#1558 - Tristan HarrisThe Joe Rogan Experience
- 7,832 views
- 30 Oct 2020
Former Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris helped develop technology that guides the thoughts and behavior of billions of people worldwide. Now he's the president of the Center for Human Technology: a nonprofit organization devoted to realigning technology with humanity. You can learn more about the Center and its mission in the Netflix Documentary The Social Dilemma.
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Please welcome Tristan Harris government podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, trained by Joe Rogan podcast My Night All Day. Tristan, how are you? Good. Good to be here. Good to have you here, man.
You were just telling me before we went on air the numbers of the social dilemma and their bunkers.
So what to say that, yeah, the social dilemma was seen by 38 million households in the first 28 days on Netflix, which I think is broken records. And if you assume, you know, a lot of people are seeing it with their family because parents see with their kids the issues that are on teen mental health. So if you assume one out of ten families thought with a few family members were in the 40 to 50 million people range, which is just broken records, I think for Netflix, I think it was the second most popular documentary throughout the month of September.
Or film throughout the month of September is really well done documentary, but I think it's one of those documentaries that affirmed a lot of people's worst suspicions about the dangers of social media. And then on top of that, it sort of alerted them to what they were already experiencing in their own personal life and like, highlighted it.
Yeah, I think that's right. I mean, most people were aware. I think it's I think everyone's been feeling that the feeling you have when you use social media isn't that this thing is just a tool or it's on my side. It is an environment based on manipulation, as we say in the film. And that's really what's changed that.
You know, I remember, you know, I was been working on these issues for something like eight or eight years or something.
Now, you please tell people who didn't see the documentary what your background is, what how you got into it.
Yeah. So I you know, the film goes back as a set of technology insiders. My background was as a design ethicist at Google.
So I first had a startup company that we sold to Google and I landed there through a talent acquisition and then started about a year into being at Google, made a presentation that was about how essentially technology was holding the human collective psyche in its hands, that we were really controlling the world psychology, because every single time people look at their phone, they are basically experiencing thoughts and scrolling through feeds and believing things about the world.
This is becoming the primary meaning making machine for the world, and that we, as Google had a moral responsibility to, you know, hold the collective psyche in a thoughtful, ethical way and not create this sort of race to the bottom of the brainstem attention economy that we now have.
So my background was as a as a kid, I was a magician.
We can get into that. I studied at a lab at Stanford, called or studied in a class called the Stanford Persuasive Technology Class that taught a lot of the engineers at in Silicon Valley kind of how the mind works. And the co-founders of Instagram were there and then later studied behavioral economics and how the mind is sort of influenced. I went into cults and started studying how cults work and then arrived at Google through this lens of, you know, technology isn't really just this thing that's in our hands.
It's more like this manipulative environment that is tapping into our weaknesses. Everything from the slot machine rewards to, you know, the way you get tagged in a photo and it sort of manipulates your social validation and approval, these kinds of things.
When you were at Google, did they still have the don't be evil sign up?
I don't know. There's actually a physical sign was there was never a physical sign. I thought there was something they actually had. I think it was there. Is this guy was it Paul? Not Paul, who was his last name? He was the inventor when the founders of Gmail. And they had a meeting and they came up with this mantra because they realized the power that they had and they realized that there is going to be a conflict of interest between advertising on the search results and regular search results.
And so we know that they knew that they could have used that power and they came up with this mantra, I think in that meeting in the early days, to don't be don't be evil.
There was a time where they took that mantra down. And I remember reading about it online and they took it off their page. I think that's what it was. Yeah. And when I read that, I was like, that should be big news. Right? There's no reason to take that down. Why would you take that down?
Yeah. Why would you why would you say, well, let me give you a little evil. I get crazy.
It's a good question. I mean, I wonder what logic would have you remove a statement like that that seems like a standard state, like it's a great statement.
OK, here it is. Google removes Don't Be Evil clause from its code of conduct in twenty eighteen. Yeah, yeah. I wonder why did they have an explanation that say anything. And it is her. Don't Be Evil has been a part of the company's corporate code of conduct since 2000, when Google was reorganized under a new patent parent company alphabet in 2015, Alphabet assumed a slightly adjusted version of the do the right thing, do the right thing.
Oh, that's a Spike Lee movie, bitch.
However, Google retained its original Don't Be Evil language until the past several weeks.
The phrase has been deeply incorporated into Google's company culture, so much so that a version of the phrase has served as the Wi-Fi password on the shuttles that Google uses to ferry its employees to its Mountainview headquarters.
I think I remember that. Yeah, get on the bus and you type in. Don't be evil. I wonder why they decided.
Well, I mean, they did change it to do the right thing. I mean, we always used to say that just to friends, not within Google, but just, you know, instead of saying don't be evil to say let's let's do some good here. Right. That's nice.
Let's do some good here. Yeah. Think positive. Think doing good instead of don't do bad. Yeah.
But the problem is when you say do good, the question is who's good because you live in a morally plural society and there's this question of who are you to say what's good for people? And it's much easier to say let's reduce harms than it is to say let's actually do good like this.
It says, The updated version of Google's code of conduct still retains one reference to the company's unofficial motto. The final line of the document is still. And remember, dot, dot, dot, don't be evil. And if you see something that you think isn't right, speak up. Yes. OK, well, they still have don't be evil, so maybe it's much ado about nothing but having that kind of power.
We were just before the podcast, we were watching Jack Dorsey speak to members of the Senate in regards to Twitter censoring the Hunter Biden story and censorship of conservatives, but allowing dictators to spread propaganda dictators from other countries and why and what this is all about. One of the things that Jack Dorsey has been pretty adamant about is that they really never saw this coming when they started Twitter and they didn't think that they were ever going to be in this position where there were going to be really the arbiters of free speech for the world.
Right. Which is essentially in some ways what they are.
I think it's important to to roll back the clock for people because it's easy to think, you know, that we just sort of landed here and that they would know that they're going to be influencing the global psychology. But I think we should really reverse engineer for the audience. How did these products work the way that they did? So let's go back to the beginning of the Twitter. I think his first tweet was something like checking out the buffalos in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
You know, Jack was fascinated by the taxicab dispatch system that you could send a message and then all the taxis get it. And the idea is, could we create a dispatch system so that I post a tweet and then suddenly all these other people can see it.
And the the real genius of these things was that they weren't just offering this thing you could do.
They found ways of keeping people engaged.
I think this is important for people to get that they're not competing for your data or for, you know, money.
They're competing to keep people using the product. And so when Twitter, for example, invented this persuasive feature of the number of followers that you have, if you remember like that was a new thing at the time, right? You log in and you see your profile. Here's the people who you can follow. And then here's the number of followers you have that created a reason for you to come back every day to see how many followers do I have.
So that was part of this race to keep people engaged, as we talk about in the film, like these things are competing for your attention that if you're not paying for the product, you are the product. But the thing that is the product is your predictable behavior. You're using the product in predictable ways.
And I remember a conversation I had with someone at Facebook who was a friend of mine who said in a coffee shop one day, people think that we Facebook are competing with something like Twitter, that one social network is competing with another social network.
But really, he said, our biggest competitor is YouTube because they're not competing for social networks, they're competing for attention. And YouTube is the biggest competitor in the digital space for attention. And that was a real light bulb moment for me, because you realize that as they're designing these products, they're finding new, clever ways to get your attention. That's the real thing that I think is different in the film, The Social Dilemma, rather than talking about, you know, censorship and data and privacy and these themes, it's really what is the core influence or impact that the shape of these products have on how we're making meaning of the world when they're hearing our psychology.
Do you think it was inevitable that someone manipulates the way people use these things to gather more attention?
And do you think that any of this could have been avoided if there was laws against that, if instead of having these algorithms that specifically target things that you're interested in, are things that you click on or things that are going to make you engage more if they just allow these things to? If someone said, listen, you can have these things, you can allow people to communicate with each other, we can't manipulate their attention span.
Yeah, I mean, I think the so we've always had an attention economy right in your computer for right now and politicians compete for it. Can you vote for someone you've never paid attention to, who never heard about, never heard them say something, you know, outrageous? No. So there's always been an attention economy. And so it's hard to say we should regulate who gets attention or how. But it's it's organic in some ways.
Right. Like this podcast is an organic. And if we're in competition, it's organic. I just put it out there. And as you watch it, you don't or you don't. I don't you know, I don't have any say over it and I'm not manipulating it in any way. Sort of.
So I mean, let's imagine that the podcast apps were different and they actually while you're watching, they had like the hearts and the stars and the kind of voting up in numbers and you could, like, send messages back and forth. And Apple podcast worked in a way that didn't just reward, you know, the things that you clicked follow on.
It actually sort of promoted the stuff that someone said the most outrageous thing. Then you as a podcast creator, have an incentive to say the most outrageous thing, and then you arrive at the top of the Apple podcast or Spotify.
And and that's the thing is that we actually are competing for attention. It felt like it was neutral and it was relatively neutral. And to progress that story back in time with, you know, Twitter competing for attention, let's look at some other things that they did. So they also added this tweet, this instant resharing feature. Right. And that made it more addictive because suddenly we're all playing the same lottery. Right. Like, I could re tweet your stuff and then you get a bunch of hits and then you could go viral and you could get a lot of attention.
So then instead of the companies competing for attention now, each of us suddenly win the fame lottery over and over and over again. And we're we're getting attention. And then I had another example I was going to think about and I forgot it.
What was it? You can drop it if you want.
Apple has an interesting way of handling sort of the way they have their algorithm for their podcast app.
Is it secret? It's kind of it's weird, but one of the things that it favors is it favors new shows and it favors engagement in new subscribers. So comments, engagement and news shows.
There you go. Like and that's the same as competing for attention because engagement must mean people like it. And that's. Yeah, and there's going to be a fallacy as we go down that road. But going.
Well, it's interesting because you could say if you have a podcast and your podcast gets like, let's say 100000 downloads, a new podcast can come along and it can get 10000 downloads and it'll be ahead of you in the rankings.
And so you could be number three and it could be number two. And you're like, how is that number two? And it's got ten times less, but they don't do it that way. And their logic is they don't want the podcast world to be dominated by, you know, New York Times, the big ones. Yeah, whatever. Whatever is number one and number two and number three forever.
We actually just experience this. We have a podcast called Your Undivided Attention. And since the film came out in that first month, we went from being, you know, in the lower 100 or something like that to we shot to the top five. I think we were the number one tech podcast for a while. And so we just experience this through the fact not that we had the most listeners, but because the trend was so rapid that we sort of jumped to the top.
I think it's wise that they do that because eventually it evens out over time. You know, you see some people rocket to the top like, oh, my God, we're number three. Yeah. And you're like, hang on their fellow. Just give it a couple of weeks. And then three weeks later, four weeks later, now they're number 48 and they get depressed. Right.
So that was really where you should have been.
But the the thing that Apple does that I really like in that is it gives an opportunity for these new shows to be seen where they might have gotten just stuck because these these rankings in the ratings for a lot of these shows, these shows are so consistent and they have such a following already. Yeah, it's very difficult for these new shows to gather attention. Right.
And the problem was that there were some people that gamed the system and there was companies that could literally like Earl Skakel. Remember, Earl became the number one podcast and like no one was listening to it, Earl has money.
And he he hired some people to game the system. And he was kind of like open about it and and laughing about it. Now, isn't he banned from iTunes now or something? I think he got banned because of that, because it was so obviously gamed the system and like a thousand downloads. And he was number one.
I mean, the thing is that were Apple podcast you can think of as like the Federal Reserve or the government of the attention economy because they're setting the rules by which you win. Right.
They could have set the rules, as you said, to be, you know, who has the most listeners.
And then you just keep rewarding the kings that already exist versus who is the most trending. There's actually a story a friend of mine told me. I don't know if it's true, although was a fairly credible source who said that he was a meeting with Steve Jobs when they were making the first podcast app and that they had made a demo of something where you could see all the things your friends were listening to. So just like making a news feed, like we do with Facebook and Twitter.
Right. And then he said was, well, why would we do that? If something is important enough, your friend will actually just send you a link and say you should listen to this. I'm like, why would we automatically just promote random things that your friends are listening to? And again, this is kind of how you get back to social media. How is social media so successful? Because it's so it's much more addictive to see what your friends are doing in a field, but it doesn't reward what's true or what's meaningful.
And this and this is the thing that people need to get about social media is it's it's really just rewarding the things that tend to keep people back addictively. The business model is addiction in this race to the bottom of the brainstem for attention.
Well, it seems like if in hindsight hindsight is 20/20, what should have been done or what could have been done had we known where this would pile out is that they could have said, you can't do that. You can't manipulate these algorithms to make sure that people pay more attention and manipulate them to ensure that people become deeply addicted to these platforms. What you can do is just let them open.
They communicate, right, but it has to be organic and then the problem is, so this is the thing I was going to say about Twitter is when one company does the call it the engagement feed, meaning showing you the things that the most people are clicking on and retweeting trending things like that, let's imagine there's two feeds.
So there's the feed that's call it the reverse chronological feed, meaning showing in order in time. You know, Joe Rogan posted this two hours ago, but that's you know, after that, you have the thing that people posted an hour and a half ago all the way up to 10 seconds ago. That's the reverse chronological. They have a mode like that. And Twitter, if you click the sparkle icon on and if you know this, it'll show you just in time.
Here's what people said, you know, sorted by recency.
But then they have this other feed called what people click on, retweeted, et cetera, than most people you follow. And it sorts it by what it thinks you'll click on and want the most.
Which one of those is more successful at getting your attention, the sort of recency, what they posted recently versus what they know people are clicking on, retweeting on the most certainly what they know people are clicking on or retweeting the most correct.
And so once Twitter does that, let's say Facebook was sitting there with the recency feed, like just showing you, here's the people who posted in this time order sequence.
They have to also switch to who is the most relevant stuff, the most clicked retweeted the most.
So this is part of this race for attention that once one actor does something like that and they algorithmically, you know, figure out what people what's most popular the other companies have to follow because otherwise they won't get the attention.
So it's the same thing. If, you know, Netflix ads, the auto play, five, four, three, two, one countdown to get people to watch the next episode that if that works at, say, increasing Netflix watch time by five percent. YouTube sits there, says we just shrunk how much time people were watching YouTube because now they're watching more Netflix. So we're going to add five, four, three, two, one auto play countdown.
And it becomes, again, this game theoretic race of who's going to do more.
Now, you if you have an up tick tock, tick tock, doesn't even wait. And if you know, your kids use tick tock. But when you open up the app, it doesn't even wait for you to click on something. It just actually plays the first video, the second you open it, which none of the other apps do. Right.
And the point of that is that causes you to enter into this engagement stream even faster. So this is this again, this race for attention produces things that are not good for society. And even if you took the whack a mole sticker, you took the antitrust case and you whack Facebook and you got rid of Facebook, are you whack Google or you whack YouTube, you're just going to have more actors flooding in doing the same thing.
And one other example of this is the time it takes to reach, let's say, ten million followers.
So if you remember back in the Ashton was an Ashton Kutcher who raced for the first million followers with CNN, raised with CNN right now.
So now, if you think of it, the companies are competing for our attention. If they find out that each of us becoming a celebrity and having a million people, we get to reach. If that's the currency of the thing that gets us to come back to get more attention, then they're competing at who can give us that bigger fame lottery hit faster.
So let's say 2009 or 2010, when Ashton Kutcher did that, it took him I don't know how long it took months to for him to get the million.
I don't remember. It was it was a little bit, though. Right.
And then Tick-Tock comes along and says, hey, we want to give kids the ability to hit the fame lottery and make it big, hit the jackpot even faster. We want you to go from zero to a million followers in ten days. Right. And so they're competing to make that shorter and shorter and shorter. And I know about this because, you know, speaking from a Silicon Valley perspective, venture capitalists fund these new social platforms based on how fast they can get to like one hundred million users.
There is this famous line that, like, I forgot what it was, but I think Facebook took like 10 years to get to 100 million users. Instagram took, you know, I don't know, four years, three years or something like that. Tick-Tock can get there even faster. And so it's shortening, shortening, shortening. And that's what people are are that's what we're competing for. It's like who can win the fame lottery faster, but is a world where everyone broadcast to millions of people without the responsibilities of publishers, journalists, et cetera.
Does that produce an information environment that's helped that that's that's healthy? And obviously, the film The Social Dilemmas, really, about how it makes the worst of us right at the top.
So our heat, our outrage, our polarization, what we disagree about black and white thinking, more conspiracy oriented views of the world, kuhnen, you know, Facebook groups, things like that. And I can we can definitely go into it. There's a lot of legitimate conspiracy theories. I want to make sure I'm not categorically dismissing stuff. But that's really the point, is that we have landed in a world where the things that we are paying attention to are not necessarily the agenda of topics that we would say in a reflective world.
What we would say is the most most important.
So there's a lot of. There's a lot of conversation about free will and about letting people choose whatever they choose, whatever they enjoy viewing and watching and paying attention to. But when you're talking about. These incredibly potent algorithms and incredibly potent addictions that people.
The people developed these these things and were pretending that people should have the ability to just ignore it and put it away. Right. And use your willpower. Yeah, that seems I have kids. I have a folder on my phone called Addict, and it's all all caps. And it's at the end of my all. You have to scroll through all my other apps to get to it. And so if I want to get to Twitter or Instagram, the problem is that the apps which are will put it in the most recent.
So once you switch apps and you have Twitter in a recent, it'll be right there.
So that's if I want to go left. And if I want to see that you can do that.
Yes, it's insanely addictive. And if you can control yourself, it's not that big a deal.
But how many people can control themselves?
Well, I think the the thing we have to hone in on is the asymmetry of power.
You know, as I say in the film, it's like we're bringing this ancient brain hardware, the prefrontal cortex, which is like what you used to do, goal directed, action, self-control, willpower, holding back, you know, marshmallow tests. Don't do the get don't get the marshmallow now. Wait later for the two marshmallows later. All of that is through our prefrontal cortex.
And when you're sitting there and you think, OK, I'm going to go watch, I'm going to look at this one thing on Facebook because my friend invited me to this event or it's this one post I have to look at. And the next thing you know, you find yourself scrolling through the thing for like an hour and you say, man, that was on me, I should have had more self-control. But they're behind the screen.
Behind that glass slab is like a supercomputer pointed at your brain that is predicting the perfect thing to show you next. And you can feel it like it's this is really important. So, like, if I'm Facebook and when you flick your finger, you think when you're using Facebook, it's just going to show me the next thing that my friend said. But it's not doing that.
When you flick your finger, it actually literally wakes up this sort of supercomputer avatar voodoo doll version of Joe and the Voodoo Doll of Joe is, you know, the the more clicks you ever made on Facebook is like adding the little hair to the voodoo doll. And the more likes you've ever made adds little clothing to the voodoo doll. And the more you watch time on videos, you've ever ads little, you know, shoes, the voodoo doll. So the voodoo doll is getting more and more accurate the more things you click on.
This is in the film The Social Dilemma.
Like if you notice, like the character, you know, as he's using this thing, it builds a more and more accurate model that the eyes, the three eyes behind the screen are kind of manipulating.
And the idea is it can actually predict and prick the voodoo doll with this video or that post from your friends or this other thing.
And it'll figure out the right thing to show you that it knows will keep you there because it's already seen how that same video or that same post has kept 200 million other voodoo dolls there because you just look like another voodoo doll.
So here's an example. And this works the same on all the platforms.
If you are where a teen girl and you opened a dieting video on YouTube, 70 percent of YouTube's watch time comes from the recommendations on the right hand side. Right. So the things that are showing recommended videos next, and it will show you.
It'll show what did it show?
That the the girls who watch the teen dating video, it showed anorexia videos because those were better at keeping the teen girls attention, not because it said these are good for them, these are helpful for them. It just says these tend to work at keeping their attention.
So, again, these tend to work if you are already watching diet videos. Yeah.
So if you're a 13 year old girl and you watch the diet video, YouTube wakes up, it's voodoo doll version of that girl and says, hey, I've got like 100 million other voodoo dolls of 13 year old girls. Right. And they all tend to watch these these other videos. I don't know. I just know that they had this word thin. So the inspiration is the name for it to be inspired for anorexia.
Yeah. It's a real thing you to address this problem a couple of years ago. But when you let the machine run blind, all it's doing is picking stuff that's engaging.
Why did they choose to not let the machine run blind with one thing like anorexia?
Well, so now we're getting into the Twitter censorship conversation and the moderation conversation.
So the real this is why I don't focus on censorship in moderation, because the real issue is if you blur your eyes and zoom way out and say, how does the whole machine tend to operate?
Like, no matter what I start with, what is it going to recommend next? So, you know, if you started with, you know, a World War Two video, YouTube would recommend a bunch of Holocaust denial videos.
If you started teen girls with a dieting video, it would recommend these anorexia videos. In Facebook's case, if you joined social media, for example, here, because Facebook recommends groups to people based on what it thinks is most engaging for you. So if you were a new mom, you had Rennard.
I rest my friends on this podcast.
We've done much work together and she has this great example of as a new mom, she joined one Facebook group for mothers who do do it yourself, baby food like organic baby food.
And then Facebook has this sidebar. It says, Here's some other groups you might recommend you might want to join.
And what do you think was the most engaging of those? Because Facebook, again, is. Picking on which group, if I got you to join, it would cause you to spend the most time here, right?
So force some do it yourself. Baby food groups, which group do you think it selected?
Probably something about vaccines. Exactly. So anti vaccines for moms.
Yeah. OK, so then if you join that group now, does the same run the process again. So then. So now look at Facebook.
So said, hey, I got these voodoo dolls, I got like 100 million voodoo dolls and they're all they just joined this anti vaccine moms group. And then what do they tend to engage with for very long time?
If I get them to join these other groups, which are those other groups would show up. Chem trails, oh, the pizza gate, flat earth, flat earth, absolutely, yep, and YouTube recommended, so I'm interchangeably going from YouTube to Facebook because it's the same dynamic. They're competing for attention. And YouTube recommended flat earth conspiracy theories hundreds of millions of times.
And so when you when you're a parent during covid and you sit your kids in front of YouTube because you're like, I'm I've got this is the digital pacifier. I got to let them do the thing. I got to do work right. And then you come back to the dinner table and your kid says, you know, the Holocaust didn't happen and the Earth is flat and people are wondering why it's because of this.
And now to your point about this sort of moderation thing, we can take the whack a mole stick after the public yells and Renee and I, you know, make a bunch of noise or something and large community, by the way, of people making noise about this.
And they'll say, OK, shoot your right flat earth. We got to deal with that. And so they'll they'll tweak the algorithm. And then people make a lot of noise about the inspiration videos for anorexia, for kids, and they'll deal with that problem. But then they start doing it based reactively. But again, if you zoom out, it's just still recommending stuff that's kind of from the crazy town section of the problem.
The recommendation that's I don't mind that people have ridiculous ideas about hollow earth because I think it's humorous.
But I'm also a 53 year old man. Right. Right. I'm not I'm not a 12 year old boy with a limited education that is like, oh, my God, the government's lying to us. There's lizard people that live under the earth. Right. But if that's the real argument about these conspiracy theories is that they can influence young people or the easily impressionable or or people that maybe don't have a sophisticated sense of vetting out bullshit. Right.
Well, and the algorithms aren't making a distinction between who is just laughing at it and who is deeply vulnerable to it. And generally, it's just it just says who's vulnerable to it.
Because another example of the way I think about this is if you're driving down the highway and and, you know, there's Facebook and Google trying to figure out like, what should I give you based on what tends to keep your attention? If you look at a car crash and everybody driving on the highway, they look at the car crash, according to Facebook.
And Google is like the whole world wants car crashes. We just feed them car crashes after car crashes.
If your car crashes and what the algorithms do as Gaiam Cheslow in the film says, who's the YouTube whistleblower from the YouTube recommendation system, is they find the perfect little rabbit hole for you that it knows will keep you there for five hours.
And the conspiracy theory, like dark corners of YouTube, were the dark corners. That tends to keep people there for five hours.
And so you have to realize that we're now something like ten years into this vast psychology experiment where it's been, you know, in every language and hundreds of countries.
Right. And in hundreds of languages. It's been steering people towards the crazy town. When I say crazy town, I think of, you know, imagine there's a spectrum on YouTube and there's on one side you have like the calm Walter Cronkite, Carl Sagan, you know, slow, you know, kind of boring, but like educational material or something. And the other side of the spectrum, you have, you know, the craziest stuff you can find crazy town.
No matter where you start, you could start in Walter Cronkite or you could start in Crazy Town.
But if I'm YouTube and I want you to watch more, am I going to steer you towards the calm stuff or am I going to hear you more towards Crazy Town, Crazy John, always more towards crazy town so than you imagine just tilting the floor of humanity just by, like, three degrees.
And then you just step back and you let society run its course.
As Jaron Lanier says in the film, if you just tilt society by one degree, two degrees, that's the whole world. That's that's what everyone is thinking and believing.
And so if you look at the at the degree to which people are deep into rabbit hole conspiracy thinking right now and again, I want to acknowledge COINTELPRO, Operation Mockingbird, there's a lot of real stuff.
I'm not categorically dismissing it, but we're asking what is the basis upon which we're believing the things we are about the world. And increasingly that's that's based on technology. And we can get into, you know, what's going on in Portland. Well, the only way I know that is I'm looking at my social media feed. And according to that, it looks like the entire city's on fire and it's a war zone.
But if you I called a friend there the other day and he said it's a beautiful day. There's there's actually no violence anywhere near where I am.
It's just like these two blocks or something like that. And this is the thing is warping our view of reality.
And I think that's what really for me, the social dilemmas was really trying to accomplish as a film.
And the director, Jeff Orlowski was trying to accomplish is is how did this society get go crazy everywhere all at once? You know, seemingly, you know, this didn't happen by accident, happened by design of this business model.
When did the business model get implemented? Like when did they start using these algorithms to recommend things? Because initially YouTube was just a series of videos and it didn't have that recommended. Section one was that you know, it's a good question.
I mean, you know, the original YouTube was just post a video and you can get people to, you know, go to that y'all and send it around. They needed to. Figure out once the competition for attention got more intense, they needed to figure out how am I going to keep you there? And so recommending those videos on the right hand side, I think I was there pretty early, if I remember actually, because that's that was sort of the innovation is like keeping people within this YouTube wormhole.
And once people were in the YouTube wormhole constantly seeing videos, that was what they could they could offer the promise to a new video uploader. Hey, if you post it here, you're going to get way more views than if you posted on Vimeo.
Right. And that's that's the thing. I open up. Ticktock right now on my phone. You have to talk on your phone.
Well, I'm not supposed to, obviously, but it's more for research purposes, research.
Do you know how to talk, talk at all? No. I think my 12 year old is obsessed. Oh, really? Oh, yeah. She can't even sit around if she's standing still for five minutes, she just starts talking.
And that's the thing. I mean, 2012, 2012. So the Mayans were right. Right.
2012, the platform announced an update to discover a system designed to identify the videos people actually want to watch by prioritizing videos that hold attention throughout, as well as increasing the amount of time a user spends on the platform. Overall, YouTube YouTube could assure advertisers that it was providing a valuable high quality experience for people. Yeah, so that that's the beginning of the end. Yeah.
So 2012 and YouTube's timeline, I mean, you know, the Twitter and Facebook world I think introduces the retweeting ResCare buttons and the 2009 to 2010 kind of time period. So you end up with this world where the things that we're most paying attention to are based on algorithms choosing for us. And so sort of deeper argument that's in the film that I'm not sure everyone picks up on is these technology systems have taken control of human choice.
They take control of humanity because they're controlling the information that all of us are getting.
Right. Think about every election. Like I think Facebook is kind of a voting machine, but it's a sort of indirect voting machine because it controls the information for four years that your entire society is getting and then everyone votes based on that information.
Now, you could say, well, hold on. Radio and television were there and were partisan before that. But actually, TV, radio and TV are often getting their news stories from Twitter and Twitter is is recommending things based on these algorithms.
So when you control the information that an entire population is getting, you're controlling their choices. I mean, literally in military theory, if I want to screw up your military, I want to control the information that it's getting. I want to confuse the enemy. And that information funnel is the very thing that's been corrupted. And it's like the Flint water supply for our minds.
I was talking to a friend yesterday and she was saying that there were articles that she was laughing, that there's articles that are written about negative tweets that random people make about a celebrity doing this or that. And she's like and she was quoting this article. She's like, look how crazy this is. This is a whole article that's written about someone who decided to say something negative about some something some celebrity had done. And then it becomes this huge art.
And then the tweets are prominently featured.
And then the response to those I mean, like really like arbitrary, like weird because it's a values blind system that just cares about what will get attention and.
Exactly. And that's what the article was. It was just an attention grab.
It's interesting because Prince Harry and Meghan have become very interested in these issues and are actively working on these issues and getting to know them just a little bit other really well there because it affects them personally.
Well, it's actually interesting. I mean, I want to speak for them, but I think Meghan has been the target of the most vitriol, hate oriented stuff on the planet. Right. From just the amount of sort of criticism that they that they get, really, and scrutiny.
Yeah, I mean, she's just like news feeds filled with hate about just what she looks like, what she says, just constantly.
And, boy, I'm out of the loop. I've never seen anything.
She's pretty. What are they saying?
She looks like I honestly, I don't follow it myself because I don't fall into these attention traps. I try not to, but people just face the worst. I mean, this is the thing with teen bullying, right?
So I think they work on these issues because teenagers are now getting a micro version of this thing where each of us are scrutinized, you know, and I think that's what's not I mean, think about what celebrity status does and how it screws up humans in general.
Right. Like take an average celebrity, like it warps your mind, it warps your psychology and you get scrutiny. Right. When you suddenly are followed, each person gets thousands or project forward in the future. A few years, each of us have, you know, tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of people that are following what we say. That's a lot of feedback.
And, you know, as Jonathan Haidt says in the film, I know you've had him here. You know, it's made kids much more cautious and and less risk taking and and more bullshit overall. And there's just huge problems in mental health around this.
Yeah, it's really bad for young girls. Right. Especially for celebrities. And that's had quite a few celebrities in here and we've discussed it.
I just tell them you can't read that stuff. Just don't read it. Like, there's no good in it, like I had a friend, she did a show, she's a comedian, she did a show and she was talking about this one negative comment that was inaccurate. I said she only did a half an hour on her show. So she's like, fuck her. That's not where I go. Why are you reading that?
She's like, because it's mostly positive I go, but how can we not talking about most of it then? Talking about this one person, one negative person. We're both laughing about it like she's she's healthy, you know, she's not completely fucked up by it. But this one person got into her head. I'm like, I'm telling you, it's not the juice is not worth the squeeze, but don't read those things.
But this is this is exactly right. And this is based on how our minds work. I mean, our minds literally have something called negativity bias. So if you have 100 comments and 99 are positive and one is negative, does where does the average human's mind go? Right.
They go to the negative and it also goes to the negative.
Even when you shut down the screen, your mind is sitting there looping on that negative comment. And why? Because evolutionarily it's really important that we look at social approval, negative social approval, because our reputation is at stake in the tribe.
Yes. So it matters. Yes. But it's never been easier now for not just that that one comment to sort of gain more airtime, but then for that to build a hate mob and then to see the interconnected clicks. And I can go in and see ten other people that responded to that that are not. Yes. And so especially when you have teenagers that are exposed to this and you can keep going down the tree and see all of the hate fest on you.
This is the psychological environment. That is the default way that kids are growing up now.
Yeah, I actually face this recently with with the film itself, because actually the film has gotten just crazy positive acclaim for the most part. And there's just a few negative comments. And for myself even.
Right. Like there's a conjunction.
But I was glued to a few negative comments and I and then you could click and you would see other people that you know, who positively like or respond to those comments, like why did that person say that negative thing?
I thought we were friends, that whole kind of psychology.
And we're all vulnerable to it. Yes. You learn as as you said, to tell your celebrity friends, just don't pay attention, even mild stuff.
I've see people fixate on you, a mild disagreement or mild criticism people fixate on. And it's it's it's also a problem because you realize that someone saying this and you're not there and you can't defend yourself. So you have exactly a feeling of helplessness, like that's not true, right?
I didn't. And then you don't get it out of your system. You never get to express it.
And people can share that false negative stuff. I mean, it's not all negative stuff is false, but you can assert things and build on the hate fest. Right. And start going crazy and saying this person is a white supremacist or this person's even worse. And that'll spread to thousands and thousands of people. And next thing you know, you check into your feet again at, you know, 8:00 p.m. that night and your whole reputation's been destroyed. Yes.
And you even know what happened to you. Well, and it's happening to teenagers, too.
I mean, they're anxious, like, I'll post, you know, teenagers post a photo. They're high school. They make a dumb comment without thinking about it. And then next thing they know, you know, at the end of the day, the parents are all calling because like three hundred parents saw it and are calling up the parent of that kid.
And it's you know, we talked to teachers a lot in our work at the Center for Humane Technology.
And they will say that on Monday morning. This is before covid. But on Monday morning, they spend the first like hour of class having to clear all the drama that happened on social media from the weekend for the kids.
And again, like this, and these kids are in what age group, this is like eighth and ninth, 10th grade, that kind of thing.
And the other problem with these kids is there's not like a long history of people growing up through this kind of influence and successfully navigating it. Now, these are these are the pioneers.
Yeah. And they won't know anything different, which is why, you know, we talk about in the film like this, they're growing up in this environment.
And, you know, one of the simplest principles of ethics is the ethics of symmetry doing unto others, as you would do to yourself and as we say at the end of the film, like one of the easiest ways, you know, that there's a problem here is that many of the executives at the social media, tech companies, don't let their own kids use social media. Right. They literally say at the end of the film, like we have a rule about it, we're religious about it.
We don't do it.
The CEO of Lunchables Foods didn't let his own kids eat Lunchables. That's when, you know, if you talk to a doctor or a lawyer, doctor, and you say, you know, would you get this surgery for your own kids?
Oh, no, I would never do that. Like, would you trust that doctor?
Right. And it's the same for a lawyer.
So this is the relationship we have a relationship of asymmetry in technology is influencing all of us. And we need a system by which, you know, when I was growing up, you know, I grew up on the Macintosh and technology and I was creatively doing programming projects and whatever else the people who built the technology I was using would have their own kids use the things that I was using because they were creative and they were about tools and empowerment.
And that's what's changed. We don't have that anymore because the business model took over.
And so instead of having just tools sitting there like hammers waiting to be used to build, you know, creative projects or programming to invent things or paint brushes or whatever, we now have a manipulation based technology environment where everything you use has this incentive to not only addict you, but to have you play the fame lottery, get social feedback, because those are all the things that keep people's attention.
Isn't this also a problem with these information technologies being attached to corporations that have this philosophy of unlimited growth? Yes. So they're there no matter how much they make.
I applaud Apple because I think they're the only company that takes steps to protect privacy, to block advertisements, to make sure that at least like when you when you use their maps application, they're not saving your data and sending it to everybody. And it's one of the reasons why Apple Maps is really not as good as Google Maps. Right. But I use it, and that's one of the reasons why I use it.
And when Apple came out recently and there was they were doing something to try to block your information being sent to other places and they forget what was the exact thing that it was in the new iOS.
They released a thing that blocks the tracking identifiers. That's right. And it's not actually out yet. It's going to be out in January or February. I think someone told me. And what that's doing, that's a good example of they're putting a tax on the advertising industry, because just by saying you can't track people individually that, you know, takes down the value of an advertisement by like 30 percent or something.
Here it is. And I do safari.
I get this old privacy report that says it's like in the last seven days, it's prevented a hundred and twenty five trackers from profiling me.
Right. Yeah. And you can opt out of that if you'd like. If you like. No, fuck that. Trust me. Yeah, you can do that if you can let them send your data. But that that seems to me a much more ethical approach to be able to decide whether or not these companies get your information.
I mean, those things are great. The challenge is imagine you get the privacy equation perfectly right.
Look at this Apple working on its own search engine as Google ties. Oh, be cut soon. I started using duck, duck, go.
Yep, for that very reason, just because it's they don't do anything with it, you know, they give you the information, but they don't they don't take your data and do anything with it.
The challenge is, let's say we get all the privacy stuff perfectly, perfectly right. And data protection and data control and all that stuff.
In a system that's still based on attention and grabbing attention and harvesting and strip mining our brains, you still get maximum polarization, addiction, mental health problems, isolation, teen depression and suicide, polarization, breakdown of truth. Right.
So that's we really focus in our work on those topics because that's the direct influence of the business model on warping society. Like we need to name this mind what we think of it, like the climate change of culture that, you know, these seem like these seem like different, disconnected topics, much like with climate change.
I'd say like, OK, we've got species lost in the Amazon. We've got we're losing insects, we've got melting glaciers, we've got ocean acidification. We've got the coral reefs, you know, getting dying. These can feel like disconnected things until you have a unified model of how emissions change all those different phenomena. Right. In the social fabric, we have shortening of attention spans. We have more outrage driven news media. We have more polarization. We have more breakdown of truth.
We have more conspiracy minded thinking. These seem like separate events and separate phenomena, but they're actually all part of this attention extraction paradigm that the company's growth, as you said, depends on extracting more of our attention, which means more polarization, more extreme material, more conspiracy, thinking and shortening attention spans.
Because we also say, like, you know, if we want to double the size of the attention economy, I want your attention, Joe, to be split into two separate streams, like I want you watching the TV, the tablet and the phone at the same time, because now I've tripled the size of the amount of extractable attention that I can get for advertisers, which means that by fracking for attention and splitting you into more junk, you know, attention, that's like thinner.
We can sell that as if it's real. It's just like the financial crisis. We are selling thinner and thinner financial assets as if it's real, but it's really just a junk asset.
And that's kind of where we are now, where it's sort of the junk attention economy, because we're we can shorten attention spans and we're debasing the substrate of that makes up our society because everything in a democracy depends on individual sense making and meaningful choice, meaningful freewheel meaningful independent views.
But if that's all basically sold to the highest bidder, that debases the soil from which independent views grow, because all of us are jacked into this sort of matrix of social media manipulation that's that's ruining and degrading our democracy. And that's really a there's many other things that are ruining and creating our democracy. But that's that's the sort of invisible force that's upstream that affects every other thing downstream. Because if we can't agree on what's true, for example, you can't solve any problem.
I think that's what you talked about in your ten minute thing on the social dilemma I think I saw on YouTube.
Yeah, your organization highlights all these issues and, you know, in an amazing way and it's very important. But do you have any solutions?
It's hard, right, so I just want to say that this is is a complex a problem as climate change in the sense that you need to change the business model. I think of it like we're on the fossil fuel economy and we have to switch to some kind of beyond that thing. Right, because so long as the business models of these companies depend on extracting attention. Can you expect them to do something different, like you can't, but how could you?
Is it I mean, there's so much money involved and now they've accumulated so much wealth that they have an amazing amount of influence. Yeah.
You know, and and the asymmetric influence can, by lobbyist, convince Congress and prevent things from happening.
This is why it's kind of like themselves. That's right.
But I think we're seeing signs of real change. We have the antitrust case that was just filed against Google in Congress. We're seeing more hearings.
That was the basis of that case.
You know, to be honest, I was actually in the middle of the social dilemma launched when I think that happened in my home, burned down in the recent fires in Santa Rosa.
So I actually missed that happening. Sorry to hear that. Yes, sorry. That was a big thing to drop, but yeah. No, it's it's awful. There's so much that's been happening in the last six. I've been I was evacuated three times where I lived in California. Oh really? Yeah. So real close to our house. Justice Department. Who's monopolised Google for violating antitrust laws, department files complaint against Google to restore competition and search and search advertising markets.
OK, so it's all about search. This is right, this was a case that's about Google using its dominant position to privilege its own search engine in its own products and beyond, which is similar to sort of Microsoft bundling in the Internet Explorer browser.
But, you know, this is all good progress, but really, it misses the kind of fundamental harm of like these things are warping our society. They're working now. Our minds are working.
And there's no, you know, congressional action against that because it's a really hard problem to solve.
I think the reason the film for me is so important is that if I look at the growth rate of how fast Facebook has been recommending people into conspiracy groups and kind of polarizing us into separate echo chambers, which we should really break down, I think, as well, for people like exactly the mechanics of how that happens. But if you look at the growth rate of all those harms compared to, you know, how fast has Congress passed anything to deal with it?
Like basically not at all.
They seem a little bit unsophisticated in that regard. Understatement. Yeah. Yeah. They are trying to be charitable.
I want to be charitable, too, and I want to make sure I call out and their senator, Mark Warner Blumenthal, several other senators we've talked to have been really on top of these issues and led, I think, Senator Warner's white paper on how to regulate the tech platforms is one of the best ads from two years ago in twenty eighteen and Roffey Martina, his staffers and amazing human beings works very hard on these issues.
So there are some good folks. But when you look at the broad like the hearing yesterday, it's mostly grandstanding to politicize the issue. Right, because you you turn it into on the right, hey, you're censoring conservatives and on the left it's hey, you're not taking down enough misinformation and dealing with the hate speech and all these kinds of things. Right. And they're not actually dealing with how would we solve this problem.
They're just trying to make a political point to win over their base.
Now, Facebook recently banned the Kuhnen pages, which I thought was kind of fascinating because I'm like, well, this is a weird sort of slippery slope, isn't it? Like, if you decide that I mean, it almost seemed to me like, well, throw them a bone, we'll get rid of Kuhnen because it's so preposterous. Let's just get rid of that. But what else, if you keep going down that rabbit hole, where do you draw the line?
Like where are you allowed to have JFK conspiracy theories? Are you allowed to have flat earth? Are you allowed? I mean, I guess flat earth is not dangerous. Is that where they make the distinction?
So I think their policy is evolving in the direction of when things are causing offline harm, when online content is known to proceed offline harm. That's when the platform that's the standard by which platforms are acting, what what offline harm has been caused by the to and on stuff.
You know, there are several incidents. We interviewed a guy on a podcast about it. There's some armed at gunpoint type thing I can't remember.
And there's there's things that are priming people to be violent.
You know, these are I want to say these are really tricky topics. Right? I think what I want to make sure we get to, though, is that there are many people manipulating the group think that can happen in these echo chambers, because once you're in one of these things, like I studied cults earlier in my career and the power of cults is like they're a vertically integrated persuasion stack because they control your social relationships. They control who you're hearing from and who you're not hearing from.
They give you meaning, purpose and belonging. They they've accustom language. They have an internal way of referring to things.
And social media allows you to create this sort of decentralized cult factory where it's easier to grab people into an echo chamber where they only hear from other people's views.
And Facebook, you can even just recently announced that they're going to be promoting more of the Facebook group content into feeds, which means that they're actually going to make it easier for that kind of manipulation to happen.
But they make the distinction between group content and conspiracy groups like how do you how do you when when does group content. When does it cross a line? I don't know, I mean, the the policy teams that work on this are coming up with their own standards, so I'm not familiar with it.
If you think about, you know, think about how hard it is to come up with a law at the federal level that all states will agree to, then you imagine Facebook trying to come up with a policy that will be universal to all the countries that are running Facebook. Right.
Well, then you imagine how you take a company that never thought they were going to be in the position to do that. Correct. And then within a decade, they become the most prominent source of news and information on the planet Earth. Correct. And now they have to regulate it.
And, you know, I actually believe Zuckerberg when he says, I don't want to make these decisions. I shouldn't be in this role where my beliefs decide the whole world views.
Right. He genuinely believes that. Yeah. And to be sure of that. But the problem is he created a situation where he is now in that position. I mean, he got there very quickly and they did it aggressively when they went into countries like Myanmar, Ethiopia, all throughout the African continent where they gave, you know, about free basics.
No. So this is the program that I think has gotten something like 700 million accounts on to Facebook, where they do a deal with like a telecommunications provider, like their version of AT&T in Myanmar or something. So when you get your smartphone, it kind of looks built, was built to do know about that.
And there's a asymmetry of access where it's free to access Facebook, but it costs money to do the other things for the data plan. So you get a free Facebook account. Facebook is the Internet basically because it's the free thing you can do when your phone. And then there's we know that there's fake information that's being spread, that the data doesn't apply to Facebook use. Yeah, I think like the cost, you know, how we pay for data here like that.
I think you don't pay for Facebook, but you do pay for all the other things, which creates an asymmetry where you're of course, you're going to use Facebook for most things.
Right. So you Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Yeah. Yeah.
I don't know exactly with video because it's different because video calls as well in general. They do. Yeah. I just don't know how that works in the developing world. But there's a joke within Facebook. I mean, this is called genocide's right. So in Myanmar, which is in the film, the Rohingya Muslim Minority Group, many Rohingya were persecuted and murdered because of fake information spread by the government on Facebook using their asymmetric knowledge with fake accounts. I mean, even just a couple of weeks ago, Facebook took down a network of, I think, several hundred thousand fake accounts in Myanmar.
And they didn't even have at the time more than something like four or five people in their extended Facebook network who even spoke the language of that country.
OK, so when you realize that this is like the I think it's like the Iraq war, Colin Powell Pottery Barn rule where like, you know, if you go in and you break it, then you are responsible for fixing it. This is Facebook actively doing deals to go into Ethiopia, to go into Myanmar, to go into the Philippines or whatever, and providing these solutions. And then it breaks the society and they're now in a position where they have to fix.
This is actually a joke within Facebook that if you want to know which countries will be, quote unquote, at risk in two years from now, look at which ones have Facebook free basics. Jesus. And it's terrifying that they do that and they don't have very many people that even speak the language, so there's no way they're going to be able to filter it. That's right.
And so now if you take it back, I knew we were talking outside about the congressional hearing and Jack Dorsey and the questions from the senator about are you taking down the content from the ayatollahs or from the Chinese Zhejiang province, about the wiggers?
You know, when there's sort of speech that leads to offline violence in these other countries, the issue is that these platforms are managing the information commons for countries they don't even speak the language of. Right.
And if you think the conspiracy theory sort of dark corners, crazy town of the English Internet are bad, and we we've already taken out like hundreds of whack a mole sticks and they've hired hundreds of policy people and hundreds of engineers to deal with that problem.
You go to a country like Ethiopia where there's something like 90 major, there's 90 something dialects, I think, in the country and six major languages where one of them is the dominant Facebook sort of language. And then the others get persecuted because they actually don't have they don't have a voice on the platform.
This is really important that the people in Myanmar who got persecuted and murdered didn't have to be on Facebook for the fake information spread about them to impact them, for people to go after them. Right. So this is the whole I can assert something about this minority group. That minority group isn't on Facebook, but if it manipulates the dominant culture to go, we have to go kill them.
Then they can go do it.
And the same thing has happened, you know, in India where there's videos uploaded about, hey, those Muslims, I think they're called Flesche killings, where they'll say that these Muslims killed this cow. And is it Hinduism? The cows are sacred. The take of that.
Right. Anyway, I believe.
Yeah, the they will post those that go viral on WhatsApp and say we have to go lynch those Muslims because they killed our sacred the sacred cows and they went from something like five of those happening per year to now hundreds of those happening per year because of fake news being spread again on Facebook, Facebook about them, on WhatsApp about them.
And again, they don't have to be on the platform for this to happen to them.
Right. So this is critical that, you know, imagine you and I and all. Let's imagine all of your listeners. You know, I don't even know how many you have, like tens of millions. Right. And we all listen to this conversation. We say we don't want to even use Facebook and Twitter or YouTube.
We all still, if you live in the U.S., still live in a country that everyone else will vote based on everything that they are seeing on these platforms. If you zoom out to the global context, all of us don't we don't use Facebook in Brazil.
But if Brazil, which was heavily the last election, was skewed by Facebook and WhatsApp or something like 87 percent of people saw at least one of the major fake news stories about both scenario.
And he got elected. And you have people in Brazil chanting Facebook, Facebook.
When he wins, he wins, and then he sets a new policy to wipe out the Amazon.
All of us don't have to be on Facebook to be affected by a leader that wipes out the Amazon and accelerates climate change timelines because of those interconnected effects.
So, you know, we at the Center for a New Technology are looking at this from a global perspective, where it's not just the U.S. election. Facebook manages something like 80 elections per year. And if you think that they're doing all the monitoring that they are for, you know, English speaking, American election, most privileged society, now look at the hundreds of other countries that they're operating in.
Do you think that they're devoting the same resources to to the other countries? This is so crazy, it's like. Is that you, Jim? So weird noise. You're like a squeaky. Yeah, maybe it's me. I don't think it is my feedback. There it is.
You might be me breathing. I don't know if you have asthma. I think I had an allergy.
Oh, yeah. It's like making sideways is what's terrifying is that we're talking about from 2012 to 2020, YouTube implementing this program. And then what is even the birth of Facebook? What is that like 2000, two or three dozen for 2004?
This is such a short timeline and having these massive worldwide implications from the use of these things. When you look at the future, do you look at this like a runaway train that's headed towards a cliff?
Yeah, I mean, I think right now this thing is a Frankenstein, that it's not like even if Facebook was aware of all these problems, they don't have the staff unless they hired like hundreds of, you know, tens, hundreds of thousands of people, definitely minimum to try to address all these problems.
But the paradox we're in is that the very premise of these services is to rely on automation like it used to be. We had editors and journalists or at least editors or, you know, people edited even what went on television saying what is credible, what is true.
Like, you know, you sat here with, you know, with Alex Jones even yesterday, and you're trying to check him on everything he's saying. Right. You're researching and trying to look that stuff up. You're trying to be doing some more responsible communication. The the premise of these systems is that you don't do that.
Like the reason venture capitalists find social media so profitable and such a good investment is because we generate the content for free.
We are the useful idiots. Right.
Instead of paying a journalist seventy thousand dollars a year to write something credible, we can each be convinced to share our political views and we'll do it knowingly for free. Actually, we don't really know where the useful idiots. That's the kind of the point. And then instead of paying an editor one hundred thousand dollars a year to figure out which of those things is true that we want to promote and give exponential reach to, you have an algorithm says, hey, what do people click on the most what people like the most?
And then you realize the quality of the signals that are going into the information environment that we're all sharing is a totally different process. We went from a high quality gated process that cost a lot of money to this really crappy process that costs no money, which makes the companies so profitable. And then we fight back for territory, for for values when we raise our hands and say, hey, there's an inspiration video problem for teenagers and anorexia. Hey, there's a mass conspiracy sort of echo chamber problem over here.
Hey, there's, you know, flat earth sort of issues.
And again, these get into tricky topics because we want to you know, I know we both believe in free speech and we have this feeling that the solution to bad speech is better, you know, more speech that counters the things that are said. But in a finite attention economy, we don't have the capacity for everyone who gets bad speech to just have a counter response.
In fact, what happens right now is that that bad speech, rabbit holes into not only got worse and worse speech, but more extreme versions of that view that confirms it, because once Facebook knows that that flat earth rabbit hole is good for you at getting your attention back, it wants to give you just more and more of that.
It doesn't want to say here's 20 people who disagree with that thing. Right. Right. So I think if you were to imagine a different system, we would ask, who are the thinkers that are most open minded and synthesis oriented where they can actually Steelman on the other side, actually, they can do for this speech. Here is the opposite counterargument. They can show that they understand that. And imagine those people get lifted up. But notice that none of those people that you and I know, I mean, we're friends with Eric Weinstein.
And, you know, I think he's one of these guys who's really good at sort of offering the deal.
Manning, here's the other side of this. Here's the other side of that.
But the people who generally do that aren't the ones who get the tens of millions of followers on these surfaces. It's the black and white, extreme outrage oriented thinkers and speakers that get rewarded in this attention economy.
And so if you look at how if I zoom way out and say, how is the entire system behaving? Just like if I zoom out and say climate, you know, the climate system, like, how is the entire overall system behaving?
It's not producing the kind of information environment on which democracy can survive Cheesus.
The thing that troubles me the most is that I clearly see your thinking and I agree with you. I don't see any holes in what you're saying. I don't know how this plays out, but it doesn't look good.
And I don't see a solution. It's like. If there are a thousand bison running full steam towards a cliff and they don't realize the cliff is there, I don't see how you pull them back.
So I think of it like we're trapped in a body and that's eating itself. So like it's kind of a cannibalism economy because our our economic growth right now with these tech companies is based on eating our own organs. So we're eating our own mental health organs or eating the health of our children.
We're eating the sorry for being so gnarly about it, but it's it's a cannibalistic system in a system that's hurting itself or eating itself or punching itself.
If one of the neurons wakes up in the body, it's not enough to change that. It's going to keep punching itself. But if enough of the neurons wake up and say, this is stupid, why would we build our system this way?
And the reason I'm so excited about the film is that if you have 40 to 50 million people who now recognize that we're living in this sort of cannibalised system in which the economic incentive is to debase the life support systems of your democracy, we can all wake up and say, that's stupid, let's do something differently. Let's actually change the system. Let's use different platforms, let's fund different platforms.
Let's regulate and tame the existing Frankensteins. And I don't mean regulating speech. I mean really thoughtfully. How do we change the incentives so it doesn't go to the same race to the bottom?
And we have to all recognize that we're now 10 years into this hypnosis experiment of warping of the mind and like, you know, friends of this movement, this it's like, how do we snap our fingers and get people to say that that arta there's an inflated level of polarization and hatred right now that especially going into this election, I think we all need to be much more cautious about what's running in our brains right now.
Yeah, I don't think most people are generally aware of what's causing this polarization. I think they think it's the climate of society because the president and because of Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd protests and all this jazz, but I don't think they understand that that's exacerbated in a fantastic way by social media and the last 10 years of our addiction to social media and these echo chambers that we all exist in.
Yes. So I want to make sure that we're both clear and I know you agree with this, that these things were already in society to some degree. So we want to make sure we're not saying social media is blamed for all of it.
Absolutely not. No, no. In fact, gasoline is gasoline, right? Exactly. It's it's lighter fluid for sparks of polarization.
It's lighter fluid for sparks of, you know, more paranoia, which is ironically what everybody was the opposite of whatever. But we hope the Internet was going to be right. Everybody hoped the Internet was going to be this bottomless resource of information where everyone was going to be educated in a way they'd had never experienced before in the history of the human race, where you have access to all the answers, to all your questions. You know, Eric Weinstein describes as the Library of Alexandria in your pocket.
Yeah, but no.
Well, and I want to be clear so that I'm not against technology or giving people access. In fact, I think a world where everyone had a smartphone and a Google search box and Wikipedia and like a search oriented of YouTube, so you can look up health issues and how to do it yourself.
Fix anything would be awesome. That would be great. I would love that.
I just want to be really clear, because this is not an anti technology conversation.
It's about, again, this business model that depends on recommending stuff to people, which just to be clear on the polarization front, it so social media is more profitable when it gives you your own Truman Show that affirms your view of reality every time you flick your finger right.
Like it, that's going to be more profitable than every time you flick your finger. I actually show you here's a more complex, nuanced picture that disagrees with that.
Here's a different way to see it that won't be nearly as successful. And the best way for people to test this, we actually recommend, even after seeing the film to do this is open up Facebook on two phones, especially like a, you know, two partners or people who have the same friends. So you have the same friends on Facebook. You would think if you scroll your feeds, you see the same thing, the same people you're following.
So why would you see the same thing?
But if you swap phones and you actually scroll through their feed for ten minutes and you scroll through mine for ten minutes, you'll find that you'll see completely different information and it won't.
You'll also notice that it won't feel very compelling. Like if you asked yourself, my friend Emily just did this with with her husband after seeing the film. And she literally has the same friends as her husband and she scroll through the feed. She's like, this is an interesting I wouldn't come back to this. Right. And so we have to, again, realize how subtle and yet just how subtle this has been.
I wonder what would happen if I scrolled through my feet because I literally don't use Facebook. We don't use it at all. I only use Instagram, use Instagram.
I stopped using Twitter because it's like a bunch of mental patients throwing shit at each other. And I very rarely use it. I should say occasionally I'll check some things to see like what the climate is but of cultural climate. But I use Instagram and Facebook. I used to use Instagram to post to Facebook, but I kind of stopped even doing that because just. It just seems gross, yeah, it's just it's these people in these verbose arguments about politics, the economy and world events, and just we have to ask ourselves is, is that medium constructive to solving these problems?
Like just not at all. And it's an attention casino, right?
The house always wins. And we're you know, you might see Eric Winston in a thread, you know, battling it out or sort of duking it out with someone and maybe even reaching some convergence on something.
But it just whizzes by your feet and then it's gone and all the effort that we're putting in to make these systems work.
But then it's just all gone.
When did you do? I mean, I try to be very minimally used social media overall, um, luckily the work is so busy that that's easier. I want to say first that, you know, on the addiction fronts of these things, I, you know, myself, am very sensitive and, you know, easily addicted by these things myself. And that's why I think I notice that you were saying my social dilemma.
It's email for you, huh?
Yeah, well, I you know, for me, I if I refresh my email and pulled a refresh, like a slot machines and I, I'll get invited to meet the president of such and such to advise on regulation. And sometimes I get a stupid newsletter from the politician I don't care about or something. Right.
So email is very addictive. It's funny, I talked to Daniel Kahneman who wrote the he's the founder of Behavioral Economics. He wrote the book Thinking Fast and Slow, you know, that one. And he said as well that email was the most addictive for him. And he you know, the one thing you'll find is the people who know most about these sort of persuasive, manipulative tricks, they'll say we're not immune to them just because we know about them.
Dan Ariely is another famous persuasion.
Behavioral economics guy talks about flattery and how flattery still feels good. Even if I tell you I don't mean it. Like I love that that sweatshirt. That's an awesome sweatshirt where you get it.
You're just going to bullshit me.
But that's that's the it feels good to get flattery, even if you know that it's not real.
And the point being that, like, again, we have so much evolutionary wiring to care about what other people think of us, that just because you know that they're manipulating you and the likes or whatever, it still feels good to get those hundred extra likes on that thing that you posted.
Yeah. When did the lights come about? Um, well, let's see. Well, actually, you know, in the film, you know, Justin Rosenstein, who's the inventor of the like button, talks about, I think the first version, something called Beacon. And it arrived in 2006, I think. But then the simple like one click like button was like a little bit later, like 2008, 2009.
Are you worried that it's going to be more and more invasive? I mean, you think about the problems we're dealing with now with Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, all these within the last decade or so. What what do we have to look forward to? I mean, is there something on the horizon that's going to be even more invasive?
Well, we have to change this system because, as you said, technology only to get it is only going to get more immersed into our lives and infuse into our lives, not less.
If technology can get more persuasive or less persuasive, more, what is I going to get better at predicting our next move or less good at predicting our next move?
Well, it's almost like we have to eliminate that.
And I mean, it would be really hard to tell them you can't use algorithms anymore that depend on people's attention spans.
Right. It would be really hard, but it seems like the only way for the Internet to be pure. Correct?
I think I think of this like the environmental movement. I mean, some people have compared the film, The Social Dilemma to Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, right.
Where that was the birth. That was the book that birthed the environmental movement. And that was in a Republican administration, the Nixon administration.
We actually passed we created the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency. We went from a world where we said the environment, something we don't pay attention to, too.
We passed it.
I forgot the laws we passed between 1963 and 1972. Over a decade, we started caring about the environment. We created things that protected the national parks.
We and I think that's kind of what's going on here, that, you know, imagine, for example, it is illegal to show advertising on youth oriented social media apps between 12 a.m. and six a.m. because you're basically monetizing loneliness and lack of sleep.
Like imagine that you cannot advertise during those hours because we say that like a national park, our children's attention between this is a very minimal example.
It would be like, you know, taking the most obvious piece of low hanging fruit and land and say, let's quarantine this off and say this is sacred.
But isn't the problem like the Environmental Protection Agency, it resonates with most people. The idea, oh, it's protect the world for our children. Right. There's not a lot of people profiting off of polluting the rivers. Right.
But when you lose this, I mean, over over hunting, you know, certain lands or overfishing, certain fisheries and collapsing them.
I mean, there are if you have big enough corporations that are based on an infinite growth profit model, you know, operating with less and less, you know, resources to get, this is a problem we face before for for sure.
But it's not the same sort of scale as 300 an X amount of millions of people. And a vast majority of them are using some form of social media. And also, this is not something that really resonates in a very clear like one plus one equals two way, like the Environmental Protection Agency.
It's it makes sense. Like if you ask people, should you be able to throw garbage into the ocean, everyone's going to say, no, that's a terrible idea.
But should you be able to make an algorithm that shows people what they're interested in on YouTube? Yeah. What's wrong with that?
What's more like sugar? Right. Because sugar is always going to taste way better than some. Because our evolutionary heritage says, like, that's rare and so we should pay more attention to it. This is like sugar for the fame lottery, for attention, for social approval.
And so it's always going to feel good and we need to have consciousness about it. And we haven't banned sugar, but we have created a new conversation about what healthy, you know, eating is. Right. I mean, there's a whole new fitness movement and sort of yoga and all these other things that people care more about their bodies and health than they probably ever have.
I think many of us wouldn't have thought we'd ever reach it through, you know, get through the period of soda being at the sort of pinnacle popularity that is, I think in 2013 or 14 was the year that water crossed over as being more of a successful drinking product than than soda. I think really.
I think that's true. You might want to look that up, but. So I think we could have something like that here where we have to I think of it this way, if you want to even get kind of weirdly, I don't know, spiritual or something about it, which is we are the only species that could even know that we were doing this to ourselves.
Right. Like we're the only species with a capacity for self-awareness to know that we have actually, like, roped ourselves into this matrix of like literally the matrix of of sort of undermining our own psychological weaknesses, like a lion that somehow manipulated its environment so that there's gazelles everywhere. And it's like overeating on gazelles doesn't have the self-awareness to know. Wait a second. If we keep doing this, this is going to cause all these other problems. It can't do that because its brain doesn't have that capacity.
Our brain we do have the capacity for self awareness. We can name negativity bias, which is that if I have one hundred comments in 99 or positive, my brain goes to the negative. We can name that. And once we're aware of it, we get some agency back. We can name that we have a draw towards social approval. So when I see I've been tagged in a photo, I know that they're just manipulating my social approval.
We can name social reciprocity, which is when I get all those text messages and I feel, oh, I have to get back to all these people. Well, that's just an inbuilt bias that we have to get back reciprocity. We have to get back to people who do give good stuff to us.
The more we name our own biases, like confirmation bias, we can name that my brain is more likely to feel good getting information that I already agree with, that information that disagrees with me. Once I know that about myself, I can get more agency back.
And we're the only species that we know of that has the capacity to realize that we're in a self terminating sort of system and we have to change that by understanding our own weaknesses.
We've created the system that is undermining ourselves and I think the film is doing that for a lot of people.
It certainly is, but I think it needs more. It's like inspiration. It needs a refresher on a regular basis. Right. Do you feel this massive obligation to be that guy that is out there sort of as the Paul Revere of the technology influence invasion?
I just see these problems and I want them to go away. Yeah. You know, I didn't I, you know, didn't desire and wake up to run a social movement.
But honestly, right now, that's what we're trying to do with the Center for Human Technology.
We realized that before the success of the film, we were actually more focused on working with technologists inside the industry. And I come from Silicon Valley. Many of my friends are executives at the companies and we have these inside relationships. We focused at that level. We also work with policymakers and we were trying to speak to policymakers. We weren't trying to mobilize the whole world against this problem. But with the film, suddenly we as an organization have had to do that.
And we're frankly, I wish we had been really honestly, we I really wish we'd had those funnels so that people who saw the film could have landed into, you know, a carefully designed funnel where we actually started mobilizing people to deal with this issue because there are ways we can do it. We can pass certain laws.
We have to have a new cultural sort of set of norms about how do we want to show up and use the system.
You know, families and schools can have holding protocols of how do we want to do group migrations?
Because one of the problems is that if a teenager says by themselves, well, I saw the film, I'm going to delete my Instagram account by myself or Tic-Tac account by myself, that's not enough because all their friends are still using Instagram and Tic-Tac and they're still going to talk about who's dating who or gossip about this or homework or whatever on those services.
And so the services, Instagram and ticktock prey on social exclusion that you will feel excluded if you don't participate.
And the way to solve that is to get whole schools or families together, like different parent groups, whatever, together, and do a group migration from Instagram to signal or message or some kind of group thread that way, because notice that when you as you said, Apple is a pretty good actor in this space. If I make a FaceTime call to you, FaceTime isn't trying to monetize my attention. Right. It's just sitting there being like, yet how can I help?
You have a good face. It's close to face to face. Conversation is possible.
Jamie pulled up an article earlier that was saying that Apple was creating its own search engine. Yeah, I hope that is the case. And I hope that if it is the case, they apply the same sort of ethics that they have towards sharing your information that they do with other things to their search engine. But I wonder if there would be some sort of value in them creating a social media platform that doesn't rely on that sort of algorithm.
Yeah, well, I think in general, one of the exciting trends that has happened since the film is there's actually many more people trying to build alternatives, social media products that are not based on these business models yet. I can name a few, but I, I don't want to be endorsing and of this people being Marco Polo clubhouse, Wikipedia is trying to build a sort of four nonprofit version. I always forget the names of these things. But but.
The interesting thing is that for the first time, people are trying to build something else because now there's enough people who feel disgusted by the present state of affairs, and that wouldn't be possible unless we created a kind of a cultural movement based on something like the film that reaches a lot of people.
It's interesting that you made this comparison to the Environmental Protection Agency because there's kind of a parallel in the way other countries handled the environment versus the way we do and how it makes them competitive. I mean, that's always been the Republican argument for not getting rid of certain fossil fuels and coal and all sorts of things that have a negative consequence that we we need to be competitive with China.
We need to be competitive with these other countries that don't have these regulations in effect. The concern would be, well, first of all, the problem is these companies are global.
Write like Facebook is global. If they put these regulations on America but didn't put these regulations worldwide, then wouldn't they use the the income and the algorithm in other countries unchecked? Right.
And have this tremendous negative consequence and gather up all this money, which is why just like sugar, it's like everyone around the world has to understand and be more antagonistic and not like sugar is evil, but just you have to have a common awareness about the problem.
But how could you educate people if you're talking about a country like Myanmar or these other countries that have had these serious consequences because of Facebook?
How how could you possibly get our ideas across to them if we don't even know their language? And it's this system that's already set up in this very advantageous way for them, where Facebook comes on their phone, like, how could you hit the brakes on that?
Well, I mean, first I was going to say this is an incredibly hard and depressing problem, which is the scale of it. Right? Right.
You need something like a global I mean, language independent global self awareness about this problem. Now, again, I don't want to be tooting the horn about the film, but the thing I'm excited about is it launched on Netflix in one hundred and ninety countries and in 30 languages. So you should to the horn.
Yeah. Yeah, to it.
Yeah. Well, I think, you know, the film was seen in 30 languages. So, you know, the cool thing is I wish I could show the world my inbox. I think people see the film and they feel like, oh my God, this is huge and I'm a huge problem and I'm all alone. How are we ever going to fix this?
But I get emails every day from Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, people saying, oh, my God, this is exactly what's going on in my country.
I mean, I've never felt more optimistic and I felt really pessimistic for the last eight years working on this because there really hasn't been enough movement. But I think for the first time, there's a global awareness now that we could then start to mobilize. I know the EU is mobilizing, Canada's mobilizing, Australia is mobilizing. California state is mobilizing with Prop 24.
There's a whole bunch of movement now in the space and they have a new rhetorical arsenal of of, you know, why we have to make this bigger transition now. You know, are we going to get all the the countries that where is the six different major dialects in Ethiopia where they're going to know about this? I don't think the film was translated into all those dialects.
I think we need to do more. It's a really, really hard, messy problem.
But on the topic of if we don't do it, someone else will.
You know, one interesting thing in the environmental movement was there's a great WNYC radio piece about the history of lead and when we regulated lead, I don't know anything about this.
Yeah, I do. Yeah, yeah. The Kirsty's matches up with your experience. The my understanding is that obviously lead was this sort of miracle thing.
We put it in paint, we put it in gas. It was great.
And then the way we figured out that we should regulate lead out of our sort of infused product supply is by proving there is this guy who proved that it dropped kid's IQ by four points for every, I think, Mike, microgram per decilitre.
I think it's for for the amount of if you had a microgram of lead per deciliter of either, I'm guessing er it would drop the IQ of kids by four points and they measured this by actually doing a sample in their teeth or something because it shows up in your bones I think.
And they proved that if the IQ points dropped by four points, it would lower future age, working age, earning Sydney wage earning potential of those kids, which would then lower the GDP of the country because it would be shifting the IQ of the entire country down by four points, if not more, based on how much lead is in the environment.
If you zoom out and say, is social media, now, let's replace the word IQ, which is also a term because there's like a whole bunch of views about how that's designed in certain ways and not others. And measuring intelligence. Let's replace IQ with problem solving capacity. What is your problem solving capacity, which is actually how they talk about it in this radio episode?
And imagine that we have a societal IQ or a societal problem solving capacity. The U.S. has a societal IQ, Russia has a societal IQ, Germany has a societal IQ. How good is a country at solving its problems? Now, imagine that. What is social media due to our societal IQ? Well, distorts our ideas, gives us a bunch of false narratives that fills us with misinformation. It makes it impossible to agree with each other. And in a democracy, if you don't agree with each other and you can't even do compromise, you have to recognize that politics is invented to avoid warfare.
Right. So we have compromise and understanding so that we don't like physically are violent with each other.
We have compromise and conversation. If social media makes compromise conversation and under shared understanding and shared truth impossible, it doesn't drop our societal IQ by four points.
It drops it to zero because you can't solve any problem, whether it's human trafficking or poverty or climate issues or, you know, racial injustice, whatever it is that you care about. It depends on us having some shared view about what we agree on.
And by the way, and on the optimistic side, there are countries like Taiwan that have actually built a digital democratic sort of social media type thing.
Audrey Tang, you should have Audrey Tang on your show. She's amazing. She's the digital minister of Taiwan and they've actually built a system that rewards unlikely consensus. So when two people who would traditionally disagree post something online. And when when they act, when two people traditionally disagree, actually agree on something, that's what gets boosted to the top of the way that we look at our information feeds.
So it's about finding consensus where that be unlikely and saying, hey, actually, you know, you Joe interest on you. Typically you agree you disagree on these six things. You agree on these three things and other things that we're going to encourage you to talk about on a menu. We hand you a menu of the things you agree on.
And how do they manipulate that? Honestly, we did a great interview with her on our podcast that people can listen to. I think you should have her on honesty.
I would love to, but what is your podcast going to tell people? It's called Your Undivided Attention. And the interview interviews with Audrey Tang is her name. And I think that's this is one model of how do you have, you know, sort of digital media bolted onto the top of a democracy and have it work better as opposed to how do you just degrades into kind of nonsense and polarization and inability to agree?
That's what makes such a unique situation to because China doesn't recognize them and there's a real threat that they're going to be invaded by China. Correct.
And so what's interesting about Taiwan is there's we didn't we haven't talked about the disinformation issues, but it's under, like you said, not just physical threat from China, but massive propaganda, disinformation. Campaigns are trying to run that right? I'm sure.
And so what's amazing is that their digital media system is good at dealing with these disinformation campaigns and conspiracy theories and other things, even in the face of a huge threat like China. But there's more binding energy in the country because we all know that it's a tiny island and there's a looming threat of this big country, whereas the United States, we're not this tiny island with a looming threat elsewhere. In fact, many people don't know or don't think that there's actually information warfare going on.
I actually think it's really important to point out to people that this social media is one of our biggest national security risks, because while we're obsessed with protecting our physical borders and building walls and, you know, spending a trillion dollars redoing the nuclear fleet, we left the digital border wide open.
Like if Russia or China try to fly a plane into the United States, our Pentagon and billions of dollars of defense infrastructure from Raytheon and Boeing or whatever will shoot that thing down.
And it doesn't get in.
If they try to come into the country, they'll get stopped by the passport control system, ideally. If they try to fly, if Russia or China try to fly an information bomb into the country instead of being met by the Department of Defense, they're met by a Facebook algorithm with a white glove that says exactly which zip code you want to target.
Like, it's the opposite of protection, so social media makes us more vulnerable.
I think of it like if you imagine like a bank that spent billions of dollars, you know, surrounding the bank with physical bodyguards, it's just the toughest guys in every single quarter.
You just totally secured the bank. But then you installed on the bank a computer system that everyone interacts with and no one changes the default password from like lower case passwords. Anyone can hack in.
That's what we do when we install Facebook in our society or you install Facebook in Ethiopia, because if you think Russia or China or Iran or South Korea or North Korea influencing our election is bad, just keep in mind the like dozens of countries throughout Africa where we actually know recently, there is a huge campaign that the Stanford Cyber Policy Center did a report on of Russia targeting, I think, something like seven or eight major countries and disinformation campaigns running in those countries.
Or the Facebook whistleblower who came out about a month ago, Sophie Xang, I think is her name, saying that she personally had to step in to deal with disinformation campaigns in Honduras, Azerbaijan, I think Greece or some other countries like that.
So the scale of what these technology companies are managing, they're managing the information environments for all these these countries, but they don't have the resources to do it.
So not only that, they're not trained to do it. They're not qualified. Correct. They're making up as they go another 20 to 30 to 40. And they're way behind the curve.
When I when I had Rennard to rest on and she detailed all the issues with the Internet research agency in Russia and what they did during the 2016 campaign for both sides. I mean, the idea is they just promoted Trump. There were basically sowing the seeds of just the decline of the democracy.
They were trying to figure out how to create turmoil. And they were doing it in this very bizarre, calculated way that it didn't seem. It was hard to see what's the end game here? Well, the end game is to have everybody fight. Yeah. I mean, that's really what the end game was.
And if I'm, you know, one of our major adversaries, you know, after World War Two, there was no ability to use kinetic like nukes or something on the bigger countries. Right. That's all done. So the what's the best way to take down the biggest, you know, country, you know, on the planet, on the block, you use its own internal tensions against itself. This is what Sun Tzu would tell you to do.
Yeah, and that's never been easier because of Facebook and because of these platforms being open to do this manipulation. And if I'm looking now, we're four days away from the U.S. elections or something like that when this goes out.
Jesus Christ, there is never we have never been more destabilizes the country until now. I mean, the most stable, as you probably have ever been, I would say, and polarized maybe people would argue the civil war was worse.
But in recent history, there is maximum incentive for foreign actors to drive up again, not one side or the other, but to drive us into conflict.
So I would really you know, I think we all need to do is recognize how much incentive there is to plant stories to actually have.
So physical violence on the streets. I think there was just a story, wasn't we talking about this morning that there's some kind of truck, I think, in Philadelphia, DC, loaded with explosives or something like this.
There's there's such an incentive to try to, you know, throw the agent provocateur, like, throw the first stone, throw the first, you know, Molotov cocktail, throw the first, you know, make the first shot fired to drive up that conflict. And I think we have to realize how much that may be artificially motivated. Very much so, and the Rene D'Arista podcast that I did, where she went into depth about all the different ways that they did it and the most curious one being funny, Meems.
Yeah, there's so many of the Meems that you read that you love.
Yeah, well, there's it was just so weird that there were humorous. And she said she looked at probably a hundred thousand.
And the funny thing is you actually can agree with them, right. You can even laugh at them.
It's like, oh, you know, and they're being constructed by foreign agents that are doing this to try to mock certain aspects of our society and pit people against each other and create a mockery.
And, you know, back in 2016, there is no very little collaboration between our defense industry and CIA and and people like that and the tech platforms and the tech platforms that it's government's job to deal with.
The foreign actors are doing these things.
How do you stop something like the Iara like, say, if they're creating Meems in particular and they're funny?
Meems, it's one of the issues that Rene brings up, and I'm just a huge fan of her and her work. Is Asama. Yeah.
Is that if I'm, you know, China, I don't need to invent some fake news story. I just find someone in your society who's already saying what I want you to be talking about and I just like amplify them up. I take that dial and I just turn it up to 10. Right. So I find your Texas secessionists and like, oh, Texas.
That would be a good thing if I'm trying to rip the country apart. So I'm going to take those Texas secessionists and the California secessionists and I'm just going to dial them up to 10.
So those are the ones we hear from. Now, if you're trying to stop me in your Facebook and you're the integrity team or something, on what grounds are you trying to stop me? Because it's your own people, your own free speech. I'm just the one amplifying the one I want to be out there.
Right. And so that's what gets tricky about this is I think our moral concepts that we hold so dear of free speech are inadequate in an attention economy that is hackable. And it's really more about what's getting the attention rather than what are individuals saying or can't say.
And, you know, again, they've created this Frankenstein where they're making mostly automated decisions about who's looking like what pattern behavior, a coordinated, inauthentic behavior here that and they're shutting down. I don't think people know this people. Facebook's shut down two billion fake accounts. I think this is a stat from a year ago. They shut down two billion fake accounts. They have three billion active real users.
Do you think that those two billion were the perfect, like, you know, real fake accounts and they didn't miss any or they didn't overwhelm and took some real accounts down with it? You know, our friend Brett Weinstein, he just got taken down by Facebook and you saw that.
That seemed calculated, though. Facebook has shut down five point four billion fake accounts this year. And that was in November 29th.
Oh, my God. Oh, my God. That is insane. That's so many.
And so, again, it's the scale these things are operating at. And that's why, you know, when Brett got his thing taken down, I didn't like that. But I it's not like there's this vendetta against Brett, right?
It's. Oh, I don't know about that. That seemed to me to be a calculated thing because, you know, Eric actually tweeted about it saying that, you know, you could find the tweets so retweeted it like basically it was reviewed by a person. So you're lying. He's like, this is not something that was taken down by an algorithm. He believes that it was because it was Unity 2020 platform where they were trying to bring together conservatives and liberals and try to find some common ground and create like a third party candidate that combines the best of both worlds.
I don't understand what policy is. You need unity 2020 thing was going up against like I have no, it's going to be a two party system.
The idea is that it's taking away votes from Biden and then it might help Trump win. Band him off Twitter as well. You know that, too. They blocked the account or something. They they banned the account.
They banned the tweet. Unity twenty account. Yeah. Unity. Yeah. I mean, literally unity like. Nope, no unity. Fuck you. We want Biden. Yeah. The political bias on social media is undeniable, and that's maybe the least of our concerns in the long run. But it's a tremendous issue and it also it for sure sow the seeds of discontent and it creates more animosity and it creates more conflict.
The interesting thing is that if I'm one of our adversaries, I see that there is this view that people don't like the social media platforms that I want them to be more like, let's say am Russia or China. Right. And I'm currently using Facebook and Twitter successfully to run information campaigns. And then I want them I can actually plant a story so that they end up shutting it down and shutting down conservatives or shutting down one side, which then forces the platforms to open up more so that I than Russia or China can keep manipulating even more so.
So right now, they they want it to be a free for all where there is no moderation at all because that allows them to get in and they can weaponize the conversation against itself. Right.
I don't see a way out of this Trystan. We have to be aware of it. I mean, even if we are all aware of it, it seems so pervasive.
Yeah, well, it's not just pervasive. It's like I said, it's weird.
Ten years into this hypnosis experience, this is the largest psychological experiment we've ever run on humanity.
It is insane. And and it's also with tools that never existed before evolutionarily. So we we really are not designed just the way these brightly lit metal devices and glass devices interact with your brain. There's so enthralling, right. We we've never had to resist anything like this before with the things we've had to resist is don't go to the bar. You know, you have an alcohol problem, stop smoking cigarettes. It'll give you cancer. Right. We've never had a thing that does so much.
Right. You can call your mom. You can text a good friend. You can you can receive your news. You can get amazing email about this project you're working at and it could suck up your time staring at.
But and the end, the infusion of the things that you that are necessary for life, like text messaging or like looking something up are infused in right next to.
Right. All of the sort of corrupt stuff. Right.
And if you're using it to order food and if you're using it to get an Uber and. Right.
But imagine if we all wiped our phones of all the extractive business model stuff and we only had the tools like.
Have you thought about using a light phone?
Yeah, it's funny, I those guys used to be brought up in my awareness more often for those I don't know. It's like what? It's like a mini.
One of the guys on the documentary is one of the creators of. Right. No, I think you're thinking of Tim Kendall who started it. He's the guy who invented who brought in Facebook's business model of advertising, and he runs a company now called Moment that shows you the number of hours you spend on different apps and helps you use it less.
Someone involved in the documentary was also a part of the light phone team.
No, no, not not not officially. No, I don't think so. But the iPhone is like a basically a thin skinned white, black and white phone thing text.
And I think it does plays music now, which I was like, no, that's a mistake. Right? Like, that's a slippery slope.
That's the thing. And we have to all be comfortable with losing access to things that we love, like, oh, maybe you do want to take notes this time, but you don't have your full keyboard to do that. And are you willing?
I think the thing is, one thing people can do is to take like a digital Sabbath one day a week off completely, because the imagine if if you got several million people to do that, that drops the revenue of these companies by like 15 percent, because that's one out of seven days that you're not on the system so long as you don't rebalance and use it more.
On the other days, I'm inclined to think that Apple's their solution is really the way out of this, to opt out of all sharing of your information.
And if if they could come up with some sort of a social media platform, they kept that as an ethic. Yeah, I mean, it might allow us to communicate with each other, but stop all this algorithm nonsense. And it's look, if anybody has the power to do it, they have so much goddamn money. Totally.
Well, and also they're like that. You know, people talk about, you know, the government regulating these platforms. But Apple is kind of the government that can regulate the attention economy, because when they do this thing we talked about earlier of saying, do you want to be tracked? Right. And they give you this option when like 99 percent of people are going to say, no, I don't want to be tracked. Right. When they do that, they just put a 30 percent tax on all the advertising based businesses, because now you don't get as personalized an ad, which means they make less money, which means that business model is less attractive to venture capitalists to fund the next thing, which means so they're actually enacting a kind of a carbon tax.
But it's like a you know, on the polluting stuff. Right. They're enacting a kind of social media polluting stuff. They're taxing by 30 percent. But they could do more than that.
Like imagine, you know, they have this 30, 70 split on app developers get 70 percent of the revenue when you buy stuff and Apple keeps 30 percent, they could modify that percentage based on how much sort of social value that those things are delivering to society.
So this gets a little bit weird.
People may not like this, but if you think about who's the real customer that we want to be, like, how do we want things oriented? How should we if I'm an app developer, I want to make money the more I'm helping society and helping individuals, not how much I'm extracting and stealing their time and attention. And imagine that governments in the future actually paid like some kind of budget into, let's say, the App Store. There's anti-trust issues with this, but you pay money into the App Store.
And then as apps started helping people with more social outcomes like, let's say, learning programs or schools or things like Khan Academy, things like this, that more money flows in the direction of where people got that value.
And it was that that revenue split between Apple and the app developers ends up going more to the things that end up helping people as opposed to things that were just good at capturing attention and monetizing zombie behavior. One of my favorite lines in the film is Justin Rosenstein from the Like Button, saying that, you know, so long as a whale is worth more dead than alive and a tree is worth more as lumber and two by fours than a living tree, now we're the whale.
We're the tree. We are worth more when we have predictable zombie like behaviors, when we're more addicted, distracted, outraged, polarized and disinformed than if we're a living, thriving citizen or a growing child. That's like playing with their friends. And I think that that kind of distinction that just like we protect national parks or we protect, you know, certain fisheries and we don't kill the whales in those areas or something, we need to really protect, like we have to call it, what's sacred to us now.
Yeah, it's it's an excellent message. My problem that I see is that I just don't know how well that message is going to be absorbed on the people that are already in the trance. I think it's so difficult for people to put things down. I was telling you how difficult it is for me to tell my friends, don't read the comments. Right. You know? Right. It's it's hard to have that kind of discipline and it's hard to have that kind of because people do get bored.
And when they get bored, like if you're waiting in line for somewhere, you pull out your phone, you're at the doctor's office, pull out your phone, like, totally.
I mean, and that's why, you know and I do that, right. I mean, this is incredibly right. This is incredibly hard. Back in the day when I was at Google trying to change, I tried to change Google from the inside for two years before leaving.
What was it like there? Please share your experiences, because when you said you try to change it from the inside, what kind of resistance were you met with and what was their reaction to these thoughts that you had? The unbelievable negative consequences of well, this is in 2013, so we didn't know about all the negative consequences, but you saw the writing on the wall, at least some of us.
Some of it. Yeah. I mean, the notion that things were competing for attention, which would mean that they would need to compete to get more and more persuasive and hack more and more of our vulnerabilities and that that would grow.
That was the core insight. I didn't know that it would lead to polarization or conspiracy theories like recommendations, but I would I did know, you know, more addiction, kids having less, you know, weaker relationships.
When did it occur to you, like what were your initial feelings? Um, I was on a hiking trip in the Santa Cruz Mountains with our co-founder. Now is a Raschein.
It's of our co-founder, Aiza.
His dad was Jef Raskin, who invented the Macintosh project at Apple. I don't know if you know the history there, but he started the Macintosh project and actually came up with the word humaine to describe the human interface. And that's where our our name and our work comes from is from his father's work. He and I were in the mountains in Santa Cruz and just experiencing nature and just came back and realized like this all of this stuff that we've built is just distracting us from the stuff that's really important.
And that's when coming back from that trip I made the first Google deck that then spread virally throughout the company saying never before in history have, you know, 50 designers in a white 20 to 35 year old engineers who look like me to hold the collective psyche of humanity. And then that presentation was released and about, you know, ten thousand people at Google saw it. It was actually the number one meme within the company. They had this internal thing inside of Google called MoMA that has like people can post, like gifts and memes about various topics.
And it was the number one meme that, hey, we need to talk about this at this week's TGIF, which is the weekly thank God it's Friday type company meeting. It didn't get talked about, but I got emails from across the company saying we definitely need to do something about this.
It was just very hard to get momentum on it. And really the key interface is to change within Google are Chrome and Android, because those are the neutral portals into which you're then using apps and notifications and websites and all of that. Like those are the kind of governments of the attention economy that Google runs.
And when you worked there, did they did you have to use Android or was it part of the requirement to work there?
No, I mean, a lot of people had Android phones. I still used an iPhone was an issue. No, no.
I mean people because they realized that they needed products to work on on all the phones. I mean, if you worked directly on Android, then you would have to use an Android phone.
But we tried to get, you know, some of those things like the screen time features that are now launched, you know, so everyone now has on their phone like it shows you the number of hours or whatever you that on Android as well.
It is, yeah. And actually that came, I think, as a result of this advocacy and that's chipping on a billion dollars, which shows you you can you can change this stuff like that goes against their financial interest.
People spending less time in their phones, getting notifications does. But it doesn't work well. Correct. So it doesn't actually work is the thing. Yeah. And let's separate the intention and the fact that they did it.
It's like cigarettes will tell you it's going to give you cancer, like by the time you're buying them already hooked.
I mean, it's even worse than imagine like every cigarette, cigarette box had like a little pencil. And so you can mark there's like little streaks. It said the number of days in a row you haven't smoked and you could like Mark each day.
It's like it's too late. Right. Like, yeah. It's just the wrong paradigm.
Um, the fundamental thing we have to change is the incentives and how money flows because we want money flowing in the direction of the more these things help us like giving you a concrete example, like let's say you want to learn a musical instrument and you go to YouTube to pick up ukulele or whatever, and you're seeing how to play the ukulele, like from that point in a system that was designed in a humane and sort of time well spent kind of way, it would really ask you instead of saying, here's 20 more videos that are just like suck you down a rabbit hole, it would sort of be more oriented towards what do you really need help with?
Like, do you need to buy ukulele? Here's a link to Amazon to get the ukulele. Are you looking for a ukulele teacher? Let me do a quick scan on your Facebook or Twitter search to find out which of those people are ukulele teachers. Do you need instant like tutoring? Because there's actually the service you never heard of called Skillshare or something like that, where you can get instant ukulele tutoring.
And if we're really designing these things to be about what would most help you next, you know, we're only as good as the menu of choices on life's menu. And right now the menu is here's something else to addict you and keep you hooked instead of here's a next step that would actually be on the trajectory of helping people live their lives better.
You would have to incentivize the companies because there's so much incentive on getting you addicted, because there's so much financial reward. What would be the financial reward that they could have to get you something that would be helpful for you like lessons or this?
I mean, so one way that that could work is like let's say people pay a monthly subscription of, like, I don't know, twenty bucks a month or something.
That's never going to work. I. I get you, but like let's say you pay some you put money into a pot where the policy but then we have the problem. The problem is like the cost of money versus free. Like there was a there's a company that still exists for now that was trying to do the Netflix of podcasting. And they they approached us and they're like, we're just going to get all these people together and they're going to make them.
People are going to pay to use your podcast. Why would they do that when podcasts are free? Yeah, guess that's one of the reasons why podcast work because they're free, right?
When things are free, they're they're attractive. It's easy when things cost money. You have to have something that's extraordinary. Like Netflix. Yeah. Like when you say the Netflix of podcasting. Well, Netflix makes their own shows, right? They said millions of dollars on special effects and all these different things. And they're really like enormous projects.
Right. You're just talking about people talking shit and you want money, right?
Well, the thing things we have to actually deliver something that is totally qualitatively better, but also have to be like someone like you or someone who's really aware of the issues that we're dealing with, with addictions, to social media, to have to say this is this is the best possible alternative. Like in this environment, you are you. Yes. You are paying a certain amount of money per month, but maybe that can get factored into your cell phone bill and maybe with this sort of an ecosystem.
Right. You're no longer being drawn in by your addictions. And, you know, it's not playing for your attention span. It's rewarding you in a very productive way.
And imagine, Joe, if like 15 percent more of your time was just way better spent, like he was actually spent on, you were actually doing the things you cared about and it actually helped improve your life.
Yeah, like, imagine when you use email, if it is truly designed.
I mean, forget email if people don't relate to the emails and that popular.
But whatever it is, that's a huge time sink for you. For me, email is a huge one for me. You know, web browsing or whatever is a big one.
Imagine that those things were so much better designed that I actually wrote back to the write emails and I mostly didn't think about the rest that when I was spending time on, you know, whatever I was spending time on that it was really my mind.
More and more of my life was a life well lived and time well spent. That's like the retrospective view.
I keep going to Apple, but because I think that the only social media or excuse me, the only technology company that does have these ethics to sort of protect privacy. Have you thought about coming to them?
Yeah. Have you?
Well, I mean, I think that they've made great first steps and they were the first, along with Google, to do those the screen time management stuff.
But that was just this barely scratching the surface. Like baby, baby, baby steps we really need them to do is radically reimagine how those incentives and how the phone fundamentally works.
So it's not just all these colorful icons. And one of the problems they do have a disincentive, which is a lot of the revenue comes from gaming.
And as they move more into Apple TV competing with HBO and Hulu and Netflix and that whole thing where they need subscription so that Apple's revenue on devices and hardware is sort of maxing out and where they're going to get their next bout of revenue to keep their stock price up is on these subscriptions.
I'm less concerned with those addictions. I'm less concerned with gaming addictions and information addictions, because at least it's not fundamentally altering your view of the world. Right?
It's growing up. Democracy is yet impossible to agree with.
And this is coming from a person who's had like legitimate video game addictions in the past. Yeah, but like, my wife is addicted to subway server.
Well, I don't know. What is it? That's a crazy game. It's like you're riding on the top of subways. You jumping around. It's like it's really ridiculous, but it's fun to watch, like, whoa.
But I don't fuck with video games, but I watch it and it's those games at least are enjoyable.
There's something silly about it like, oh fuck. And then you start doing it again. When, when I see people getting angry about things on social media, I don't see the upside right. I don't mind them making a profit off games. There is an issue though with games that addict children and then these children. There's like you could spend money on like road blocks and you can, you know, have all these different things you spend money on.
You wind up, you know, having these enormous bills, phone bills. Yeah.
You leave your kid with an iPad and you come back, you have a five hundred dollar bill.
Like, what did you do? Yeah, this is this is an issue for sure. But at least it's not an issue in that it's changing their view of the world.
Right. And I, I feel like there's a way for I keep going back to Apple, but a company like Apple to rethink the way, you know, they already have a walled garden. Right. With our message and FaceTime and all this different come, I can totally build those things out.
I mean, I message in iCloud could be the basis for some new neutral social media based on instant social, political and. Right.
Yes, they could make it easier to share information with small groups of friends and have that all synched. And even, you know, in the pre covid days, I was thinking about Apple a lot. I think you're right, by the way, to to. Really poke on them, I think they're the one company that's in a position to lead on this, and they also have a history of thinking along those lines.
You know, they had this feature that's kind of hidden now. But the find my friends, right? They I'll find my notes all braid together so you can find your devices and find your friends. But in Appre covid world, imagine they really built out the, you know, where are my friends right now? And making it easier to know when you're nearby someone so you can easily more easily get together in person, because right now all the like, to the extent Facebook wants to bring people closer together, they don't want to.
And again, this is pre covid, but they don't want to incentivize lots and lots of Facebook events. They really care about groups that keep people posting it online and looking at ads because of the category of bringing people closer together.
They want to do the online screentime based version of that as opposed to the offline apple. By contrast, if you had little message groups of friends, you could say, hey, does everyone in this little group want to opt into being able to see where each other are, where we all are on, say, weekdays between five and eight p.m. or something like that? So you could, like time bound it and make it easier for serendipitous connection and availability to happen?
That's hard to do. It's hard to design that. But there's things like that that Apple's in a position to do if it really took on that mantle. And I think as people get more and more skeptical of these other products, they're in a better and better position to do that.
One of the antitrust issues is do we want a world where our entire well-being as a society depends on what one massive corporation worth over a trillion dollars does or doesn't do?
Like we need more openness to try different things.
And we're really at the behest of whether one or two companies, Apple or Google, does something more radical.
And there has to be some massive incentive for them to do something that's really going to change. Yeah, the way we interface with these devices and the way we interface with social media. And I don't know what incentive exists. It's more potent than financial incentives.
Well, and this is where the you know, if the government in the same way that we want to transition long term from a fossil fuels oriented economy to to something that that doesn't that that changes the kind of pollution levels.
You know, we have a hugely emitting, you know, society ruining kind of business model of this attention, extractive paradigm.
And we could long term sort of just like a progressive tax on that transition to some other thing. The government could do that. Right. And that's not like who do we censor?
It's how do we incentivise these businesses to pay for the sort of life support systems of society that they've ruined?
A good example of this, I think, in Australia is there I think it's Australia that's regulated, that Google and Facebook have to pay the publishers who they're basically hollowing out, because one of the effects we've not talked about is the way that Google and Facebook have hollowed out the fourth estate in journalism.
I mean, because journalism has turned into and local what news websites can't make any money except by basically producing click bait. So even to the extent that local newspapers exist, they only exist by basically click certification of even lower and lower paid, you know, workers who are just generating content farms.
So anyway, so that's an example of if you force those companies to pay to to revitalize the fourth estate and to make sure we have a very sustainably funded fourth estate that doesn't have to produce this click bait stuff that's that's, you know, another direction.
Yeah, that that's interesting that they have to pay. I mean, these are the wealthiest companies in the history of humanity. So that's the thing. So we shouldn't be cautious about how much they should have to pay because we also don't want it to happen on the other end. Right. You don't want to have a world where, you know, we have Roundup making a crazy amount of money from giving everybody cancer and lymphoma from, you know, the chemicals.
Right. Glyphosate. And then they pay everybody on the other end after a lawsuit of a billion dollars.
But now everyone's got cancer. Let's actually do it in a way. So we don't want a world where Facebook and Google profit off of the erosion of our social fabric and then they pay us back.
How do you quantify how much money they have to pay to journalism? Yeah, it seems like it's almost a form of socialism or.
Yeah, I mean, this is where like that the I.Q. led led example is interesting because they were able to dis incentivize and tax the lead producers because they were able to produce some results on how much this lowered the wage earning potentials of the entire population.
I mean, like how much does this cost our society? We used to say free is the most expensive business model we've ever created because we get the free downgrading of our attention spans, our mental health, our kids like our ability to agree with each other. Our capacity to do anything is a democracy like, yeah, we got all that for free.
Obviously we get lots of benefits and I want to acknowledge that. But that's just not sustainable. The real question, I mean, right now we're. We have huge existential probably have a global competition power competition going on. I think China just passed the GDP of the U.S. I believe there is.
You know, if we care about the U.S. having a future in which it can lead the world in some meaningful and enlightened way, we have to deal with this problem.
And we have to have a world where digital democracy outcompetes digital authoritarianism, which is the China model.
And right now that builds more coherence and is more efficient and doesn't evolve the way that our current system, you know, does. I think Taiwan, Estonia and countries like that where they are doing digital democracies are good examples that we can learn from, but we are behind right now.
Well, China also has a really fascinating situation with Huawei, where Google is banned. Weiwei So you can't have Google applications on Huawei. So now we're always creating their own operating system and they have their own ecosystem now that they're building up.
And that's you know, it's weird that there's only a few different operating systems now. I mean, there's a very small amount of people that are using Linux phones. Yeah. Then you have a large amount of people using Android and iPhones. And if China becomes. The first to adopt their own operating system, and then they have even more unchecked rules and regulations in regards to the influence they have over their people with an operating system that they've developed and they control.
And who knows what kind of back doors and spying? Tons.
Yeah, it's. It's weird, yeah, when when you see this, do you feel like it feels so futile for me on the outside looking and looking, but you you're working on this, how long do you anticipate there's going to be a part of your life?
I mean, what does it feel like to you? I mean, it's not easy, right? The film ends with this question. Do you think we're going to get there?
Yeah, I just say we have to like I mean, if you care about this going well, I wake up every day and I ask, what will it take for this whole thing to go? Well, like and how do we just orient each of our choices as much as possible towards this going? Well, we have a whole bunch of problems.
I do look a lot at the environmental issues, the permafrost, methane bombs, like the timelines that we have to deal with. Certain problems are crunching. And we also have certain dangerous exponential technologies that are emerging, decentralization of, you know, CRISPR. And like there's a lot of existential threats.
I hang out with lot with the sort of existential threats community. It's going to take must be a lot of fun. It's there's a lot of psychological problems in that community, actually, a lot of depression. There's some of the suicide as well.
It's it's you know, it's it's hard. But I think we each have a responsibility when you see this stuff to say, what will it take for this to go? Well, and I will say that really seeing the film impact people the way that it has. I used to feel like, oh, my God, how are we ever going to do this? No one cares like a lot of people know. At the very least, we now have about 50, 40 to 50 million people who are at least introduced to the problem.
The question is, how do we harness them into a collective movement? And that's what we're trying to do next.
I mean, I'll say also these issues get more and more weird over time.
Co-founders are asking will say that it's making reality more and more virtual over time because we haven't talked about how as technology advances at hacking our weaknesses, we start to prefer it over the real thing. We start, for example, there's a recent company, VC funded raids like these where they got over one hundred twenty five million dollars. And what they make are virtual influencers.
So these are like virtual people, virtual video that is more entertaining, more interesting.
And in that, fans like more than real people.
Oh, boy. And it's kind of related to the kind of deep fake world, right, we're like people prefer this to the real thing. And Sherry Turkle, you know, has been working in MIT, wrote the book Reclaiming Conversation and Alone Together. She's been talking about this forever, that over time, humans will prefer connection to robots and bots and the computer generated thing more than the real thing. Think about A.I. generated music being more. It'll start to sweeten our taste buds and give us exactly that thing we're looking for better than we will know ourselves.
Just like YouTube can give us the perfect next video that actually every bone in our body will say, actually, I kind of do want to watch that, even though it's a machine pointed at my brain calculating the next thing.
There's an example from Microsoft writing this chatbot called Shaways. I couldn't pronounce it that after nine weeks people preferred that chatbot to their real friends.
And 25 or 10, 10 to 25 percent of their users actually said, I love you to the chat bot.
Oh, boy. And that there are several who actually said that it convinced them not to commit suicide to have this relationship with this chatbot. So it's her. It's her. The movie. Exactly.
Which is so all these things at the same time, we're veering into a direction where technology, if it if it's so good at meeting these underlying Palaeolithic emotions that we have, the way out of it is we have to see that this is what's going on.
We have to see and reckon with ourselves. And this is how I work. I have this negativity bias. If I get those 99 comments and ones one's positive comments and one's negative, my mind is going to go to the negative.
I don't see that I see you in the future wearing an overcoat. You're you are literally Laurence Fishburne in The Matrix trying to tell people to wake up.
Well, that's there's a line in the social dilemma when I say, how do you wake up from The Matrix if you don't know you're in The Matrix?
That is the issue. Right. And I even in The Matrix, we at least had a shared matrix. The problem now is that in The Matrix, each of us have our own matrix. That's the real kicker.
I struggle with the idea that this is all inevitable because this is a natural course of progression with technology and that it's sort of figuring out the best way to. To have us with is little resistance, embed ourselves into its system and that our ideas are what we are with emotions and with our biological issues.
This is just how life is and this is how life always should be. But this is just all we've ever known. It's all we've ever known.
Einstein didn't write into the laws of physics that social media has to exist for human rights. We've gotten rid of the environmental movement is a really interesting example because we passed all sorts of laws.
We got rid of lead.
We've changed from some of our pesticides.
You know, we're slow on some of these things and corporate interests and asymmetric power of large corporations, you know, which I want to say markets and capitalism are great, because when you have asymmetric power for predatory systems that that cause harm, they're not going to terminate themselves. They have to be bound in by the public, by culture, by by the by the state.
And we just have to point to the examples where we've done that. And in this case, I think the the problem is that how much of our stock market is built on the back of like five companies generating a huge amount of wealth. So this is similar.
I don't mean to make this example, but there's a great book by Adam Hochschild called Bury the Chains, which is about the British abolition of slavery, in which he talks about how for the British Empire, like if you think about it, when when we collectively wake up and say this is an abhorrent practice, that has to end. But then at that time, in the seventeen, eighteen hundreds in Britain, slavery was what powered the entire economy. It was free labour for, you know, a huge percentage of the economy.
So if you say we can't do this anymore, we have to stop this.
How do you decouple when your entire economy is based on slavery? Right.
And the book is actually inspiring because it tracks a collective movement that was through networked all these different groups, the Quakers in the U.S., the people testifying before parliament, the former slaves who did first hand accounts, the graphics and art of all the people who never seen what it looked like on a slave ship.
And so by making the invisible, visceral and showing just how abhorrent this stuff was through a period of about 60 to 70 years, the British Empire had to drop their GDP by two percent every year for 60 years and willing to do that to get off of slavery.
Now, I'm not making a moral equivalence.
Want to be really clear for you, taking things out of context, but just that it's possible for us to do something that isn't just in the interest of economic growth. And I think that's the real challenge. That's actually something that should be on the agenda, which is how do we. One of the major tensions is economic growth, you know, being in conflict with dealing with some with many of our problems, whether it's some of the environmental issues or, you know, with some of the technology issues we're talking about right now, artificial intelligence is something that people are terrified of as an existential threat.
They think of it as one day you're going to turn something on and it's going to be sentient, is going to be able to create other forms of artificial intelligence that are exponentially more powerful than the one that we created and that will have unleashed this beast that we cannot control.
What my concern is with already goes. Yeah, that's my concern. My concern is that this is a slow acceptance of drowning.
Yeah, it's like a slower OK, I'm only up to my knees. It's fine. Just my waist high.
It's like a rock and boiling water. Exactly. Exactly. It seems like. This is like humans have to fight back to reclaim our autonomy and free will from the machines. I mean, one one clear.
OK, Neal, this is very much the matrix is one of my favorite lines is actually when the Oracle says Teneo and don't worry about the vaisse and he says, what face? And he knocks it over is that face. And so it's like she's the A.I. who sees so many moves ahead in the chessboard, she can say something which will cause him to do the thing that verifies the thing that she predicted would happen. Yeah, that's what I was doing now, except it's pointed at our nervous system and figuring out the perfect thing to dangle in front of our dopamine system and get the thing to happen, which instead of knocking off the bases to be outraged at the other political side and be fully certain that you're right, even though it's just a machine that's calculating shit that's going to make you, you know, do the thing when you're concerned about this.
How much time do you spend thinking about simulation theory, the simulation?
Yeah, the idea that it if not currently, one day there will be a simulation that's indiscernible from regular reality. And it seems we're on that path. I don't know if you mess around with VR at all, but.
Well, this is the point about, you know, the virtual chat bots out competing, the for example, the technology, you know, I mean, that's what's happening is that reality is getting more and more virtual because we interact with a virtual news system. That's all of this sort of click bait economy outrage machine. That's already a virtual pollet political environment that then translates into real world action, then becomes real. And that's the weird feedback.
Go back to 1990, whatever it was when the Internet became mainstream or at least started becoming mainstream and the small amount of time that it took the 20 plus years to get to where we are now and then think what? What about the virtual world?
And once this becomes something that's it has the same sort of rate of growth that the Internet has experienced or that we have experienced through the Internet. I mean, we're looking at like 20 years from now being unrecognizable. Yeah, we're looking at I mean, it's it almost seems like that is what life does. The same way bees create beehives. You know, a caterpillar doesn't know what the fuck's going on when it gets into that cocoon, but it's becoming a butterfly.
Yeah, we seem to be a thing that creates newer and better objects. Correct? More effective.
But we have to realize A.I. is not conscious and won't be conscious the way we are. And so many people think that. But is consciousness essential?
I think so. To us, I don't know.
Essentially, in sense, we're the only ones who have it now. I don't know that I know very well there might be more.
Yeah. Things that have consciousness.
But is it essential? I mean, it's the to the extent that choice exists, it would exist through some kind of consciousness as choice. Is choice essential.
It's essential to us as we know it, like is life as we know it. But my worry is that we're inessential like we're thinking now, like single celled organisms being like, hey, I don't want to gang up with a bunch of other people and become an object that can walk.
I like being a single celled organism. There's a lot of fun.
I mean, I hear you saying, you know, are we a bootloader or the A.I. that then runs Elon's? That's Ilene's.
Yeah. Perspective. I mean, I think this is a really dangerous way to think. I mean, we have to. Yeah. So are we then this just for us. Yeah.
I mean, but what if the next version of the knife is but the next version being run by machines that have no values, that don't care, that don't have choice and are just maximizing for things that were programmed in by our little miniature brains anyway.
But they don't cry, they don't commit suicide, but then consciousness in life dies. That could be the future.
I think this is the last chance to try to snap out of that.
And is it important in the eyes of the universe that we do that? I don't know. It feels important. How does it feel to you? Feels important.
But I'm I'm a monkey. You know, the monkeys like to stand in this tree, man. You guys are out of your fucking mind.
I mean, this is the weird paradox of being human, is that, again, we have these lower level emotions. We care about social approval. We can't not care.
At the same time, like I said, there's this weird proposition here. We're the only species that if this were to happen to us, we would have the self-awareness to even know that it was happening. Right. Like we can concept like this to our interview, we can conceptualize that this this thing has happened to us, right. That we have built this matrix, this external object which has like A.I. and supercomputers and voodoo doll versions of each of us.
And it has perfectly figured out how to predictably move each of us in this matrix.
Let me propose this to you. We are what we are now, human beings, Homo sapiens in 2020. We are this thing that if you believe in evolution, I'm pretty sure you do. We've evolved over the course of millions of years to become who we are right now.
Should we stop right here? Are we done? No. Right. We should keep evolving.
What does that look like?
What does it look like if we go ahead, just forget about social media?
What would you like us to be in a thousand years or a hundred thousand years or 500000 years? You certainly wouldn't want us to be what we are right now, right? No one would know.
I mean, I think this is what visions of Star Trek and things like that we're trying to ask, right. Like, hey, let's imagine humans do make it and we become the most enlightened we can be. And we actually somehow make peace with these other alien tribes and we figure out, you know, space travel and all of that.
I mean, actually a good heuristic that I think people can ask is on an enlightened planet where we did figure this out, what would that have looked like?
Isn't it always weird that those movies, it's people are just people, but they're in some weird future, but they have really changed that much.
Right, I mean, which is to say that the fundamental way that we work is just unchanging, but there are such things as more why societies, more sustainable societies more peaceful or harmonious societies by genes. Ultimately, biologically, we have to evolve as well.
But our version of the best version is probably the grey aliens, right?
Maybe so. I mean, the ultimate future. I mean, we're going to get into gene editing and becoming more perfect, perfect on the sense of, you know, that. But we are going to start optimizing these and for what are the outcomes that we value?
I think the question is how do we actually come up with brand new values that are wiser than we've ever thought of before that actually are able to transcend the win lose games that lead to omni lose lose, that everyone loses if we keep playing the win lose game at greater and greater scales.
I, like you, have a vested interest in the biological existence of human beings. I think people are pretty cool. I love being around them. I enjoy talking to you today. To my fear is that we are. We're we're a Model T, right, you know, and there's there's no sense in making those fucking things anymore. The breaks are terrible. They smell like shit when you drive them. They don't go very fast. We need a better version.
You know, the funny thing is there's a quote by someone I think, like, I wish I could remember it.
It's something about how much would be solved if we were at peace with ourselves, like if we were able to just be OK with nothing like just being OK with living and breathing. Hmm. I don't mean to be, you know, playing the New Age card. I just genuinely mean how much of our lives is just running away from, you know, anxiety and discomfort and aversion. It is, but, you know, in that sense, some of the most satisfied and happy people or people that live a subsistence living have these subsistence existences in the middle of nowhere, just chopping trees and catching fish.
Right. And more connection, probably. Yeah. Authentic than something else.
I think that probably resonates biologically, too, because of the history of human beings living like that is just so much longer and greater.
Totally. And I think that those are more sustainable societies.
We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves. Dalai Lama. Yeah, but I don't buy that guy. You know that guy.
He's he's an interesting case.
I was thinking there was a different slightly different quote. But actually there's one quote that I would love to if it's one of the reasons why I don't buy him.
He's just chosen. They just chose that guy. Yeah. Also, he doesn't have sex.
How how. Yeah. How much can you be enjoying life if that's not not a part of tomorrow.
You wear the same outfit every day. The fuck out of here. Your orange robes.
Can I there's a there's a really important quote that I think would really be good to share. It's from the book. Have you read Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman Know from 1980 to know so especially when we get into big tech and we talk about censorship a lot and we talk about Orwell.
He's this really wonderful opening to this book written in 1982. It literally predicts everything that's going on now. I frankly think that I'm adding nothing and it's really just Neil Postman called it all in 1982.
He had this great opening, it says. Let's see, we are all looking out for, you know, 1984, when the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans saying softly in praise of themselves, the roots of liberal democracy had held. This is like we made it through the 1984 gap. Wherever else the terror had happened, we at least had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's Dark Vision, there was another slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling vision of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
Contrary to common belief, even among the educated Huxley and Orwell did not prophecy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will become overwhelmed, overcome by an externally imposed oppression.
But in Huxley's vision, no big brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity or history.
As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities, to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books, what Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.
Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information, Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we'd be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us, Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture, but Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies and the orgy porgie in the centrifugal bumble puppy. Don't know what that means, as Huxley remarked in Brave New World, or visited the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions.
Lastly, in 1984, Orwell added, People are all people are controlled by inflicting pain in brave new world. They are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.
Isn't that good?
That's that's the best way to end this.
God damn. But again, if we can become aware that this is what's happened, we're the only species with the capacity to see that our own psychology, our own emotions, our own Paleolithic evolutionary system has been hijacked.
I like that you're optimistic. We have to be if we if we want to remain people, we have to. Optimism is probably the only way to live in a meat suit body and keep going otherwise. It certainly helps.
Yeah, certainly helps. Thank you very much for being here. Man, I really enjoy this, even though I'm really depressed now. I really don't want you to be depressed. I really hope people you know, I'm kidding. We not we really want to build a movement.
And, you know, we're just I wish I could give people more resources. We do have a podcast called Your Undivided Attention, and we're trying to build a movement at human tech dotcom.
But we'll listen to any new revelations or new developments that you have. I'd be more than happy to have you on again. We'll talk about them and send them to me and I'll put them on social media and whatever you need, I'm here to help. Awesome.
Great, great to resist breeziness together. Humanity, resist humanity. We're in this together. Thank you, Tristan. I really, really appreciate it. Goodbye, everybody. Thank you, my friends, for tuning in to the show. And thank you. To quip, start getting rewards for brushing your teeth today and go to get quipped dotcom slash Rogen right now to get your first refill for free. Let's get your first refill for free and get quip dotcom slash Rogen spell get QIP Dotcom Slash Rogen quip better oral health made simple and rewarding.
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