X010: Future Express | Attention Economics and Loyalty of Digital Assistants


In this episode, we discuss the modern Darwinian battle for attention currently playing out on the global internet. We consider some of the psychological methods that have been and will be developed for capturing and keeping people’s attention. We wonder whether the solution that will help us navigate this growing war for our eyeballs is digital assistant technology that can better help us cut through the noise.

Relevant Links

X008: Future Express | How to Train Your Personal AI and Mailbag


In this episode, we talk about how to train your AI recommendation engine to give you better results, and discuss the growth in music recommendation quality in particular. How much of the future is about the actual work of training your AI assistants? The reinforcement that you give them develops a model of you but simultaneously, you develop a model of it. What about if we got an algorithm admin panel to fine tune our AIs? How will algorithms handle context? We also dive into the mailbag and discuss some of the listener feedback we’ve gotten. In wondering who would be the mainstream spokesperson for futurology, we ask: Who is the Neil DeGrasse Tyson of the future? Tweet us your ideas @RTF_Podcast.

X007: Future Express | AI in the Legal System and More on Technological Unemployment


In this Future Express, Jon and Ted discuss bringing AI to legal finance and whether that might push us toward rationalizing our laws. We mention the parking ticket fighting app DoNotPay, and imagine that type of technology growing to cover most legal needs, starting an arms race between assistant software and bureaucracies that will force them to change strategy, because they are no longer protected by the inertia of time consuming obstacles. Responding to listener feedback, we reexamine the idea of elder care robots. In our continuing discussion of technological unemployment, we wonder whether the whole issue doesn’t really come down to the superstar effect, and we wonder: can capitalism survive until the singularity arrives? Should it?

Relevant Links

X006: Future Express | Listener Questions and Calum Chace Followup


In this Express episode Jon and Ted answer a listener question about the future of citizenship, and wonder how it will be challenged and whether it’s even necessary at all. We respond to another question asking for a beginner’s reading list. We follow up on our discussion with Calum Chace and talk through Jon’s skepticism of technological unemployment problems. How long will the era of technological unemployment last? Long enough to matter or is it another blip on the road to superintelligence? Will robot housekeepers be replaced all at once or piecemeal as things like Roombas get better? Is it practical to think most people will become digital non-consumers or are people driven to acquire status to the point that an endless pyramid of positional goods can keep capitalism going forever? How about the meaning of an infinite movie?

In the podcast, Jon gives his Beginners and Hardcore reading lists. Here they are:



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073: Can Capitalism Survive an “Economic Singularity?”


Author Calum Chace returns to discuss his new book, “The Economic Singularity: Artificial Intelligence and the Death of Capitalism” We discuss the likelihood of long-term technological unemployment and universal basic income, and whether the distribution challenges of our increasingly abundant economy require rethinking some of the basic elements of our current capitalist system. With something like 5 million people employed as drivers in the US, what will they do when AI can drive vehicles?

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X005: Future Express | Robot Used in Dallas and Pokemon Go!


In this extra bonus Express episode we weigh in on two topics of the moment: robots being used by police to kill civilian suspects and Pokemon Go. We cover the case for ethical use of unmanned vehicles in police work and wonder about the future of lethal and improvised technological use cases in police work, and then we switch gears to talk about the new AR / Location / IP sensation that’s sweeping the nation.

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X004: Future Express | More on Kevin Kelly’s THE INEVITABLE


On Future Express this time Jon and Ted follow up on their discussion of Kevin Kelly’s new book THE INEVITABLE, exploring the rhetoric and wondering whether a more straightforward economic analysis might have turned up more insight than the evolutionary arguments that Kelly relies on in parts of the book.  We discuss whether IP reform is desirable or possible in the near future, and we wonder whether Kevin’s dismissal of intelligence explosion fears is warranted.

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072: Kevin Kelly on “The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future”


In our first “regular” episode in a while, we are joined by Wired cofounder Kevin Kelly to discuss his new book “The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.” The book takes 12 trends in digital technology and speculates as to what results we might see in the future as digital technology, with its peculiar biases and tendencies, continues to grow into more fields. The resulting conversation was far reaching and varied, touching on the Internet as the world’s largest copier and tracking machine, the difference between industrial monopolies and “natural” monopolies like Google and Facebook, the amount of privacy enjoyed by forager bands. Kevin is an internet pioneer with a long history of innovating on the web, and he’s refreshingly honest about the things he got both right and wrong along the way.

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X003: Future Express | ConsScale and the Threat of Cheap Weapons


In this week’s Future Express, we discuss the ConsScale twelve-level consciousness scale and the increasing threat of violence from ever-cheaper weaponry. ConsScale describes a continuum from molecule to supergod and attempts to place some mile-markers on the road to consciousness. We discuss the levels and try to figure out where a dog fits in. Murder is getting cheaper every day, so we wonder whether a draconian civilization with either strong weapon controls or strong surveillance is inevitable. We coin the term “Feel Good Dystopia” to describe the Huxleyan vision, and relate that not enough time travel movies feature people from the past hassling people from the present about the world.

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X002: Future Express | Autonomous Weapons and Brain to Brain Interfaces


In this second ever Future Express episode, Jon and Ted each bring a different topic to the table. Jon raises the issue of banning autonomous weapons, the subject of an open letter released last year and of an upcoming UN review conference. Ted shares an article about brain to brain communication, a pathway to technologically enabled telepathy.

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X001: Future Express | More on Robin Hanson’s AGE OF EM


The first of a new type of episode, this Future Express features a looser, less polished take on some of the issues raised by Robin Hanson’s recent book The Age of Em. As an addendum to our interview with Hanson last week, this tackles Jon and Ted’s review of the book, whether or not they’d recommend it to others, and looks into some criticism brought up by Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex. We wonder about what happens to the baseline scenario if Robin’s assumptions about research turn out to be too conservative, and discuss stories that might come from such unusual ideas in the book as mind theft and spur safes.


Relevant Links

071: Robin Hanson on “What Does a Future of Emulated Minds Look Like?”


We’re back! After a prolonged hiatus, Ted and Jon return joined by guest Robin Hanson, the economics professor and blogger at Overcoming Bias, who discusses the central concept of his new book, The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth. We discuss his assumption that whole brain emulations will emerge before theoretically-driven AGI, and that this development will lead to a population explosion of “Em” minds that perfectly substitute for human labor. Will humans not be needed anymore, as Robin predicts? What will the world of ems look and feel like? Is it possible to be purely analytic when predicting the future?


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In today’s podcast, we review an episode of the British television series Black Mirror. Black Mirror is an anthology show that presents a dark spin on our relationship with technology. The series, despite its flaws, is highly entertaining and full of interesting thought experiments. Today we are focusing on the Christmas special, a longer episode that deals with some our favorite topics: augmented reality, privacy, and emulated brains. Although we recommend watching the episode before listening to this podcast, we do summarize the plot as we go for the benefit of people who have not yet seen Black Mirror.

Relevant Links:

069: What are the Possibilities of Augmented Reality?


In today’s podcast we offer a broad survey of augmented reality. How will the social and economic aspects of our lives be different in a world where computers are constantly altering our vision? What are the main benefits that AR has over VR? How does one even define augmented reality anyway?

Relevant Links

068: Does Life Have Meaning in a World Without Work?


In today’s podcast we get philosophical about work and the meaning of life. Repeat guest John Danaher steers us away from the traditional arguments surrounding technological unemployment and towards a different set of questions: Is it possible for humans to have a meaningful existence in a world where they’ve been completely sidelined by machines? Is a life of game playing and pursuing beauty the best outcome we can hope for? Or is integrating with our technology a possible defense against future irrelevance?

Relevant Links and Related Episodes

067: Should You Sign Up for Cryonics?


In today’s podcast, we discuss cryonics, a topic we only recently became interested in. After a general overview of what cryonics is and where it comes from, we try to determine whether or not cryonics is a service we would sign up for. The rational arguments in favor of cryonics seem to be very strong, and the cost of cryonics, while significant, is not so high as to be out of reach. However, we do still have some reservations. For now we remain “cryo-curious” – sympathetic to the technology but not yet signed up. Hopefully this episode will trigger our listeners to begin their own thought process regarding this fascinating proposition.

Relevant Links

066: George Dvorsky on “What is the Future of Human Advancement?”



In today’s podcast, Jon talks with futurist and bioethicist George Dvorsky about the future of human enhancement. Topics covered include radical life extension, editing the human germline, multiplex parenting, artificial wombs, intelligence augmentation, moral enhancement, and more. What enhancements are just around the corner, and how cautious should we be when it comes to enhancing human beings? Is there any merit to the arguments of bioconservatives, or are most of their concerns lacking solid grounding? How can we get over the creepiness hurdle and begin to normalize these conversations?


Relevant Links:

065: What is the Future of Virtual Assistants?


In today’s podcast, we discuss the future of virtual assistant software. A long list of major companies and startups are racing to develop voice activated software that can help organize your life. Today’s assistant apps are still incredibly primitive, but it appears they may get considerably better in the near future. We identify and analyze three major trends that are poised to make computers into more powerful assistants: natural language interfaces, big data, and increasing autonomy. Will you be able to trust your virtual assistant not to steer you toward products you don’t need? Will social interactions be increasingly influenced by the realtime suggestions of virtual advisors? Will “being good with computers” stop being a relevant descriptor once everyone has easy access to powerful natural language interfaces?

Relevant Links:

Related Episodes

064: Calum Chace on “Is it Time to Start Worrying About AI?”


In today’s episode, Jon speaks with Calum Chace, author of the new nonfiction book Surviving AI. The potential risk posed by superintelligent AI has recently gained unprecedented coverage in the mainstream press, thanks to the release of Nick Bostrom’s book Superintelligence and public statements by the likes of Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawking. In our discussion we explore some of the fundamental questions surrounding this issue such as: how soon will artificial general intelligence arrive? How likely is it to be dangerous? And is a hard takeoff or soft takeoff more likely? While AGI may still be a long way off, the extraordinarily high stakes suggest we should devote a few more resources to studying this highly unique issue facing humanity.


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063: Bonus Episode: Kickstarter Launch, Social VR, and ADVANTAGEOUS Review


Our Kickstarter is LIVE! In this bonus mini-episode, we discuss our sci fi graphic novel project LET GO, and how you can help. We also respond to some listener questions about social networking in virtual reality. To what extent will modern day websites be replaced by virtual counterparts?  Finally, Jon gives a short review of the indie sci fi film ADVANTAGEOUS.


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062: What is the Future of Brain-Computer Interfaces?


In today’s episode we talk about brain-computer interfaces. We discuss the range of available invasive and non-invasive sensor options, the difficulties of processing brain signals, and the wide variety of ways computers might use realtime brain data.  While it’s clear that BCIs promise incredible benefits to people who are paralyzed, it’s less clear how extensively BCIs will benefit able-bodied humans. We explore what some of those benefits (and dangers) might be.

Relevant Links

061: What is the Future of Movies?


In today’s podcast, we discuss the future of movies. We begin by addressing virtual reality and asking what impacts it will have on traditional moviemaking. In recent times, the cost of making an independent film has gone way down, and we consider whether those costs can drop even further, possibly as a result of better virtual filmmaking and machinima tools. Next, we analyze the shift towards greater serialization in movies and the rising dominance of television. Finally, we speculate wildly about the length of future movies, the effect of accelerating change on storytelling settings, personalized algorithmic movie production, and more.

Relevant Links:

060: Scott Santens on “Is Basic Income Part of Our Future and Should It Be?”


In today’s episode we are joined by basic income advocate Scott Santens. Scott explains his version of a basic income and how it might be paid for. Although future technological unemployment might increase the need for a basic income, there are actually many reasons besides concerns about automation to adopt such a policy. We discuss the various advantages of basic income over our current social programs and consider the Alaska model as one that might be exportable to the rest of the US. Lastly, we address the issue of feasibility: basic income sounds nice on paper, but could such a program ever actually get implemented?

Articles by Scott

 Other Relevant Links

059: What is the Future of Advertising?


In today’s episode, we discuss the future of advertising, which we define as the ‘sale of attention.’ People mostly hate ads, but why do they? Is it possible to make ads so well targeted that people actually enjoy the experience? We discuss the remarkably constant amount of advertising as a percent of GDP over a long stretch of history. We ponder the ways accelerating technologies might allow for better metrics and better ad designs in the future, and we wonder whether a large-scale consumer collapse might disrupt advertising’s steady growth. Speculating on the future, we imagine that nearly everything that remains scarce in the future might one day be ad-supported.

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