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[00:00:00]

The following is a solo episode of the podcast, the very first one, please take the single question survey in the description of the episode. Tell me whether you want me to do this on occasion or not. The idea is to focus on a particular topic, either as an answer to an email question or just a general topic that people showed interest in. The topic this time is the coronavirus where I tried to elucidate a hopeful, positive path forward for us.

[00:00:29]

It describes what, in my view, are the seven levels of coronavirus attack our society and how we can fight back. Before releasing this episode, I did a poll on whether folks would like me to do these solo episodes in the podcast feed, 80 percent said yes, 10 percent said not sure in eight percent said no. There's a great podcast I recommend called Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates, where experts debate a difficult issue and they do a poll before and after.

[00:00:58]

So who did the poll before? And now please do the poll and the description for the after. Let's see if the 82 percent goes up or drops to zero.

[00:01:08]

As a side note, let me be honest and say that the AMAs and solo episode make me feel a bit uncomfortable in that rightly or wrongly, I feel narcissistic or egotistical and doing them. The reason I try to do them is just to be open and fragile and just real with folks, be the change you want to see in the world kind of thing. Please know that I don't see myself as an expert in anything. I really am just a passionate, curious, simple idiot in the dusty, husky kind of way full of love for everyone.

[00:01:47]

And I really, really am amazed and grateful that you would listen to this thing at all. I recorded many conversations before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, so I do plan on releasing regular episodes for many weeks to come. But please understand that the reason we don't talk about the crisis that we're all facing now in those episodes is because they were recorded beforehand for everyone feeling that medical, the psychological, financial burden of this crisis truly sending love you to stay strong, we're in this together, will beat this thing.

[00:02:24]

And now here's the first solo episode of the Artificial Intelligence Podcast. The coronavirus pandemic is a global crisis, but I think it's also a moment that unites us, that gives us an opportunity to show the strength of our community, to be compassionate to our fellow human beings and to work hard to fight this thing. And I think we will and I think will beat it. So I wanted to make a solo episode of the podcast about, in my view, seven different levels at which the coronavirus is attacking the fundamental nature of our society and how we can fight back and how we can emerge stronger together.

[00:03:24]

The same levels of attack are biological, medical level number one that attacks the individual human life and death and the biology, the well-being, the health of an individual human being, psychological, which is attacking the emotional stability, the fear and the ability to love and be compassionate towards our fellow human beings. In individual psychology of a person, level number three is social, which is attacking the collective cognition, the collective intelligence of our species, instilling panic, the spread of misinformation, the spread of Conspiracy's 11.

[00:03:57]

Number four is economic, attacking the financial stability of our global markets, the employment of individuals productivity and generally the financial burden, especially the the imbalance of the financial burden carried by individuals. Level number five is political, exacerbating the partisanship and the ability to make effective policy and respond to the virus at the federal at the global scale level. Number six is existential, which is taking perhaps a step back from the concerns of the current natural pandemic and looking at civilization level extinction, looking at existential threats that may be among us today and may be posed to us in this coming century from artificial intelligence to nanotechnology to engineered pandemics and other concerns.

[00:04:46]

And Level seven is really taking a step back and looking at the philosophical the test the virus presents to us to consider the fundamental fabric of the human condition at the individual level and the societal level.

[00:05:00]

What are we supposed to be together? How are we supposed to live? What is the meaning of it all? And what is the best path forward for us as a society in the coming decades? In the coming centuries, the meaning of life as silly, perhaps, and unanswerable. The question is, is also perhaps the most important question of all. And if there's ever a time to consider, to ponder, to try to answer that question, it is now it's an opportunity that the virus presents.

[00:05:32]

So if you allow me, I'd like to talk about three things for each of the levels. One is the pain we're likely to feel, too, is the challenge for us to overcome. And three is the hope, the silver lining, the light at the end of the tunnel. So looking at level one, first at the biological and the medical, the direct attack of the virus in the human body, it's very difficult to make projections about the number of cases that we're likely to observe, at least in the first wave and the number of deaths that we're likely to observe.

[00:06:04]

Many people, including myself, are carefully looking at the data, aggregating it, analyzing it, but still not a good time to make a good projection. It is perhaps a good hopeful message to consider the best case scenario if the government's response swiftly, if we all do our part, if the hospital resources don't become overwhelmed, it's possible that the level of deaths that we observe is at or below the levels of annual influenza deaths, which is still a tragic, a tragic number.

[00:06:34]

Now, if the response is not work from governments and individuals doing our part, then the worst case number of deaths could count in the millions. Still too difficult to tell, but this virus, from everything we see on the biological side, is much more dangerous than the influenza virus, than the flu. So this level is one that there's already been a lot of great information on blogs, papers, videos, CDC. You should make sure you're paying attention.

[00:07:01]

But the message is clear for individuals who should stay home. Social isolation, social distancing, wash hands, don't get infected, don't infect others for the medical infrastructure. The people really fighting, really heroes fighting on the front lines are the health care workers and the service workers, making sure our society still runs, making sure people who are sick are getting help. The things that I've seen this I understand that works really well is the testing quickly, testing early and treating when treatment is needed.

[00:07:35]

And also for people who are sick, tracing to see who are the other individuals they interacted with so they can be properly socially isolated. Of course, on the science side, a lot of brilliant people are working on a treatment on antiviral drugs and vaccines. And on the engineering manufacture logistic side, people are working to manufacture ventilators, tusked protective equipment like masks. This is a huge global effort. Now, the hope is we in this immediate response, we fight in the curve.

[00:08:05]

We don't overwhelm health care resources and we minimize the loss of life. One of the most difficult things here is for doctors to make life and death decisions. I would like to recommend a book called Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, which tells the story of Paul Farmer. It's the first time I realized, and it might be cliche to say, but it really is true that doctors, nurses and health care workers are heroes. And that book was the first time I realized that many of the decisions we make are beyond reason.

[00:08:38]

They're in some of the most complicated ethical decisions you have to make if they listen to your heart. And those are the decisions, deeply human decisions that doctors have to make. And it is biological, this medical level of life, of human life and human death. Doctors are really and nurses and health workers are really at the front lines of making those most difficult decisions. That is such an important fight. They truly are heroes. I recommend the book highly to highlight the burden that these folks have to carry.

[00:09:11]

Now, the hope is if the response is swift and we all do our part, that this turns out to be as close to the best case as possible. And then it serves as a dress rehearsal for a much worse pandemic that could cost a lot more, both economic impact and the loss of human life. And that means we can now look into the future and invest in science, invest in the health care infrastructure such that future responses can be much more swift and we're much more prepared for something catastrophic, truly catastrophic.

[00:09:43]

And finally, the hope is that we can discuss the role of technology in all of this in the years to come. Information truly is power in controlling the spread of a pandemic. But information data is something that requires that we strike a balance between privacy and health and that requires a discussion about who controls, who manages, who regulates the technology in terms of how privacy is preserved. The second level, which the virus is attacking our society, is the individual human emotion.

[00:10:14]

Fear is real fear of losing your job, fear of losing your health or the health of the loved ones, fear of losing basic resources like water and food and power. And there also could just be fundamentally a fear of uncertainty, which can lead to tensions within the family and within the small inner social circle. Now, the key there is to stay calm. It's so important for reason to override emotion, especially in the decision making. So stay calm, stay informed.

[00:10:48]

This may be difficult to say, but this is also a good time to re-evaluate your life journey to ask the question, am I living my dream and my living my passion? This is a good time as any for a personal revolution to start over, to do the things you've always wanted to do, to start writing, to start reading, to learn. Take an online class, to pivot in your own personal journey if you're a business owner, to pivot the structure of your business.

[00:11:17]

The thing is doing the underlying ideas behind the business, the scale of the business, rethink everything. This is a good time for personal revolution. Now, this can be extremely painful, especially for people living paycheck to paycheck who have to support a family. This is the time. If there's ever a time, this is the time to do it, to rethink what are the coming days, weeks and months look like? How can you change your life so you can truly live your dream, your passion, and provide for your family, provide for yourself, provide for your family and be the best person you can be.

[00:11:50]

This is the time for that personal revolution. Again, it might be very painful, but this is the time for. My hope at this level, at the psychological level of the individual, is that we use this opportunity to reevaluate our lives, to take a leap forward and something I've always wanted to do.

[00:12:10]

And in general, my hope is that we overcome fear, the natural fear of uncertainty and lean in, lean in to love, compassion for our fellow human beings, resist the desire to be afraid, lean into being compassionate towards others. Level three, social social distancing really should be called physical distancing. That we're all practicing has led us to lean in, to rely on social media for connection, for basic human connection and for information. So it has served as a gradual replacement of our own individual thinking, which is much easier to practice in the physical world and more reliant on the kind of collective cognition, the hive mind that's represented by social networks and what that result is a magnification of level two attack of the virus on the fear and panic that can spread like contagion on social networks.

[00:13:13]

So social networks are much more effective at spreading and an individual human emotion such that it becomes a mass human emotion of our collective cognition, of our collective mind. And again, that also applies to not just fear and emotion, it applies to misinformation, non-scientific, anti scientific information and, of course, conspiracy theories. So that's another level of which the virus attacks our society and due to the efficiency of social media, is perhaps one of the most novel aspects of this pandemic.

[00:13:48]

Now, the challenge for us at the individual human level is self reflection, meditation to detach yourself. Yuval Harari in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, talks about this in the last chapter for meditation is to detach ourselves from this hive mind, to think on ourselves, to do the self reflection, to hear our own inner voice in our thoughts, not allow the wave of information of panic that can travel through social media to impact us fully. It should be something we can simply observe as opposed to deeply internalize.

[00:14:26]

Again, the really important thing here is looking, finding, digging for facts. That means looking at source information, source scientific information, as opposed to derived opinion pieces on that information and most importantly, think critically on your own.

[00:14:44]

Just because the group that you're supposed to belong to, whether that's political or social, thinks a certain way doesn't mean you should think that way. Remove the power of the hive mind by thinking on your own. Now, my hope is that this level, this becomes a jarring wake up call of how we use social media as a society, one in terms of controlling the spread of misinformation, and two, in terms of the way we connect with other human beings on social media as opposed to giving in to the drug, the dopamine fuelled drama of social media, of clicking likes and tracking likes, and getting angry at the drama and the tension and so on, more seeing it as another medium in which we can encourage deep connection with other human beings, friendships, real positive, good vibes.

[00:15:34]

It might be naive to say, but I think it's actually possible as both a technology problem and it's a societal problem of how we define the standards of how we behave in the social world. It's a good wake up call to look at that in a time of panic. We come together and there's no reason we can't stay together in this kind of way online. I love affairs, economic, and this could be the most painful of the impacts of the virus.

[00:16:00]

Day by day, the projections are getting worse and worse from the economists. Some economists more and more are predicting double digit drops in GDP in the second quarter. The real pain that people are already feeling and will feel more and more is the loss of jobs. Many economists are predicting millions, three to seven millions of US jobs lost before the summer. Now, these are jobs in the service industry, hotel travel, restaurants, many folks who are already living paycheck to paycheck.

[00:16:36]

This is this is real pain and burden that a lot of families will have to carry. And on the small business side, this is difficult to measure. But surveys of business owners are saying that in just three months, 50 percent of them do not see a way to avoid bankruptcy. So that's a much longer lasting impact on the fabric of our the United States capitalist society, where small businesses in many ways are the backbone of our society. The challenge for as a citizen is to hold politicians accountable as they develop a fiscal stimulus package.

[00:17:14]

It's really important drawing lessons from the 2008 financial crisis that the bailout, that the fiscal stimulus that passes is one that benefits the people that need it. The workers who lose their job, the small businesses on the verge of bankruptcy. As a consumer, at least in the United States, consumer spending is a big part of the U.S. economy. The 70 percent. So if you can afford it, continuing spending money on things you need, especially to support local small businesses.

[00:17:49]

And finally, as a business, as a small business, this is an opportunity to reinvent, to add an online component, to diversify, to pivot. And that might be really painful, difficult to say. I recently left my job. I was facing, you know, a bank account with nothing in it. And there's a lot of reinvention and pivoting that was required to do. I'm working on building a startup that brings in no money. So I had to figure out how can I make money in the meantime?

[00:18:17]

Now, that kind of thing could be exceptionally painful, especially if it requires learning skills that you don't have. But I think if you face this fear, taking this step, will you reinvent the business? Could be the best decision you've ever made. It could be very painful in the short term, but exceptionally profitable and liberating in the long term. So this is the time, as I mentioned before, for if you're a small business owner for personal revolution.

[00:18:43]

Now, my hope is, as it is for everybody else, that once we reopen our society, that the fiscal stimulus that not just carries us through, but allows us to resume consumer spending as quickly as possible so that the recovery is, as they say, a V versus a you, that it's an immediate and aggressive and quick recovery. And also it's a very dark and perhaps a little bit Russian of me to think of the silver lining of this.

[00:19:11]

But one of the positive aspects of the pain that people are feeling. Is that a lot of people are feeling that pain together, we're in this together, majority of the lower class and the middle class will be feeling the pain of shutting down the economy. We're in this together. There's something if just a little bit comforting that the pain you feel is the pain that's also felt by your neighbors. Again, the hope is that it brings us together.

[00:19:41]

Level five is political. I think it's not an exaggeration to say we're living in one of the most divided times politically in the history of the United States, of our country, and especially on the heels of the United States president being impeached and an election coming up. It leads to the politicization of everything, including the virus. And that's a huge pain and that's really damaging attack vector along which the virus can exploit our society, at least this nation.

[00:20:15]

And also outside of the partisanship, this is a time for the government to pass policy, to respond to the virus. And there is, as always, through history, through wars, through pandemics, to big global crisis's. There's a diminishment of our rights and freedoms, and that is another attack of the virus on the fabric of our society. The challenge for a citizen is to not let charlatans in the government of any party affiliation capitalize on our fear, as I described in level two, the psychological, the emotional by overreaching power.

[00:20:52]

So this could look like anything. It could look like mass surveillance. It could look like martial law, individual cities, states, federal. It could look like detaining people without trial, which we're already starting to see and.

[00:21:07]

God forbid cancelling elections. So really attacking the fundamental nature of democracy, we have seen this throughout history. As citizens of this democratic nation, we have to stay vigilant of this threat. On the scientific front, I think it's really, really important that we do not look at the coronavirus through a political lens, should not be a red and blue issue. It should be something where we trust the expert, the scientific information, the best data available should not be seen through a lens of the partisan divide that has driven so much of our public discourse about federal policy, because the one plus trillion dollar stimulus package that Congress is trying to pass is something that can make or break this economy, or rather, it can make the difference between the V and the U.

[00:21:58]

Shape recovery, faster recovery or delayed multi month recovery where a lot of people will suffer. It's exceptionally important to get this right and politics should not come at all into play into the decisions being made by our policymakers.

[00:22:12]

So the hope is, once we beat this thing is that we rethink the federal infrastructure that responds to global threats, really invest back into it, try to see government in this one regard as something that could really unite the people in an effective, timely, quick response.

[00:22:33]

The hope is we're reminded of the importance of government and then we reinvigorate the basic unit of a democracy, which is the citizen, and remind us that we can accomplish a lot of things if we work together. It's not through divisiveness, but on really big, important issues and things we really should all agree on working together. This is this is a good reminder. Just like Go to the Moon was a good reminder of what science and engineering could do it a large scale.

[00:23:05]

This is what's needed now. This virus perhaps should serve as a good reminder that good science, good engineering at scale is essential for us to work together on to respond to these kinds of things in the future and just to create a progress forward to make a better world and a lot of different dimensions. It continues to be a huge surprise to me that science not always but sometimes enters the world of politics and politicians play games with scientific facts. They question the validity of findings of individual personalities in science.

[00:23:40]

I think people my hope is that they understand that the and especially the most important questions, there's thousands of scientists trying to disprove each other. This kind of collective mechanism is really good at cutting out all the BS and getting to the core. The truth of things.

[00:23:57]

Science cannot answer all questions. There's some to me, some of the most important questions about ethics is impossible for science to answer, but the basic questions of the mechanism that threaten our well-being, especially in the biological, chemical and physical world, science is really well equipped to answer and we should not politicize that extremely powerful mechanism that can protect us, that can build big, amazing, cool things that make our life easier, better. Just create a creator, create a better world.

[00:24:34]

I hope that we emerge as a society that can bicker and politicize everything else. But science and scientific experts is something we trust. Level six is existential. You can say evolutionary, even the human species has not always existed and there's no guarantee will always exist. Perhaps this is not the right time to be deeply thinking about this question. We want to deal with the threat at hand, but I recommend a lot of excellent work being written on existential risks from Nick Bostrom and others at the Future of Humanity Institute and other institutions in general.

[00:25:13]

Considering what are the different threats that our human civilization is facing the next hundred years that could lead to extinction or lead to a large number of people being either displaced or killed?

[00:25:28]

Now this goes everything from global warming to nuclear war to nanotechnology accident to molecular nanotechnology weapons to different kinds of weapons, to things that I've spoken a lot about. Think a lot about a superintelligent AI, artificial intelligence systems. And then there's pandemics, the natural pandemic of coronavirus that we're experiencing now. And then there's a lot of concern about engineering pandemics, the kind of risk they pose to our civilization. The pandemic we're experiencing now is unlikely to be a species extinction level event, but it serves as a dress rehearsal.

[00:26:04]

Something that reveals the fragility of our species. Things that feel in the moment totally unexpected and yet are completely expected if you listen to the experts. Experts and pandemics are predicting that there will be a much worse one coming for sure. For me personally, I work in artificial intelligence. I am by a lot of different views, but certainly because that program and build a lot of systems, what you call narrow A.I. systems, there's a clear awareness of how far we are from creating superintelligent systems.

[00:26:44]

And I can talk at length about why I see that as exceptionally difficult problem on many levels, especially the kind of A.I. systems that could destroy human civilization. But I think at this level, the coronavirus pandemic has really changed my mind, giving me a wake up call to think think more clearly about the unexpected, that the things that threaten us may come in ways we don't expect. So we have to be exceptionally careful, especially when we work in that particular field.

[00:27:16]

I'm not an expert on pandemics. I'm not an expert in molecular or nanotechnology, nor nuclear terrorism. But I am I hate the word expert, but I'm somewhat knowledgeable in the world of I. And so it's my responsibility to look bigger, to think bigger about the things that are totally unexpected. They may threaten the well-being of many of our especially most vulnerable members of our society, but really everybody. And so the challenge for us as a society, as we emerge from this pandemic is to invest in scientific research and all these avenues to be prepared way ahead of time to some of the threats posed here, especially what research does is it doesn't only reveal mechanism how we can protect us, but it reveals the possible vectors of attack that could be expected.

[00:28:08]

So just investing in research, getting more people to think about this problem, I think is exceptionally important to prepare society, to prepare scientific minds and the tooling, the engineering, the infrastructure required to respond to a problem before it kills a billion or more people. And finally, level seven philosophical, really taking a step back. It's much more difficult to be eloquent about this. So I'll mention a book that had a big impact on my life and rings true in many of its lessons as the Plague by Albert Comeaux.

[00:28:44]

Now in the world, the camel paints and the plague. Suffering seems to be something that's just a part of life. And the question that life poses to us is, how do we respond to that suffering? How do we deal with that suffering? And at least to me, the lessons I draw from it is that love for our fellow human beings, compassion for others, is the way we conquer that suffering. The natural inclination, perhaps at first is to turn into yourself, because everything in life, in your existence is going to be a source of pain, a source of loss, a source of suffering.

[00:29:27]

And so you want to isolate yourself.

[00:29:28]

You want to separate yourself. You want to run away from that. But the reality is somehow that seems to be part of the human condition. Is that going into yourself, hiding from life, running away from life, is from others from society is actually not a way to remove suffering from your life.

[00:29:48]

That's somehow stokes the fire of pain of dread. And so the way to overcome that. The meaning of life, I guess you could say. For karma is to love others, and the book itself serves as an allegory for World War Two and my relatives, the Society of the Soviet Union, which I was born and raised in, is so deeply grounded into in the story of World War Two and the pain of World War Two and the lessons that emerged there, is that as painful it is to say all that suffering, all that death?

[00:30:28]

What emerges is that. Love for each other conquers all. Love of community, and that's my hope, is that we emerge from this at the highest level from this virus. With a greater sense of community, with a greater sense for the value of community, for the love of our fellow human beings, for the compassion for our fellow human beings, my hope is that this virus is a reminder that love. Is the meaning of life. Thanks for listening to the very first episode of the podcast, and if you can please fill out a single question survey by clicking the link in the description to let me know if you ever want to hear one of these again.

[00:31:25]

As I said in the beginning. Stay safe out there. Stay calm. Stay strong. Will beat this thing together. I love you all. Thanks for listening and hope to see you next time.