Naval Ravikant: End Games – The After On Podcast with Rob Reid (Part 1)

Check out The After On Podcast Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • It’s been getting easier and easier to destroy something thanks to technology
    • The destructive powers arrive long before the protective powers (creating destructive power is actually a lot easier)
      • Think – From the moment we first split the atom to the first nuclear bomb was a much shorter trip to the first nuclear power plant
  • Commercial air travel will eventually come to an end because weaponized drones will just be too prevalent
    • Remember the airplane that went down and landed in the Hudson River after hitting a flock of geese?
      • Now just imagine a ton of miniaturized drones doing the same thing
    • A few important points:
      • The drones don’t have to launch until a plane takes off – which makes them even more effective
      • The person/group operating the drones wouldn’t even have to expose themselves
  • A nightmare future scenario – Automated assassination markets
    • What’s an assassination market?
      • You build a piece of code that lives peer-to-peer in the dark web
      • People can then go there and contribute small amounts of money in untraceable ways (like with crypto) and essentially bid up assassinations on people they don’t like
        • This would allow for the crowd-funding of assassinations
  • The potential benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) are huge, but we need to be very, very cautious of the negative scenarios that might also play out
  • On mass shootings and mass murders:
    • In the future, as technologies advance and proliferate, the types of people who do these things could have access to some terrifying capabilities – thus the death tolls would only rise
  • But one of the most important points:
    • With the above, on a long enough time scale, all of these negative things are likely to happen
  • One more quote to get you thinking:
    • “At any given time on the planet, there are a few people, and one is too many…. if you gave them a button that would end the planet, they would press that button” – Naval

Books, TV Show, and Movies Mentioned

Intro

  • Naval Ravikant is a serial entrepreneur and one of Silicon Valley’s most prolific and successful angel investors
    • For more Naval, check out the Podcast Notes from his new podcast and many Periscope sessions
  • Rob wrote a series of essays on extensional risk related to this podcast:

Naval’s Background

  • He was 9-years-old when he joined his mother and brother (@kamalravikant) to emigrate to the U.S. from New Delhi, India
  • Naval fell in love with technology from a young age and made his way to Stuyvesant High School and then on to Dartmouth College to study computer science and economics
  • He’s now best known for co-founding AngelList (which has to date funded thousands of companies)
  • Naval is also an early investor in Twitter, Uber, Wish, and Postmates

An Introduction to Existential Risk

  • “It’s been getting easier and easier to destroy something thanks to technology, and it’s getting harder and harder to defend against”
  • “It became very clear to me, probably about a decade ago, that we’re just on a trend line where on a long enough time scale, I can 3D print a nuclear weapon in my house. On a long enough time scale, I can take a synthetic biology lab in my room and create a weaponized virus that combines the most virulent features of smallpox and the longevity of AIDS and spreads like the flu.”
    • Technology WILL eventually enable this
  • Naval thinks that eventually commercial air travel will come to an end because weaponized drones will be too prevalent
  • “It’s just the nature of the nature of the Faustian bargain with technology that we get so much more power over our natural environment. That power includes the ability to destroy things and the destructive powers arrive long before the protective powers do.”

Amara’s Law

  • This law states that we tend to overestimate technology in the short run and underestimate it in the long run
    • This is why bubbles happen (the crypto bubble, the dot-com bubble) 
      • People think the tech will get rolled out ASAP, it’s overestimated and doesn’t end up getting rolled out right away leading to disappointment
      • But a decade or two later the tech really does change the world
        • It’s hard to imagine how much the tech will really change things, because initially we’re just imagining against known use cases (how could people have predicted the effect of things like the internet)

It’s Easier to Destroy Than to Create

  • Naval notes that creating destructive power is actually a lot easier (compared to protective powers)
    • “From the moment we first split the atom to the first nuclear bomb was a much shorter trip to the first nuclear power plant”
  • “It also takes longer to create than it does to destroy” – Why?
    • Creativity has lots of moving parts and has to be scalable
    • And it has to be safe

Drones and Commercial Aviation

  • “If you were a Bond villain trying to take over the world, the three technologies that you would look at are synthetic biology, hidden nuclear weapons….and hunter-killer suicide drones, that are miniaturized…like nano drones that use pheromone tracking to find their targets.”
    • Pheromone tracking involves tracking by DNA signature (from your breathing, face recognition etc.)
  • “Drones are essentially guided bullets. It’s a bullet with a tracking system.”
    • So they’ll obsolete all other weapon systems (airplanes, ships, everything)
  • They’ll easily end commercial aviation
    • How small will they be? – Around the size of your fist
    • Remember the airplane that went down and landed in the Hudson River after hitting a flock of geese? 
      • Now imagine a ton of miniaturized drones…
    • “It’s a terrorist’s wet dream”
      • The drones don’t have to launch until a plane takes off – which makes them even more effective
      • “It’s not much of a stretch to see them [Al-Qaeda and ISIS] adopting drone technology as soon as it becomes viable for attacking commercial aviation”
  • Drones favor the attacker asymmetrically
    • The attacker doesn’t even have to expose themselves
  • Related – check out some of these drone racing videos 

Drones and The Ability to Target Specific People

  • “It’s not that far fetched to see that when the technology arrives, you could have drones that track down heads of state and are constantly monitoring them”

The Nightmare Scenario – An Automated Assassination Market

  • What’s an assassination market?
    • You build a piece of code that lives peer-to-peer in the dark web
    • People can then go there and contribute small amounts of money in untraceable ways (like with crypto) and essentially bid up assassinations on people they don’t like
      • This would allow for the crowd-funding of assassinations
    • There are a variety of things that could then happen:
      • An assassin takes up the bid
      • Assassination drones would be automated to act when a certain amount is raised
      • The victim might have the opportunity to come in and pay some amount of $ to remove themselves from the list 
    • “Given we can’t even shut down BitTorrent, and Bitcoin, and dark markets it’s not clear to me you could shut down an assassination market”
    • What’s even more scary about this is that the cost of nearly everything drops over time…crowdfunding an assassination would fit that bill

Let’s Sum Up

  • With the above, on a long enough time scale, these scenarios are extremely likely to happen

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

  • “The basic idea is that if we cross certain technological red lines, there’s some non-zero chance that a super artificial intelligence could arise, seize control, and imperil humanity” – Rob
    • “There are many, many private entities racing to build an artificial general intelligence” – Naval
  • There are many famous AI skeptics:
    • Stephen Hawking has famously said AI poses a serious threat
    • Bill Gates – same thing
    • Elon Musk – and again
    • “These are not people who have no knowledge of what’s going on” – Rob
      • Microsoft has one of the biggest AI programs in the world
      • Tesla is practically run on AI
    • Sure these people are not AI researchers, but Naval brings up a good point:
      • “If I were going to worry about it [AI], I would rather rely upon intelligent, disinterested people, rather than intelligent/interested people who have too much skin in the game to actually characterize it”
        • Saying you’re an “AI expert” just means your identity is identity is tied up in the technology, making it hard to tolerate any criticism
          • Rob brings up this quote from Upton Sinclair“It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it”
  • Some issues we’re facing:
    • It’s much, much harder to create a “friendly AI” than just to create an AI and just see what happens
    • “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”
      • AI developers are, in their minds, doing this for the greater good and aren’t fully considering the potential adverse consequences
    • It’s asymmetric:
      • The group of people who win the AI race will end up as billionaires, but consider the downsides (if they occur) – they’ll affect ALL of humanity
        • We’re dealing with private actors making dangerous bets for privatized gains
  • Naval estimates that it’s going to cost a team of researchers $100 billion+ to fully develop an AI
  • BUT – “I don’t think general AI is high up on the list of issues, not because it’s impossible, but because it’s going to take a very long time”
    • There are other things scarier and nearer term
    • “I do think it’s improbable in the next 50, 100 years – I think we’re overestimating our ability to simulate the human brain”
  • Related:
    • Rob has an upcoming interview with Stuart Russel, one of the most widely cited experts on the topic of AI
      • Stuart is openly concerned about the potential negative consequences of the technology

Will AI even care about us?

  • “The last AI the earth created was us”
    • Humans are a self-evolving intelligence that evolves through civilization by upgrading the software in our brains via the stories we tell each other
    • So just look at how we treat every other creature to get an idea of how AI will treat us
  • Check out the movie Her
    • At the end of it, the artificial general intelligence (AGI) becomes bored of humans and just leaves Earth
  • A few scenarios for how the human/AI relationship will work:
    • The benevolent dictator scenario
      • The AI wants to help us, knows what’s best for humanity, and takes charge
    • The “Earth is just in my way” scenario
      • The AI wants to use all the power from the sun so it creates a Dyson sphere capturing all the energy around the star
    • The benign neglect scenario
      • Essentially – how humans treat a pile of ants or bacteria
        • Think about this – We annihilate bacteria without even thinking about it when we clean our kitchen counter – we don’t do it because we “hate” bacteria
      • Consider how we treat worms and chimps
        • “The fact that we’re descended from them [worms] and related to chimps doesn’t make us reluctant to nuke them when they’re in our way or to perform experiments on them when it’s beneficial for us”

Recent Computing Breakthroughs

  • Facial recognition
    • Naval actually has a face recognition closed beta app on his phone which he says hasn’t failed once
      • Imagine how useful this will be in augmented reality glasses
      • “Physical privacy is dead”
  • Labeling things in online images
  • Now think:
    • Once computers got better than humans at calculating numerical values, it wasn’t soon before it became unthinkable for a human to even try doing something like multiplying 999×56
    • Some years after the greatest chess master of the day, Gary Kasparov, was beaten by an IBM machine, it wasn’t soon after that computers could defeat millions of people at chess without a whole bunch of effort
  • Look forward:
    • Once computers/AI get better at designing better software/hardware than we are – it won’t be long before we solely rely on them to do just that

Civilization-Ending Asteroid Strikes

  • They tend to happen about once every 100 million years
    • So there’s a 99.999999% chance that one doesn’t happen in a given year
  • The annual budget of projects related to monitoring the population of near-Earth objects in order to allow us some sort of forewarning so that we could divert something heading out way is = $150 million

Naval Quotes to Summarize Everything

  • “At some level, it’s just hard to image how we tame nature without the ability to end nature”
  • “There’s no free lunch here. The act of creating the technology required to save us will first create the technology that will destroy us”

The Horrific Stuff That Happens in Secrecy

  • For decades in complete secrecy, the Soviet Union ran a huge bioweapons program called Biopreparat
    • They actually managed to weaponize smallpox
  • Japan had a horrible group called Unit 731
    • “I suggest you NOT look it up on Wikipedia because it will give you nightmares’
    • They did many live experiments on Chinese POWs
    • They weaponized the bubonic plaque and ended up dropping bombs loaded with plaque infested fleas on Chinese cities
  • “Even though they signed the Genova Convention, I will bet you there are multiple working bioweapons labs in the world today”

Mass Shootings and Suicide Mass Murderers

  • Suicide rates have risen in the U.S. during the time when the most celebrated antidepressants (SSRI’s) have been on the market
  • There are around 300 mass shootings in the U.S. every year
    • There about 1,000 worldwide every year
    • “In the future, as technologies advance and proliferate, the types of people who do these things could have access to some terrifying capabilities” – Rob
      • “When someone goes nuts with a knife versus a machine gun, the person with a more powerful technology is going to kill more people”
  • Airline Massacres
    • In 2015, a depressed Germanwings pilot decided to take his own life, and everyone else’s on board, by crashing his plane and killing 150 people – Read
    • Then there’s the recent EgyptAir airline massacre – Read
    • And of course, the planes that flew into the World Trade Center incident 
  • In summary:
    • “Some minority of this category of person would probably kill everybody if they had the opportunity” – Rob
    • “At any given time on the planet, there are a few people – and one is too many – if you gave them a button that would end the planet, they would press that button”

Random

Check out the Podcast Notes for Part 2 of this interview

These notes were edited by RoRoPa Editing Services

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