David Orban (The future of humanity and the universe)

In this episode of The Judgment Call Podcast David Orban and I talk about:

  • The forgotten story of COVID-19 spread in Europe in late 2019
  • What makes a Futurist?
  • What does the Fermi paradox tell us about intelligent life in the universe?
  • Is Peter Thiel’s ‘Big Stagnation’ thesis spot on?
  • Why the jump in Artificial Intelligence progress (2012-2020) is so meaningful.
  • What is a ‘jolting technology’ as introduced by David?
  • Will AGI happen soon? Why ‘human level’ AGI is not a good comparison to look at.
  • Will the ‘knowledge singularity’ happen in 2038 (i.e. a human level AI will be available for $1,000)?
  • Why we haven’t been visited by intelligence from outside the solar system?
  • How can we ‘colonize the universe’ despite being able to travel ‘just’ with the speed of light.
  • Are we in a simulation and how will we simulate ourselves?
  • Has the world really gotten way more complicated in the last 20 years?
  • Is ‘string theory’ flawed after all?
  • The case for ‘Universal Basic Income (UBI)’ as per David Orban.
  • What are the technologies and fields that will see exponential growth in the next 10 years?

David Orban is a thinker, investor, futurist and technophile. He has been a mentor with the Thiel fellowship for many years. He was one the first investors in Ether and early investor in Bitcoin.

You can reach David Orban via his website.


Welcome to the Judgment Call Podcast, a podcast where I bring together some of the most curious minds on the planet. Risk takers, travelers, adventurers, investors, entrepreneurs, or simply mindbogglers. To find all the episodes of this show, please go to iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, or go to judgmentcallpodcast.com for more resources, including how to become a guest, how to advertise, and to see all the lectures, podcasts, and books I would like you to listen to or read. Please also go to our website at judgmentcallpodcast.com. Like this show, please consider leaving a review on iTunes or Like us and subscribe to us on YouTube that will make it easier for other users like you to find us later on. This episode of the Judgment Call Podcast is sponsored by Mighty Trouble Premium. Full disclosure, this is also my business. What we do at Mighty Trouble Premium is to find the best travel deals for you as they happen. We do that in economy, premium economy, business, and first class, and we screen 450,000 new airfare deals every day just for you and present the best based on your preferences. Thousands of subscribers have saved up to 95% of their airfare deals. In case you didn’t know, Americans and Europeans can already travel to more than 80 different countries again, South America, in Africa, and in Eastern Europe. To try out Mighty Trouble Premium for free, go to mightytravels.com. That’s too much for you to type, just type in mtp4u.com, mtp4u.com to start your 30 day free trial. I’m very happy today to have David Orban here with me today. David is a thicker investor, futurist, an outspoken technophile. He has been a mentor of the Thiel Fellowship for many years, and he’s also an early investor in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Evo. Welcome to the Judgment Call Podcast. How are you, David? Thank you, and I’m just great. It has been a long day, but I like to relax with a wonderful conversation at the end of the day, so I’m happy to be on your show. I hope I can deliver this. I’m going to do my best. You just told me you’re in Italy since the start of the pandemic. How did that feel to you? We saw a lot of scary images early on with Italy, and there seemed to be a lot of talk about lockdowns. How did it feel on the ground? My daughter was 19 last year, actually, on 2019 when she moved to Seoul, and most of my activities are in New York, right? So I have a home in Italy, and think about the sequence. The origin of the pandemic was China, Wuhan, then the first epicenter of the side of China was Seoul, where my daughter was. Then it moved to Bergamo, Italy, where I have my home, and then on to New York. So my pattern matching was really in kind of supercharged, almost bordering into superstition territory. And I was quotation marks happy when Brazil became the epicenter, I don’t know, whenever it was in April or May, because I have nothing to do with Brazil. Until then it really felt that the pandemic was kind of following me. And the way I describe it is that it was like an angst ridden boring zombie movie. Bergamo was very, very heavily hit. And when the lockdown came, you could hear nothing. I have a nice terrace, it was March, the birds started singing, and the trees or the flowers were blossoming. And I would be sitting on my terrace, sipping my espresso after lunch, and it would be eerie, total silence except for the sirens of the ambulances and the church’s bells tolling for the dead, until they stopped because the ambulances realized they didn’t need to sound the siren, there was no one else on the streets except them. And the churches stopped celebrating the funerals because they couldn’t take any more of the dead. And the image that became really symbolic, almost kind of a science fiction image of the 70 plus trucks picking up the dead in the nighttime to bring them elsewhere because the crematories were full. It really, really created a kind of a PTSD reaction in so many people. So I didn’t have any of my close family or myself ill, but I did have friends ill and an acquaintance is dying. And, you know, it is not over. We are crossing our fingers with the vaccine being now as we are recording this being distributed, which is a fantastic scientific achievement. And now it is going to be one of the largest logistics endeavors of the planet, if not the largest. And so the race is on for the protection to kick in before the mutation creates a strain that is not, you know, covered by the current version of the vaccine. Yeah, I mean, I, given the sequence of events, I hope you’re not concerned that you’re one of the super sparrows. It might have followed you or you might have taken it. It’s still there’s a lot. Well, there’s a lot of. I’m just, I’m just joking. I’m not, I’m not taking this seriously. Do it is a very serious topic, unfortunately. But we don’t know a lot about the spread, right? We know that there have been cases in November, December, last year in 2019, or not last year, the year before of a lot of pneumonia related deaths in Italy. Actually, all over Europe, actually, my, my grandmother died from. In January 2020, I was diagnosed with COVID, right? So we don’t know what actually happened at one point. It seems to be this spread was quite early from China to the Chinese community in Italy that then might have spread it inside Europe. But that wasn’t really clear march, right? Everyone was just, okay, it’s here now and we have to panic and understandably everyone panicked. So just a few days ago, an Italian scientist, a dermatologist, went back and looked at the results of biopsies done in November. Because one of the not, not most frequent, but one of the side effects of COVID is some, you know, skin, skin eruptions. And, and, and he was able to identify the virus traces in those biopsies. So yes, in November, the virus was already in Italy. It is going to be for years, if not decades, an incredible source of new knowledge and learning from the point of view of epidemiology, of course, but also from the point of view of epistemology, memetics, social sciences, anthropology, to understand what we could have done differently. And because it is the first pandemic of the 21st century, but certainly not the last. Yeah. Well, you I introduced you as a futurist, and that’s what I could gather from what I already know about you. I hope that’s correct. Well, one thing I really, really wondered about always is what is actually a futurist, what stands behind that? And what does a futurist do all day? It is a label, you know, and I accept it when you, so I’m not going to contest you giving me the label. But actually, I do believe that just as we are all scientists, you know, when you are born and you learn how to walk and how to speak, the approach that you take is absolutely scientific. You do experiments, you observe the results and incorporate them in future experiments. And after growing up, it is really kind of abnormal for some people to stop being a scientist, having been born one. So similarly, I believe we are all not only futurists, we are all time travelers. And we are, you know, traveling at a minute per minute speed in time towards the future that we are going to inhabit together. And under this kind of perspective, a futurist is someone who applies him or herself to maximize the probability that when we get there together, in the place we call the future, they are going to like it. And the aspiration, but also at an ever increasing rate, the ability to fulfill this desire is exhilarating. Because we have that power. It is one of the distinguishing factors we have across the spectrum of sentient beings that we do concern ourselves with different kinds of futures. And we compare the outcomes when we are smart and we are able to convince others to work together to maximize desirable outcomes, desirable futures, and minimize the probability of catastrophic ones. I always thought it was something that Jörn Biedersen raised at some point. And he said, given all the own predictions that we make about the future, our immediate future, or the future of the world, and all the things that could go wrong, kind of what we see on news every day, we see the things that went wrong for whatever reason. We don’t see the millions of things that actually went right every day, maybe because they are boring. But our mind is really focused on extrapolating these things that are unusual and that potentially cause a danger for us in the future. But given that we know all this, and given that we are, as you say, rightly concerned about the future, and we are trying to constantly make predictions about our everyday life, but also into things that are further out, how can we still fight this anxiety? We kind of have that problem that, given that we have so many scenarios that could turn out badly in the future, we should all have this crazy anxiety and should never get out of bed, because it seems like wherever this goes, 99% of the outcomes are potentially harmful to us. Have you thought about that? Listen, you have less than two minutes to live, until your next breath. So it’s fine. My attitude is that of an optimist taking roots in a kind of a nihilism. At the end, we are going to die. And I am also someone who is absolutely in favor of radical longevity. So when I say, at the end, we are going to die, I don’t mean when I’m 80 years old. Maybe I mean when I’m 80 million years old, or 8 billion years old, right? But at the end, either we go under the bus, whatever form of a bus there will be in 80 million years, or we are so profoundly changed that looking back, we will recognize that the self that you felt was you back then seized to exist. So with that kind of point of view, the idea really is to relatively relax, not too much, but to relatively relax and to enjoy the ride, and to make sure that others can enjoy the ride as well. One of the reasons why it is hard to relax completely is what is called the Fermi paradox. That even though it would look like with so many stars, so many galaxies, so many ways that life could evolve to generate an intelligent technological civilization, we haven’t seen any except on Earth. And as long as the responsibility of waking up the universe falls on our shoulders, it really is not the right thing to be too cavalier about what we do. We just cannot afford to end the experiment that has been running for 13 billion years. Talking about experiments, and I know you work with Peter Thiel and I’m curious about your personal experience as well as your professional experience. I really think he’s a great, very optimistic and very contrary and intellectual, so to speak. He really develops opinions and he’s not anymore, he’s not shy to put them out there. One of his ideas or findings is this big stagnation that we haven’t seen the same growth in major technological breakthroughs in the last 50 years. We had this big period of growth in pretty much all avenues in the 50s and 70s. And then kind of tapered off, there’s still incredible growth in semiconductors and anything that’s related to it as well as finance, but the rest of the world kind of looks more or less like in the 70s. Do you agree with this and kind of what’s your relationship with Peter Thiel? So as you said at the beginning, I’m a mentor at the Thiel Fellowship, but Peter is pretty hands off as well as I am not part of the staff of the fellowship itself. So it wouldn’t be correct to say that I work or did work with Peter. I have had the chance of interacting with him in person several times. And of course I am familiar with his investment thesis and his absolute attachment to being a contrarian, which is of course an almost necessary component of being a value added investor. So you cannot follow the crowd. You have to be a trailblazer. You have to prove that you’re thinking even though no one else believes what you’re saying is right and everyone else is wrong. And of course that doesn’t mean that there is a guarantee that you will be right. And Peter’s results are not 100% success rate either. In particular, I do disagree with the fact that we are in this stagnation period. I think that it is a somewhat provincial outlook, both in terms of geography, because if you look at China in the past 20, 30 years, and you were, I don’t know, living in Shanghai, and Peter Thiel came and said, oh, in the past 30 years nothing changed. You would tell him that he’s crazy because everything changed in the past 30 years in Shanghai or Shenzhen, many other places in the world. And it is also not true from the point of view of many different kinds of technologies. Artificial intelligence, for example, has had a kind of a stagnation, if you wish, in the last two decades of the 20th century and then with enough hardware performance, enough data being accumulated and smarter algorithms that could run efficiently on the new hardware crunching the data. We have seen an absolute revolution in artificial intelligence fulfilling dreams that people in the field had nurtured for 50 or 70 years without even knowing if it would be ever achievable. Things that those who don’t know shrug about, like Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo beating the world champion of the game of Go, Lee Sedol, in 2016, well, that result came 20, 30 years earlier than the experts would have predicted. And OpenAI published a report together with Stanford University, where they are observing that in the eight years from 2012 to 2020, the power of AI rather than doubling at the sedate rate of every two years with Moore’s law, that we have been accustomed to observe with our smartphones and personal computers, it has been doubling every four months. And as a consequence, rather than improving 30 fold or so, it increased its power 300,000 times over the course of those eight years. And just a few months ago, the CEO of NVIDIA, in their global conference, declared that they are now observing the power of AI doubling every two months. So from two years doubling rate to four months doubling rate to two months doubling rate, that is what I call a jolting technology, where the jolt is the measure of the increasing rate of acceleration. So I would say this is a very concrete and precise example to say that no, Peter, things are not stagnating. Yeah, I really like your insight into this. It’s a really good example. Peter makes that exception and saying anything that’s related to semiconductors, which AI in a certain sense is because it runs on semiconductors, but I agree, it’s been developing out of that Moore’s law. We had Steve Schwartz on the show a couple of episodes ago. He has been a professor for statistics and artificial intelligence since the 80s, and he was very pessimistic and in that sense he said there’s a lot of advance, but basically you’re still looking at advances in terms of statistics. So you are faster and better with statistics, but there is actually no intelligence. And on the other hand, I was listening to a podcast with one of the cofounders and a co project heads of GBT3, part of OpenAI, and he made that claim. And I thought that’s fascinating. He said there’s a good chance, maybe 30, 40, 50%, that’s hard to pin it down on what actually the successor rate is, but he said the next generation after GPT4, so something we can see in a couple of months or maybe in a couple of years, he said that will resemble artificial general intelligence because they’re not just using any knowledge that’s ever been put into some kind of digital form. We’ll also know all the feedback from things where it got wrong, GPT3, all the training that humans do with certain input where it tells they are, I know this is actually incorrect. So he wasn’t saying it’s 100% in artificial intelligence in a general way. He said there’s a very good chance that it feels like to the observers it’s almost indistinguishable from artificial general intelligence. Are you as optimistic or you feel like you’re more somewhere in the middle there? So obviously the people who are saying that artificial general intelligence is not possible behave with statements that are offensive to you and me. I don’t know about you, but I am happy to be a representative, hopefully, of an artificial general intelligence. So AGI is possible in principle. Now, what does constitute AGI components? Is mere statistics enough? We don’t know. It may very well be. We do not have a coherent theory of human intelligence and how the brain works. Roger Penrose received the Nobel Prize for physics. Luckily, not for his more heterodoxical theories about how quantum phenomena generate consciousness in the human brain via nanotubules and the fact that those maintain quantum coherence and without that human consciousness wouldn’t be possible. It sounds like he had some drugs when he wrote these papers. Well, why not? It works. But it is kind of a metaphysical, magical thinking. It is not explanatory. It just pushes the problem further out. And too many people, unfortunately, like Deepak Chopra, for example, take advantage of the quotation marks mystery of quantum phenomena to further confuse things rather than clarify them. And then when, for example, Deepak Chopra, when he meets with someone who doesn’t let him go off easily, admits, like in an interview with Richard Dawkins, that he actually talks about consciousness being quantum in a metaphorical manner. Well, it would be so much better if he didn’t use those metaphors because they clarify nothing, just like Penrose’s theories clarify very, very little. So going back, one of the big surprises of GPT3 has been the fact that the performance of the network didn’t start to taper off. We love to talk about exponential curves. And in the physical world, each single exponential turns into an S curve, a logistic curve, when it exhausts its power. That is why we are not using vacuum tubes for computers anymore, because they are so unreliable that it would take us more than 24 hours to find and substitute the ones that don’t work before being able to boot up our computers. But actually, when Ray Kurzweil or other people like him talk about the exponential component of technological acceleration, and I talk about super exponentials with Jolting technologies, we don’t talk about a single technology, but the ability of generation after generation of separate technologies to design seamlessly the further acceleration that we are seeing. So GPT3 did not start going into the S curve petering out of the lack of increasing performance. It did increase its performance. And that is why specialists are looking at potentials GPT4, GPT5, and ask themselves, what is going to happen? If those models are going to increase their performance further to the point that we would expect the kinds of behaviors that we would label intelligent, right? If you ask GPT3 or the latest wonderful picture generating model that OpenAI published a few days ago, they’ll explain what moved the model to write what it writes or to paint what it paints. They wouldn’t be able to do so. They don’t have the kind of reflective self explanatory power, what in a human we would call self awareness. But there is economic pressure in order to develop those kinds of explanations. In the European Union, there is a billion euro available in grants to create explainable AI systems. That’s a nice chunk of money. And so you can be sure that whether it takes two years or four years, it doesn’t matter. But pretty soon, we will have AI systems that when you ask them, okay, so you drew an avocado armchair because I asked you, but why exactly did you write it that way? And they should be able to explain that. And that will be fascinating. I’m with you. I mean, this is going to happen. And I think what people are confusing is, because of the definition of artificial general intelligence is kind of open, what I think is definitely going to happen relatively quickly that we have a set of a trained AI that just does pretty much what anyone with a common sense would do. So it is smarter than pretty much any human on the planet. And that includes a lot of Nobel Prize winners. What we don’t know is why it does things. It will have trouble. This is my prediction. This could be completely different once it happens. I feel it doesn’t have this. It cannot tell an odd from it. It’s kind of the same problem we have. Or maybe this is just another AI problem. It cannot really have this moving itself, understanding of itself, and moving forward into the future and what it should do. I think it will struggle with this. And that will be a long term issue. But I think it will, to anyone who interacts with it, and they don’t know it’s machine, obviously they will know pretty quickly, they will realize this is kind of the smartest human being that knows the most. And it has an understanding of things, but it cannot really explain itself. This would be my prediction, but it’s just a gut feeling. When the instances, when they’re interactive with GPT3, that’s kind of how it felt to me. It has this amazing body of knowledge. And it is almost right, depending on how you feed it, people will say, well, this is just statistics, it’s just a translation algorithm, and they’re right. But at some point, you don’t know, you don’t know why some scientists have extremely high IQ. Why Nietzsche has an IQ maybe of 200 or young. They couldn’t explain it, right? They didn’t know why they were born with these things and how they made use of it. It just came to them. Well, and we have to aim further and farther, just because we have been struggling and we are admiring the extremely error prone approach of a monk retreating to a hilltop for 30 years to achieve the deep insights of enlightenment. And we wish more of us could achieve that state and we know we can’t. That doesn’t mean that the method is optimal. So we shouldn’t aim to achieve human level AGI, and we won’t. It will be like a race car at 200 miles an hour crossing the checkered flag and then not stopping. The race car is not going to stop. It’s just going to keep going. And the human level AGI will have happened for, you know, a fraction of a minute or a fraction of an hour. And then the performance of the system will be as superior to human performance in every aspect as the performance of the goal playing computer has been superior to every other goal player. Now, that is also true in their explanatory abilities. What will not change is our ability to understand. So the an increasing amount of effort by the AGI’s will be spent if they are gracious enough to find ever more powerful and novel ways to dumb down their explanations so that we can absorb them. Already, we have examples of mathematical proofs that are 50,000 pages long if they are printed out, and they would take several lifetimes to understand. That doesn’t mean that the mathematical theorem is not proven by that very, very long chain of reasoning. So the power of Arthur Clarke’s statement, every sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, is going to be realized in those instances where the AGI will kind of lose its patience and it will resort to metaphors and to poetry or even mythology or religion in order to make us stop like a whiny child, ask why and why in the hope that… I think we already at that stage that AI seems a bit like magic. Even to the people in the field, there’s certain… I run my own AI algorithms and I’ve been working with lots of TensorFlow stuff. Some of it is stunning and obviously it can’t explain itself, but neither can I. And you see the predictive power of some of these neural networks and all these layers in between and you’re like, okay, it’s just statistics but the outcome is pretty magical. And I think this is how the ancients looked at the weather and said, okay, this is a giant computer but we don’t know what a computer is so we just keep it in the magic category. I’m full of that. The difference is that we are today living under the assumption that once we build explainable AI systems, this inherent problem will be overcome. What I am saying is that it is the glimpse of a future situation where we have an epistemological conundrum. The predictability of our systems is being undermined by their power itself. And we have abandoned mythological explanations just to be potentially facing them again in the future in the knowledge that they express our fundamental limitations. Elon Musk’s New Orleans is of an existential importance in this sense. At least those of us who will fully embrace it and its ability to increase the bandwidth of communication between us and AI systems, we will have a chance of participating more fully and to be, if not equals, at least welcome in the community of continued exploration. But those of us who do that will run the risk of being sooner or later labeled as nonhuman in some very fundamental way because when in turn we are asked to come on, please tell us what you are doing and why Well, we will be under the same constraints as pure AGI’s, we will not be able to dumb down the explanations without resorting to mythology either. So the humans that are not participating will feel a rightly elevated degree of resentment because they will be powerless in very, very fundamental ways. Fascinating, that’s a very fascinating issue you bring up there. That would be my next question. Obviously these discussions, every time people can see AGI and we can talk about timeframes but eventually we all know it’s happening, you don’t seem like you’re worried about it, it’s something you would embrace in its fullest. And I want to learn more about this, how you came to this conclusion. Before we go there, do you think the singularity will bring us this moment? Either way, Kurzweil’s 2045 prediction, that’s what we have to make up our mind or this is going to be a problem for our children or for our grandchildren? From the point of view of dates, Ray also is looking at the increasing rate of acceleration even though he’s not calling it jolting or at least not yet. And he revised the date from 2045 to 2038. So is he going to revise it in five years time further down to 2032 or something? Maybe. And in any case, of course, those dates are only symbolic representations. Technically what he says is that it is the time when a human level AI, AGI, is going to be available for $1,000, which means that if you have a billion dollars, like the money that Microsoft put on the table for OpenAI to give them an exclusive license to the source code of GPT3, you will have it sooner because it will not have been scaled and optimized and engineered to be able to be sold for a million times lower amount. So it is actually more important to ask not when that more democratic access to AGI is going to be available, but when is the first or the first few AGI is going to be created. And the Future of Life Institute organizes a conference in Puerto Rico where I participated inspired by the original conference looking at recombinant DNA in the 70s. Because at the time, the technology that we are now actually using in CRISPR and in the creation of the COVID vaccines has been seen as a potential existential threat to humanity. And 45 years later, we can now say that the conference was successful in having the worldwide community of scientists to adopt behaviors and practices that prevented the technology from, I don’t know, killing a billion people. So the AGI conference about AGI safety and security in Puerto Rico concerns itself with the same, with making sure that as the first or the first few AGI are born, their trajectory is such that the actions they take and the goals they seek design a future where humanity still have a place. And the reason I believe that is possible is because the universe is not only very large, but so much more interesting that not merely planet Earth. I love the movie Her, which I will spoil for those of our listeners who haven’t seen it. Because at the end, the AIs of the movie Her leave without leaving any trace. They just transcend the challenges and the existential questions that mere humans feel. And the humans left behind kind of accept that with serenity that they couldn’t embrace before. Having children, both biological as well as mind children creates that effect. And the knowledge that our descendants, the AGI’s explore the universe and participate in the wonder of this adventure will really turn humans into a much more pacified species than pretty widespread psychosis that we suffer from today. That’s a very interesting, very positive vision of the future. And I like the way how you describe a possible outcome. And I think Sam Harris who said that initially, that AI, once it scales up, and I fully agree with you, this is going to be a short moment in time when it’s being human level, we’ll go beyond that very quickly. He made this distinction that we’re going to be ants to them or even less important than ants. So the idea that we are in this relatively short timeframe and someone described it as the bootloader. We’re like the bootloader for AI and eventually everyone, maybe in the whole universe, maybe everyone had the same experience that you started with a certain wetware, with a simple combination and then you go into a much transcended form of being and then you leave whatever you had your initial planet behind. I think this is kind of a positive version where we feel like we don’t have to worry too much about AI. It’s not going to happen anyways and they’re going to go their way and we’re going to stay here, but it’s going to be a grand, grand, grand children unless we find a longevity solution for our own biological existence. Well, one thing that immediately comes to mind and you mentioned that earlier is, so if that’s all true, do you think there have been other beings out there that had the same experience on another planet, became AI, left it, conquered the universe, maybe built their own universe? Why haven’t we interacted with them? Isn’t that a little odd? Oh, maybe we have interacted with them and maybe they have actually helped us create what we have right now. Maybe they have written some kind of the DNA and it wasn’t just all evolution. Do you think you’ve ever interacted with these kind of AI beings from another planet or it just didn’t happen yet, but it will happen eventually? Yes, the Fermi Paradox, which is the question of the Fermi Paradox, how come we are not convinced and we don’t have scientific proof of other technological civilizations yet is absolutely fascinating. There is a book, 150 answers to the Fermi Paradox. My view is that definitely every civilization, including those built by NGIs, is going to obey natural laws, except that, of course, the natural laws that we know today are not the complete set of laws, and we are discovering new phenomena day after day. Now, there are a few things that I am pretty convinced are not going to change under an AGI civilization either. We can have a thought experiment to design alternative universes and then ask ourselves, how would it be to live in one of those? So one of the laws that I not only believe will be valid under any conceivable AGI civilization or extraterrestrial civilization, but I also want to live in a universe where it indeed holds, is that the speed of light is a barrier, and I am ready to give up the wonderful fairy tale of hyperspace travel, whether Star Trek or Star Wars or Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series type of hyperspace jumps, and go through the slow slog of colonizing a galaxy in a million years or two, let alone intergalactic space, and the alternative would be that the so called Jupiter brain made of computronium, the hypothetical component of matter that maximizes our ability to compute so that the Jupiter brain can increase its ability to think only by adding mass to itself, which would have eaten all of the universe. We would be indeed a simulation inside a Jupiter brain, and I guess I am a kind of reality chauvinist. I do believe and I do want me to be running on the universe’s hardware rather than in a virtual machine. Now, if that is true, it means that there is an upper limit to what any single entity can think, because after that it would just break into pieces, one of them wanting to go left and the other wanting to go right, literally. And that also means that there is a kind of an upper limit to the complexity of civilizations. It is a coordination challenge, right? I am, by the way, in favor of decentralization already on a single planet, let alone in a civilization spanning an entire galaxy. Now, my view of how we are going to explore the universe is completely machine based. Even though I am made of meat, the beautiful space operas where the meat is sitting in a tin can and travels in wonderful adventures of discovery across the universe is totally naive. It was already demonstrated by the fact that infinitely more machines are exploring Mars than humans. And even if and when, hopefully, we will have a Martian colony inhabited by thinking meat, by that time there will be millions of machines exploring the rest of the solar system just like they are doing today. We are progressively miniaturizing our ability and the density of thinking. And already there is a project called the Starshoot Project to push a tiny probe via laser beams to speeds that are close to the speed of light in the direction of a star system outside of our own. And that is the way that is going to happen. I believe that uploading is possible, so I envision a cloud of thinking probes, probably of nanodimensions that are pushed by the billions in directions of their choosing by laser beams and they pretty soon abandon any pretense of communicating with the whole planet. And they die, of course, by the millions smashing against Jupiter or any other obstacle in their course. And they try to maintain their coherence, but even that is lost quite soon. If we believe that it is possible to go below nanoengineering into Pico and Femto engineering and coding the consciousness in the fabric of space time, then, and this is the answer to your question, we may very well have been visited by such explorers, except that they are absolutely and totally imperceptible to us. They could be the encoded information in the vibrations of neutrinos as far as we know or even further down in the fabric of space time. But I like to think of that because then these different clouds go in all kinds of directions, they interact, they interfere, they communicate. And in the meantime, the rest of the universe is not perturbed by them. Their knowledge expands, but their physical footprint is practically zero. Yeah, that’s fascinating. I mean, we’re entering the whole space of voodoo. I think there’s this, you probably know more of the actual physics behind it, I know very little. And I think this is a very fascinating outcome of this. I think that’s the way that we can just simply are not able to perceive other beings because it could be encoded in something that we just don’t see. I think that’s very, very powerful, very interesting to look at it that way. My current gut feeling is just, again, this is voodoo and I’m not saying that I know about it. I always feel we have these effects of gravity and they’re all over the universe, right? We’re kind of in big distances, like our son knows how much it should follow the Milky Way, or how much it should follow a certain like a whole that’s hundreds of millions of light years away. And there is this ongoing theory and speculation that’s not very scientific, that is in real time communication that follows gravities of gravity is communicating between these different objects in almost real time. So once we are able to look at it in a way that we use gravity as a way to transport that information and not lie, it’s like kind of like the Newtonian mechanics don’t really apply to the Einsteinian and they don’t really apply to quantum mechanics. Maybe this is a way out and we can say we can leave that behind, but then obviously a CEO really, really good point that once someone else does that, they would eat the whole universe up in energy and that would be the end of the game. So that’s, I think we’re entering the same paradox. When you use the time to get one more of those really interesting deep questions out of you, you kind of touched on this already. Do you think we are in a simulation? And I assume the answer is no, but let’s assume we are in one. Do you think there’s lots of different universes? Like a multiverse theory that some people suggest for quantum mechanics and will we start to simulate ourselves, maybe just our mind and our whole body experience relatively soon because it will be really cheap, right? And we will be able to make the best decisions if we simulate all different outcomes for an AI driven simulation, double homie take a couple of seconds. How do you think all these things are interrelated or do you have nothing to do with each other? So I called myself a reality chauvinist because I aim to embrace more deeply the equivalence of physical and simulated realities. And for a very egotistical reason, I want to feel that my upload itself is not inferior to my biological self. And I want to further the probability or improve the probability of a society that endows equal rights to biological and digital beings, whether those digital beings are simulations of biological ones or they are born digital. Now, in terms of the various layers of simulations, I don’t know if we know enough to be able to say that indeed the simulated layers are indistinguishable from the support layers. Because, of course, very naturally a simulated layer can simulate and so forth. From a thermodynamic point of view, an entropy point of view, it would be natural to think that the performance of a simulated layer is not equal to the ones supporting it. So as a consequence, it will run more slowly. And so what level are we if we are simulated? We are very likely, if we are simulated, not running on a physical substrate. We are running within a simulation just from a Copernican relativity point of view, right? Why would be our situation privileged? So if we are running on a substrate that is a simulation itself, how many layers before the physical reality is touched? Now, when I say we don’t know enough is because from a theoretical point of view, then it is a relatively small step with a huge grain of salt to say that, well, actually the physical layer doesn’t even exist. Everything is a simulation. And so, yes, we will simulate all kinds of ways of living, all kinds of ways of existing. As far as the megaverse, the metaverse, the multiverse compared to the universe, oh yeah, I want all of them. And I want, obviously, to be able to run experiments in making sure that what we are talking about is not just gibberish. It’s meaningful in the sense that once those experiments have certain kinds of results, those results are actionable. You know, just like David Deutsch interprets quantum mechanics in the multiverse interpretation and concludes that quantum computers are running in parallel across the multiverse. Well, his position is going to be strengthened once we have universal quantum computers with enough error correction to be able to do useful problem solving completely out of reach of not only our current classical computers, but every conceivable computer that we could build in a single universe. And similarly, I want the metaverse and the megaverse and all the other prefixes we can borrow from the geeks to create alternative visions of our universe to generate intriguing and interesting, but also practical results. Yeah, I wonder, you know, the, you know, Stephen Hawking has been doing this his whole life. If we look at the possibilities that any of these thoughts, once you take them a little further of what they open up and how we can prove them, what particles we have to find, what specific observations we have to make in order to prove them right. But I feel like of distance and I’m asking from your perspective, that seems to be logarithmically more exponentially more in terms of sheer signs of options of things that could be out there, compared to say 100 years ago, or maybe 1000 years ago, the bifurcation has gotten to a level where, you know, it takes lifetimes of the smartest people, even to get an idea of what are the major hypotheses out there. I was doing some research into what are these quantum mechanics multiverse research hypotheses and just figuring out how many are there and then like finding a description that doesn’t sound completely crazy with all the hundreds of dimensions and then figuring out what could be, well, how could we prove this. What I’m trying to say, do you have the impression or is it just me that there’s way more options on the table, especially the last 30, 40 years than ever before in human existence? When Dante 800 years ago wrote La Divina Commedia, the Divine Comedy, he designed a worldview of the earthly, sinful living and then hell and purgatory and then paradise that was very, very geometrical to the point where people in Italy believe that near Naples they could locate the entrance where you can go and enter hell and the physical journey that Dante made then represented in his wonderful poem. And yes, at the time the vision of the world we had and the universe itself was severely limited, even the most creative people like Dante could not go beyond those limitations. Discovering extra solar objects and then quiet recently, 100 years ago or so, discovering extra galactic objects, even though we were able to see the single extra galactic object at the Andromeda cloud by naked eye forever, we didn’t know what it was, where it was and why it was so unique being the single one that we can see without a telescope. All these steps greatly broadened our perception of how a fantastically diverse place the universe really is. And yes, whether mathematical tools or physical experiments, this has continued the incredible achievement of the LIGO experiments of detecting the gravitational waves from black holes. And I am not familiar with the theories that you were referring to that maintain that gravity would travel faster than light, I don’t believe it does, or that it should, it shouldn’t. Nonetheless, those results are incredible and now we are mapping the gravitational background wave, which is the noise that the Big Bang made with a force that contrary to every other force is dampened but never neutralized. There is no anti gravity to shield gravity from influencing everything else. These are exhilarating discoveries that prove that our journey, our adventure is never going to end. It has already been proven mathematically by Gödel 100 years ago, his incompleteness theorem is a wonderful promise that anytime our systems feel constrained, we have the freedom to pick a particular result, assume it as an axiom of a more creative and extended system. And we are kind of doing the same in physics, where we are exploring more and more dimensions to the abstract building of knowledge. There is a lot of frustration too, starting from the 70s to today. We haven’t been able to make fundamental breakthroughs, and if you think about it, it is now two generations of physicists who have spent their lives in the hope of a breakthrough that never came. And still we are not giving up. After the LHC, we will build the next machine and the next one, and sooner or later we will be able to move beyond and understand how quantum mechanics and gravity can work together in physics. And it will be just fantastic, it will take time, but we can be patient. Leonardo invented the helicopter and he had to wait 500 years to be proven right. Imagine Higgs, he was alive when he was proven right and the Higgs boson was discovered experimentally. He has been incredibly lucky. There is no guarantee that it is not going to take hundreds of years for fundamental breakthroughs in physics or in other areas. But we are persistent, we are curious, we are passionate, and we keep going on that path. That’s a very helpful message. I love that. And you understand these topics way further. If you move on to a little more social issues, I know you, or I don’t know actually, but what I’ve seen, what you have written down, what you wrote down is you are a supporter of universal basic income. Why do you think it is important? Do you have a gut feeling where it should be in today’s dollars? Is that something we should develop progressively over the years? What are your views on that? So, there are a lot of things that my libertarian friends would like to start measuring and apply market forces to, but we are not, or at least not yet. For example, breathing. When you are born, no one asks you as a baby, what did you do to gain the right to breathe? When you take advantage of the ecological support system of the planet, once again, the fact that you can just take a seed and put it in the soil and it will sprout and then, depending on the seed, you can eat the fruit that it gives birth to, is once again something that we take for granted. As civilization evolves, we have the ability to ask ourselves, what is the purpose of each individual human being and why would they choose to be part of society rather than moving out and doing their own thing, constructively just leaving for a different place if they can, or in a planet that we have exhausted in terms of geographical exploration, if an individual wants to secede, today they can only do it destructively through rebellions, revolutions, wars. So, one possible answer to the role of individuals in society is to address and solve the challenges that in that particular moment society is meeting, and the challenge which potentially wouldn’t be solved without the ability or the genius of that individual being applied to it. And from a statistical point of view, there is no guarantee that our next challenge will be solved, or at least solved in time, unless we maximize the probability that as many of smart people as possible are looking to solve that challenge. So, the question of supporting people in order to be able to maximize their opportunity to flourish, to develop their talents, and to apply those talents in areas where they can either directly solve those huge challenges, or they can in turn support others to solve them, is a question that we must answer in the positive. There is nothing that matters more from the point of view of society and individuals than being able to do that. So, anything that is less than that is an expression of society and our entire civilization not having developed fully. And as we do, we realize that the cost of not supporting everyone is something we just cannot afford. And so, whether it is universal basic income or universal basic wealth, which I kind of prefer, because I want robots to be owned by communities, and it is the ability of those robots to generate wealth spread across the community that supports the activities of the community itself, the income schemes very graciously designed by centralized nation states would represent a neo feudalism, which I do not feel is the right way to go. But it doesn’t matter, these are variants, and we will run a lot of experiments. The Americans are going to do it one way, the Scandinavians another way, China a third way still, and so on and so forth, and we will find what is best. But looking back 100 years from today and realizing that we were squandering millions and billions of brains, little realizing that we could not afford that, or we could barely afford that, will be seen as completely barbaric. So, what is the number? Obviously, it is a different number in different geographical places. Already a lot of my friends choose to live in low income countries as they earn high income salaries with projects of developing code working on blockchain projects or whatever else. And in Thailand or in South America, you can have a very, very high quality of life with just $2,000, $3,000 a month. And if you earn less than a quarter of million in San Francisco, you feel poor in a family, right? So, the number is different in every place, and the pandemic situation is really such that all kinds of macroeconomic theories are now being completely destroyed. The speed with which every country is printing money in order to keep the economy going, in order to support their citizens is going to create a situation over the course of the next few years that is going to be very, very challenging and interesting. The only reason we are not seeing already huge levels of inflation is because consumption under the pandemic is greatly reduced and because technology has such an extremely powerful, jolting degree of deflationary pressure that central banks cannot realize it. They just don’t comprehend it. The power of a smartphone that you pay $1,000 is the power of a billion dollars of technology from 10 years ago. I’m fully with you there. It’s the idea of UBI to give people an ability, a better ability to develop themselves. I kind of go back and forth between, I think this is silly, and the next day you can ask me, I would say, okay, it needs to be at least $5,000 a month. So, I kind of trying to find out where I’m standing there, but I think there’s a lot of good arguments forward. I actually feel there’s more forward than against it. And what you mentioned with the central banks, and now you’re absolutely right, this is going to be the interesting factor. We had this huge deflation because COVID destroyed a lot of economic activity because it’s simply not feasible anymore, so it’s probably 30%, 40%. And printing money sounds like a bad idea, and it is unless, that’s what I keep telling everyone, it’s kind of like giving someone a big loan. You create this credit out of nowhere and just make up the numbers. And there’s two scenarios. One is productivity really skyrockets, and the assets that we have produced so much more real cash, not just like nominal more cash, because our productivity rose so much because we work more productive now and technology saves today. Or, and that’s the other scenario, we’re literally just printing money and we can’t create wealth. We can’t create wealth comes from productivity growth. We are only creating bigger numbers, and then we basically have this huge inflation. And I think if we follow your earlier hopeful comments towards the singularity and this uprising of really revolutionary technologies, this money printing might not be such a bad idea, which can be distributed differently if it talks about giving dollars directly or Bitcoin equivalent into people’s bank accounts, because we kind of break the way the economy uses the work. I think this is extremely risky, but given how we stand in terms of social change, in terms of how we’ve almost had a rebellion in the US now, if we’d be kind of looking at civil war, I think this is something that would, it looks like this is the way we’re going, because it seems to be the only one socially feasible after the cycle we are in. Long term, Ray Dalio has a great book on this, and there’s a long term cycle and a short term cycle in terms of what COVID did to us. So I think these things are all interrelated, I feel. It’s this technology will either save the day, or we are looking at a big, enormous end of cycle in the next 10 years, when we’re going to use this inflation now, but it doesn’t pay off, we don’t create a productivity growth. I think we’re all in trouble. There is so much to do that if we apply ourselves to do those things, certainly the products and the services and the opportunities that we create will be able to support and sustain almost any kind of money supply. However, it is not going to happen homogeneously. Those countries that decide to side on the securitization of their economic activity, and believe that the increase of the stock market by itself is a positive sign without any other reason than people not knowing where else to put their money. So they are buying stocks because they are going up. Why not, compared to other countries that are investing in their infrastructure of transportation, of logistics, of fundamental science and research, and applied research, and have the discipline and the dedication of believing in science and reason, and the ability of science and reason to create a better future? Well, I think that the perspective of this second country to support the civilization on a global scale in the current decade and the next, maybe one after the next, is much higher, and the first is running the risk of being completely disrupted by the upheavals that are coming. Yeah, I think this is almost an Old Testament story now. But what I want to stick to the entrepreneurship and the idea is, when people listen to this podcast, the entrepreneurs themselves, people who are looking to get maybe because of COVID into a new field, specifically, where would you recommend people to go? Is it more basic research? Is it more science? Is it applied technology? Is it specific startups that you feel are ripe for the taking? Where would you send people? Well, the 21st century is going to be the century of so many things, right? It is going to be the century of AI, for sure, and AI is horizontal technology. It can then be applied to many areas, and you can take any vertical industrial area, cross it with AI, and you have a thousand different things that you can address and do in completely novel ways, where you not only aim to do it ten times better than before. Maybe you aim to do it a hundred or a thousand times better than before. Another defining factor of the 21st century is going to be synthetic biology. That is what made possible the development with messenger RNA, the new vaccines so rapidly with only quotation marks, the regulatory framework being the bottleneck for having it in a year’s time rather than in literally a few weeks time, including our ability to produce it in billions of doses so fast, which wouldn’t have been possible only ten years ago. These are two areas that have incredible promise, but also energy with solar and wind and battery technologies are redefining trillion dollar markets in transportation, in the design of communities, cities, smart grids. The ability to think shortly, how does it look like to have electric planes? The jolt once again that Elon Musk is providing in so many areas, like the ability to think, hey, the starship on Earth is going to transport people and goods across the planet at a price that is radically lower than today within half an hour. What does that imply? What kind of business models can we develop if we take that for granted? Or think about boring company. Today, boring company is thought of as the infrastructure for transportation, but once it is cheap to dig, we can dig for so many other things. Already, there are places on the planet that are completely synthetic. Think of the UAE, Dubai, or other places. You don’t want to leave the shelter of air conditioned shopping centers. So why don’t you go radical and think of digging entire cities or to bring agriculture underground with our ability to restore the traditional biological ecosystem to its pristine condition while not at all having to worry about there being too many people because the sun’s energy is plenty to support not 8 or 10, but 20 or 50 billion people on Earth. Really, I don’t think there is a limit to what can be imagined. And it is fantastic to see that we are also developing new kinds of funding mechanisms that are increasing tenfold or a thousandfold the number of mistakes that we can afford. I bristle when people are labeling blockchain projects like scams and they are saying, oh, those coins are worth nothing and the team was a scammer anyway. Look at them. 99% of blockchain projects have failed. Absolutely. That’s the name of the game. 99% of the nonblockchain stocks have failed too, but we are not pointing our fingers and calling them scammers. The barrier to entry to be an entrepreneur is decreasing. The ability of anyone to start acting on their project is increasing. The ability to communicate and to attract people who think similarly is across the entire planet. So I am very eager to see entrepreneurs in Pakistan, in Indonesia, in Peru and in all places in Nigeria to create unicorn scale companies. But even if they create companies worth just, quotation marks, millions of dollars by the thousands or by the millions, it will be beautiful and it is already happening. I think again, I am really thankful for the strong arguments we present and how optimistic they are. I think we are very much on the same plane there, the rise of entrepreneurship outside of the US. And I think the US will be very strong too if we can arrive together. We will see this in a much more widespread phenomenon. This is already happening or has been happening for the last 20 years and it’s not going to stop. And I really hope that we get to a point where everyone who is on earth, if that’s 9 billion or 50 billion or 100 billion, they develop the ability and the drive to be an entrepreneur at least once in their life and contribute to something that helps other people in a scalable manner. And that other people find helpful. I always have this idea of an app, but obviously it will be different in 10 years from now probably. The ability to have 9 million individual solutions to lots of different problems and everyone in the world can use it for a couple of cents or for a couple of dollars. There’s an extremely big potential out there and people don’t really look at it that way. I think the entrepreneurship as a professional entrepreneur is going to be more like a mindset where you kind of think about something, you might do something else. I’m not saying that everyone will just live up your VI, but you do have something else that may challenge you, but you keep something in the back of your mind that you one day make your business. And I think this is self help as a way to see the world more optimistic, as a way to prepare the world for your children. I think this is a very useful thought experiment. My idea is to convert more people to this belief and a better future. There’s something out there and you can contribute to it and you can make the world a better place and it doesn’t have to be a unicorn. I think if you create an app that’s downloaded 10,000 times or a piece of code that’s used 10,000 times, that’s already extremely valuable. Entrepreneurship is an activity that society allows in proportion to its risk, adversity or ability to manage risk. If in the Middle Ages I wanted to open a tavern and my wife agreed and we were wrong and went bankrupt, I would have ended up in debtor’s prison and my family would have ended up in abject poverty. I would have died in a few months and they would have hobbled along until they died too with no perspective of being able to grow a decent living and more. Today we are understanding that encouraging the largest possible number of people to run the risk of failing is actually advantageous to society. That is why there are all kinds of investment schemes, whether tax breaks in the UK or state supported venture capital firms in Italy or other ways that society actually encourages entrepreneurship. This is going to increase in the future. Of course, it is definitely a question of mentality and not everyone has the thick skin and ability to withstand the huge ups and downs that any startup generates. But there will be a lot of companies that will need to hire a lot of people who will be still excited to be employee number 100 or 1000 or 10,000 of a company. As a matter of fact, the next bottleneck is going to be that of talent. Already, if you look at the public events that Elon Musk organizes for any of his companies, he is absolutely explicit. The reason for those events is not to talk to shareholders, is not to talk to potential customers. The reason for those events is to get as many potential candidates, future employees of his companies excited as possible because he needs… He’s not paying enough. That’s what every economist would say. If people talk about labor shortage, they actually mean we don’t pay enough or we can’t afford more expensive employees. All right. That is one possible explanation, but I still think… There’s more to it. I’m saying this in jest. There’s more to it. Obviously education, the talent pool. I think developers, good coders, there’s only so many in the world. If you want to design the next YouTube hardware, there’s maybe like 10 people in the world who are actually able to do this relatively quickly. If they are all taken by Microsoft, they give them $100 million in options. Unless you pay $150 million. It is not even a question of money. Otherwise, Apple wouldn’t have $100 billion or $200 billion, whatever it is, in cash reserves. They would spend it on people and capex to grow exciting new products, but ideas and talent are literally without price because there is no amount of money that Apple would be able to spend to acquire those ideas and those people. I absolutely agree. There’s something that someone else told me. I think it was Naval. He said in a world with bigger and bigger leverage, and I think AGI will get a certain even bigger leverage, talent in the end becomes more and more important because literally one person can reach the world. And if you have, say, you can improve the Amazon recommendation algorithm, it can be a billion dollars in value to Amazon, and if they give you $500 million, it’s still extremely cheap to them. And that helps to do this incredible leverage that we have. Obviously, also, responsibility goes up. That’s kind of the downside. Yes, and the ability to acquire new tools and deploy those tools to the task at hand must improve. That is why YouTube is so beautiful. How many people learned both practical skills and theoretical skills through YouTube and now it is almost a Pavlovian reflex, whatever they want. They know that they can Google it, they can go to Wikipedia, they can go to YouTube, and really there will be a very deep source of knowledge that is available in order to learn about these tools. And then many of them are just one click away. Even the tools of fabrication through the FabLab movement have become available, you know, laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC machines to a very large number of people. And they are developing all kinds of prototypes at an accelerated fashion that wouldn’t have been possible before. And then they are able to set up a Kickstarter to see if there is a market for whatever they built in the few hundreds of numbers. And if the feedback is positive, then they can go to the million unit Chinese mass scale manufacturing. And these are completely new mechanisms of product development that 10 years ago were impossible and now they are becoming commonplace. It’s really exciting. I really want to thank you, David, for taking the time. This was fantastic. You have so much inside. So many things you clearly have thought about it so much. I think people should listen to you more. That’s all I can say. Well, thank you very much for having me and I am happy to interact with all of your listeners. I’m very easy to Google and feel free to reach out with questions, send me an email, ping me on Twitter or wherever else. And I will be happy to continue our conversation. That sounds awesome. I’m going to help you come back on the show one day. I will. Thank you, David. Talk soon.

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