Byron Reese: The Fourth Age
Byron Reese is an entrapreneur, public speaker, author, currently the CEO and publisher of Gigaom, a leading technology research company. As a technologist and futurist, Mr. Reese brings his passion for history and philosophy to the readers shining a light on social dilemmas that we already face, and will face, as humans. His most recent book, "The Fourth Age", explores the essence of humanity through the lenses of philosophy applied to technological change, using an objective—yet positive—light on how the coming age of machine automation and AI will reshape our future, potentially ending war, ignorance, disease, hunger, and poverty—while also exploring less favorable scenarios that humanity should do its best to avoid. You can follow Byron on Gigaom, on his website byronreese.com, and listening to his podcast "Voices in AI".
"In the end our challenge is to be great ancestors."
Byron Reese - Transcript
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Byron Reese: I used to have this habit of writing things on my hand that I need to remember to do, and so I still had this reflexive habit of looking at my hand all the time if I had nothing on my hand it was like I didn't have anything to do, and I decided I wanted to never think that so I did what the ancient Romans called a Memento Mori a reminder of death so I actually went into a tattoo parlor and got this spot it looks like you know somebody just took an ink pen and jammed your hand with at once just this is little spot of black ink and every time I look at it I think ah, I have something I should be doing right now because I'm mortal or I'm going to die and I think in the end our challenges is to be great ancestors and that's what I try to be. I included this Dr. Seuss quote once and it said don't cry because it's over smile because it happened I want those who come after me to smile because it happened.
Simone Salis: I am Simone Salis, and this is the Hoomanist with today's guest Byron Reese. Byron Reese is an entrepreneur, public speaker, an author currently CEO and publisher of Gigaom a leading technology research company as a technologist and futurist Mr. Reese brings his passion for history and philosophy to the readers shining a light on social dilemmas that we already face and we will face as humans his most recent book The Fourth Age explores the essence of humanity through the lenses of philosophy applied to technological change using an objective yet positive light on how the coming age of machine automation and AI will reshape our futures potentially ending or ignorant disease, hunger poverty and war while also exploring less favorable scenarios that humanity should do its best to avoid you can follow Byron on Gigaom on his website byronreese.com and listening to his podcast voices in AI Byron I read the fourth age your most recent book in a little bit less than 48 hours and….
Byron Reese: You're probably overdosing on me right now did you really read the whole book
Simone Salis: Yeah, I read the whole book in a little less than 48 hours it is so incredibly dense with information and data.
Byron Reese: Well, thank you.
Simone Salis: And you know it was intending for you eight hours but also very interesting because your transition is quite seamless from the history of humanity of what happened in the past technologically speaking to the future what will happen when will eventually achieve artificial general intelligence is it's so similar that almost sounds like a history of what didn't happen yet.
Byron Reese: Ah, that's beautiful
Simone Salis: Your thesis is that we are entering a fourth age of drastic changes starting from technological ones and might be in big part due to the achievement of humanity of creating an artificial general intelligence which is different from a narrow artificial intelligence and you start big questions based on these assumption that we might achieve that so you what is the difference between a general, artificial general intelligence in a narrow one? and why does it matter so much for an eventual fourth age and we might be entering as you theorized?
Byron Reese: Do you know it's unfortunate that we use this term artificial intelligence so broadly because on the one hand it's used to describe commander data from Star Trek or C-3PO from Star Wars something that can interact with you like a person but it artificial intelligence is also anything that responds to its environment so it's a lawn sprinkler system that automatically comes on when your grass is dry and unfortunately those are both artificial intelligence and we don't have a lot of nuance between them the reason that's a little bit of a problem is they may not have anything to do with each other it may not be the that the general intelligence the robot like you see in the movies.
It isn't just a better form of that lawn thing it may be completely unrelated in fact all we know how to make is narrow artificial intelligence these computers that can do one thing they can play chess they can spot spam they can do one thing well but that doesn't mean that when they can do two things Then four, then twenty, then a thousand, then a million that somehow one day they become like us we are more than just being able to do a thousand different things we are something beyond that and that's the general intelligence and it like I said we may not have even started working on that technology yet certainly I don't believe anybody knows how to build it
Simone Salis: Yeah you mentioned the unifying different functions from narrow intelligences and creating like a Frankenstein. Is like if you add enough functions together it might be an emulation of abilities there are part of human abilities and skills and beyond that but doesn’t think you touch topics like consciousness how consciousness arises?. Who is human? How do you define humans? And in general also social and economical debates are going to happen in the next decade or so like ours is going to the headlines that you see recently are they all going to take our jobs and what we're going to do if we don't have anything to do or they going to be our overlords and so your work is mostly discerning between the scientific theories and studies and also what is dystopian and utopian but out of all the dystopian and utopian possible developments and implications of AGI you seem to be quite optimistic on the outcome to me like you try to be as neutral as you can but I think that among all the dangers you see a great potential in the future of development of AI.
Byron Reese: That is correct and as you point out the book starts with old technologies and I really got interested in what technology is and why does it affect humanity so dramatically and I came to a really simple understanding of it which is technology is just things that multiply human ability that’s why you can move more bricks with the wheelbarrow than you can carry and then better technology like a forklift, you can move even more bricks. And so technology empowers us to do more there's a reason that you know I don't work harder than my great-great grandparents but I live a more lavish life than they do why because an hour of my labor just yield so much more than an hour of theirs. Because we're technology is that what I tried to do was say some technologies come along and they just make our lives easier or better or what have you but sometimes a technology comes along it's so big like language that you can't even kind of imagine the species without it you can't imagine humans kind of without cities without the division of labor so what I can tell is that for the last hundred thousand years when we come up with new technology for the most part we use it to increase human productivity and that increases humans standard of living and there's no reason in the world to think that's going to change AI in a sense is given an artificial kind of aura of mystic calmness or power but it's a really simple idea and the simple idea is take a bunch of data about the past study it look for patterns and make projections in the future I would just say one more thing real quickly. 25 years ago the Mosaic browser came out, and if you said in 25 years from now. Two billion people, three billion people are going to use this technology what is likely to happen and you could have said something like well people probably aren't going to mail as many letters and travel agents are going to have a hard time and newspapers are going to have a hard time and you would have been right about all of that.
But you would never have realized that there would be an open source movement that people would write code and share it for free you would have never said oh they'll be an encyclopedia that people will work hard on for free and you never would have said oh they're going to be these forums that anybody can post any problem and other people are going to help them you wouldn't have seen Etsy or eBay or Google or Amazon or any of the 25 trillion dollars worth of wealth that's created and all the internet laws was letting computers talk better that's it and so when you make computers talk better and you get all of that imagine artificial intelligence is a technology that makes people effectively smarter and if you woke up tomorrow and everybody was smarter that's going to be a good thing if that isn't a good thing then by extension it would be better if we all woke up with 10 fewer IQ points tomorrow and I just don't believe that.
Simone Salis: I think technology is great for emancipation definitely like enables creation and gives tool democratizes tools I agree with all of that on the downside though if you wake up in the morning and you get smarter because another device makes you smarter and there is a degradation of memory and language abilities because you're connected and the device is making us more do you wake up smarter or do you wake up with a little bit less of IQ or with a bigger tool
Byron Reese: That’s a fantastically interesting question and it's an interesting old question you know Plato was no fan of writing. I mean I guess he was because he wrote but he predicted that when writing became widespread our memories would get worse, in fact he even said with writing you haven't made a tool for remembering anything you've only made a tool for reminding you of something and it is true that back in those days when you had those oral histories and Yenta Odyssey and all of these things that people memorized if you wanted to know something back then you had to remember if you're entirely right by the way the man who used to carry bricks on his back who gets a forklift may not be as strong but it doesn't matter if I have a tool that I can just hover over somebody and tell what illness they have and what to do about it. Why is that less perfect than if I knew that myself so you're right you're entirely right I do math well in my head because I had to and my kids don't because they are back when I was a kid you would say why do we need to learn this can't we just use a calculator and the teacher would always say well you're not going to have a calculator with you all the time are you and of course you are because we do and so it's true our memories are worse because and we do math in our head worse because we have calculators and you're right we are only going to effectively be smarter but we won't actually be smarter.
Simone Salis: Okay so there is a little bit of trading with actually reading intrinsic capacity of the human brain of executing some tasks and you're gaining like a general ability.
Byron Reese: It's always hard to see it because if you went back in time and you said to those people like it was a Roman general who knew the name of all 20, 000of his troops and their and their family members names if you said hey in the future you will have any fact you want at the tip of your finger any knowledge in the world however you will have trouble remembering your four-digit pin number he would have said no thank you that does not sound like a human but we're on the other side of that and we don't feel any less human than they do.
Simone Salis: I am there is you know there is starting to be a little bit of more critical voices to advancements without an ethical and moral check on them lately in the past few years one of them his name is Jaron Lanier and he's the author of one of his most recent books is Ten Arguments to Delete your Social Media Accounts right now and the other book that he recently wrote at Who Owns the Future and You're not a Gadget and he's one of the fathers of VR and he explains the current definition of AI is not just a case that has a mystic aura around itself it's because in itself at the current state AI mostly means machine learning through ingestion of big data. So, what is the difference which means you can you know from what I understand you collect enough data and you find enough patterns that you can statistically kind of predict what's going to happen and so statistically make a decision on when to restock the warehouse at the right time for Amazon to not have not enough products to ship to somebody or at the same time it might become it's very wide you might become what a person on Facebook might do when it's the best moment to influence them to sell a specific product for advertising and then there are like you know actors like Cambridge Analytica that might use that in a sense that we don't intend them to use it to what is the difference between machine learning and current state of AI and true artificial general intelligence, when can we distinguish that?
Byron Reese: There's a nebulous concept called intelligence and there's no agreement on a definition of that and that seems weird but it isn't because there's no definition on what life is or what death is there are all these big ideas that we just kind of know and among intelligence you have natural intelligence which is what we have, and then you have artificial intelligence and among artificial intelligence you have two different kinds again you have general intelligence which is a machine as creative and as versatile as a human and then you have narrow intelligence and that's a machine that can do one thing now within narrow intelligence there's I can think of five different techniques.
I won't go through them all that we use we use evolutionary algorithms to evolve solutions we use we classic AI to model a system blah-blah-blah-blah-blah the one that everybody's excited about now is what you just described machine learning where you nailed it exactly you take a bunch of data about the past you study it and you make a projection about the future now two things to answer your question first it's unclear where that works and does it work the philosophic assumption behind it is the future is like the past so I can train it to identify a cat because a cat tomorrow looks probably like a cat today right. But I may not be able to use it to identify a cell phone right because a cell phone you know after September 12 is a cell phone still going to look like the flip phone we had 10 years ago so there's a lot of questions around language is language like that can you predict the next thing I'm going to say just based on all the data about everything I've said before banana see like you wouldn't have known I was about to say banana right?
Simone Salis: Yeah, I couldn’t stop saying blah-blah-blah
Byron Reese: Exactly now for an artificial general intelligence that's a system that's creative that's an a system that can do like a MacGyver can figure out all these new things I think it's an unproven point that in fact I don't know that I've talked to any practitioners who believe simply studying enough data is going to be able to let us build that I can't think of a single person who's ever told me that yeah it's just enough machine language I mean we had this test called the Turing test which is says if you can't tell if you're chatting with a robot or with a computer or a person you might have to say the computers thinking and the first time every time I see one of those systems.
I ask you the question what's bigger a nickel or the Sun? now I've never had a single one get that question right but a human has no trouble with it and so you could imagine that may be enough data maybe it might be able to get that but then you get all these more complicated questions that have nuance and you have to make assumptions and you have to guess and then you have to say well maybe there isn't enough data and then that doesn't even get you to creativity and inspiration that doesn't get you somehow - JK Rowling Harry Potter or Lin-Manuel Miranda writing Hamilton or Banksy making the graffiti that he makes I don't think any of that's really what machine language can I'm sorry I keep saying that machine learning can do I just don't think you can study the past project the future and do any of that general intelligence.
Simone Salis: Do you watch West world?
Byron Reese: I am required to watch all I have to watch everybody ask me about every one of them, so I have to watch every episode of Black Mirror I have to go see every movie I have to watch every bit of it because I have seen every episode West World, yes…
Simone Salis: Not about the series itself I don't want to get into like how good is it how realistic it is there is just one detail that speaking of what we were talking about came to my mind what makes difference between true intelligence and making those beings apart I found it very interesting that it was improvisation they mentioned a few times they say that there is this improvisation like everything is predictable so far as machine learning data and big data and then the one difference is that improvisation is what makes those robots start something different so to have a little bit of conscience or something and I'm an improviser and I find it incredibly liberating and I find it incredibly constructive how do you break out of how do you create true intelligence I am not a scientist, I'm not a physicist, I'm not a biologist, I am an improviser, I'm a hosta content creator, but I thought isn't it interesting that improvisation in that show is the key to break out of behavior like programmed behavior and machine learning.
Byron Reese: Yeah I agree they call it what the reveries it's the little remnants of past incarnations that somehow manifest themselves in different ways yeah we don't know how to make a machine do that the only way we would make machines do it is we would randomly give it random behavior but that's different than a proposition
Simone Salis: That would be pretty dangerous because you need to be
Byron Reese: Within a narrow band
Simone Salis: Within a narrow but one of the ways that I think AI and machine learning is evolving fast is when you know you have to challenge in AI that confirm themselves on a problem try to solve it differently and there is one that tries to solve there probably in a way it fails the other one tries to solve in the other way and so when those two challenge AI there was a paper confirm themselves then eventually you have a greater chance to find a solution about it so I don’t know I thought that that was similar to improvisation.
Byron Reese: There is a an interesting corollary to that you probably remember when Alphago defeated Lee Sedol move 37 exactly so the setup for the listener very quickly is that he's playing the best player that Alphago is playing the best player in the world and makes this move that causes everybody to gasp move 37. Was this like a good move, a brilliant move, was it a bad move, did it mess up and then the people who even made Alphago they were like what!! where did that come from and so they like opened the system up and they're like only 1 in 10, 000 people would have ever made that move and Lee Sedol the player looks at it and he said it was a brilliant move and this is a moment people began talking about Alphago's creativity and the question to ask is was Alphago creative or did Alphago emulate creativity? Or is there no difference between those two states, and that to me is the core question does the computer improvise or does it emulate improvisation or is there a difference?
Simone Salis: I just started a new mailing list it's the hoomanists weekly digest a text-only curated collection of interesting links and articles that you wish a good friend would have shared with you it's delivered every weekend to your inbox as simple plain text and you can subscribe now for free on hooman.ist/ subscribe am Simone Salis and this is the hoomanist podcast with today's guest Byron Reese CEO of Gigaom you say that you know computation itself is profoundly philosophical what do you think that computers are philosophically meaningful?
Byron Reese: There is a viewpoint that says that at the core everything in the universe is computation so you watch a hurricane, and the wind's blowing around but what's really happening there's a lot of physics going on in there right all forms of you know gravity and different forces are acting on things and temperatures are changing and so you could squint and you can see that entire hurricane is just a computer program running. It's just a mechanistic and then you say anything in the universe at some level can be reduced perhaps this is a theory. The computation that everything is computable that you could start hypothetically at the Big Bang and everything is just computation that made us here today and if you think of it that way then a computer which is just doing computation is the same kind of thing as any other thing that computation is a form of reality that is like the hurricane.
And so we don't I don't know if that's true or not. I really don't and I don't even have an opinion about whether it's true or not but it is it is a different way to think of a computer as something that is much more like us and like a tree and like a hurricane than it is something completely different.
Simone Salis: If you write a book about all of this and you don't form even a minimal opinion
Byron Reese: Well no I don't I don't want to say that.
Simone Salis: Okay
Byron Reese: I'm just saying that one particular theory because it's like
Simone Salis: I understand
Byron Reese: Stephen Wolfram is a big proponent of that, and I've heard him explain it and I don't understand that and so I don't want to have an opinion about something that I don't understand I can describe it you know you may read what I just said it said yeah that's largely accurate but I don't know if that's true or not
Simone Salis: Do you label yourself agnostic in that sense?
Byron Reese: I would say this I try to say in the book and I don't hide any of my views I'm happy to.
Simone Salis: To share them
Byron Reese: absolutely what I kept saying in the book is my views aren't germane to what I was trying to do in the book which is, it doesn't matter whether I think you have a soul or not the question is do you think you've ever saw it doesn't matter if I think the world's materialistic it’s matters do you think it and until it was inappropriate for me to project myself I will say this. I am unconvinced by the materialistic view and I mean that I you have this brain you don't understand maybe that's fine we don't understand the brain but then we have something called a mind and a mind is all of these things that the brain can do that seem kind of mysterious like you have it has a sense of humor whereas I doubt your liver or your kidneys have a sense of humor right, so the brain has these properties that are really mysterious.
And then we have consciousness now consciousness is something people say we don't know what it is but that's not true we know everybody agrees exactly what it is it's the experience of being you let me think of it this way you can feel warmth but a computer can measure temperature and that difference that difference between experiencing the world and measuring the world that's consciousness now as far as scientific questions go it's been described as the last great one we don't know what the answer would look like and we don't even know how to ask it scientifically so the most immediate fact we have about ourselves is that we experience the world that's the primary thing you know, and we don't have any scientific way to explain how matter can experience the world. And so I am completely unconvinced that that is materialistic I have no reason whatsoever to believe that it is that is not to say that it isn't.
Simone Salis: Mm-hmm I understand
Byron Reese: I find the amount of evidence to me that suggests that it is I find to be zero I can give you the logic the logic says well life is biology, biology is chemistry, chemistry is physics, everything's physics. One way or the other that's physics you don't understand it that's fine it's just physics if it's physics its materialistic we can build it we'll make a machine but in any way shape or form except that.
Simone Salis: Okay can it be both because the way I see it is like that Stephen Wolfram when he was just a few lines of code but at the same time.
Byron Reese: Did I put that in my book
Simone Salis: Ah, I think you did
Byron Reese: Yeah, I think I did too
Simone Salis: That’s what I said
Byron Reese: Just asking like how many lines are we talking about and you were like not that many maybe 20 or 30
Simone Salis: 20 or 30 lines that said
Byron Reese: Then you just iterate over time that's it
Simone Salis: It's like a fractal that evolves
Byron Reese: That's exactly right
Simone Salis: And you know but I don't see that personally and this is just you know I understand that you have a very specific and scientific and researching point of view in your book but I don't want to particularly step aside but just you know chatting between human beings with consciousness I don't see that materialistic view as incompatible
Byron Reese: Yeah, I mean it would be a big idea if a cloud of hydrogen somehow became us and then named itself that requires a lot more faith to believe that I have and I'm more inclined to believe Yoda you know when he says luminous beings are we like not this crude matter it feels much more consciousness feels much more luminous than it feels mechanistic to me but that's a subjective experience that's just
Simone Salis: Yeah
Byron Reese: just me and that's why I don't put any of that in the book I don't I mean could you even tell were you able to see my preferences or predilections through it when you were reading it or?
Simone Salis: No you were um no I will absolutely give you that you are very impartial you have an incredible amount of facts and your arguments are constructed almost as a textbook again when I say that it's a history of technological advancements for human beings in a history of what didn't happen yet it's because you explore every conceivable possibility you know you have arguments and counter-arguments you have dystopia and utopia it doesn't seem I can see to me that you at the end of the day you have a sense of optimism or maybe that's what I want to read in it.
Byron Reese: That is true I mean
Simone Salis: Yeah
Byron Reese: The last section the book says in the future there'll be no hunger and there'll be no greed and all the children will know how to read I mean.
Simone Salis: Yeah, there is literally you know in one of the explanations you have towards the end one is titled normal war and you talk about the positive accomplishments that we can potentially have we're touch with artificial intelligence and you really say the conditions that foster war are vanishing the lower per capita GDP in a country is the higher likelihood for the future war so if we end poverty we're this war that's the sense and food and security also predictor of future conflicts so if we beat hunger then we end war we reduce war illiteracy if we be that we also you know reduce it because it reduces poverty and so it's that kind of chain like AI will ignite a series of changes that would reduce the factors that make or meaningful to human beings although and I want to be able to at the end of the day.
I am optimistic like that by the first implementations of machine learning and AI that we are seen buzz by some states or countries like China for example is starting to deploy facial recognition and big data analysis to his police officers to go in some of the Muslim regions and send them to regional camps they're surfacing and analyzing text conversations on We Chat and tracked them overseas depending on the apps that they use like the first deployment of machine learning and facial recognition and is computing of course there are millions amazing things that we can do we can prevent heart diseases, we can we're not heart disease, we can learn a lot about medicine and we can start to find cures that eventually would be impossible to find if not through this data ingestion but how do we limit and keep to the optimistic side of the future deployment and use of this technologies in a malicious way because it will be inevitable but how do we successfully limit that?
Byron Reese: Well that's a fantastic question and I'm not going to give you a good answer nor am I going to deny you know any of the basic facts you just said it is true that in the past we could all we all maintained anonymity largely because there were so many people and no government could listen to every phone conversation it couldn't watch what everybody did and it is true that with these technologies the very same tools we build to do good things like spot cancer can be used to spot subversive people it's all the same technology and so you're right and there's no easy way around that I will say, however that in the end people have to decide that they value that not being the case and then they have to owe if they're like and I'm just talking right now about in free and open societies. They have to get their legislators to ensconce that in law and then they have to make sure that safeguards are in check so that it's not done and then when it is inevitably you have to make sure there's accountability the price of liberty is eternal vigilance something that is true. And so it's there's no easy way that the short answer in open free societies is that people have to decide the value that and demand that their legislatures enforce it there are other parts of the world though that are authoritarian that will not I mean I'm talking about places far more draconian than China, and the like that they have a different journey to go they have to get accountable government first and then you know governments are resistant to change and but the good news there the reason people.
I don't think should despair is that democracy is sweeping the world if you were to count the number of democratic countries after say World War 2. I'm going to mess up all the numbers I apologize to the listeners but it sounds like 14 and now there are 160. It is transparency these same exact technologies increase the power of people to connect and protest the government we saw that in Arab Spring these same technologies allow access to information and people can write and distribute it to like-minded people and so all of these things it's like Nietzsche said once you look long in the abyss the abyss also looks into you it's like these technologies can be used for good and then be used for evil and it's incumbent on us to use them for good now the final piece of good news I'll say is that more people will use them for good than evil.
How can I say that so confidently that's an easy one for me you know there was a time a hundred thousand years ago we think when humans got down to just a few thousand mating pairs we were an endangered species and one epidemic could've wiped us all out and even then for tens of thousands of years it took all of our time just to find food and then when we had cities ten thousand years ago it took ten thousand years it took ninety percent of us to grow our food and then we slowly made this better and that better and this better and that better and we invented human rights and we outlawed cruelty and we outlawed torture for entertainment and we did all of these things and now we're in this world where everybody's empowered everybody has absolute access to knowledge and communication and all of this stuff that hitherto didn't even exist in the world anywhere on the planet 30 years ago and that to me is a story of us getting better and better and better and better had we disproportionately been destructive had we disproportionately been evil how would we have ever made it through all of that to here we made it because most people are interested in building not destroying.
Simone Salis: That's good know that's true so that's the optimistic part of the book at the end like that's what also comes through the very last chapter that at the end yeah everything can be used for evil or good but mostly human beings try to build and not to destroy to who I had in their own journey you know you also mention how there is this illusion that some will go away when at the end you do you use the example of the ATM the automatic teller machine when it came around you say well most bank tellers we're like well we all know what it stands for automatics so we won't be needed anymore but there is a rapport person of their own job and whatever they do and you think at the end the ATM generated a lot of jobs and you know because there is the technician that needs to repair the Machine and there is the guy or the woman that puts money in it and who's those again there in there is the factory that builds the automatic teller machine so at the end what is what is do you have a counter-argument you show you display a counter argument to all the job losses that we see in the headlines that will come because of AI in the future right
Byron Reese: Right and to be clear there's actually more bank tellers than there were then too because the ATM lowered the cost of opening bank branches banks open more branches and everyone needed tellers so there's actually thousands more tellers today than there were when that came out. So, I would like the book explores three possible futures about jobs
Simone Salis: Yes
Byron Reese: It says maybe they're going to take all the bad jobs and we're going to have permanent unemployment and it's going to be like this dystopian movies and then there's a view that says haha don't kid yourself at some point a machine can do learn everything better than a human and when they do that that's it there's zero jobs for anybody there's no poets they write the poetry there's no there's a songwriter they write the songs. But then there's a third view and again I explore it if you want to know what I think. I think this third of you and it's the one that gets the least airing so let me lay it out there it goes pretty simple I'm not just going to say oh it's like the Industrial Revolution let’s look at it at a whole different way in this country the other states we've had 250 years of full employment and by that I mean unemployment has been between 5 and 10% that whole time other than the depression it was at 20% and higher. But that wasn't caused by technology so just indulge me that we had 250 years of full employment, meanwhile I think the half-life of a job is about 45 years so I talk about that in the book.
Simone Salis: I don't think you mentioned
Byron Reese: I don't think I do I've been working on this lately I think every 45 years half the jobs vanish so between 1850 and 1900 half the farming job vanishes 1900, 1950 another half 1950 to 2000 half the manufacturing jobs went and so forth and I don't think we're seeing anything all that different right now so my meanwhile by the way if every 50 years we're just call it 50 for round numbers since every 50 years half the jobs are going away how do you have full employment how do you maintain that? Furthermore you have these disruptive technologies that come in like steam power all of a sudden millions of people that handled animals draft animals or in need it but all these steam people were needed and then you had the assembly line which is by the way a kind of artificial intelligence a scary one if you learned a craft and then you saw this process they could make a better chair than you. Cheaper with untrained people that's frightening so you have these big technologies coming out and again no change on the planet and here's what happens here's the setup you hear in the news a lot and I encourage people to listen for this it goes like this technology's really good at creating high-paying technical jobs like a geneticist, however unfortunately it destroys jobs like order-taker at McDonald's and then they say and this is what I encourage people to listen for do you really think that order taker is going to become a geneticist they have those skills and you think yeah I guess not but the answer is no the order taker won't become a geneticist a biology Professor a college biology Professor becomes that geneticist and then the high school biology teacher gets the job at the college and then the substitute teacher gets hired at the high school all the way down the line.
So, the question isn't can that order taker be a geneticist the question is can everybody do a job a little bit harder than the job they have today and I emphatically think that's true and that is 250 years of economic history of why technology creates great new jobs for 250 years destroys bad jobs that machines can do and what happens everybody shifts up one notch everybody shifts up one notch, and we can never run out of jobs because jobs are made the instant somebody takes a piece of technology and does something with it so no I think the chance that you're going to see any bump in unemployment or no it just these are technologies that make people more productive and they increase opportunities and increase wages and they're going to create these amazing new jobs are going to destroy once at the bottom in 50 years half of all the jobs will be gone everybody will shift up.
Simone Salis: You know one of the other things would be that there will be more opportunities throughout a masion and through the creation of new jobs to start to get rid of all those jobs that are automated like you say in the in the factory when it was invented the repetitive jobs that goes on for 8, 10, 12 hours, 6 hours whatever it does destroy the brain at some point so I would be really happy if there was a chance for Humanity to just and some point have to face the real questions of being on planet earth which is not waking up in the morning during a repetitive text you know in a factory in China for 18 hours and then go back to sleep and start over again there would be also great I wish that
Byron Reese: I say in the book that any job a machine could do. I mean just imagine some job a machine could do like I'm looking around my office window washer you could imagine we'll make a robot that can wash windows right. If you make a person do that job there's a word for that and it's dehumanizing if you make a person do a job the machine could do you've just taken everything about them that's human and told them to put that on hold you just need them to be a machine and I think that is a terrible waste of human potential I think everybody can do things that only people can do.
Simone Salis: I am Simone Salis and this is the Hoomanists, you can listen to every episode of the show on hooman.ist and on your favorite podcast app I created the hoomanists as an independent media project for technologically aware contemporary humanists you will find articles accurate mailing list and all the podcast interviews on hooman.ist this is a challenge in solo project that takes hundreds of hours each month with coding writing recording editing graphics and publishing and if you would like to keep enjoying new content regularly please become a patron now on hooman.ist/support.
Today's guest is Byron Reese author of the book the Fourth Age I am a great fan of automation and I try to apply it in my little bit of content creation too for example whenever I write a new article or whenever record a new episode most of the tasks in editing and after editing of cutting exporting uploading sharing through templates on social media are automated like after I export the episode most of the job is done for me except keeping a human touch in it a newsletter I get like through markdown, I select articles that are collected through zapier and formatted and sent to me so to create the newsletter I basically have to read and send a newsletter I don't have to format anything and that can eventually you know if you harness this little bit of automation for independent content creators it can be useful for us. You mentioned also universal basic income experiments in theory in case you know to supplement in one of the other scenarios I think number two that you explore in the book?
Byron Reese: Yeah
Simone Salis: Let's say that one day we go past all this level of automation we are free with time and the only thing that remains to contemplate is life and death and we start to look for a way to upload ourselves or merge ourselves with our own machines like also I know it's an incredibly wide topic to touch in discussion but your book is free dance with that but you analyze how once we reach a technological breakthrough and singularity we might start to find a way to either manage our machines or to acquire those superpowers that they will embody for ourselves either by becoming them or merging with them so you talk about the goal that Ray Kurzweil has been trying to pursue at Google for a while at least that's what is whispered between him and Sam Altman have uploaded their own consciousness and brains to the cloud and reproduced that which might be a trick to give consciousness to a machine by simply injecting our brains into them and become them but
Byron Reese: So to be clear yeah I'm not a singular in I explore it all in the book though and again try to look at every possible scenario. We can either learn to implant computers in our brains; we can learn to copy our consciousness into a computer that is completely possible if you believe so it's a really simple idea right if you could if you could take the state of every atom in your brain. And model that in the computer and put that in the computer then there you are, that's the logic. Oversimplified but that's the basic idea, if you don't accept that if you don't accept that then that is really hard I won't tell you something interesting I've learned doing the book and that is I opened with the question you know this which is what are you? And I give people three choices, the first is that you're a machine and everything that happens in you is physics you're a big bag of chemicals and electricity it's a mechanistic view of the world you wind the clock and the clock goes and that's it and then, I say there's a second choice that you're an animal and that means you have this mechanistic body but you have this thing called life and that we don't quite understand or there's a third choice and that is you're a human and of course you're a human but what I mean by that is yeah you have a body yeah you're alive but you have something else you're conscious maybe you have a soul maybe something else now here's what I have learned that I think is interesting when I ask people on my podcast the area-based people working in AI 90% or more choose what option do you think?
Simone Salis: I'm going to go and say human I'm going to be optimistic
Byron Reese: No
Simone Salis: Ha; ha I tried ha; ha.
Byron Reese: No they all say number one even Stephen Hawkins said I don’t have any illusion of an afterlife
Simone Salis: Hmm
Byron Reese: I’m just like computer when I when my body goes it’s like turning the computer off there's nothing more than that. And that sentiment pervades that view of the world which is of course we can build all this because we are machines we have on gigaom.com common and on my website byronreese.com. I have a quiz when I ask people those questions, and then I get a cross-section of the country and 85% of those people guess what?
Simone Salis: They are human
Byron Reese: Correct and so there's this huge disconnect I have discovered between the vast majority of people I will say that even when I had a draft of my book to my editor. And it had you know one possibility you're a machine, he wrote in the column well does anybody really believe that?
Simone Salis: Oh, ha; ha, I do
Byron Reese: Isn’t that interesting that’s New York, that’s humanity is more all of that but the things is everybody I know like everybody on my show believes that, and so I believe that simple difference of view accounts for why people have so radically different views about these technologies will AI take all the jobs every single one well if we're machines then, yeah. If we're machines eventually you'll build a mechanical human.
Simone Salis: Ha; ha.
Byron Reese: It’s that simple
Simone Salis: Ha; ha, yeah
Byron Reese: But if you are not a machine then no there are things that a human being only a human being can do
Simone Salis: Mm-hmm you know I you were again you're very clear and explained that you expose these theories but if you were to choose I think I would choose one and three for myself because I think that we are machine-human machines.
Byron Reese: Ah; ah
Simone Salis: And in your book you explained that if you think anything different from this just for the sake of going ahead
Byron Reese: Yeah
Simone Salis: Just consider yourself dualistic, just consider yourself human, just consider yourself, but I think that again like in the first you think.
Byron Reese: But how do you think that are you a giant clockwork that if you wind you up.
Simone Salis: Yeah
Byron Reese: Like do you have free will or not?
Simone Salis: Umm, that I cannot answer I don't that I cannot answer at least I have the illusion of it if I don't have it.
Byron Reese: Correct but the Bay Area people are like no you don't have it.
Simone Salis: Ha; ha; ha; ha well I don't know we get to the point where one need do I need to believe that I have free will and thus I see it and I project it unto myself and even if you don't have it what it matters it's like the simulation theory are we a simulation of our ancestors and we freak out like Elon Musk does or we just go ahead and enjoy the steak like the agent metrics thus when he gets rejected in some shows
Byron Reese: Right but again even that shows you a thing most people would say this isn't a simulation because I have subjective experience
Simone Salis: Yeah you wouldn't know ha; ha; ha or if it was
Byron Reese: Fair enough
Simone Salis: Okay.
Byron Reese: Fair enough
Simone Salis: Ummm but
Byron Reese: Something is feeling maybe not
Simone Salis: Yeah, okay.
Byron Reese: Maybe everybody just thinks they feel warmth and they don't really at some point it just sounds preposterous and you think now I'm going to go with the simpler explanation this is reality
Simone Salis: okay, yeah that's it that's it that's really that’s all it is well all right so I'm going to take you as a number three the way you see yourself
Byron Reese: Yeah, well.
Simone Salis: Okay.
Byron Reese: I'm completely unpersuaded by number one number one can't explain okay so you know who it was was uh
Simone Salis: Number three human by the way
Byron Reese: Hold on a second it was one of those people uh I will think of it in a minute a 17th century English person, and they asked him if he had free will and he said well everything like in reasons says I don't but everything I can feel says I do and I think we're all like that we should think we have it right. It sure feels like it
Simone Salis: Right
Byron Reese: So, I'm going to assume I have it because it feels like I do I'm going to assume unconscious and option one has never explained to me why that can be. Now you don't have to necessarily get spiritual to be a number three humans can have some kind of strong emergence humans there could be something there could be some fundamental aspect of physics we don't even understand that it's happening in us I mean there's so many other things we could be that this simple every cause has an effect and every effect has a root cause. Physics explains everything that's basically it physics explains everything that's that viewpoint I am unconvinced that is true.
Simone Salis: You also talk about reconsidering how consciousness might sit on top of everything as compared to physics if I'm not wrong and that implies reconsidering the science ha; ha; as we know it we're like you know physics it's on top of chemistry, chemistry on top of biology, biology on top of etcetera. You just reverse that order for the scientific world but if you see yourself as a human let's say that we fast-forward 40 years would you upload yourself and hang out with Ray car's veil?
Byron Reese: So, is the question would I …
Simone Salis: Whether you would
Byron Reese: Would I have my brain zap like?
Simone Salis: Let’s say you know I'll go with a specific scenario there is this scanner that can take all the configuration of yourself and the illusion of supreme pretty much like teleport to make the example of teleport
Byron Reese: Right
Simone Salis: I have a comic book here that explains exactly that you get teleported inside a machine you get a complete scan your neural paths get screenshot at that time it gets uploaded and you wake up as a machine in this virtual reality or as a machine itself. And it is very much still Byron Reese number two like version of yourself is just outside of your original human body would you do that. And you know it's just a little game and it leads to ballistic but I'm curious of the reasons
Byron Reese: No; no it's great you know another version of it is there's a machine you step into it takes you apart one atom at a time it scans it and then a 3D printer on Mars rebuilds you, and you step out saying, wow that was easy what you do it. Would I no thank you.
Simone Salis: Ha; ha; ha; why is that?
Byron Reese: That again is the view number one that's a mechanistic view that if you could capture all the information about every one of my atoms. That is in the end what I am and if you could rebuild that on Mars instantly that's not me it's a fantastically good copy of me but that is no longer me you know you remember I used the ship of Theseus example.
Simone Salis: Oh, yes; yes.
Byron Reese: It is called the Ship of Theseus it's this this yeah this famous Greek ship in ancient times that they tried to keep but every time a piece rotted they replaced it till eventually none of it was left over is it the same ship. So, it's the same thing again it all boils down to what are you and I am more than the information on the position and trajectory of the atoms that make me up I believe., again if you're listening to this the book isn't about what I believe.
Simone Salis: Of course, of course
Byron Reese: I try to just break all these problems apart so that this kind of conversation that you and I are having is what I try to have with the reader
Simone Salis: Right it is you know this is just entertaining to the measures that can allow us to understand why the book was written - in first instance you're just trying to make people reasoning the way that I am doing
Byron Reese: Correct that's exactly right and believe me I could very well be wrong
Simone Salis: You close the book itself with the example of the story of Gilgamesh and the myth of that more or less with Gilgamesh trying to defeat death and become immortal but eventually realizing that true immortality is achieved by what you doing the time that you have and not how much time you have and being remembered through what you achieve through life is what matters the most now maybe we will all be uploaded and understand that we stay the same because the idea our self there is actually a dualistic plane of existence and just copy-pasting is maintaining the same dualistic self metaphysical self that we have and we just switch bodies around
Byron Reese: Oh, right.
Simone Salis: Who knows, but let's say there for now we can't except on this planet except rate cars file and this is something that I asked to my guests all of them in a different way but I do the moment before you expire we expire you know when it comes to that moment one looks back and what do you think it would have mattered the most to you Byron Reese in this experience this amount of time that you have what are your main drives what is something that you consciously try to work on a daily basis. So, it can be important to you when satisfactory for.
Byron Reese: Well interestingly I I've never talked about this publicly but I think about my death every day in fact I used to have this habit of writing things in my hand that I need to remember to do and I saw I still had this reflexive habit of looking at my hand all the time just because it would always be stuff there and there was interesting because if nothing was written on my head this is when I was in grade school, so we're talking way back if I had nothing on my hand it was like I didn't have anything to do and I decided I wanted to never think that so I did look what ancient Romans what your people called on the Memento Mori a reminder of death I put this can you see it on the camera there this little tattooed spot. B. Reese**: So, I actually l went to a tattoo parlor and got this spot it looks like you know somebody just took an ink pen jammed your hand with it once. This little spot of black ink and every time I look at it I think ah I have something I should be doing right now because I'm mortal though I'm going to die and so I think about my death every day and I also write a newsletter about my family every year and it always has a letter at the beginning. Which is all about life and beginnings and it always has a back page about endings and death and always talked about my own death because I assumed maybe this is the last one I'm going to write because you never know. And I think in the end our challenges is to be great ancestors and that's what I try to be I included this Dr. Seuss quote once and it said don't cry because it's over smile because it happened and I guess that is in the end I want those who come after me to smile because it happened.
Simone Salis: Thank You Byron thank you for sharing the book and taking the time to share your thoughts with me you can find The Fourth Age by Simone &Schuster right now on Amazon and by visiting also byronreese.com there are also plenty of talks including the TEDxAustin that you shared on your website and you know just thank you for taking the time
Byron Reese: It was a lot of fun you asked me a very different questions than other people, so it was a pleasant change. Thanks a lot.
Simone Salis: Thank you so much.