Why Collaboration Matters
So we're gonna start first why with collaboration matters. I'm gonna start with a story, a personal story, of something called Nerd Nite. So, in New York City, for years and years I've been going to this thing about once a month where scientists get drunk and give presentations about real scientific topics. It's enormously entertaining, they actually have it all around the world, so if you live in any kind of major city anywhere in the world, they have this, usually once a month. So I was at Nerd Nite a few years ago, and a scientist was giving a presentation called Which Will Kill Us First, The Aliens or The Robots? And you can imagine, this was a fun, if grim, topic. And he's cracking jokes, he's a little tipsy, everyone's having a good time. The moral of the story, if anyone guessed, I guess, which the answer was, which will kill us first, the aliens or the robots? Robots? Yeah, you guys are right. The robots, he said, according to scientific hypothesis, if the aliens hadn't come an...
d gotten us yes, less likely that they'll come and get us before we invent robots that could then kill us. Which, these are good things to worry about, I suppose, 'cause then we can prevent them from happening. So, I'm a journalist, and I have a question that's burning inside of me, and I think, maybe, the best question I've ever had in my journalistic career. Guy gets off the stage after everyone laughs and he says it's the robots, but don't worry, we'll figure it out. Comes off the stage and I grab his arm, and I say, y'know, if aliens did make it to Earth, would they have not have already invented robots also? Would they not invent AI in their journey to making interstellar travel and then also be killed by robots before they could even get here? He said, yeah, yeah, y'know what, it's true. Any alien lifeform that manages to make it across space to Earth will likely be the robotic descendants of an organic life that created them. And then he said, don't worry about that, 'cause we'll blow ourselves up with nukes long before that happens. Then he walks away into the dark, leaving me in this sort of stupor. Like, what, he just threw that out casually? So I was thinking about this and I went home, and the next day or a couple days later, I was thinking about this, and so I looked the guy up. Who was this scientist that told me this random thing about how we're gonna blow ourselves up Turns out he's the director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, which is a think tank whose job is to model out the things that could destroy mankind and then brief the United Nations on those things and what we can do about them. So the guy whose job is to know these things just told me very casually that we're gonna blow ourselves up with nukes long before the aliens or the robots get us, and I'm sort of freaking out about this, in part because, y'know, you take something like that serious and it's hard not to freak out, but also because I grew up with a very different picture in my head of what nuclear technology could do. My father is an engineer, we grew up in the desert of southeast Idaho, where he worked on a nuclear test reactor, that was his job. So I would take tours as a kid, see all of, the first slide that I showed, actually, with my website on it is actually the inside of a nuclear reactor control center. So we'd take tours, and then I grew up with this great story of how we harnessed the atom and how that was going to change the world. The story of how we harnessed the atom is actually very interesting. It turns out that scientists, and not just physicists, but scientists across all sorts of disciplines had this wonderful game of sort of correspondence and collaboration over decades to help us harness the atom. It was physicists from Russian, biologists from America, chemists from France, a zoologist from New Zealand, and these were men and women, young and old, from all these different countries that built off each-other's work, shared laboratories together, and they went from discovering that silver plates would get tarnished when you shot beams of certain kinds of light at them, all the way to figuring out how to split an atom and create heat. There's a little drawing I made of how nuclear energy works. You basically have a big pot of water, and you have radioactive stuff in it. The radioactive stuff smashes together, the atoms, they trigger a reaction where the atoms will smash together and split, and this generates heat, and that heat makes steam, and it turns a turbine, and that turns a generator, which makes electricity. And the thing that I grew up with learning about is how cool this is that the only thing that comes out of this equation is steam, steam up into the air, great for the atmosphere, way better than coal. And my dad's job, actually, was to build the, design the canisters that held the leftover rock of uranium that protected it from leaking out radioactive. Like, canisters that were indestructible. So I had this storyline of how nuclear energy was a better way for us to power our cities and our homes. It was also the thing that put food on the table in my family. but that also, energy, and making energy cheaper was going to change the world and prevent all of these conflicts, all these fights we have around the world that are about energy and oil and all these things, could go away if we just developed the technology to make it cheaper and safer. And then, here I am, in my late 20s, and the guy whose job is to know these things tells me that the very same thing is the most likely thing that's going to destroy all of us before we have a chance to save the world. So I was sort of depressed about this, to the point that I found a thing on Google Maps that lets you simulate a nuclear detonation in any part of the world, and it will tell you who gets blown up, who gets radiation, and who survives, and I moved to Brooklyn because of this. Because I didn't want to be in the blast zone. Which is, y'know, when I told my broker this, she was like, are you nuts? But it's a little bit of an insane thing to worry about. But the thing that was so fascinating to me is this brings up a paradox that we see in any tool that humans build, but also any interaction that humans have. The paradox is this, is that a lot of people had to come together, combine their brains, and work together to create this amazing technology, to develop this thing that has so much potential, and this is the thing that's happened since the very beginning of humankind. We won planet Earth because we could do that. And yet, that same thing, people coming together in those very same countries is also the thing that could lead to our destruction, that our countries turn this turn this into a bomb and point it at each-other. And the technology is so great now, we can do so many things that we might just use these powers of collaboration or human interaction for ill, and it might be too late before we can use them for good. So these stakes are incredibly high. Sort of a grim story to introduce the thing that I'm passionate about, and the reason we're here today, which is that, when different human beings come together, we can do the impossible, but the same things that lead us to do the impossible also give us great risk. And so, today we're gonna talk about how to do the first, and how to avoid the risk.