081: Discussion of Facebook and Privacy

In today’s episode we wade into the ongoing societal conversation around social media and privacy that has been taking place in the wake of the recent Facebook scandal. But before getting started we do some follow up on previous discussion topics: existential risk and self driving cars. Next, after a quick rehash of the Cambridge Analytica data breach, we discuss ways to think about privacy and data and consider some of the pros and cons of government regulation in this area.

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080: Discussion of Self Driving Cars and Body Scanning

For the first time ever, today’s episode was recorded and uploaded on the same day, with no editing. As part of our push to get more content out quicker, we are taking steps towards a live radio format. On this podcast, we discuss coverage of the recent Uber self driving car accident. What does the tone of the coverage suggest about peoples fears and willingness to adopt this new technology? Later, we discuss the imminent rise of full body scans, and their potential usefulness as clothing models, fitness trackers, VR avatars, and even fodder for bizarre art.

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079: Discussion of AI Risk

We discuss AI risk argument through two recent articles, one written by sci fi author Ted Chiang and one by Steven Pinker, both of which dismiss the strongest version of the arguments as put forth by Nick Bostrom and others, in this episode. Is insight the same as morality, as Chiang seems to think? Does Steven Pinker even understand the basics of Bostrom’s claims? Does the foom argument need to be true to worry about AI risk? And at the end, a bit of fun (before we’re all turned into paperclips).

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078: Discussion of Black Mirror and Altered Carbon

As part of our new casual discussion series, we do two mini reviews of recent science fiction TV shows. Jon shares his critiques of the the first episode of the new season of Black Mirror, while Ted offers his impressions of the new show Altered Carbon. Although we found some things to appreciate, in general we are not fans of these shows. We suggest reading Crystal Nights or The Peripheral instead. Or maybe watching Rick and Morty.

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077: Robin Hanson on The Elephant in the Brain

Today we are rejoined by professor and friend of the podcast Robin Hanson. Robin has just co-authored a fascinating new book called The Elephant in the Brain. This book examines our hidden motives, and while it has nothing directly to do with the future, it does have significant implications for policy and institutional design. Robin is also an accomplished futurist (as exemplified by his other excellent book Age of Em) and so were able to press him on the possible future implications of his thesis and come up with some interesting answers.

You can learn more about his book here.

076: What Happens When We Design Babies?

In this episode we discuss the prospect of designer babies. As genetic engineering and reproductive technologies continue to advance, parents are likely to gain unprecedented control over their offspring. We discuss some of the recent progress in germ line engineering and speculate about the degree of manipulation that might be possible in the near term. But perhaps more importantly, we discuss some of the ethical and policy implications of such advances. Will designer babies pave the way for a healthier and happier society or are we in for a more dystopian outcome?

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075: What Happens in a World of Perfectly Fakeable Audio and Video?

Impressive demos promise that new technologies will democratize the kind of high-end audio and video fakery we usually associate only with blockbuster films. In this episode Jon and Ted extrapolate on that idea: what happens when many things can be faked, and everyone knows it? We discuss previous eras of forgery and modern forensics, posit an arms race to fake and spot fakes, and talk about the very real dangers of even momentarily misleading a diplomat or military officer — but also how much fun this ability will be for comedians and satirists. Finally we imagine how much better Nigerian Prince scams are going to get.

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074: Are We Living in a Simulation?

Thanks in part to Elon Musk and other popularizers, many people have encountered the notion that we might be living in a simulation. However, far fewer people are familiar with the exact details of Nick Bostrom’s “Simulation Argument”, the paper from which much of the conversation originated. In this podcast, we attempt to do justice to Bostrom’s argument by laying it out in a clear and organized fashion. After accomplishing that task, we devolve into our typical ad hoc speculation.  Should we be worried about being shut down? Are people living in other countries actually just illusions? What is the David Bowie Theory of Simulation and why is it so important? These questions and more on this episode of Review the Future.

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X012: Future Express | Categorizing Interactive Systems

With the explosion of possibilities in new interactive systems brought by ubiquitous computing and VR, we thought it made sense to try to nail down some precise language for how to discuss all these types of systems. In this episode we explore a possible categorization schema for interactive systems along two axes: Variability and Goal-Orientation. We walk through the ways that goal structures and variable outcomes give and take power from the creator and user of an interactive system, and discuss a wide range of systems from books and movies to sports and immersive VR, but also websites, choose-your-own-adventures, triple-A video games, and many other points between.

X011: Future Express | The Replication Crisis and Challenges to Progress

In this episode, we have a free-ranging conversation that begins by discussing the modern replication crisis in psychology and other fields. We examine how this development might affect our views on the pace of progress generally. Amidst our many tangents, we consider the possibility of getting tech companies to share their proprietary data for the sake of science research and wonder if becoming an increasingly globalized society imposes coordination costs.

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X010: Future Express | Attention Economics and Loyalty of Digital Assistants

In this episode, we discuss the modern Darwinian battle for attention currently playing out on the global internet. We consider some of the psychological methods that have been and will be developed for capturing and keeping people’s attention. We wonder whether the solution that will help us navigate this growing war for our eyeballs is digital assistant technology that can better help us cut through the noise.

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X008: Future Express | How to Train Your Personal AI and Mailbag

In this episode, we talk about how to train your AI recommendation engine to give you better results, and discuss the growth in music recommendation quality in particular. How much of the future is about the actual work of training your AI assistants? The reinforcement that you give them develops a model of you but simultaneously, you develop a model of it. What about if we got an algorithm admin panel to fine tune our AIs? How will algorithms handle context? We also dive into the mailbag and discuss some of the listener feedback we’ve gotten. In wondering who would be the mainstream spokesperson for futurology, we ask: Who is the Neil DeGrasse Tyson of the future? Tweet us your ideas @RTF_Podcast.

X007: Future Express | AI in the Legal System and More on Technological Unemployment

In this Future Express, Jon and Ted discuss bringing AI to legal finance and whether that might push us toward rationalizing our laws. We mention the parking ticket fighting app DoNotPay, and imagine that type of technology growing to cover most legal needs, starting an arms race between assistant software and bureaucracies that will force them to change strategy, because they are no longer protected by the inertia of time consuming obstacles. Responding to listener feedback, we reexamine the idea of elder care robots. In our continuing discussion of technological unemployment, we wonder whether the whole issue doesn’t really come down to the superstar effect, and we wonder: can capitalism survive until the singularity arrives? Should it?

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X006: Future Express | Listener Questions and Calum Chace Followup

In this Express episode Jon and Ted answer a listener question about the future of citizenship, and wonder how it will be challenged and whether it’s even necessary at all. We respond to another question asking for a beginner’s reading list. We follow up on our discussion with Calum Chace and talk through Jon’s skepticism of technological unemployment problems. How long will the era of technological unemployment last? Long enough to matter or is it another blip on the road to superintelligence? Will robot housekeepers be replaced all at once or piecemeal as things like Roombas get better? Is it practical to think most people will become digital non-consumers or are people driven to acquire status to the point that an endless pyramid of positional goods can keep capitalism going forever? How about the meaning of an infinite movie?

In the podcast, Jon gives his Beginners and Hardcore reading lists. Here they are:



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073: Can Capitalism Survive an “Economic Singularity?”

Author Calum Chace returns to discuss his new book, “The Economic Singularity: Artificial Intelligence and the Death of Capitalism” We discuss the likelihood of long-term technological unemployment and universal basic income, and whether the distribution challenges of our increasingly abundant economy require rethinking some of the basic elements of our current capitalist system. With something like 5 million people employed as drivers in the US, what will they do when AI can drive vehicles?

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X005: Future Express | Robot Used in Dallas and Pokemon Go!

In this extra bonus Express episode we weigh in on two topics of the moment: robots being used by police to kill civilian suspects and Pokemon Go. We cover the case for ethical use of unmanned vehicles in police work and wonder about the future of lethal and improvised technological use cases in police work, and then we switch gears to talk about the new AR / Location / IP sensation that’s sweeping the nation.

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X004: Future Express | More on Kevin Kelly’s THE INEVITABLE

On Future Express this time Jon and Ted follow up on their discussion of Kevin Kelly’s new book THE INEVITABLE, exploring the rhetoric and wondering whether a more straightforward economic analysis might have turned up more insight than the evolutionary arguments that Kelly relies on in parts of the book.  We discuss whether IP reform is desirable or possible in the near future, and we wonder whether Kevin’s dismissal of intelligence explosion fears is warranted.

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072: Kevin Kelly on “The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future”

In our first “regular” episode in a while, we are joined by Wired cofounder Kevin Kelly to discuss his new book “The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.” The book takes 12 trends in digital technology and speculates as to what results we might see in the future as digital technology, with its peculiar biases and tendencies, continues to grow into more fields. The resulting conversation was far reaching and varied, touching on the Internet as the world’s largest copier and tracking machine, the difference between industrial monopolies and “natural” monopolies like Google and Facebook, the amount of privacy enjoyed by forager bands. Kevin is an internet pioneer with a long history of innovating on the web, and he’s refreshingly honest about the things he got both right and wrong along the way.

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X003: Future Express | ConsScale and the Threat of Cheap Weapons

In this week’s Future Express, we discuss the ConsScale twelve-level consciousness scale and the increasing threat of violence from ever-cheaper weaponry. ConsScale describes a continuum from molecule to supergod and attempts to place some mile-markers on the road to consciousness. We discuss the levels and try to figure out where a dog fits in. Murder is getting cheaper every day, so we wonder whether a draconian civilization with either strong weapon controls or strong surveillance is inevitable. We coin the term “Feel Good Dystopia” to describe the Huxleyan vision, and relate that not enough time travel movies feature people from the past hassling people from the present about the world.

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X002: Future Express | Autonomous Weapons and Brain to Brain Interfaces

In this second ever Future Express episode, Jon and Ted each bring a different topic to the table. Jon raises the issue of banning autonomous weapons, the subject of an open letter released last year and of an upcoming UN review conference. Ted shares an article about brain to brain communication, a pathway to technologically enabled telepathy.

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X001: Future Express | More on Robin Hanson’s AGE OF EM

The first of a new type of episode, this Future Express features a looser, less polished take on some of the issues raised by Robin Hanson’s recent book The Age of Em. As an addendum to our interview with Hanson last week, this tackles Jon and Ted’s review of the book, whether or not they’d recommend it to others, and looks into some criticism brought up by Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex. We wonder about what happens to the baseline scenario if Robin’s assumptions about research turn out to be too conservative, and discuss stories that might come from such unusual ideas in the book as mind theft and spur safes.


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071: Robin Hanson on “What Does a Future of Emulated Minds Look Like?”

We’re back! After a prolonged hiatus, Ted and Jon return joined by guest Robin Hanson, the economics professor and blogger at Overcoming Bias, who discusses the central concept of his new book, The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth. We discuss his assumption that whole brain emulations will emerge before theoretically-driven AGI, and that this development will lead to a population explosion of “Em” minds that perfectly substitute for human labor. Will humans not be needed anymore, as Robin predicts? What will the world of ems look and feel like? Is it possible to be purely analytic when predicting the future?


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In today’s podcast, we review an episode of the British television series Black Mirror. Black Mirror is an anthology show that presents a dark spin on our relationship with technology. The series, despite its flaws, is highly entertaining and full of interesting thought experiments. Today we are focusing on the Christmas special, a longer episode that deals with some our favorite topics: augmented reality, privacy, and emulated brains. Although we recommend watching the episode before listening to this podcast, we do summarize the plot as we go for the benefit of people who have not yet seen Black Mirror.

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069: What are the Possibilities of Augmented Reality?

In today’s podcast we offer a broad survey of augmented reality. How will the social and economic aspects of our lives be different in a world where computers are constantly altering our vision? What are the main benefits that AR has over VR? How does one even define augmented reality anyway?

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