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The Great Debates of Our Time

Saturday, November 19, 2016. San Francisco

The future is not what it used to be

We're all seeing impressive developments. But the future is not determined. The ink isn't dry. What should humanity's path look like? Foresight is bringing together leading minds to fight it out.

When Saturday, November 19, 2016
1-7 PM: Core event with debates and audience voting
7 PM-late: Special dinner for speakers and Foresight Members

Where Antique mansion turned incubator at secret location in Alamo Square, SF

Tomorrow And The Day After: What's in Store for Us?

Longterm thinking, X-Risk, Moore's Law

Video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_zbR2fZpx8
Published on Jan 23, 2017. Length: 45:32

Bryan Johnson, Founder of Kernel, Braintree and the O/S Fund
Richard Titus, Senior Vice President at Samsung Electronics
Julia Bossmann, President of Foresight Institute
Nichol Bradford, Co-Founder of the Transformative Technology Lab
Ryan Bethencourt, Program Director & Venture Partner at IndieBio
Moderator: James Norris, Founder of Self Spark, Bay Area Futurists Organizer
Intro: Allison Duettmann, Program Manager at Foresight Institute

Discussion topics include: Long-term thinking, Moore's Law, Artificial Intelligence, Existential Risk, Consciousness, The future of Life, Technoprogress, Space


Allison Duettmann: I would like to introduce the first panel. It's going to be "Tomorrow And The Day After". This debate will set the stage about what the future, and especially the future enabled by technology, might have in store for us.

What do we mean by "the future"? It's hard to say what the next couple years have in store for us, but let's think as far out as we can. There are estimates that if technology would allow us to colonize the future observable universe, and allow our minds to be implemented in computational hardware, there is the potential of 10 to the power 54 human brain emulations. That is a one with 54 zeroes. This is a lot of potential lives, and a lot of potential value. Of course these numbers can be debated, but it should only serve as an eye-opener of how far out we might think, and how much impact our actions and technological inventions might have on the future. But let's start at the present, and let's see what's down the line.

Now please help me welcome the panel: Ryan Bethencourt, Julia Bossmann, Bryan Johnson, Nichol Bradford, Richard Titus, and our moderator James Norris.

Moderator—James Norris: My name is James Norris, and I have the privilege of helping these interesting folks communicate what they've learned and what they are thinking about the future. Our panel is "Tomorrow and the day after." This is pretty broad. We are actually hoping to dive into some interesting, creative topics. We want your interactions, so I encourage you to should out comment and questions as you think appropriate. Keep in mind that we are hear to hear from the individuals here [on the panel] but I do want some interaction, and we are going to look for those questions near the end.

I will go ahead and start, kicking of with our amazing panel with Ryan on the far left. Ryan Bethencourt is a biotech entrepreneur, investor, and one of the founders of the biohacking movement. Currently he's at IndieBio, he's a program director and venture partner, and basically he has invested in over 56 bio startups. He is pioneering this space. One fun fact for him—I'm going to give you some trivia so you know more about them as humans—he is a [indecipherable] You can ask him about that.

Next up we have Julia Bossmann; she is the President of Foresight Institute. Before, she founded Synthetic, Anticip8 Analytics, and quite a few other companies and organizations. She is one of the leaders in foresight overall. One of her fun facts is that she is actually one of the few people who called Trump to win, and I think made a pretty penny from that—we didn't say celebrate.

Audience: How much money did you win?

Julia Bossmann: Not enough to make the pain go away.

Moderator—James Norris: Next up we have Nichol Bradford. She is the CEO of Willow Group, which publishes this amazing course called "Finders Course", which helps with radical transformation. Quite a uique program. She is also the Executive Director of the Transformative Technology Lab at Sofia University, and is one of the pioneers of transformative tech. So her fun fact is that she wrote a novel about badass women by day and vigilantes by night. She calls it Sisterhood. Pretty interesting.

Richard [Titus] is an interesting character. He is a serial entrepreneur, an executive, recently at Samsung. He has been pioneering so many different things it is hard to really capture it, but you probably know him from Razorfish. That is probably the most interesting one. He also called Trump to win. So we have two out of five.

Finally we have Bryan Johnson, He is the Founder of Kernel, O/S Fund, and Braintree—quite a few companies you have probably heard of or used. He built Kernel in 2016 to be the world's first neural prosthetics company to enhance human intelligence. One of the many interesting things about him beides being a mountaineer, climbing volcanoes, and so on, is that he recently wrote a children's book, called Code 7. Also interesting to look at.

I think with that, we are going to jump in. This is not a formal debate. This is a casual conversation between thought leaders. The questions came some from the organizers, some from the audience, and basically we are just trying to get you thinking about the future. So let's start with: Imagine it is 2030 and you are looking back on today, what do you think will be humanity's biggest surprise between now and then; what will surprise us? Anyone can take it.

Richard Titus: Most of us are still alive. Right now this month is the hottest month on record in the Arctic Circle, which is catastrophically bad for so many reasons I can't even count. At the same time, we have elected—we've all sort of taken the collective red pill—and elected a man who is denying the rate of climate change. So I think that by 2030 the most amazing thing would be that we are all still alive, because it means that the fabric of society hasn't really collapsed yet.

Moderator—James Norris: And that's how this debate will go. [Audience laughter]

Nichol Bradford: I'll go next. I think in 2030 we will all be looking back and one of the things that will surprise us the most, and inspire us the most, is that we actually did have a world-wide awakening, and what I hope will happen from this period of time, and also what I am seeing with most of the people I know who have meditation sites, their traffic has gone crazy, where people are wanting to up-level their skill sets. I think between that and people like Richard—he actually does quite a lot of work in making sure that we all are alive—I think that we will have a world-wide awakening. So that is what I think we will look back and be surprised and inspired by.

Julia Bossmann: I agree with Richard's worry, actually, about what humanity will be like in 2030. I think if we build more technology, and if we succeed with it, there will also be different questions asked in 2030 about what it means to be human and how we relate to machines. One thing, for example, that I would expect by 2030 is that we have fully conversational artificial intelligence, so that you could talk to someone on the Internet, and they could even have a human-sounding voice, and you couldn't know whether you are actually talking to a human being or to a machine. On the other hand, we ourselves would get closer to machines, so the line between a biologically born human and a machine that has similar capabilities, or exceeding capabilities, will be blurred by that time, and it will be very interesting how we deal with that.

Ryan Bethencourt: I want to talk about the wet side of the world, so I think that by 2030 we are actually going to see a revolution in molecular manufacturing, actually brought on by biotechnology. We have that today. If you eat cheese, you eat a product of molecular biology. It is a GMO rennet, an enzyme that is actually fermented. Instead of coming out of a cow's gut, it actually comes out of a bacterium. The vitamins we eat are almost all made in massive bioreactors in the middle of corn fields and sugar cane fields, today. And what we are seeing at IndieBio is an entirely new way to see molecular manufacturing To make a pound of something with carbon is about 15 to 30 cents a pound of sugar. That conversion rate basically heralds the rise of molecular manufacturing, and that's coming—today. That is stuff we've been doing the last two days. That means roll-out by 2030, it will be everywhere. And the consequences of that? I don't think we've fully thought that through, but what that basically means is that we're starting to talk to huge companies, like Nestle, companies that serve billions of people. If you can profitably feed people, as an example, for under a dollar or two per day—profitably!—that technology exists now, and by 2030 it will be fully rolled out globally.

Nichol Bradford: I just wanted to jump in because I took the question in a different way than a specific prediction. So I just want to say what I predict. What I am working on is transformative technology—that's technology for ental and emotional well-being. So I think that all of the areas of technology, whether its molecular manufacturing or AI or whatever it is, we will have applications that we design specifically for supporting human mnetal and emotional well-being. So your AI will be your AI friend; you will take supplements specifically for mood that are not necessarily drugs but are food-related. So everything that everyone is working on fits into transformative technology; there will be an application for that by 2030.

Bryan Johnson: One thing that I do when I talk to entrepreneurs to assess what I am going to invest is I analyze whether I consider them to be future-literate. Not that I consider myself an expert, but basically I define it as people who create mental models for the future while living experimentally and adventurously. So this question you posed basically allowed each person to frame their mental models on the world. If you contemplate the mental models that we have, right now we think in these big chunks like climate science, and AI, and biology, the programmability of it, and genetics, there are these big chunks of things that we understand the world through. I think the one thing that is missing is human intelligence: how the age of neuroscience and the ability to work with our neural code, is not incorporated in our mental models. In this discussion, no one is really speaking about this—it's like this blind spot that we have. Of course it's on the periphery of our vision of scifi and a few movies have talked about it, but I think we will get to a point where we will be able to work with our neural code, both reading and writing, in the same way that we've worked with both biology and genetics. It's the same complex biological system, and I think it will create a more consequential outcome than any of us anticipate, and in a faster time than any of us anticipate. I think that the models that we maintain will define how we understand ourselves in the future, and they will define what we choose to work on, and why we work oon those things, which I think is the value of having this conversation instead of drilling into specific protocols that we are all very familiar with, and repeating arguments that are well-worn.

Richard Titus: I have a question for that. Is your sense that we are restrained by the limits of human intelligence—all kinds of human intelligence—emotional intelligence, intellectual intelligence, or is it your view that we are going to expand and extend human intelligence using technology, learning, or new drugs?

Bryan Johnson: There is certainly an intelligence scale of biological species. We humans reign supreme on Earth today because we are the most intelligent species. We decide who we eat, who we neuter, who we allow to go extinct, who we save. So if I eat a hamburger, I don't have to hate a cow to eat the burger. I choose to eat the burger because the animal is in service of me. So I think that intelligence is the most powerful and precious resource in existence. As it amplifies, it of course has greater power and authority over all the resources. Whether you are talking about artificial intelligence or human intelligence, these manifestations of intelligence will be basically the source of all power going forward on planet Earth and elsewhere in the universe.

Julia Bossmann: I absolutely agree with that, that intelligence is the most powerful tool and resource that we have, and it greatly depends on how it is going to be used, what future we will be moving towards. We can think of very positive uses for it, where we can cure diseases and figure out the most complex and difficult problems in the world with the use of intelligence, whether it is artificial intelligence or human amplified intelligence. We can also see very bad developments, for example, a regime that wants to oppress people and be alerted whenever there is speech against it will have an incredibly easy time doing this using artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and monitoring communications. We are now at this break point in history where we need to be very careful and put a lot of guidance into how these technologies are developed and how they are deployed to make sure that we are moving toward a future that is beneficial for every person on the planet.

Nichol Bradford: One thing to add. I don't know if many of you saw it, or if you are familiar with Rosalind Picard's lab at MIT. There is a scientist there named [indistinct] who has just been able to pick up early reads on emotional states from WiFi. So it is not only just what you write; it is how you feel.

Richard Titus: I think actually one of the things I was curious about is that we use the word "intelligence" in a very generic sense, but actually there is lots of different kinds of intelligence. One of the things that I think is amazing about technology, is that I suffer from both ADHD and dyslexia, and a hundred years ago, I would have been a farm worker because there was no technology to allow me to learn at the rate that technology has enabled me to learn and allow me to adapt and work in society today. So I am very excited and optimistic about that in terms of enhancements and human augmentation technology. I have a very dystopian view of artificial intelligence because I think what Facebook and Fake News have taught us in this election cycle is that artificial intelligence, by its very nature, is pathological, so I think that we need to really think about how we keep our humanity with our technology as we evolve it over time.

Julia Bossmann: I disagree with that. I don't think that artificial intelligence by its very nature is pathological. I think there are pathological applications of artificial intelligence, and it is too easy in many ways to have it go in bad ways. But I also see extremely positive applications of artificial intelligence. One I just mentioned is artificial intelligence for science. I was just at a meeting with the World Economic Forum at the Future Agenda Council where we talked about the future of artificial intelligence and robotics, and one thing that came up there is that by 2030, if you want to use this number again, we want to see an artificial scientist win a Nobel Prize for solving a scientific problem, such as curing cancer or other things, that are too complex for any human mind to figure out.

Ryan Bethencourt It's already started. We're starting to see algorithms. We saw one that actually figured out a pathway in planarian. For those of you who are not familiar with planarian, those are the worms that you can cut up, and they regrow themselves. You can cut off the head and they grow a tail. You can cut off the tail and they grow a head. It was very difficult to figure out how they do that with regeneration. An algorithm figured that out. I will call it machine learning because I don't think it is artificial intelligence. A machine figured that out.

Julia Bossmann: Yes, and we have artificial scientists who can run a robotic lab, form their own hypotheses, run their own bio experiments, read the results, and then form new hypotheses, so we are already at that point where we can radically accelerate scientific progress with the help of automation and AI.

Bryan Johnson: I'd also say on that point, that again, the frame that we have is artificial intelligence, the frame that we think through, and say we will be able to discover something outside of the human. But I think the proper meme for describing the future of humanity is HI + AI, it's human intelligence plus artificial intelligence. While we have low I/O between us and our devices today, via our thumbs and speech, I think that as we increase that I/O capacity that line will blur. But I think again that the thinking is critical because how we speak about this and imagine it will be the things we build. We will create them into models prior to building actual products. But I do think that as neuroscience and HI come on line, it will help change us, so these questions we pose in a different fashion we will think about it a different way.

Nichol Bradford: So what you are saying is that if we imagine the future, we are actually looking for that symbiotic relationship, and we design toward that, then we increase the likelihood of having that relationship. Is that what you're saying?

Bryan Johnson: That's right. I'm saying that the frame that dominates our discussion today, as based in a sole AI frame, is not an appropriate encapsulation of how intelligence will evolve over the coming decades. I think that when people in this room decide what they're going to build, and how they're going to build it, how they understand the future will be determined by how we speak about it and how we understand that.

Nichol Bradford: I agree with that. One of the future dates that I think about a lot is an estimation that the World Health Organization has is that by 2030 there will need to be a [indecipherable] for depression worldwide. Right now if you look at the number of people who are trained as health practitioners, it is not possible to close that gap. There are not enough schools, there are not enough years left in terms of being able to train enough people, so the only way to do that is to start accessing technology, and potentially AI, to be able to support us mentally and emotionally. In order to do that well, we have to think about the framework you [Bryan Johnson] have described where we don't see it as this and that, but how do the two things work together. There are some people who are so resistant to the idea of having artificial intelligence or avatars support people who are in need … [laughter]

Julia Bossmann: For some people you get the feeling that it is hard to keep up anymore with all of the things that are coming out. We have seen this in other fields too. Nanotechnology, for example, was a very slow development over the past decades, but now recently it has picked up. We have seen the Nobel Prize for molecular machines, and we now have functional models for modelling interactions on the molecular level, and if we combine this with artificial intelligence we can also expect breakthroughs in those fields. When I think about the prospects for humanity, or the amazing things we consider science fiction, such as that we can augment our own brains with the help of technology, or that we can connect to machines with no interfaces. All kinds of things that we imagine to be fantastic now, I think we may be seeing those within our lifetimes, and within 2030.

Richard Titus: I just yesterday, oddly, was a judge for the LA auto show, for the design award. They do an annual design award, and the challenge was, design the car for 2050. Some really interesting things. I said, well alright, what did cars look like 50 years ago. Because that seemed to me the right way to look at this thing. If you look at that, it made me really realize that evolution and innovation are not linear curves. They are very jagged! Parts of our technology have come light years in 50 years, but actually the automobile, other than electric cars (everyone who knows who I am knows I have a vested interest in that) other than electricity, bringing that technology back from the 1920s, cars haven't actually evolved that much. But the computer in that car has evolved a great deal. If you push out from 2030 to 2060 maybe, and you go sort of a little farther into the future, think, over a hundred-year span what is going to change, I would predict that most of the change will be around feeding, and protecting us from the environment, and increasing our ability to use technology in ways to experience things that today we do corporally, with our bodies. I think that's good, because I think we will not be able to go outside very often.

Julia Bossmann: Agreed. And if we think about one of the changes that we might see, is that when you drive from San Francisco down to Los Angeles, you see all those massive cow farms, and that's something we might not see any more in the future. The idea of raising cattle for livestock, for food, just imprisoning millions and billions of animals for food, might become a thing of the past, especially with biotechnology that Ryan mentioned, that we can be much, much more efficient about sustaining everyone on the planet. In the future [eating animals] will seem barbaric to us.

Bryan Johnson: I'd say that the most intersting thing about our time and place in the arc, the story, of humanity is that we are increasingly able to program our existence. If we think back to when we created the printing press, let's say we were in this room and the question was, All right, now we can make the means of producing ideas broadly accessible. What kind of books do we think are going to be written? Could we ever have imagined the literature that would come out? The things people would express in writing? Now we can organize zeros and ones. We can program software. What kind of things do you think we are going to build? The same thing goes for synthetic biology. If we can actually program biological systems, what could we produce? Same things with genetics. Same thing with neural code. If you take the same model and apply it to all of our technologies, and we try to imagine 2030, and 2040, and 2050, but really we bump up against the limits of our imagination, because you distribute this platform to creators and we have no idea. We have general approximations, but that's why it is so exciting that we live in this time and age. Throughout history, every other age has been limited to be subject to their environment. Whereas today we can increasingly program our environment, so the only limitations are the tools we have and our imagination, which will amplify. It is what gets me up in the morning. It is unbelievably exciting that we live in this time and age.

Richard Titus: I agree, although resources—our resources are very constrained. The planet. We can talk about the hardware and the software, we being the hardware and the software being the programming, but there is a platform challenge. One thing that I think is very interesting is that in this whole conversation, no one has mentioned interstellar space travel.

Ryan Bethencourt I was about ready to chime in. I actually agree with you. I see as the next step, I don't think interstellar is where I'd look, I'd look solar system-wide. When we are looking at platforms, we have a ton of resources just in our solar system—things that we can reach today. I think it's great that we have had a reemergence of the space industry, but they alone are not going to gt us there. We are going to need ways to keep our brains active, we are going to need ways of programming our biology to become resistant to cosmic radiation, the damage. If you get diagnosed with cancer on route to the furthest regions of the solar system to check out Europe to start drilling to see what's in there, how are you going to treat that? You can't go to a doctor. You're going to basically have something that is an intelligent system that picks it up, diagnoses it, and treats it, just like it would an infection. Just take you tablets; you're done! It's a melding of ll these technologies that will open up the solar system as a platform for us for exploration.

Nichol Bradford: I think that a hundred years from now what is going to be really interesting is what does human consciousness look like? And what does our mental and emotional state and processing look like? I think that you are right [looking at Bryan Johnson:], we are limited by our imagination of what that could be. I'd be really curious to see if we will change so much that—currently we are a very story driven species, we actually long to be with one another, we long to connect. If you think about a lot of the things that we do that show up in different ways, the way that we are tribal and the way that we are not tribal, and the way that you feel when you truly deeply connect with another human being, the way that we are able to supplement, amplify our minds and our consciousness, I think we are going to see some people who choose to have a group consciousness, we are going to see people who do it individually and then do it together, and it is going to be really interesting to see how our emotions hange. I am really interested in us having new problems. What I mean by that is currently our base level problems are around stress, anxiety, fear, anger. I don't think any of that will go away. I am very interested in the freedom that comes from being able to manage those states and having emotional regulations. That's what I'm solving today. I would love a hundred years from now us having to deal with things like, in a talk show, how do you manage how much time you spend in solo consciousness vs group consciousness? I would love to watch that show.

Julia Bossmann: We've been talking about all of these hopeful things that we want to build for the future, and that we are looking forward to, but we also need to keep in mind that there are risks along the way that we need to keep in mind. One thing that I am seeing is a divergence between Silicon Valley, which is benefiting from all the technologies that we are building, and big parts of the world that feel like they are losing out on the future. If this divergence grows bigger and bigger, you will see greater and greater backlash. The risk is even facing by our own humanity and by our fellow citizens and people in the world if they feel that they are not taking part in this revolution, if they feel like they are on the losing side of it, we will see lots of conflicts coming up in the world. We are already seeing the first starts of these kinds of conflicts, with automation and more efficient technologies, we will have less work to be divided up between everyone. We will need to think of how do we build an economy that works with those paradigms because the economy we have right now is built on the paradigm that humans need to sell most of their lifetime in order to sustain their own life and have a happy life. If they cannot sell their time anymore because there is no one who wants to buy it, what are we going to do? How are we going to change that? As we also in Silicon Valley are very invested in technology, we need to keep this perspective in mind, that we make sure that everyone else is not losing out on this revolution.

Richard Titus: That's interesting. I think a lot about this. I've been talking a lot lately about how the 20th century was the century of industrialization, which is a constant quest for efficacy and efficiency. It pays no attention to the larger systems engineering; it is just everything faster, better, cheaper. I think and I hope that the 21st century is about design thinking, which is starting from thinking about the entire system, and architecting a system. One of the things we here in the Valley have actually really failed to do is to architect the system, which is inclusive of everyone, and that includes political views. People talk about diversity; they talk about gender, race, creed—no one talks about political views. I come from a family where my entire family with maybe two or three exceptions voted for Trump, and it was a vote of anger. But what is interesting about that, is that's because we didn't include them in our plans, because they weren't faster, better, cheaper and more efficient. They were kind of a drag on the system. So we have to start to think about the fact that the drag is part of the system—not a waste product.

Audience question: I'd like to know what the panel thinks about the future of parenting: very specifically, how, why, and when people decide to have children, and how the role of babies and small children is going to change with time.

Moderator—James Norris: Let's keep it short so we can keep a lot of 1questions coming.

Ryan Bethencourt I'll chime in with a controversial view. I believe we could engineer {?} our entire world, including us, and we've seen the beginning of that. You're currently not allowed to engineer embryos in the US. It is actually outlawed. In China, it is not. Ethically, they come from a very different position. "Actually, we think it's OK to engineer embryos." So I think that we are going to see increasingly a separation between ethical worldviews in different cultures on how we build ourselves, how we reprogram ourselves. And that can be all sorts of things, from removing disease genes, which most of us would probably agree is a godd thing, to "Am I going to be more athletic? More intelligent? Am I going to have some bugs in the system so that I'm dyslexic but msaybe I can think about things differently?" That would be controversial, right? But at what point are we no longer us? I support it. I think we need to figure out where we're going, and try to figure out something that is fair and ethical for every type of intelligence that evolves out. I'm a vegan, so I view it that there's a host of injustices still in our world that other species experience—not us, not humans, not H. sapiens, but everyone else. All the others are enslaved. What happens when we have different minds. THey are evolved. We have to be very aware of that in how we treat other living beings. But yes, I think we will be engineered as well.


Library of Foresight Institute Conferences on Nanotechnology, 1989–2015

Library of Foresight Vision Weekends and Senior Associates Gatherings, 1992–2008