EP 215 Cody Moser on Inequality and Innovation

Jim talks with Cody Moser about the ideas and findings in his and Paul Smaldino’s paper “Innovation-Facilitating Networks Create Inequality.” They discuss transient diversity, group performance vs the agent level, taking an agent-based modeling approach, Derex & Boyd’s group potion-mixing experiment, no free lunch theorem, random network structures, an inverse correlation between network connectivity & performance, effects of sharing intermediate results, Fisher’s fundamental theorem of natural selection, measuring inequality with the Gini coefficient, higher performance in less equal networks, connected caveman networks, ring networks, Ashby’s good regulator theorem, exploration vs exploitation, randomly allocating lifetime endowed academic chairs to 25-year-olds, institutional design, generative entrenchment, implications for internet platform design, the parochial pyramid, tribalism at the Dunbar number, and much more.
Cody Moser is a PhD student in the Department of Cognitive and Information Sciences. His research examines the origins of individual and institutional behavior where he uses approaches from complex systems and evolutionary dynamics to study collective problem-solving, systems collapse, cultural evolution, and innovation. Before coming to UC Merced, he studied primatology where he worked with capuchin monkeys, dwarf and mouse lemurs, lorises, and aye-ayes. He obtained a B.S. in Anthropology with minors in statistics and biology from Florida State University, a Master’s in Anthropology from Texas A&M University, and worked for two years with The Music Lab in the Harvard Department of Psychology. He is interested in the history and philosophy of science and has written for a number of popular science venues on the applications of research from his field.

EP 214 Douglas Rushkoff on Leaving Social Media

Jim talks with Douglas Rushkoff about the ideas in his podcast monologue/Substack post “Why I’m Finally Leaving X and Probably All Social Media.” They discuss Douglas’s history with social media, the early social internet, Facebook’s parasitism of legacy news, the decontextualization of content, The WELL, owning your own words, leaving Facebook in 2013, Jim’s social media sabbaticals, the opportunity to create an info agent, the number of daily interruptions, attention-deficit disorder as an adaptive strategy, books versus articles, effects of long-term social media use, the quest for nominal identity, how careful curation improves X, using social media as a professional writer, the organic in-between, strong vs weak social links, the ability of strong links to hold & metabolize, how the internet spawns billionaires, airline subsidies, Girardian mimesis, liberal universal humanism, rebuilding embodied life at the Dunbar number, John Vervaeke’s “religion that is not a religion,” starting where you are, and much more.

Named one of the “world’s ten most influential intellectuals” by MIT, Douglas Rushkoff is an author and documentarian who studies human autonomy in a digital age. His twenty books include the just-published Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires, as well as the recent Team Human, based on his podcast, and the bestsellers Present ShockThrowing Rocks at the Google BusProgram or Be ProgrammedLife Inc, and Media Virus. He also made the PBS Frontline documentaries Generation LikeThe Persuaders, and Merchants of Cool. His book Coercion won the Marshall McLuhan Award, and the Media Ecology Association honored him with the first Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity.

Rushkoff’s work explores how different technological environments change our relationship to narrative, money, power, and one another. He coined such concepts as “viral media,” “screenagers,” and “social currency,” and has been a leading voice for applying digital media toward social and economic justice. He is a research fellow of the Institute for the Future, and founder of the Laboratory for Digital Humanism at CUNY/Queens, where he is a Professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics. He is a columnist for Medium, and his novels and comics, Ecstasy ClubA.D.D, and Aleister & Adolf, are all being developed for the screen.

EP 213 Robin Hanson on Declining Fertility Rates

Jim talks with Robin Hanson about the ideas in his recent Substack writings on human fertility rates. They discuss why the fertility rate is important, fertility decline as a harbinger of societal decline, how income impacts fertility rate, investing in status markers vs fertility, runaway selection effects, copying elites, absolute vs relative levels of wealth, South Korea’s low fertility rate, implications of the decline, losing scale economies, pay-as-you-go retirement plans, innovation as linear to population, effects of declining innovation, likely dominant ethnicities of the future, insular high-fertility religious communities, what happens in a scenario of worldwide population decline, the main trends causing low fertility, high-effort parenting standards, legal protections for religious groups, capstone vs cornerstone marriages, learning from the winners, Robin’s childhood cult experience, promoting less crazy insular subcultures, and much more.

Robin Hanson is an Associate Professor of Economics, and received his Ph.D in 1997 in social sciences from Caltech. He joined George Mason’s economics faculty in 1999 after completing a two-year post-doc at U.C Berkely. His major fields of interest include health policy, regulation, and formal political theory.

EP 212 Joy Hirsch on How the Brain Responds to Zoom

Jim talks with Joy Hirsch about the findings in her paper “Separable Processes for Live ‘In-Person’ and Live ‘Zoom-like’ Faces,” which explores how humans respond at the neural level to Zoom calls versus in-person interactions. They discuss the advantages of near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) & how it works, the speed of imaging, brain imaging for social interactions, what fNIRS can do that fMRI can’t, previous work on face processing, the design of the experiment, controlling for distance, angles, & presence, the data collection process, longer eye fixation in in-person interactions, increased pupil size compared with Zoom calls, differences in neural activity between groups, EEG findings, decreased neural synchrony in Zoom interactions, what the results might indicate, social media & strength of social links, how this research might be used to make video calls more brain-friendly, and much more.

Joy Hirsch is the Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor of Psychiatry, Comparative Medicine, and Neuroscience; and the Director of the Brain Function Laboratory at Yale School of Medicine. The overarching goal of her research is to understand the fundamental neural mechanisms that underlie live interactive social behaviors between individuals. Her laboratory has developed multi-modal two-person neuroimaging technology based on near infrared spectroscopy, fNIRS, configured for real-time live face-to-face and dialogue interactions between humans.

EP 211 Ben Goertzel on Generative AI vs. AGI

Jim talks with recurring guest Ben Goertzel about the ideas in his paper “Generative AI vs. AGI: The Cognitive Strengths and Weaknesses of Modern LLMs.” They discuss the exponential acceleration of AI development, why LLMs by themselves won’t lead to AGI, OpenAI’s integrative system, skyhooking, why LLMs may be useful for achieving AGI, solving LLM hallucinations, why Google hasn’t replicated GPT-4, LLM-tuning lore, what differentiates AGI from other forms of AI,  conceptualizing general intelligence, Weaver’s theory of open-ended intelligence, multiple intelligence, the Turing test & the Minsky prize, what LLMs aren’t good at, the danger of defining AGI as whatever LLMs can’t do, the derivative & imitative character of LLMs, banality, doing advanced math with GPT-4, why the human brain doesn’t form arbitrary abstractions, the duality of heuristics & abstractions, adding recurrence to transformers, OpenCog Hyperon, using a weighted labeled metagraph, orienting toward self-reflection & self-rewriting, the challenge of scalability of infrastructure, acceleration on non-LLM projects, and much more.

Dr. Ben Goertzel is a cross-disciplinary scientist, entrepreneur and author.  Born in Brazil to American parents, in 2020 after a long stretch living in Hong Kong he relocated his primary base of operations to a rural island near Seattle. He leads the SingularityNET Foundation, the OpenCog Foundation, and the AGI Society which runs the annual Artificial General Intelligence conference. Dr. Goertzel’s research work encompasses multiple areas including artificial general intelligence, natural language processing, cognitive science, machine learning, computational finance, bioinformatics, virtual worlds, gaming, parapsychology, theoretical physics and more. He also chairs the futurist nonprofit Humanity+,  serves as Chief Scientist of AI firms  Rejuve, Mindplex, Cogito and Jam Galaxy, all parts of the SingularityNET ecosystem, and serves as keyboardist and vocalist in the Jam Galaxy Band, the first-ever band led by a humanoid robot.

EP 210 Frank Lantz on the Beauty of Games

Jim talks with Frank Lantz about the ideas in his new book, The Beauty of Games. They discuss Frank’s analysis of Benjamin Soule’s arcade game Serpentes, reflecting on the enjoyment of games, panicking & choking, levels of understanding, Jim and his wife’s experience playing Othello, Hanabi, partnership games, games as an aesthetic form, art vs aesthetics, playing for its own sake, thinking & doing, fulfilling the desire to be a coherent agent in the world, the performance of desire, games as systems, heuristics, strategy in military games, a game as a series of interesting decisions, overindexing on the flow state, going up the ladder of heuristics, maximizing for rate of learning, systems literacy, games as an art form for nerds, 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.

EP 209 C. Owen Paepke on the Purple Presidency

Jim talks with C. Owen Paepke in part three of a mini-series on the No Labels potential third-party presidential campaign. They discuss Owen’s early chemistry career, being without a political party, the situation of voting against instead of for candidates, the distribution of conservatism between parties over time, the Ross Perot 1992 campaign, the nomination of Antonin Scalia, primaries as the root of all partisan evil, the 2022 elections, the percentage of voters who want neither Biden nor Trump, the value of vetoing spending bills, solving the electrical storage problem, No Labels’ commitment to pulling a spoiler candidate, what spoiling means, No Labels’ visibility problem, possible candidates, the timing of the convention, the desire to avoid gamesmanship, recent Biden vs Trump polls, and much more.
C. Owen Paepke is the author of The Evolution of Progress (named best nonfiction book of 1993 by NPR’s Talk of the Nation) and the three-volume series The Seinfeld Election, which was praised by reviewers as “a provocative investigation into the American political divide.” He has written and spoken widely on technology and science policy, including a keynote address on the future of science to the fiftieth-anniversary meeting of the Federation of American Scientists and a speech on the prospects for technological and economic progress at the Smithsonian Institution. He lives in Arizona, where he practiced for many years as an attorney specializing in antitrust and intellectual property, and is a graduate of Stanford and the University of Chicago.

EP 208 Jack Visnjic on Anacyclosis

Jim talks with Jack Visnjic, aka Lantern Jack, about Polybius’s theory of anacyclosis and cyclical history. They discuss the origins of the name Lantern Jack, cyclical patterns in history, a one-minute history of the first millennium B.C., public gain vs private gain, Polybius’s concept of anacyclosis, great man theory vs processes & institutions, examples of anacyclosis, whether Rome was ever a democracy, critiques of anacyclosis, corruption & collective reaction, imperialistic growth, the Glorious Revolution in 1688, why Spain & France didn’t transition to aristocracy, anacyclosis in the modern world, Polybius’s influence on the Founding Fathers of the U.S., the impressiveness of the Founding Fathers, mobocracy, fighting to the death over second- and third-order issues, the crisis epoch, factional division as a feature not a bug, and much more.
Jack Visnjic is a classicist and historian of philosophy interested in uncovering long-term patterns in history. He earned his PhD from Princeton University with a dissertation on the origins of the notion of moral duty. He later expanded that project into a book titled The Invention of Duty: Stoicism as Deontology. For several years he was director of research at the Anacyclosis Institute, a think tank which seeks to understand the trajectory of modern democracy by studying the long history of democracies. And his biggest passion is his podcast Ancient Greece Declassified, through which he strives to make the Classics accessible and relevant to a broad audience.

EP 207 Paul Watson on Adventures in Eco-Activism

Jim talks with Paul Watson about his recent book Hit Man for the Kindness Club: High Seas Escapades and Heroic Adventures of an Eco-Activist. They discuss an early friendship with a family of beavers, cruelty to animals, the Kindness Club, moral commitments, rescuing cattle from a slaughterhouse, less cow farts & more whale poop, the 3 laws of ecology, the issue of eating animals, the growth of the vegetarian/vegan movement, an occupation at Stanley Park, co-founding Greenpeace, the strategy of aggressive non-violence, killing baby Hitler, painting baby seals, creating Whale Wars, history of the whaling moratorium, the absence of enforcement, Canada’s Seal Protection Act, Edward Abbey, the Southern Ocean campaigns, escaping arrest in Germany, targeting illegal activities, inventing tree spiking, the importance of good legal defense, funding sources, founding Sea Shepherd, current pursuits, and much more.

Captain Paul Watson is a marine wildlife conservation and environmental activist. Watson was one of the founding members and directors of Greenpeace. In 1977, he left Greenpeace and founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. A renowned speaker, accomplished author, master mariner, and lifelong environmentalist, Captain Watson has been awarded many honors for his dedication to the oceans and to the planet.

EP 206 Ryan Clancy on No Labels

Jim talks with Ryan Clancy, the chief strategist for No Labels, in the second of a 3-part series exploring different aspects of the No Labels possible third-party presidential campaign. They discuss the origins & history of the campaign, the idea of an independent unity presidential ticket, increasing polarization, realistic energy policy, avoiding a second Trump term, an open process for nomination to the ticket, proper environmental conditions for running, the problem with fixing democracy by having less democracy, the history of third party runs, vote shrinkage, how to estimate plausibility, a likely final decision point in July, plans for a convention, the odds of a Biden-Harris ticket beating Trump, building transparent exit triggers into the post-convention process, and much more.

Ryan Clancy has been a speechwriter, a spokesperson and a storytelling partner for some of the world’s most respected leaders and organizations: writing for then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Sir Elton John and Shaquille O’Neal; developing corporate narratives, and executive positioning plans for Fortune 500 companies and CEOs, and investment memos for start-up companies and entrepreneurs; and advising political reform groups and candidates on all facets of fundraising, communications and political strategy. He is currently the chief strategist at No Labels.