M2M Day 181: Challenge complete!

This post is part of Month to Master, a 12-month accelerated learning project. For April, my goal is to hold a 30-minute conversation in Hebrew on the future of technology

Two days ago, I held a 35-minute conversation in Hebrew on the future of technology with my friend Josh, officially completing this month’s challenge.

While the Hebrew isn’t 100% perfect, I had the conversational confidence and expressiveness to fully articulate my ideas, which was ultimately my goal.

Below is a fully subtitled video of the conversation. I’ve also included a text transcript since the video is quite long (and you just might be interested in what we discussed).

A few things to note about the vide0:

  1. Rather than literally translate word-by-word, I instead tried to capture the spirit of the conversation and our ideas. The subtitles are still mostly word for word, but I did take a few stylistic liberties to better represent the intent of certain sentences.
  2. For some reason, my camera decided to shut off after every twelve minutes of recording. So, there are two cuts in the final video where I restart the camera. It doesn’t affect the flow of the conversation too much.
  3. There are a few minor loose ends in the conversation. In Hebrew, it seems I haven’t yet fully mastered the art of “circling back”.
  4. I noticed a few typos in the video subtitles while copying and pasting the transcript to Medium. The video is currently halfway exported, so, for now, we will have to live with the few typos.

Transcript of the conversation

(after translation from Hebrew to English)

MAX: Firstly, thank you, Josh, for coming.

JOSH: Not a problem.

MAX: I’m excited for our conversation. (Looking into the camera) It’s important to say that Josh doesn’t know much about what I’ve prepared. I told Josh that we will talk about the future, technology, and technology’s influence on the future, but that’s it… So, it will be interesting to see where this conversation goes.

JOSH: Awesome…

MAX: Are you ready to start?

JOSH: Sure, let’s begin.

MAX: Perhaps, you have a question about the future or something like that?

JOSH: Yes, so I have a meta-question…Why did you choose “the future” and “technology” as the topics of this conversation? Why are you personally interested in the connection between technology and the future?

MAX: In my opinion, technology builds the future… And, technology isn’t just computers, and artificial intelligence and so on, it’s also “language” and “writing systems”, etc. Yes, there is this concept of time, and time happens, and the present is now, and the future is tomorrow. However, the difference between “today” and “the future” is because of new technologies. And also, it’s just fun to predict what will happen in the future…

JOSH: I know you told me before that you can’t actually foresee into the future, however… Tell me your prediction: What particular technology will have the largest impact on the future?

MAX: It’s interesting you ask that because… During this month, I spoke a lot about the future with my tutor. We spoke a lot about virtual reality, artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, and a lot of other things. However, in my opinion, no technology matters if, in the future, fully-lifelike VR exists. Sure, we could talk about self-driving cars, for example… and it’s possible for us to say that if there are cars like these, there will be significant changes to the world and to the way that people live. However, if it will be possible to live inside of fully-lifelike virtual reality, there isn’t a reason for people to live in the real-world [and use self-driving cars, for example]… and only live inside of this virtual world. Maybe, it’s a bad answer… But, I think that all technology doesn’t matter if we can do all things inside of VR…

JOSH: …if we can escape the real world.

MAX: Yes.

JOSH: However, you are talking like there is a boundary between virtual reality and the reality that we see with our eyes. But, as I understand it, the boundary is more narrow between these two worlds. So, I would like to know if you are afraid of the prospect that people choose to live in VR.

MAX: Yes.

JOSH: Yes (relieved, perhaps).

MAX: And I’m also scared of genetic engineering and many other things. However, I don’t know if I need to think in this way [i.e. be scared] because… I believe that all people don’t like change and that it’s hard for us to understand things that we don’t “live” on a daily basis. If I could ask my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather if he is afraid of the idea of the Internet or smartphones or something like that, I think that he also would likely say “Yes”. Because… in [past] generations, they wrote letters to communicate… They didn’t use emojis. So, yes, I agree that a world with fully lifelike VR seems like not such a good place to me. However, in the future, this might be normal, and I don’t know if it will be a problem.

JOSH: I think that it is important to talk about the truth that we are anxious about possibilities like these because… there were years that I felt very positive about everything in the technological future. However, there is this fear underlying these feelings and we need to communicate this and we need to discuss it in an open way. However, I also want to return the matter of “generations”. I’m happy that you mentioned this topic of generations because, in my eyes, the important question is…If you believe that the difference between your grandfather’s life and your life will be
more or less than the difference between your life and the life your future grandchild.

MAX: That’s a good question because… I believe that we are currently in the most important time in human history. And maybe all previous generations also thought this. However, I agree with you [that the gap between my life and my grandchild’s life will be greater because of this inflection point]. Here’s an example [of this inflection point]… Today, scientists can use genetic engineering in a few minor ways…

JOSH: But it’s not easy

The camera shuts off for the first time. I turn it back on.

MAX: In the every past generation, everyone was a human being just like the human beings of today. However, because of genetic engineering, I think that in the future there will be two species of “humans” and I think, as a result, there will be genetic inequality. It’s important to first talk about inequality a little bit, I think… Today, there is inequality in the world.
However, in reality, this inequality is somewhat artificial because the current inequities between people are economic or social, and these things are actually just constructs… these aren’t fundamental things of nature.

JOSH: There is a debate about this.

MAX: It’s possible to say that some of these constructs partially stem from genetic observations. Anyway, today, in many cases, while it’s certainly not easy, it is possible to “overcome” inequality… more so than what I think is going to happen in the future.

JOSH: Got it.

MAX: Because… Imagine there is a man, and he receives a lot of money, he has arbitrarily overcome his previous economic disadvantages… The difference [that shows up as inequality] isn’t between people, but between the laws of society that people create.

JOSH: We see that the Gini Coefficient [a measure of inequality] is a lot lower in Sweden than in the United States. Perhaps, a bit because of the culture, but usually because of the laws (systematic and natural) both here and there.

MAX: It’s hard to talk about this. But, the idea is that all people are people… in their genetics. However, I think that in the future there will be people who are more genetically developed/evolved than other people. Today, we can use genetic engineering to… Okay, today, if there is a baby in utero, it is possible to see if the baby has a major developmental/genetic problem and the baby’s parents can choose if the baby lives. Right now, we are only try to find major development problems [with the baby]. However, in the
future… Well, it’s hard to know when to stop.

JOSH: We are talking about another very thin line. It’s quite difficult to define the line and say what is a legitimate use of screening and what’s illegitimate. Is it ethical to use genetic engineering only in order to remove problems, but not in order to extend the human lifespan.. or in order to enhance intelligence? It’s hard to know where to draw the line.

MAX: Right, because parents might say “We want that our baby lives a good life.” So, if the baby has some kind of problem that the parents think will prevent the baby from living a good life, they can choose to do something about it. However, it’s possible to say…. If the baby is a little bit more attractive, or a little smarter, or a little more etc. etc., he will be able to live a better life. So, in my opinion, it’s impossible to know where this “line” is. Therefore, it’s inevitable that in the future there will be this pressure to expand the use of genetic engineering in order to change everything about the baby.

JOSH: So, if it’s inevitable, do you think that it’s preferable that this technology be inexpensive and easy to use, so that it is more widespread and democratic?

MAX: That’s the problem… because, in the beginning, only people with money/resources will be able to use genetic engineering in this way. So, the genetic gap between people with advantage and people who won’t be able to use this technology will continue to grow and to grow. And so, perhaps it’s will be impossible to…

JOSH: …to close this gap.

MAX: Exactly. And I don’t know, but there is this story about Neanderthals and humans… and because the humans had a few genetic advantages, all the Neanderthals died. Perhaps, in the future, the will be a similar problem caused by genetic engineering. We are going to create a world in which it will be possible to be….

The camera shuts off for the second time. I turn it back on.

MAX: So yes, I think that maybe in the future there will be people who are on a higher genetic level,and all the other species of humans will have major problems.

JOSH: Interesting. I agree with you that this is a threat and that you are right that a gap will develop inevitably… at least in the beginning.However, there is a chance artificial intelligence will develop more quickly than
genetic engineering technologies, and in a few generations, there will be a few AIs that will be even more intelligent than all types of humans and all of humanity combined. What do you think about this possibility? Do you think this is going to happen or do you think this is just a fantasy?

MAX: I hope that this happens in a particular way. Are you familiar with Open AI?

JOSH: Yes.

MAX: So, people like Elon Musk think that if we don’t think carefully about artificial intelligence, it’s possible that in the future, we aren’t going to like the situation.

JOSH: Sorry, explain this to me…

MAX: It will be possible that artificial intelligence in the future will be more developed than humans, and maybe the AI will not want to do things for humans, only for “computers”… or something like that. So, Elon Musk and others created Open AI to think about and create AI in a way that’s good for humans.

JOSH: Got it.

MAX: And I think that we need to create something like this also for genetic engineering because right now I think there is economic pressure to find a way to… Right now, people are using genetic engineering in an attempt to extend the human lifespan and to create medicine and so on. However, I think we are on the “road” that we discussed [towards genetic inequality].

JOSH: That is further in the future than the threat of AI?

The 30-minutes timer goes off.

MAX: Is it possible to continue a little bit?

JOSH: Yes, yes, why not… So, you are saying that this problem with genetic engineering is coming more quickly and more immediately than the problems with AI… because we need to create a place where we can go and talk about these things in an open and social way?

MAX: Yes, we need another place where we can talk about genetic engineering.

JOSH: Yes, exactly. That’s what I was suggesting…. It pains me that there isn’t a place for this dialogue within in the mainstream conversation, in the least in politics. I know this is discussed on the Internet, on blogs, at universities, but there isn’t a broader mainstream conversation. People are scared of irrelevant things and meanwhile technology rapidly progresses, and we aren’t active participants in shaping it.

MAX: It will be easier to participate in shaping the path of artificial intelligence… since AI is just a program on a computer, it’s easy to make it “open source”. But, the progress of genetic engineering, for example, happens inside of companies. I think there is a strong economic pressure and therefore it’s difficult to develop genetic engineering in an open way.

JOSH: But, first, in my opinion, we need to expand the conversation. The conversation is happening, but in a very contained sort of way. Why didn’t Clinton and Trump discuss or debate matters like this during the past election?

MAX: Because all people have problems today and it’s difficult for people to think about problems of the future. So, in my eyes, it wasn’t important to Clinton or Trump to talk about these kind of topics because most people want to improve their life right now. It’s the same problem with climate change. Most people don’t like to think too hard about the future and… that’s it.

JOSH: But, maybe it starts with us. We are talking about the future.

MAX: True.

JOSH: So, something is happening…

Pause.

JOSH: Awesome… Thank you for inviting me to have this conversation. I love these kinds of conversations.Thanks for giving me the opportunity to discuss this with you.

MAX: Thanks to you, Josh.


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Max Deutsch is a product manager at Intuit, the creator of Somebody.io and Rightspeed, and the guinea pig for Month to Master.

If you want to follow along with Max’s year-long accelerated learning project, make sure to follow this Medium account.