« Making Sense with Sam Harris

#136 — Digital Humanism

2018-08-30 | 🔗

In this episode the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Jaron Lanier about the economics, politics, and psychology of our digital lives. They discuss the insidious idea that information should be free, what we should want from an advanced economy, the role of advertising, libertarianism in Silicon Valley, the problems with social media, and other topics.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
I am here with Jaron Lanier Jaron, thanks for coming on the podcast thanks for having me well aid again, thank you your patients in overcoming a surprising number of technical ordeals to to get this conversation happening. This is, as I run because you are among the more technical guests, and yet we collectively have some bad technical karma. Hopefully, we've purged that problem and we can move yeah. I I've been meaning to talk to you about your rational belief in karma, and I I don't know where this comes from. I I don't. I don't think there is real such a thing in our world, although in my own start up my it, the engineers accused me of having some weird psychic feel the cause demos to crash, especially on important occasions, so I believe them. Here's yeah! Well, okay, let's, let's jump in because I know your time is short and press and we have around an hour here, but in a lot to talk about so I just want to plow on. But before we start, can you just describe
what you do? How do you? How do you summarize your career at this point for people who are unfamiliar with you? I make no attempt to do that, and nor do I have any motivation to accept, and somebody like you asked me he, but I've done a few things. I'm a computer scientist. I started the field of virtual reality. Approximately after the founder of computer, graphics really started it, which, who is the I've I named for reality. I had the first startup in prototype lot of the apps and made the first commercial gloves and headsets, and so on, as you, list of the of internet, to academic consortium that kill the internet in the 90s. I've done video game plus of tech, stuff. I've been working with Microsoft, a lot lately. I've done a bunch of startups as well, including the the one that became Google's first machine is, and I am also a musician and I played with all kinds of people like Phil Class and George Clinton, all kinds of people and
they write books, which is the immediate reason why I go on podcasts like this and the most recent book, which I'm sure the publisher would want me to mention right away, is called ten arguments for deleting your social media accounts right now. Yes, yeah and I am a huge fan of your books. You, ironically, you just mentioned everything you do if you're well known, that has virtually nothing to do with what we're going to talk about, because I have found this site. The hustle of yours, especially valuable, which is writing books and thinking all to Prashant, about the problems with our digital economy and social media and what the internet is doing to us. The book you just mentioned is your most recent. I will talk about, but you two prior books that are relevant here. You are not a gadget and who owns the future. There's just so many issues that intersect hears. I I just want to kind of summarize for a mentor to my interest in this and that and then set you off. It seems like
there are three areas that will talk about and it's hard to know where to start here. But the first is is economics and- and there are questions about how we create a world where good and necessary work gets incentivized and supported and how we can have a large middle class, for instance, in the presence of increasing automation and ai. Then there's politics where we we need to think about the influence of the internet and social media, on our ability to make sense to one another and even just under and the behavior of other people, and this is to this of Akon. Should human cooperation that's getting in some ways, much harder based on our technology and then there's a third piece, which is personal psychology for lack of a better word, which is just how is this technology affecting each of us direct and so, among the ten reasons you give for deleting one social media. One is that social?
It is turning everyone into an asshole, and I can I can say that I personally run that meant and it works. I have been turned into an asshole on twitter, so it's just incredibly incredibly important topic and I think perhaps we should start with the economic peace, because I got one more thing by way of preambles that many of the worst decisions we've made here- and this is something you point out in your books in creating this tech, are not on their face bad. Asians, I mean they. They they certainly not sinister decisions and so and to start talking about economics here, one of the first decisions we've made. Is around this notion that that information should be free, and that just seems like a a a very generous and an idealistic way to start. It just seems quite noble. So perhaps we can start here with
with that with the digital economy. What what could possibly be wrong with information being free right? So this idea that information should be free. Our was held in the
in the most profound and intense way, it was something that was believed so intensely during a starting in the eighties and in some ways it still holds for a lot of people end to defy. That was very, very difficult. It was painful from my friends who couldn't believe that I was defying it. It was painful for me. I did lose friends over at and on its face, it sounds very generous and fair and proper and freeing, but there are part there are opens with it that are so deep as to anything threaten the survival of our species. It's actually a very, very, very serious mistake, so the the mistakes happen on a couple of levels. Here I would say the first one has to do with this idea that information is totally weightless and intrinsically
I think that's free in an infinite supply, and that's not true, because information only exists to the degree that people can perceive it and process it and understand it. It Altimate Lee only has a meeting when it grounds out as human experience of the slogan age to have back in the 80s. When we were first debating these things, is that information is alienated experience, meaning information is similar to stored energy that can be released. You put energy into a we, then you can release it. Are you lift up a weight and then you look over the weight and it goes back down and you release the energy that was stored and in the same A information Emily, only has meaning as experience at some point in the future, and the problem
experience, or maybe the benefit of experiences that it's it's only a finite potential, you can't experience everything, and so, therefore, if you make the mistake of assuming that information is free, you'll have more information than you can experience and what you do is you make so vulnerable to we could call denial of service attack in other contexts of denial of service attack means that malicious people, since so many requests to a website that it's a so effectively knocked out off the web. You reach it anymore and every web site that you use reliably actually has to go through this elaborate structure of other resources created by companies like aka, my that defend it from a denial of service attacks, which is infinitely easy to do. But in the same way, when you have services like twitter or Facebook, where anybody can post anything without any cost to themselves, then there's no postage on email and everything can
be totally filled up with spam and malicious, bots and crap to the eight where reality and everything about the world get squeezed out and you end up amplifying the worst impulses of people, and so it's it's created this world of darkness and falsity city. It's real the enlightenment. You know it's like you can't there's no such thing as a free lunch. There's no such thing as free information. There's no such thing is infinite attention. Has to be some way. That seriousness comes into play. If you want to have any sense of reality or quality or truth or decency and Unfortunately, we haven't created a world in which that so, but then there's a flip side to it, which is equally important, which is so we've created this world in which we're talking about technology, often as something that's, if not opposed to humanity, opposed to most of humanity.
So there's a lot of talk and a lot of this comes from really good technologist. So it's not from like malicious outsiders who are trying to screw us up. It's our own fault. Where will say well a lot of that so go away because of artificial intelligence. I robots, and that might either be some extreme case where super intelligent. He takes over the world and disposes of humanity, or it might just be that only the most elite, smart techie people are still needed and everybody else becomes. This burden on the state may have to go on some kind of basic income, and it's it's just a depressing. It's like it's everybody's is going to become this useless burden, and so, even if that means well I'll get basic income, we will have to work for a living. There's also something fundamentally undignified look, you won't be needed and any situation like that it's just bound to be a political disaster. In an economic disaster on many levels we can go into if it isn't obvious. But the thing to see is that this economic hole that we seem to be driving ourselves,
two is one in the same as the information wants to be free, because the thing is, ultimately, all these a eyes and robots and all the stuff. They run an information that, at the end of the day, has to come from people and each instance is a little different, but for a lot of them, there's input from a lot of people, and I can give you some examples. So if we say that information is free, they were saying we're in the information age. Everybody is worthless because what they can contribute to. From the example I like to use as just an entry point to this idea, is the the people who translate between languages so they've seen their careers be decimated their tenth of what they were in the same way that recording musicians them get our investigative journalist and many other classes of of of people who have an information product they've all been kind of reduced under this weird greasy we've created. But the thing is in order to run the the so called a. I translators that place is like being
and Google offer. We have to scrape tens of millions of examples from real life people translating things every single day in order to keep up with slang in public language is alive. The world is alive. You can't just stuff a language later, once you have to keep on refilling it, and so we're totally right on the very people that were putting out of work, so it's fun simply like a form of theft through dishonesty. I hope that should be I'm clear yeah. Well, I guess one question there is that I can see how it's true in the case of translation, but it seems no, where written into the book of nature, that it should be true in every case. So I think we could imagine some significant percentage of of work that will get get automated and there won't won't require this continuous drip of yet more human
generated information. Well, what I'd say to that is that I think anytime, somebody considers what they want from an advanced economy or make any con in a situation where technology is getting better and better is they should want more and more of the economy too, essentially be about subjective value about things like entertainment, in cosmetics and sports and lifestyles and design, and all that like that's what we should want, because that's a signal that we're creating technology, in an economy. That's really serving us right here, so I would suspect, with the want to call it a I or not, that some kind of growing core,
Functionality will probably require less and less continuous input from people because it it ultimately is compose the problems that can be solved approximately at least once and then you can keep on using the solution for a long time, but the world of subjective value should be in constant creative chernin evolution and so to me it. It might very well be the case that you don't need to rescan the roads all the time to have self driving vehicles. Let's say you still have to do it because they'll be potholes or fallen trees or whatever, but you don't have to do it constantly, but you should, but most of the economy should be about the subject of things, about style in arts and fashion and joy, a n connection and all that and that's exactly the stuff we three we've thrown the most into the free, been where you're supposed to do all that stuff for free by uploading. You tips for free to you, two been posting on Facebook, for free and so for
M is so and to me the a I case of a creative case are not different. It's just data. Coming from people, I think the a I thing is just a fancy way of talking about information that confuses embodies the issue, so so this could CERN that AI will get really good. Simply doesn't concern me because what the economy should be about is precisely more and more subjective value, which can only come by definition from people. That's what it means right. Okay, so so we've hit the ground running here. I want us back up for a second and rider, perform an exorcism on some bad into tions here, because you know I think people come into this. We we've we've trained ourselves to expect much of our did. Content to be free and free forever, and it now seems just the normal state of the world and, of course podcast
some blogs and journalism, and ultimately, music should be free or if it's not free, it should be subsidized by ads, and I think there's a the sense that you that tv and radio were free. So there's this this president and every Tyson has its excesses, but I think people feel what what's you know what's wrong with add some ads cool looking and amusing and stylish so and we've lived with him for forever and then there's this other elements like you're having a personalized news feed. What's what's wrong with that? Why can't facebook just give me what I want and I think it it might be useful to to focus the adverse ation here on a couple of of case studies at the at that you deal with in in your various books and one, I think that will be familiar to people
is the music industry and what happened to the real economic basis of creating and selling music, perhaps list right there, I mean- because there was one thing that are. I remember vividly when music became digitized is that it actually wasn't clear, ethically to Maine into millions of other people that copying an mp3 file was stealing in any sense, but piracy seemed benign and too. I think whole generation of people still seems benign, because you're not thriving. Anyone of the material for copying, you're, not you're, copying an mp3 file or any other digital product doesn't Prive anyone else of that information, and yet the effect of this has been to shrink an economy that
one point sustained. You know a very valuable form of creative expression, and you know you know now has been in free fall for for quite some time. So, let's just let's talk to me about what happened to to music sure. Well, there's a couple things I'd like to say: if I could, we've had an interesting experiment performed, but not in music, but instead in a t v for and- and so I just like to mention that first before coming back to music- is that okay yeah, that's right right. So in the case of tv during the same era in which it was uh, there was this kind of crazy for making music free, which is kind of 90s into the first decade of this century. There was also a feeling that that should happen with tv and that in the Future TV's that movies would be created by a process that was reminiscent of the Wikipedia, where just be a bunch of volunteers who had self organized and do it
for free, you know what everything would be better and a lot of people try to do that. My friend will write, who made the sims had a company like that, and there were dozens of others. There's like there were a lot of attempts and see that at the same time there were companies like Netflix saying no, no, no, that's not the right thing. Internet allows us to do is have a direct billing relationship with people, and if we make the experience good and clean and smooth enough for them, they won't mind paying an. I just think: there's no question that now Six one! That argument I mean that was a fair test that was a fair showdown between two different philosophies and there's no question that the paid for us a fee one and in particular frequently you are referred to this era in which were paying for tv and and we see we don't see, advertisements on HBO or net like that might be changing now. But this this direct pay model instead of the old, add model or the copy it model they're, calling it peak tv. You everybody's heard that phrase
whether it is or not, of course, is a matter of opinion. I'm personally now into a lot of this shows that have captured the imagination of so many like game of thrones, but it seems to be working, you know, so we have a very clear thing, and- and so you know what I say about this question of, if you copy something the original still there, if you copy information, I'm yeah, I just have to see that what we decide is worth paying for is always something of a, I won't say, an arbitrary. But if there's always a cultural element is an element of values into how we decide to do this, we decide not to pay for what we think of. As women's work we decide for a long time. We decided the air was free, so you just read it in the plants to make more air. But then we realized. No, it's not. We have carbon credits, we realize we have to preserve our air and everybody has to pay for it. Ultimately, if we're going to survive, it's uh
of how we express our values, where we perceive our self interest, how we, how we see a path to a decent society. Ultimately, the decision of how you value things and what's worth spending money on is not rational. Like at for all of the books, you can read about economics with all the fancy die programs and equations at the end of the day. A lot of it is really based on values and cultural expression, and so there isn't a way to absolutely justify some of these decisions, but that's always been true. But in some ways it can be made rational in that you can trace the negative effects of bad incentives or In this case you know I mean if you're going to pirate every cd that gets, produced in the year whatever it was. Nineteen. Ninety eight, then that's going to have a very predictable effect on the the economics of producing music and
then musicians will have to tour right, and but you know not, everyone wants to tour, can tour and then, if you do it to writers, if you pirate books well, writers for the most part, can't even tour right. I mean they're, not musicians, they only some of them can have careers, giving lectures. So it's what you doing in your books is is offer a very rational case for why these these incentives, we've rated order, or these these new norms around treating information is free. I have been really ruinous to certain sectors of of the economy. Well, you know it's. So it's a strange thing like you, these kind of clouds of negative is
tions can overtake a society. So currently we assume that there's no way to have a college education that will be infinitely expensive. That will put you in depth, prefer we assume there's that that they're, these horrible things center, just indelible n, there's an assumption that if you're a musician, it's inconceivable, there could be an economy to support you. So you better have rich parents, you know and that that's approximately what's going on now for the most part in the average case when I try to tell younger musicians that this is not really so. In the 90s for awhile I made my living as recording musician and leaving aside performance is just from the recording business I could sell. Like thirty thousand records. I was kind of a minor artist, I would say in the kind of avant garde, classical crossover world and get one one thousand dollars advanced for record and the big label that had signed me would earn it back and that was
cool, you know, and we got to record in a nice studio and all these things. This is a very cool time. I wish younger musicians could experience that it was just extraordinary and everybody was basically happy. I mean it was working right. But so my understanding here with music is that you had major bands who would who I think got something like ninety percent of their revenue from selling their music see that revenue shrink to whatever thirty percent and then, touring had to make up the difference and so that it created a whole new business model for music, but that that works in the case of many musicians. I don't know you know what percentage, but it doesn't work for many journalists right or or any, and even in the case of musicians. It's heartbreaking. I mean when this music wants to be free, things started happening. We just started having weekly fundraisers for people like
famous musicians had gotten sick in old age and had like no support anymore, and it was just so tragic recent my very dear buddy friend, for many many years John Perry Barlow passed away and he had been a songwriter for the grateful dead one of the most successful bands, which had actually pioneered a lot of this idea by encouraging tapers at their concerts from a very pure feeling from a very generous feeling. But then you know at the end, even though he penned, you know these songs and these huge selling records he just basically didn't have income. You know an eye, it just pissed me off so much, it's just so unfair! It's like what I call it is singing for your. So
for every single meal. You never get to build up in the life. You know you can't build up any reserve so that you can have a sick day or grow older. Have a kid who needs to go to college. You know it's. It's a everybody goes into this gig economy where you're, basically, this disposable element in somebody else's fortune, and that's what that's? What my making music free actually did. That's that's a very important distinction because to take the case of music, so it may seem like a a distinction without a difference for because if I tell you that a band like whatever Radiohead used to make all of their money selling music, but now they have to tour, but the crucial difference there if you're, making your money selling your your intellectual property. Well, then, then, that is money that you can continue to make, even when you stop, working. Where is, if you are making your money touring, you know
there is a linear relationship between you know every gig and every dollar an once. You stop tour and you stop making money and that looks very different in your old age as a rockstar, yeah yeah there's been so many traffic situations and, of course, if you're young, what you think about is it's in my interest to not have to pay for this file, you know, but then you will not stay forever. No matter what weird reader comes out of Google spin offs, you know you will also grow old. He will also have biological body and you will have needs, and you will not always have perfect days and cool idea of intellectual property kind of like a lot of in our society. It you can think of it as something that only benefits elites would actually. It was fought for by unions trying to CEP
for people who are not elites at all. The musicians union battled long and hard to get these rights to create dignity for people who produced information in their lives and to have it loste by people who thought they were doing. The right thing is just one of the tragedies of our era, yeah, yeah and there's so many elements here, but so, for instance, you as a as a writer of books that I know you have experienced. This is well you you find yourself continually in competition with free versions of yourself. So you know, if you give a TED talk, you know is rather often you give the talk, because you you, you want to give the talk, but also because you're, a writer of books- and this is you know, your p- is a great way to get. Word of your work out, but the truth is that in more and more in the current era, where everyone feels starved for time tension and it's becoming harder
harder to even commit to reading a book you are actually your TED talk is going to satisfy some significant number of people that they understand your thesis well enough that they don't even have to read your book. The bay in this model of publishing is intention with all of these, these opportunities to to get the word out about a book now in in digital format, at a podcast like this. Is you know another case in point and to that end, I wish it would be only decent me to a short well that we will in no way exhaust what is of interest in your books. By having this conversation, if I Ok, there's one of my books, you haven't mentioned, which is called dawn of the new everything which is a memoir and an introduction to virtual reality and possibly my best book uh, but also the less the least known one, because it's it's hard to read it's big, but it's fun. I hope somebody listening will think to read it. I think you'll enjoy it
yeah yeah. Well that end unfortunate. That is the one I have not read, but I will look forward to that. So, let's just bring this the concept of or the role of ads back in here so the most people have decided that, in the face of this, the way too monetized work and inspire good work is to build an ad economy, and this answers the need to have in they should be free to all of the young people who who to get it that way, and you know that now we we who to be young still want to get it. That way- and this is something that you know many of us have are fighting against- have been paying attention to the consequences of relying on ads. In you know, I've decided that I can't credibly read ads on this podcast, I know that you're you're, more sanguine about the state of podcasting, then most forms of media at the moment- and I should say, is that for many podcasters, because I've taken
position against ads on my own podcast. Many people come to Maine wanting to do the same, and the truth is. I don't actually even know what to tell other podcasters at this point, because I think I'm an out liar in the space where it would work. For me, I found an audience who and and some percentage of of the audience will support this work, but it seems to mean by no means straight forward to say that that any podcast, sister, who wants to will find an audience to support their work, and I think in the given the current expectation, I think, anyone who does decide to to forgo ads will be paying an economic price for doing that with so whatever audience at whatever scale given given the expectation that podcast should be free. So it's kind of hard to to advise people. Even when I'm successfully implemented,
an ad free model here. Well, I need to correct you about something. My objection is not to advertising, but to continuous behavior modification by algorithm, it's really a very different thing. So what what it overlaps in one case in that well I'm worried as a podcaster about the the behavior modification or the perceived behavior modification that can happen to me as a as a just a broker of information. I don't you know it's like a credibility concerned. I just can't you know, given what I'm trying to do here. I don't feel that I can personally shill for any products, but I think uh, podcasters. Can I think it's completely convergent with the brand of other podcasters to sail. Listen, here's! The here's! The greatest you know teacher but I've ever found. You know you're going to want this t shirt and that works for people. I know I've heard some really listening to some of the podcast
just have to read their ads when it's clearly bizarre, it's actually kind of entertaining. But the thing is this: long as every listener hears the same ad everybody can understand. What's going on, that's okay! I mean the reason podcasting still, in my view, an unmolested, authentic medium is that there aren't algorithms, calculating what somebody hears on a podcast. It's still it's it's crafted by you and if it includes ads, people can tell it includes ads it. Isn't there isn't some meta podcast, that's taking snippets in creating a feed for people. There isn't some algorithm that in least so far. That is like a change in what you say with the you know how I do signal processing technology to see the needs of somebody who's paying from the side. Some advertiser there's, not a calculation of the feed designed by behaviorists
theorists to change people and as long as it's just a crafted thing, even if it if it includes commercial communication, I don't think it destroys society. I think it does start to destroy society, and everything becomes really manipulative and creepy in a way that people can't possibly follow or understand. Then it starts to undo remind him in dignity and self determination, and that's exactly what's going on with social media companies and the way search is run and the way Youtube video selected for you and FED to you and you many other examples, and and that's that's where we really have the most serious prob yes, so I want to get there 'cause. That really is the the psychology in the politics, but I just have a few more things I want to. In economics here, because you touch on some things that uh. Many of us have noticed, but I think just didn't score as as problems in society. So I mean
is a kind of winner. Take all the fact that we notice in in digital media, where you know it seems like people can can We were noticing people get real careers, whether there Youtube stars or their podcasters or in order or just startups, that you know replace leg. Yes, the media, you have something like Instagram, replacing something like code. I can in the in our notion of what is to be a a business based on photography, but there's a shrinking of the economy, and I perhaps, as a comparison worth letting you may commit kit come compare Instagram and Jack for us in terms of the number of people, and I mean I'm happy to I. I just concerned that many of the examples we've been using are so antiquated that they'll have taken place well before some of your listeners will have been born correct, but for those for the
'cause, he don't know there or Instagram Instagram. Surely people still remember people know about which is part of Facebook? For God sakes, it's the same thing as Facebook. You can't tell me you don't have a facebook account if you have an instagram when you do, but anyway, Rochester NY way up there by the lake used to be a center of buggy whip production, which is this example always used for the value of creative destruct. And in capitalism, buggy whip through the web series to get horses to move when before there was internal combustion, cars and trucks and when car came along, the buggy whip industry went bust and then Rochester became the center of Photography, and these huge companies called Kodak and Polaroid were there, which used to be major major american companies, employing multitudes of people with wonderful research, labs and incredible factories, which I old enough to have seen and they sold film for your cameras and they sold the cameras and people would take pictures
it's likely today and they share the pictures, so they make multiple prints and they mail them to each other. They could do all the same stuff. You know it's uh, it's not really all that different! Then Instagram comes along founded with thirteen people, get sold for a bunch of money to Facebook and basic kind of wipes out a lot of camera culture. In this way that concentrates all the wealth is just a tiny, tiny, tiny number of people and there's something fundamentally confused about this. In my view, you can't just say all the money increase to whoever has the biggest and most central computer, because there's always going to be somebody with a big monopolistic monster computer. I call them siren. Servers in my books is just it's called network effects. You can't have like three face books of equal size that can
you forever, because people are going to want to connect with people on the same thing and so gradually they'll just be one big thing, and so you'll end up with one monster, social media thing and then a few niche ones that are a little different. And currently you have things like twitter and snap that survive along with it. But for the most part, these things turn into monopolies. And if you say all the money goes to ever happens to own the computer. That wins the monopoly game in a network. Then you just create the society of almost nobody. Benefiting at the end of the day when things get more and more computerized and things are more and more based on information technology, which is certainly what's going to happen, and that's no if society at all, that's just the undermining of everything. Even for those who are ' I'm on the good side of the equation. I'm a Silicon Valley, guy, I've done great. I've had for successful startups and I'm not you know, I don't have personal complaints for say, except that
I want to live in a beautiful world, if I'm like rich in a world that my wealth is destroying, I've totally lost, it's totally self undermining and that's exactly what's going on. Well, yes, this is always confused me or worse kind, of horrified Maine with respect to people in your industry in Silicon Valley who are, as you say, are on the winning side of this equation, who seem not to be at all concerned about wealth inequality, and it's like it's like in Xplicit in how they are and what they are fighting for. I'm thinking now of people who opposed income tax in, Washington, I think it was. You know to help bail out failing pools or whatever it is. I had believe it was a school based initiative. The presumption there is that but you really have nothing to lose by wealth inequality increasing to some crazy ass him to What is the end game there you're going to live in a compound
ringed with razor wire, and you know, you'll need an armed guard to go everywhere and that's there's a kind of insular ocean of wealth which which it doesn't depend on having happy creative people out there on the street. When you go out to get your coffee, but we clearly we are in this together. Or on some basic level and it's a very dark notion of success that doesn't recognize that. Well, you know I do have friends in Silicon Valley who fit within the cliche that you've described, and I have had those conversations with uh It's happened repeatedly. Somebody will come up to me and say: hey. You have to go in with us, so we're getting this compound in New Zealand, and you know what everything falls apart here: we're all going to go to New Zealand until the Rockets work and we can all go to Mars, then will upload ourselves to the big computer. That's orbiting Mars or whatever the fantasy is an out of state. Wait a second. If we can fuck up a big part of my language, oh well, I don't know what your policies on that, but here first we can screw up a big country. Like
United States. What are we going to do to a little country like New Zealand, we're going to like totally trample it and make it? You know turn to crap in three seconds like I like. What in the problem is us, you know like we did this and I love I mean have a beautiful house. I love I have a beautiful family. I love where I am, but I love the overall world even more. I love to be able to go out and meet new people and find new, flavors and hear any music and that external world has been contracting teacher. This is dream inequality like even in Berkeley where I live, which is about as Lefty's cities. You can find there places you can't go anymore, 'cause there's just you know it's just there's so many people in such stress and there's so many people on the streets
that's one of the reasons I live here instead of Silicon Valley, because we're not quite as much of a bubble as it is across the bay, but I want my world back a. I would happily pay more taxes to have this beautiful world become more open and friendly and healthy and safe and comfortable and friendly. I I think, could be the bargain of the century, but you can't just do it through charity on your own. It has to be destroyed, coordinated thing, which is what we call taxation like we we have to do more of that. I think would be an incredible bargain if you go to a country with higher taxes that are spent just with, without some horrible manner, corruption, but it just spent on the public good. Even if it's not always perfect, I just find like my heart opens up and I can breathe easier because you can try to go anywhere and things are okay and there you're not going to these areas of horrible de que, and
suffering, and it just makes your world better. I I just can't understand why people don't leap at the park and it's such a better world. Yeah people don't score it as a a cost that their pain not to be. You know to to worry about walking too far in one direction in a city, because things become you know more dangerous and more squalid or more. It's like you are having to cross the street because you know there are twenty home people and camped on that part of the sidewalk. It just seems like there's, no snow, the agency, there's nothing that you feel you can personally do about it. Even if you are generally philanthropic and giving some money, a homeless. Shelter doesn't really solve that particular problem, and- and yet we have this this, stigma associated around redistributing wealth and there's a kind of consensus among techies. It seems, or certainly there's a kind of libertarian bias among techies. That's
that suggests that having government do anything is the wrong approach. Given how inefficient it's tended to be. So, yeah. You know one of the unwritten history, so I tried to cover a little bit of this in my book dawn of the new everything, but it needs really. Its own book is starting in the 80s and especially in the 90s. There was a deliberate propaganda effort to spread libertarian ideas in Silicon Valley. There are all these like glossy, libertarian magazines and suddenly showed up in speakers and stuff, and we only recently learned that a lot of this was kind of centrally coordinated and funded by people like the Coke brothers, but the pitch back then, was that oh, it's, these fuddy, Duddy, liberals and leftists too, don't want you have fun and they they. You know. They have all these women's slippers. Everything in this libertarian future they'll be free sex everywhere and we'll have prostitutes everywhere,
Aaron will have paddle, be legalized, you'll be able to do all your drugs and it libertarian was libertarianism was initially sold to Silicon Valley as this kind of hedonistic binge. That was the original pitch, and it's funny. It's kind of shifted now to just kind of this. Pure greed and aggression like you'll, be existential e, validated if you're the rich one at the end of the game, but it actually started out with this kind of other message that was designed to appeal to hippies, yeah, well, yeah, getting the government off your back in yeah, I mean the the war. The war on drugs has been such a spectacularly ugly. Failure that you can justify libertarianism and for quite awhile just focusing on that no kidding. And yet the thing is that the so called conservative libertarian people are essentially,
at the end of the day, the send up in bed with the th, the the the the theocratic sort of moralists, because you know they're, openly control, freaks, they're, also they're, ultimately trying to find some way to you know. B, elites here now and it's you can do that by connecting with a theocracy, if that it just happens again and again, somehow so, let's pivot to the psychological and political aspects here, because and this this will take us to social media. Now you are, if I'm not mistaken, not on any so media. Is that the case are you years you're on linked in no I'm not on Linkedin, okay, there's fake versions of me on everything, and I have a professional connection to link them, because I'm a scientist at Microsoft that owns it, but I wouldn't I I have no
count on it or anything else that that there is a real turn when you're on Twitter. It's not me, I don't know who it is. I have nothing, okay, so so tell me about this decision to forego all social media. Well, first of all, these people are not strangers. To me. I know the people who read all the companies have just of your ghetto hacker bombs. They're. Not I like to me it's it's sort of like. If you came to me and said, hey, I'm starting a new car lot. You gotta come get your new car for me I would probably say SAM, you know what I'll be your free in bed, I'm not necessarily getting my car from you and that's how I felt about these sites. I just I just feel like there a bunch of nonsense, so just they just never appealed to me and I know they've become sort of so normalized that it seems like the thing not to be on him, but I got gotta point out. Perhaps if I was on some of these services, I'd sell more books would be more famous, but truth is, I feel, like I'm doing pretty. Well, you know I'm I'm I'm probably doing better than most people who are trying to be writers or speakers, and for me it is
it's not even my main gig. Probably in I don't say that to brag I'm just saying maybe the whole thing is a scam. Maybe if you get off these things, you actually don't pay a price. Maybe you don't need him? I don't think I'm data exceptional. You know, maybe I'm a little exceptional in one way or another. It's been proposed to me, but I can't be that exceptional, and so I don't think to me. It's not like I've made any hard to say shit. I don't think there's any loss. I don't think there's any last opportunity be or last option or lost connection. I think just get rid of him. 'cause, there's stupid and then you're fine, it's interesting! It's there's a bit of a paradox here, because so it knows someone who has spent a fair amount of time on twitter and gotten hooked and then noticed just all of the the negative effects of being hooked. I I've dialed it back by ninety five percent. So I mean now I am on for maybe five
minutes a day, and I use it really just as a way of keeping up with news article. The people are recommending who you know that who I have followed for that very purpose or you know I I'll announce the release of this podcast there and then I'll close it down, but and so move seen from having spent a lot of time on Twitter into the quote real world again. There is a bit of a paradox here because in some I'm is the real world. The sense of being in the real world is a bit of an a illusion, because much of the the reality of one's reputation and one's effects on others and the spread of one's ideas is online, right. It's not in the real world. You don't need it walking down the street and less some comes up and says: hey. You know, I love your book, but you and I were having this conversation will release it as a podcast and the conversation,
about it the reaction to it. You know, if I stick my foot in my mouth now and say something that gets a a negative reaction, all of will be happening online and primarily on social media and, and neither of us will be paying attention to it, but it doesn't it's not happening and it and it doesn't mean it doesn't matter. Two are ready in our and whether people will collaborate with us in the future. So how do you think about this? Much of what's happening to your mutation. You are not aware of by virtue of not being on social media. Well, I mean the thing about it. Is it's a lot of froth? It's like just this churning foam, it's very possible that there might be things out there that
had I known about them, I could have seized some opportunity or something that's a bit of an unknown. What AC empirically from the many people who are on social media is not that when they see instead is a few happy stories of people who have for two to four to dis connections or like magical circumstance that happened on through these services. I think that those things are real and they do exist, but it the more common thing is that people get into Weird Smith's they get into because they they bring out the worst in themselves and other people in the turn into a sort of these cattle article hoodlum, suddenly out of nowhere at that which seems to actually happen more commonly. So I think you know, statistically I'm probably ahead, I'm probably doing better by not being on it. It's a bit of it's unfathomable, because you no I mean, I would say, if uh Ola, say if Elon Musk wasn't on Twitter Tesla would be worth more money.
Ok then it is, you know, that's a much more typical story, and so overall I'd say my best guess is that I benefited from not being on it. I mean there's no way to know for sure in my case, but statistically you know, I'm pretty confident. That's the case. Honestly, it seems like a I'd bet from where I'm sitting now yeah. But let's talk about some of these other effects on social media because there this politically and cycle. Technically. The fact that we are the people are getting so siloed into these echo chambers and seeing information that is algorithmically tailored to who they they appear to be online, are who I've been in the past. This has a several bizarre and unhappy consequences in your most recent book. Ten arguments for deleting your social media accounts. You present
thought experiment which is fairly arrest in it's. It's just that that the Wikipedia analogy I'm just do imagine and if Wikipedia show different versions of every entry based on this secret profile, that it has about you as a internet user I saw a pro trump person would get a totally different account of reality than a than an anti trump person. As an analogy, that seems insane and mean like what: how could we live in a world where that would be happening? And yet that's actually happy mean on social media in some basic sense and it's in since even more widespread than if it were just happening on on Wikipedia yes exactly what's happening, and the thing is, I'm you can argue about whether I'm overstating the importance of social media and search and other online experiences to the world, but it has, I think, even the indirect versions of this, if you can create
kind of sigh load, personalized, manipulative feed it also. That makes it more possible for the traditional outlets, like the fox uses of the world, to operate with a feeling of of confirmation of Self confirmation that what they're doing is okay, which I think would have been inconceivable before there was a background of social media to support them. This is kind of important because the demo, graphics. When is the negative side effects of increasing the human lifespan? Is that there's more and more old people around who can be kind of more rigid and whatever, and so they tend to the older media like tv and so in a way, it's the effect of social media, crazy. Allowing tv to become more silent and crazy than it used to be
is closer to the problem in the US, maybe even than the direct effects of social media, but at rate yeah. It's said when this we're we're in this bizarre situation where, The only way that anybody can have an experience online on this beautiful internet that we worked so hard to build is when they're somebody to the side he wants to pay to manipulate them. That's like if, if, if that doesn't exist, the nothing happens, and so we've created this whole society based on manipulation and stealth and Kerr dizziness, and it's just made everything on board and paranoid and cranky and bizarre- it's, I think, a special consequently, now it's made the behavior of other people, especially people with whom you disagree very how to interpret a man. What's the when I look at, I said this on a recent podcast it at when I look at die hard Trump supporters. They often appear genuinely crazy to me, or at least just a in such bad faith that they're just not acting with reality at all, and yet
I realize that I can't see what there in formation diet actually is we're not seeing the same facts or or pseudo facts, and it's made the behavior of of other people very difficult to interpret it's a it's, a really serious problem. Is there there there's always been a fundamental divide in this country. We had a civil war. After all, and at times the divide has been worse than it is today, but I don't think we've ever had quite the degree of just insanity in total, disconnect in on mooring from from facts the disbelief in the real world a a lack of a sense of sharing anything. We had our disagreements and a lot of things in perception of what it meant to be of one race or another, for instance, or all sorts of things.
Like that, but we didn't have. We still lived in the same world on some level and we don't right now and what affect had This anonymity and comments had online. Ms, obviously there's case for an anonymity in the sense that you, that is the rare case where you you're, blower or you're someone who needs to get the word out at as because I'm right there have been low.
Acts of arguments and I've been in a lot of them over the past quarter century about. Should you be anonymous for? Could you be suited them more all of these different things, and I will definitely decided that that particular argument is not where the action is. I think there are cases where one might wish to be anonymous. I've seen a lot of kids use the construction, a fake personas on on Instagram accreting fence does for themselves is actually, I think, a valuable exercise in growth and experimenting with identity, and I would hate to be like sort of the authority figure interrupting that. I think it's
It's actually not a bad thing. So to me, what the problem is is very specific. It's the it's! The reliance on an economic model that incentivize this behavior spring appeal life and it's the calculated manipulation of people by third parties in a way that the people don't understand that our hooks them using psychological techniques and then tries to modify them using behaviors techniques, and that is the problem. That's the thing that should be rebuilt against, and I think if we can be in a world where the economic incentives are no longer pushing for that to happen as much as possible then there can be room for both true names and for for anonymity and pseudonymity. I think there could be a place for all those things, but the key thing we have to focus on is not that choice, but instead the pervasiveness of manipulation, I I I I I really want to bow out of that argument about anonymity. I just don't think it's. The important argument so
What is the solution now? What it, if you could reboot the internet? How would you do it? I would do a few things. The first thing I would do is everybody involved to gradually bring money back into the. World information instead of expansion at, and I think people should be able to earn a living when what they add to the network is Val. Well, I mean right now we're creating the most valuable companies in history based on the information that people add to them and meanwhile we're creating more and more economic separation. More inequality, an obviously that can't go on forever and the only way to correct it is to start paying the people who are adding the information. That's the value and grow the pie. It doesn't mean that I think the big tech companies should be shut down or that they're evil actually kind of like a lot of 'em. It just means
I'm too that we have to get back to a world where, when people add value they get paid for it that's honest and, of course, so that the flip side of that is just as Netflix proved, and for that apple with the app store and many other examples, we have to encourage business models. Were people pay for what they want? So you know, Google should google to say: hey, search, won't be free after ten years were going to gradually start removing the free option and what you get in exchange for that is no more commercial bias and crap on our search results. So this is just going to be serving you you're, going to pay for it. Facebook same thing we're going to we're going to commit to not having any ads in ten years and yeah you'll start paying for it, but it'll be a great deal to be affordable. You'll get you'll get peak. Facebook and, just like you got peak tv from place to place, you know HBO and Netflix were going to give you peek social media, where you can get better information and less crap,
but I am the the the other part of that is a little more complicated, which is, if you keep your eye out for peace. I have coming out with a colleague in the Harvard Street View of started up. I know it's a snobby thing by anyway. Now I have to get it's a place to start we're starting to to scope out our how to do this in much more detail than before, and a lot of it has to do with creating in between institutions. That is. This is a little this gift to be hopeful, but right now, if there's nothing but a bunch of individuals and one giant tech platform like a facebook or Google, there's this bizarre situation, where we're petitioning the central authority that we have no other power over, that we didn't vote for two to police, our own speech and to police our own behavior. And it's just not tenable were demanding authoritarianism
and the way around, that is to create middle sized organizations that are analogous to things like scientific journals or universities or trade unions. For many other examples where you can volunteer, you can voluntarily join these things and they collectively bargain for you, so you can get paid decently instead of having a giant race to the bottom and they can become brands of themselves that enforce quality and become trustworthy, and so we have to
this this. This sense of intermediate structures and remember that in the past, before the internet, the place where excellence and compassion and trustworthiness came from was not the central government declaring it, but rather things like universities in scientific journals and high quality news outlets, a developing, a reputation in being selective and but that was all voluntary, a voluntary. So it wasn't a third tarian it, and so, if you have in between sized organizations, you can have all these effects. That would be authoritarian if they were global and directed from the center, and all of those institutions are exactly the ones that were weakened and destroyed when Facebook said we're, gonna move fast and break things stuff that
broken where all those in between organizations- and so we have to rebuild them in a new way in order to have this more humane and sustainable internet, and one part of your vision for success here and for a kind of humanistic information economy is that people would also get paid for their day. Whatever you value, I data that you add to the internet, would that would be monetized in some ways that you see what they have, that it would be technically accomplished now, or is that await some sort of break? I mean I've worked on a few engineering models of it and what I want to say is compare, what we're doing now, where you have this ecosystem of tens of thousands of little spying organizations that are trying to gather something about you and then sell it to somebody else. So then, like this, the way we're doing things that was so complex and so convoluted and so bizarre that this alternative, I'm talking about, would certainly be simpler and What we're doing now? You know what you listen.
You might not realize that they're paying on average. Well, we don't know for sure, but our best estimate is something like twenty dollars a month for connectivity purely to Fourth spying on them. That has nothing to do with what they actually directly perceive just all this increased bandwidth for the spying empire. So it's a tremendous. It's a tremendous carbon footprint, it's a tremendous economic burden and everybody is tremendously complex and stupid, so would replace it with something much more straight forward and and simple actually and in the spine. Perhaps I should take a minute or two to just details, some of the aspects of the spine. People might not be aware of because at me I think I just learned that when you are performing a google search. Google is not only tracking. Your completed searches is tracking your in completed searches if you type something into the search line and then think better of it and delete it that initial typing those keystrokes got
courted as well and use data to your profile. Are there other elements to this? Do you think people are unaware of oh yeah and it's changing all the time, so it's really different. Every week it's kind of I've been present a couple of times when the various tech companies present themselves to the big advertising conglomerates in the annual negotiation of fees, which is this amazing, hidden ritual that I wish more people could see and when you'll see representatives from companies like Facebook and Google present themselves, they're so over reaching and creepy and they cut, they probably are exaggerating. But they'll talk about being able to just measure your soul. I mean it'll just be like over measuring movement of your phone, which can tell us how you're walking and then from that. We can derive your mood and whether you're having a. If your woman, all kinds of stuff for phone, where you go we're following all the stuff for falling
voice tone when you do voice stuff for following your facial expression, if we camera on you we're missing all the stuff. We know all these things about you that you'll never know. We know all these things about your mood about your mental state, about your state of attention and we offer all of this amazing, encyclopedia of spying on you, two! You are cut our true customer. If only you'll give us more money, so you can have your piece controlling the the world. If you know it's, it's just such a weird thing and I'm the in terms of the ground truth of how much is actually measured and how much that measurement is actually valid and of the data. That's for Alan that's gathered how much of it is used in any way that preserves any of that. The lady that's stream, we hard to determine. I don't think anybody really knows, and it's constantly in flux, but it
The attitude is get as much as he can and be as creepy about it as possible when you're trying to earn money from your true customers and the two customers, of course of the ones they call the advertisers, I prefer to call them the manipulators. It's amazing that that is not obvious to. I would think most people on social media that when you're using Facebook you not actually Facebook's customer the advertiser is, and you are the product yeah. Some people object that formula formal by I. I think it is helpful because it's mostly true you are the product. It's not exactly what it is. Is your demonstrated change and be you're from what it otherwise would have been as the product. So it's your loss of free will, as the product is a more precise way of putting it well Aaron, it's really been a pleasure to get you on the podcast and thank you for everything you're doing, because you are a sanity check for many of us. So please keep it up. Well, that's a good, that's very kind of you to say I'm, I'm great
that you had me on if you find this podcast able. There are many ways you can support it. You can review it itunes or Stitcher or wherever you happen to listen to it. You can share social media with your friends. You can talk about it or discuss it on your own podcast, where you can support it directly, and you can do this by subscribing to my website at SAM Harris, DOT, org and there you'll find subscriber only content, which includes my ask me anything up. So it's he also get access to advanced tickets to my live events as well as streaming video of some of these events and also to hear the bonus questions from many of these interviews.
Transcript generated on 2019-10-13.