Speaker 0 00:00:00 Hi everyone, and welcome to the 158th episode of the Atlas Society. Asks, my name is Jennifer Anju Grossman. My friends call me Jag. I am the c e o of the Atlas Society. We are the leading non-profit introducing people to the ideas of Ay Rand in fun, creative, technologically innovative ways such as animated videos, uh, including our upcoming AI animated video, and of course, graphic novels. I mentioned that because today we are joined with, uh, one of the foremost experts in technological trends among other subjects, Mark Mills. Before I give him his full introduction, however, I wa wanna remind all of you who are joining us on Zoom, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube. Uh, we are gonna be taking your questions. So go ahead and use the comment section to start typing them in, and we will get to as many of them as we can. Our guest today, Mark Mills, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a faculty fellow at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. He's host of The Last Optimist podcast and author of several books, including Work in the Age of Robots, digital Cathedrals, and most recently, the Cloud Revolution, how the Convergence of New technologies will unleash the next Economic Boom and a Roaring 2020s. Mark, thank you for joining us.
Speaker 1 00:01:42 It's great to join you. Thanks for having me.
Speaker 0 00:01:45 And, uh, great to have you joining us from, uh, Maine. It looks very rustic there. So let's start first with a bit of your origin story. Uh, you are a man of, uh, many interests and varied experiences. Um, staff consultant, uh, the White House office under Reagan Venture Tech, becoming one of the leading experts on energy policy. How did you get, how'd you get there,
Speaker 1 00:02:16 <laugh>? It was an accident. <laugh>, I guess I, you know, I, I studied physics and I liked machines as well. I didn't do engineering. I couldn't get a job as a physicist because in the one I graduated, there were weren't many. So I worked as an engineer in microprocessors and semiconductors in the early days, and I worked in a fab doing process, what's called process engineering. And that was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. It put me in a, in a manufacturing plant, a fab, and that's a very popular subject now, of course, because of the CHIPS act. But it was formative in the sense that it fused the two things that I, I'm, I'm fascinated by, or three, I guess, always fascinated by computing and machines, manufacturing, how we make things, things and supply them society, but also the underlying physics of how these things work.
Speaker 1 00:03:03 And that really matters in these very difficult, complex machines, always has. So that was, that was lucky. Then I happened to work in the nuclear industry early on in Canada, and when I first emigrated to the United States, I came on the eve of the accident at Three Mile Island as a young man. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I ended up spending the week of the accident at the accident. So my found myself introduced to public debate, which would be a kind way of putting it for those who've forgotten how emotional and vicious the debates were around nuclear energy at that time. And being exposed to the challenge of talking about difficult things, things that scared people, things that people were worried about, uh, in the public space and, uh, with media. So, and then it was evolutionary that I ended up in the science office under President Reagan because nuclear energy mattered.
Speaker 1 00:03:52 I'd studied nuclear weapons, nuclear proliferation mattered. And, um, energy issues were huge because of the two oil price spikes of 73 and 79. So it just coalesce. And I've always liked to write. I was writing as a, as a young student, I've always enjoyed writing. I read a lot. I like to write, uh, promoting. I like to help people who are writers, and I like that I am a writer. So that they came together, if you like, in the think tank world later, later in my career. And that's so here. So here I am. And, and my book covers all those territories I just described. And deliberately, even though it's about the cloud and technology of computing communications, there's a lot about machines and robots and automobiles and space travel, nuclear energy materials in the book, because that's the world we live in, is comprised of the intersection of all these things.
Speaker 1 00:04:44 And as you know, and as all the listeners and watchers viewers know, it's also the intersection of our politics. And of course, by working in a White House, I really was finally introduced to the challenges of separating, uh, fact from fiction. There's been fake news for a long time, <laugh> and, and of course the emotionality of issues. And then of course, the venality of mon of people and money chasing, not not the, the good chase of money for productivity's sake, but the, you know, those who are less than honorable chasing money in, in the public policy domains. And that was an education of a first order when I was first in the swap of Washington dc.
Speaker 0 00:05:30 All right. Well, I have a bunch of questions, um, about energy policy, which you referenced, but I'm going to hold those for when we also start taking audience questions, cuz I think you've mentioned the Chips Act. People would like to get your take on that. But first I'm going to, uh, dive into your latest book as mentioned, the Cloud revolution, how the convergence of new technologies will unleash the next economic boom and a roaring 2020s. First, let's start with terminology. You write quote, the cloud may seem like a cooked up PR term, but a new word was needed to describe something that is as different from the internet as the latter was different from telephony. So, uh, what exactly is cloud computing and why does it represent such a quantum leap forward in technology?
Speaker 1 00:06:27 Well, all of us use cloud computing today, so we know what it is cuz we use it. But when you do, uh, mapping what other map, what other map program you do, whatever you do with your smartphone or computer, that constitutes advice that's ubiquitously available to you, advice on what you might wanna buy. And even medical advice using the famous Dr Google. But it's much more than that now cuz increasingly it's personalized, uh, in many of the health services you can get it, that is really different. So it, it's very different than the internet, but it's very different than you got mail in the old AOL days when I could, you know, go shopping and look at a website. This is different. We know it's different cuz it's not a computer doing a calculation. It's computing ubiquitously available as a utility that's essentially giving advice.
Speaker 1 00:07:17 It does other things. We communicate with it, we store things there, cat videos, you know, the cloud storage of all your vacation pictures. But it's much more than that as we know. Cuz you can use AI to sort your pictures now increasingly easily, that ubiquity, uh, and low cost, I mean, you have access. You and you and I have access to computing power that is without hyperbole a million fold more powerful than any anybody had access to, including the federal government in 1980 or 84 in a famous year. And you have it access to it for pennies, literally. I mean, you pay a few hundred bucks a month if you're spending a lot, most people spend far less than that. They have access this for pennies. That's an astonishing collapse and cost at one of the biggest physical infrastructures humanities ever built to provide advice, ideas and not just communication to, to, to provide not information, but, um, inference.
Speaker 1 00:08:19 You don't, a computer that calculates one plus one equals two is different than a computer that's ubiquitously available. It says this might be the direction you should take and the direction might not be about driving. In manufacturing. The supply chain industries are extraordinarily complex. One can ask in some normal language what decisions you might make about changing what you're selling or doing or ordering because the compute system, the cloud, has accessed the information in real time globally about things specifically relevant to your manufacturing. This this is a dis as I say, a distinction with a profound difference. So that's why it's important is scale is enormous in dollar terms. The cloud, more money is being spent on the capital infrastructure to expand the cloud today still than being spent by all the world's electric utilities to expand electric utility infrastructure. It's the biggest infrastructure by all measures of dollars, route miles, reach, and it's still growing. So it is consequential, it's not all good, all consequential things are good. Mm-hmm. I mean, I, we, I everyone has, I'm sure in their head now, oh, social media, evil, bad. And look what zucker, you know, did Zuckerberg did. Look, look what, you know, uh, Bezos can do or Twitter can do to elections. This is in people's heads. It's, uh, it's obviously an issue. But the point I really am trying to make in the book, it's not that that's all good, it's mostly good, is that it's consequential.
Speaker 0 00:09:48 All right, well, um, also, it has economic consequences. And your book predicts a roaring 2020s. We are about a third of the way into this decade. And Paul suggests that Americans aren't feeling too optimistic about their economic future. So what might they be missing?
Speaker 1 00:10:11 Well, they're not, they're not missing a lot in, in the sense that pessimism, even though I'm the last optimist, <laugh> pessimist, pessimism is rooted in, um, events, right? We are, we are, we live in some very distressed times. People become pessimistic, uh, when, when they feel, uh, enervated by what's going on in our world, rather than energized by the political dynamic we have in our country. And this is true of both political parties right now. Both parties I think are significantly, uh, dispirited by the dynamic that we're playing out. My point would be twofold. First, it's not new to have the spiriting things going on in politics. It is the nature of politics. And to not know that means you're not reading any history. So you don't have to pick up a history book. You can just Google pick any period of history and dive, you know, down one layer into the debates of the day.
Speaker 1 00:11:02 And they were pretty, pretty, uh, there were vigorous debates, some from very serious things, many more serious than we face today. Many more consequential than we actually face today. So what happens is, I think, is that people are reacting to our current conditions of probably aluminum recession. Uh, even though the stock market seems happy, uh, they're unhappy about the political dynamic in our country, they're worried. I'm worried because I write in the introduction of my book, it's possible to Soviet ize an economy because it's happened not just by the Soviet Union in the 20th century, but in previous centuries, governments can destroy economies. They do it regularly over history. So it can happen. So one should be worried about that, but one can also be realistically optimistic about the prospects, both politically for fixing the problem, because that's the human factor, but also what we're fighting for, to get the system operating properly.
Speaker 1 00:12:04 By that, I don't mean perfectly, but properly, what we're fighting for are, is an opportunity for economic growth. Now, this is what I map out of my book, an opportunity for economic growth greater than the opportunity for economic growth that was in play in the 1920s, which was the largest and greatest expansion of wealth in human history. That the century, the balance of the century, 1920 to 2000 was the biggest expansion of wealth ever experience in human history. That can be repeated. But we, the people <laugh> in our political systems have to allow it to happen. And generally speaking and discourse, betrays my biases, which are probably shared by you, is allowing it to happen, is the role of government not, not dictating how it happens. There's a lot of nuance in, in subtleties and how you affect that. But the basic psychology is governments need to allow markets to function. If we allow them to function now, we'll unleash wealth creation that's really unprecedented in history.
Speaker 0 00:13:06 So one of my main takeaways from your book was that the near future isn't created, but, but by what we invent today, but by what we invented earlier, uh, in the past decade or so, what are some historical and present day examples of that?
Speaker 1 00:13:24 Yeah, you know, it's funny. We, we we're always captivated by, we have a word for it now, clickbait, you know, this changes everything you get, you know, this something that was invented, some discovery, some epiphany, and it might be true, it could change everything at some point in the future, but that's not how the real world works. So, uh, a good example would be, let's use the car. The, you know, it was 30 years after the invention of the car, before any significant penetration of automobiles in society. 1920s, uh, the car was invented in the 18 la late 1880s, 1890. And there were millions of cars in the world in 1919, 10, uh, and hundreds of companies making automobiles at that time, by the way, people made a lot of money. They had de minis impact on society until 30 years after they were invented. Same was true of the airplane.
Speaker 1 00:14:10 We could say almost exactly the same trajectory. The same was true of the computer. The first electronic computer was in 1936. Computers of any consequence didn't show up until the sixties. I mean, in, in terms of, uh, having impact in businesses, it took another 20 years before they had an impact on our lives into the eighties. Uh, the internet was the same. It took 20 years after the invention of the internet before it began to have impact. This is a common trajectory for technologies of consequence, that the invention takes a while to figure out the, this is the engineering. How do you make it into a product that's useful? Then it takes a while, usually decades, to make it into a product that can be scaled commercially and is reliable, safe, cheap, whatever, whatever the it is including whether it was telephony, whether it's pharmaceuticals, all, I mean, I mapped some of this outta my book, but everything follows the same trajectory of, of, uh, maturation.
Speaker 1 00:15:05 So if you wanna know what the future is going to be in the near future, the next decade, you'd wanna know what was invented about 20 years ago or 30 years ago, but that kind of timeframe. But it's just on the cusp of being commercially useful and viable. That there, there are businesses and companies that don't have a lot of attention, a lot of sales. They may still be private, but they're not inventing the thing itself, but they're finally building the tools, the products or the services in a way that is commercially viable. That's what I looked at, at my, I went hunting for those things. Not, not the, it the brilliant epiphany, you know, nuclear fission was imagined by Lee Meisner, a a German physicist, a woman who should have got the Nobel Prize, by the way, fascinating history. Nobel Committee's records were made public about 20 years ago on this.
Speaker 1 00:15:55 They debated whether they should give her the Nobel Prize, and they didn't give it to her because she was a woman. I mean, literally, because they, they were worried about the message it would send. And that was a, it was on the, this was, uh, all going on during the decades of the suffragette revolution that took place in the early 20th century. So fascinating. And, and, and these are emotional debates speaking about whether our times are more, uh, fraught than their times. I think that was a pretty important debate, a pretty big deal, and the fact that it was so emotional at that time and politically fraught. But anyway, that's the pattern. And, and so that pattern is not a new pattern, and it hasn't been accelerated, you know, this trope that everything's being accelerated. That's how they felt in 1960. That's how they felt in 1920. That's how they felt in 18 and 90. I mean, this is this, you know, presentism as if we're the only ones that had experienced rapid change. Oh, please, this is, this is historical pre presentism in myopia, but doesn't mean the change isn't a big deal and it isn't disruptive and it isn't emotionally taxing. Of course it is. That's the nature of civilization, especially in the last 300, 400 years.
Speaker 0 00:17:07 So, speaking of historical comparisons and rapidly accelerating change, you set the stage in your book by, um, comparing the roaring twenties of the last century with our current twenties. You show some similarities with, uh, the maturing and converging technologies. What about any cultural or social parallels between the two times?
Speaker 1 00:17:32 Yeah, they're fascinating. How, how, how much they echo each other. And that, and that was unexpected on my part. I thought I knew a lot about the twenties till I started reading more about the 1920s. The 1920s and thirties were utterly, uh, captivating cha time of change. And the roaring twenties, you know, the, the Gilded age, the flappers, uh, you know, great Gatsby, all that stuff. This was in a, a time of excess wealth. It, it sort of feels and smells like art period of, of, uh, Robert Baron wealth that, uh, the new tech titans have. Uh, this was on the, on the heels of the, uh, Bolsa Revolution. People were worried about the, uh, the Russians everywhere. The red scare was a really big issue. This was the beginning of the worry of, of, of, of the communist takeover all over over the world.
Speaker 1 00:18:14 The domino effect. That was a time when, when the SRS movement matured into a year, 1921 for the first time before and since there were two, two, uh, amendments to the US Constitution in one year. I mean, talk about politically, uh, uh, tsunami. One was of course the right for women to vote, and the other was an idiotic example of how politics can be really stupid. A constitutional amendment to ban the consumption of something humans have been consuming since before recorded history to ban of alcohol, which was not repealed. Right. For 13 years. So <laugh> so it's
Speaker 0 00:18:50 Great. Yes. Ayran a set of it at the time, though she wasn't a big drinker that, uh, she would begin to drink on principle.
Speaker 1 00:18:57 Exactly. Exactly. I mean, uh, anyway, there, there was also, um, uh, the terrorism across the country. Uh, the anarchists were, were blowing at buildings. The, the biggest, the biggest loss of life on Wall Street until nine 11 was, was in 1923, I think we had race riots of epic proportions. Charleston was under martial law because our race riots, the US Army Air Force bombed a black community in Oklahoma, uh, because of race. I mean, in our co bombing people, citizens in our country, these are, these are astonishingly, uh, uh, volatile times. We had, uh, more newspapers that than were cities in the country at that time. 27,000 newspapers in America publishing two or three times a day. Uh, what could you possibly write about The news cycle was like the cable networks today, they made up fake news. The, the word yellow journalism finds its origins in the 1920s, because newspapers literally made the stuff up. It was, it was far worse than today cuz you couldn't do the fact checking as easily as you can now. There was no Google, there was no <laugh>. You just had to see it print. It was a print. It might be true. Uh, there were lots of other examples. My point, the point is that the tumult socially and culture was very, very similar. And the, the wealth divide and the anger over the, the ultra rich compared to the the average person or the poor portion was, was also at epic proportions at that time.
Speaker 0 00:20:28 I see. We have a, uh, a guest in, in the background <laugh>.
Speaker 1 00:20:33 Sorry
Speaker 0 00:20:34 About that. Your dog is trying. No, it's cute. It's hungry.
Speaker 1 00:20:37 She's hungry. She's letting me know. She'll, she'll give me an hour and then she'll, oh,
Speaker 0 00:20:40 She's very, she's in, she's, she's a very intellectually curious dog, and she wants to know about, she's a French,
Speaker 1 00:20:47 She's a French dog. She's the
Speaker 0 00:20:48 Future of, of technology. Um, all right, well, listen, I, I see a lot of questions here in the chat. I'm gonna get to them in a second. Uh, just, um, wanna touch on what are some of the conventional forecasts about the future of technological change? Uh, you've talked about presentism and how that skews our perspective, but what are, what are some of these conventional forecasts get right? And what do they get wrong? And then we're gonna get to audience questions.
Speaker 1 00:21:16 Yeah, that's, that's a book in itself. I did an in appendix and, and my book, as you know, which, what are my friends advice I shouldn't have put there. And that's, that's it may be my next book is to write just about how to forecast. What do we get wrong? Why do we get it wrong? Simplistically, we over, we overestimate the short term and underestimate the long term, because I'll use a physics term because I'm inertia systems. So big systems don't change fast. Little things can change quickly. It's just like you can push around a super tanker, not easily. You can push around a little skiff easily. Economic systems are the same. Human social systems are the same. I think the biggest error on the non-technology side that, that forecasters make is the assumption that human nature will change. So I'm, I'm fond of saying that there are only three rules that matter.
Speaker 1 00:22:02 The laws of physics, you can't violate them. The laws of economics, you can't violate them for very long. Markets want things to be cheaper. Markets hate rising prices. And that gets you to political revolutions. The third is, human nature hasn't changed. The laws of human nature don't change. Why we fight, why we love, why we succeed, why all these things haven't changed since the time of the Greeks and pre-history. And to pretend that those things will change when making a technical technology forecast, uh, which is, which a lot of forecasters do. They operate on the assumption that this will change everything. People will behave differently. No, they won't. They never have. And they're not going to. So, I mean, that's a gen a generic statement about, a good example of specifically of where that comes into play is the trope that we become a sharing culture. Everybody would share their assets, that we would share cars, we would share this. We share houses. No, we won't. Human beings haven't done that since we've known human beings. You have to teach children how to share. It's a hard thing to do. And it doesn't work well in economies. People wanna own something. It's sort of wired into us. That's not going to change. So pretend technology is gonna change. That is profoundly naive.
Speaker 0 00:23:14 But would Klaus Schwab be one of those conventional forecasters who gets it wrong when he says that you will own nothing and you will be happy by what, 2030 or so?
Speaker 1 00:23:25 Well, you have two, two possible, two possibilities for Klaus Schwab. He either gets it wrong and he's profoundly naive about that. Or he's right at what he wants. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which is in a totalitarian class state where we tell you how you can live. Cuz we're smarter than you are. We know what the planet needs and what other people needs and who gets what. And therefore you won't own anything. I'll determine what you own. So there's only two possibilities. He either wants that or the former, that he's actually ignorant. And I mean that in the, the semantic, not the insulting sense of the term.
Speaker 0 00:23:58 Yeah, I mean, we get the word globalism bandied about a lot today. And it can conflate a lot of things. And of course, I think we want to see more international trade. We want to see more international travel, more international exchange. But what raises people's hackles is precisely that, that, um, decision making is going to be, uh, reserved for global power brokers that have their own vision and, and, uh, you know, taken out of the hands of, of local democracies or communities.
Speaker 1 00:24:38 I know, I think the subsidiarity feature of what people reflexively like make, which is both in theology and a political philosophy, is sort of anchored in human nature. People like to have control over their lives. That's in human nature. Otherwise it's totalitarian. And there are certain things we agree to see control on as you know, but that agreement comes democratically. Otherwise, it's, it's, it's an autocracy or, or a totalitarian state. But anyway, so I, I don't know which he is. I don't know if K Schwab never met him. So I'm willing to, uh, present both possibilities. He's either ignorant or totalitarian. That's your Got it. Choose
Speaker 0 00:25:16 <laugh>. All right. Okay. Questions. Our friend, my modern gal from Instagram, uh, is asking, mark your thought about space travel. It seemed to take a lull for a long time and a journey back to the moon or onto Mars still seems far away.
Speaker 1 00:25:37 Yeah, yeah. Well, I'm, I'm, I'm a junkie of the space travel. I grew up in the, uh, the dawn of, you know, mercury Gemini in Apollo. Um, I wanted to be an astrophysicist when I started out going to university. I mean, you know, all kids at that era wanted to be astronauts. So space travel is hard. And it's one of the ones where the forecasters have overestimated se serially as sequentially for, uh, a century of how, how much and how fast we would do things in space. Low earth orbit is undergoing a revolution, as the questioner probably knows, with the two massive launches of satellites by, by both Bezos and Elon Musk, to put a, a global network of tens of thousands of low earth orbit satellites in for communication. Starlink the case of Elon Musk, which will bring high speed internet, the ubiquitous to the world.
Speaker 1 00:26:30 This is a big deal, right? It's, it's wirelessly wiring the entire planet. This is, this is consequential, but it's not space tourism, uh, space travel's gotten a lot cheaper courtesy of materials, technology, brave people like Elon Musk, again, with SpaceX. But I mapped outta my book the, uh, the cost trajectory. Uh, even if you, that is the, the cost of a fair to get into space versus the cost of fair to fly to Tokyo from, you know, LA or New York. Uh, those, the cost of the former, the latter. The flying airplanes has been getting se serially cheaper, hugely cheaper by an order of magnitude. Space travel has a problem in physics until we discover how to fight gravity with something other than, uh, chemical rockets. And there are good ideas on this regard, but they don't exist yet. So space tr the technological challenge today of going to Mars is roughly co-equal to the technological challenge of going to the moon, uh, in 1960.
Speaker 1 00:27:36 So they're equal scale challenges of, in terms of engineering we have, which would tell you that we could probably get another few dozen people to the moon. And will we talk about dozens, not not colonies. And then we'll probably get, and I hope we do, uh, get a few people, men and women, probably both these days, uh, to Mars. But that'll only happen if, if, if, uh, we, we take, I think probably it'll be a, a multinational program to do that. It's gonna be very, very expensive, more expensive than most people realize. And it might be the kind of thing that could knit, you know, heal some wounds, so to speak, as we try to get through this cur period of de-globalization. So anyway, I, I'm a bull. I love space travel, but the space travel, the Mars, I, I hope we do it. It'll be inspirational. We'll learn stuff doing it. But, you know, it's not gonna change the economy of, of anything except consume money. <laugh>. We have to be rich. Alright,
Speaker 0 00:28:35 <laugh>, uh, from Facebook, our friend Alex Morena is back, has a question on energy asking. Mark, did you have any thoughts about the big Texas freeze from a few years ago? Is an independent grid beneficial or something? Or should we embrace a national grid?
Speaker 1 00:28:57 Oh, well, it's e easy answer, national grid. Bad idea, real bad idea. Um, first, the country is too big. We're not Germany, we're not Switzerland, we're not England. It's an enormous continent. It's an extraordinarily expensive undertaking and increases the, uh, decreases reliability, increases costs. So, uh, lightly integrated or usefully integrated local grids, which is what we have except for Texas, which is a lightly integrated grid. It's much more reliable, uh, much safer and economically more sensible. The Texas, uh, freeze was caused by combination of two things in simplistic terms over-reliance on wind and taking their eye off the ball on, uh, cold proofing, uh, conventional generation. And that the latter happened because of the former. That is the preoccupation with one consumes time, energy, and focus. And you stop think paying attention to what you should be paying attention to, which is the reliability of conventional assets. If both had not happened, would never have had a, had a problem. That grid is called Ercot Grid has learned its lesson, uh, and it's, uh, fixing it by adding more combustion turbines for reliability and backing off on, uh, on an over-reliance on wind wind's fine. It just, you can't, it's not gonna, it has the obvious problem when you need it. You don't get the call on it unless you are, uh, in, in a science fiction or fantasy novel when you can call up the wind.
Speaker 0 00:30:27 All right. Uh, well, I've never actually heard what happened, described so succinctly, and, um, as I like to say, the choice to do one thing is also the choice to not do another thing. And so, right. Um, sounds like we had a displaced priority and attention that led to that fiasco. Uh, Jack Herschel on Facebook asks, what happened to the tinkerer in the garage? Did he become the programmer? And what does this mean for, uh, more mechanically minded inventions?
Speaker 1 00:31:01 Well, now that's a really great question because Steve Jobs is, I'm sure the questioner has in his head, famously began with Wozniak in his garage, literally in his garage. Uh, well, the take her in the garage still exists. There's a lot of them. I have a very good friend who started a laser company literally in his garage. It's an incredible company. It's public now. So, and I have a vested interest in it, so I'm not gonna say what it is, cuz it'll look like I'm touting my like company. You could find out by tracking me down on the magic internet. But, uh, the tinker some things you can't tinker in the garage. And that's always, that's been true for a very, very long time. So it depends on what, you know, what what it is. And it's not just computing. So the question is correct.
Speaker 1 00:31:44 There's a lot of tinkering you can do in silico instead of in situ these days, especially as computing power gets ever more powerful. You can simulate experiments in computing. Now, uh, we do that. We collectively the engineering and science community all the time in supercomputers. The average tinkerer can't do that cuz those computers are too expensive to access. That's changing fast within the next decade, within this decade, you'll be able to do the kind of online inlet tinkering in a supercomputer in the cloud, creating virtual experiments and build things, mechanical things and render them into prototypes with me, you know, 3D printers. So that tinkering is com gonna come roaring back. But when I travel, uh, country and look at and do due diligence, I used to do a lot of this, I do less now. Uh, I, I've run into, I've seen hundreds and hundreds of companies, startup companies doing things that are mechanical, chemical, uh, you know, physical, the, the, the, the atoms part, not the bits part of innovation and what amounts to garages, you know, tiny startups with five or 10 people, um, trying to make, uh, a, a clever idea work now scale the clever idea into a product, sell it.
Speaker 1 00:32:52 You can't do that in your garage any more than Apple could. So I think the principle risk for the tinkerer in the garage right now is not that there are technologies that can't be innovative discovered in, in literally in the garage. And the tools you have available do that now are much better than they were before. The real risk is how we're structuring our tax and the regulatory systems to allow those kinds of innovators to function. That's put some at much more risk than big tech companies taking all the oxygen out of the room.
Speaker 0 00:33:23 Got it. All right. Also on Facebook, George Klein has a more general question asking, what do you say to people who argue that technology is outpacing our humanity?
Speaker 1 00:33:39 <laugh> read some history. <laugh> <laugh>. It's, this is a really interesting subject, um, because it's anchored in a philosophical problem. Uh, so the beginning of my book, I write about technology matters and I write, I point out that others have written this, but I quote them that to invent is to be human. Uh, so it's, uh, homo ous homosapien, right? Homo homophobia. I mean, we, we in, we, you know, it's not j we we, we we to invent, to build machines is to be human. It's what, it's what distinguishes humans from animals. Uh, some people think animals may have souls. Maybe it's true, maybe some animals have souls, but none of them invent and build machines. But we share a lot of DNA with animals except they can't build machines to invent is to be human. So, and the point, point is that the technology is not separate from us.
Speaker 1 00:34:40 It doesn't impact us because it's an external force. But inventing technologies does affect us. It can affect us negatively, not just positively. I mean this, everybody knows that Marshall McClean, who was famous for the phrase, you know, the medium is the message. The reason he'd said that about television in the sixties is because in his clinical research he decided that it was demonstrably the case. And how we thought in related to each other and, and, and how we thought about forming governments and thought about things like philosophy and theology was impacted by the printing press. The printing press changed how we think cuz for, for all of history up that point, only a trivial percentage of human beings could transfer knowledge any other way other than speaking and listening, changing how we transferred knowledge changed how people thought and changed society. That technology that pri pass had a profound change in how we thought and related to the rest of humanity.
Speaker 1 00:35:38 How we structured our societies, how we did things. So did the computer, so did the television. So of course does the cloud, it is a big deal, but does it outpace our capacity to be human? No, it is human to do that. The question really means, and I'm not trying to rephrase the question or, but this is what I think people really mean. Does it create more risks than it does benefits? Cuz it always creates risks. And how do we manage those risks? How do we, how do we take the rough edges off the bad things that these technologies create? So the, the invention of the car is the invention of the car accident, right? The invention of the airplane is the invention of the airplane. Would you eliminate the existence of cars? Some people would, there's a few people feel that way. So, you know, Luddites, but most people wouldn't. They just want us to make cars safer. And that would be true for,
Speaker 0 00:36:28 And you actually have some, some interesting, uh, data, um, in the book about where we are in terms of innovations towards self-driving and yeah. Even, um, flying cars. Yeah. Uh, vertical takeoff and landing machines. Okay. Lane Stanley Staley on Facebook is asking whether you believe corporatism is going to cause harm to capitalism as a whole. And I'd love to tag onto that, um, question, thoughts on the chips act and some of the, the current economic, um, planning happening, uh, out of Washington today.
Speaker 1 00:37:08 That's an easy one. Yes. <laugh>, yes, yes, yes. Corporatism in the sense, I think the question or means where qu where there's a collaboration slash conspiracy between large corporations and governments to of, uh, e effect mutual goals that are not necessarily to the benefit of people broadly to citizenry. Because corporatism as opposed to bi businesses are essential to the functioning of a, of a free society. Th this is a, the, the invention of the business is a very old idea in human history. It, they're critical. We need businesses, we need business creation, but corporatism in a sense that the corporation is, uh, you know, has a power beyond in marriage with the state, uh, is, is where I think the question is. And it's a serious problem. And we see it in our culture, in this social issues, in what's we call woke infection of the corporate environment.
Speaker 1 00:38:07 These, and everyone knows what I say it, what it means. It's not, there's not a definition, but when you hear it said, unless you love woke <laugh>, you, you know, it's bad. But it's bad not because corporations aren't good, it's because they're doing not, they're not doing their job and their job is not to do that. Their job is to be a good citizen, uh, in the business of what they do to build or provide a service. So it is a problem and it's a political social problem. Uh, and it's not one that's made better or or worse necessarily by technology. Although I think our technologies make it easier to attack the infection of corporatism now than it was before we had access to these communications platforms. So the, these do help us to, so the velocity of information that we talked about, it's the sharing culture that we have online and information is made easier obviously by the platform you and I are using right now. And I think that makes it easier, I think, to fight the infection that's, that's already at play. It's an infection. It's like a, it's like a social cultural infection of our, our, of our zeitgeist. And I don't think, call me naive, call me the last optimist. I don't think most Americans like it. And I think we're in the process of a revolt over it.
Speaker 0 00:39:20 All right, well speaking of this platform, um, on Zoom with us, Raja Parra, maam asks, what is your take on a g i, are we almost there and what will be its impact? I'm not sure I know what a g I is.
Speaker 1 00:39:38 Well we artificial general intelligence.
Speaker 0 00:39:42 So how's that different than, than ai?
Speaker 1 00:39:45 So artificial intelligence, let's just first of all stipulate the term is a bad term. Uh, it was created as a PR stunt by Professor McCarthy at Dartmouth in 1956. I think I've forgotten the date. I shouldn't remember. It's in my book to start a conference on computing at the next level. Where was the computing going? But it really is as intelligent automation as opposed to artificial intelligence. Cuz the latter implies we know what intelligence is and we don't. It implies that we know how humans really think and, and we don't. So artificial intelligence is, uh, semantically the same as calling a car an artificial horse. So an airplane, an artificial bird, they occupy the same Venn diagram space by overlapping, and a car is far better than the horse at some functions, but it's not better than a horse at all functions. And it's not a horse computing that operates as artificial intelligence to do a specific narrow task.
Speaker 1 00:40:43 Read, read an x-ray film, identify videos, manipulate a picture, write a sonnet in a Shakespearean like English, right? That's a narrow specific task and you can make computers. And we have been making computers perform tasks like that for a long time. The eruption of interest over chat G p t was because it was particularly good at some semantic tasks and and shock people with its really clever parlor tricks. By the way. Engineers have been doing parlor tricks like this since the Alexander, the type of Alexandria Egypt, talking about Alexandria in terms of hero of Alexandria in 50 ad This is really an old, uh, habit of entrepreneurs. Artificial generaler intelligence is the idea that a computer has ability to operate like a human does. AI that can drive a car, uh, can't compose a sonnet, right? Automated systems have specificity. Humans can be trained to do lots of things. Could we eventually get to a computer that would have something we would call something artificial general intelligence more broadly capable? Yeah, maybe one day. Um, we are probably further from that possibility than you and I casually taking a trip to Mars Technological.
Speaker 0 00:42:02 Okay. Um, well, speaking of AI and uh, some of the applications, uh, I wanted to get your take on the singularity. Is that something you buy into? And if so, thoughts on those using it to, uh, make arguments in favor of universal basic income.
Speaker 1 00:42:24 Yeah. Well the singularity is silly, but a lot of fun in science fiction. And you, you know what it is, but the define it for those who don't know is that the accelerating, uh, progress in computing power, uh, is continues at this exponential rate in the very near future. It has more intelligence, not equal intelligence than the human brain. Uh, so in, in the physics of the universe we live in, all things saturate. They stop growing at the rates they grow at in the past. This will be true for computing too, and it's not a bad thing. Uh, we're not a anywhere close to tapping out the capacity for computing to do more. Uh, but it, the idea that we're, uh, on the verge of a singularity where computers can do everything and replace humans that are more powerful is genuinely science fiction. It would take, we'd have to take an hour to talk about the inis of why that's true and why it's silly, but it's, it, it sounds possible given how far computing has gone since 1950, I mean, you know, the smartphone that we all carry around is, is literally 10,000 times more powerful than a room-sized computer of 19, uh, of 19 85, 19 86.
Speaker 1 00:43:34 So, and it costs, you know, instead of millions of dollars, it costs a thousand dollars. That kind of progress is, is pretty amazing and shocking, but it's not intelligent and it's not even close to what the wetware does inside of our, inside of our magic craniums that somehow something invented sometime in, uh, in the, in the midst of theological and philosophical and cosmological history. It's just silly stuff. But, uh, the idea of a universal basic income was, was hatched, uh, in during the, uh, Kennedy administration, president Kennedy, not this currently running Kennedy in our, in our political time because automation was already taking jobs away from auto workers. So they formed a blue ribbon panel to try to figure out what they would do with all the people who would soon be out of work because of automation in the factories. Uh, that's 60 years ago, last I checked. We have a shortage of labor, not a surplus of labor. And despite the fact we've been automating everything we possibly can for 60 years. So we're gonna automate everything we possibly can for another 60 years and we'll still be short labor 60 years from now. We do not need a universal basic income. We need a universal basic education so people can understand what the hell we're talking about.
Speaker 0 00:44:48 Uh, alright, well, you know, you've mentioned, uh, Kennedy and tangentially, uh, the Kennedy that is running this time around, uh, R FK Jr. Running for president as Democrat Yes. Has said that he, uh, could support nuclear power if it could. Yeah, yeah. If he can be safe and economically competitive. So question about that. I know this is something you spent a lot of time on early in your career. Um, could nuclear power become more widely accepted here in the United States, uh, even as Europe is moving away from it?
Speaker 1 00:45:22 Yes, I think we, I think it can be. Um, I think we may be a little bit away, away from universal acceptance or broad acceptance, but I think we're on the cusp of it. I think people, uh, want something different than we've had. I think they're beginning to realize what they were told is different and better. Principally windmills and solar, solar panels are not the magic that they were told. And in fact, in terms of potential magic, there's nothing as phenomenologically different in the energy world as, as as nuclear energy and nuclear fission. When you go from combustion technologies with hydrocarbons to wind and solar and batteries, you're increasing your call on materials and land use by a thousand percent. It's a regression. We're trying to reduce our footprint on the planet. If you're environmentalist, when you go from combustion technologies to nuclear, you reduce our footprint on the planet by a thousand percent per regenerative energy and service delivered to society.
Speaker 1 00:46:19 It is the single most amazing potential energy development in the history of the human race period con comparable to discovery of fire. But in a similar way, it was a long, long time after the discovery of fire to the steam engine and a long time from the steam engine to the jet turbine. Uh, it's taken a long time to sort out how to make nuclear fission work cheaply and reliably. I think we're on the cusp of it now. There are at least six dozen, not six, six dozen new kinds of reactors in design at different levels around the world. Uh, small ones literally refrigerator size nuclear power plants at Nassau. It's designing for Mars mission in the moon missions to so-called small reactors, which are really big to run, you know, small towns and cities that are inherently safe, that are, have profound advantages that be geopolitical sense, economic sense, environmental footprint.
Speaker 1 00:47:12 We're on the cusp of it. Uh, I think it'll take time because first the engineering, it still has to be completed. We have to build these things, prove they work. That takes years, not months. It's not like an update to an app. Um, this is in the bits world, not, you know, you do apps and update in months and weeks and in the Adams world you take years, sometimes decades, but we're we're there. And it's the biggest single change in the energy market since the steam engine. But it will take not as long next half century huge deal next half decade. It it really important for, uh, innovators and developers, it will have no material impact on how we live our lives.
Speaker 0 00:47:57 All right. Um, also Facebook, George Opolis asks, people seem to be very fascinated with flying drones recently. Yeah. But when will we see more robots in our general workplaces? Great question.
Speaker 1 00:48:14 Well, we are, and he just hasn't seen them cuz he doesn't work in warehouses, I'm guessing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Uh, so a drone can be a robot. It's a flying robot. Uh, robots can also, all of us, when we think robots, we generally think of the star, star Wars or Star Trek kind of robots. They're walking anthropomorphic machines, which is what I think about what I happen to, I happen to be most fascinated by humanoid robots. The reason I'm fascinated by them, by the way, is because it's the first time we'll have designed an automated machine that could operate in the environment that we wanna operate in instead of, instead of changing the environment so the machine can operate safely away from us. I mean, this is a really big deal because to automate something, you have to put it in a cage or put it in a factory away from you.
Speaker 1 00:49:00 It, it's a profoundly different thing to automate a machine that can operate alongside us in the environment we as humans can walk and live in and do our work in. So a a drone is not like that. It's a flying. Drones are meant to deliver packages. So there are lots of, uh, drone deliveries going on around the world already. Uh, hundreds of thousands of deliveries of small packages by drones in Africa, in, in Western Australia. So this is already a business. It's not theoretical. It, it hasn't arrived in full bloom here yet be for a whole lot of reasons. Some of 'em obvious. They have to be quieter. You have, there's regulatory changes, there's sets of things, but the, it's already real and making a difference in lives around the world. The flying drone park, the, uh, the robot that can amplify a human. That is when you're advertising to fill a job in a warehouse.
Speaker 1 00:49:47 And the warehouse ification of America came because of one click buy now cause an explosion of warehouses to deliver the things instead of an explosion of shopping malls that you drive to, right? There aren't enough people that work in the warehouses. So robots have been invading the warehouses now for the last decade. These are wheeled ones, tracked ones and walking ones. Uh, the walking ones have only just begun to appear in a few, uh, a few, uh, business environments. They will, this is an, an invention that's already happened. As, as we talked about at the outset of my book. We don't have to guess that they're gonna invent such a thing. You can find them on YouTube. They exist. They are available for sale. They can be bought. They can be operated. Um, there's not a lot of models that you could buy yet you business, but there's lots, there's dozens of companies selling or about to sell four-legged and two-legged robots for work in industrial environments and warehouses for inspection mainly.
Speaker 1 00:50:41 And then ultimately for carrying things, doing the dangerous things. Not only we don't wanna do necessarily as humans, but we shouldn't do and we don't have enough people to do. So we are lucky that the demographic, uh, birth dearth, uh, around the, uh, sophisticated world, wealthy world is arriving contemporaneously with the, uh, development of, um, useful robots finally. So it's not that we have to watch for them appearing as we have to watch 'em appearing at scale in environments we would see every day, which you don't if you don't work at a, you know, a construction site, but they're already showing up at construction sites.
Speaker 0 00:51:18 All right, we have nine minutes left. Not sure we're going to be able to get to all of these really terrific questions that are coming in. So apologies, uh, to those of you. Uh, if I don't, um, manage to get your question asked. Um, one quick one, Scott Jones Twitter asking floating cities yay or nay
Speaker 1 00:51:41 And we could do lightning round. No, um, those are, by the way, they're called cruise ships and they are cities. So yes, if you're talking about cruise ships, you bet lots more of those.
Speaker 0 00:51:52 Uh, my Martin Gault again. Do you think technological convenience is making people more complacent and willing to accept top down control?
Speaker 1 00:52:00 For some people, yes. For most, no. I think it has the inverse effect for a majority, but they're the silent majority.
Speaker 0 00:52:09 All right. Digital controller Instagram asks, um, why are zero emissions emit
Speaker 1 00:52:16 <laugh>? Because of the in universe we live in, you emit something somewhere. Uh, and we can't get rid of hydrocarbons to do the thing that everything requires. Nothing on the planet in society that we build, uh, can be done without digging up rocks and refining minerals. And that is done almost entirely with oil burning machines, coal and gas burning infrastructure. And that's not gonna change for half a century to a century. So there's emissions somewhere when you do anything.
Speaker 0 00:52:44 Okay. You may have already answered this, uh, Paul lint forced on zoom. Is there a future for fusion energy? When do you think,
Speaker 1 00:52:54 Yeah, it's called the sun and thank God it has fusion energy. But it, yes, there is when we, when we actually get to true break even, no one's done that yet. And then we have no idea when it'll happen and when it will happens, it'll be the equivalent of the arrival of the first, first, uh, uh, net energy production for vision and how long that took. So here we are, uh, something approaching the first century of nuclear fission. We still only get about the 4% of the world's energy from nuclear fission. It's taken that long. Fusion will take as long and we haven't even figured out how to do it yet.
Speaker 0 00:53:28 Candace morena Facebook thoughts on lab grown meat?
Speaker 1 00:53:33 Uh, sure. Uh, tastes terrible. Last I, last thing I read. And will we get to there in the far future? I think so. I think there's some very intriguing, uh, synthetic genomics coming along. Uh, so this is the invention that's already happened, but like all inventions, as I said at the outset, it falls the 20 20 20 rule, 20 years from invention to commercial potential, 20 years from commercial potential to commercial insertion, and then 20 more years before significant.
Speaker 0 00:54:00 Okay. Uh, lane Staley on Facebook. How do you feel, this is kind of off topic, but I would be curious to get your view, uh, how do you feel about the continued and worsening theft, uh, from the American people? Not sure if he's talking about shoplifting and crime.
Speaker 1 00:54:20 I feel bad about
Speaker 0 00:54:21 Anything. There's presentism again,
Speaker 1 00:54:23 We're not, so, I, I, you know, it really, this is, this is part of the social cultural infection i, I talked about where mm-hmm. We, you know, everybody, it reflexively feels bad for somebody who doesn't have something, but they also reflexively are offended by people steal stuff. And so we're trying to, uh, resolve the problem always is the old problem of e equitable treatment of people who are disadvantaged in any way. It's a, it's a universal reaction for most people. I mean, other than just, you know, sociopaths and psychopaths. And we've just gone too far overboard of letting idiot stuff happening, frankly. And in our culture, it, the reaction, the question itself answers itself in it sense. The fact that it gets asked is because we're so offended by the sort of rampant theft of anything from other people. So I'm offended by it. Technology might help solve some of it. Mostly it'll have to be a political, cultural solution.
Speaker 0 00:55:19 All right. I will let this be the last question and, uh, leave you then time for final thoughts. Uh, on Twitter. Alexander Krinsky asks, instead of being the last optimist, what do you say? Uh,
Speaker 1 00:55:34 <laugh>,
Speaker 0 00:55:35 What do you say to people need to do? Um, so you are the first of many optimists. So I guess he's saying, how do we spread the optimism?
Speaker 1 00:55:47 Spread optimism. That, that's a good question. That's why I wrote my book. I can plug my book again. Oh, you
Speaker 0 00:55:53 Can read the book. I'll put the link in there. Again,
Speaker 1 00:55:56 You know, it, this is, it's cultural too. Peop cultural size go through periods of in excitement about our country and our nation. Even though that excitement is not a naive and not Pollyanna, there's no problems. It's, you're more focused on the positive. So it, it is, it, it's not a tech education and attitude. That sounds like a sort of a simplistic answer. If we read more and learn more, especially you read more about what's really going on in the world, but also what's happening in technology. I suppose what we're being told is happening. We, we would be optimistic the progress we've made and what we can make. Yet, you'd, you'd say you, you'd have to conclude it's the, the, that the, uh, the brass ring is really a gold ring. It's really exciting stuff that is possible doesn't mean that you're naive. I mean, that, that's, that I hope translates into conviction.
Speaker 1 00:56:44 That we have to resolve, solve the problems that we, we have created. We create them politically in our society. So the, the idea of being an optimist is usually considered synonymous with being naive. You're an optimist because you just don't understand how difficult things are for everybody. Well, yes I do. And that we might have wars still. No kidding. One of the first thing I write in my book is that we'll, we'll always have wars. We'll always have wars because that, because of what happens to the evil, it's a, a foot in the world. We'll have to fight wars, but doesn't mean you can't be optimistic about the long run outcome of defeating enemies and, and, and recovering, recovering after wars. It is a, a cultural infection to focus on the downside of things. And it's cultural in the sense at a broad level. But, and this is where leadership matters.
Speaker 1 00:57:34 I mean, I, whether it was Kennedy or Reagan, I'll use a Republican and a Democrat. The attitude they brought as leaders to this country, and I'll use this country. Cause I came here because I like this country. So I'm an American now too. The attitudes that they events and the way they dealt with things, they were not naive, neither of those men, but they were inherently optimistic and they presented their views in a reflexively optimistic way. When things demanded to be serious, they were serious. They weren't silly and pollyannas neither were. So we need leaders like that, but that's incumbent then on our political process. So even though I'm a technologist, first and foremost, that's my, my DNA is wired with that. I, I would say that it's impossible, just like to invent is to be human to govern or to not want, think about how we govern ourselves is also to be human.
Speaker 1 00:58:25 We're social animals. That's what politics is. It's a social function. So I'm optimistic that we'll sort it out. I'm not naive that we won't, that it happens tomorrow at the next election. But I'm optimistic because it's happened before. The reason the optimism comes in on technology is that we know what the future holds cuz it's already happened. We also know that we can solve these problems cause we've solved more serious problems before political problems. So we'll do it again. But it takes, it takes, you know, we have, it takes, it takes a kind of leader that you hope emerges at the right time for our country. I mean, famously Churchill was not seen as a great leader before World War ii. He rose the occasion. W we doubtless we'll have such a person in America again cuz it happened before. It'll happen again. I'm just hopeful, not optimistic that it'll be sooner rather than later. That's all.
Speaker 0 00:59:21 Well, that is a wonderfully, uh, optimistic and uplifting note on which to end. So, um, I want to thank you again, mark, for spending what is your Wednesday evening with us from Maine, and I wanted to thank everyone who have, uh, who joined us today. Terrific questions, everyone. Um, and encourage you once again to please check out his, uh, Mark's latest book, the Cloud Revolution, and, uh, follow mark, um, on his website, www.tech pundit.com. Any other places we need to stalk you, mark
Speaker 1 01:00:02 <laugh>. Well, Dr. Google finds me all over the place. It's tech pundit by the way. There's, I don't know who Tech Pundit is, but I'm Tech Hyen pundit, and it, it's, it's sort of a play on words since the punditocracy I always make fun of. But, you know, uh, since I engage in punditry, I'll, I'll, I'll, uh, wear the label. Thanks for having me. I appreciate this.
Speaker 0 01:00:23 Terrific. Um, and, uh, I want to, um, thanks all of you again who joined us. If you enjoyed this video, if you enjoyed, uh, the rest of the content we produce at the Atlas Society and our work in engaging young people with the ideas of a Rand. And please consider going over to atlas society.org and making a tax deductible donation. I will see all of you next week. It's gonna be on a Thursday as we're coming back from the Independence Day break. Uh, and, uh, we are gonna have Ian Miller, our friend, uh, coming back for a return uh, appearance on the Atlas Society. Asks to talk about his very latest book, illusion of Control, COVID 19, and the Collapse of Expertise. We'll see you then.