Naval Ravikant: End Games – The After On Podcast with Rob Reid (Part 2)

Check Out The After On Podcast Episode Page and Show Notes

Check out the Podcast Notes for Part 1 of this discussion 

Key Takeaways

  • Synthetic biology will be first to deliver world-ending capability to individuals
    • Just think forward – it’s probably safe to say that a desktop DNA synthesizer from the year 2038 will be capable of things that the entire synthetic biology project is capable of today
    • A single individual, if they chose to do so, would be able to wipe out the entire species
  • Consider the worst possible synthetic biology attack being something that wiped out humanity
    • If something like this was attempted and ended up being a failure (say it only killed 1% of the population) – it would still cripple society
  • But it gets even worse…
    • If today, a synthetic biology attack were to sicken only 1% of the population (not kill), most cities don’t even have a fifth that much hospital bed capacity
  • The “Ender”
    • This is the term Naval coined for an individual trying to kill everyone on earth
    • What’s the best way to stop “enders”? – Make sure there aren’t any in the first place
      • How do we do this? – Make sure NOBODY GOES UNLOVED
        • “At some point, if someone tries to end the world, it will be because they weren’t loved enough”
  • What’s the point of talking about all these potential negative outcomes from AI, synthetic biology, mass terrorism etc.?
    • In a sense, we’re training the “societal immune system” to have some awareness and concern about these potential occurrences
    • Awareness > no awareness

Books Mentioned

  • One theory for why we haven’t found any intelligent life yet is known as the Dark Forest hypothesis, popularized by Cixin Liu – author of The Three-Body Problem
  • From the book – The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston:
    • “The main thing that stands between the human species and the creation of a super virus is a sense of responsibility among the individual biologists.”
  • The “Ender” is a term Naval coined for an individual trying to kill everyone on earth

Intro

  • Naval Ravikant (@naval) 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 (@Rob_Reid) wrote a series of essays on extensional risk related to this podcast:

Let’s Start This Off With a Scary Thought

  • On a long enough time scale, everyone’s gonna have a “button”
    • From Part 1 of this interview:
      • “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

The Fermi Paradox

  • This basically states – since the universe is so vast and expansive, why haven’t we discovered any other lifeforms yet? There has to be some out there, right…?
    • One of the potential answers to this question is known as the Great Filter hypothesis:
      • This hypothesis states that any sufficiently advanced civilization ends up eventually blowing itself up – hence, no one’s made it past the filer
    • Another hypothesis for why we haven’t found any intelligent life yet is known as the Dark Forest hypothesis, popularized by Cixin Liu – author of The Three-Body Problem
      • Essentially, the universe is like a dark forest that we’re all tiptoeing through, and whichever civilization makes a “noise” identifies themselves to the other predators in the forest, who then immediately kill them
      • BUT Naval brings up a good point – “The problem with the Dark Forest hypothesis is that any species that’s capable of destroying another species immediately on contact was first capable of destroying itself – so how did they make it through that filter?”

Synthetic Biology (SynBio)

  • Let’s set the stage…
    • The Human Genome project was completed in 2003 (it took 13 years to complete) – the total cost was about $13 billion
      • It involved thousands of the top scientists around the world
      • The result? – A single haploid genome
      • TODAY – The same result can be achieved for ONLY ~$1,000 by a lab technician
      • LOOK FORWARD – How might this rate of improvement continue and affect the future of synthetic biology?
  • “Synthetic biology will be the first one to deliver world-ending capability to individuals”
  • Consider this:
    • In 2011, researchers in Holland and Wisconsin created a highly contagious version of the H5N1 flu virus
    • The virus is typically not that contagious, but it’s highly lethal…3,000 times more lethal than the Swine flu
      • H5N1 kills 60% of the people it infects, compared to the 0.02% for the Swine flu
      • Throughout history, there have been only a few dozen deaths from H5N1
    • The modified virus was kept under lock
    • But….just imagine if this virus was set free?
      • Anybody who learned how to modify the H5N1 virus to make it more contagious, if they chose to do so, could wipe out humanity
  • “What we’ve basically done with synthetic biology is we’ve taken designing and hacking humans from the physical domain to the digital domain. It’s a similar problem that people keep creating new computer viruses. But unlike computers, when a human crashes, it’s fatal. There’s no reboot.”
    • The flu genome is about 15,000 letters 
      • Rob estimates that the instructions to modify the H5N1 virus genome to make it highly contagious could fit on one single Post-it note
  • “I think it’s safe to say that a desktop DNA synthesizer from the year 2038 will be capable of things that the entire synthetic biology project is capable of today” – Rob
    • We need to realize that on a long enough time scale, nearly anyone will be able to make the H5N1 modification mentioned above….right from their bedroom
    • A single individual, if they chose to do so, would be able to end everything
  • From the book – The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston
    • “The main thing that stands between the human species and the creation of a super virus is a sense of responsibility among the individual biologists.”

What can we do about all this?

  • The best solution – just be informed
    • In a sense – we’re training the “societal immune system” to have some awareness and concern about these potential occurrences
    • Society NEEDS to have a slightly paranoid imagination about these things

Even A Failed SynBio Attack Would Cripple Humanity

  • Consider the worst possible SynBio attack being something that wiped out humanity
    • If something like this was attempted and ended up being a failure (say it only killed 1% of the population) – it would still cripple society
      • “Even a biological attack that fell radically short of the worst case scenario would be very devastating” – Rob
  • A horrible thought:
    • In 536 AD, between a third and a half of the people in the Eastern Roman Empire died of a plague
      • Now….think of a third to half of all the people you know dying
  • If today, a SynBio attack were to sicken only 1% of the population (not kill), most cities don’t even have a fifth that much hospital bed capacity
    • “I don’ know what happens in an American urban area when 80% of the people who are stampeding a hospital for life threatening situations are turned away for lack of beds” – Rob

We Haven’t Even Talked About Blackouts…

  • Just imagine if a city’s power grid was hacked and shut off:
    • Food would start spoiling
    • Police wouldn’t be able to communicate with each other
    • There wouldn’t be ways to navigate after dark
    • Etc., etc. etc….

The “Ender”

  • This is the term Naval coined for an individual trying to kill everyone on earth
    • Kind of like the book –  Ender’s Game
    • “I think it’s important for us to recognize that these types of people exist”
  • A great thought:
    • “My conclusion is you’re not going to be able to stop them [enders] purely through surveillance, or creating a totalitarian society, or big brother watching, because that creates its own immune response. And you’re not going to be able to stop them by stopping technology. So, really, the only way is to not create them in the first place. And to not create them means we all just need to learn how to make sure nobody goes unloved.”

Cool Tech

  • The new Teslas have these amazing bio-defense HEPA filters
    • They actually have a Bioweapons Defense Mode – you just hit a button and the air quality index (AQI) inside the car drops to a 7
    • Something like this should be installed in every new house

Let’s Get Creative – Potential Solutions to Preventing “The Ender” Scenario

  • Perhaps in the future, when you’re born, there’s a chip implanted in you that monitors your mood
    • When you become suicidal, it just “turns you off”
  • We need to be far more careful about who gets access to these types of technologies, SynBio labs etc. 
    • But even this would only work for so long
  • Perhaps we try to invent a new technology that is defensive against SynBio attacks in nature
    • What might this look like?
      • A correlated example from the computer world – encryption technology

Why not just ban certain technologies?

  • It just wouldn’t work
    • Countries would keep developing the tech in secrecy, and the countries that neglected to do so would just be left behind
  • Plus, look at the benefits of things like synthetic biology
    • It’s on the cusp of curing the organ shortage
    • We’re just starting to produce clean meat which have a whole host of downstream positive effects for issues like global warming
    • “Technology is a coin. One side of it is immortality, and the other side is annihilation.”

It’s All About Connection

  • “There are support systems we can create through technology that will help raise our consciousness and our connectedness to a new level”
    • It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine our children’s (or further future generations) getting cybernetic implants which will keep them connected to the internet at all times
      • Once you’re cybernetically connected to the rest of humanity – you almost become like a cell in a multi-celled organism
        • The hope is that, because of this, you’ll be much more in-tune with other people and their feelings
        • Perhaps one day, your loved ones will really truly be able to identify how you’re feeling 
  • “At some point, if someone tries to end the world, it will be because they weren’t loved enough”
  • “Humans used to find love and longing in our family and our tribe. Now we live in cities, disconnected from our ancestors and our immediate family.”
    • Humans today are looking for ways to connect and create new tribes and families, and are using all the tools at their disposal to do just that
      • “We’re heading towards a society of more connectedness”
        • Whether it’s through spirituality, meditation, parties, social media, or the internet
        • “The more connected we can be as humans, the better off we are”

Treating Depression

  • Related to all this, as the people most likely to be “enders” are people who are depressed/lonely – depression becomes much more of a societal issue than an individual issue
  • “It’s insane that we take any substance that’s bioactive, and then when you take it and put it in your mouth it causes a change in your feelings… and we go and ban it. The reality is some of these things make you much better off.”
    • Society and governments are just now starting to come around to the idea of using things like MDMA or psilocybin to treat depression related illnesses
  • Meditation has also been making a surge in the Western world as a way to better cope with mental conditions
    • Naval has found huge benefits in the practice – he talked about it more in these Podcast Notes
      • “It’s probably better than most drugs over a long period of time and it’s better than most therapies, I would argue, from my personal experience.”

Wrapping Up

  • “It’s better to have a slow, measured, trained immune system response than to wait until something happens and then there’s a cytokine storm with multiple wars, surveillance, crack-downs, a police state etc.”
    • So be aware, be cautious, and know that on a long enough time scale, these things can and will happen
  • It’s time society starts thinking about all this – if you’re terrified by everything that was discussed…good 😉
    • A good quote to wrap:
      • “If we fasten the seatbelt when we start our car, we’re not annoyed when we don’t get into an accident” – Rob

Random

These notes were edited by RoRoPa Editing Services

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