Blogs

Announcing a New Project: Eternally Curious

Good news, everyone! I've been meaning to do this for at least five years, and today I'm so happy to finally announce it to the world. It's a new video series of highly curated and well-produced content called Eternally Curious, where I explore all things I'm interested in.

This will be a completely separate channel from my personal one, where I will keep posting interviews, video blogs, stuff about robots, basic income, and such.

I'm kicking off the season with this first video: "Why Are People Stupid?".


Video link: https://youtu.be/mhYqSt95gCo

I hope you'll enjoy it.

Remember to subscribe to my YouTube channel here: http://youtube.eternallycurio.us
And to support me on konoz! http://bit.ly/konoz-ec-stupid-yt
twitter: https://twitter.com/etercurious
facebook: https://facebook.com/eternallycurious

On Trust

Trust. It's a strange feeling.

Being trusting of others is my default state. I assume people are generally OK, and that they act in selfish or in deliberately evil manners only out of necessity or in extreme cases of boredom. I know that this includes millions of variations and possibilities, but still, I like to generally assume I can trust strangers.

All of this can change of course in a matter of seconds. I like this quote from Mike Tyson (paraphrased):

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.

That punch in the face can come at any time, and it typically does when you least expect it.

I was on a plane from Los Angeles to London today. I sat down, got my things set up, and briefly went to the bathroom. I come back two minutes later, only to find that my iPad was gone. Disappeared. The iPad was no longer. It was an ex-iPad.

The moment you realize you have been fucked and that you have no control over things, a torrent of emotions comes rushing to your head. First you try to remember the details before the fact. Did you really have the iPad there? Yes, you put in in the pocket in front of your seat. Was it not inside the bag? Pretty sure it wasn't, but check the bag, just to be sure. Gosh, I shouldn't have gone to the bathroom while people were still arriving and sitting down. Did you backup the photos and videos you took? $700 down the toilet for taking a leak kind of burns, but the photos! Those are memories, money is replaceable. What about that blog post you wrote? Did you back that up? You should back up more often...

Then comes the suspicion. You are sure: it was there, and somebody took it. Who could have done that? Maybe it was just a bored teenager. Maybe it was an asshole who wanted a new shiny screen to watch bad blockbuster movies on and read the daily mail. Did you have a code on the lock screen? How difficult was it? Only 4 numbers, stupid Apple security, a monkey could crack that in a few hours. Not that it matters, they'll probably format it before even trying to open it. Is the find my iPad activated? Was it in airplane mode? If so, it's of no use. Who could have done that? Look around you. Maybe this guy. Or that woman, she looks awfully suspicious. That's what you get for trusting people so much. Pretty stupid move. Don't they have security cameras or something? Always there to harass us for this false sense of security, maybe they can turn out to the useful for once.

While this is going on, you start to think that you might be getting paranoid for no reason. Maybe it was just displaced. Go to the flight attendant, and ask if someone has found it.

As I walk back to my seat, I hear the announcement going off on the intercom, and I get the gaze of the person sitting next to me. Excuse me, have you seen an iPad with a red cover? I left it here, maybe it fell under the seat or something? "No, haven't seen anything, sorry", he says.

As I go through the emotional roller coaster I try to step back and think this through rationally. There is no point in worrying or getting emotional. You're more likely to think straight if you don't get carried away. And if you don't find it, that's it. Move on. They're not going to search 400 passengers to retrieve your lost iPad, get over it.

"Is this yours?", says the guy next to me, as he hands me my lost treasure. Speechless, I hesitate. "Yes", I utter tentatively, "I never check the pocket in front of the seat", he adds.

"Thanks", I sigh in relief.

As I collect my thoughts on what just happened, I can quite literally feel my brain shifting state, and giggle at the double 180 degree change in world view my mind has gone through in less that 10 minutes.

Then it hits me. I remember his face when I came back from the bathroom. He was staring at me. It was a mix of surprise and terror. You didn't register it immediately, but you noticed, then got distracted when you found out that your iPad was missing, and couldn't think straight anymore. You saw him taking a good look around the seats and bags, or at least pretending to, while the hostess was making the announcement. Then you remembered his words when you asked the second time, "When you sat down, did you notice if there was an iPad, or was it already gone?", "I didn't see anything, I wish I could help you, I didn't take it", "Of course, I was just trying to pinpoint at which point it disappeared", I conclude.

But there is something bugging me. How come he couldn't find it, after I asked him twice, and it was right in front of him? It was right there. How could he miss it? Maybe he thought someone had left it there and then he took it, hoping nobody would come to claim it. Then when he saw me he got scared, he tried to keep it hidden, then realized I was eventually going to find out, and looked for a way to return it while making it look like he didn't know it was there.

Sneaky bastard.

Wait a minute. Where is this coming from? This isn't you. You trust people. Maybe he was being honest. If it's true that he never checks the pocket where the airplane magazines are stored, then his story checks out. No mystery, no evil intent.

But then how did the iPad get into his seat's pocket? Are you sure you didn't displace it yourself, and you just don't remember?

At this point, I realize there is no point in going any further with this, it's an infinite spiral from which you can never get out.

Little by little, all these experiences shape us and make us who we are. The more we allow fear and suspicion to take a hold of us, the more we become alienated and we distance ourselves from others.

The challenge is to remain open, and to not let negativity take over. That's a lesson that we need to deal with every day.

VidCon: Motivation. Inspiration. Fascination.

How would you describe your experience of in three words? It's a question that I find myself asking more frequently, both to myself and to other people, and at every iteration the interest and the expectation grows accordingly.

It forces you to think, reflect, and internalize emotions and situations that would otherwise pass by you, forever out of reach, evanescent, fleeting entities that disappear the moment you experience them.

And so I ask that question.

I savor the moment when I look into the eyes of my interlocutor, shining as they move to the upper left, a sign that they are accessing that part of the creative brain that creates new, spectacular pathways into the synaptic connectome of their mind. And I await with a smile of satisfaction, knowing that they are creating new memories, that this process of voluntary reflection will help them solidify what they have experienced, thus appreciate it more deeply.

You can tell when they are making the effort, walking that extra step that is undoubtably more difficult, but that pays off exponentially more than simply glazing over and answering in autopilot. Then comes the sudden epiphany, thoughts have been processed, memories formed, and the smile becomes contagious, as they become finally aware of what they have been missing out until the moment you changed their mindset and forced them to look at themselves under a different perspective. Words have been attached to these new structures, and the act of voicing them will reinforce them, like building a solid foundation from which cathedral and castles are erected, in all their splendor and immensity.

Now comes my favorite part. Will they open the doors of their mental cathedral with you, thus sharing a commons space, and quite literally opening up to you, making themselves vulnerable? A quite challenging and scary thought, albeit no less rewarding than the previous one.

I thoroughly enjoy walking into new buildings – be them humble houses or majestic skyscrapers – all made of mind-stuff.

Excitement. Expectation. Vulnerability. But also exploration, openness, and connection.

And so I ask that question. And I eagerly wait to see the building that will be created before my eyes. Minds. Engines of creation.

In a way, isn't that what all great art does?

I was sharing this moment with Matthew Clarke, the creator of "Convos With My 2-Year-Old". I find it remarkable how he was able to capture the essence of being in that situation, a father exploring this new jungle of emotions, the universe of the mind of a little girl growing up, who can create elaborate worlds and establish new, unpredictable, and surprising connections. And he made the effort, he did walk that extra step, where you become aware of your experience, process it, internalize it, create archetypes of it and re-process it into a new format, accessible to the minds of others. Video. Such a powerful, mind-expanding medium.

I respect those able to walk that extra step, who can give us a glimpse into their mind and into the nature of their experience, thanks to which we can feel more connected, and less alone.

Art. Great art is about communication, and intention.

I like to ask questions. To scratch that part of the mind that isn't often visited, too far from the usual routine of everyday existence. I did that with Kevin from Vsauce 2, and we shared that special moment. I did that with Derek from Veritasium, and Henry from MinutePhysics, and many other great YouTube creators, whose passion, curiosity, and art reaches millions of inquisitive minds across the globe.

This is what I loved about VidCon. That I could ask these questions, and instead of receiving glazed eyes, I saw cathedrals being erected in front of me, cities of thoughts and ideas that I could walk and explore.

Motivation. Inspiration. Fascination.

Thank you VidCon.

More Tweets and Memories

Billionaire Johann Rupert Worried by AI and Unemployment, Urges People to Read "Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That's OK"

See video

Multi-Billionaire Johann Rupert, CEO of luxury giant Richemont takes a stance against the growing wealth gap, calling it 'unfair' and 'unsustainable', and urges people to read my book "Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That's OK" as proof of the next wave of unemployment brought by Artificial intelligence and automation. Times are changing.

Announcement: I'm creating a course on AI and Robots Stealing Jobs, I will publish more and more videos in the future on konoz: http://bit.ly/konoz-fede-robots-rupert-fb

VISIONEERS, or how to stop complaining and start fixing global problems

It's not everyday that you get to see the future happening right before your eyes. We're so focused on the day to day, paralyzed by uninformative and amygdala-stimulating news reports, that we rarely allow ourselves to take some time off to think about the future of humanity. The challenges we face today seem so out of our reach, and we feel so insignificant, that even when we do ponder about what's coming next, it's no more than a mere intellectual exercise.

However, there are people who not only think about the future constantly, but proactively make plans on how to improve it, and often deliver on the promises. Last week I was privileged enough to be part of such a group at the XPRIZE VISIONEERING conference in Los Angeles.

xprize

Presenting on the XPRIZE stage.

XPRIZE is the child of my dear friend Peter Diamandis, and what this project has accomplished in just a few years is nothing short of extraordinary. The story goes that Peter's childhood dream was to become an astronaut, but he didn't qualify for NASA's standards of physical aptitude. So he decided he would go to space himself.

Most people would stop at that thought, knowing that it would remain a child's dream and nothing more. Then again, Peter is not like most people. He was so determined to go to space so much that over the past twenty years he almost single-handedly rekindled global interest for space exploration. The 1996 Ansari XPRIZE – a $10-million prize awarded to the first privately financed team that could build and fly a three-passenger vehicle 100 kilometers into space twice within two weeks – was the reason that led Richard Branson to start Virgin Galactic and his private space enterprise, and many say it gave Elon Musk the inspiration to pursue Space X.

xprize

Since then, XPRIZE has become the new standard for disrupting innovation in areas where things had been stagnating for decades, either due to market failures or because of circumstances beyond any individual's control. The concept is simple: put out a $10/$20 million prize for the first team to do X, x being whatever currently unresolved challenge humanity is facing. Many teams compete in a friendly "coopetition", but only the best wins. The genius idea behind this approach is that the total amount of capital spent and value generated is much greater than the prize to be won. Teams collectively spend huge amounts of money, sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars, in the off-chance of taking home the $10 million prize. But in the process, they jumpstart in their country and community an ecosystem of innovation in a sector that had been stagnating for years. The winners will open source their technology for the benefit of all humanity.

xprize

Since its creation, XPRIZE projects include:

  • super-efficient vehicles that achieve 100 MPGe (2.35 liter/100 kilometer) efficiency, produce less than 200 grams/mile well-to-wheel CO2 equivalent emissions, and could be manufactured for the mass market
  • successfully launching, landing, and operating a rover on the lunar surface.
  • doubling the industry's previous best oil recovery rate tested in controlled conditions by exceeding 2500 gallons per minute (with at least 70% efficiency of oil collected over water)
  • a mobile device that can diagnose patients better than or equal to a panel of board certified physicians
  • free Android apps to spread reading, writing, and arithmetic skills, and prove their effectiveness over an 18-month period in African pilot communities

The list keeps growing every year.

So how do they decide what the next XPRIZE is going to be? Every year the team organizes in Los Angeles a two-day retreat called, quite appropriately, VISIONEERING. In the spirit of friendly coopetition, visioneers form teams and compete for the best idea, voting democratically at each stage. Some of these ideas might go on to become the next XPRIZE.

This year I was asked to lead the Future of Work session as visiting expert.

xprize

The best part about this gathering is the honesty and bluntness of the conversations. There is no shortage of events where powerful and influential people meet and try, or at least claim to, find solutions to global challenges. More often than not, these so called "global meetings" are full of political chit-chat and diplomatic equilibria, and nothings gets done. Nobody can say what they really think, and the few who do are either outright ignored, or cheerfully applauded and then ignored. At VISIONEERING this was the polar opposite. Since nobody had any obligation to be there or to represent the interest of a specific group, we could be brutally honest in what we said and how we treated each other. It didn't really matter how many billions of dollars you had on your bank account, or if you had a particular agenda to push forward. It was a pure competition of ideas for the benefit of mankind, and even in what was potentially one of the most ego-filled rooms in the world, I found it remarkable how people quickly recognized that someone else had a better idea, and would drop their original proposal for a better one.

xprize future of work

It was very humbling, and it happened to me thrice. The first time was when I was leading the group on the Future of Work. As visiting expert, my role was to help guide the discussion, give insights, data points, and create connections, not give solutions or impose my view on the participants. I resisted that urge several times during the session. The whole point of this exercise in creativity is to explain what the intended outcomes are, and let visioneers come up with a workable XPRIZE, which should have clear goals and measurable objectives, but should not by any means hint at a particular implementation or solution.

Let me give you an example. Suppose we want to clean up the ocean in case of an oil spill. An ill-designed XPRIZE would say something like — the winning team will design a better model of this particular machine, using this specific technology that would capture water in such a way, etc. You get the idea.

Conversely, a well-designed XPRIZE would go as follows — the winning team will create a scalable technology that at least doubles the current standard for cleanup rate all other things being equal or better. It has a clear, measurable goal (at least double the cleanup rate), it's audacious but not too impossible, it's specific enough to be experimented on scientifically, but broad enough to give space for the creativity of teams to come up with innovative and out of the box solutions.

In my team Future of Work, the job was a lot tougher. The subject is so broad and complex that it has ramifications far beyond a single objective, there is a lot of systems thinking involved with non-trivial consequences down the road, which are highly unpredictable. There is solid research, including from my own work, suggesting that within the next two decades about 50% of all jobs will be automated, with relatively few new occupation being created (maybe 5%), with a net loss of 45% of jobs that will be irreversibly lost. In addition, we are seeing the gradual disappearance of the middle class and a rise in corporate profits, while median income has flattened or in many cases decreased, widening the income gap, and increasing inequality at an alarming rate, with no sign of slowing down.

Given these trends and predictions, what should the goal be? Could it be a way to quickly find employment for the millions of trucks drivers, cashiers, delivery personnel, nurses, etc.? Or will it be a way to reduce inequality at a structural level, perhaps with a basic income or a social dividend? The problem with these approaches is that they already hint at a solution, rather than tackling the problem at its root. The underlying theme seems to suggest a way to create an equitable and stable society where people can thrive. This too is of little help, such a broad statement could be applied to anything, and finding clear, simple, measurable goals in such a murky environment (societal health? life satisfaction? happiness?) could prove to be even more difficult than winning the XPRIZE itself.

It was of no surprise that, when I opened up the challenge to the 2.9 million reddittors at /r/Futurology to leverage the cognitive surplus of the internet, many of the suggestions where off-topic, it was indeed a difficult path to follow, but some good ideas came out, and many of them came up during the session.

Even with these hurdles and complications, I was quite happy with the winning proposal from the Future of Work team, which I helped advise. The final version was as follows: the winning team will create a financial instrument for low-income populations that has a better risk-adjusted return than a junk bond.

xprize

Advising the winning team of the Future of Work XPRIZE. You can see Astro Teller (center) and Lakshmi Pratury to his left.

What I like about this proposal is that it relies on and leverages market forces, rather than fighting them. There was a moment when the team was struggling to find an actionable goal. They were all agreeing on the general direction (helping the poor), but could not bring themselves to make it 'XPRIZE material'. All I had to do was give a little nudge (don't fight inertia, ride the wave of capitalism!), and they came up with something brilliant. It wasn't that surprising, giving the amazing people who comprised that group – among which were Astro Teller from Google X and my friend Lakshmi Pratury, co-host of TEDIndia and curator of The INK Conference.

xprize

On the second day I could finally take off the hat of "visiting expert", step out of my neutral suit, and join any of the other teams. I decided to go with the "wildcard", a special session hosted by Peter Diamandis himself, where all the craziest ideas that couldn't be categorized in other groups would come out and compete in a highlander "there will be only one" kind of way.

This was the second humbling moment for me. I pitched my idea, but soon realized that someone else had a much better one, and I immediately set aside my ego and joined that group. It was brilliant from the start.

Federico Pistono and Tom Chi presenting at the XPRIZE finals.

With Tom Chi presenting at the finals.

The final pitch we wrote sounded something like this – Waste to Wealth. There are billions of tons of trash added to landfills every year, and despite efforts to reuse, reduce, and recycle, the problem is still very much real. The winning team will create a scalable technology that can take one ton of undifferentiated trash from a landfill, at least double the industry standard for material recovery, and do so at a profit.

waste to wealth

We won hands down the wildcard session – the only team who received no criticism from the Shark Tank of judges – and moved on to the finals, where we came second.

xprize

This was the third and final humbling moment. I wasn't really bummed out that our project didn't win. Every idea that was selected for the finals was worth pursuing, and if implemented will benefit humanity. So in a way, it doesn't matter who got to win. It's not about any of us, or any of our ideas. It's about positive impact for the human race, and this year's winning project – Human Dignity: build a pack-and-go housing solution that provides efficient water, electricity, and sanitation; a scalable solution, deployable in one day, have a life of at least six months, and be adaptable to multi-terrain and climate conditions — is as good as any.

Beside this minor drawback on the final vote, I've had a thoroughly positive experience all three days. The XPRIZE team was very professional and welcoming, and the attendees were truly amazing and inspiring. In particular, I enjoyed very much working with Tom Wujec, fellow at Autodesk and adjunct professor at Singularity University, who helped facilitate the Future of Work session with me, and idea-jamming with Tom Chi, co-founder of Google X, with whom I ended up presenting the project Waste to Wealth, and Ali Velshi, host of "on Target" on Al Jazeera America, a fantastic person with whom I've had the pleasure of having dinner at the closing ceremony.

Federico Pistono and Ali Velshi

Enjoying the final moments with Ali Velshi.

There are many others of course worth mentioning, too many to list on a brief blog post, all change makers, dreamers and doers, who instead of complaining about the state of things, they decided to do something about it.

Visioneers.

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