My Goal Alignment Problem

Bryan Johnson
Feb 10 · 9 min read

Dear Reader,

Many of you are aware that I recently fired Evening Bryan, revoking his authority to eat. That decision proved life changing. Recently, Decide-what-to-eat Bryan got canned too. Now, my body independ ently generates the grocery shopping list and Sleep Bryan decides the eating schedule. Data, not emotions, now manages both my diet and sleep protocols.

My body creates a meal plan by completing a series of tests every 90 days, allowing it to communicate exactly what it needs in numbers. This has been equally transformative to my health and happiness. The below article attempts to playfully provide a behind-the-scenes look of how this happened.

Central to my personal evolution with sleep and diet has been reconciling that “I” am actually a large collection of different Bryans, each of whom has his own — and often competing — objectives. In other words, I have a goal alignment problem. Potential goal misalignment, between AI and humans, has been a hot topic lately.

Interesting to me, even before we get to considering human/AI alignment, is more closely examining the mess of competing objectives within each of us. Afterall, without a stable foundational set of goals within ourselves, how can we build the next layer of alignment?

Bryan

##

Image for post
Image for post

There are many versions of you constantly competing for dominance in achieving their own goals. Frequently opposing one another. The texture of their goals varies according to the time of day, what you last ate, and how you slept the night before, among other things. Trying to accurately predict the goals of your future selves is elusive at best. Meanwhile, you do your best to smooth over these differences and pretend as though there is a singular unified you with fixed goals. We all do.

Act I:

New-Year’s-resolution Bryan resolves he will get up, everyday, at five am, to workout. The next day, Five-am Bryan wants just 30 more minutes in bed and doesn’t see what the fuss is all about. That afternoon, Famished-workout Bryan reasons that he can safely eat a second sandwich and even a few more potato chips because of how many calories he burned while working out. Plus, he’ll just skip dinner.

Dinner time arrives and Out-with-friends Bryan is feeling the pains of hunger. Surely, a slice of pizza and a few margaritas will actually improve overall health by helping to unwind from the stressful day? The late eating and alcohol leads to Deep-sleep Bryan getting 85% less rest and rejuvenation.

The following day, poorly rested and irritable Five-am Bryan feels a bit sore from the previous day and determines he needs a day to rebuild because, as they say, rest is every bit as important to building, and so he turns over and goes back to sleep. New-Year’s resolution Bryan is a distant, rapidly fading memory.

Every minute of every day, the Citadel of Bryans work to achieve their self-interested objectives. Each one feeling compelled and justified. Each placing more value on now over later, on present over future health. Rarely a thought for each other. Each being ever so slightly detached from the consequences. Simultaneously sharing an identity while also detaching themselves from the whole.

Eventually, the goal misalignment becomes so severe that All-Bryans call an emergency board meeting. The chairman gets up, his voice shaky, and reads from prepared text:

In all moments, this body recognizes the benefits of being trim and fit, feeling our best. The problem is that only in certain moments do most of us consider it to be our immediate concern or responsibility. Today, after years of struggling to achieve our health goals, we have come to a radical decision: we are firing Evening Bryan, effective immediately, revoking his authority to consume food. In his place, a fixer has been hired temporarily — Sleep-and-will power Bryan — to try and right the ship.

Image for post
Image for post
The firing of Evening Bryan

The crisis calms but the situation remains unstable, capable of taking a turn for the worse in any moment. All-Bryans quickly reconvene and take another radical step, deciding to terminate Decide-what-to-eat Bryan, too. Eliminating food decision authority from any one member. Decide-what-to-eat Bryan makes an emotional plea, promising that he will be better. Going so far as to guarantee that he will never again make a mistake. But Look-in-the-mirror Bryan had had enough, “If only you had reflection.”

In a kind gesture to him, Evening Bryan walked over and offered some consolation given that he, too, knew what it was like to lose the reins of power.

With a feeling of celebration in the air, the festivities were cut short. A voice in the room — no one could be sure where exactly it came from — pointed out that now there wasn’t a decision maker in charge of deciding what to eat. This had everyone stumped. The mood darkened as the All-Bryans began wondering if they’d made a mistake in their rash firing decision.

Heart-rate-variability Bryan peeled off from the commotion, engaged in breathing exercises, in order to reset himself. He glanced at his phone to evaluate the data. He had the numbers. Everyone else seemed to be just going off of hunches. That’s when an idea popped into his mind and he ran back to the meeting, waving both hands in the air and yelling that he had figured out the solution: “Ask the body!”

Confusion spread across the room. In a dismissive tone, all the other Bryans at once quipped: “But the body speaks in gibberish!”

Heart-rate-variability Bryan was unfazed by the comment. “The body can speak through numbers. Blood draws, urine samples and saliva collection. They provide real-time transcripts. A play-by-play of exactly what’s going on inside of us!”

He continued, “I propose that going forward, Biomarker Bryan be granted a permanent seat in our committee and formally made the authority that determines what we eat. The ‘Self’ is more than our bodies, unconscious awareness and the symbolic terms and ontological primitives we have to represent it. Let’s stop putting ourselves in impossible situations when we are tired, hungry and vulnerable to making poor decisions. We have made the same mistakes thousands of times. The insanity must stop!”

He jumped atop a table and belted out, “It’s a revolution!”

The next day, Biomarker Bryan showed up, for his first day at work.

Image for post
Image for post
Biomarker Bryan

Act II:

Intrigued, the All-Bryans got to work sketching out a blueprint. It began with a lofty, Declaration of Independence-like statement which many board members found overkill but others found suitable for the revolution about to take hold:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for the All-Bryans to dissolve the biological bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the Self, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature entitle them.

From this day forward, the Body is granted citizenship, with freedom of speech and independent authority to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. No longer to be ruled by the oppressive, precarious and self-destructive Self. “Give me liberty or give me death” has resulted in Self-liberty giving All-Bryans certain death.

On his first day, Body, intoxicated by the moment, gave a speech:

The human gastrointestinal tract is a circuitous loop three-thousand times shorter than the tunnel of the Large Hadron Collider (the world’s largest and high-energy particle collider) but offers an equivalent richness of data. In both, what goes in comes out changed; what survives the whorls and loops is no less interesting than what doesn’t. The graphs can even look the same. A single anomalous peak in either can give clues to either the Higgs Boson, the origin and structure of the universe, or the status, health, and operational capacity of the human body. The body’s underground tunnels provide rich, fresh, accurate data which literally goes to waste. Stool, blood, saliva, urine. The body tells us what’s going on inside. To not use this information is a travesty.

We will confront with boldness the invisible battles waging in the body that lead to self harm. We will break our body down and understand it like a religious text. The unwieldy enemy — entropy, inflammation, pitting self versus other; or senescence and stress pitting self against self.

He began planning:

Every ninety days, we will begin with a blood test that identifies diet-induced inflammatory reactions (e.g. cytokines, leukotrienes, or prostaglandins), and tests white blood cells against over 150 types of common vegetables, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, fruits, and chemicals. Each food will receive a personalized inflammation-inducement score, which sets the kinds of foods and meals Bryan will consume over the next ninety days. The objective: zero diet-induced inflammation.

The first time the All-Bryans took this test, they were surprised to discover that almonds created inflammation. They had been eating 20 almonds a day, believing it a healthy thing to do based upon extensive reading. Meanwhile, the body was revolting. They just couldn’t hear the cries for help. Though they all knew and recognized they had been wrong, none offered an apology.

Body didn’t let up, taking advantage of his new seat at the table:

Following the inflammation marker test, a micronutrient test, performed on blood samples, will generate a custom food and supplement schedule to address deficiencies. A complete blood panel will be performed to assess overall system status. A microbiome analysis for gut health. A neuroendocrine panel to cover serotonin, dopamine, GABA, epinephrine, norepinephrine, Glutamate and PEA. Finally, a 14-day temporary implantable in the arm measuring blood glucose throughout the day to ensure the body is maintaining desired levels.

More extensive testing will be done every six and twelve months including environmental toxins, cardiovascular fitness, bone density, oxidative stress, hormone analysis, DNA methylation and cancer markers among others.

The schedule to eat the selected foods will be coordinated by Deep-sleep Bryan, starting with the current schedule of breakfast upon rising and the final meal of the day by 10am.

Act III:

Twelve months later, optimism reigned among the All-Bryans. Inflammation in the body was nearly undetectable, at 20x lower than a previous measurement. Every health biomarker was ideal or better than ideal. Negative emotions had been replaced with positivity. Body weight was 155 lbs and body fat 10.1%, on par with an elite athlete. Heart-rate-variability Bryan wore a t-shirt with 52.4% on it and kept taking selfies. It represented his anaerobic capacity (VO2 max mL/kg/min), which he reminded everyone made them cardiovascularly competitive with an athlete in their early 20s.

Decide-what-to-eat Bryan, still kept on as a freelance consultant, only made terrible decisions three times in the first year. Interestingly, in a post-cheat interview, Decide-what-to-eat Bryan confessed that gluttonous behavior had lost its allure now that he had to pay self-employment taxes.

At an annual shareholder’s meeting, Future-literacy Bryan presented polling information from the All-Bryans showing a 30% drop in the amount of time and attention needed to manage diet.

In unison, the All-Bryans read a statement:

“For years we have been plagued by our goal alignment problem. A biological paradox present in our species for thousands of years. Our recent success with sleep and diet are baby steps towards lessening our internal conflict and strife and aligning our goals more closely.

When we zoomed out far enough, we discovered that the earth was not the center of our universe or galaxy. Then we discovered that intelligent life was attributable to evolution, which it turns out, is impressively intelligent. These were both among the largest revolutions to ever occur in our quest to understand what is really going on. We believe the next revolution will be around our conscious ‘Self’. The ‘goal alignment problem’, understood to include within-ourselves, between each other and with AI, offers a promising vantage point when contemplating the future of intelligent existence.”

Future-literacy Bryan, who only ever wants to talk about numbers, shared that half of the energy savings of the new All Bryans comes from not having to manage turbulent emotional states resulting from misaligned goals. Allowing this freed up capacity to be put to use doing more useful and satisfying things, like Self IPO.

Image for post
Image for post

Future Literacy

Creating mental models for an emerging future

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store