Nick Bostrom: Director, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University; author, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
Palmer Lucky: Founder, OculusVR Inc.
Tim Bradshaw: Reporter and Columnist, Financial Times
Linc Gasking: Founder and CEO, 8i
Scott Nolan: Partner, Founders Fund
Michael Solana: VP, Founders Fund
Solana: The primary focus of Anatomy of Next has been the idea of the perfect world. What does it look like, and how do we build it? So we end this first season of our podcast with a technology primarily concerned with world-building: virtual reality.
The blueprint for the future is utopia. The nuclear sciences, synthetic biology, robotics, artificial intelligence will all be working in the service of that end: the perfect of our physical reality. But is our physical reality the limit?
VR is unique among the popular technology dystopias in that the technology is not typically the cause of the dystopia in the stories we tell about it. It’s mostly observed as an escape from reality as the real world rots. VR is imagined as an alternative to a future world so inevitably horrific the dystopia is never even really commented on.
In Neuromancer, in Snow Crash, in Ready Player One, the horrible fact of the real world’s dystopian nature is just this kind of background noise. William Gibson infamously writes, “The sky above the port was the color of television tuned to a dead channel.” But will the virtual world divorce us from the physical, or will it be designed to enrich the broader human experience? What about the technology’s ultimate potential?
Last week we looked at machine super intelligence and talked to Nick Bostrom. Most of our interview focused on AI, but Bostrom’s work was popularized over a decade ago for a different topic.
Solana (to Bostrom): I want to talk about simulated reality. I would love an outline of the argument.
Bostrom: So the simulation argument tries to demonstrate that a certain disjunction is true. This disjunction has sort of three alternative possibilities. The simulation argument doesn’t tell us which of these three disjunctions is true, just that at least one of them is.
The three arguments are, one: that almost all human-level technological civilizations go extinct before they reach technological maturity. That’s one possibility.
Two: that among all technological mature civilizations, there is a strong convergence such that they all have interest in creating what I call “ancestry simulations” – detailed computer simulations of their forebears, detailed enough that the simulated creatures would be conscious. That’s the second possibility.
The third possibility is that we are, all of us, living in a computer simulation—an ancestor simulation—ourselves, literally, that the entire world that we observe exists only inside a computer engineered by some advanced civilization.
The Matrix clip: This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Solana: In 1999’s The Matrix, the Wachowskis introduced us to the world-within-a-world idea that our reality is just a simulation, a powerful computer program built by an evil artificial intelligence to deceive and enslave the human race.
The Matrix clip: Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?
This can’t be.
Be what? Be real?
Solana: Right. So, we’d be living in a history simulation. This is a history book.
Bostrom: Well, or some variation of that. It doesn’t need to necessarily be a maximally accurate rendition of, say, our history. It could be created for other purposes—but that’s one of the three possibilities.
The simulation argument shows that one of these three holds. But it’s agnostic as to which one. So I think maybe we want to assign some nontrivial amount of probability to each one of them, in the absence of firm grounds for picking one.
Solana: I was thinking about this. So, the reason I found the simulated reality Wikipedia page, I was working on a story a handful of years ago, and the argument made it seem probable. For you, what are the probabilities here?
Bostrom: Well, I generally tend to put on the shelf assigning probabilities to these things and stating them, for various different reasons.
One is that giving some precise numerical estimate might give the misleading impression that there is some scientific reason for picking that particular number rather than another one, whereas it’s in fact quite difficult to know how to allocate probability between these three alternatives.
Solana: This episode of Anatomy of Next isn’t about whether or not we’re living in a simulation. But, that the argument has garnered so much attention among the men and women currently working to build the infrastructure of our future, does demand attention. We are certainly looking to layer our world with augmented realities, with virtual realities, and perhaps one day, if it hasn’t happened already, with totally simulated realities.
The fear is this distraction in some way jeopardizes our physical reality, our actuality, the real world.
A little over a year ago, I talked to the founder of Oculus, Palmer Luckey. This week, we posted the video we did with him on our channel. But I wanted to share just one small piece of that interview here.
Luckey: There are a lot of people that think we’re going to get to some kind of technological singularity, especially one that allows us to upload our consciousness into a machine. Now, there are three types of people that believe in that.
There are the people who believe that it is possible that one day we will be able to upload our consciousness into a machine. Then there are people who believe that we can prove that someday it will be possible to upload ourselves into a machine and never die. And then the third group is the people who think we can prove that within their lifetimes we’ll be able to upload people into machines and live forever. And I think that the third group is crazy, the second group is wrong, and the first group is maybe a little reasonable.
I fall in the first camp. In five to ten years, we’re not going to have the Matrix. We’re not going to be plugging into people’s brains.
So, we’re still going to need to figure out how to interface to all of our existing senses.
You know, kind of like a go-between, between the computer and the senses that we already have.
Solana: The Bostroms and the Wachowskis of the world betray our ultimate ambition: the construction of virtual realities so perfect as they are rendered indistinguishable from the real.
But we’re obviously a long way off from that, unless, the point we keep returning to, we’re already living inside of one and we just don’t realize it. That’s an interesting, exciting idea, but it isn’t exactly an actionable line of thinking so let’s set it aside for a moment and talk about the kind of stuff we’ll be seeing in the next ten to twenty years.
The creation of virtual worlds or virtual overlays on top of our own world more obviously simulated—that’s stuff’s starting to happen today, and Palmer and Oculus are a big part of the reason we’re talking about it.
Bradshaw: So, it was really one Kickstarter project that brought virtual reality back from the dead.
Solana: I sat down with Tim Bradshaw, a journalist out here in Silicon Valley who’s covered virtual reality for years. Right at the start of our conversation, we got into fiction and the way it is overtly shaping the development of technology in the real world.
Bradshaw: Oculus holds its Connect developer conference in Los Angeles every year, as it has done for the last couple of years. And this time around, every attendee, as they got their sort of welcome pack with the usual tee-shirt and guide to the event, got a signed copy of Ready Player One. It’s often seen as a book that is very influential in a lot of the thinking around what virtual reality looks like this time around.
I think sort of Snow Crash, which came out in 1992, was kind of informed by the sort of last wave of virtual reality. And although it’s still a very influential book, I think Ready Player One, which came out a lot more recently, is a lot more up-to-date with the current sort of thinking of what people would like their virtual reality world to look like.
I asked an Oculus executive why they were giving out this particular book, and they said that it’s actually required reading at the company, and that they make every new employee read it as well. And that it’s not just giving them an inspiration—it’s in many ways directly informing the development of the product, like the haptic suits and the environments that people operate in, Oculus Arcade, which is very much like one of the arcade planets in the book—they’re things that Oculus wants to make and wants to bring into the world.
Although you have these novels, Snow Crash and Ready Player One, which are directly informing, in some ways, the development of virtual reality and other kinds of headsets, they’re both pretty dystopian, sci-fi novels.
And I’ve spoken to Neal Stephenson, who wrote Snow Crash, and his answer on that was that it was just kind of where sci-fi was in the early 90s. It was a time when dystopian sci-fi was just cool, and that was the sort of book that people wanted to read, rather than the more kind of optimistic type of sci-fi that you might get from something like Star Trek.
But it sort of doesn’t feel entirely coincidental to me that the people were, to some extent, using these VR headsets to escape a rather unpleasant real world, particularly in Ready Player One. It was something that the main protagonist is using to escape the fact that his parents are dead, and he lives in a junkyard basically, and this was his only kind of sanctuary. It was the only way he could get to school. It was the only way he could meet his friends. And then the real world starts to encroach on the virtual world, and the real and the digital start to collide.
And so I think there is a little bit of a kind of hangover from sci-fi as to how healthy for society these VR headsets really are.
Solana: Virtual reality is now a technology that many people both outside of and within the industry designing it, have come to see as an escape. This is the story we tell ourselves. Our greatest hope of happiness is just to find some place nice and virtual to distract us from the things we can’t change.
Interestingly, this is not a new story. Replace VR with drugs and you’re now telling a perennial favorite horror story among parents and politicians for generations.
Turn on, tune in, drop out.
Bradshaw: The whole sort of promise of virtual reality, in a way, is it’s better than life. You can do anything you can do in the real world, but without being grounded by the laws of physics, or what you actually look like. And so, yeah, there is something potentially addictive about that. And people may not want to leave.
I think the counterpoint to it is that people have always been a little bit concerned about any new technology, whether it was books, or the television, or now smart phones.
There’s always this kind of idea that it’s in some way making us more antisocial, and for the same sort of example of a photograph of Mark Zuckerberg walking through the crowd at Mobile World Congress where, you know, none of the attendees can see that he’s there because they’re all wearing virtual reality headsets.
I mean, you could have the same picture of—I think somebody on Twitter I even saw do this as a Photoshop effort, but you could have somebody walking through a train carriage where everyone is reading a newspaper, and they wouldn’t see the guy that’s walking through.
So, yes, this points to two things: one, there is always concern around technology as to how it will change society. It will change society. But it will change society because to some extent people want to escape, whether you escape into a novel, or you escape into YouTube, or World of Warcraft, or you escape into the Oculus Rift.
There’s some kind of instinct. I think the only kind of practical mitigating effects on that would be, at least for quite a while I don’t think these headsets are going to be things that are comfortable enough or vivid enough that people will literally want to spend all day in them. I personally find it a little tough to sort of stay wearing one of them for more than half an hour. Your face gets a bit sweaty. It’s kind of heavy. To some extent you feel a bit nauseous sometimes, in some of the experiences that people have.
It’ll start slow. It won’t be like the Oculus Rift suddenly goes on sale and a whole generation of teenagers disappears from the streets. We’ve got time to figure it out.
Solana: But the timing of the thing is sort of irrelevant when the concern is whether or not we’re all going to vanish into our virtual worlds and let reality crumble. It doesn’t matter if we retreat from reality and erase ourselves from history today, or tomorrow, or ten years from now—
we are designing our future, and the responsibility of what it should look falls to us.
Let’s talk about the applications of virtual reality that totally complicate the notion it exists in some way separate from our real world, and let’s explore the ways we’ll use it not only recreationally, but also as a powerful tool for building in the physical. Because there’s something important happening here—a tremendous potential—and everyone who’s touched the technology feels it.
Listen to Tim’s first experience with the Rift, which mirrors almost exactly my own, from skepticism to, “holy crap.”
Bradshaw: It is a little bit like having a revelation when you first try it. And it’s also incredibly difficult to explain to somebody who’s not tried it. I mean, it’s a little bit like faith.
You either have that experience and you believe in God, and you then feel so strongly about it you want to convince other people that their life would be improved by having God in it. I’m not particularly religious, so I don’t have that experience. But I did think VR was just mind-blowingly awesome when I first put a headset on, and I was not really expecting to.
The first experience I tried was some goofy little kind of—a little bit like that sort of holographic chess game from Star Wars. It wasn’t a game I particularly wanted to play but the fact that you could lean in and look at these little creatures that were moving around the board, and you could look down and see fiery lava that was bubbling underneath them all playing—just being in that environment and being able to interact with it in that way, you sort of take the headset off and everyone is sort of wide-eyed and slack-jawed.
It has that effect on people. I think you then want other people to try it, so they understand why the hell you’re so excited about it.
Solana: A reaction like this for a videogame platform would seem crazy, certainly in the context of a lot of the stories we’ve talked about: VR as a mirage that distracts us from the physical world or an addictive agent, this would be frightening. But the promise of VR is so much more than some perfected Final Fantasy game play.
Gasking: Virtual reality is a time machine. It’s teleportation. It’s immortality. It’s just not in the way that we expected.
Solana: Linc Gasking is the founder and CEO of 8i, a VR software company focusing on volumetric human capture. Virtual reality is linked culturally almost inextricably with gaming, but that’s not a very good framework for thinking about the technology and leads almost necessarily to judgments of VR rooted in how a person feels about spending all day or all week playing videogames.
If you already think that’s sort of a waste of a person’s time, a fully immersive, perfected version of that experience is going to seem almost scary. But there are two incredibly exciting new—you could almost call them entirely new fields on the virtual reality horizon.
Next to entertainment the first deals in self-improvement, and the way it will impact people on a kind of micro level. The second is a more macro cut, and deals in the way VR will impact every other industry on the planet. Linc spoke to the personal piece.
Gasking: This concept of what this is going to mean in ten or twenty years as we move into this new phase of VR, as it becomes more and more realistic and indistinguishable, it starts to play a different role to the one of real life, because it has different advantages and disadvantages.
The way that I like to think of where VR is going to go in the next ten to twenty years is to think about what things make us happy—that generally tends to direct what sort of technology we build.
So, you can split happiness into three areas. The first one is peak experiences: the adrenaline hit, those really rare, deeply moving, exhilarating experiences that really have an amazing effect on somebody—that type of bucket-list moment.
The second one is personal growth. And the third one is social connection. We get a huge amount of happiness from connecting to other people. All those three things are going to be assisted by virtual reality in different ways.
First of all, virtual reality does something—as opposed to real life, it’s delivered in a much cheaper way. It’s digital, it’s scalable, and it’s replicable. And so, for example, in the social realm, what you’re going to see is you’re going to be able to FaceTime with Mom via augmented reality in your kitchen. And you can have a conversation. It’s going to be like she’s right there with you. Or, your grandparents are going to be able to watch a baby’s first steps from across the country.
In personal growth, you’re going to see a completely personalized education that was never possible before, where an AI-powered virtual teacher is going to be answering your questions, it’s going to be synchronizing with your learning style, with your personality, and really taking you into completely different places as required.
The third one is peak experiences, and this is a really interesting area because ultimately we now have a Minecraft generation, who are going to be responsible for building this new future. You’re going to be able to teleport yourself amongst those new worlds being built. You’re going to be able to design your own world.
And you’re going to be able to import these digital assets from real life, whether that’s a musician who wants to play in your world, or anything else you can imagine; you’re going to be living your lifetime of bucket lists in this space of a month. You’re going to be doing all of these amazing things, whether that’s teleporting yourself to Mars or the International Space Station.
What it’s going to essentially do is I think it’s going to make us a lot more selective not only about the experiences that we have, but also about what we do in real life.
Solana: Peak experiences, personal growth, and social connection focus exclusively on the way, as Linc mentioned, virtual reality is going to make people happy. And while this happiness framework challenges the notion people will stop caring about other people in our at least slightly more virtual future, it doesn’t quite address the state of our physical reality.
In almost every science fiction treatment of VR technology, the real world crumbles at the dawn of the virtual. Our digital dream worlds replace the dystopian husk of our ancestral past, but the fantasy doesn’t preserve our lives. And there’s just something, like, viscerally hideous about a world where no one is really living.
But why won’t the realities, the actual and the virtual, be speaking with each other? Why this siloing off of worlds?
Nolan: I’m Scott Nolan, partner on the investment team here at Founders Fund. And I specifically look at things that have a lot of technology or engineering driving them. Those are the things that I get most excited about.
The dystopian view of VR and AR is that people are going to sit on their sofa for hours a day, for days at a time. And the actual optimistic view is that VR and AR, and the right interfaces for it, unlock new era in your average person becoming a designer, an inventor, someone actually creating new things.
Everybody thinks that VR and AR are going to be almost purely entertainment, especially VR. People think about games, cinematic experiences, but arts and entertainment are maybe low, single-digit percents of U.S. GDP. There are all these other industries out there that are going to get impacted.
You can start with saying, “Okay, well, what are the big industries?” The ones are healthcare, real estate, military, manufacturing.
Going back to the history of AR, you think back to the ’80s—we actually had AR back in the ’80s, it was just in military headsets for fighter pilots—that was one of the first applications. You ask yourself, “Well, why then has AR not impacted everyone’s life?” And the answer is there weren’t that many people who had access to it. It was maybe one, two headsets per billion-dollar aircraft. These technologies, first, weren’t very capable; second, weren’t very portable; and third, were very expensive.
You’re seeing these things come down dramatically in cost and size, and scale up in manufacturing volume. As this happens, you’re going to see more and more applications of this created by developers and by specific companies who want to go after an economic opportunity.
A lot of those big opportunities in places where customers can pay and words can be worth it, in day one, when cost for VR headsets aren’t that low, and where producing content is not that cheap, it’s going to be in enterprise industrial applications—in building construction, manufacturing, insulation.
One way to get at how these industries are going to change is to ask yourself, “What seems strange about the way it’s currently done?”
In industrial manufacturing, let’s say, someone is installing some sort of plant, some sort of pharmaceutical plant. To do that, they’ve got to constantly be looking up and looking down against the sheet of paper, and then go put the part where it actually belongs, and making this constant switch back and forth. This is really error-prone. That’s why you have very expensive and onerous processes to validate that things are built the right way, especially in mission-critical applications.
Much better would be a VR or AR headset that shows you the instructions of what you’re actually doing at that point, so you don’t need to be constantly looking back and forth.
That sounds like a small thing, but it’s actually a really big thing because it massively increases the efficiency of producing something, massively decreases error rate, and would let you update the designs in real time digitally as opposed to having to ship out drawings across an entire job site and make whatever modifications necessary.
You actually don’t need really high-end AR goggles for this. You might be able to get away with something like Google Glass.
You might be able to get away with something like the iPhone that might be mounted off to the side. Or you might actually be able to get away with VR goggles. Everything thinks you need AR headsets, but in fact a VR goggle with a video feed piped in is AR. And so we actually have everything we need for these applications now. And you’re seeing companies develop solutions for this.
Another example of this would be the car-buying experience. Would you rather spend two hours watching a movie, or would you rather spend a few hours designing the exact car that you’d want, and getting to test drive it in virtual reality, and getting to include your friends in that experience?
And basically getting to be imaginative and generate new things in the world that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
And I think a lot of creative people would rather engage in a design experience than a media consumption experience.
One other example is healthcare. Everyone talks a lot about healthcare and how we’re spending such a huge percent of U.S. GDP on healthcare, and yet our outcomes are not great.
One way to fix that is to just be much smarter about how we provide care. So, instead of people going to the ER, maybe there’s a way for them to capture what’s happening through their phone, which most people have, and for the doctor to consume that content and have a one-on-one interaction with them remotely, really quickly, through VR or AR, or even through simply their smart phone.
So I think you’re going to see even old injuries like that get these small but important changes that help them increase the quality of care and drive down cost. It’s going to be small things like that that make a big difference. And, you know, talking about using a smart phone to record someone’s injury and decide if they need to go to the ER sounds almost trivial. It’s like, yeah, of course we have FaceTime. This is not a big deal. And so, why don’t people make this?
Part of that’s going to come down to who pays for it, but you actually look at the cost structure of healthcare and ER visits are actually a huge portion of costs. And if you can cut down on ER visits by a significant amount, you’re actually making a real impact.
Solana: This is virtual reality as a tool for building. This is an augmented or virtual reality as a tool for teleportation in times of crisis. A person is hurt and far from the hospital. They check in. The doctor examines their body. And then the doctor guides them with VR or AR through an emergency treatment.
This is a teenager designing her first car down to every detail, with specs sent to a company that builds your parts and assembles them within a few days. And then the car drives itself to its new owner’s home.
Nolan: I think the concerns that people have with VR are that it’s going to be so incredibly immersive that no one is ever going to leave, or want to leave. And counterpoint to this is that, ideally, AR and VR make the world so much more interesting that it actually is more rewarding and more satisfying to stay engaged in the world than to try and escape it.
Solana: We’re talking about total control of our virtual and physical realities. We’ve barely scratched the surface here with so much more we still just can’t even predict.
Nolan: I think you need to step back and ask yourself, “What are we really doing?”
We’re actually, fundamentally, redesigning how people experience things.
If you think of the way that you experience the world, it’s through your sensory organs making their way into your brain, and your brain interprets that.
With VR and AR, we’re specifically dealing with vision. And so today, a photon comes from the sun or a light bulb and bounces off something and hits your eye, gets translated into the optic nerve; that goes into your brain, and your brain interprets what that means. You end up with a concept, or a feeling, or something that lets you experience the world.
Maybe the light bulb as an invention was the first AR. Previously you needed the sun to create the photons. Then you have, let’s say, fire. Fire could light up a place and let you see it, where you couldn’t see it before. And then a light bulb will let you do that. And so now we have complete control of our photons, at least as a source.
Okay, what comes after that? Well, we talked about, step one, you have a photon. Step two, it hits your eye. Step three, it gets interpreted by the optical nerve. Step four, it gets interpreted by your brain. We’ve already taken over step one. We know how to make light. That’s great. Then we had more evolution, like the CRT TVs, LCDs, new ways to make light, to make color, for people to experience these pieces of content or different things.
What comes after that is actually VR and AR—where you’re just making it not just a 2D sort of projection, but going into each eyeball so it actually feels more real, it feels 3D. Maybe what happens after that is, why even go through the eye? Why is that necessary? Can you just tap into the optic nerve?
And that’s, I think, where you start unlocking the whole simulation arguments, the whole simulated worlds arguments where it will be so real because you’re not fundamentally limited by pixels on a screen, although they’re getting better fast enough that pretty soon you won’t even be able to detect them.
But if you can go straight into the optic nerve, straight into the brain—and this is what some people have talked about—then yeah, you can bypass that, and you’re much less constrained, and you can provide much different signals that are even more immersive. You end up with experiences that people could have like in Inception, the movie. There are these entire worlds that you can just go and design and create in. And that’s pretty cool.
Stepping back, you then say, “Okay, well, there’s these different ways that we can have input into the mind,” and there’s things that people have talked about, like neural lace. And yes, there’s this whole class of things.
But what is this really doing? Freeing experience from a physical world. And what does that let you do? Well, that actually lets you create these experiences with a much larger range for much lower cost.
Because the experience, well, the fidelity goes up and the cost goes down, the number of applications, the number of things people are going to do with that is just exponentially higher.
It’s kind of like the internet and what that unlocked for communication. You couldn’t really predict what people would do with it, not very easily. You could predict a range of things, but you wouldn’t really know which ones hit. And the same is probably true of AR and VR, and more advanced versions of that that tap more directly into the brain.
I think what that’s going to let us do is end up in a world that’s fundamentally way more interesting than the one we have now, where sure, you can have entertainment on top of actual reality, as AR, but you can actually start tying together things like manufacturing and design, healthcare, social. Pretty much every aspect of what you do on a day-to-day basis could be part of this more virtual world that’s dramatically more efficient.
Solana: So we’ve discussed the ways we’re building new worlds, engaging with people and transforming the physical reality. And we’ve talked about the ways that technology is evolving. So then what? The kind of world Nick Bostrom talked about, a simulated world? And with this much power to reshape the human experience, is this whole conversation getting kind of religious?
A little earlier, Linc said something interesting. Virtual reality would be a time machine. And he described the day a mother came into his studio in Los Angeles. She brought her baby, Reese, with her. She recorded herself and her kid for a day, and left.
Gasking: Ashley then came back six months later. And she picked up a headset, and she watched herself leaving that message. And what was interesting is that she was able to, in a way, step back in time. She was able to step into her former body, where she was recorded. So she moved around behind where she stood, she stood into her body, she put her hands up in the same way that she held her baby, Reese, six months earlier, and her mind essentially reinvented that moment.
She was able to re-experience what Reese was like and how thin her legs were, and the way that she cried. And she was completely overcome with emotion. And at the same time, Reese was just making some of her first steps, and we recorded her doing that across the studio. So you can actually sit down on the floor and watch Reese, in virtual reality, as she walks by you.
Those first steps that we captured are something that her family will be able to experience for generations to come. It’s this capturing of people before they leave the real world, which allow us to then visit them in the virtual world forever. That really creates a different type of immortality that we didn’t really think about before. We always think about it in a personal sense.
Solana: A man sits down at his desk, enters virtual reality, and flies over a perfect digitally reconstructed planet Earth, surveying lands until he finds an abandoned building on the Shanghai coast. He explores the property. He wants it. He calls up the owner, who appears before him. The man purchases the land from the owner, and the two shake hands.
He calls up his tools. He erases the standing building before him and designs a skyscraper. It materializes before him, and he walks in. He breaks walls down and reshapes wings. He brings in designers who appear as if by teleportation, and consult with him on the look and feel of the project.
They bring in materials consultants, artists, prospective tenants. The project is not working. He starts over. Then he knocked his second design down. And he works like this again and again until it’s finally right.
He raises up his arm, accesses his command center, runs the program, and exits. Thousands of miles away in the real world, a team of robots and contractors descend on the abandoned building, take it apart, and raise his skyscraper in a country its architect has never been. New worlds for exploring. New aspects of our physical world for creating, in manufacturing, in construction, in a simulation of organisms even, as we approach our advanced biology’s world of genetic engineering.
This podcast was conceived of in an environment largely saturated by an almost dogmatically held belief in the apocalypse. That dystopian cultural obsession generally focuses on a few well-worn cliches. It’s the nuclear holocaust, it’s the man-made plague, it’s the robots-take-our-jobs, or worse, they go to war with us and they win.
For five weeks now, we’ve explored the technologies in question. We’ve confronted the fears and the myths associated with them. And in each episode, we’ve illustrated the application of the technology scientists and technologists are actually working toward, and the kind of world they’re really fighting for.
It’s a world with unlimited energy, food, and clean water for everyone. It’s a world with cures to diseases in such abundance that new discoveries become observed as trivial. It’s a world with perfect healthcare and education for everyone. It is a world where you imagine a thing, and that thing becomes reality.
This mini-series was never intended as an exercise in optimism, though there is much to be optimistic about. Rather, the purpose of our series is to prove our potential and to remind our audience the stakes, because the dystopian fears, as we’ve seen, are not all bogymen. Humanity faces considerable danger.
The promise of our better world is spectacular, but it won’t just happen.
It’s a possible world. It’s even a probable world. But it needs to be designed, and then it needs to be built.
The technologically mature civilization is a civilization in which the limits of human potential are set only by the bounds of human imagination. Colloquially, we can do whatever we put our minds to, so the intention must be worthy of us: a better world, a perfect world, for all of us. That world is called utopia.
I’m Mike Solana, and this is Anatomy of Next.