27 Human Relationships
It's an understatement to say that technology has forever changed how humans relate to each other, and society at large. Instant and asynchronous communication makes us far more efficient and productive, but perhaps less empathetic — after all, evolution wired us to interpret the nuances of facial cues, not emoji. Are we facing new challenges our ancestors could never have foreseen, or is it just more of the same inter-generational miscommunication we've suffered for thousands of years? In a world where bots and social media notifications serve as conversation lubricant, is it so far-fetched to imagine a near-future where simulated versions of ourselves communicate with loved ones on our behalf? And what does that mean for personhood, companionship, and social norms around intimacy as we currently understand them?
54 minutes | Sep 17, 2019
26 Science Fiction (with Dr. Andrew Maynard)
It's hard to talk about gene manipulation, climate change, or artificial intelligence without boring or confusing most people. But a well-told story about an experiment gone horribly wrong goes great with popcorn, and poses ethical questions that anyone with a Netflix account can understand. That's the premise of Dr. Andrew Maynard's book, Films From The Future: The Technology and Morality of Sci-Fi Movies. Dr. Maynard is a physicist by trade, specializing in nanotechnology and emerging technologies in general. When he's not writing about sci-fi films, he's advising government organizations in the UK and the U.S. about innovation risk, a subject he also researches and teaches as the director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University. We speak with Dr. Maynard about how good sci-fi can help us cope with future shock, why the rules of great storytelling are not beholden to scientific accuracy, and the key role fiction plays in our public discourse around technology ethics. Films From the Future is available wherever you read or listen to books, and you can follow Dr. Maynard's work on Twitter and Medium.
50 minutes | Sep 3, 2019
25 Automation & Inequality (with Ed Cone of Oxford Economics)
The consultancy Oxford Economics recently studied the effects of robots on the labor force, and found that the impact of automation will not be distributed evenly. While robots (and convergent tech like artificial intelligence and machine learning) may not displace every job in the foreseeable future, they will damage the middle class and other vulnerable socioeconomic groups much more. And while technology always creates new jobs we have not yet conceived, it likely won't create as many as it displaces, and the window of time the average worker has to retrain (eg: a truck driver becoming a programmer) is impossibly small as tech accelerates. The results could lead to unprecedented wealth inequality, and exacerbate the issues we already see in politics. Some economists even fear for a "lost generation." This week we talk to Ed Cone, Technology Practice Lead at Oxford Economics, about the study called How Robots Change the World, a sobering look at the social and political complexities of widespread automation. Even if we're not expecting a complete "robot takeover," as Cone says, "Whatever happens, we are in no way prepared for it, and it's gonna hurt like hell."
55 minutes | Aug 20, 2019
24 The Future of Language with Linguist David J. Peterson (Game of Thrones, The 100)
Instant communication between every human on the Earth has had profound effects on our culture — notably, the way we transmit language. In the flurry of texts, tweets, emojis, and acronyms that bombard us daily on the Internet, it may feel like language is evolving more rapidly in the age of interconnectedness and globalization. But depending on which linguistic concepts you're measuring, language may actually be changing slower than it ever has in human history. That's according to this week's guest, David J. Peterson, a linguist well-known for constructing complete, functional languages for our favorite fiction, including Game of Thrones and The 100 (if you've ever heard Daenerys Targaryen speaking Dothraki, you can thank Peterson for the grammar). Peterson has a deep knowledge of the social and generational pressures that compel (or prevent) language changes. We geek out about symbolic baggage in modern software (Why do we still use a floppy disk icon to "Save," anyway?), the future of language, and how disruptive technologies change fundamental communication standards. He also explains why emojis are not a language, and why the fictional languages of Star Wars are pretty lame (shots fired). Follow David J. Peterson on Twitter to keep up with his work.
64 minutes | Aug 6, 2019
23 Artificial Intelligence
When we finally create an artificial intelligence that is sentient or "conscious," we will be crossing a threshold from which there is no return. How we view this intelligence (and ourselves) after its creation will completely change our understanding of morality and personhood. If we have created this consciousness to serve or entertain us, then we have enslaved it. If we create it for its own good, who are we to say what is good for a being which has never existed before? And if we create a rational synthetic mind by accident, then it has been born just as we were: a product of random, natural evolution. Will a broad artificial intelligence (whose networked processing power vastly surpasses our own) see us as a threat? A benevolent creator? Or as something so inconsequential that it would ignore or surpass us without a second thought. If natural forces can create consciousness over millions of years, why can't we do it technologically? And if we can, is consciousness even that special at all? And how can we possibly assign rights to the many forms of minds that will co-exist physically and virtually in the next 500 years?
62 minutes | Jul 23, 2019
22 The End of Aging
In one generation, we've extended lifespans (and quality of life) longer than previously imaginable. That's both a tremendous medical achievement and the source of many questions for the future. If we can one day "solve" or slow aging as many scientists believe is possible, how will that complicate the relationship between generations? What does it mean for the concentration of power in institutions like government and businesses that affect our daily life? And what if immortality is achieved faster via another path: by uploading our consciousnesses to the network? Uploading, downloading, copying and preserving human minds far beyond the lifespans we've known for millennia will require us to radically redefine personhood, and all the ethics and social norms that come with it.
56 minutes | Jul 9, 2019
Ownership has been culturally and legally defined for millennia. You either posses something, or you don't. But in a mere 10 years, we've fully transitioned from purchasing an album, a movie, a book, or a map, to subscribing to these media as services. Spotify, Amazon, YouTube and the rest offer us access to all the media imaginable at a fraction of the cost. But if said media resides on corporate servers and not on your bookshelf, who really owns it? And what happens when these companies remove content you've already paid for, restrict access, or go out of business? This is a radical shift in how we value media, both culturally and economically, and we're only at the beginning. Technology has also completely disrupted how we own and share physical goods, from our cars (Uber, Lyft) to our very homes (Airbnb). While sharing networks take the latency out of the economy and connect people 1:1, those people don't own the network on which they share value, which can create new problems altogether. This week we dissect the philosophical importance of ownership in the 21st century and beyond.
62 minutes | Jun 26, 2019
20 Why Do People Resist New Technology? (with Jason Feifer of 'Pessimists Archive')
We always resist and demonize disruptive technology. People feared the telegraph would make our lives too busy and rife with frivolous communication. The automobile was for reckless ne'er do wells who shunned the trusty horse. And every time, innovation made human life better, once we ironed out the kinks. Jason Feifer's podcast Pessimists Archive is all about this irrational fear of change, and the often ridiculous history of resisting innovation. The refreshing show is a life raft in a sea of fears about the information revolution we're living through today. On our show, we propose that we're living in a unique time of technological acceleration, but Feifer suggests maybe we're not. And he has plenty of stories and research to make the case. He joins us to parse modern future shock with a lens on the cycles of fear and disruption that came before. In many ways, our visions of the future are the same: Change is inevitable and adaptation is the key to success. But the stakes for humanity in the face of global automation and mass corporate surveillance are still up for a lively debate. Subscribe to Pessimists Archive wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts, and follow Jason Feifer on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with his work.
60 minutes | Jun 12, 2019
19 Outsourcing Memory
Socrates famously worried that the invention of writing would lead to the destruction of our memory — that we would become less rigorous in what we are able to remember as individuals, and as a society. And to an extent, he was right. But the trade-off humans got from being able to record thoughts and access them later became the new baseline for modern civilization: literacy. In the 21st century, we have the technology to record and re-access every single audio-visual moment of our lives. And many of us do. This helps us remember things our limited human brains would probably forget. But we are increasingly putting our memories — patchwork paintings of our entire lives and identities — onto the servers of tech companies who seek to monetize our very personhood. Is this trade-off worth it? And with every nuance recorded and documented, what happens when you can never forget?
52 minutes | May 29, 2019
18 Online Governance
We conduct nearly everything of consequence online: commerce, banking, medicine, employment, government benefits, journalism, advocacy, and more. Yet there's no single part of voting or legislation permitted on the Internet. Why in the age of telecommuting and cyrptocurrency do we still push papers into a box to make the most important decisions of all? Is there something sacred about the democratic process that should never be touched by the hackable tendrils of digital tabulation? Do we even need a representative government at all if every citizen's vote could be logged securely on a blockchain? And are we ready for a more "fluid democracy," where policies and leaders are not up for discussion every few years, but on a constant, rolling basis, via our connected devices? Maybe that's a more democratic future. Or maybe it's a recipe for mob rule and election trolling on an unprecedented scale. Listen to us try to bring our government kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
53 minutes | May 15, 2019
17 The Gig Economy (with author Sarah Kessler)
The smartphone has created thousands of new companies and jobs that could never have existed 10 years ago: Uber, Task Rabbit, Door Dash, Fivrr, and more. Tech has removed the latency that accrues around traditional "jobs" and connects workers to work instantaneously, and without friction. The Silicon Valley promise was an economy freed from the constraints of offices and set hours; a world where pursuing passions or raising a family could take center stage in everyone's life. But the reality is more complex. Reporter Sarah Kessler (Fast Company, Quartz, Mashable) studied this trend closely and found serious gaps in legal and social protections for the burgeoning class of tech-enabled "gig workers." In some cases, these platforms don't empower the working class, but merely exacerbate wealth and skill gaps. In the face of significant automation and eroding security in the traditional "job," what does work look like in 20, 50, or 100 years? And are we having the right policy conversations about the technological disruption that's changing our economy in a fraction of a generation? Our friend and colleague Sarah Kessler joins us to discuss the data and personal stories she reported on in her book Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work.
57 minutes | Apr 30, 2019
16 Basic Income
Two looming specters threaten to obliterate the middle class: unprecedented wealth inequality, and automation. If we want to survive a technocratic future, we need to solve for these. One idea is universal basic income (UBI), a guaranteed paycheck — whether you're employed or not — issued with no strings attached. The idea is that most people (especially the working poor) would spend it on housing and food, and that job insecurity would never compromise basic needs. It's the one social safety net to rule them all. This could alleviate the stress of poverty for some, and free middle class people from the drudgery of unfulfilling jobs. We have enough money in our economies to do it. But should we? And would people actually want to stop working if their rent was guaranteed? Do humans really need jobs to feel a sense of purpose, even if those jobs are awful? And could UBI kickstart an entirely new economy full of passion projects and small businesses with room to flourish?
63 minutes | Apr 16, 2019
15 Globalization vs. IRL Culture
For millennia, human culture has been defined by where you were born — the physical place and people who are geographically closest to you. But technologies like airplanes and the Internet are rapidly un-tethering us from our "birth tribes," and allow us to congregate with like-minded people, regardless of where we started out. So what happens when your culture is 100% distributed (virtual), and you have nothing in common with your IRL neighbors? How do we make laws and provide basic services when geography no longer matters? What is the role of corporations, who — for the first time in history — can do it more effectively than governments can? And what does being born into an arbitrary nation state actually mean in the 21st century? As technology accelerates globalization, it's time to rethink how we organize our tribes.
61 minutes | Apr 2, 2019
14 Chris Dancy: The World's Most Connected Man
In 2007, programmer Chris Dancy weighed more than 300 pounds, was on anti-depressants for decades, smoked two packs and drank 36 cans of Diet Coke daily. But when he started looking at his habits as data, he began to quantify his own life — and radically change it. A few social engineering experiments evolved into robust systems to track everything he ate, drank, watched on TV, and "liked" on social media. Thousands of little feedback loops reminded him (via push notifications and Google calendars) how and why he was spending every moment of his life. Dancy took the exact systems tech companies use to profile us, and redirected them toward his own physical and mental health. He lost the weight, ditched the prescriptions, and kicked the destructive habits for good. Since then, he's made countless headlines as "The World's Most Connected Man." Today, he guides others to live better through technology, and rejects the notion that "staring at our screens" is inherently bad for us. In our first interview on THE FUTURE WILL NOT BE PODCAST, we have a deep chat with Dancy about his quest to reclaim the data we so willfully give away online, and the tech literacy our culture will require to live well in the 21st century. Dancy's book, Don't Unplug: How Technology Saved My Life and Can Save Yours Too, is available everywhere books (and audiobooks) are sold.
54 minutes | Mar 19, 2019
13 The Internet of Things
The Jetsons and Star Trek imagined an automated, voice-activated future where you owned and controlled the devices that make your life easier. This assumed that the processing power that fuels artificial intelligence could fit inside your home (or starship). We have arrived at that future: Alexa, Siri and Google can control your lights, TV, fridge, and toilet with voice commands. Tapping a screen plays music throughout your house and pre-heats the oven half-way through your commute . But there's one small caveat: You don't actually own these technologies. You subscribe to them via a handful of corporations that provide free (or cheap) services in exchange for spying on you 24/7. Where did we go wrong with the "Internet of Things," and how can we make it right?
55 minutes | Mar 5, 2019
12 The Safest World & The End of Boredom
We are living in the safest and most prosperous fraction of human history. We have access to limitless food, most diseases are cured, wild animals pose no statistical threat, and war is at an historic low. So why are we so anxious, depressed, scared, and lonely? If our evolutionary minds desperately crave struggle, it's no wonder we spend so much of our generational "found time" inside virtual worlds full of danger, scarcity, and work. But what psychological price do we pay for infinite entertainment? And what changes will our society incur when boredom is literally impossible?
63 minutes | Feb 19, 2019
11 Deep Fakes
We've seen the chaos wrought by "fake news," but as spoofing video becomes easier, we are rapidly approaching a time where it may be impossible to trust any kind of moving image. This could have serious ramifications for media, criminal justice, and privacy. But perhaps we're just in the midst of a learning curve — the same one we overcame with the rise of Photoshop. Sure, many people are fooled by fake photos, but we now have the means to sniff them out and call them out. Perhaps a deeper cultural question will arise when AI is not just faking linear videos, but building fake versions of ourselves that can answer emails, calls, and video chats exactly like we do. What kind of etiquette and social rules do we need when our artificial selves start interacting with loved ones, colleagues, and even each other?
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