Guest on The Futurists Live

On The Futurists Live with Brett King we discussed the pressing issue of climate change and how it’s impacting cities like Dubai, emphasizing the need for better infrastructure and collective efforts from governments and individuals to mitigate and adapt to these changes.

I believe that AI will revolutionize the way we work and live, but it’s crucial that we approach it with a focus on empowering individuals and ensuring that the benefits are widely distributed. Concepts like unconditional universal basic income (UUBI) could play a significant role in this transition. I shared my thoughts on the future of technologies like Bitcoin and DAOs, as well as the regulatory challenges they face.

We also touched upon the potential for AI to transform healthcare and extend human longevity. Throughout our discussion, I emphasized the importance of adaptability in the face of rapid change. I believe that AI has the potential to solve many of the complex problems we face today, but it’s up to us as humans to embrace these changes and work towards building a future that prioritizes human empowerment and well-being.

Here is the list of topics, and an edited transcript.

  1. Climate change and its impact on cities like Dubai
  2. Infrastructure limitations and the need for climate mitigation and resilience
  3. The role of governments and individuals in adapting to climate change
  4. Forecasts of eco-refugees due to extreme weather events and food scarcity
  5. The challenge of allocating resources to address future climate-related issues
  6. Shortcomings of current economic systems in dealing with climate change
  7. Universal Basic Income (UBI) as a potential solution to techno-unemployment
  8. The future of work and the role of AI in transforming the economy
  9. The potential for AI to break the connection between the labor force and supply and demand
  10. The concept of unconditional universal basic income (UUBI)
  11. Bitcoin and the upcoming halving event
  12. Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) and their regulation
  13. The impact of AI on healthcare and longevity treatments
  14. The concept of homeodynamic entities and their adaptability compared to humans
  15. The need for humans to adapt to the rapidly changing world driven by AI
  16. The potential for AI to solve complex problems and inspire creative solutions
  17. The accessibility of AI tools and their potential to empower individuals
  18. The importance of recognizing people’s concerns and building tools for human empowerment
  19. The need to rethink philosophies around economics and growth in light of AI and climate change
  20. Upcoming events gathering futurists to discuss these topics and develop solutions

Brett: Welcome, if you’re watching. We are The Futurists. I’m Brett King and joining me is my good friend David Orban. We thought, given it’s a Friday and we are approaching the future, why not have a bit of a live chat about the future? We do this when we get together – we have these discussions about the future. It occurred to us that it could actually make a pretty good live session on Facebook and so forth. So glad you guys could join us if you’re watching and we are happy to jump into this session on Friday. David, welcome.

David: Thank you very much for having me. It is great to be having a conversation online as well after a wonderful dinner. I think last time it was in Dubai. 

Brett: It was, yeah. Dubai is crazy right now with the floods and everything.

David: It is very interesting to ask ourselves what are the constraints and limits of infrastructure, how and why they were built in a given way, and what kind of unanticipated events they can withstand. Seeing all those cars floating by and the shopping centers flooded is a reminder that definitely, as much money and effort as we put in setting up our cities, colonies in the desert, they do have their limits.

Brett: I saw a photo of the Saudi desert just from last week covered in green and flowers because it had rained unexpectedly and heavily in that area. You wonder, first of all, there’s been a lot of debate as to whether Dubai’s cloud seeding project created this. But they’ve been very clear in the press that they didn’t seed these clouds. Now having said that, Dubai and even Qatar with the World Cup, we have got a sense that these cities are trying to re-engineer themselves around extreme temperatures. Just something like this shows us that actually, as a species, we still have some limitations. We don’t have control over the weather or climate. But I’m interested in us exploring how you feel we’re going to adapt to these changes. If Dubai is now, because of changing weather patterns, going to be subject to these types of rainfalls more frequently and they don’t have any drainage, does that mean they have to now install this new infrastructure? Where do we go in terms of climate mitigation and resilience? This is just a very small example. How much effort is mankind going to have to put in to mitigate these issues?

David: I believe it is extremely important not only for governments to think about what they can do and should be doing both in the mid-term and long-term, but that they and collectively we empower individuals to make decisions for themselves. In my opinion, that is in very large part a fundamental key for resilience. In order for millions or billions of people to work out what works for them at their scale, the two foundational components are education and empowerment. Without knowledge and the ability to act on that knowledge, we will be exposed to the decisions made for us. Too often our belief that centralized decision-making is superior, more robust, and better informed than those made on the ground is misplaced. Our governments often make tragically stupid decisions. We have to be able to critically evaluate whether we are comfortable with them. The faster the loop of this evaluation and feedback, the better both individuals and governments can adapt.

Brett: I understand the politics of climate is difficult because until lives are threatened, if you’re asking the general populace to support billions of dollars in funding for climate mitigation, then you’ve got to be pretty sure in terms of political exposure that no one’s going to say after you spend the money that it wasn’t worth it. Having said that, if you wait until the point where it’s doing real damage, then your ability to mitigate the financial effects of climate will be significantly reduced. Also, we are going to see lives lost. One thing that comes to mind throughout this process is the forecasts in terms of eco-refugees that we see. I wrote about this in the last book, but the estimates now range somewhere between half a billion and 1.8 to 2 billion eco-refugees in the 2050s. Half a billion sounds absurdly low given that last year the UN estimated there were 130 million eco-refugees, right? Just think about Bangladesh, the southern half of Bangladesh was flooded. Imagine those numbers climbing pretty rapidly.

David: The most vivid scene is the opening chapter of Ministry for the Future. What we see and what is depicted is a wet bulb temperature event where unless you are in a reliably and constantly air-conditioned environment, the natural combination of temperature and humidity kills you because your mammalian body cannot thermoregulate by expelling the heat with water, by sweating. Different temperatures with different humidity are expressing these conditions. But soon, larger and larger areas in Pakistan and India are expected to be under those conditions. Very simply, either everyone has reliable air conditioning, meaning that there are no blackouts during the very moment when it is most used, or people end up dying within a few hours, literally within a few hours. There is even no time to say, “Oh, we have to evacuate.” You cannot evacuate tens of millions of people in three, four hours to prevent them from dying. It would be a huge…

Brett: It was in Delhi, wasn’t it, or somewhere in India, in the Ministry for the Future?

David: It was in India, not in the city, but in a smaller, more rural area in the scene. It will be a civilizational test. Do we allow millions of people to die in a situation that cannot be handled as it happens, but must be handled before the fact? If we allow that to happen, it will be hard for me to call us a civilization. That is a label that we potentially wouldn’t deserve.

Brett: This sort of gets at the heart of the problem. When I discuss this with people, particularly the eco-refugee situation, which is driven by two primary factors – extreme weather events such as flooding and temperature changes, but more so by food scarcity because we know that crops are already showing sensitivity to increased temperatures – the question I have is, right now if I was to say, “We need to start building cities for these eco-refugees that are going to be displaced in the future,” no one’s going to be willing to put their hand in their pocket, right? “Who’s going to pay for that?” is the refrain we hear from modern capitalists in this scenario. But there is a point, as you’ve rightly pointed out, in terms of human lives, where it will get to a certain level where that question is no longer morally or ethically sound. But I don’t know what that number is. How many people would have to die before our current economic model, which is like, “The free market has to solve this problem,” recognizes that it can’t and that we still have to mobilize and do something about it, regardless of the cost?

David: Definitely, some of our current economic systems and models are short-sighted. They are unable to factor in the incredible benefit of having the resource of humans that is better deployed and enabled to flourish, adding to the economy of the place where it is active, rather than leaving things as they are and only thinking about the next quarter or maybe a year or a few years. We do need an increased ability to incorporate in our economies and the pricing of the investment decisions we make, the upside that is produced five, ten or twenty years down the line by the fact that millions of people are thriving rather than suffering and withering away.

Brett: This is really the core issue that I see will be brought to light by climate, AI technology, employment and so forth – the inequality issue that you raise is going to be a fundamental question. We hear a lot of talk about universal basic income as a solution to techno-unemployment. Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Elon Musk all talk about this. It seems like they sort of know what’s coming with technology and employment. But the issue with UBI is it also creates this permanent stratification. It’s sort of back to the old feudal system from an economics perspective. You remember in “The Expanse”, the sci-fi series, they talk about people on basic and it’s talked about almost as if there’s this poor class of people that are on basic and then you’ve got the others who have access to employment, wealth, assets and things like that, being in a different class. People are terrified if they have to go and live on basic income. But that again, that’s sort of like we could use UBI to extend capitalism for a little bit of time. But it occurs to me that we have to… it’s only a short-term fix.

David: I am not an economist and I am not necessarily able to correctly classify and label the various systems that are playing around with the knobs and parameters of production, consumption, taxation and regulation we can come up with. But similarly to how Churchill challenged when he quipped, “Democracy is the worst form of government except every other form,” and we thought he was joking rather than really saying, “Listen, I can come up with something better, but I know that we need to…” Well, the same way, we have to challenge ourselves to understand how we can evolve and debug the system that today is working to a large degree, to the point that alternative experiments have been mostly abandoned. But we also know its limits and they are very vivid in societies like the US, where individual flourishing is severely impacted and diminished by the constraints put on lives by the current economic system and social contract. The brutality of the American social contract that says your value to society is equal to your economic output, and there’s a corollary – when your economic output goes to zero, your value to society becomes zero – manifests itself in desperate individuals and the literal diminishing of life expectancy of entire populations that cannot cope with the lack of recognition of their dignity and the value they bring to society.

Brett: And if AI really is the greatest productivity tool the corporate world has ever seen, which we believe it will be, then the most productive a company can be is, if you want the most productive form of Uber, then you eliminate human drivers. Right? Because that automation gives you simplicity, gives you higher margin, all of that. So my fear is that, in economics 101 terms, AI is really breaking that connection between the labor force and supply and demand anyway, despite various arguments about retraining people and so forth. You’re not going to train them as coders, you’re not going to train truck drivers as coders, because AI is going to be coding. But it does raise this really interesting issue about the role of work in society moving forward.

David: So I find it laughably offensive to expect that, for example, in the category of jobs which is the most prevalent in all 50 states in the US, which is truck driver, and where the median age of truck drivers is 50, the answer to the coming age of self-driving trucks and convoys of 10 of them that maybe will need one driver, with a 90% loss of jobs or more, is fine because all of them can learn to be web developers. It is just so condescendingly stupid.

Brett: That’s sort of the key problem, isn’t it? It’s that value of the human that you talk about. The other thing I was going to say, do you know that expression that’s very widely used in the States? “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” Have you heard this expression used before?

David: Yes.

Brett: Look at the etymology of that expression. It was meant to show the impossibility of a situation because you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps. And yet we use this as a term derogatorily to people who are unemployed or aren’t working hard or can’t afford to live. We say they should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But the very etymology of that saying is, well, that’s impossible. And yet, this is the burden we’re putting on society with these expectations.

David: We have to go back to first principles. On one hand, we can ask ourselves what is the entropic differential that gives rise to usefully exploitable labor, physical labor, that rearranging atoms can find configurations that we find more valuable. And then what we are now reaching is the ability to execute these steps of rearranging atoms rather than manually ourselves through robots. That, I think, very clearly indicates that an AI robot economy will be born and will thrive. Economy is an open-ended endeavor – it will potentially add not a few percentages to GDP of any country or the planet, but it will multiply it manifold. But on the other hand, we also have to start rethinking by first principles what it means to live a human life of purpose and dignity in a world where we cannot define our reason to exist as having a job and working 9 to 5, and the effort that we put in, the first, really has to be equaled by the effort that we put in the second. There is all the reason to dedicate ourselves to understanding the second question and potential answers to it. We are failing to find the right balance. I am definitely at fault of being in love with technology and dedicating a lot of attention to technology and its incredible progress. And I dedicate some, but not enough, attention in analyzing and implementing tests, experiments and potential solutions to the question of human dignity and human purpose in the future.

Brett: I think that’s obviously the goal and aim of AI. You know, even if you look back at Walt Disney previewing their first prototype robots that they created for demonstrators, they would talk about them as labor-saving devices. Rosie the robot on the Jetsons, labor saving device. She does the housework, helps the kids with homework, cooks the meals, does the washing, running, cleaning, and so forth. So we are freed up, our time is freed up to pursue more meaningful things. Not necessarily commerce, because again, as you pointed out, the nature of AI-based economies in the future will be to automate as much of commerce and as much of the operation of our economy as possible. That’s what will make you competitive and create these multiples of wealth creation. But the distribution of that wealth becomes a big problem if we extend the current system to that future. I know you said you’re not an economist. But let’s talk about what economies of the future might look like. You’ve said that it’s going to be heavily automated, but how quickly – it’s obviously going to be fits and starts, but how quickly do you see us talking about autonomous economies?

David: So, William Gibson says, “The future is already here, it’s only not evenly distributed.”

Brett: I think that’s a quote that us futurists use more than anything else, frankly.

David: A couple of examples. Chatbots were pretty much useless for a long time. Many of us have negative experiences with how limited they were. But as it is the case, they kept improving, passing potentially thresholds of usefulness. And in the past Valentine’s season, which is the peak of the flower gifting industry, 1-800-Flowers, which is the infrastructure behind a lot of this happening, did not hire, for that period, 3,000 people that would have been hired the year before and the year before still, because they used a reliable chatbot that integrated with the e-commerce system. It was able to, for example, query an existing order, change the shipping destination or confirm that it has been shipped – relatively sophisticated operations in the specific area of that particular industry. So that kind of impact is already here. Another example, Jeremy Owyang, who is an investor in Silicon Valley, talks about a new kind of AI startup that after hiring the core team caps the number of humans and aims to increase the number of team members and the ability of the company to grow by automation. Just yesterday we heard an interview where Durov, the founder of Telegram, confirmed that the close to a billion users of Telegram that require a very sizable infrastructure are managed by 30 people, 3-0, right? So we are already seeing a lot of things happening in the world that require in proportion an incredibly small human presence and they just work very well. I see this continuing and we are then able to make decisions of what to do, where to apply our abilities, our curiosity, our passion, in which direction, because again, the economy is an open system. That is, I think, the fundamentally important realization that everyone looking skeptically or with fear at AI and automation has to realize and go in the direction that your passion and skills and talents show you, finding new things to create. I believe in the power of startups, not necessarily in the Silicon Valley sense of raising a lot of VC money and then selling for the appropriate multiple to a larger company.

Brett: Just empowering people to get in there and try some solutions.

David: Exactly. The entrepreneurial spirit that is shared by the Silicon Valley technology startup founders and the poorest merchants in India or Africa because they want to make it. They want to find something that others find valuable.

Brett: Isn’t that going to be the benefit of UBI? Because, look, the research we did for technosocialism was we found that in the 70 or so trials, one of the things that consistently happened is that people that were on universal basic income started their own businesses at three times higher rates than the general population. Because if you don’t have to worry about putting food on the table as much, then you’ve got the freedom to explore. I think that’s sort of the beauty of that. But Effie says Swiss regulators have a clear framework around DAOs. But that’s one component of it. I think, you know, I do see a whole lot of regulatory arenas where we’re going to have to rethink this and there’s going to be structural changes like if we think just about longevity treatments as an example or health care in the world of AI. So health care becomes highly quantified. We know now we can track your biomarkers with extreme precision. We know your biological age from your cellular health condition, your telomere lengths, various things. We can get that into an algorithm. And now we’ve got a mechanism by which we can maintain your health for a longer period or your health span to give you not only a longer life but quality of life. But this requires a complete rethink of the way we think about medicine. Have you read that bookBrett: Have you read that book by Peter Attia, the book called “Outlive”?

David: No, I read a lot of longevity literature. And I am, of course, very healthily interested and co-interested as a human in the ability of living longer. But let me give you a contrarian interpretation of the scale of the challenges. And that stems from the fact that in order to find out what are the needs of the individual and the stress on society when we have people of 200 years age around us, well, it cannot take less than another 100 years or more. We cannot just produce 200 year old people on demand. We have to wait until they are 200 years old. Right?

Brett: And now… I hope that you and I are going to be amongst those 200 year old people. Well…

David: Let’s meet in 2124 and find out. We will only be 150 or so, but I think that will be a first. And by the way, just recently, in order to mentally train myself, I decided to measure my age rather than as a proportion of an ambitious but possible 100-year lifespan, a pretty ambitious thousand-year lifespan. So let’s say I’m 60 and I’m 6% of that lifespan, right? But I think, once again, from first principles, one of the challenges of this thinking is that it recreates necessarily a homeostatic view of the individual, meaning that it strengthens our ability and resilience and adaptability to maintain ourselves as we are physically, in our metabolism, mentally, and in any way that an individual is defined. 

And the problem with that is that the world is soon, and much faster than 100 years, going to be dominated by what I call homeodynamic entities. A homeodynamic entity, as opposed to a homeostatic entity, is one that is adapted to maintain its identity in a rapidly changing environment. If you are part of a herd and you need to migrate with the seasons, well, next year if you need to go a bit further, you can do it. And the next year, still a bit further, you can do it. But if the year after, the environment tells you that you have to cross an ocean in order to survive, well, the entire herd will die. And what is happening with AI is that AIs are much more adept at being adaptable.

Brett: Right. I mean, we see that right now, right? We see the rate of change in terms of AI adaptation is… This is why I get frustrated with people like Gary Marcus, because it’s like there’s so much money going to artificial intelligence, we are going to fix this problem, right? And Robert likes to say of Gary, “He’s right until he’s wrong. And when he’s going to be wrong, he’s going to be significantly wrong.” But when we start looking at these problems, we know the trajectory we’re on. 

We don’t do nearly enough thinking about how we should adapt. We do far more debate over whether it’s going to happen or not, while we’re throwing every dollar we can at making it happen. We’re still going, “But we don’t know if AGI is actually going to happen,” right? It seems to me, in climates of similar situations, one of our basic human flaws is that we can see the future coming and we don’t start to adapt until it’s right at our doorstep.

David: The ability to have our theories die instead of us is a great revolution that our insight, introspection and self-awareness created. It’s the evolution of the theories of mind. But even though we have completed that memetic jump, we have to make the effort and become even better at forecasting, backcasting, modeling, understanding, debating, coming to a consensus, executing. That is the challenge that AI is giving us because AI is going to be able to do all those things in a manner that will astonish humans. We will be breathless in looking at the sharp, beautiful reasoning that evidently puts things in perspective and highlights creative solutions to problems that we were struggling with for so long.

Brett: Including longevity as an example or diseases. Yeah, it could also solve problems like energy utilization, resource utilization in general. It could, you know, like eliminate diseases thereby giving us better quality of life longer term.

David: There is a German startup doing fusion research in a very innovative design that instead of being very symmetric like the European tokamak, it has weird shapes in the superconducting magnets in order to improve the stability of the plasma field.

Brett: And was that designed by AI?

David: And that was designed by AI.

Brett: I thought you were getting to that. All right. So we’ve got like eight minutes left. And we’ve been talking about some of the challenges and so forth. But let’s get optimistic. What makes you most optimistic about this future? And why would you say that, because I’ve got Jonathan sending comments here about the elites having access to these technologies and so forth. But why are you optimistic that AI is going to be beneficial for everybody?

David: So, Jonathan, welcome. You are part of the elite. You are watching this, you are following this. It means that you have access to the internet, you are smart, you are curious, you apply critical thinking, you have everything you need in order to thrive in the world that is coming. I think one of the most important points about the AI tools that are being born is that there is zero barrier to entry in order to get our hands dirty, to test them, to experiment with them. 

Just a few weeks ago, with a bunch of AI tools, I created a musical video that appropriately, poetically talks about in an 80s new wave style of how we are gonna dance proudly together with AGIs as we design a new world. And you can find the video on YouTube if you search for “When We Were Divine”, that is the title. The way I felt using that is as if I were a producer-director, being surrounded by talent specialized in various things – writing the lyric, designing the script, animating the videos, putting the music together, all this – and I was able to do it in a few hours, in two or three hours. 

That to me is especially exhilarating because even if both my parents are artists – my father was an actor, my mother is a painter – it looks like a job to do. My daughter and middle son are both artistic, but I have never expressed myself artistically, but now I can. I gain new degrees of freedom. Literally, like Tarzan of the jungle that couldn’t speak and he didn’t have an inner dialogue. And then after falling in love with Jane, she taught him to speak and he found himself being able to express his feelings, to express his joy, returning to the jungle, telling the monkeys his adventures. That is what we are all gaining – incredible new cognitive powers of self-expression and self-realization that is not only in the arts. Imagine a PhD in extended cognition.

Where our exocortex is part of what defines us. And we… We grow and we intertwine our passions and our desires with the tools and with other human beings using them the same. What we are doing today is magical, across continents. What is happening right at this moment is incredible. And, you know, everyone can take advantage of it. I was on an interview like this with a 15 year old child or person in Pakistan.

Brett: With real time translation?

David: Well, he used ChatGPT to render his questions in anglicized or turned into phonemes that with his Urdu, native Urdu, he could read. So even if he didn’t speak English, he was pronouncing the questions quite well. At least I could understand them. And then he’s translating after the fact. But it is just fantastic. When people take advantage of these tools, they find ways to improve themselves and to be part of the future that we are designing.

Brett: That’s optimistic. I know we’ve got some commenters that are a little bit less convinced about this, but I will say that just the compute power, if we just think of it in terms of pure intelligence, and compute relates to intelligence, humanity always strives to learn so we can be more intelligent, so we can apply that knowledge to better solutions for the future. So I think you have to assume that artificial intelligence, at least as a toolset, is going to give us the ability to solve problems we can’t solve today. 

The one concern that we have throughout this, and I’ll finish off with Effie’s comment here, is that we do have the potential for digital feudalism here. We do have the ability to… We have the potential for massive wealth capture from artificial intelligence that doesn’t really get distributed well. And I think that’s a concern that a lot of people share. I do think there are ways around it. And I do think that the future is going to be much better with AI in it than it is. 

But I think we have to let go of our sacred cows. We have to let go specifically of some of the philosophies around economics and growth and things like that. Because we could grow – I mean, AI could get incredible growth for the economy. But at the same time, we have to be a bit more responsible with climate change and all of these other things happening in terms of maybe growth is not the primary objective here. Maybe it’s growth of the species, growth of our intelligence, growth of our capabilities, growth of our ability to give people long lasting happy lives rather than just GDP growth. You know, and I think that’s sort of what I hope for, but I’m not sure how we make that transition yet. But I am, you know, we talk about it pretty much every time we get together, David. We talk about this issue of this transitional phase. But, I’m positive.

David: We have to recognize the reality of the emotions of people who feel anguished, who feel uncertain, who feel that they need help. And starting from that recognition, we can build the tools of human empowerment that are essential for our optimistic views to become real. If we ignore that sentiment, it will radicalize enough people to stop the progress of human technology. And as a consequence, it will stop the opportunity for the positive outcomes to materialize too. So we can be egotistic in helping the others to be part of this future. And we have the power to do that with these tools that we are using right now – communication, conversations, debating, understanding, experimenting. These are the basic blocks of finding out what works, our way through.

Brett: Yeah, exactly. All right, well listen, it’s been fantastic to chat with you David, it always is great. And I will say thank you for your persistence in making this event happen today because you were, I had a really busy week and you’re on my case saying, “Don’t forget.” And we got it together. It’s great. We should do this more regularly. And we should invite some… I’d be happy to continue this conversation, but enjoy Seoul, enjoy your time with your daughter and your family. And thank you once again for participating. 

And for those of you that are listening and you like this sort of conversation, stay tuned because we are working on an event next year in Dubai and one later this year in Thailand in August and Dubai in April next year where we’re going to gather the world’s preeminent futurists like David to an event there to talk about these problems and see if we can’t get some solutions in play, get some adaptation happening. How do people follow your work, David?

David: and davidorban on practically every platform.

Brett: Fantastic. Well, thank you once again. And that will let you guys have a great weekend. Thank you, David, for joining us. That’s it from the Futurists. And as Robert and I like to say at the end of the show each week, we’ll see you in the future.