Author Archives: ted

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


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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


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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


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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?”


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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!


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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


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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”


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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


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


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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?”


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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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063: Bonus Episode: Kickstarter Launch, Social VR, and ADVANTAGEOUS Review


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Our Kickstarter is LIVE! In this bonus mini-episode, we discuss our sci fi graphic novel project LET GO, and how you can help. We also respond to some listener questions about social networking in virtual reality. To what extent will modern day websites be replaced by virtual counterparts?  Finally, Jon gives a short review of the indie sci fi film ADVANTAGEOUS.

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059: What is the Future of Advertising?


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In today’s episode, we discuss the future of advertising, which we define as the ‘sale of attention.’ People mostly hate ads, but why do they? Is it possible to make ads so well targeted that people actually enjoy the experience? We discuss the remarkably constant amount of advertising as a percent of GDP over a long stretch of history. We ponder the ways accelerating technologies might allow for better metrics and better ad designs in the future, and we wonder whether a large-scale consumer collapse might disrupt advertising’s steady growth. Speculating on the future, we imagine that nearly everything that remains scarce in the future might one day be ad-supported.

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056: Steve Anderson on “What are the Limits of Hollywood’s Portrayal of Technology?”


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In today’s podcast we are joined by Steve Anderson PhD, an associate professor of cinematic arts at USC. We discuss the depiction of computers and surveillance in Hollywood films and the many factors, such as the need to tell a visual story and the convenience of certain props, that contribute to Hollywood’s often skewed portrayals. We also identify ways in which Hollywood both over and underestimates the power of technology and examine the inability of most films to make strong systemic critiques or imagine anything other than a human-centric future. Lastly, we look at Hollywood caricatures of both gamers and television viewers and ask if economic incentives might be partially to blame. Along the way, we mine the archive of old films and learn about some of the more fun and bizarre examples of super computers that have shown up in the history of cinema.

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Projects by Steve Anderson

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055: What’ll be the Impacts of Perfect Speech Recognition?


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In this week’s episode, we consider the rapid progress and recent impressive demos in the realm of speech recognition technology. We consider the difference between transcribing and understanding language, and work out a thought experiment of what might change when full transcription is widely and cheaply available. We talk about the challenges facing current generation technologies and speculate which are likely to be improved soon and which are sticky. We wonder whether even machine-readable transcription might be enough to help search engines do things like jump you directly to a movie quote’s location in a film, or to help YouTube and Facebook mine your private videos for marketing purposes. We also cover the effects on lifelogging, surveillance, interface design — and of course, jobs. At the end of the episode, we debut a new listener mailbag feature and respond to your comments.

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052: What is the Future of Synthetic Meat?


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There are many reasons to reduce or eliminate meat production, and in this week’s episode we cover them and ask the question: are we soon going to be eating synthetic meat? From resources to ethics, there is tremendous pressure to bring down the costs associated with meat. We discuss the challenges tissue engineers face in creating meat that is delicious and affordable, and discuss the limitations of recent successes like the famous $300,000 synthetic burger. We also discuss some of the most promising companies and approaches in the synthetic meat space. Finally we consider other future alternatives to livestock farming such as insect protein, soylent, and the eventual decoupling of our nutritional needs from the pleasure of eating.

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051: Review of VRLA Expo 2015


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In today’s podcast, we review our experiences at the VRLA Expo, a Los Angeles based event that showcases the latest in virtual reality entertainment.  We describe our experiences with a wide variety of Oculus and Gear VR applications and ask the question: what are the most exciting uses for this new medium? Is this just the next generation of 3D gaming? Or are we witnessing the birth of an all new artistic medium with its own yet-to-be-hashed-out strengths and weaknesses? We also recount our impressions of various interface and feedback solutions from companies like Leap Motion, Sub Pac, and Stompz.

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050: Jesse Lawler on “What is the Future of Brain Enhancement?”


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Intelligence is the most powerful force in the world, and humans are increasingly losing out to computers in various intellectual pursuits. Can you take a pill that will make you smarter? If you could, would you? We would, and so would our guest Jesse Lawler, the host of the excellent podcast Smart Drug Smarts. We cover the gamut of currently available substances that are claimed to have the effect of enhancing intelligence. We discuss how current drugs and supplements on the market are not exactly silver bullet ‘smart’ pills but rather push us in one direction or another, with trade-offs. We also discuss some of the more speculative technology coming down the pike, and what might be the next big thing in nootropics.

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049: Mark Lewis on “Have We Reached Peak Education?”


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On today’s podcast, Trinity University computer science professor Mark Lewis joins us to talk about his concept that we’ve reached ‘Peak Education.’ He argues that we cannot educate our way out of technological unemployment. If, in order to have a job, you have to be able to program, what does that mean for those of us who are never going to be great programmers? Humans are slow learners, and we already spend a quarter of our lives in school. Can we ever hope to duplicate the tremendous gains in education we achieved during the industrial revolution? What will it take? Enhanced brains, smart drugs, or just better pedagogy?

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048: Sarah Perry on “Should We Have Control Over Our Consciousness?”


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Is life a sacred gift or a burden? In this episode, we welcome Sarah Perry, author of Every Cradle is a Grave, to discuss the right to control one’s consciousness. Paramount among consciousness rights is the right to die; we discuss the state of suicidal legality and the cultural and technological impediments to suicide. We also discuss the connection between radical life extension and suicide. Then we move into the control of states of consciousness, from drug use to mood enhancement, and discuss whether the right to commit suicide exists in a world where suffering has been abolished. Finally we discuss the ethics of simulated consciousness, and wonder where the authority might lie to, for example, delete an emulated mind.

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047: David Pearce on “What is the Future of Suffering?”


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In this episode, philosopher, author and cofounder of H+ David Pearce joins us to discuss his concept of the hedonistic imperative, which is the argument that we have a moral obligation to end the suffering of not just all humanity but all sentient life. We discuss his terms “Hedonic Set Point” and “Hedonic Treadmill” and how these phenomena combine to keep most people at about the same amount of happiness, even if they win the lottery or lose the use of their legs. We discuss the feasibility of using prenatal screening to raise our children’s hedonic set points, and the farther-off possibility of using in-vivo genetic modification or future drug therapies to raise our own. It’s a fun and wide-ranging conversation that we think you’re going to really like. Check it out!

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046: James Hughes on “What is Technoprogressivism?”


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In this episode, we talk with Trinity College professor and Institute for Ethics in Emerging Technology (IEET) founder Dr. James Hughes about the political term Technoprogressive and the recent Technoprogressive Declaration he helped develop (and we here at RTF have signed). Hughes contextualizes the movement as a new, techno-optimistic wing of the traditional Enlightenment liberal project, and portrays Technoprogressivism as the left wing counterpart to the noisy Libertarian wing of the futurist movement. We talk about the position of the technoprogressive movement on a host of issues, including universal basic income, longevity enhancement, and how to promote a techno-optimistic viewpoint specifically within the American Left, which has developed a sometimes-justified suspicion of technological solutions to problems.

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045: Dave Ross on “What is the Future of Comedy?”



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In this episode we talk with comedian Dave Ross about the ways the technology is impacting the world of stand-up comedy. We discuss how cellphone cameras are disrupting the age-old process of working out jokes in small rooms and about how, soon, virtual reality might be displacing or devaluing live performances. We discuss the problem of writing jokes via computer and a theory of humor called “Benign Violation Theory” that might animate the efforts of future AI comedians. Finally we discuss how technology provides new avenues to test jokes and be discovered, but simultaneously the massive amount of access and competition makes it harder than ever to rise to the top.

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044: Jason Ganz on “What is the Future of Virtual Reality?”



In this episode we talk to guest Jason Ganz of Agora VR. You may know Jason from his role as a moderator on the Futurology subreddit and as a co-host on the Futurology podcast. He’s an enthusiastic VR supporter and we had a wide-ranging, informative conversation we think you are going to find fascinating. We cover some of the newest advances in the rapidly exploding VR space, including the Oculus rift and the Google Cardboard project, omnidirectional treadmills, haptics, new sensors from Leap Motion and the new fibre-optic in-eye monitor being developed by Magic Leap. We discuss the obvious upsides to better VR technology as well as the ways ephemeralizing experiences might add to technological unemployment and superstar economic effects. We also touch on age-old media canards like addiction and problems with realistic violence, and whether the coming VR multiverse is more likely to be an open-source competitive paradise or a nightmare walled-garden “Zuckerverse.”

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043: Review of THE IMMORTALISTS



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In this episode, we review the new documentary THE IMMORTALISTS, which is out in New York and opens December 11 in Los Angeles. The film covers the efforts toward radical life extension of two prominent figures, Aubrey de Grey and Bill Andrews. We discuss the quality of the representation in the film, of both the science behind radical life extension and the people who are the film’s subjects. We decide this movie might not have a lot of new information for those who are already interested, but will introduce the concept of radical life extension to the uninitiated more fairly than most of what’s come before. We have some criticisms, but overall it’s a positive review: Proponents of life extension should welcome this film into the cultural dialogue.

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042: John Danaher on “Will the Future be Ruled by Algorithm?”



In this episode we talk with guest John Danaher, a lecturer at National University of Ireland, Galway and blogger. He has coined the term ‘Algocracy’ to describe a future state of rule by algorithm. We define the term and talk about how modern day algorithms like dating websites, military drones, and tax fraud detection are growing in influence, creating the possibility for algorithmic decision making to unseat democratic institutions and even personal will. Can we really say we are in a democracy if opaque, incomprehensible systems are making many important choices for us? How can we be certain that the algorithm has our interests at heart?

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