Genetic Engineering, Biohacking, and the Future of the Human Species | Jamie Metzl

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and join our amazing community. And, with that, please enjoy this week’s episode. What’s up, everybody? This week’s episode of Hidden Forces is phenomenal,
and the overtime is even better, because Jamie Metzl and I spent it talking about all the
crazy geopolitical news that dropped last week. I know what you’re all thinking. “Wait, I thought this episode was about futuristic
stuff, like bio-hacking and gene editing?” It is, and it’s a testament to Jamie’s intellect
that he can write a book on genetic engineering while also being an expert in national security
and foreign affairs with a PhD in Asian History from Oxford. Wikipedia describes Jamie Metzl as, “an American
technology futurist, geopolitical expert, and writer,” but he’s also a novelist, entrepreneur,
and media commentator. He’s authored six books, including one with
his former boss Richard Clarke, who he worked for at the State Department and during his
time serving in the National Security Council. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because
it’s the same Richard Clarke who was National Coordinator for Counter-terrorism during the
late Clinton and early Bush administrations. Clarke became the stand-in whipping boy for
anyone opposed to the Iraq war in the spring of 2004, when he published a memoir about
his service in government, which was highly critical of the Bush administration’s attitude
towards counter-terrorism before the 9/11 attacks. He also testified before the 9/11 Commission,
which we discussed during the overtime of episode 72 with Senator Bob Kerry, who served
on that commission. If any of this sounds remotely interesting
to you, I suggest you subscribe to our Patreon overtime feed, and delight yourself with 30
minutes of hardcore geopolitical history and current affairs, including a discussion about
US-China relations, North Korea’s nuclear program, post-Soviet Russian history, Iraq,
Iran, and so much more. In terms of the full episode that you’re all
about to listen to today, it focuses on the subject of Jamie’s latest book, Hacking Darwin,
and about what’s happening at the cutting edge of genomic science, synthetic biology
and big data. Stuff like designer babies, bio-hacking, bringing
back the wooly mammoth, and creating hard drives out of organic tissue dense enough
to store the entire internet 10 times over. But it’s also an honest conversation about
the ethics and prudence of human innovation, and how it’s creating a world that, to many
of us, no longer feels like home. I asked Jamie about the social, political,
and economic implications of such a world where wealthy, well-connected elites or nations
with authoritarian governments and little regard for human rights are able to get their
hands on these technologies before the general public, how we can expect to navigate such
a world, and what it all means for you. So with that, please enjoy my very geeky conversation
with Jamie Metzl. Jamie Metzl, welcome to Hidden Forces. Thanks, Demetri. Happy to be here. I just asked you before we turned on the microphones
how you pronounced your name, and it reminded me of a conversation I had with … I can’t
remember who it was. We were talking about … Oh, it was David
Weinberger! And I was screwing up his name, and he said
that when he was growing up, kids would say, “Do you want some wine with that burger?” Did people come up with names for you, like
pretzel? Like Jamie “Pretzel” Metzl, or something? This is this kind of thing where for everybody
who has a name that’s at all interesting. At various points in your life, people will
get this little light bulb above their head, and they’re like, “Oh, I’m the first person
to think that Metzl rhymes with pretzel. This is going to be really witty!” It’s like, God, you know, you’re like the
10,000th person. It’s the first time you’ve figured it out,
which is great. [Laughter] Oh, man. That’s exactly what happened before we turned
on the microphones. I was like “Pretzel! Like pretzel!” Yep. Well, I’m glad I made fun of it afterwards
because it brought some levity to it. It’s great having you on the show. Thanks. I told you, I read your book. Great book. I watched your episode with Joe Rogan. How was that, by the way? It was great. I mean, Joe’s a great guy. We had a wonderful conversation, and so for
someone like me, I write a book like this. If the only people who read this book are
people who listen to NPR, I’ve failed. I’ve written a book about the future of genetic
engineering, which is going to touch everybody, and I’m really trying to reach everybody. I did an interview yesterday with this wonderful
guy, a comedian who does a lot of his interviews from a rig of his truck. Joe Rogan, it’s been downloaded three million
times. It’s just connect with people all around the
world, and that’s what I’m trying to do, so I’m thrilled to be here with you. Doing Joe Rogan’s podcast is like doing a
network. Bigger than any network today. It’s bigger. Yeah, bigger. Like the old days. People are trying to get into the Today Show
and all these- Who cares? Good Morning America. Joe Rogan is way bigger. And the thing I loved about Joe, he’s just
really open minded. He’s just kind of “Let’s see where the wind
takes us,” which is great. Yeah, he is. Joe’s no idiot- Not at all. But there’s some subjects he knows better
than others, and I was really surprised about how much he knew about this. Yeah. No, he was great. Well, it’s great having you on. There’s so much to talk about. I put together this rundown here, and it’s
focused mainly on genetic engineering. I also threw in syn-bio and biotech, and some
stuff around AI just because a lot of that stuff touches on it, and I know that you talk
about it and think about it. What do you consider yourself? I’m a technology futurist and geopolitical
expert. Right, okay. And basically what I’m trying to do is to
look at what are the biggest forces changing the world around us, and to understand them
and to explain them. And because these issues, the geopolitical
changes, primarily the rise of China, and the technological changes, this super convergence
of technologies that are going to change our lives across the board, there’s two huge stories,
and they’re connected to each other. So I’m really trying to tell the story of
everything in the way people can understand. Well, we’re recording this on Wednesday that
29th, right? Yep. Today is the 29th of May. That story came out about rare earth minerals
and the Chinese restricting their export. What do you think of that? Well, China is going to use the leverage that
it has to fight in this trade war. Certainly, China has taken advantage of its
access to the global trading community, particularly since it joined the WTO. It was inevitable because of China’s strategy
of stealing as much as it could and gaming the system that there was going to be a response. And now we’re in a bit of a knife fight. I certainly wouldn’t have done it the way
that Donald Trump has done it. I think that we would’ve been in a much stronger
position had we had the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the T-TIP, the Atlantic free trade agreement,
because then the US would have been this colossus basically, dominating global trade. We’re in a much weaker position, but this
is a fight, and it’s really serious. And the leadership of the world in the 21st
century is in many ways at stake. You mean you would’ve done TPP and focused
on, let’s say, holding them accountable for IP and stuff like that separately? Yeah, so I think what I would’ve done is I
would’ve rallied the rest of the world because everybody is worried about China. Yeah, that’s another thing that’s totally
crazy. Yeah, so don’t pick a fight with Canada. Don’t pick a fight with Europe. Just say that we, Canada, Europe, Japan, we
are all going to stand together, and we’re going to say these is what we expect for anybody,
China or any other country, that wants to access and benefit from this free trade system. If you do it, we welcome you. If not, we are going to box you out. So right now, China has this opportunity to
go around us, to go to our allies and make side deals with them. So we’re in a much weaker position than we
otherwise could be. Yeah. Also, you don’t prod North Korea with a stick,
pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, piss of Europe, piss of the Canadians, and then try
to negotiate a deal with China. It makes no sense at all. It makes no sense. But a lot of people think that Donald Trump,
that there’s a method to the madness. I don’t think so. I think there is a method to it, but I don’t
know that that method is … First of all, even if that method works in other domains,
let’s say it does, it doesn’t mean that it works when you’re President of the United
States, right? There may be a method, but it may not be a
method that benefits the United States. I think what the method is is that he has
this one thesis, which is true, and he’s proven true, is that if you dominate the media, it
doesn’t matter how … It doesn’t matter whether there’s good stories or bad stories, the goal,
even this whole negotiation with North Korea in mind, and I’ve been saying this publicly
since the beginning, it’s been a sham. There has never been any prospect of North
Korean denuclearization, but the goal was to generate stories to have media buzz. And so every one of these problems that are
created, that’s the goal, and it’s working. What a stupid thing to attack North Korea
… Not literally militarily, but in the way he has, and then pull out of the Iran nuclear
deal. Why on earth would North Korea ever give up
their nuclear missiles if you just pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal? Yeah, so if- But that makes no sense at all. If we were able to get basically the exact
Iran nuclear deal with North Korea … Just cross out Iran and put in North Korea, it
would be this incredible triumph. Donald Trump would be jumping up and down
for joy, and it’s way more than we could ever dream of getting with North Korea. So there’s this chaos, and even his own advisors
are trying to hold the line. There was a thing in the New York Times yesterday,
John Bolton, and John Bolton is kind of a lunatic himself, but at least he has a consistent
philosophy. And it’s really worrying because this isn’t
reality television. This is the United States of America, and
there’s a reason why the US plays the role that we do in the world is that we didn’t
used to play it. And certainly in the period leading up to
and the first world war, and between the first and second world war, the world fell apart. And the US is playing this role for our own
good, and we’ve done a great job. And we’re just hacking away at this international
system that we’ve helped build without a sense of what comes next. I think it’s great. I think there are positives to having Donald
Trump in office because I think he’s been a catalyst for much needed change and debate,
because I think the Washington establishment has gone off its rocker. And also the establishment, to use that term,
is responsible for the Iraq War. So they’re not exactly omniscient, and the
public knows that. Yeah, I agree. And certainly we need some change, but throwing
a hand grenade is a form of change, and I think that given- It’s super dangerous. It’s dangerous. And John Bolton, you mentioned it, he’s the
only neocon in the administration, right? Well, yes- Cristal’s on the outs with the Trump administration. The whole thing is it doesn’t even matter
what these individuals’ philosophies are because wherever you go to have power, you need to
suck up to Donald Trump. Look at Mike Pompeo. I mean, who knows what he stands for, if anything,
but the mission is Donald Trump says something or tweets something, and then you have to
strike a balance. If you’re a cabinet secretary, strike a balance
between doing your job and not violating whatever has been said or tweeted. So it’s really an unfortunate and chaotic
situation. I’ve worked with Democrats and Republicans
my whole life, and, yes, the post-war consensus, that was bound to fray anyway. And, yes, we need change, we need to do things
differently, but this is not, in my mind, the best way to do it. I want to get to your book and to the subject
of the episode, the formal subject, though I do want to get back to these topics. But I want to ask you one more thing. Are you concerned about the geopolitical dynamics,
and particularly, there’s been a lot of talk about sending troops to Iran. We are sending troops to Iran. So we are sending them. Yeah, 1500. Are they on their way already? They’re on their way, yeah. Really? Yeah. Where are they going there from? From here. Yeah. From here? Yeah, yeah. So when they say that they’re sending them
to Iran, what does that mean? They’re not direct there. They’re going to the border, to the Persian
Gulf. Wow. Yeah. No, this is- What if there’s crossfire? What if something happens? What if a mistake happens? Yeah. The US has a really important global role
of maintaining peace and security, but we need to do it wisely, and we need to have
consistency. One of the reasons it’s important that the
US President of the United States have a credible voice is when the President of the United
States says something, it has to mean something. That’s why we can survive without an army
of 10 million people to help police the world. And so right now, there’s just a lot of uncertainty. Nobody knows what Trump is going to do. In some ways, maybe that creates advantages,
but it really makes everybody around the world feel uneasy. And what we want is security and stability. What we want is trade, and growth, and all
of those things. And there certainly are some countries, particularly
China, that have been gaming us for a lot of years, and we need to stand up to that,
but we need to be smart. Did you see the Mueller press conference at
DOJ? I did, yep. What do you think of that? He is such a conservative guy. His whole brand is he’s by the book, and he’s
a Boy Scout, but certainly he was delivering a message to Barr, and saying, “Hey, your
characterization of the report is not wrong.” And he said, “If we had found that the Trump
administration and Donald Trump had not broken the law, we would’ve said so.” Yeah, that’s pretty damning. So that means if we didn’t find that he didn’t
break the law … And he said, “We were bound to not charge. We had no option of charging the President,
and every American should be concerned about Russian interference, and other branches of
Congress should investigate.” So I think it was pretty clear. I mean, you’re depicting it correctly, but
listening to it sounded much worse than that. If I was the President of the United States,
I’d be shitting my pants. Well, every time we say that, and yet there’s
this momentum. And Donald Trump has done just a great job
of controlling the narrative. I think, again, that’s his great insight is
if you control the narrative, everything else just kind of passes through. Every day, there’s another big expose somewhere,
and it just kind of passes through. Maybe it will all add up, and certainly we
thought that with Democratic control of the House, there was going to be more accountability. We haven’t seen that. The administration is just flagrantly flouting
the norms of our democracy, not sending people to testify in contempt of Congress. And so, hopefully, there’ll be some accountability,
and that’s not a Democratic position. I think all of us, all Americans, we live
in a system that’s based on this balance of power, and we don’t know who’s going to be
the president. These issues could be just as well the issues
with a Democratic president. We need to really focus on strong institutions
and the culture of our democracy. I think both sides of the aisle have lost
so much credibility, and so has the media. I think we’re in a very different place politically
and culturally than we were during Watergate, you know what I mean? Because I think they see it politically. People see it through a political lens. Yeah. Well, in Watergate, we still had this political
culture. We had the culture in the 1940s where it was
everybody was together, and we were fighting this war. And then in the later 40s and the 50s, there
was a sense we have this great, new responsibility. We’re building our country, rebuilding the
world, and then things started to break down. Watergate was this low point of feeling that,
well, this culture of confidence and certainty that we’d had in our democracy was breaking
down. But now it’s so much worse. I mean, when people think about our democracy,
they think it’s stable because you go to Washington, you see these buildings. They’re concrete buildings. You’re voting for people. But all democracy, all political systems,
are cultures. The stuff that you don’t see is more important
than the stuff you see, and so there’s a reason why people don’t go around running every red
light, or killing people, and that we internalize these structures. But once we have the voice from the top saying,
“Hey, it’s okay. You don’t need to follow the law. Culture doesn’t matter,” you see what happens
in society. I lived in Cambodia for two years, and I saw
firsthand what happens when a political culture breaks down, and that’s really scary for everybody. I’m also worried that Donald Trump will welcome
a conflict, that he’ll push it. This is not the first time that presidents
have either gone to war or used foreign policy as a tool for domestic advantage. Even the Nixon team before Nixon became president,
I think before he even won the Republican nomination … I can’t remember when it was,
when he and Kissinger undermined talks that LBJ was having with Vietnam. Clinton bombed Bosnia during the Lewinsky
scandal. Whether that was done in order to distract
the nation’s attention or not, it certainly did, and Wag the Dog was a movie that was
made based off of that war, right? Of all the people in the world, I would imagine
Donald Trump would feel the least conflicted about using foreign policy as a tool to distract
the nation, or to create some kind of national emergency. By the way, I don’t talk politics on the program,
so listeners should know I’m not making a political statement here. I’m just stating the obvious. I just think it seems very obvious to me,
and it’s not a political critique. Well, this feels like a very volatile time. This center of our political culture is breaking
down, and we don’t have anything new to replace it. And so it’s a very vulnerable time. People are afraid. The President of the United States is stoking
fear and stoking division, and there’s just a lot of unease. Crazy stuff can happen. We’ve been relatively lucky that really bad
things haven’t happened, but you just never know. That’s why in peace times, like now, we need
to be investing in the things that bring us together, and having a political culture that’s
cohesive. And not pitting people against each other,
but saying how can we collaborate? Because there will be tough times, and if
we haven’t prepared in the easy times for the tough times, then we’re really in trouble. I’m with you 100%. The very last episode that I did was with
Eve Ensler. Right. Sure. Right, exactly. And this is what I said, which is that I don’t
see eye to eye with Eve Ensler. We come from completely different perspectives,
but I didn’t bring her on the program so I could debate with her, or have some sort of
adversarial discussion. I brought her on because I genuinely want
to learn her perspective because she’s from a different world than I am. That’s the whole point. If we can’t listen to each other- Yeah, what happens? Exactly. We’re in total agreement, Jamie. Yeah. So let’s get to the subject of your really
great book, and then I’m sure we’ll get back into what we’re talking about now, because
it’s so timely and interesting. Your book begins by … We did an episode
with Eric Schadt, I should let listeners note, Episode 15, where we spent a good chunk of
the beginning of the episode … Eric Schadt of the Icahn Institute and Center for Genomics,
and we spent the beginning of that episode discussing what a gene is, the chemistry and
molecular chemistry of DNA. So for anyone that’s interested in getting
into that stuff, because Jamie talks about that in Chapter One. I think that Chapter One is devoted to that,
so we’re not going to discuss that here because there’s so much other interesting stuff to
discuss. But, Jamie, do you want to give me a synopsis,
or for our listeners a synopsis of the book, and why you wanted to write it? Yeah, that’s great. As everybody knows, the blueprint for us is
our genome, and so when you have your mother’s egg, your father’s sperm fertilizes that egg,
and that begins the process of you, and every one of your cells has that code, which tells
the whole story of what you are going to be in many ways. And for four billion years, since we and all
of life on earth began as single cell organisms, we’ve evolved by these tools of random mutation
and natural selection we call Darwinian evolution. And now, for the first time ever, we are increasingly
gaining the ability to rewrite the code of life, of the life around us and the life within
us. And that is going to change everything. We understand that our information technology
is readable and writeable and hackable, but we are increasingly going to appreciate that
our genetic code is increasingly readable, writeable, and hackable. And that’s going to change the way we do health
care. It’s going to change the way we make babies,
and ultimately, it’s going to change the nature of the babies we make and our evolutionary
trajectory as a species. And I’ve written the book because this is
the story of us, and it’s real, and it’s imminent, and it’s going to touch all of our lives really
soon. And there are huge ethical issues, and the
only way we’re going to make sure that these incredibly powerful technologies are used
to help us and less to hurt us is if we are all part of the process. If we have an engaged dialogue about what
are the better uses and what are the worse uses of these technologies. And the book, it’s written to be totally digestible. Any high school student could read it very
comfortably. There’s jokes in there. It has a very conversational style. It’s a very good book. It’s very comprehensive. Yeah, good. That’s the goal. How did a guy who worked for Richard Clarke
at the State Department and for the National Security Council get involved in this stuff? Yeah. It’s a great question. So Dick, who is my former boss when I was
on the National Security Council in the Clinton Administration, he was really one of the inspirations
for this book because he then used to say if everyone in Washington is focusing on one
thing, you can be sure there’s something much more important that’s being missed. For those who either need a memory jog, or
who don’t know who Dick Clarke is, he wrote Against All Enemies. I think that was published in 2004? Yeah. He was railroaded by the Republicans and by
Fox News in particular for coming out against the administration. In fact, he was also railroaded by certain
people on the left, as well, because many people had aligned themselves with the Iraq
War. And Dick came out against it, and he criticized
the Bush administration for missing red flags that he threw up about Osama bin Laden. Yeah, and I was in that office, and Dick used
to always say that if everyone is focusing on one thing, everyone in Washington, you
can be sure there is something much more important that’s being missed. And so, at that time, his issues were terrorism
and cyber, and so starting more than 20 years ago, I started thinking really deeply about
what are those issues that are being missed? And I kept coming back to the burgeoning then
genetics and biotech revolutions, and so I started educating myself, reading everything
that I could get my hands on, talking to people. And then I started writing articles. A member of Congress, Brad Sherman, read one
of my articles and asked me to help him organize a hearing, and be the lead witness. I was doing a lot of writing. And then I realized this was such an important
story. I wasn’t breaking through to people. So then I wrote two near-term science fiction
novels that deal with the issues of the science but in a fictionalized story. And then when I was on my book tours for those
novels, and when I explained the science to people the way a novelist would explain science,
I could just see in their eyes people are saying, “Holy shit. That’s what this is?” They’d heard these words: Genetics, DNA, whatever
… But they didn’t know the story of how all the pieces fit together. And so that’s when I realized I needed to
write the story of the greatest transformation probably in the history of our species. And right now, people get that there are big
changes that are happening. People understand China’s rising. People get that AI is a big deal. Some people appreciate climate change. The story of the genetics revolution is bigger,
and most people aren’t really aware of what’s happening. Because it’s going to touch everybody, we
have to change that. Why is it bigger? It’s bigger because how do we perceive the
world? We perceive the world through who and what
we are, and we are going to change that. So I said life has been on earth, and so our
precursor species go back almost four billion years. We’ve only been homo sapiens for about 300,000
of those years. We’ve only been the only humans on earth for
about 40,000 years. So we’re a really young species, and this
was never the end point. Homo sapiens was never the end point. We’re this buggy species. We have all these terrible diseases. We die young. So we were always going to change, and we
are going to change, but now we are going to take active control of that process. And you can see how we’re changing the world
around us already with farming, and industry, and cities, but now we will have access to
the source code of all of life, and that’s a big deal. How do you feel about that? Mixed. On one hand, the history of our species is
the history of our use of technology. If we didn’t use our technology, we’d still
be running around in the savannas. And so I kind of like technology. I like that I don’t have to die of terrible
diseases, that I have a home that has heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. But there are real dangers. We have the ability, like with nuclear weapons,
to wipe out life on earth if we’re not careful. We have the ability to use these technologies
in ways that will undermine our humanity. And this is really sensitive stuff. If you had asked the Nazis what they thought
they were doing, they would’ve said “We’re implementing Darwin’s theories.” That was the core philosophical foundation
of Nazism. And so I’m very sensitive. When I was giving a talk in Berkeley a few
weeks ago with this wonderful man, a poet, whose daughter has Down Syndrome, and he was
talking about what a blessing she has been in his life, and that’s true for everybody. It was very sensitive for me to say that in
20 years from now, I don’t think there are going to be very many kids born at least in
the developed world with Down Syndrome. That’s already the case. But what does that say about us, about our
sense of what is normal and abnormal, about what are our values? So this is really sensitive stuff, and we
need to be very prudent, and we need to be very thoughtful. Well, I was meditating on identity. I was meditating on what makes me feel uncomfortable,
and what I think will make people feel uncomfortable, and what seems okay. And it seems to me that diseases, that things
like Parkinson’s, or sickle cell anemia, no one has a problem getting rid of those. I’m sure some people do, but when it comes
to Down Syndrome, when it comes to deafness, when it comes to homosexuality, when it comes
to some of these other genetically inheritable traits … Or what would the term be? Heritable. Heritable. In the latter cases, those are identity related
ones. These are related to identity, and in cases
like Down Syndrome, I was thinking about Life Goes On. Remember that show, Life Goes On? Sure, yeah. I think that was the first show, at least
the first show I know of, that not necessarily normalized … I don’t know, maybe that’s
the right word, but it brought Down Syndrome into the public consciousness, and it took
it out of the closet. It made it somehow people with Down Syndrome
are also people, and they have an identity. Not exactly the way that Tyrion Lannister
did it for dwarfism because it’s a fictional world, Game of Thrones, and Caitlyn Jenner
with transgender, I think that what I wonder … So, one, there’s that, right? There’s the fact that these people, let’s
say, won’t exist anymore, and these are people. They’re not diseases, right? And then also, what does that do in terms
of our diversity? What do we lose by losing people who aren’t,
quote, “perfect?” Yeah, and these are great and in many ways
unanswerable questions, but we have to answer them anyway. And that is the first thing is how do we think
about what’s normal? How do we think about what is or isn’t okay? And it’s an illusion to think that we can
just get outside of our culture, that there’s some kind of objective reality of what is
a disease, what is normal, what’s abnormal. And yet we are going to be faced with these
kinds of choices because this diversity has just happened to use for four billion years. It was built into our biology, and now this
force that was just built in, it wasn’t optional, is something we are going to have to choose. So we better articulate what we mean by diversity. And certainly you take something like Down
Syndrome, people who already exist with Down Syndrome are wonderful people. Many of them, a very significant number, have
pretty significant health issues. They have a shorter life span. Lots of them have heart problems. But really wonderful people who have an equal
right as anybody else to thrive. But that’s not the question that we’re going
to be asking. The question that we’re going to be asking
is if you are having a baby, and you have, let’s say, 10 fertilized eggs, pre-implanted
embryos in a lab, and you have to pick one of them to implant in the mother … They’re
all your natural children … Which is the one you will pick, and what will be the criteria
you’ll use to make that choice? And there’s going to be a lot of culture that
goes into that. There are going to be a lot of all our biases
in the world will apply to those kinds of decisions. And I do think that it’s extremely likely
that people in that scenario will not choose to implant embryos with Down Syndrome because
we already know that in northern Europe, for example, where they have prenatal genetic
testing, so you’re already pregnant and then you get tested at around three months … When
there’s a diagnosis of Down Syndrome, the abortion rate is about 97%. So if people are already in parts of the world
choosing to abort at almost 100%, they very likely aren’t going to select to implant embryos
with Down Syndrome. And so we really need to think about what
diversity do we want, and who is the carrier of that diversity? So if we say that right now there’s a certain
percentage of the population that has Down Syndrome, and we want to maintain that percentage
across the population in the future, how are we going to convince parents who people who
are already pregnant are already aborting embryos with that diagnosis, how are we going
to convince them to have those kids, to choose to implant those embryos? And it’s really complicated. So that brings up something that we’ll touch
on later which is the game theory of all of this, that what you think other people are
going to do with this technology will impact what you do. So I think that number would likely be smaller
of the number of abortions if people didn’t think that other people were going to do the
same thing, and then thinking that their child is going to be basically one of only few with
this particular disorder or mental disability or whatever it is. Where are we now? Let’s bring it back here. So I said we’re not going to cover how we
got here, the revolution in genomics, but where are we today? What is standard practice, and what is cutting
edge, and what’s experimental that’s happening? Right. So let me break it down into three areas. The first is in health care because health
care is the most significant near term application of genetic technologies, and so we are in
a process of moving from our system of generalized medicine based on population averages to precision
medicine based on each person’s individual biology. So you’ll get drugs based on analysis of your
own biology, which will be measured in many different ways, but the most important will
be through having your sequenced genome as the foundation of your electronic health record. And then we have millions and then billions
of people whose genetic information and phenotypic information of how those genes are expressed
are in these big data pools. We’re going to increasingly unlock the secrets
of the genome, and so that’s going to move us into this world of predictive health. How many million genomes have been sequenced
so far? Well, it depends on what you mean by sequenced. So in terms of the genotyping, which is like
the mouth swabs, that’s probably, let’s say, 20 million. In terms of whole genome sequencing- Very few, right? I’ve done it, but relatively small numbers
of people have done it. But we’re going to move, because the cost
of sequencing is moving toward negligibility, there’ll be about two billion people within
a decade who have been sequenced. When people talk about genomic science moving
at a rate faster than Moore’s law, are they referring to the cost of sequencing? Yes. Yeah, the cost and the quality of sequencing. So, yeah, about a billion dollars in 2003,
$800 now, and it’ll be $50 within a decade. Wow. And so we’re going to move into this world
of predictive health, and that means you’re going to be taking your baby home from the
hospital, and the doctor is going to say, “Congratulations, it’s a boy, and just FYI,
this boy has a 50% greater than average chance of getting early onset familial Alzheimer’s.” Straight out of Gattaca. Yeah, yeah. And then you say, “Oh, shit. What does that mean? What do I do?” But it’s not just that. So then the second transformation will be
this direct-to-consumer genetics. We don’t have a disease genome, we don’t have
a health care genome. We have a human genome, and so as we unlock
the secrets of the genome, it will be not just health information, it will be life information. This same doctor coming home from the hospital
will also say something like “Your kid has a greater than average chance of being really
fantastic at abstract math, or at sprinting,” or something else. How do we think about fate? How do we think about destiny? How do we think about choice when we start
life with that information? And that’s all happening already. And then the third area is in assisted reproduction. So right now, when a person goes for in vitro
fertilization for a woman, and then you can do embryo screening called pre-implantation
genetic diagnosis, and we can screen for mostly Mendelian single gene mutation disorders. Things like sickle cell and [crosstalk 00:34:23]- Hodgkin’s. Yes, and for chromosomal disorders, like Down
Syndrome, and then some small number of other things. But all this information that I’ve been talking
about we’re going to have for these pre-implanted embryos, so we’re going to be able to choose
based on ranking embryos from likely tallest to shortest, likely highest IQ to lowest IQ,
all of these kinds of things. How far are we from being able to do that,
because height and intelligence, these are very complicated. Exactly. There’s not one gene for these things. So height is being cracked now, so there’s
a lot of progress that’s being made on genomic predictors for height. And so now it’s not done, but it could be
done. The science exists for a fertility clinic
to say “We are going to make our best guess of ranking your, let’s say, 15 or 10, whatever,
pre-implanted embryos based on likely tallest to likely shortest. It’s not fully accurate, but directionally,
and certainly you could identify outliers like super tall, or super short. When will we be able to do that for the genetic
component of IQ? My friend, Stephen Hsu, who is probably the
leading expert on this, he thinks it’s within a decade. Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s wrong. Maybe it’s 20 years, but it’s coming. Crazy. Everyone in my family is a physician. Me, too. Yeah, that’s interesting. What are your … My father is a pediatrician. My mother is a psychologist. My oldest brother is a PhD MD in psychiatry. My middle brother is a sports medicine doctor. That’s cool. And my baby brother is an orthopedic surgeon. Oh, that’s cool. My father is a prenatal diagnostic surgeon,
perinatologist. Oh, great. Yeah. And my uncle is a fertility doctor, and so
is my cousin. Oh, perfect. Yeah. I’m speaking to the Fertility Doctors Association
next week in Chicago. Okay, cool. So they have a huge surgical center downtown. I think their results are, by far, the best
of any that exist in certainly New York, but my cousin recently had a baby, his first child,
and he selected the embryo himself. Yeah. Based on what criteria? Oh, I don’t know. You’d have to ask him. Yeah. But I think that’s interesting. The doctor himself, that’s a unique case. Yeah, but I think we’re all going to want
to do that. Right now, it’s so scary for people because
it’s just different, but people are going to want to say … Like if there’s a three
percent chance your kid is going to have some sort of harmful genetic abnormality, you’re
going to want to say, well, can we reduce that risk? Because that three percent is not insignificant. And if you have these options for things that
you really value, and I think health first and foremost, longevity, living a long and
health life, people are going to want that. And so we’re going to have to figure out what
is okay and what isn’t okay? I was telling you before we turned on the
microphones … I don’t think I mentioned it when we turned them on, but when I was
writing the Why Do I Care thing, I realized that what I was focused on, what mattered
to me, was affecting me emotionally or that was speaking to me were not the technical
questions. They were really the ethical, cultural ones. I think these are the most interesting and
the most meaningful to people. Another thing that you talk about in the book,
which I think is interesting and pertinent, is the differences between regions, countries,
cultures, religions. You touched on it a little bit earlier. The Chinese, as far as I understand, are way
out in front in terms of experimenting with this stuff, right? There was a physician- He Jiankui. Yeah, exactly. You pronounced that name correctly … Who
I think he’s going to go to jail or something like that because he didn’t get consent. He didn’t get informed consent from the parents. I just did an event last night at the World
Science Festival here in New York with Jennifer Doudna, who is the inventor of CRISPR/Cas9,
a future Nobel laureate. I remember talking about this, and there was
kind of a mini-debate between me and a Stanford bioethics professor, who was also on the panel. And he was very sympathetic to He, and I said,
this guy, I think he’s a villain. He’s a rogue. Maybe he wasn’t acting alone, but this is
really just outrageous. And what he did was he genetically altered
the embryos of what became two little girls born in China last October. And the reason it was so bad is, one, he was
extremely secretive. He fudged the internal review board application,
which was not for the hospital in which he was operating, but another one where he was
an investor. He didn’t get proper consents from the parents
who were receiving these treatments for their embryos. He lied to them about what it was that they
were getting. They weren’t treating something, a disorder
that existed. He was trying, it looks like unsuccessfully,
to confer an enhancement. He tried to disable the CCR5 gene- Correct. … which has to do with HIV resistance. But it also is linked to higher levels of
intelligence, right? Well, there’s some mouse studies that suggest
that it could be, but there have been no human studies, so nobody really knows whether that’s
applicable to humans. There’s some other thing that came up when
I was doing that research. It starts with an M. I’m not remembering. Mitochondrial transfer? No, it’s not a mitochondrial transfer. We’re going to talk about that, but in any
case, it’s some of the genes inherit- Mosaicism. Yeah. That’s it. So it’s also mosaicism happening. Exactly. And so for something like what he was trying
to do, which is to increase resistance to HIV, if you become a mosaic person, and some
of your cells are more resistant and some of your cells are less resistant, then you
probably are overall less resistant. Right. Disaster, basically. Yeah. Well, this is the thing that people worry
about. It’s because the Chinese have an authoritarian
government. They have high levels of central control. Corporations, academia, et cetera, all these
things function in a much more centralized way in terms of the party control that they’re
going to make huge leaps and advancements in this field and also in artificial intelligence,
and given the fact that the hostilities that we talked about earlier, this is concerning. One of the things you talk about at the end
of your book is that we need to have some sort of international approach to dealing
with these problems. Good luck. Does not seem like it’s even close to remotely
possible, and the Chinese, by the way, don’t seem like they have any intention to cooperate
on any level. Yes and no. And I don’t necessarily blame them either,
by the way. Yes and no. So there’s a lot there. Let me just try to unpack it a little. Sure. It’s certainly the story of the 21st century. One of the biggest stories will be this technology
competition between China and the United States. The US has the role we have in the world,
we have been able to guide the world to build this post-war international order that’s benefited
everybody because of the economic and geopolitical advantages that we have. China does not like that structure of the
world, and China is gunning for something that’s very different. I, for one, am much more comfortable with
a world based around American values than I am for a world based on China’s values. I would never choose to live in that world. Yeah, but that may be- Our world’s imperfect. Their world is dystopian. Well, yes, in many ways. And so what we need to do is to make sure
that we continue to lead the world, and the United States has dropped the ball, certainly
in these recent years, and China recognizes that leading technology is a major part of
its agenda for having a much greater say in the world, and their stated goal of being
the world’s leading country by the year 2050. And so there’s a lot that’s at stake here,
and China has a political culture that’s very different from ours. This technology, you get a Nobel Prize for
figuring out how to do CRISPR/Cas9, and last night I was saying and you get an A in your
high school biology class for applying it. But then this high school biology teacher
who was at my talk last night said, “Hey, you said you get an A in high school biology
for applying CRISPR? You don’t. Just applying, you get a B or a C, and you
have to do it really well.” So this is out of the bag. And so we don’t know where this is going to
go. So the question is will we have a genetic
free-for-all? There’s a real chance for that. This book was already in production when the
news came out that these genetically engineered babies, genetically altered babies had been
born in China. I had to pull it back out of production, but
I didn’t have to make very significant changes because I had already said this is going to
happen, it’s going to happen in China, and here’s why. And then I just added a few sentences, “and
it did on this day.” And when the news first broke, in the first
few hours after this story came out, there was a lot of triumphalism in China. Like “We did it. We’re going to win this Nobel Prize. This is China leapfrogging over the West,
and now we’re this leading technological country.” But then when there was- Don’t say we didn’t warn you, right? Yeah, exactly. But then when there was this international
backlash, China immediately, and to its credit, its government leaders recognized that, hey,
wait a second. If we want to lead the world, if we want to
be a science powerhouse, we can’t be this wild west. And so China has now pulled back, at least
in public ways, and so I do think that China is a stakeholder because they don’t want to
be North Korea. They don’t want to be a rogue actor. They want to be this central power in the
world. So I think there is an opportunity for us
to find some common ground. Maybe it’s not entire common ground, but some
common ground. So you mentioned mitochondrial transfer. Was that the word you used? Yes. So I think the first time that was done was,
what, 2014? Yeah, very recent. Yeah. Yeah. It’s basically where you take a fertilized
egg, an egg that’s been fertilized, a mother’s egg. The parents, let’s say, a mother and father. Right. The egg’s been fertilized. You then take a donor egg. You take out the nucleus from the donor egg. You take the nucleus from the fertilized egg
of the parents, and you put it in the donor egg. And now what you’ve done is you have 99% parents’
DNA, but you’ve got a small amount of … Of mitochondrial DNA. Of mitochondrial DNA, and that was done originally
for mitochondrial disease, but recently this was done in Greece. Very recently, like in May some results came
out about this having been done to deal with chronically infertile patient. Yeah. So there’s two ways of doing it. One is that at the egg level, and one is at
the early stage embryo level, zygote level. And, yes, so this case happened in Greece,
it happened once in Mexico. It’s happened in Ukraine. It’s almost certainly happened now in the
United Kingdom, proved by their government through a very elaborate and responsible process. It’s not yet authorized in the United States
and it’s very controversial because it’s gotten wrapped up a little bit in the abortion- Are we going to fall behind because we have
such a religious community? Well, we need to find a way to move forward
with our religious community. I certainly would never begrudge anybody for
their philosophy, especially something that’s so sacred and intimate about their sense of
when life begins. But- Because I remember, I just want for the audience
as well, I remember when the Bush administration put a hold on stem cell research, and Michael
J. Fox came out with an ad on the Superbowl, and Rush Limbaugh was making fun of him flailing
around, and saying that he hadn’t taken his medication when, in fact, he had actually
been overdosing on his medication. Yeah. I mean, it’s clearly a very sensitive issue. And we need to find a way to have this conversation
together. Right now, we can’t have a conversation about
abortion. You just say the word, everybody runs, scurries
behind their barricades, and we can’t have that conversation. We have to have this conversation because
why is it that we have people picketing outside of clinics that perform abortions, but nobody’s
picketing outside of clinics that are fertility clinics where people are getting IVF? And the reason is because people, even in
the most conservative evangelical communities- They want to have babies. They’re seeing these older parents coming
with babies. These high risk people are getting babies,
and they recognize that this is the miracle of life. Maybe there are some outliers in the traditional
religious conservative community who think that it’s okay, that it’s good to implant
an embryo, let’s say, of a child who is going to have incredible suffering and die before
they’re one. Let’s say you’re choosing from among these
10 embryos, some people will say that, but I think other people recognize that there’s
a difference between a fertilized egg in a dish in a lab and a 30 year old human being. And I think that this is really, really difficult,
and it’s difficult for people to be honest about compromises that they have already made. But we have to find a way to have this balance,
and we have to find a way to build a table that’s big enough for everyone to sit at. Because what happens if we say, “All right,
we’re having this conversation about where our species is going, but you,” and “you”
could be religious conservatives, or it could be trans-humanist bio-hackers, “there’s not
a seat for you at this table.” People are going to do their own thing, and
then we’re worse off. Yeah, of course. I agree with that. When we were talking about mitochondrial transfer,
that was technically three parents. Correct. I said 99%. It was like 99.99-whatever percent. How many genes are there in mitochondria? It’s like 37. Right. Nothing. Yeah. How far are we from being able to have children
from multiple parents where the genes are more evenly expressed? What would it take to get to that place? We’re not going to want to. You don’t think so? I think it would be very, very difficult. People have this conception. I think it’s a misconception that we’re going
to sit at a computer, and you’re just going to have a menu of all the different … It’s
like Build-a-Bear. What an awful, awful, awful vision. Yeah. I know, but I don’t think that’s even within
the realm, because the complexity of our biology is just monumental. So that’s what I think embryo selection, in
my mind, and write about this … I think that’s the killer application. Why wouldn’t you be able to do what I’m suggesting? Couldn’t you fertilize an egg, and then fertilize
another one? Yes, but if you wanted to mix and match that
DNA, you’d have to cut and paste. So you’d have to take big sections of DNA
from one of these embryos- Oh, right. Super messy. And place it into others. And because our genes are all doing so many
different things, it gets really complicated. So, in my mind, the greatest living geneticists,
the world’s Charles Darwin of today is George Church, who is a Harvard professor. And George and I do a decent amount of events. He’s a funny guy. What an interesting humor he has. Oh, he’s wonderful. He has under-the-radar humor. I bet he make jokes all the time people don’t
catch. They don’t know him. No, no. He’s incredible, and so creative. Very creative. We were just speaking together at Harvard
a month ago, and he said that he thought within 10 years we’d be able to make thousands of
concurrent genetic changes to human cells, and the way he’s imagining doing it is not
making changes at the early stage embryo level, but doing it at the egg and sperm precursor
level. Because when you do that, you don’t yet have
the ethical issue of a potential or early stage human. This is just gene editing, egg precursor cells,
and sperm precursor cells, and you can do it in the millions, and so you don’t need
to be maybe as careful, and throwing away things that don’t work is easier. So he thinks that we’re going to be making
many thousands of gene edits to these egg and sperm precursor cells, and it’s possible,
but my view is that there is just such an incredible complexity to our biology that
interventions that don’t require a complete understanding of how everything works, and
I certainly put embryo selection in that category, I think will be prioritized. And then small numbers of gene edits, either
that significantly reduce risks or confer advantages, I think that we’ll do that. But in 20 years, do I think we’ll be making
five or 10 individual edits to pre-implanted embryos? I think almost certainly. Do I think we’re going to be making 10,000? No. Right. Well, there are two parallel tracks here. One is the editing technologies, and the ability
to make those edits, and the other one is the genomic science, the mapping of the genome. Understanding what you’re looking at and what
you’re doing. Right. Something that George highlights the dangers
of working on a genome that you don’t understand. Speaking of George though, is he going to
bring back the wooly mammoth? So the thing that he’s talking of bringing
back is not, in fact, a wooly mammoth. It’s like a funky Asian elephant. With hair. With hair, with a lot of mutations that could
make it function like a wooly mammoth. And it’s probably doable. I think whether it’s going to happen- How far along is it? I don’t know. I’ve talked to him about that, and nobody
really knows. It’s possible to gene edit embryos. It’s possible to confer traits, and if it
looks enough like a wooly mammoth, it’s kind of like a wooly mammoth. And so that’s kind of the basic message of
this is that we recognize that our information technology is variable, but we think about
our biology as being fixed. But biology is variable. Biology is hackable, and we are going to have
the increasing ability to hack it. Right. Well, they got that DNA from some frozen specimen
that he said was majestic. He said it was an entire specimen, and it
was staring at him. And so that ability to sequence genomes from
entities that exist a very long time, [crosstalk 00:51:49]. That’s called de-extinction. Well, not the actual sequencing, but- The sequencing, it’s basically what you need
to do is amplify genetic information so you can tell the full story. And that’s what’s helping to get all this
information about neanderthals, about the Denisovans, and also other extinct species. When you say “amplify,” how do you mean that
word? So when you get the cells, the biological
material deteriorates over time. Do you get noise though? Well, you do, but that’s why having these
algorithms that help identify what’s what. That’s crazy. So just imagine you have an old book, and
you get the old book, and it’s got water damage. And there’s some places where there’s letters,
and some where there’s not, and then how do you begin to tell the story of the whole book? Because most of that stuff is present in other
animals in the species, so they can tell. That’s part of it. You can fill in. You can look at related animals, and you can
start to fill in some of the story. And then once you do it once, once you have
a reference genome, then it changes the game because with all this new information, you
can map onto what you have. But you can only recover lost parts if those
aren’t unique to that particular species, if it’s the first time that you’re sequencing
its genome, or to that animal, right? I guess so it would be as you would just need
enough genetic information to tell the story. This brings us to big data and machine intelligence
part of this. Yeah, right. And so he would implant this in a soon-to-be
very surprised matriarch elephant. Not even surprised. Who looks into themselves when they’re pregnant? It’s like, oh, I’m pregnant. But when it would come out, she’d see it. She’d see the baby with hair on it. She’d be like, “What happened to my kid?” And she’d think, “Maybe it was that one night
in the bar.” “When I screwed that gorilla.” Exactly. But, no, that elephant. That hairy elephant. Yeah, exactly. There was another interesting thing that I
read about this which is that the idea is to also actually use … I don’t know how
much this is just kind of after the fact, trying to push the research forward, but to
use the elephant to help combat issues around methane gas emissions from permafrost in the
arctic. That’s the justification, and I’m sure that
with that goal, there are different ways to do it. Resuscitating the wooly mammoth is probably
not the top if you’re just starting from scratch, but maybe it could do it in a marginal way. So that’s a case where they’re basically saying
… Because most people would look at this and say, “What are the risks associated with
bringing back an endangered or an extinct species?” In this case, they’re saying it could actually
be helpful. We live in these complex ecosystems that are
adaptive, so what about bringing back a virus? You could bring back anything, yeah. Church said that they reconstituted the 1918
flu. It wasn’t him. It was somebody- It was a horse pox. It happened, I think, in Vancouver. Somewhere in Canada, there was a lab. They spent $100,000 and they created this
strain of horse pox, which is very closely connected to small pox. And so all this stuff is possible, and so
we are, as I was saying, gaining access to the toolkit of life, and we better use it
responsibly. I heard Church also say something about how
genetically altering the human genome could actually make people resistant to all viruses. Yeah. How does that work? There are some people who are more resistant
to viruses than others, and so for certain viruses … We talked about CCR5, and HIV. So we could give people a suite of genetic
mutations that would increase their resistance to certain viruses, or maybe many viruses. So all these things happen, but prudence is
required because all of our genes are doing a lot of different things. So we need to be careful, but there’s no written
law. There’s no natural law that this form, that
this moment of our evolution is this optimal outcome, and you can’t do better than this. Even if we didn’t have any of this technology,
we would still continue to evolve, and there’s not better and worse in evolution. It’s just that our environment is going to
change, and we will have to adapt to fit that environment. And maybe because we are actively changing
our environment so rapidly, we may need to change certain parts of ourselves in order
to keep up. Yeah. So that brings us to the socioeconomic dimensions
of this. Right. Who gets access to this technology, and what
does it mean practically? Right. That’s a values question, and the answer is
it depends on what our values are. If our values are what they should be, that
this is- But money can buy you whatever you want. Yeah, but there are some societies … Right
now, when we think of this in the context of health care, there are some societies that
have national health care systems, like Israel, where assisted reproduction is provided pretty
liberally and paid for by the state. There are others like the United States where
people pay a ton of money and get very little back. So it’s a values statement about access. Every society should have an interest in the
long term health and wellbeing of its population. Does China? In their way, maybe. As long as … Maybe what you’re going to say is as long
as the Chinese Communist party is in power? But if you’re in the Chinese Communist party,
you’re thinking, well, we are the best. That’s what you tell yourself when you wake
up in the morning. We are the best stewards of China. That’s what our politicians also say. Yeah. And that we need to make collective decisions
that sometimes are going to hurt people, and I certainly am not sympathetic. So that we need to murder these protestors
at Tienanmen Square because there’s this greater vision of China that we believe in. Everybody has a story, but what we need to
do is to make sure that we are living our values. If we believe in equity, if we believe that
in the future we don’t want to have genetic haves and have-nots, we should start applying
those values today. But if I’m Bill Gates’s kid, or if I’m Barack
Obama’s daughter, and I’m going to have a baby in 10 years or something like that, can’t
I just go wherever I want? I’ll just pay for it, right? Yes. This brings us back to the game theory. The people that are going to have access to
it, and other people aren’t. Absolutely. And there will be jurisdictions, and whether
it’s little countries, or cruise ships on the high seas- So what does that mean? It means that we better have an inclusive
global dialogue about where we’re going, that we need to make sure that every country has
a regulatory system, and we need to help make that happen. And we need to try to build global norms. For many decades, it’s impossible to wipe
out everyone on earth using biological weapons. It hasn’t happened. Why hasn’t it happened? One of the reasons is we’ve established norms
against their use. I don’t think it’s so crazy to think that
we can establish norms that aren’t going to be perfect, but it’s certainly better than
the alternative. When were those standards put in place against
biological warfare? It’s been over time, but in the 50s, 60s,
and mid-70s. Right. It was after the war. Yeah. After the second World War. And then there are all the various upgrades. And so I think we have to get started. We’re not going to do this all at once. And chemical weapons was after the first world
war, right? Certainly chemical weapons was … The horrors
of chemical weapons- Mustard gas in the trenches. … were shown in the first World War. That’s what worries me. What worries me is that we ban things after
they’ve been proven to be very dangerous. Yeah. And that’s the challenge of- I mean, if we hadn’t dropped the bomb on Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, I wonder if we would’ve been so tight with our usage afterwards. Yeah. And the challenge for me … So my book came
out a month ago, and I’m out talking every day to great people like you, and I’m trying
to tell people, hey, this is so important. You need to pay attention. And for most people, if you kind of sit down,
and if they’re 60 minutes into this interview, they say, all right, I get something is important. But for most people in their day to day lives,
they’re not thinking about the genetics revolution as something that’s really going to touch
them. But if we wait 10 years until when this issue
arises, then it’s going to be too late because the big decisions will have already been made. So we can’t wait for a crisis in order to
get smart on this stuff, and also because the technology is moving faster than it ever
has. And, again, that’s why I’ve written the book. That’s why I really want to bring people into
this conversation, because if you’re not educated, if you’re not part of this conversation in
trying to figure out how best to respond, this is just going to happen to you, and it’s
going to change your life, and you’re not going to be comfortable with that. So this is what’s disturbing. Again, this brings me back to what I was telling
you before we started, and right at the beginning of the episode when I wrote the Why Do I Care
part, and I was thinking about how this made me feel. And I remembered one of my favorite movies
ever is Gattaca. I watched that back in ’98 when it came out,
or ’99, shortly after it came out. And that movie moved me. It spoke to a lot of the things that I feel
to be true, but it never felt like it was something that I would ever have to consider
in my lifetime. And perhaps not even in my children’s lifetimes. You see here, I have a picture also of Captain
Kirk and Khan from the episode in the 60s of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, not the Wrath
of Khan. Khan was sone of the super men from the late
90s. The idea was that these people were genetically
engineered to be incredibly powerful and everything else, but, again, 1960s, this was science
fiction. This isn’t science fiction anymore, and it
feels really uncomfortable, and it feels like the future that we’re describing here and
we’re talking about doesn’t feel like home. Yeah. No, I get it. I don’t know, do you feel that ever? I feel both. Do you ever feel like this doesn’t feel like
home? I feel both because we all have this instinctive
pull towards thing. Some of us call it home. Some call it nature. And basically what it means is the thing that
we experience when we were young, because all the things that you experienced when you
were young that feel like home, those are natural human things. Like being born in a hospital, living in a
house, living in a city, agriculture, medicine. These are all just massive applications of
technology to the human experience. But they’re familiar. They’re familiar to us, but when we went from
living on the farm to living in the cities, it freaked people out. That felt so unfamiliar. When we went from hunting to farming, all
these technologies don’t feel like home. So there is an argument to be made that nature
is natural, so to speak. That there is a natural home. That’s one thing, right? Yeah, but nature is not- The idyllic landscape. Yeah, but we call, and I mentioned this with
Joe Rogan, what we call nature is not natural at all. In nature, if we mean how our ancestors a
long time ago lived, that sucked. You live in a freaking cave. The second you step out, some kind of horrible
creature is going to eat you. You die of terrible diseases. That sucked, and that’s why we’ve applied
technology to our lives. I agree. And we’re still going to do it. Right. So there’s that one line of reasoning, right? But then there’s the other one where I’m going
down, which has to do with rate of change. So some people will say people are not built
to live in cities. Rogan said, “Of course people are built to
live in cities. We made them. We’ve always been living in them.” I’m not making an argument one way or the
other about that. What I’m saying is are human beings meant
to live in a world that only changes so much in their lifetime? I think the answer to that is resoundingly
yes. I don’t think people can adjust to any rate
of change, and I think we see it politically. When change becomes too quick, people rebel. They reject the program. It’s true, and yet that is the very nature
of change, because change is cumulative. It’s not exponential. A lot of change is exponential. No, it is, but I’m saying it’s not necessarily
the nature of change- Maybe it is. In the human experience. Maybe it is because the more you change, the
greater your opportunity for change. But we’re not evolved to deal with that. We’re evolved to deal with linear rates of
change. That’s the problem. Our brains formed, in many ways, in the savannas,
and if you’re the exponential thinker on the savanna, you’re kind of looking up, saying,
“Wow, some day we’re going to have flying machines.” You’re the first guy who gets eaten by the
saber tooth tiger because the other guys have these very practical minds. A simpler time. When you hear rustling in the bushes, run. And so, yes, our brains aren’t set up for
that, and we may need to change, and we will change many aspects of how we live. We will co-evolve with our technology. We will alter our biology, but the only way
that we slow the pace of change is with some kind of catastrophic outcome like global thermonuclear
war. Jesus Christ. Some kind of pathogen that wipes us out. Jesus Christ. Change is real, and we have to learn to live
with it. But more importantly, we can’t hold on to
some nostalgic and even false view of this imagined past. What we need to do is to say what’s constant
for us is not our technology, it’s our values. It’s our values. And how do we weave our values into the world
that we’re building so the values are familiar, even though the context will change? I’ve done a number of episodes. I’m thinking specifically of my episode with
Cal Newport on digital minimalism, and the episode we did with Shoshanna Zuboff on surveillance
capitalism. Talking about the role of these mobile devices
and the behavioral algorithms that run the background on the quality of our lives, I’m
of the mindset that I think people are going to kick the bucket on this. At some point, there’s going to be a tip,
and as simple as people are going to stop using their mobile device. They’re going to start using a burner. I think not because they’re afraid that they’re
being watched, but because having this device, which gives you access to the entire universe,
and which is feeding you increasingly curated content and alerts, is going to so destroy
the quality of your life that you’re going to become aware of it because of the work
of people like Shoshanna and other people, that you’re just going to stop using it. Because the quality of your life goes down
the toilet. I feel that. We all feel it. Yeah. I was just on this book tour, and book tours
are these crazy things where you have this thing. It’s like this baby. Ideas I’ve been thinking about for two decades,
and just kind of launching it into the world. And then you have all this stuff coming at
you, interview requests and things, and I found myself just going in with my phone. I’d do an interview with you, I’d leave, I’d
check messages, respond, go to the next interview. I was finally going crazy, and like I was
talking about, the future of what it means to be a human. And I felt like I was becoming less human. I was becoming less myself without … So to say that the change is going to just
be continuous doesn’t mean that every kind of change that we can imagine is good or what
we want, but we have to define what it is that we’re comfortable with. And this is all going to happen within the
context of diverse societies and competitive society. So there will be drivers that won’t be entirely
individual and personal. One of the questions that Shoshanna asks and
we discussed on the show is who decides. Who decides? Does it concern you that the engineers, at
least the Silicon Valley ones, especially trans-humanists, who are thinking about things
like living forever, and who are designing so many of these applications that are running
on our devices, and engineering our future, that these people are the least human among
us? They’re the most on the spectrum. They have the least social skills. The things they value are not the things that
I value. They’re less artistic, they’re less romantic. They’re more quantitative, and they’re the
ones that are selecting what is best for us. It’s not surprising to me that they say ridiculous
things like “We’re going to upload our consciousness.” That is an absurd statement. When Ray Kurtzweil, and I’ve met Ray, I’ve
heard him speak … Totally nice guy, whatever … Totally crazy. Makes no sense. He has absolutely no basis to make that statement. We have no clue what consciousness is. The entire idea that you’re just going to
upload your, quote, “consciousness” to the Cloud is ridiculous, and they’re saying this
stuff like it’s real. About six weeks ago, I was in Japan. I was giving a lecture tour hosted by the
Japanese government. It was this great thing where they said, “Just
make a list of anyone in Japan you’d like to meet with, and we’ll set it up.” So one of the people who I listed and who
I met with is this incredible guy, Hiroshi Ishiguro. And Ishiguro-san, he’s the leading humanoid
roboticist in the world. He was on the cover of Wired. And so this guy, he’s incredible. We went there, and he himself, he felt like
a robot. As a matter of fact, he has a robot replica
of himself, and he keeps getting plastic surgery, because as he gets older, he wants to still
look like his robot. I guess it’s probably easier to put wrinkles
on your robot. Crazy. And so we had this debate about the future
of humanity, and he was saying that the future of humanity is non-biological. And I said if our future is non-biological,
either we have committed suicide or these non-biological entities have killed us. But there’s something that’s inherently biological
about us. I do a lot of speaking at big tech events,
and I had a lunch once with some of the most well known tech founders of the biggest Silicon
Valley companies. It was really interesting. It was me and one other guy who were both
speakers at the conference, and then there were all these guys who were the tech founders. And we were like this traveling circus show
trying to keep a conversation going, like more familiar people might, and these other
guys who were like unbelievable geniuses, it was very clear that they were kind of somewhere
on the spectrum. It doesn’t make them less or more human. Well, some of them, it makes them less human. I understand. Because what we’re talking about is our humanity,
and how do we define our humanity. If you can’t hold what most people consider
to be a normal conversation, that’s fine. In other words, it’s not a criticism of you
as a person. You are a person. You are a human. But you don’t get to decide in my view what
is human. It doesn’t make sense to take an outlier person
and make him decide what is- No, I agree. Yeah. And that’s why I think my answer for Shoshanna,
maybe Shoshanna’s answer for you, and my answer for myself is that we have to be the deciders,
and for us to be the deciders, we have to empower ourselves. And the way we empower ourselves is first
with knowledge and then with voice, and then we have to engage the people. We have to build communities around these
ideas. We have to engage our political leaders and
say, “Hey, this issue is important. What are you doing about it?” But if we just stand back and let it happen,
it will happen led by the people who feel they are the greatest stakeholders. People like Mark Zuckerberg are just trying
to railroad this future down people’s throats. Joe Rogan said it perfectly. We have a bunch of people who are totally
uneducated on these matters who didn’t even do the proper job of preparing themselves
for their congressional testimony of Mark Zuckerberg when he came there. The senators, yeah. Yeah, exactly, senators. I’m not given any confidence in this matter
whatsoever. But we live in a democracy. We have to organize. It’s great for us to talk, and actually being
on a podcast like this is an action. It’s an important action. Yeah, it’s important. But then we need to say what’s the next action? How do we build these communities? Because in any issue, there are the people
who feel there are greater stakeholders and less stakeholders, and the greater stakeholders
will always drive issues. Look at gun control in the United States. The majority of Americans want to have sensible
restrictions on gun ownership, but they’re not that motivated. The people who are the pro-gun people, they’re
more organized and more motivated around this single issue, and so they get the voice. And what we have to say is this stuff is really
important, and we want a voice. But to have that, we have to do the hard work
first. Jamie, I want to move us into the overtime. Sure. When you were talking about our future being
silicone, is that what he said? Yeah, non-biological. Non-biological. I think it was Church who was talking about
this, but he’s not the only one, about the carrying capacity of the human brain in terms
of as an information storage device. Yeah. And what’s resilience. Yeah. Kurtzweil also talks about this. There’s not enough space. We have to expand it with the Cloud. Right, right, right, but that we would actually
be able to use organic material, carbon based storage units in a sense to store information. I think that’s what Church was saying in this
lecture that I saw. I haven’t seen that, but I know that Ray Kurtzweil
says that we need to have some brain machine interface so that we can have access to storage
in the Cloud. He’s off the map. There’s actually a really cool company here
in New York City that has a brain machine interface that uses … I forget. It’s the neural signals myo … I forget the
name of it. But it uses the neural signals from your spine
to your hands and your fingers, and it’s pretty damn good. Yeah. So, anyway, I want to talk a little bit about
synthetic biology, some stuff like this. Also biotech and bio-hacking, and what people
are doing with that. Great. Really important topics. Yeah, I think it’s really interesting, and
a few other topics. And maybe we can kind of touch a bit on North
Korea, because you had visited North Korea. Yeah, twice. Which is fascinating. I want to talk to you about that and a few
other things. For those who are regular listeners, you know
the drill. If you’re new to the show, head to,
or go to to learn about the subscription, and how you can access
the overtime, as well as the transcript of this week’s episode, as well as the episode
rundown, which I always tell you guys is a beautiful document full of notes and links
and charts and pictures of Captain Kirk, in this case. I can see the pictures. They look great. Right. And Ethan Hawke. Sorry to interrupt you, but I’m going to add
to this because podcasts like this are so important. It’s a new form of media, and so many people
are using it. We’ve all been socialized to this idea that
everything ought to be free, but really it’s a lot of hard work that goes into creating
this kind of content. It’s really important, and you’re saying if
you subscribe, you’ll get this extra stuff, and the extra stuff is great. And now that we’re going into overtime, I’m
going to tell all of my deepest, darkest secrets I’m not going to tell anybody else, and that’s
really great. But it’s not that much. Let’s say you have five or six podcasts that
you listen to regularly that you feel … Now, this sounds like NPR. Please don’t stop. That you feel are giving you something, and
it’s worth that little bit. The cost of a few coffees a week that just
empowers this kind of content. And if we’re all using it, we have to recognize
that if we don’t pay for this stuff that’s going to enrich us, we’re not going to have
it. I really appreciate you saying that. No one’s ever done that before, and I feel
really uncomfortable saying it, but it’s true. The guest I told you before, I’m not going
to mention his name to the audience because I want it to be a surprise, but I was contacted
by the staff of one of the former secretaries of defense. There are only four of them, okay? Now, I was told that the staff listens to
the show, his wife listens to the show, and I’m assuming he listens to the show. So this is an important program, and I have
been doing it largely for free. And I have said to my audience that I want
to just cover the costs of it. We’re one-third of the way there, and I’m
very grateful since we launched the subscription in January, but I hope that we can get all
the way there. I do appreciate all your support, and I do
know that not everyone can support the show. And I want to try to make it possible for
some of you to do it at a lower cost and get something in return. But, Jamie, thank you so much for staying
for the overtime, and let’s switch to the overtime. Awesome. And that was my episode with Jamie Metzl. I want to thank Jamie for being on my program. Today’s episode of Hidden Forces was recorded
at Creative Media Design Studio in New York City. For more information about this week’s episode,
or if you want easy access to related programming, visit our website at and subscribe
to our free email list. If you want access to overtime segments, episode
transcripts, and show rundowns full of links and detailed information related to each and
every episode, check out our premium subscription available through the Hidden Forces website,
or through our Patreon page at Today’s episode was produced by me and edited
Stylianos Nicolaou. For more episodes, you can check out our website
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and Instagram @hiddenforcespod, or send me an email at [email protected] As always, thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.

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