Monthly Archives: June 2023

Currents 099: Samuel Scarpino on Preparing for the Next Pandemic

Jim talks with Samuel Scarpino about what we’ve learned from Covid-19 and how to apply those lessons to preparing for the next pandemic. They discuss takeaways from cross-national comparisons, the social misery index, the failure to control the spread in the U.S., the efficacy of border closure, the test-trace-isolate strategy, what the U.S. should be ready to do in the event of the Big One, capacity for rapid test development, how universities responded in the first wave, Covid as a warning shot, local & federal coordination for pandemic preparedness, the effectiveness of ventilation, airport surveillance, wastewater surveillance, novel pathogen tests, the information chain, educating bureaucrats, leaders who can build public trust, vaccine hesitancy, overconfidence in the speed of mRNA vaccine development, the poor implementation of digital contact tracing, instating a constitutional provision for a first-class emergency, the boringness of good governance, putting vaccines in the public domain, pre-planning scenarios, how a preparedness initiative can pay for itself, and much more.
Samuel V. Scarpino, PhD, is the Director of AI + Life Sciences at the Institute for Experiential AI at Northeastern University and a Professor of the Practice in Health and Computer Sciences. He holds appointments in the Institute for Experiential AI and the Network Science, Global Resilience, and Roux Institutes. Prior to joining Northeastern in November 2022, Scarpino was the Vice President of Pathogen Surveillance at The Rockefeller Foundation and Chief Strategy Officer at Dharma Platform (a social impact, technology startup). Outside of these roles, he has over 10 years of experience translating research into decision support and data science/AI tools across diverse sectors from public health and clinical medicine to real estate and energy.

Currents 098: Damien Walter on Science Fiction and the Rhetoric of Story

Jim talks with Damien Walter about science fiction and the mechanics of myth. They discuss the roles of pathos & ethos in science fiction, Damien’s lifelong fascination with sci-fi, the symbolon of “science fiction,” Star Trek vs Star Wars, categorizing Star Wars, Asimov’s idea of psychohistory, The Lord of the Rings & the value of myth, the Inklings literary group, the metaphysics of Tolkien, fostering a creator culture, creating as an alternative to consumption, Jim’s Script Helper program & opening the door to creativity, the collapse of status competition to money & beauty, the corporate entertainment franchise, collaborative virtual world-making, addictive games & porn, the highjacking of the red pill metaphor, Pavlovian conditioning in games, positioning between the most virtuous & the most evil, the way that evil eats itself, a book recommendation, systems novels, science fiction as philosophy fiction, the novels of Neal Stephenson, and much more.

Damien Walter is a writer and a storyteller who has written for The Guardian, the BBC, Wired, The Independent, Aeon, and others. He teaches The Rhetoric of Story and Writing the 21st-Century Myth to over 35,000 students worldwide, and is the host of the Science Fiction Podcast.


EP 189 Forrest Landry on Civilization Design

Forrest Landry
Jim talks with recurring guest Forrest Landry about civilization design. They discuss the meaning of the concept, toolkits for problem-solving, why this work matters now, local hill-climbing, preconditions for sustainability, cultivating an epistemic commons, non-relativistic ethics, value ethics, grounding good choices in relationship, the endurance of cities, how metaphysics provides a foundation for ethics, going beyond explore & exploit, accounting for human nature, transmission of cultural dynamics, having a complete value set, 3 dimensions of human relationship, the invention of monogamy, moving away from sexual egalitarianism, making the unconscious conscious, the balance between cooperation & competition, finding the right level of consideration, absolute & relative metrics, subsidiarity, making choices on the basis of desire, societal congruence levels, what folks should do to start building a better civilization, femoral group process, transcendental design, and much more.

Forrest Landry is a philosopher, writer, researcher, scientist, engineer, craftsman, and teacher focused on metaphysics, the manner in which software applications, tools, and techniques influence the design and management of very large scale complex systems, and the thriving of all forms of life on this planet. Forrest is also the founder and CEO of Magic Flight, a third-generation master woodworker who found that he had a unique set of skills in large-scale software systems design. Which led him to work in the production of several federal classified and unclassified systems, including various FBI investigative projects, TSC, IDW, DARPA, the Library of Congress Congressional Records System, and many others.

Currents 097: Frank Lantz on Network Wars and Games

Jim talks with Frank Lantz, game designer and director of the Game Center at New York University, about Network Wars and the art of game-making. They discuss Frank’s first reaction to Network Wars, how the game works, elegance in game design, the simplest possible expression of an idea, Frank’s overall score record, high stochasticity in the combat results, the combination of high skill & high variance, the tendency to bend randomness in favor of the player’s instincts, learning from poker, whether there are some setups that you can’t win, being rewarded for understanding the mechanics, climbing the ladder of heuristics, semi-tractable problems, how games demonstrate the world’s complexity, network topology games, deterministic AIs, heuristics of Network Wars, connection games, the prisoner’s dilemma, choosing not to optimize, a Presbyterian universe, the idea of human vs human Network Wars, new games with the same underlying dynamics, the doubling cube, games that incentivize creativity, how Network Wars kept Frank sane in a difficult time, games as the art form of problem solving, the power of games to help us understand, and much more.

Frank Lantz is a game designer with a focus on exploring emerging technology to create new kinds of gameplay. He is the Founding Chair of the NYU Game Center, the co-founder of Area/Code Games (acquired by Zynga in 2011), the co-founder of Everybody House Games and the creator of the game Universal Paperclips. He has taught game design for over 20 years at New York University, Parsons School of Design, and the School of Visual Arts and has created numerous influential talks and writings on the subject of games. His book The Beauty of Games will be published by MIT Press in October of 2023.

EP 188 Robert Tercek on Intellectual Property in the Time of AI

Robert Tercek
Jim talks with Robert Tercek about the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike and intellectual property rights in the era of generative AI. They discuss Los Angeles as a union town, Jim’s screenwriting helper software, likely impacts of AI on writers, the history of Hollywood union negotiations, the devaluation of human labor & humanity, motion picture companies of the future, the suit against Stable Diffusion, whether copyright laws will present obstacles to model-building, fair use, licensing, whether AIs “copy” works, knockoff Wes Anderson film trailers, AI’s threat to social media influencers, the rate of progress toward text-to-video systems, why ChatGPT empowers writers in the near term, the end of copyright extensions & why shorter terms enrich the commons, the U.S. Copyright Office’s guidance on non-human-generated works, the Errol Flynn defense, the percentage of jobs destroyed each year, AI for child self-education, and much more.

Robert Tercek is a global authority on the process of dematerialization and digital innovation. He is an award-winning author, entrepreneur, and educator. He is highly sought as a keynote speaker at international conferences, and he is the co-host of The Futurists podcast. Tercek is the founder and CEO of General Creativity, a consulting agency that specializes in digital transformation and long-term strategic planning. Previously, he served in senior executive leadership roles at motion picture studios, television networks, and software companies, where he supervised the launch of pioneering digital services that are now used by hundreds of millions of people every day.

Currents 096: Jim & Michael Garfield Talk About Everything

Jim has an extremely wide-ranging discussion with Michael Garfield. They discuss the upcoming book Michael is drafting in public, the exponential scaling of information production, Jurassic Park, mass distributed computation, a new topology for social connectivity, info agents, stereotyping & police violence, a dehumanizing pace of human interaction, Charles Stross’s prophetic visions, heuristic induction, strong vs weak social links, restoration of the mesoscale, from the geographic polity to the noetic, the importance of the ground layer, semi-permeable membranes with commons inside them, Pokemon Go & behavioral control, generative AI & intellectual property, creating a commons to benefit culture, circular economies, dividend money & usury, high-temperature search, a future of childlike play, and much more.

Michael will be hosting an interactive course with Jeremy Johnson, titled “Jurassic Worlding,” beginning on July 18. Those interested should keep an eye on

Join the Jurassic Park book club and help Michael research and workshop his next book, Jurassic Worlding: A Palaeontology of The Present, at Michael’s Substack.

EP 187 Carlos Perez on A Pattern Language for Generative AI

Jim talks with Carlos Perez about the ideas in his new book A Pattern Language for Generative AI: A Self-Generating GPT-4 Blueprint. They discuss GPT-4’s ability to introspect on its capabilities, Christopher Alexander’s idea of a pattern language, pattern language design, Jim’s script-writing program, moving beyond ChatGPT to the OpenAI API, managing the context window, chain of thought prompting, the skyhook effect, the value of using tables, creation patterns, input-output pairs, the power of examples, punctuation, cloze prompts, compressing text, the mystery of LLM capabilities, an explanation for state emulation, the system prompt, explainability patterns, meta-levels of language, procedural patterns, design thinking prompts, the idea of a GPTpedia, composite patterns, in-painting vs out-painting, corrective patterns, 6 thinking hats, attribute listing prompts, problem restatements, inverted interaction, multiple-discipline prompts, modularity patterns, ChatGPT plugins, katas & meditations, and much more.

Carlos E. Perez is a seasoned software architect and developer with 30 years of experience in bringing software systems from concept to production. He has authored books on Artificial Intuition, Fluency, and Empathy, with a primary focus on applying semiotic methods in Deep Learning. Carlos holds a Master’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Massachusetts and has U.S. patents in expert systems and social networks.