By Jordan Pennells
The Musk + Rogan podcast will surely stack up as one of the biggest peaks in the global meme economy throughout 2018! But underneath the meme value of Elon Musk smoking weed live on air, most news articles failed to report the in depth and insightful conversation that Rogan & Musk had on a whole host of fascinating topics!
While there were a lot of complex ideas being thrown around, including bridging human minds with AI, the possibility that we’re living in a simulation and the evolution of our species, the use of analogies by both Rogan & Musk to convey scientific ideas really struck my admiration! If you don’t have 2.5hrs to spend watch a captivating conversation about the past, presence and future of humanity, this post recaps the science discussed throughout the podcast.
00:04:11 Musk identifies that traffic is one of the most difficult challenges to overcome in our age. Musk’s LA life is quite heavily impacted by the infamous traffic of this city. He is exploring solutions to overcome traffic issues, evident from his track record of championing the production of electric and autonomous vehicles at Tesla.
“I’ve lived in LA for 16 years, and the traffic has always been terrible”
Elon Musk, 2018
Fronting up to the notion of autonomous cars, Musk opines that even if they were solely sold from this point onward, it would still take 20+ years for all cars on the road to be autonomous; which is about the lifespan of conventional cars being sold now. In the meantime, manually driven cars interspersed with autonomous cars would present an inefficiency to the system and a potential site for safety concerns. This would also give a whole other meaning to automatic vs manual cars!
02:12:15 Autonomous cars among manually driven cars would be akin to the first motorised vehicles interspersed with horse and carriage transportation; consider the practical issues this incongruity would have caused!
Outlining the transportation issue, Elon presents a captivating mental visualisation of how our shortcomings have developing into the 21st Century.
“The fundamental issue with roads is that you have a 2D transport system and a 3D living and workspace environment.” Elon Musk, 2018
01:45:06 Everyday transport systems work throughout a single ground-level plane (road, track or river), while people are living and working in concentrated high-rise company and apartment buildings. These two systems are just not compatible together. The solution may be to extend the 2D transportation system underground to form a multilevel 3D tunnel system, potentially up to 100 levels below ground.
00:05:39 Musk proposes that tunnels may be the solution to our inefficient transportation system. Counterintuitively, he reassures Rogan that tunnels are quite stable, even if an earthquake were to strike.
“[Earthquakes] are a surface phenomenon. Like waves on an ocean. If there’s a storm, you want to be in a submarine. Tunnels are like a submarine.”
Elon Musk, 2018
He goes on to describe the engineering involved in designing these tunnels, to counteract any below ground geo-structural changes or chemical interference.
“The tunnel is made up of interlocking segments… kind of like an underground snake exoskeleton. The tunnel is able to shift along with the ground moving. It’s capable of taking 5 atm of pressure, is water and gas proof and meets all California seismic requirements.” Elon Musk, 2018
00:13:41 The rise of AI may be the greatest filter against our civilisation occupying the galaxy. Musk ominously states that AI is “not necessarily bad, just out of human control.” It will be very tempting for humans to use AI as a weapon, and that could be our greatest danger.
When asked how far away we are from truly sentient AI, Musk contemplated deeply and replied with a truly unexpected answer.
“You could argue that A company is essentially a cybernetic collective of people and machines.” Elon Musk, 2018
There are different levels of complexity in the way these companies are formed. With the Google search function, we are basically nodes on a network. Or as Musk puts it, leaves on a tree, all feeding this network with our questions and answers. This is also true of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Social Media Psychology:
00:16:15 Rogan feeds off Musk’s evaluation of the current state of human/AI sentience in the form of the Internet and social media, and questions how this came about and why we are so intent on continually fuelling it with our likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams and fears. Rogan speculates that the need for newer and better technology is driving advancement to some incredible climax, in the form of some instinctive drive or desire.
“People are obsessed with materialism and getting the latest, greatest thing. A lot of it is most certainly fuelling technology and innovation. And it almost seems like it’s built into us…. And it doesn’t seem possible that people are going to pump the brakes…. It almost seems like it’s an instinct that we’re working towards this, that we like it. It’s our job, just like the ants build the anthill.”
Joe Rogan, 2018
Musk adds that it seems like we’re the “biological bootloader for AI”.
If we continue on this path of AI progression, we will reach a point where we represent a very small percentage of the overall intelligence. But it is not completely dissociated from us. The Internet comprises all the things that we love, that we hate and that we fear. The Internet is a projection of our limbic system, the neural system that controls our emotions, behaviour, and long-term memory.
“The success of these online systems [is] a function of how much limbic resonance they’re able to achieve with people. The more limbic resonance, the more engagement.” Elon Musk, 2018
00:20:18 At this point Musk goes into a pseudo-cinematic trance, recounting his past AI warnings and predicting how AI regulation will develop in the future.
“I tried to convince people to slow down. To slow down AI, to regulate AI. This was futile. I tried for years. Noboby listened. No one.” Elon Musk, 2018
Here, Musk forecasted to steps that will occur in the future for the regulation of AI technology.
“Normally, the way that regulations work is very slow. it’s very slow indeed. So, usually, it will be something, some new technology. It will cause damage or death. There will be an outcry. There will be an investigation. Years will pass. There will be some sort of insights committee. There will be rule making. Then, there will be oversight, absolutely, of regulations. This all takes many years.”
Elon Musk, 2018
Then, the conversation took a grim turn…
“This time frame is not relevant to AI. You can’t take 10 years from a point of which it’s dangerous. It’s too late… Once the genie is out of the bottle, there’s no getting it back inside.” Elon Musk, 2018
Will AI Merge With Or Replace Us?
00:24:07 After these dire predictions, Rogan asks whether it’s more likely that we’ll augment ourselves and merge with technology, or if AI will replace us. Obviously, the merge scenario is a better one for us, and musk summarises this with the simple quote: “If you can’t beat them, join them!”
The merge scenario is actually in effect at this very moment, through the increasing role that technology plays in our lives. You might not realise this, but you are already a cyborg. Your phone is an extension of yourself! But there is a technological constraint holding us back, which is the bandwidth for information flow from our device to our brain.
“The communication rate between you and the cybernetic extension of yourself, that is your phone and computer, is slow. It’s very slow. [It’s] like a tiny straw of information flow between your biological self and your digital self. And we need to make that tiny straw like a giant river. A huge high bandwidth interface. It’s an interface problem, a data rate problem.” Elon Musk, 2018
To imagine the effect this could have on our cognitive performance, think about how much smart we are with a mobile phone! With a phone, we can access all human knowledge to answer any question. Memory is essentially perfect. We can perform difficult calculations in seconds.
00:24:41 But the most exciting part of this conversation was Musk’s tentative announcement of a brain interface device that he is working on, called Neuralink. Without giving away too much, Musk says that Neuralink could allow AI to become symbiotic with the brain, and isn’t that far away from becoming a reality!
“We’ll have something interesting to announce in a few months. That’s, at least, an order of magnitude better than anything else.” Elon Musk, 2018
00:35:59 When pressing Musk about the magnitude of how much better AI intelligence would be over human intelligence, Musk asks to what extent we all think about the life of chimpanzees. Rogan, a well-known chimp contemplator, tells Musk that he is the wrong person to ask! But most people wouldn’t be concerned about the relatively simple world of chimpanzees.
Discussing the dark & downright cruel acts that chimp communities do to each other, Rogan commented that human’s violent tendencies make sense, seeing as they’re our closest genetic relatives.
“I go: Oh, this is why people are so crazy. We came from that
While saying “That’s where we came from” is a misnomer seeing that chimpanzees and ourselves only share a recent common ancestor, there is a profound connection between our species! But maybe we should strive to be like Bonobos, which settle all their problems with an orgy, despite family ties (anything goes except mothers having sex with their sons).
Part 2 – To be continued…