Welcome to the Huberman Lab Podcast,
where we discuss science
and science-based tools for everyday life.
I’m Andrew Huberman,
and I’m a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology
at Stanford School of Medicine.
Today, I have the pleasure of introducing Dr. Lex Friedman
as our guest on the Huberman Lab Podcast.
Dr. Friedman is a researcher at MIT
specializing in machine learning, artificial intelligence,
and human-robot interactions.
I must say that the conversation with Lex
was, without question,
one of the most fascinating conversations
that I’ve ever had,
not just in my career, but in my lifetime.
I knew that Lex worked on these topics,
and I think many of you are probably familiar with Lex
and his interest in these topics
from his incredible podcast, the Lex Friedman Podcast.
If you’re not already watching that podcast,
please subscribe to it.
It is absolutely fantastic.
But in holding this conversation with Lex,
I realized something far more important.
He revealed to us a bit of his dream,
his dream about humans and robots,
about humans and machines,
and about how those interactions
can change the way that we perceive ourselves
and that we interact with the world.
We discuss relationships of all kinds,
relationships with animals,
relationships with friends,
relationships with family,
and romantic relationships.
And we discuss relationships with machines,
machines that move and machines that don’t move,
and machines that come to understand us
in ways that we could never understand for ourselves,
and how those machines can educate us about ourselves.
Before this conversation,
I had no concept of the ways in which machines
could inform me or anyone about themselves.
By the end, I was absolutely taken with the idea,
and I’m still taken with the idea
that interactions with machines of a very particular kind,
a kind that Lex understands and wants to bring to the world,
can not only transform the self,
but may very well transform humanity.
So whether or not you’re familiar
with Dr. Lex Friedman or not,
I’m certain you’re going to learn a tremendous amount
from him during the course of our discussion,
and that it will transform the way you think
about yourself and about the world.
Before we begin,
I want to mention that this podcast is separate
from my teaching and research roles at Stanford.
It is, however, part of my desire and effort
to bring zero cost to consumer information about science
and science-related tools to the general public.
In keeping with that theme,
I’d like to thank the sponsors of today’s podcast.
Our first sponsor is Athletic Greens.
Athletic Greens is an all-in-one
vitamin mineral probiotic drink.
I’ve been taking Athletic Greens since 2012,
so I’m delighted that they’re sponsoring the podcast.
The reason I started taking Athletic Greens
and the reason I still take Athletic Greens
once or twice a day is that it helps me cover
all of my basic nutritional needs.
It makes up for any deficiencies that I might have.
In addition, it has probiotics,
which are vital for microbiome health.
I’ve done a couple of episodes now
on the so-called gut microbiome
and the ways in which the microbiome interacts
with your immune system, with your brain to regulate mood,
and essentially with every biological system relevant
to health throughout your brain and body.
With Athletic Greens, I get the vitamins I need,
the minerals I need,
and the probiotics to support my microbiome.
If you’d like to try Athletic Greens,
you can go to athleticgreens.com slash Huberman
and claim a special offer.
They’ll give you five free travel packs
plus a year supply of vitamin D3 K2.
There are a ton of data now showing that vitamin D3
is essential for various aspects of our brain
and body health.
Even if we’re getting a lot of sunshine,
many of us are still deficient in vitamin D3
and K2 is also important because it regulates things
like cardiovascular function, calcium in the body,
and so on.
Again, go to athleticgreens.com slash Huberman
to claim the special offer of the five free travel packs
and the year supply of vitamin D3 K2.
Today’s episode is also brought to us by Element.
Element is an electrolyte drink
that has everything you need and nothing you don’t.
That means the exact ratios of electrolytes are an element,
and those are sodium, magnesium, and potassium,
but it has no sugar.
I’ve talked many times before on this podcast
about the key role of hydration and electrolytes
for nerve cell function, neuron function,
as well as the function of all the cells
and all the tissues and organ systems of the body.
If we have sodium, magnesium, and potassium
present in the proper ratios,
all of those cells function properly
and all our bodily systems can be optimized.
If the electrolytes are not present
and if hydration is low,
we simply can’t think as well as we would otherwise,
our mood is off, hormone systems go off,
our ability to get into physical action,
to engage in endurance and strength
and all sorts of other things is diminished.
So with Element, you can make sure
that you’re staying on top of your hydration
and that you’re getting the proper ratios of electrolytes.
If you’d like to try Element,
you can go to drinkelement, that’s lmnt.com slash Huberman,
and you’ll get a free Element sample pack
with your purchase.
They’re all delicious.
So again, if you want to try Element,
you can go to elementlmnt.com slash Huberman.
Today’s episode is also brought to us by Thesis.
Thesis makes what are called nootropics,
which means smart drugs.
Now, to be honest, I am not a fan of the term nootropics.
I don’t believe in smart drugs in the sense that
I don’t believe that there’s any one substance
or collection of substances that can make us smarter.
I do believe based on science, however,
that there are particular neural circuits
and brain functions that allow us to be more focused,
more alert, access creativity, be more motivated, et cetera.
That’s just the way that the brain works,
different neural circuits for different brain states.
Thesis understands this.
And as far as I know, they’re the first nootropics company
to create targeted nootropics for specific outcomes.
I’ve been using Thesis for more than six months now,
and I can confidently say that their nootropics
have been a total game changer.
My go-to formula is the clarity formula,
or sometimes I’ll use their energy formula before training.
To get your own personalized nootropic starter kit,
go online to takethesis.com slash Huberman,
take a three-minute quiz,
and Thesis will send you four different formulas
to try in your first month.
That’s takethesis.com slash Huberman,
and use the code Huberman at checkout
for 10% off your first order.
I’m pleased to announce that the Huberman Lab Podcast
is now partnered with Momentus Supplements.
We partnered with Momentus for several important reasons.
First of all, they ship internationally
because we know that many of you
are located outside of the United States.
Second of all, and perhaps most important,
the quality of their supplements is second to none,
both in terms of purity and precision
of the amounts of the ingredients.
Third, we’ve really emphasized supplements
that are single-ingredient supplements
and that are supplied in dosages
that allow you to build a supplementation protocol
that’s optimized for cost,
that’s optimized for effectiveness,
and that you can add things and remove things
from your protocol in a way
that’s really systematic and scientific.
If you’d like to see the supplements
that we partner with Momentus on,
you can go to livemomentus.com slash Huberman.
There you’ll see those supplements,
and just keep in mind that we are constantly expanding
the library of supplements available through Momentus
on a regular basis.
Again, that’s livemomentus.com slash Huberman.
And now my conversation with Dr. Lex Friedman.
We meet again.
We meet again.
Thanks so much for sitting down with me.
I have a question that I think
is on a lot of people’s minds,
or ought to be on a lot of people’s minds,
because we hear these terms a lot these days,
but I think most people, including most scientists,
and including me, don’t know
really what is artificial intelligence,
and how is it different from things
like machine learning and robotics.
So if you would be so kind as to explain to us
what is artificial intelligence,
and what is machine learning?
Well, I think that question is as complicated
and as fascinating as the question of what is intelligence.
So I think of artificial intelligence
first as a big philosophical thing.
Pamela McCordick said AI was,
AI was the ancient wish to forge the gods,
or was born as an ancient wish to forge the gods.
So I think at the big philosophical level,
it’s our longing to create other intelligent systems,
perhaps systems more powerful than us.
At the more narrow level,
I think it’s also a set of tools
that are computational mathematical tools
to automate different tasks.
And then also it’s our attempt to understand our own mind.
So build systems that exhibit some intelligent behavior
in order to understand what is intelligence
in our own selves.
So all of those things are true.
Of course, what AI really means is a community
as a set of researchers and engineers,
it’s a set of tools, a set of computational techniques
that allow you to solve various problems.
There’s a long history that approaches the problem
from different perspectives.
What’s always been throughout one of the threads,
one of the communities,
goes under the flag of machine learning,
which is emphasizing in the AI space,
the task of learning.
How do you make a machine
that knows very little in the beginning,
follow some kind of process
and learns to become better and better at a particular task?
What’s been most very effective in the recent,
about 15 years, is a set of techniques
that fall under the flag of deep learning
that utilize neural networks.
What neural networks are,
are these fascinating things inspired
by the structure of the human brain very loosely,
but they have, it’s a network
of these little basic computational units called neurons,
And they have, these architectures have an input and output.
They know nothing in the beginning
and they’re tasked with learning something interesting.
What that something interesting is,
usually involves a particular task.
There’s a lot of ways to talk about this and break this down.
Like one of them is how much human supervision
is required to teach this thing.
So supervised learning, this broad category,
is the neural network knows nothing in the beginning.
And then it’s given a bunch of examples
in computer vision that will be examples of cats,
dogs, cars, traffic signs.
And then you’re given the image
and you’re given the ground truth of what’s in that image.
And when you get a large database of such image examples
where you know the truth,
the neural network is able to learn by example.
That’s called supervised learning.
There’s a lot of fascinating questions within that,
which is how do you provide the truth?
When you’re given an image of a cat,
how do you provide to the computer
that this image contains a cat?
Do you just say the entire image is a picture of a cat?
Do you do what’s very commonly been done,
which is a bounding box?
You have a very crude box around the cat’s face
saying this is a cat.
Do you do semantic segmentation?
Mind you, this is a 2D image of a cat.
So it’s not a,
the computer knows nothing about our three-dimensional world.
It’s just looking at a set of pixels.
So semantic segmentation is drawing a nice,
very crisp outline around the cat
and saying that’s a cat.
That’s really difficult to provide that truth.
And one of the fundamental open questions
in computer vision is,
is that even a good representation of the truth?
Now there’s another contrasting set of ideas
that are attention, they’re overlapping,
is what’s used to be called unsupervised learning,
what’s commonly now called self-supervised learning,
which is trying to get less and less
and less human supervision into the task.
So self-supervised learning is more,
it’s been very successful in the domain of language models,
natural language processing,
and now more and more it’s being successful
in computer vision tasks.
And what’s the idea there is,
let the machine without any ground truth annotation,
just look at pictures on the internet
or look at texts on the internet
and try to learn something generalizable
about the ideas that are at the core of language
or at the core of vision.
And based on that, we humans at its best
like to call that common sense.
So we have this giant base of knowledge
on top of which we build more sophisticated knowledge,
but we have this kind of common sense knowledge.
And so the idea with self-supervised learning
is to build this common sense knowledge
about what are the fundamental visual ideas
that make up a cat and a dog and all those kinds of things
without ever having human supervision.
The dream there is you just let an AI system
that’s self-supervised run around the internet for a while,
watch YouTube videos for millions and millions of hours
and without any supervision be primed
and ready to actually learn with very few examples
once the human is able to show up.
We think of children in this way, human children,
is your parents only give one or two examples
to teach a concept.
The dream with self-supervised learning
is that would be the same with machines,
that they would watch millions of hours of YouTube videos
and then come to a human and be able to understand
when the human shows them, this is a cat.
Like, remember, this is a cat.
They will understand that a cat
is not just a thing with pointy ears
or a cat is a thing that’s orange or is furry.
They’ll see something more fundamental
that we humans might not actually be able to introspect
Like, if I asked you what makes a cat versus a dog,
you would probably not be able to answer that.
But if I showed you, brought to you a cat and a dog,
you’d be able to tell the difference.
What are the ideas that your brain uses
to make that difference?
That’s the whole dream with self-supervised learning
is it would be able to learn that on its own,
that set of common sense knowledge
that’s able to tell the difference.
And then there’s like a lot of incredible uses
of self-supervised learning,
very weirdly called self-play mechanism.
That’s the mechanism behind
the reinforcement learning successes of the systems
that wanted to go at AlphaZero, that wanted chess.
Oh, I see, that play games.
That play games.
So the idea of self-play,
this probably applies to other domains than just games,
is a system that just plays against itself.
And this is fascinating in all kinds of domains,
but it knows nothing in the beginning.
And the whole idea is it creates a bunch of mutations
of itself and plays against those versions of itself.
And the fascinating thing is when you play against systems
that are a little bit better than you,
you start to get better yourself.
Like learning, that’s how learning happens.
That’s true for martial arts,
it’s true in a lot of cases,
where you want to be interacting with systems
that are just a little better than you.
And then through this process of interacting with systems
just a little better than you,
you start following this process
where everybody starts getting better and better
and better and better
until you are several orders of magnitude better
than the world champion in chess, for example.
And it’s fascinating because it’s like a runaway system.
One of the most terrifying and exciting things
that David Silver, the creator of AlphaGo and AlphaZero,
one of the leaders of the team said to me,
is they haven’t found the ceiling for AlphaZero,
meaning it could just arbitrarily keep improving.
Now in the realm of chess, that doesn’t matter to us,
that it’s like, it just ran away with the game of chess.
Like it’s just so much better than humans.
But the question is, if you can create that in the realm
that does have a bigger, deeper effect on human beings,
on societies, that can be a terrifying process.
To me, it’s an exciting process
if you supervise it correctly.
If you inject what’s called value alignment,
you make sure that the goals that the AI is optimizing
is aligned with human beings and human societies.
There’s a lot of fascinating things to talk about
within the specifics of neural networks
and all the problems that people are working on.
But I would say the really big exciting one
is self-supervised learning.
We’re trying to get less and less human supervision,
less and less human supervision of neural networks.
Just a comment, and I’ll shut up.
No, please keep going.
I have questions, but I’m learning, so please keep going.
So to me, what’s exciting is not the theory,
it’s always the application.
One of the most exciting applications
of artificial intelligence,
specifically neural networks and machine learning,
is Tesla autopilot.
So these are systems that are working in the real world.
This isn’t an academic exercise.
This is human lives at stake.
This is safety critical.
These are automated vehicles, autonomous vehicles.
Semi-autonomous, we’ve gone through wars on these topics.
So even though it’s called FSD, full self-driving,
it is currently not fully autonomous,
meaning human supervision is required.
So human is tasked with overseeing the systems.
In fact, liability-wise, the human is always responsible.
This is a human factor psychology question,
which is fascinating.
I’m fascinated by the whole space,
which is a whole nother space, of human-robot interaction.
When AI systems and humans work together
to accomplish tasks.
That dance to me is one of the smaller communities,
but I think it will be one of the most important
open problems once they’re solved,
is how do humans and robots dance together?
To me, semi-autonomous driving is one of those spaces.
So for Elon, for example, he doesn’t see it that way.
He sees semi-autonomous driving as a stepping stone
towards fully autonomous driving.
Like humans and robots can’t dance well together.
Like humans and humans dance and robots and robots dance.
Like we need to, this is an engineering problem.
We need to design a perfect robot that solves this problem.
To me forever, maybe this is not the case with driving,
but the world is going to be full of problems
where it’s always humans and robots have to interact.
Because I think robots will always be flawed,
just like humans are going to be flawed, are flawed.
And that’s what makes life beautiful, that they’re flawed.
That’s where learning happens
at the edge of your capabilities.
So you always have to figure out
how can flawed robots and flawed humans interact together
such that the sum is bigger than the whole,
as opposed to focusing on just building the perfect robot.
So that’s one of the most exciting applications,
I would say of artificial intelligence to me
is autonomous driving and semi-autonomous driving.
And that’s a really good example of machine learning
because those systems are constantly learning.
And there’s a process there that maybe I can comment on,
the Andrej Karpathy, who’s the head of Autopilot,
calls it the data engine.
And this process applies for a lot of machine learning,
which is you build a system
that’s pretty good at doing stuff.
You send it out into the real world,
it starts doing the stuff,
and then it runs into what are called edge cases,
like failure cases, where it screws up.
You know, we do this as kids, that, you know,
We do this as adults.
We do this as adults, exactly.
But we learn really quickly.
But the whole point,
and this is the fascinating thing about driving,
is you realize there’s millions of edge cases.
There’s just like weird situations that you did not expect.
And so the data engine process is,
you collect those edge cases,
and then you go back to the drawing board
and learn from them.
And so you have to create this data pipeline
where all these cars,
hundreds of thousands of cars are driving around,
and something weird happens.
And so whenever this weird detector fires,
it’s another important concept,
that piece of data goes back to the mothership
for the training, for the retraining of the system.
And through this data engine process,
it keeps improving
and getting better and better and better and better.
So basically, you send out a pretty clever AI systems
out into the world
and let it find the edge cases.
Let it screw up just enough
to figure out where the edge cases are,
and then go back and learn from them,
and then send out that new version
and keep updating that version.
Is the updating done by humans?
The annotation is done by humans.
So you have to,
the weird examples come back, the edge cases,
and you have to label what actually happened in there.
There’s also some mechanisms for automatically labeling,
but mostly I think you always have to rely on humans
to improve, to understand what’s happening
in the weird cases.
And then there’s a lot of debate.
And that’s the other thing,
what is artificial intelligence?
Which is a bunch of smart people
having very different opinions about what is intelligence.
So AI is basically a community of people
who don’t agree on anything.
Yeah, that seems to be the case.
And first of all,
this is a beautiful description of terms
that I’ve heard many times
among my colleagues at Stanford,
at meetings in the outside world.
And there’s so many fascinating things.
I have so many questions,
but I do want to ask one question about the culture of AI,
because it does seem to be a community where,
at least as an outsider,
where it seems like there’s very little consensus
about what the terms
and the operational definitions even mean.
And there seems to be a lot of splitting happening now
of not just supervised and unsupervised learning,
but these sort of intermediate conditions
where machines are autonomous,
but then go back for more instruction.
Like kids go home from college during the summer
and get a little, you know, mom still feeds them.
Then eventually they leave the nest kind of thing.
Is there something in particular about engineers
or about people in this realm of engineering
that you think lends itself to disagreement?
Yeah, I think,
so first of all,
the more specific you get,
the less disagreement there is.
So there’s a lot of disagreement
about what is artificial intelligence,
but there’s less disagreement
about what is machine learning.
And even less when you talk about active learning
or machine teaching or self-supervised learning.
And then when you get into like NLP language models
when you get into specific neural network architectures,
there’s less and less and less disagreement
about those terms.
So you might be hearing the disagreement
from the high level terms.
And that has to do with the fact that engineering,
especially when you’re talking about intelligent systems,
is a little bit of an art and a science.
So the art part is the thing that creates disagreements
because then you start having disagreements
about how easy or difficult a particular problem is.
For example, a lot of people disagree with Elon,
how difficult the problem of autonomous driving is.
But nobody knows.
So there’s a lot of disagreement
about what are the limits of these techniques.
And through that,
the terminology also contains within it the disagreements.
But overall, I think it’s also a young science
that also has to do with that.
So it’s not just engineering,
it’s that artificial intelligence truly
as a large-scale discipline
where it’s thousands, tens of thousands,
hundreds of thousands of people working on it,
huge amounts of money being made.
That’s a very recent thing.
So we’re trying to figure out those terms.
And of course, there’s egos and personalities
and a lot of fame to be made.
Like the term deep learning, for example.
Neural networks have been around for many, many decades,
since the 60s, you can argue since the 40s.
So there was a rebranding of neural networks
into the word deep learning, term deep learning,
that was part of the reinvigoration of the field.
But it’s really the same exact thing.
I didn’t know that.
I mean, I grew up in the age of neuroscience
when neural networks were discussed.
Computational neuroscience and theoretical neuroscience,
they had their own journals.
It wasn’t actually taken terribly seriously
by experimentalists until a few years ago.
I would say about five to seven years ago,
excellent theoretical neuroscientists like Larry Abbott
and other colleagues, certainly at Stanford as well,
that people started paying attention
to computational methods.
But these terms, neural networks, computational methods,
I actually didn’t know that neural networks
and deep learning, those have now become kind of synonymous.
No, they were always the same thing.
I’m a neuroscientist and I didn’t know that.
So, well, because neural networks
probably means something else in neuroscience.
Not something else, but a little different flavor,
depending on the field.
And that’s fascinating too, because neuroscience and AI,
people have started working together and dancing a lot more
in the recent, I would say probably decade.
Oh, machines are going into the brain.
I have a couple of questions,
but one thing that I’m sort of fixated on
that I find incredibly interesting
is this example you gave of playing a game
with a mutated version of yourself as a competitor.
I find that incredibly interesting
as a kind of a parallel or a mirror
for what happens when we try and learn as humans,
which is we generate repetitions
of whatever it is we’re trying to learn,
and we make errors.
Occasionally we succeed.
In a simple example, for instance,
of trying to throw bullseyes on a dartboard.
I’m going to have errors, errors, errors.
I’ll probably miss the dartboard
and maybe occasionally hit a bullseye.
And I don’t know exactly what I just did, right?
But then let’s say I was playing darts
against a version of myself
where I was wearing a visual prism,
like I had a visual defect.
You learn certain things in that mode as well.
You’re saying that a machine can sort of mutate itself.
Does the mutation always cause a deficiency
that it needs to overcome?
Because mutations in biology
sometimes give us superpowers, right?
Occasionally you’ll get somebody
who has better than 20-20 vision,
and they can see better than 99.9% of people out there.
So when you talk about a machine playing a game
against a mutated version of itself,
is the mutation always what we would call
a negative mutation or an adaptive
or a maladaptive mutation?
No, you don’t know until you get,
so you mutate first and then figure out
and they compete against each other.
So you’re evolving,
the machine gets to evolve itself in real time.
Yeah, and I think of it,
which would be exciting if you could actually do with humans.
It’s not just, so usually you freeze a version
of the system.
So really you take an Andrew of yesterday
and you make 10 clones of them.
And then maybe you mutate, maybe not.
And then you do a bunch of competitions
of the Andrew of today.
Like you fight to the death, who wins last?
So I love that idea of like creating a bunch of clones
of myself from each of the day for the past year
and just seeing who’s going to be better
at like podcasting or science or picking up chicks at a bar
I don’t know, or competing in jujitsu.
That’s the one way to do it.
I mean, a lot of Lexus would have to die for that process,
but that’s essentially what happens
is in reinforcement learning
through the self-play mechanisms,
it’s a graveyard of systems that didn’t do that well.
And the surviving, the good ones survive.
Do you think that, I mean, Darwin’s theory of evolution
might have worked in some sense in this way,
but at the population level?
I mean, you get a bunch of birds with different shaped beaks
and some birds have the shaped beak
that allows them to get the seeds.
I mean, it’s a trivially simple example
of Darwinian evolution, but I think it’s correct,
if not, even though it’s not exhaustive.
Is that what you’re referring to?
You essentially that normally this is done
between members of a different species,
lots of different members of species
have different traits and some get selected for,
but you could actually create multiple versions of yourself
with different traits.
So with, I should probably have said this,
but perhaps it’s implied with machine learning
or the reinforcement learning through these processes,
one of the big requirements
is to have an objective function, a loss function,
a utility function,
those are all different terms for the same thing,
is there’s like an equation that says what’s good.
And then you’re trying to optimize that equation.
So there’s a clear goal for these systems.
Because it’s a game, like with chess, there’s a goal.
But for anything, anything you want machine learning
to solve, there needs to be an objective function.
In machine learning, it’s usually called loss function
that you’re optimizing.
The interesting thing about evolution,
complicated of course,
but the goal also seems to be evolving.
Like it’s a, I guess,
adaptation to the environment is the goal,
but it’s unclear you can convert that always.
It’s like survival of the fittest,
it’s unclear what the fittest is.
In machine learning, the starting point,
and this is like what human ingenuity provides,
is that fitness function of what’s good and what’s bad,
which it lets you know which of the systems
is going to win.
So you need to have a equation like that.
One of the fascinating things about humans
is we figure out objective functions for ourselves.
Like we’re, it’s the meaning of life.
Like why the hell are we here?
And a machine currently has to have
a hard-coded statement about why.
It has to have a meaning of artificial intelligence
Right, it can’t.
So there’s a lot of interesting explorations
about that function being more about curiosity,
about learning new things and all that kind of stuff,
but it’s still hard-coded.
If you want a machine to be able to be good at stuff,
it has to be given very clear statements
of what good at stuff means.
That’s one of the challenges of artificial intelligence
is you have to formalize the,
in order to solve a problem, you have to formalize it,
and you have to provide both like
the full sensory information,
you have to be very clear about
what is the data that’s being collected,
and you have to also be clear about the objective function.
What is the goal that you’re trying to reach?
And that’s a very difficult thing
for artificial intelligence.
I love that you mentioned curiosity.
I’m sure this definition falls short in many ways,
but I define curiosity as a strong interest
in knowing something,
but without an attachment to the outcome.
You know, it’s sort of a,
it could be a random search,
but there’s not really an emotional attachment.
It’s really just a desire to discover
and unveil what’s there
without hoping it’s a gold coin under a rock.
You’re just looking under rocks.
Is that more or less how the machine,
you know, within machine learning,
it sounds like there are elements of reward prediction
and, you know, rewards the machine has to know
when it’s done the right thing.
So can you make machines that are curious
or are the sorts of machines that you are describing
curious by design?
Yeah, curiosity is a kind of a symptom,
not the goal.
So what happens is one of the big trade-offs
in reinforcement learning
is this exploration versus exploitation.
So when you know very little,
it pays off to explore a lot,
even suboptimal, like even trajectories
that seem like they’re not going to lead anywhere.
That’s called exploration.
The smarter and smarter and smarter you get,
the more emphasis you put on exploitation,
meaning you take the best solution.
You take the best path.
Now, through that process,
the exploration can look like curiosity by us humans,
but it’s really just trying to get out of the local optimal
of the thing that’s already discovered.
It’s from an AI perspective,
it’s always looking to optimize the objective function.
It derives, and we could talk about this a lot more,
but in terms of the tools of machine learning today,
it derives no pleasure from just the curiosity of like,
I don’t know, discovery.
So there’s no dopamine for a machine.
There’s no dopamine.
There’s no reward system, chemical,
or I guess electronic reward system.
That said, if you look at machine learning literature
and reinforcement learning literature,
they will use like deep mind,
will use terms like dopamine.
We’re constantly trying to use the human brain
to inspire totally new solutions to these problems.
So they’ll think like,
how does dopamine function in the human brain?
And how can that lead to more interesting ways
to discover optimal solutions?
But ultimately, currently,
there has to be a formal objective function.
Now you could argue that humans also has a set
of objective functions we’re trying to optimize.
We’re just not able to introspect them.
Yeah, we don’t actually know what we’re looking for
and seeking and doing.
Well, like Lisa Feldman Barrett,
who you’ve spoken with at least on Instagram,
I hope you get-
I met her through you, yeah.
Yeah, I hope you actually have her on this podcast.
That would be terrific.
So she has a very,
it has to do with homeostasis,
like that basically there’s a very dumb objective function
that the brain is trying to optimize,
like to keep like body temperature the same.
Like there’s a very dumb kind
of optimization function happening.
And then what we humans do with our fancy consciousness
and cognitive abilities is we tell stories to ourselves
so we can have nice podcasts,
but really it’s the brain trying to maintain
just like healthy state, I guess.
I also see the human brain
and I hope artificial intelligence systems
as not just systems that solve problems or optimize a goal,
but also storytellers.
I think there’s a power to telling stories.
We tell stories to each other.
That’s what communication is.
Like when you’re alone, that’s when you solve problems.
That’s when it makes sense to talk about solving problems.
But when you’re a community,
the capability to communicate, tell stories,
share ideas in such a way that those ideas are stable
over a long period of time,
that’s like, that’s being a charismatic storyteller.
And I think both humans are very good at this,
I would argue that’s why we are who we are
is we’re great storytellers.
And AI, I hope will also become that.
So it’s not just about being able to solve problems
with a clear objective function,
it’s afterwards be able to tell like a way better,
like make up a way better story
about why you did something or why you failed.
So you think that robots and or machines of some sort
are going to start telling humans stories?
So the technical field for that is called explainable AI,
explainable artificial intelligence
is trying to figure out how you get the AI system
to explain to us humans why the hell it failed
or why it succeeded.
Or there’s a lot of different sort of versions of this
or to visualize how it understands the world.
That’s a really difficult problem,
especially when neural networks that are famously opaque,
we don’t understand in many cases
why a particular neural network does what it does so well.
And to try to figure out where it’s going to fail,
that requires the AI to explain itself.
There’s a huge amount of money,
like there’s a huge amount of money in this,
especially from government funding and so on.
Because if you wanna deploy AI systems in the real world,
we humans at least wanna ask it a question like,
why the hell did you do that?
Like in a dark way, why did you just kill that person?
Right, like if a car ran over a person,
we want to understand why that happened.
And now again, we’re sometimes very unfair to AI systems
because we humans can often not explain why very well.
But that’s the field of explainable AI.
That’s very, people are very interested in
because the more and more we rely on AI systems,
like the Twitter recommender system, that AI algorithm,
that’s, I would say, impacting elections,
perhaps starting wars or at least military conflict.
That’s, that algorithm, we wanna ask that algorithm,
first of all, do you know what the hell you’re doing?
Do you know, do you understand
the society level effects you’re having?
And can you explain the possible other trajectories?
Like we would have that kind of conversation with a human,
we wanna be able to do that with an AI.
And in my own personal level,
I think it would be nice to talk to AI systems
for stupid stuff, like robots, when they fail to-
Why do you fall down the stairs?
Yeah, but not an engineering question,
but almost like endearing question.
Like I’m looking for, if I fell
and you and I were hanging out,
I don’t think you need an explanation
exactly what were the dynamic,
like what was the underactuated system problem here?
Like what was the texture of the floor or so on?
Or like, what was the-
No, I wanna know what you’re thinking.
That, or you might joke about like,
you’re drunk again, go home or something.
Like there could be humor in it.
That’s an opportunity, like storytelling
isn’t just explanation of what happened.
It’s something that makes people laugh,
makes people fall in love, makes people dream
and understand things in a way
that poetry makes people understand things
as opposed to a rigorous log of where every sensor was,
where every actuator was.
I mean, I find this incredible because,
one of the hallmarks of severe autism spectrum disorders
is a report of experience from the autistic person
that is very much a catalog of action steps.
It’s like, how do you feel today?
And they’ll say, well, I got up and I did this
and then I did this and I did this.
And it’s not at all the way that a person
who doesn’t have autism spectrum disorder would respond.
And the way you describe these machines
has so much humanism or so much of a human
and biological element.
But I realized that we were talking about machines.
I wanna make sure that I understand
if there’s a distinction between a machine
that learns, a machine with artificial intelligence
and a robot.
At what point does a machine become a robot?
So if I have a ballpoint pen,
I’m assuming I wouldn’t call that a robot.
But if my ballpoint pen can come to me
when I move to the opposite side of the table,
if it moves by whatever mechanism,
at that point, does it become a robot?
Okay, there’s a million ways to explore this question.
It’s a fascinating one.
So first of all, there’s a question of what is life?
Like, how do you know something is a living form and not?
And it’s similar to the question of when does sort of
maybe a cold computational system becomes a…
Well, we’re already loading these words
with a lot of meaning, robot and machine.
But so one, I think movement is important,
but that’s kind of a boring idea
that a robot is just a machine
that’s able to act in the world.
So one, artificial intelligence could be
both just the thinking thing,
which I think is what machine learning is,
and also the acting thing,
which is what we usually think about robots.
So robots are the things that have a perception system
that’s able to take in the world,
however you define the world,
is able to think and learn
and do whatever the hell it does inside
and then act on the world.
So that’s the difference between
maybe an AI system or a machine and a robot.
A robot is something that’s able to perceive the world
and act in the world.
So it could be through language or sound,
or it could be through movement or both.
Yeah, and I think it could also be in the digital space
as long as there’s a aspect of entity
that’s inside the machine
and a world that’s outside the machine.
And there’s a sense in which the machine
is sensing that world and acting in it.
So we could, for instance,
there could be a version of a robot,
according to the definition that I think you’re providing,
where the robot, where I go to sleep at night
and this robot goes and forges for information
that it thinks I want to see
loaded onto my desktop in the morning.
There was no movement of that machine.
There was no language,
but it essentially has movement in cyberspace.
Yeah, there’s a distinction that I think is important
in that there’s an element of it being an entity,
whether it’s in the digital or the physical space.
So when you have something like Alexa in your home,
most of the speech recognition,
most of what Alexa is doing
is constantly being sent back to the mothership.
When Alexa is there on its own,
that’s to me a robot.
When it’s there interacting with the world,
when it’s simply a finger of the main mothership,
then Alexa is not a robot.
Then it’s just an interaction device.
Then maybe the main Amazon Alexa AI big, big system
is the robot.
So that’s important because there’s some element
to us humans, I think,
where we want there to be an entity,
whether in the digital or the physical space.
That’s where ideas of consciousness come in
and all those kinds of things
that we project our understanding
what it means to be a being.
And so to take that further,
when does a machine become a robot?
I think there’s a special moment.
There’s a special moment in a person’s life,
in a robot’s life where it surprises you.
I think surprise is a really powerful thing
where you know how the thing works
and yet it surprises you.
That’s a magical moment for us humans.
So whether it’s a chess playing program
that does something that you haven’t seen before
that makes people smile, like, huh.
Those moments happen with AlphaZero
for the first time in chess playing
where grandmasters were really surprised by a move.
They didn’t understand the move
and then they studied and studied
and then they understood it.
But that moment of surprise,
that’s for grandmasters in chess.
I find that moment of surprise really powerful,
really magical in just everyday life.
Because it supersedes the human brain in that moment?
Not, so it’s not supersedes like outperforms
but surprises you in a positive sense.
Like I didn’t think you could do that.
I didn’t think that you had that in you.
And I think that moment is a big transition for a robot
from a moment of being a servant
that accomplishes a particular task
with some level of accuracy,
with some rate of failure to an entity,
a being that’s struggling just like you are in this world.
And that’s a really important moment
that I think you’re not gonna find many people
in the AI community that talk like I just did.
I’m not speaking like some philosopher or some hippie.
I’m speaking from purely engineering perspective.
I think it’s really important for robots to become entities
and explore that as a real engineering problem.
As opposed to, everybody treats robots
in the robotics community.
They don’t even call them a he or she.
They don’t give them, try to avoid giving them names.
They really want to see it like a system, like a servant.
They see it as a servant that’s trying to accomplish a task.
To me, and I don’t think I’m just romanticizing the notion.
I think it’s a being.
It’s currently perhaps a dumb being,
but in the long arc of history,
humans are pretty dumb beings too.
I would agree with that statement.
So I tend to really want to explore this,
treating robots really as entities.
So like anthropomorphization,
which is the sort of the act of looking at a inanimate
object and projecting onto it, lifelike features.
I think robotics generally sees that as a negative.
I see it as a superpower, like that, we need to use that.
Well, I’m struck by how that really grabs
onto the relationship between human and machine
or human and robot.
So it’s the simple question is,
and I think you’ve already told us the answer,
but does interacting with a robot change you?
Does it, in other words,
do we develop relationships to robots?
Yeah, I definitely think so.
I think the moment you see a robot or AI systems
as more than just servants,
but entities, they begin to change you
just like good friends do, just like relationships,
just like other humans.
I think for that,
you have to have certain aspects of that interaction,
like the robot’s ability to say no,
to have its own sense of identity,
to have its own set of goals
that’s not constantly serving you,
but instead trying to understand the world
and do that dance of understanding
through communication with you.
So I definitely think there’s a,
I mean, I have a lot of thoughts about this as you may know,
and that’s at the core of my lifelong dream, actually,
of what I want to do,
which is I believe that most people
have a notion of loneliness in them
that we haven’t discovered,
that we haven’t explored, I should say.
And I see AI systems as helping us explore that
so that we can become better humans,
better people towards each other.
So I think that connection between human and AI,
human and robot is not only possible,
but will help us understand ourselves
in ways that are like several orders of magnitude
deeper than we ever could have imagined.
I tend to believe that,
well, I have very wild levels of beliefs
in terms of how impactful that will be.
So when I think about human relationships,
I don’t always break them down into variables,
but we could explore a few of those variables
and see how they map to human-robot relationships.
One is just time, right?
If you spend zero time with another person at all
in cyberspace or on the phone or in person,
you essentially have no relationship to them.
If you spend a lot of time, you have a relationship.
This is obvious, but I guess one variable would be time.
How much time you spend with the other entity,
robot or human.
The other would be wins and successes.
You enjoy successes together.
I’ll give an absolutely trivial example of this in a moment,
but the other would be failures.
When you struggle with somebody,
whether or not you struggle between one another,
Like I was really struck by the fact
that you said that robots saying no,
I’ve never thought about a robot saying no to me,
but there it is.
I look forward to you being one of the first
people I send this robot to.
So do I.
So there’s struggle.
When you struggle with somebody, you grow closer.
Sometimes the struggles are imposed
between those two people, so-called trauma bonding.
They call it in the whole psychology literature
and pop psychology literature.
But in any case, I could imagine.
So time, successes together, struggle together,
and then just peaceful time, hanging out at home,
watching movies, waking up near one another.
Here, we’re breaking down the kind of elements
of relationships of any kind.
So do you think that these elements
apply to robot-human relationships?
And if so, then I could see how if the robot
is its own entity and has some autonomy
in terms of how it reacts to you,
it’s not just there just to serve you.
It’s not just a servant.
It actually has opinions and can tell you
when maybe your thinking is flawed
or your actions are flawed.
It can also leave.
It can also leave.
So I’ve never conceptualized
robot-human interactions this way.
So tell me more about how this might look.
Are we thinking about a human-appearing robot?
I know you and I have both had intense relationships
to our, we have separate dogs, obviously,
but to animals, this sounds a lot
like human-animal interaction.
So what is the ideal human-robot relationship?
So there’s a lot to be said here,
but you actually pinpointed one of the big, big first steps,
which is this idea of time.
And it’s a huge limitation
in machine learning community currently,
as now we’re back to like the actual details.
Lifelong learning is a problem space
that focuses on how AI systems can learn
over a long period of time.
What’s currently most machine learning systems
are not able to do is to,
all of the things you’ve listed under time,
the successes, the failures,
or just chilling together, watching movies,
AI systems are not able to do that,
which is all the beautiful, magical moments
that I believe are the days filled with.
They’re not able to keep track of those together with you.
Because they can’t move with you and be with you.
No, no, like literally,
we don’t have the techniques to do the learning,
the actual learning of containing those moments.
Current machine learning systems are really focused
on understanding the world in the following way.
It’s more like the perception system,
like looking around, understand like what’s in the scene,
that there’s a bunch of people sitting down,
that there is cameras and microphones,
that there’s a table, understand that.
But the fact that we shared this moment of talking today
and still remember that for next time you’re,
for like next time you’re doing something,
remember that this moment happened.
We don’t know how to do that technique-wise.
This is what I’m hoping to innovate on
as I think it’s a very, very important component
of what it means to create a deep relationship,
that sharing of moments together.
Could you post a photo of you and the robot,
like selfie with robot,
and then the robot sees that image
and recognizes that was time spent,
there were smiles or there were tears,
and create some sort of metric of emotional depth
in the relationship and update its behavior?
So could it text you in the middle of the night
and say, why haven’t you texted me back?
Well, yes, all of those things,
but we can dig into that.
But I think that time element, forget everything else,
just sharing moments together, that changes everything.
I believe that changes everything.
There’s specific things that are more in terms of systems
that I can explain you.
It’s more technical and probably a little bit off line
because I have kind of wild ideas
how that can revolutionize social networks
and operating systems.
But the point is that element alone,
forget all the other things we’re talking about,
like emotions, saying no, all that,
just remember sharing moments together
would change everything.
We don’t currently have systems that share moments together.
Like even just you and your fridge,
just all those times you went late at night
and ate the thing you shouldn’t have eaten,
that was a secret moment you had with your refrigerator.
You shared that moment,
that darkness or that beautiful moment
where you just like heartbroken for some reason,
you’re eating that ice cream or whatever,
that’s a special moment.
And that refrigerator was there for you.
And the fact that it missed the opportunity
to remember that is tragic.
And once it does remember that,
I think you’re gonna be very attached to that refrigerator.
You’re gonna go through some hell with that refrigerator.
Most of us have like in the developed world
have weird relationships with food, right?
So you can go through some deep moments
of trauma and triumph with food.
And at the core of that is the refrigerator.
So a smart refrigerator, I believe would change society,
not just the refrigerator,
but these ideas in the systems all around us.
So that, I just wanna comment
on how powerful the idea of time is.
And then there’s a bunch of elements of actual interaction
of allowing you as a human to feel like you’re being heard,
truly heard, truly understood.
That we human, like deep friendship is like that, I think,
but there’s still an element of selfishness.
There’s still an element of not really being able
to understand another human.
And a lot of the times when you’re going
through trauma together, through difficult times
and through successes, you’re actually starting
to get that inkling of understanding of each other.
But I think that can be done more aggressively,
Like if you think of a great therapist,
I think I’ve never actually been to a therapist,
but I’m a believer.
I used to want to be a psychiatrist.
Do Russians go to therapists?
No, they don’t.
And if they do, the therapists don’t live to tell the story.
I do believe in talk therapy,
which friendship is to me, is talk therapy.
You don’t necessarily need to talk.
It’s like just connecting in the space of ideas
and the space of experiences.
And I think there’s a lot of ideas
of how to make AI systems to be able
to ask the right questions and truly hear another human.
This is what we try to do with podcasting, right?
I think there’s ways to do that with AI,
but above all else,
just remembering the collection of moments
that make up the day, the week, the months.
I think you maybe have some of this as well.
Some of my closest friends still
are the friends from high school.
We’ve been through a bunch of shit together
and that like we’re very different people,
but just the fact that we’ve been through that
and we remember those moments
and those moments somehow create a depth of connection
like nothing else, like you and your refrigerator.
I love that because my graduate advisor,
unfortunately she passed away,
but when she passed away,
somebody said at her memorial,
all these amazing things she had done, et cetera.
And then her kids got up there
and she had young children that I knew
as they were when she was pregnant with them.
And so it was really,
even now I can feel like your heart gets heavy,
they’re going to grow up without their mother.
And it was really amazing.
Very, very strong young girls and now young women.
And what they said was incredible.
They said what they really appreciated most
about their mother, who was an amazing person,
is all the unstructured time they spent together.
So it wasn’t the trips to the zoo.
It wasn’t, oh, she woke up at five in the morning
and drove us to school.
She did all those things too.
She had two hour commute in each direction.
It was incredible, ran a lab, et cetera.
But it was the unstructured time.
So on the passing of their mother,
that’s what they remembered was the biggest give
and what bonded them to her
was all the time where they just kind of hung out.
And the way you described the relationship
to a refrigerator is so, I want to say human-like,
but I’m almost reluctant to say that
because what I’m realizing as we’re talking
is that what we think of as human-like
might actually be a lower form of relationship.
There may be relationships that are far better
than the sorts of relationships
that we can conceive in our minds right now
based on what these machine relationship interactions
could teach us.
Do I have that right?
Yeah, I think so.
I think there’s no reason to see machines
as somehow incapable of teaching us something
that’s deeply human.
I don’t think humans have a monopoly on that.
I think we understand ourselves very poorly
and we need to have the kind of prompting from a machine.
And definitely part of that is just remembering the moments,
remembering the moments.
I think the unstructured time together,
I wonder if it’s quite so unstructured.
That’s like calling this podcast unstructured time.
Maybe what they meant was it wasn’t a big outing.
It wasn’t as, there was no specific goal,
but a goal was created through the lack of a goal.
Like where you just hang out
and then you start playing thumb war
and you end up playing thumb war for an hour.
So it’s the structure emerges from lack of structure.
No, but the thing is the moments,
there’s something about those times
that creates special moments.
And I think that those could be optimized for.
I think we think of like a big outing as, I don’t know,
going to Six Flags or something or some big,
the Grand Canyon or go into some, I don’t know.
I think we would need to,
we don’t quite yet understand as humans
what creates magical moments.
I think there’s possible to optimize a lot of those things.
And perhaps like podcasting is helping people discover
that like maybe the thing we want to optimize for
isn’t necessarily like some sexy,
like quick clips.
Maybe what we want is long form authenticity.
So we were trying to figure that out.
Certainly from a deep connection
between humans and AI systems,
I think long conversations or long periods of communication
over a series of moments,
like minute, perhaps seemingly insignificant
to the big ones, the big successes,
the big failures.
Those are all just stitching those together
and talking throughout.
I think that’s the formula
for a really, really deep connection.
That from like a very specific engineering perspective
is I think a fascinating open problem
that hasn’t been really worked on very much.
And for me, if I have the guts and,
I mean, there’s a lot of things to say,
but one of it is guts.
I’ll build a startup around it.
Yeah, so let’s talk about this startup
and let’s talk about the dream.
You’ve mentioned this dream before
in our previous conversations,
always as little hints dropped here and there.
Just for anyone listening,
there’s never been an offline conversation
about this dream.
I’m not privy to anything except what Lex says now.
And I realized that there’s no way
to capture the full essence of a dream
in any kind of verbal statement.
In a way that captures all of it.
But what is this dream that you’ve referred to now
several times when we’ve sat down together
and talked on the phone?
Maybe it’s this company, maybe it’s something distinct.
If you feel comfortable,
it’d be great if you could share a little bit
about what that is.
Sure, so the way people express long-term vision,
I’ve noticed it’s quite different.
Like Elon is an example of somebody
who can very crisply say exactly what the goal is.
Also has to do with the fact the problems he’s solving
have nothing to do with humans.
So my long-term vision is a little bit more difficult
to express in words.
I’ve noticed as I’ve tried, it could be my brain’s failure.
But there’s ways to sneak up to it.
So let me just say a few things.
Early on in life and also in the recent years,
I’ve interacted with a few robots
where I understood there’s magic there.
And that magic could be shared by millions
if it’s brought to light.
When I first met Spot from Boston Dynamics,
I realized there’s magic there that nobody else is seeing.
Is the dog.
Is the dog, sorry.
The Spot is the four-legged robot from Boston Dynamics.
Some people might have seen it.
It’s this yellow dog.
And sometimes in life,
you just notice something that just grabs you.
And I believe that this is something that,
this magic is something that could be
every single device in the world.
The way that I think maybe Steve Jobs
thought about the personal computer.
Woz didn’t think about the personal computer this way,
but Steve did.
Which is like he thought that the personal computer
should be as thin as a sheet of paper
and everybody should have one.
I mean, this idea.
I think it is heartbreaking
that we’re getting,
the world is being filled up with machines.
And I think every one of them can have that same magic.
One of the things that also inspired me
in terms of a startup
is that magic can be engineered much easier than I thought.
That’s my intuition
with everything I’ve ever built and worked on.
So the dream is to add a bit of that magic
in every single computing system in the world.
So the way that Windows operating system for a long time
was the primary operating system everybody interacted with.
They built apps on top of it.
I think this is something that should be as a layer.
So almost as an operating system
in every device that humans interact with in the world.
Now what that actually looks like,
the actual dream when I was especially a kid,
it didn’t have this concrete form of a business.
It had more of a dream of exploring your own loneliness
by interacting with machines, robots.
This deep connection between humans and robots
was always a dream.
And so for me, I’d love to see a world
where there’s every home has a robot
and not a robot that washes the dishes or a sex robot.
Or I don’t know, I think of any kind of activity
the robot can do, but more like a companion.
A family member.
A family member, the way a dog is.
But a dog that’s able to speak your language too.
So not just connect the way a dog does
by looking at you and looking away
and almost like smiling with its soul in that kind of way.
But also to actually understand what the hell,
like why are you so excited about the successes?
Like understand the details, understand the traumas.
And I just think that had always filled me with excitement
that I could, with artificial intelligence,
bring joy to a lot of people.
More recently, I’ve been more and more
heartbroken to see the kind of division, derision,
even hate that’s boiling up on the internet
through social networks.
And I thought this kind of mechanism is exactly applicable
in the context of social networks as well.
So it’s an operating system that serves as your guide
on the internet.
One of the biggest problems with YouTube
and social networks currently
is they’re optimizing for engagement.
I think if you create AI systems
that know each individual person,
you’re able to optimize for long-term growth,
for a long-term happiness.
Of the individual?
Of the individual, of the individual.
And there’s a lot of other things to say,
which is the, in order for AI systems
to learn everything about you,
they need to collect, they need to,
just like you and I, when we talk offline,
we’re collecting data about each other,
secrets about each other.
The same way AI has to do that.
And that allows you to,
and that requires you to rethink ideas of ownership of data.
I think each individual should own all of their data
and very easily be able to leave,
just like AI systems can leave,
humans can disappear and delete all of their data
in a moment’s notice,
which is actually better than we humans can do.
Because once we load the data into each other, it’s there.
I think it’s very important to be both,
give people complete control over their data
in order to establish trust that they can trust you.
And the second part of trust is transparency.
Whenever the data is used to make it very clear
what it’s being used for,
and not clear in a loyally legal sense,
but clear in a way that people really understand
what it’s used for.
I believe when people have the ability
to delete all their data and walk away
and know how the data is being used, I think they’ll stay.
The possibility of a clean breakup
is actually what will keep people together.
Yeah, I think so.
I think, exactly.
I think a happy marriage requires the ability to divorce
easily without the divorce industrial complex
or whatever is currently going on.
There’s so much money to be made from lawyers and divorce,
but yeah, the ability to leave
is what enables love, I think.
It’s interesting, I’ve heard the phrase
from a semi-cynical friend
that marriage is the leading cause of divorce,
but now we’ve heard that divorce
or the possibility of divorce
could be the leading cause of marriage.
Of a happy marriage.
Of a happy marriage.
So yeah, but there’s a lot of details there,
but the big dream is that connection
between AI system and a human.
And I haven’t, you know, there’s so much fear
about artificial intelligence systems and about robots
that I haven’t quite found the right words
to express that vision,
because the vision I have is one,
it’s not like some naive delusional vision
of like technology is going to save everybody.
I really do just have a positive view
of ways AI systems can help humans explore themselves.
I love that positivity,
and I agree that the stance,
everything is doomed is equally bad
to say that everything’s going to turn out all right.
There has to be a dedicated effort.
And clearly you’re thinking about
what that dedicated effort would look like.
You mentioned two aspects to this dream,
and I want to make sure that I understand
where they connect if they do,
or if these are independent streams.
One was this hypothetical robot family member
or some other form of robot that would allow people
to experience the kind of delight
that you experienced many times
and that you would like the world to be able to have.
And it’s such a beautiful idea of this give.
And the other is social media or social network platforms
that really serve individuals and their best selves
and their happiness and their growth.
Is there crossover between those
or are these two parallel dreams?
It’s 100% the same thing.
It’s difficult to kind of explain
without going through details,
but maybe one easy way to explain
the way I think about social networks
is to create an AI system that’s yours, that’s yours.
It’s not like Amazon Alexa that’s centralized.
You own the data.
It’s like your little friend
that becomes your representative on Twitter
that helps you find things that will make you feel good,
that will also challenge your thinking to make you grow,
but not get to that,
not let you get lost in the negative spiral of dopamine
that gets you to be angry
or most just gets you to be not open to learning.
And so that little representative
is optimizing your long-term health.
And I believe that that is not only good for human beings,
it’s also good for business.
I think long-term you can make a lot of money
by challenging this idea that the only way to make money
is maximizing engagement.
And one of the things that people disagree with me on
is they think Twitter’s always going to win,
like maximizing engagement is always going to win.
I don’t think so.
I think people have woken up now to understanding
that like they don’t always feel good.
The ones who are on Twitter a lot,
that they don’t always feel good at the end of the week.
I would love feedback from whatever this creature,
whatever, I can’t, I don’t know what to call it,
as to, you know, maybe at the end of the week,
it would automatically unfollow
some of the people that I follow
because it realized through some really smart data
about how I was feeling inside or how I was sleeping
or something that, you know, that just wasn’t good for me,
but it might also put things and people in front of me
that I ought to see.
Is that kind of a sliver of what this looks like?
The whole point, because of the interaction,
because of sharing the moments and learning a lot about you,
you’re now able to understand what interactions
led you to become a better version of yourself.
Like the person you yourself are happy with.
This isn’t, you know, if you’re into a flat earth
and you feel very good about it,
that you believe the earth is flat,
like the idea that you should censor that is ridiculous.
If it makes you feel good
and you’re becoming the best version of yourself,
I think you should be getting
as much flat earth as possible.
Now, it’s also good to challenge your ideas,
but not because the centralized committee decided,
but because you tell to the system
that you like challenging your ideas.
I think all of us do.
And then, which actually YouTube doesn’t do that well,
once you go down the flat earth rabbit hole,
that’s all you’re going to see.
It’s nice to get some really powerful communicators
to argue against flat earth.
And it’s nice to see that for you
and potentially at least long-term to expand your horizons.
Maybe the earth is not flat,
but if you continue to live your whole life
thinking the earth is flat, I think,
and you’re being a good father or son or daughter,
and like you’re being the best version of yourself
and you’re happy with yourself, I think the earth is flat.
So like, I think this kind of idea,
and I’m just using that kind of silly, ridiculous example
because I don’t like the idea
of centralized forces controlling what you can and can’t see.
But I also don’t like this idea
of like not censoring anything,
because that’s always the biggest problem with that
is there’s a central decider.
I think you yourself can decide what you want to see and not.
And it’s good to have a companion that reminds you
that you felt shitty last time you did this,
or you felt good last time you did this.
I mean, I feel like in every good story,
there’s a guide or a companion that flies out
or forages a little bit further
or a little bit differently
and brings back information that helps us
or at least tries to steer us in the right direction.
So that’s exactly what I’m thinking
and what I’ve been working on.
I should mention there’s a bunch of difficulties here.
You see me up and down a little bit recently.
So there’s technically a lot of challenges here.
This like with a lot of technologies
and the reason I’m talking about it on a podcast comfortably
as opposed to working in secret is it’s really hard
and maybe it’s time has not come.
And that’s something you have to constantly struggle with
in terms of like entrepreneurially as a startup.
Like I’ve also mentioned to you maybe offline,
I really don’t care about money.
I don’t care about business success,
all those kinds of things.
So it’s a difficult decision to make how much of your time
do you want to go all in here and give everything to this?
It’s a big roll of the dice
because I’ve also realized that working
on some of these problems,
both with the robotics and the technical side
in terms of the machine learning system
that I’m describing, it’s lonely, it’s really lonely
because both on a personal level and a technical level.
So on the technical level,
I’m surrounded by people that kind of doubt me
which I think all entrepreneurs go through
and they doubt you in the following sense.
They know how difficult it is.
Like the people that, the colleagues of mine,
they know how difficult lifelong learning is.
They also know how difficult it is
to build a system like this,
to build a competitive social network.
And in general, there’s a kind of loneliness
to just working on something on your own
for long periods of time.
And you start to doubt whether given
that you don’t have a track record of success,
like that’s a big one.
When you look in the mirror, especially when you’re young,
but I still have that on most things.
You look in the mirror, it’s like,
and you have these big dreams.
How do you know you’re actually
as smart as you think you are?
Like, how do you know you’re going to be able
to accomplish this dream?
You have this ambition.
You sort of don’t, but you’re kind of pulling
on a string hoping that there’s a bigger ball of yarn.
Yeah, but you have this kind of intuition.
I think I pride myself in knowing what I’m good at
because the reason I have that intuition
is because I think I’m very good at knowing
all the things I suck at, which is basically everything.
So like whenever I notice like, wait a minute,
I’m kind of good at this, which is very rare for me.
I think like that might be a ball of yarn worth pulling at.
And the thing with, in terms of engineering systems
that are able to interact with humans,
I think I’m very good at that.
And, excuse me, we’re talking about podcasting and so on.
I don’t know if I’m very good at podcasting.
You’re very good at podcasting.
But I certainly don’t.
I think maybe it is compelling for people
to watch a kind-hearted idiot struggle with this form.
Maybe that’s what’s compelling.
But in terms of like actual being a good engineer
of human-robot interaction systems, I think I’m good.
But it’s hard to know until you do it.
And then the world keeps telling you you’re not.
And it’s just, it’s full of doubt.
It’s really hard.
And I’ve been struggling with that recently.
It’s kind of a fascinating struggle.
But then that’s where the Goggins thing comes in,
is like, aside from the stay hard motherfucker,
is the like, whenever you’re struggling,
that’s a good sign that if you keep going,
that you’re going to be alone in the success, right?
Well, in your case, however, I agree.
And actually, David had a post recently
that I thought was among his many brilliant posts,
was one of the more brilliant about how, you know,
he talked about this myth of the light
at the end of the tunnel.
And instead, what he replaced that myth with
was a concept that eventually your eyes adapt to the dark.
That the tunnel, it’s not about a light at the end,
that it’s really about adapting to the dark of the tunnel.
It’s very Goggins.
I love him so much.
Yeah, you guys share a lot in common,
knowing you both a bit, you share a lot in common.
But in this loneliness and the pursuit of this dream,
it seems to me it has a certain component to it
that is extremely valuable,
which is that the loneliness itself
could serve as a driver to build
the companion for the journey.
Well, I’m very deeply aware of that.
So like some people can make,
cause I talk about love a lot.
I really love everything in this world,
but I also love humans, friendship and romantic, you know,
like even the cheesy stuff, just.
You like romantic movies.
Yeah, not those, not necessarily.
Well, I got so much shit from Rogan about like,
was it the tango scene from Scent of a Woman?
But yeah, I find like a woman,
there’s nothing better than a woman in a red dress,
like, you know, just like classy.
You should move to Argentina, my friend.
You know, my father’s Argentine.
And you know what he said when I,
when I went on your podcast for the first time,
he said, he dresses well.
Because in Argentina,
the men go to a wedding or a party or something,
you know, in the U.S. they,
by halfway through the night, 10 minutes in the night,
all the jackets are off.
It looks like everyone’s undressing for the party
they just got dressed up for.
And he said, and he said, you know,
I like the way he dresses.
And then when I started, he was talking about you.
And then when I started my podcast, he said,
why don’t you wear a real suit like your friend, Lex?
I remember that.
But let’s talk about this pursuit just a bit more,
because I think what you’re talking about is,
is building a, not just a solution for loneliness,
but you’ve alluded to the loneliness as itself
an important thing.
And I think you’re right.
I think within people,
there is like caverns of thoughts and shame,
but also just the desire to be,
to have resonance, to be seen and heard.
And I don’t even know that it’s seen
and heard through language.
But these reservoirs of loneliness,
I think they’re, well, they’re interesting.
Maybe you could comment a little bit about it,
because just as often as you talk about love,
I haven’t quantified it,
but it seems that you talk about this loneliness.
And maybe you just would, if you’re willing,
you could, you share a little bit more about that
and what that feels like now in the pursuit of building
this robot human relationship.
And you’ve been, let me be direct.
You’ve been spending a lot of time
on building a robot human relationship.
Where’s that at?
Oh, well, in terms of business and in terms of systems.
No, I’m talking about a specific robot.
So, okay, I should mention a few things.
So one is there’s a startup where there’s an idea
where I hope millions of people can use.
And then there’s my own personal,
like almost like Frankenstein explorations
with particular robots.
So I’m very fascinated with the legged robots
in my own private sounds like dark,
but like in one end of one experiments
to see if I can recreate the magic.
And that’s been, I have a lot of really good
already perception systems and control systems
that are able to communicate affection
in a dog-like fashion.
So I’m in a really good place there.
The stumbling blocks,
which also been part of my sadness recently
is that I also have to work with robotics companies
that I gave so much of my heart, soul,
and love and appreciation towards Boston Dynamics.
But Boston Dynamics is also,
is a company that has to make a lot of money
and they have marketing teams.
And they’re like looking at this silly Russian kid
in a suit and tie.
It’s like, what’s he trying to do
with all this love and robot interaction
and dancing and so on?
So there was a, I think, let’s say for now,
it’s like when you break up with a girlfriend or something.
Right now we decided to part ways on this particular thing.
They’re huge supporters of mine, they’re huge fans,
but on this particular thing,
Boston Dynamics is not focusing on
or interested in human robot interaction.
In fact, their whole business currently
is keep the robot as far away from humans as possible.
Because it’s in the industrial setting
where it’s doing monitoring in dangerous environments.
It’s almost like a remote security camera
essentially is its application.
To me, I thought it’s still,
even in those applications exceptionally useful
for the robot to be able to perceive humans,
like see humans and to be able to in a big map
localize where those humans are and have human intention.
For example, like this,
I did this a lot of work with pedestrians
for a robot to be able to anticipate
what the hell the human is doing,
like where it’s walking.
If you’re, humans are not ballistics object.
They’re not, just because you’re walking this way
one moment doesn’t mean you’ll keep walking that direction.
You have to infer a lot of signals,
especially the head movement and the eye movement.
So I thought that’s super interesting to explore,
but they didn’t feel that.
So I’ll be working with a few other robotics companies
that are much more open to that kind of stuff.
And they’re super excited and fans of mine,
hopefully Boston Dynamics, my first love,
that getting back with an ex-girlfriend will come around.
But so the algorithmically it’s,
I’m basically done there.
The rest is actually getting
some of these companies to work with.
And then there’s, for people who’d work with robots
know that one thing is to write software that works.
And the other is to have a real machine that actually works.
And it breaks down in all kinds of different ways
that are fascinating.
And so there’s a big challenge there,
but that’s almost,
it may sound a little bit confusing
in the context of our previous discussion,
because the previous discussion
was more about the big dream,
how I hoped to have millions of people
enjoy this moment of magic.
This current discussion about a robot
is something I personally really enjoy.
It just brings me happiness.
I really try to do now everything that just brings me joy.
I maximize that because robots are awesome.
But two, given my like little bit growing platform,
I wanna use the opportunity to educate people.
It’s just like robots are cool.
And if I think they’re cool,
I’ll be able to, I hope be able to communicate
why they’re cool to others.
So this little robot experiment
is a little bit of research project too.
There’s a couple of publications with MIT folks around that.
But the other is just to make some cool videos
and explain to people how they actually work.
And as opposed to people being scared of robots,
they can still be scared, but also excited.
Like see the dark side, the beautiful side,
the magic of what it means to bring,
you know, for a machine to become a robot.
I want to inspire people with that.
But that’s less, it’s interesting because
I think the big impact in terms of the dream
does not have to do with embodied AI.
So it does not need to have a body.
I think the refrigerator is enough
that for an AI system just to have a voice and to hear you,
that’s enough for loneliness.
The embodiment is just-
By embodiment, you mean the physical structure.
Physical instantiation of intelligence.
So it’s a legged robot, or even just a thing.
I have a few other, a humanoid robot,
a little humanoid robot.
Maybe I’ll keep them on the table.
It’s like walks around or even just like a mobile platform.
They can just like turn around and look at you.
It’s like we mentioned with the pen,
something that moves and can look at you.
It’s like that butter robot
that asks, what is my purpose?
That is really, it’s almost like art.
There’s something about a physical entity that moves around,
that’s able to look at you and interact with you
that makes you wonder what it means to be human.
It like challenges you to think.
If that thing looks like it has consciousness,
what the hell am I?
And I like that feeling.
I think that’s really useful for us.
It’s humbling for us humans.
But that’s less about research.
It’s certainly less about business
and more about exploring our own selves
and challenging others to think about what makes them human.
I love this desire to share the delight
of an interaction with a robot.
And as you describe it,
I actually, I find myself starting to crave that
because we all have those elements from childhood
or from adulthood where we experience something
we want other people to feel that.
And I think that you’re right.
I think a lot of people are scared of AI.
I think a lot of people are scared of robots.
My only experience of a robotic like thing
is my Roomba vacuum, where it goes about,
actually was pretty good at picking up Costello’s hair
when he was shed and I was grateful for it.
But then when I was on a call or something
and it would get caught on a wire or something,
I would find myself getting upset with the Roomba
in that moment.
I’m like, what are you doing?
And obviously it’s just doing what it does.
But that’s a kind of mostly positive
but slightly negative interaction.
But what you’re describing has so much more richness
and layers of detail that I can only imagine
what those relationships are like.
Well, there’s a few, just a quick comment.
So I’ve had, they’re currently in Boston.
I have a bunch of Roombas from iRobot
and I did this experiment.
Wait, how many Roombas?
Sounds like a fleet of Roombas.
So probably seven or eight.
Wow, that’s a lot of Roombas.
This place is very clean.
Well, so this, I’m kind of waiting.
This is the place we’re currently in in Austin
is way larger than I need.
But it’s, I basically got it
so to make sure I have room for robots.
So you’re gonna, so you have these seven or so Roombas,
you deploy all seven at once?
Oh no, I do different experiments with them,
different experiments with them.
So one of the things I want to mention is this is,
I think there was a YouTube video
that inspired me to try this,
is I got them to scream in pain and moan in pain
whenever they were kicked or contacted.
And I did that experiment to see how I would feel.
I meant to do like a YouTube video on it,
but then it just seemed very cruel.
Did any Roomba rights activists come out to you?
Like, I think if I release that video,
I think it’s gonna make me look insane,
which I know people know I’m already insane.
Now you have to release the video.
I think maybe if I contextualize it by showing other robots
like to show why this is fascinating,
because ultimately I felt like they were human
And that display of pain was what did that.
Giving them a voice.
Giving them a voice, especially a voice of dislike, of pain.
I have to connect you to my friend Eddie Chang.
He studies speech and language.
He’s a neurosurgeon and we’re lifelong friends.
He studies speech and language,
but he describes some of these more primitive,
visceral vocalizations, cries, groans, moans of delight,
other sounds as well, use your imagination,
as such powerful rudders for the emotions of other people.
And so I find it fascinating.
I can’t wait to see this video.
So is the video available online?
No, I haven’t recorded it.
I just hit a bunch of Roombas that are able to scream
in pain in my Boston place.
Like people are ready.
Next podcast episode with Lex.
Maybe we’ll have that one.
So the thing is like people,
I’ve noticed because I talk so much about love
and it’s really who I am.
I think they wanna, to a lot of people,
it seems like there gotta be a dark person
in there somewhere.
And I thought if I released videos of Roombas screaming
and they’re like, yep, yep, that guy’s definitely insane.
What about like shouts of glee and delight?
You could do that too, right?
Well, I don’t know how to, to me delight is quiet, right?
Americans are much louder than Russians.
But I don’t, I mean, unless you’re talking about like,
I don’t know how you would have sexual relations
with a Roomba.
I wasn’t necessarily saying a sexual delight, but-
Trust me, I tried, I’m just kidding.
That’s a joke, internet.
Okay, but I was fascinated in the psychology
of how little it took.
Cause you mentioned you had a negative relationship
with the Roomba.
Well, I’d find that mostly I took it for granted.
It just served me.
It collected Costello’s hair.
And then when it would do something I didn’t like,
I would get upset with it.
So that’s not a good relationship.
It was taken for granted and I would get upset
and then I’d park it again.
And I just like, you’re in the corner.
Yeah, but there’s a way to frame it being quite dumb
as almost cute, almost connecting with it for its dumbness.
And I think that’s an artificial intelligence problem.
I think flaws should be a feature, not a bug.
So along the lines of this,
the different sorts of relationships
that one could have with robots and the fear,
but also some of the positive relationships
that one could have, there’s so much dimensionality.
There’s so much to explore,
but power dynamics in relationships are very interesting
because the obvious ones that the unsophisticated view
of this is, you know, one, there’s a master and a servant,
But there’s also manipulation.
There’s benevolent manipulation.
You know, children do this with parents.
Puppies do this.
Puppies turn their head and look cute
and maybe give out a little noise.
And parents always think that they’re, you know,
they’re doing this because, you know,
they love the parent, but in many ways,
studies show that those coos are ways to extract
the sorts of behaviors and expressions
from the parent that they want.
The child doesn’t know it’s doing this.
It’s completely subconscious,
but it’s benevolent manipulation.
So there’s one version of fear of robots
that I hear a lot about that I think most people
can relate to where the robots take over
and they become the masters and we become the servants.
But there could be another version that, you know,
in certain communities that I’m certainly not a part of,
but they call topping from the bottom,
where the robot is actually manipulating you
into doing things, but you are under the belief
that you are in charge, but actually they’re in charge.
And so I think that’s one that,
if we could explore that for a second,
you could imagine it wouldn’t necessarily be bad,
although it could lead to bad things.
The reason I want to explore this is I think people
always default to the extreme, like the robots take over
and we’re in little jail cells and they’re out having fun
and ruling the universe.
What sorts of manipulation can a robot
potentially carry out, good or bad?
Yeah, so there’s a lot of good and bad manipulation
between humans, right?
Just like you said.
To me, especially, like you said,
topping from the bottom, is that the term?
So I think someone from MIT told me that term.
I think, so first of all, there’s power dynamics in bed
and power dynamics in relationships and power dynamics
on the street and in the work environment.
Those are all very different.
I think power dynamics can make human relationships,
especially romantic relationships, fascinating and rich
and fulfilling and exciting and all those kinds of things.
So I don’t think in themselves they’re bad
and the same goes with robots.
I really love the idea that a robot will be at top
or a bottom in terms of like power dynamics.
And I think everybody should be aware of that.
And the manipulation is not so much manipulation,
but a dance of like pulling away,
a push and pull and all those kinds of things.
In terms of control, I think we’re very, very,
very far away from AI systems that are able to lock us up.
They do lock us up in, you know,
like to have so much control that we basically
cannot live our lives in the way that we want.
I think there’s, in terms of dangers of AI systems,
there’s much more dangers that have to do
with autonomous weapon systems
and all those kinds of things.
So the power dynamics as exercised in the struggle
between nations and war and all those kinds of things.
But in terms of personal relationships,
I think power dynamics are a beautiful thing.
Now there’s of course going to be all those kinds
of discussions about consent and rights
and all those kinds of things.
Well, here we’re talking, I always say, you know,
in any discussion around this,
if we need to define really the context,
it’s always, it always should be consensual,
age appropriate, context appropriate, species appropriate.
But now we’re talking about human robot interactions.
And so I guess that-
No, I actually was trying to make a different point,
which is I do believe that robots
will have rights down the line.
And I think in order for us to have deep,
meaningful relationship with robots,
we would have to consider them as entities in themselves
that deserve respect.
And that’s a really interesting concept
that I think people are starting to talk about
a little bit more, but it’s very difficult for us
to understand how entities that are other than human,
I mean, the same as with dogs and other animals,
can have rights on a level as humans.
Well, yeah, I mean, we can’t and nor should we
do whatever we want with animals.
We have a USDA, we have departments of agriculture
that deal with, you know, animal care and use committees
for research, for farming and ranching and all that.
So I, while when you first said it, I thought, wait,
why would there be a bill of robotic rights?
But it absolutely makes sense
in the context of everything we’ve been talking about
up until now.
If you’re willing, I’d love to talk about dogs
because you’ve mentioned dogs a couple of times,
a robot dog, you had a biological dog, yeah.
Yeah, I had a Newfoundland named Homer
for many years growing up.
In Russia or in the US?
In the United States.
And he was about, he was over 200 pounds,
it’s a big dog.
That’s a big dog.
People know Newfoundland, so he’s this black dog
that’s really long hair and just a kind soul.
I think perhaps that’s true for a lot of large dogs,
but he thought he was a small dog.
So he moved like that and-
Was he your dog?
So you had him since he was fairly young?
Since, yeah, since the very, very beginning
to the very, very end.
And one of the things, I mean, he had this kind of,
we mentioned like the Roombas.
He had a kind-hearted dumbness about him
that was just overwhelming.
It’s part of the reason I named him Homer
because it’s after Homer Simpson,
in case people are wondering which Homer I’m referring to.
I’m not, you know.
So there’s a clumsiness that was just something
that immediately led to a deep love for each other.
And one of the, I mean, he was always,
it’s the shared moments.
He was always there for so many nights together.
That’s a powerful thing about a dog that he was there
through all the loneliness, through all the tough times,
through the successes and all those kinds of things.
And I remember, I mean,
that was a really moving moment for me.
I still miss him to this day.
How long ago did he die?
Maybe 15 years ago.
So it’s been a while,
but it was the first time I’ve really experienced
like the feeling of death.
So what happened is he got cancer
and so he was dying slowly.
And then at a certain point, he couldn’t get up anymore.
There’s a lot of things I could say here,
you know, that I struggle with,
that maybe he suffered much longer than he needed to.
That’s something I really think about a lot.
But I remember I had to take him to the hospital
and the nurses couldn’t carry him, right?
So you’re talking about a 200 pound dog.
I was really into power lifting at the time.
I remember like they tried to figure out
all these kinds of ways to,
so in order to put him to sleep,
they had to take him into a room.
And so I had to carry him everywhere.
And here’s this dying friend of mine that I just had to,
first of all, it’s really difficult to carry somebody
that heavy when they’re not helping you out.
And yeah, so I remember it was the first time
seeing a friend laying there
and seeing life drain from his body.
And that realization that we’re here for a short time
was made so real that here’s a friend that was there
for me the week before, the day before, and now he’s gone.
And that was, I don’t know, that spoke to the fact
that you could be deeply connected with a dog.
Also spoke to the fact that the shared moments together
that led to that deep friendship
is what make life so amazing.
But it also spoke to the fact that death is a motherfucker.
So I know you’ve lost Costello recently.
And you’ve been going.
And as you’re saying this,
I’m definitely fighting back the tears.
I thank you for sharing that,
that I guess we’re about to both cry over our dead dogs.
That it was bound to happen
just given when this is happening.
How long did you know that Costello was not doing well?
Well, let’s see, a year ago during the start of,
about six months into the pandemic,
he started getting abscesses and he was not,
his behavior changed and something really changed.
And then I put him on testosterone,
because, which helped a lot of things.
It certainly didn’t cure everything,
but it helped a lot of things.
He was dealing with joint pain, sleep issues.
And then it just became a very slow decline
to the point where two, three weeks ago,
he had a closet full of medication.
I mean, this dog was, it was like a pharmacy.
It’s amazing to me when I looked at it the other day,
still haven’t cleaned up and removed all his things
because I can’t quite bring myself to do it.
Do you think he was suffering?
Well, so what happened was about a week ago,
it was really just about a week ago, it’s amazing.
He was going up the stairs and I saw him slip.
And he was a big dog, he wasn’t 200 pounds,
but he was about 90 pounds.
He’s a bulldog, that’s pretty big.
And he was fit.
And then I noticed that he wasn’t carrying a foot
in the back like it was injured.
It had no feeling at all.
He never liked me to touch his hind paws.
And I could do, that thing was just flopping there.
And then the vet found some spinal degeneration
and I was told that the next one would go.
Did he suffer?
I sure hope not, but something changed in his eyes.
Yeah, it’s the eyes again.
I know you and I spend long hours on the phone
and talking about like the eyes and how,
what they convey and what they mean about internal states
and for sake of robots and biology of other kinds.
Do you think something about him was gone in his eyes?
I think he was real, here I am anthropomorphizing.
I think he was realizing that one of his great joys in life,
which was to walk and sniff and pee on things.
Loved to pee on things.
It was amazing.
I wondered where he put it.
He was like a reservoir of urine.
It was incredible.
I think, oh, that’s it.
He’s just, he’d put like one drop on the 50 millionth plant
and then we get to the 50 millionth in one plant
and he’d just have, leave a puddle.
And here I am talking about Costello peeing.
He was losing that ability to stand up and do that.
He was falling down while he was doing that.
And I do think he started to realize
and the passage was easy and peaceful,
but I’ll say this, I’m not ashamed to say it.
I mean, I wake up every morning since then,
just I don’t even make the conscious decision
to allow myself to cry.
I wake up crying.
I’m fortunately able to make it through the day
thanks to the great support of my friends
and you and my family, but I miss him, man.
You miss him?
Yeah, I miss him.
And I feel like he, you know, Homer, Costello,
you know, the relationship to one’s dog is so specific, but.
So that part of you is gone.
That’s the hard thing.
what I think is different is that I made the mistake,
I think, or I hope it was a good decision,
but sometimes I think I made the mistake
of I brought Costello a little bit to the world
through the podcast, through posting about him.
I gave, I anthropomorphized about him in public.
Let’s be honest, I have no idea what his mental life was
or his relationship to me.
And I’m just exploring all this for the first time
because he was my first dog,
but I raised him since he was seven weeks.
Yeah, you got to hold it together.
I noticed the episode you released on Monday,
you mentioned Costello,
like you brought him back to life for me
for that brief moment.
Yeah, but he’s gone.
Well, that’s the,
he’s going to be gone for a lot of people too.
Well, this is what I’m struggling with.
I think that maybe.
You’re pretty good at this, Lyle.
Have you done this before?
This is the challenge,
is I actually, part of me,
I know how to take care of myself pretty well.
Not perfectly, but pretty well.
And I have good support.
I do worry a little bit about how it’s going to land
and how people will feel.
I’m concerned about their internalization.
So that’s something I’m still iterating on.
And you have to, they have to watch you struggle,
which is fascinating.
Right, and I’ve mostly been shielding them from this,
but what would make me happiest
is if people would internalize
some of Costello’s best traits
and his best traits were that he was incredibly tough.
I mean, he was a 22 inch neck bulldog, the whole thing.
He was just born that way.
But what was so beautiful is that his toughness
is never what he rolled forward.
It was just how sweet and kind he was.
And so if people can take that,
then there’s a win in there someplace.
I think there’s some ways
in which he should probably live on in your podcast too.
You should, I mean, it’s such a,
one of the things I loved about his role in your podcast
is that he brought so much joy to you.
We mentioned the robots, right?
I think that’s such a powerful thing to bring that joy into,
like allowing yourself to experience that joy,
to bring that joy to others, to share it with others.
That’s really powerful.
And I mean, not to, this is like the Russian thing
is it touched me when Louis CK had that moment
that I keep thinking about in his show, Louis,
where like an old man was criticizing Louis
for whining about breaking up with his girlfriend.
And he was saying like the most beautiful thing
about love, I mean, a song that’s catchy now
that’s not making me feel horrible saying it,
but like is the loss.
The loss really also is making you realize
how much that person, that dog meant to you.
And like allowing yourself to feel that loss
and not run away from that loss is really powerful.
And in some ways that’s also sweet,
just like the love was, the loss is also sweet
because you know that you felt a lot for that,
for your friend.
So I, you know, and I continue bringing that joy.
I think it would be amazing to the podcast.
I hope to do the same with robots
or whatever else is the source of joy, right?
And maybe, do you think about one day getting another dog?
Yeah, in time, you’re hitting on all the key buttons here.
I want that to, we’re thinking about, you know,
ways to kind of immortalize Costello in a way that’s real,
not just, you know, creating some little logo
or something silly.
You know, Costello, much like David Goggins is a person,
but Goggins also has grown into kind of a verb.
You’re going to Goggins this, or you’re going to,
and there’s an adjective like that’s extreme, like it.
I think that for me, Costello was all those things.
He was a being, he was his own being.
He was a noun, a verb, and an adjective.
So, and he had this amazing superpower
that I wish I could get,
which is this ability to get everyone else
to do things for you without doing a damn thing.
The Costello effect, as I call it.
So, it was an idea I hope he lives on.
Thank you for that.
This actually has been very therapeutic for me,
which actually brings me to a question.
We’re not just co-scientists, colleagues,
working on a project together and in the world.
That’s somewhat similar.
Just two dogs.
Just two dogs, basically.
But let’s talk about friendship,
because I think that, I certainly know as a scientist,
that there are elements that are very lonely
of the scientific pursuit.
There are elements of many pursuits that are lonely.
Music, math always seemed to me
like they’re the loneliest people.
Who knows if that’s true or not.
Also, people work in teams,
and sometimes people are surrounded by people
interacting with people, and they feel very lonely.
But for me, and I think as well for you,
friendship is an incredibly strong force
in making one feel like certain things are possible
or worth reaching for,
maybe even making us compulsively reach for them.
So when you were growing up,
you grew up in Russia until what age?
And then you moved directly to Philadelphia?
And then Philadelphia and San Francisco
and Boston and so on.
But really, to Chicago, that’s where I went to high school.
Do you have siblings?
Most people don’t know that.
Yeah, he is a very different person.
But somebody I definitely look up to.
So he’s a wild man, he’s extrovert.
He was into, I mean,
so he’s also a scientist, a bioengineer,
but when we were growing up,
he was the person who did drink and did every drug,
but also was the life of the party.
And I just thought he was the,
when you’re the older brother, five years older,
he was the coolest person
that I always wanted to be him.
So to that, he definitely had a big influence.
But I think for me, in terms of friendship growing up,
I had one really close friend.
And then when I came here, I had another close friend,
but I’m very, I believe,
I don’t know if I believe,
but I draw a lot of strength from deep connections
with other people and just a small number of people,
just a really small number of people.
That’s when I moved to this country,
I was really surprised how there would be
these large groups of friends, quote unquote,
but the depth of connection was not there at all
from my sort of perspective.
Now, I moved to the suburb of Chicago, it was Naperville.
It’s more like a middle class, maybe upper middle class.
So it’s like people that cared more
about material possessions than deep human connection.
So that added to the thing.
But I drew more meaning than almost anything else
was from friendship early on.
I had a best friend, his name is Yura.
I don’t know how to say it in English.
How do you say it in Russian?
What’s his last name, do you remember?
Mirkulov, Yura Mirkulov.
So we just spent all our time together.
There’s also a group of friends,
like, I don’t know, it’s like eight guys.
In Russia, growing up, it’s like parents didn’t care
if you’re coming back at a certain hour.
So we would spend all day, all night just playing soccer,
usually called football, and just talking about life
and all those kinds of things, even at that young age.
I think people in Russia and the Soviet Union
grow up much quicker.
I think the education system at the university level
is world-class in the United States
in terms of like really creating really big, powerful minds,
at least it used to be.
But I think that they aspire to that.
But the education system for younger kids
in the Soviet Union was incredible.
Like, they did not treat us as kids.
The level of literature, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky-
When you were just a small child?
Yeah, and the level of mathematics,
and you were made to feel like shit
if you’re not good at mathematics.
Like, I think in this country, there’s more,
like, especially young kids, because they’re so cute,
like, they’re being babied.
We only start to really push adults later in life.
Like, so if you want to be the best in the world at this,
then you get to be pushed.
But we were pushed at a young age, everybody was pushed.
And that brought out the best in people.
I think it really forced people to discover,
like, discover themselves in the Goggins style,
but also discover what they’re actually passionate about
and what they’re not.
Was this true for boys and girls?
Were they pushed equally there?
Yeah, they were pushed.
Yeah, they were pushed equally, I would say.
There was, obviously, there was more, not obviously,
but there, at least from my memories,
more of a, what’s the right way to put it?
But there was, like, gender roles,
but not in a negative connotation.
It was the red dress versus the suit and tie
kind of connotation, which is like, there’s, you know,
like, guys like lifting heavy things
and girls like creating beautiful art and, you know,
A more traditional view of gender, more 1950s, 60s.
But we didn’t think in terms of, at least at that age,
in terms of, like, roles and then, like,
homemaker or something like that, or,
no, it was more about what people care about.
Like, girls cared about this set of things
and guys cared about this set of things.
I think mathematics and engineering
was something that guys cared about
and sort of, at least my perception of that time,
and then girls cared about beauty.
So, like, guys want to create machines,
girls want to create beautiful stuff.
And now, of course, that, I don’t take that forward
in some kind of philosophy of life,
but it’s just the way I grew up and the way I remember it.
But all, everyone worked hard.
The value of hard work was instilled in everybody.
And through that, I think it’s a little bit of hardship.
Of course, also economically, everybody was poor,
especially with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
There’s poverty everywhere.
You didn’t notice it as much, but there was a,
because there’s not much material possessions,
there was a huge value placed on human connection.
Just meeting with neighbors, everybody knew each other.
We lived in an apartment building,
very different than you have in the United States these days.
Everybody knew each other.
You know, you would get together, drink vodka,
smoke cigarettes, and play guitar,
and sing sad songs about life.
What’s with the sad songs and the Russian thing?
I mean, Russians do express joy from time to time.
Certainly you do.
But what do you think that’s about?
Is it because it’s cold there,
but it’s cold other places too?
I think, so first of all, the Soviet Union,
the echoes of World War II,
and the millions and millions and millions of people there,
civilians that were slaughtered,
and also starvation is there, right?
So like the echoes of that, of the ideas,
the literature, the art is there.
Like that’s grandparents, that’s parents, that’s all there.
So that contributes to it,
that life can be absurdly, unexplainably cruel.
At any moment, everything can change.
So that’s in there.
Then I think there’s an empowering aspect
to finding beauty in suffering,
that then everything else is beautiful too.
Like if you just linger,
or it’s like while you meditate on death,
it’s like if you just think about the worst possible case
and find beauty in that,
then everything else is beautiful too.
And so you write songs about the dark stuff.
And that somehow helps you deal with whatever comes.
There’s a hopelessness to the Soviet Union,
that like inflation, all those kinds of things
where people were sold dreams and never delivered.
And so like, if you don’t sing songs about sad things,
you’re going to become cynical about this world.
So they don’t wanna give in to cynicism.
Now, a lot of people did.
But it’s the battle against cynicism.
One of the things that may be common in Russia
is a kind of cynicism about,
like if I told you the thing I said earlier
about dreaming about robots,
it’s very common for people to dismiss that dream
of saying, no, that’s too wild.
Like who else do you know that did that?
Or you wanna start a podcast, like who else?
Like nobody’s making money on podcasts.
Like why do you wanna start a podcast?
That kind of mindset, I think is quite common,
which is why I would say entrepreneurship in Russia
is still not very good.
Which to be a business, like to be an entrepreneur,
you have to dream big and you have to have others around you
like friends and support group that make you dream big.
But if you don’t give into cynicism
and appreciate the beauty in the unfairness
of life, the absurd unfairness of life,
then I think it just makes you appreciative of everything.
It’s like a prerequisite for gratitude.
And so, yeah, I think that instilled in me
ability to appreciate everything.
Just like everything, everything’s amazing.
And then also there’s a culture
of like romanticizing everything.
It’s almost like romantic relationships
were very like soap opera-like.
It’s very like over the top dramatic.
And I think that was instilled in me too.
Not only do I appreciate everything about life,
but I get like emotional about it.
In a sense, I get like a visceral feeling
of joy for everything.
And the same with friends or people of the opposite sex,
there’s a deep emotional connection there
that’s like way too dramatic
to like, I guess, relative to what the actual moment is.
But I derive so much deep like dramatic joy
from so many things in life.
And I think I would attribute that to the upbringing
But the thing that sticks most of all is the friendship.
And I’ve now since then had one other friend
like that in the United States.
He lives in Chicago.
His name is Matt.
And slowly here and there accumulating
really fascinating people,
but I’m very selective with that.
Funny enough, the few times,
it’s not few, it’s a lot of times now
interacting with Joe Rogan.
It sounds surreal to say,
but there was a kindred spirit there
like I’ve connected with him.
And there’s been people like that also
in the grappling sports that are really connected with.
I’ve actually struggled, which is why I’m so glad
to be your friend, is I’ve struggled
to connect with scientists.
They can be a little bit wooden sometimes.
Even the biologists.
I mean, one thing that I-
Even the biologists.
Well, I’m so struck by the fact that you work with robots,
you’re an engineer, AI,
you’re a scientist, technology,
and that all sounds like hardware, right?
But what you’re describing, and I know is true about you,
is this deep emotional life and this resonance.
And it’s really wonderful.
I actually think it’s one of the reasons why
so many people, scientists and otherwise,
have gravitated towards you and your podcast
is because you hold both elements.
You know, in Herman Hesse’s book,
I don’t know if you were at Narcissus and Goldman, right?
It’s about these elements of the logical rational mind
and the emotional mind and how those are woven together.
And if people haven’t read it, they should.
And you embody the full picture.
And I think that’s so much of what draws people to you.
I’ve read every Herman Hesse book, by the way.
As usual, I’ve done about 9% of what Lex has.
No, it’s true.
You mentioned Joe, who is a phenomenal human being,
not just for his amazing accomplishments,
but for how he shows up to the world one-on-one.
I think I heard him say the other day on an interview,
he said, there is no public or private version of him.
He’s like, this is me.
He said, it was beautiful.
He said, I’m like the fish that got through the net.
You know, there is no onstage, offstage version.
And you’re absolutely right.
And I, so, but you guys, I have a question actually about-
But that’s a really good point
about public and private life.
He was a huge, if I could just comment real quick.
Like that, he was a, I’ve been a fan of Joe for a long time,
but he’s been an inspiration to not have any difference
between public and private life.
I actually had a conversation with Naval about this.
And he said that you can’t have a rich life,
like exciting life,
if you’re the same person publicly and privately.
And I think I understand that idea,
but I don’t agree with it.
I think it’s really fulfilling and exciting
to be the same person privately and publicly
with very few exceptions.
Now, that said, I don’t have any really strange sex kinks.
So like, I feel I can be open with basically everything.
I don’t have anything I’m ashamed of.
You know, there’s some things that could be perceived poorly
like the screaming Roombas, but I’m not ashamed of them.
I just have to present them in the right context.
But there’s a freedom
to being the same person in private as in public.
And that Joe made me realize that you can be that
and also to be kind to others.
It sounds kind of absurd,
but I really always enjoyed like being good to others,
like just being kind towards others.
But I always felt like the world didn’t want me to be.
Like there’s so much negativity when I was growing up,
like just around people.
If you actually just notice how people talk,
they, from like complaining about the weather,
this could be just like the big cities that I visited,
but there’s a general negativity
and positivity is kind of suppressed.
You’re not, one, you’re not seen as very intelligent.
And two, there’s a kind of,
you’re seen as like a little bit of a weirdo.
And so I always felt like I had to hide that.
And what Joe made me realize,
one, I have, I could be fully just the same person,
private and public, and two, I can embrace being kind
and just in the way that I like, in the way I know how to do.
And sort of for me, I’m like on Twitter
or like publicly, whenever I say stuff,
that means saying stuff simply
almost to the point of cliche.
And like, I have the strength now to say it,
even if I’m being mocked.
You know what I mean?
Like just, it’s okay.
If everything’s going to be okay.
Okay, some people will think you’re dumb.
They’re probably right.
The point is like, just enjoy being yourself.
And Joe, more than almost anybody else,
because he’s so successful at it, inspired me to do that.
Be kind and be the same person, private and public.
I love it.
And I love the idea that authenticity
doesn’t have to be oversharing, right?
That it doesn’t mean you reveal every detail of your life.
What, you know, it’s a way of being true
to an essence of oneself.
Right, you’re not, there’s never a feeling
when you deeply think and introspect
that you’re hiding something from the world
or you’re being dishonest in some fundamental way.
So yeah, that’s truly liberating.
It allows you to think, it allows you to like think freely,
to speak freely, to just to be freely.
That said, it’s not like, you know,
it’s not like there’s not still a responsibility
to be the best version of yourself.
So, you know, I’m very careful with the way I say something.
So the whole point, it’s not so simple
to express the spirit that’s inside you with words.
I mean, some people are much better than others.
I struggle, like oftentimes when I say something
and I hear myself say it, it sounds really dumb
and not at all what I meant.
So that’s the responsibility you have.
It’s not just like being the same person publicly
and privately means you can just say whatever the hell.
It means there’s still a responsibility to try to be,
to express who you truly are.
And that’s hard.
It is hard.
And I think that, you know, we have this pressure,
all people, when I say we, I mean, all humans
and maybe robots too, feel this pressure
to be able to express ourselves in that one moment,
in that one form.
And it is beautiful when somebody, for instance,
can capture some essence of love or sadness or anger
or something in a song or in a poem or in a short quote,
but perhaps it’s also possible to do it in aggregate,
you know, all the things, you know, how you show up.
For instance, one of the things that initially drew me
to want to get to know you as a human being and a scientist
and eventually we became friends was the level of respect
that you brought to your podcast listeners
by wearing a suit.
I’m being serious here.
I was raised thinking that if you overdress a little bit,
overdressed by American, certainly by American standards,
you’re overdressed for a podcast,
but it’s genuine, you’re not doing it for any reason,
except I have to assume, and I assumed at the time,
that it was because you have a respect for your audience,
you respect them enough to show up a certain way for them.
It’s for you also, but it’s for them.
And I think between that and your commitment
to your friendship, the way that you talk about friendships
and love and the way you hold up these higher ideals,
I think at least as a consumer of your content
and as your friend, what I find is that in aggregate,
you’re communicating who you are.
It doesn’t have to be one quote or something.
And I think that we’re sort of obsessed
by like the one Einstein quote
or the one line of poetry or something,
but I think you so embody the way that, and Joe as well,
it’s about how you live your life and how you show up
as a collection of things and said and done.
Yeah, that’s fascinating.
So the aggregate is the goal, the tricky thing,
and Jordan Peterson talks about this
because he’s under attack way more
than you and I will ever be, but-
For now, right?
This is very true, for now.
That the people who attack on the internet,
this is one of the problems with Twitter,
is they don’t consider the aggregate.
They take a single statements.
And so one of the defense mechanisms,
like again, why Joe has been an inspiration,
is that when you in aggregate are a good person,
a lot of people will know that.
And so that makes you much more immune
to the attacks of people
that bring out an individual statement.
There might be a misstatement of some kind
or doesn’t express who you are.
And so that, I like that idea is the aggregate
and the power of the podcast
is you have hundreds of hours out there
and being yourself and people get to know who you are.
And once they do, and you post pictures
of screaming Roombas as you kick them,
they will understand that you don’t mean well.
By the way, as a side comment,
I don’t know if I want to release this
because it’s not just the Roombas.
You have a whole dungeon of robots.
Okay, so this is a problem.
Boston Dynamics came up against this problem,
but let me workshop this out with you
and maybe because we’ll post this, people will let me know.
So there’s legged robots.
They look like a dog.
They have a very, I’m trying to create
a very real human robot connection,
but they’re also incredible
because you can throw them like off of a building
and they’ll land fine.
And it’s beautiful.
I’ve seen the Instagram videos of like cats
jumping off of like fifth story buildings
and then walking away.
No one should throw their cat out of a window.
This is the problem I’m experiencing.
I’ll certainly kicking the robots.
It’s really fascinating how they recover from those kicks.
But like just seeing myself do it
and also seeing others do it, it just does not look good.
And I don’t know what to do with that
because it’s such a-
I’ll do it.
See, but you don’t,
No, I’m kidding.
Now I’m, you know what’s interesting?
Before today’s conversation, I probably could do it.
And now I think I’m thinking about robots,
bills of rights and things.
I’m actually, and not for any,
not to satisfy you or to satisfy anything,
except that if they have some sentient aspect to their being,
then I would loathe to kick a robot.
I don’t think you’d be able to kick it.
You might be able to kick the first time,
but not the second.
This is the problem I’ve experienced.
One of the cool things is,
one of the robots I’m working with,
you can pick it up by one leg and it’s dangling.
You can throw it in any kind of way
and it’ll land correctly.
So it’s really-
I had a friend who had a cat like that.
Oh man, we look forward to the letters from the cat.
Oh no, I’m not suggesting anyone did that,
but he had this cat and the cat,
he would just throw it onto the bed from across the room
and then it would run back for more.
Somehow they had,
that was the nature of the relationship.
I think no one should do that to an animal,
but apparently this cat seemed to return for it
for whatever reason.
But the robot is a robot.
It’s fascinating to me how hard it is for me to do that.
So it’s unfortunate,
but I don’t think I can do that to a robot.
Like I struggle with that.
So for me to be able to do that with a robot,
I have to almost get like into the state
that I imagine like doctors get into
when they’re doing surgery.
Like I have to start,
I have to do what robotics colleagues of mine do,
which is like start seeing it as an object.
So it was just fascinating that I have to do that
in order to do that with a robot.
I just wanted to take that a little bit of a tangent.
No, I think it’s an important thing.
I mean, I’m not shy about the fact that for many years
I’ve worked on experimental animals
and that’s been a very challenging aspect
to being a biologist.
Mostly mice, but in the past,
no longer thank goodness
because I just don’t like doing it.
Larger animals as well.
And now I work on humans,
which I can give verbal consent.
So I think that it’s extremely important
to have an understanding of what the guidelines are
and where one’s own boundaries are around this.
It’s not just an important question.
It might be the most important question
before any work can progress.
So you asked me about friendship.
I know you have a lot of thoughts about friendship.
What do you think is the value of friendship in life?
Well, for me personally,
just because of my life trajectory and arc of friendship
and I should say, I do have some female friends
that are just friends,
they’re completely platonic relationships,
but it’s been mostly male friendship to me has been.
It’s been all male friendships for me actually.
It’s been an absolute lifeline.
They are my family.
I have a biological family
and I have great respect and love for them
and an appreciation for them,
but it’s provided me the,
I wouldn’t even say confidence
because there’s always an anxiety in taking any good risk
or any risk worth taking.
It’s given me the sense that I should go for certain things
and try certain things to take risks,
to weather that anxiety.
And I don’t consider myself
a particularly competitive person,
but I would sooner die than disappoint
or let down one of my friends.
I can think of nothing worse actually
than disappointing one of my friends.
Everything else is secondary to me.
Disappointing meaning not,
I mean, certainly I strive always to show up
as best I can for the friendship
and that can be in small ways.
That can mean making sure the phone is away.
Sometimes it’s about,
I’m terrible with punctuality because I’m an academic
and so I just get lost in time
and I don’t mean anything by it,
but striving to listen, to enjoy good times
and to make time,
it kind of goes back to this first variable we talked about
to make sure that I spend time
and to get time in person and check in.
I think there’s so many ways
in which friendship is vital to me.
It’s actually to me what makes life worth living.
Yeah, well, I am surprised like with the high school friends
how we don’t actually talk that often these days
in terms of time,
but every time we see each other,
it’s immediately right back to where we started.
So I struggle with that,
how much time you really allocate
for the friendship to be deeply meaningful
because they’re always there with me,
even if we don’t talk often.
So there’s a kind of loyalty.
I think maybe it’s a different style,
but I think to me,
friendship is being there in the hard times, I think.
I’m much more reliable when you’re going through shit
You’re pretty reliable anyway.
No, but if you’re like a wedding or something like that,
or like, I don’t know,
like you want an award of some kind,
yeah, I’ll congratulate the shit out of you,
but that’s not, and I’ll be there,
but that’s not as important to me as being there
when nobody else is.
Just being there when shit hits the fan
or something stuff where the world turns their back on you,
all those kinds of things.
That to me, that’s where friendship is meaningful.
Well, I know that to be true about you,
and that’s a felt thing and a real thing with you.
Let me ask one more thing about that actually,
because I’m not a practitioner of jujitsu.
I know you are, Joe is,
but years ago I read a book that I really enjoyed,
which is Sam Sheridan’s book, A Fighter’s Heart.
He talks about all these different forms of martial arts,
and maybe it was in the book,
maybe it was in an interview,
but he said that fighting or being in physical battle
with somebody, jujitsu, boxing,
or some other form of direct physical contact
between two individuals creates this bond unlike any other,
because he said, it’s like a one night stand.
You’re sharing bodily fluids with somebody
that you barely know.
And I chuckled about it,
because it’s kind of funny and kind of tongue in cheek.
But at the same time,
I think this is a fundamental way
in which members of a species bond
is through physical contact.
And certainly there are other forms,
there’s cuddling and there’s hand holding,
and there’s sexual intercourse,
and there’s all sorts of things.
I haven’t heard of it.
I heard this recently, I didn’t know this term,
but there’s a term,
they’ve turned the noun cupcake into a verb.
Cupcaking, it turns out, I just learned about this.
Cupcaking is when you spend time just cuddling.
I didn’t know about this.
You heard it here first,
although I heard it first just the other day.
Cupcaking is actually a verb.
Cuddling is everything.
It’s not just like, is it in bed or is it on the couch?
Like what’s cuddling?
I need to look up what cuddling is.
We need to look at this stuff
and we need to define the variables.
I think it definitely has to do with physical contact,
I am told.
But in terms of battle, competition,
and the Sheridan quote, I’m just curious.
So do you get close or feel a bond with people that,
for instance, you roll jiu-jitsu with,
or even though you don’t know anything else about them,
was he right about this?
Yeah, I mean, on many levels.
He also has the book,
What a Fighter’s Mind and First Art.
Yeah, that was just the second one.
He’s actually an excellent writer.
What’s interesting about him, just briefly about Sheridan,
I don’t know him, but I did a little bit of research.
He went to Harvard.
He was an art major at Harvard.
He claims all he did was smoke cigarettes
and do art.
I don’t know if his art was any good.
And I think his father was in the SEAL teams.
And then when he got out of Harvard, graduated,
he took off around the world,
learning all the forms of martial arts
and was early to the kind of ultimate fighting
to kind of mix martial arts and things.
Great, great book.
Yeah, it’s amazing.
I don’t actually remember it, but I read it.
I remember thinking there was an amazing encapsulation
of what makes fighting the art,
like what makes it compelling.
I would say that there’s so many ways
that jiu-jitsu, grappling, wrestling,
combat sports in general
is like one of the most intimate things you can do.
I don’t know if I would describe it
in terms of bodily liquids and all those kinds of things.
I think he was more or less joking, but.
I think there’s a few ways that it does that.
So one, because you’re so vulnerable.
So that the honesty of stepping on the mat
and often all of us have ego thinking
we’re better than we are at this particular art.
And then the honesty of being submitted
or being worse than you thought you are
and just sitting with that knowledge,
that kind of honesty,
we don’t get to experience it in most of daily life.
We can continue living somewhat of an illusion
of our conceptions of ourselves
because people are not going to hit us with the reality.
The mat speaks only the truth
that the reality just hits you.
And that vulnerability is the same
as like the loss of a loved one.
It’s the loss of a reality that you knew before.
You now have to deal with this new reality.
And when you’re sitting there in that vulnerability
and there’s these other people
that are also sitting in that vulnerability,
you get to really connect like, fuck,
I’m not as special as I thought I was.
And life is like not,
life is harsher than I thought I was.
And we’re just sitting there with that reality.
Some of us can put words to them, some we can’t.
So I think that definitely is a thing
that leads to intimacy.
The other thing is the human contact.
There is something about, I mean, like a big hug.
Like during COVID, very few people hug me.
And I hugged them.
And I always felt good when they did.
Like we’re all tested.
And especially now we’re vaccinated,
but there’s still people, this is true of San Francisco.
This is true in Boston.
They wanna keep not only six feet away,
but stay at home and never touch you.
That was, that loss of basic humanity is the opposite
of what I feel in jujitsu, where it was like that contact
where you’re like, I don’t give a shit
about whatever rules we’re supposed to have
in society where you’re not, you have to keep a distance
and all that kind of stuff.
Just the hug, like that, the intimacy of a hug
that’s like a good bear hug.
And you’re like just controlling another person.
And also there is some kind of love communicating
through just trying to break each other’s arms.
I don’t exactly understand why violence
is such a close neighbor to love, but it is.
Well, in the hypothalamus,
the neurons that control sexual behavior,
but also non-sexual contact are not just nearby
the neurons that control aggression and fighting.
They are salt and pepper with those neurons.
It’s a very interesting, and it almost sounds kind of risque
and controversial and stuff.
I’m not anthropomorphizing about what this means,
but in the brain, those structures are interdigitated.
You can’t separate them except at a very fine level.
And here, the way you describe it is the same
as a real thing.
I do want to make an interesting comment.
Again, these are the things that could be taken
out of context, but one of the amazing things
about jujitsu is both guys and girls train it.
And I was surprised.
So like, I’m a big fan of yoga pants,
at the gym kind of thing.
It reveals the beauty of the female form.
But the thing is, girls are dressed in skintight clothes
in jujitsu often, and I found myself not at all
thinking like that at all when training with girls.
Well, the context is very non-sexual.
But I was surprised to learn that.
When I first started jujitsu, I thought,
wouldn’t that be kind of weird to train
with the opposites in something so intimate?
Boys and girls, men and women,
they roll jujitsu together completely.
And the only times girls kind of try to stay away from guys,
I mean, there’s two contexts.
Of course, there’s always going to be creeps in this world.
So everyone knows who kind of to stay away from.
And the other is like, there’s a size disparity.
So girls will often try to roll with people
a little bit closer weight-wise.
But no, that’s one of the things that are empowering
to women, that’s what they fall in love with
when they start doing jujitsu is,
first of all, they gain an awareness
and a pride over their body, which is great.
And then second, they get to, especially later on,
start submitting big dudes,
like these like bros that come in who are all shredded
and like muscular, and they get to technique
to exercise dominance over them.
And that’s a powerful feeling.
You’ve seen women force a larger guy to tap
or even choke him out.
Well, I was deadlifting for,
oh boy, I think it’s 495.
So I was really into powerlifting when I started jujitsu.
And I remember being submitted by,
I thought I walked in feeling like I’m going to be,
if not the greatest fighter ever, at least top three.
And so as a white belt, you roll in like all happy.
And then you realize that as long as you’re not applying
too much force, that you’re having,
I remember being submitted many times
by like 130, 120 pound girls
at balance studios in Philadelphia
that a lot of incredible female jujitsu players.
And that’s really humbling too,
that technique can overpower in combat pure strength.
And that’s the other thing,
that there is something about combat that’s primal.
Like it just feels,
it feels like we were born to do this.
We have circuits in our brain
that are dedicated to this kind of interaction.
There’s no question.
And that’s what it felt like.
It wasn’t that I’m learning a new skill.
It was like somehow I am remembering echoes
of something I’ve learned in the past.
Well, it’s like hitting puberty.
A child before puberty has no concept of boys and girls
having this attraction,
regardless of whether or not
they’re attracted to boys or girls.
It doesn’t matter.
At some point, most people, not all, but certainly,
but most people, when they hit puberty,
suddenly people appear differently.
And certain people take on a romantic or sexual interest
for the very first time.
And so it’s like, it’s revealing a circuitry in the brain.
It’s not like they learn that, it’s innate.
And I think when I hear the way you describe jiu-jitsu
and rolling jiu-jitsu,
it reminds me a little bit,
Joe was telling me recently
about the first time he went hunting
and he felt like it revealed a circuit
that was in him all along,
but he hadn’t experienced before.
Yeah, that’s definitely there.
And of course there’s the physical activity.
One of the interesting things about jiu-jitsu
is it’s one of the really strenuous exercises
that you can do late into your adult life,
into your 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s.
When I came up, there’s a few people in their 80s
that were training.
And as long as you’re smart,
as long as you practice techniques
and pick your partners correctly,
you can do that kind of art.
It’s late into life and so you’re getting exercise.
There’s not many activities, I find,
that are amenable to that.
So because it’s such a thinking game,
the jiu-jitsu in particular is an art
where technique pays off a lot.
So you can still maintain, first of all,
remain injury free if you use good technique
and also through good technique,
be able to go, be active with people
that are much, much younger.
And so that was to me,
that and running are the two activities
you can kind of do late in life
because to me, a healthy life has exercises
as the piece of the puzzle.
And I’m glad that we’re on the physical component
because I know that there’s, for you,
you’ve talked before about the crossover
between the physical and the intellectual and the mental.
Are you still running at ridiculous hours of the night
for ridiculously long?
Yeah, so definitely.
I’ve been running late at night here in Austin.
People tell me, the area we’re in now,
people say is a dangerous area,
which I find laughable coming from the bigger cities.
No, I run late at night.
if you see a guy running through Austin at 2 a.m.
in a suit and tie, it’s probably.
Well, yeah, I mean, I do think about that
because I get recognized more and more in Austin.
I worry that, not really,
that I get recognized late at night, you know.
But there is something about the night
that brings out those deep philosophical thoughts
and self-reflection that I really enjoy.
But recently, I started getting back to the grind.
So I’m going to be competing,
or hoping to be compete in September and October.
In Jiu-Jitsu, yeah, to get back to competition.
And so that requires getting back into great cardio shape.
I’ve been getting running as part of my daily routine.
Well, I always know I can reach you,
regardless of time zone, in the middle of the night,
wherever that happens.
Well, part of that has to be just being single
and being a programmer.
Those two things just don’t work well
in terms of a steady sleep schedule.
It’s not banker’s hours kind of work.
No. Nine to five.
I want to, you mentioned single.
I want to ask you a little bit
about the other form of relationship,
which is romantic love.
So your parents are still married?
Still married, still happily married.
A rare thing nowadays.
I grew up with that example.
Yeah, I guess that’s a powerful thing, right?
If there’s an example that I think can work.
Yeah, I didn’t have that in my own family,
but when I see it, it’s inspiring and it’s beautiful.
The fact that they have that,
and that was the norm for you, I think is really wonderful.
It was, in the case of my parents,
it was interesting to watch
because there’s obviously tension.
Like there’ll be times where they fought
and all those kinds of things.
They obviously get frustrated with each other,
and they like, but they find mechanisms
how to communicate that to each other,
like to make fun of each other a little bit,
like to tease, to get some of that frustration out,
and then ultimately to reunite
and find their joyful moments and be that the energy.
I think it’s clear,
because I got together in their, I think early twenties,
like very, very young.
I think you grow together as people.
Yeah, you’re still in the critical period
of brain plasticity.
And also, I mean, it’s just like divorce
was so frowned upon that you stick it out.
And I think a lot of couples,
especially from that time in the Soviet Union,
that’s probably applies to a lot of cultures.
You stick it out and you put in the work,
you learn how to put in the work.
And once you do, you start to get
to some of those rewarding aspects of being like,
through time, sharing so many moments together.
You know, that’s definitely something
that was an inspiration to me,
but maybe that’s where I have,
so I have a similar kind of longing
to have a lifelong partner,
like that have that kind of view,
where same with friendship,
lifelong friendship is the most meaningful kind,
that there is something with that time
of sharing all that time together,
like till death do us part as a powerful thing,
not by force, not because the religion said it
or the government said it or your culture said it,
but because you want to.
Do you want children?
Definitely want children.
How many Roombas do you have?
Oh, I thought-
You should, no, no.
Oh, human children.
No, human children.
Because I already have the children.
Exactly, well, I was saying,
you probably need at least as many human children
as you do Roombas, big family, small family.
So in your mind’s eye,
is there a bunch of little freedmen’s running around?
So I’ll tell you, like realistically,
I can explain exactly my thinking.
And this is similar to the robotics work,
is if I’m like purely logical right now,
my answer would be, I don’t want kids
because I just don’t have enough time.
I have so much going on.
But when I’m using the same kind of vision I use
for the robots is,
I know my life will be transformed with the first.
Like I know I would love being a father.
And so the question of how many,
that’s on the other side of that hill.
It could be some ridiculous number.
So I just know that-
I have a feeling and I could be,
I don’t have a crystal ball, but I don’t know.
I see an upwards of certainly three or more comes to mind.
So much of that has to do with the partner you’re with too.
So like that’s such an open question,
especially in this society,
of what the right partnership is.
Cause I’m deeply empathetic.
I want to see, like to me,
what I look for in a relationship is for me
to be really excited about the passions of another person,
like whatever they’re into.
It doesn’t have to be a career success,
any kind of success, just to be excited for them
and for them to be excited for me.
And they can share in that excitement
and build and build and build.
But there’s also practical aspects of like,
what kind of shit do you enjoy doing together?
And I think family is a real serious undertaking.
Oh, it certainly is.
I mean, I think that I have a friend who said it,
I think best, which is that you first have,
he’s in a very successful relationship and has a family.
And he said, you first have to define the role
and then you have to cast the right person for the role.
Well, yeah, there’s some deep aspects of that,
but there’s also an aspect to which you’re not smart enough
from this side of it to define the right,
to define the role.
There’s part of it that has to be a leap
that you have to take.
And I see having kids that way.
You just have to go with it and figure it out also,
as long as there’s love there.
Like what the hell is life for even?
So there’s so many incredibly successful people that I know,
that I’ve gotten to know that all have kids
and the presence of kids for the most part
has only been something that energized them,
something that gave them meaning,
something that made them the best versions of themselves,
like made them more productive, not less,
which is fascinating to me.
It is fascinating.
I mean, you can imagine if the way that you felt about Homer,
the way that I feel and felt about Costello
is at all a glimpse of what that must be like, then-
The downside, the thing I worry more about
is the partner side of that.
I’ve seen the kids are almost universally
a source of increased productivity and joy and happiness.
Like, yeah, they’re a pain in the ass.
Yeah, it’s complicated.
Yeah, so on and so forth.
People like to complain about kids,
but when you actually look past
that little shallow layer of complaint, kids are great.
The source of pain for a lot of people
is when the relationship doesn’t work.
And so I’m very kind of concerned about,
dating is very difficult and I’m a complicated person.
And so it’s been very difficult
to find the right kind of person.
But that statement doesn’t even make sense
because I’m not on dating apps.
I don’t see people.
You’re like the first person I saw in a while.
It’s like you, Michael Malice, and like Joe.
So like, I don’t think I’ve seen like a female,
what is it?
An element of the female species in quite a while.
So I think you have to put yourself out there.
What is it?
Daniel Johnston says, true love will find you,
but only if you’re looking.
So there’s some element of really taking the leap
and putting yourself out there
in kind of different situations.
And I don’t know how to do that
when you’re behind a computer all the time.
Well, you’re a builder and you’re a problem solver
and you find solutions.
And I’m confident the solution is out there.
I think you’re implying that I’m going to build
the girlfriend, which I think-
Or that you, well,
and maybe we shouldn’t separate this friendship,
the notion of friendship and community.
And if we go back to this concept of the aggregate,
maybe you’ll meet this woman through a friend
or something of that sort.
So one of the things, I don’t know if you feel the same way.
I definitely, one of those people that just falls in love
and that’s it.
Yeah, I can’t say I’m like that.
With Costello, it was instantaneous.
It really was.
I mean, I know it’s not romantic love,
but it was instantaneous.
No, but that’s me.
And I think that if you know, you know,
because that’s a good thing that you have that.
Well, it’s, I’m very careful with that
because you don’t want to fall in love with the wrong person.
So I try to be very kind of careful with,
I’ve noticed this because I fall in love with everything,
like this mug, everything.
I fall in love with things in this world.
So like, you have to be really careful
because a girl comes up to you and says,
she loves Dostoevsky.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to marry her tonight.
Yes, and I liked the way you said that out loud
so that you heard it.
It doesn’t mean you need to marry her tonight.
But I mean, but people are amazing
and people are beautiful and that’s,
so I’m fully embraced that,
but I also have to be careful with relationships.
And at the same time, like I mentioned to you offline,
I don’t, there’s something about me that appreciates
swinging for the fences and not dating,
like doing serial dating or dating around.
You’re a one guy, one girl kind of guy.
You’ve said that.
And it’s tricky because you want to be careful
with that kind of stuff.
Especially now there’s a growing platform
that have a ridiculous amount of female interest
of a certain kind, but I’m looking for deep connection
and I’m looking by sitting home alone.
And every once in a while talking to Stanford professors.
On a podcast.
It’s going to work out great.
It’s well incorporated.
It’s part of, that constitutes machine learning of sorts.
Yeah, of sorts.
I would do, you mentioned what has now become
a quite extensive and expansive public platform,
which is incredible.
I mean, the number of people out,
first time I saw your podcast, I noticed the suit.
I was like, he respects his audience, which was great.
But I also thought, this is amazing.
People are showing up for science and engineering
and technology information and those discussions
and other sorts of discussions now.
I do want to talk for a moment about the podcast.
So my two questions about the podcast are,
when you started it, did you have a plan?
And regardless of what that answer is,
do you know where you’re taking it?
Or would you like to leave us?
I do believe in an element of surprise is always fun.
But what about the podcast?
Do you enjoy the podcast?
I mean, your audience certainly includes me,
really enjoys the podcast.
So I love talking to people.
And there’s something about microphones
that really bring out the best in people.
Like you don’t get a chance to talk like this.
If you and I were just hanging out,
we would have a very different conversation
in the amount of focus we allocate to each other.
We would be having fun talking about other stuff
and doing other things.
There’d be a lot of distraction.
There would be some phone use and all that kind of stuff.
But here we’re 100% focused on each other
and focused on the idea.
And like sometimes playing with ideas
that we both don’t know like the answer to,
like a question we don’t know the answer to.
We’re both like fumbling with it, trying to figure out,
trying to get some insights
at something we haven’t really figured out before
and together arriving at that.
I think that’s magical.
I don’t know why we need microphones for that,
but we somehow do.
Feels like doing science.
It feels like doing science for me, definitely.
That’s exactly it.
And I’m really glad you said that
because I don’t actually often say this,
but that’s exactly what I felt like.
I wanted to talk to friends and colleagues at MIT
to do real science together.
That’s how I felt about it.
Like to really talk through problems
that are actually interesting
as opposed to like incremental work
that we’re currently working for a particular conference.
So really asking questions like, what are we doing?
Like, where’s this headed to?
Like, what are the big,
is this really going to help us solve,
in the case of AI, solve intelligence?
Like, is this even working on intelligence?
There’s a certain sense,
which is why I initially called it artificial intelligence,
is like most of us are not working
on artificial intelligence.
You’re working on some very specific problem
and a set of techniques.
At the time, it’s machine learning
to solve this particular problem.
This is not going to take us to a system
that is anywhere close to the generalizability
of the human mind.
Like the kind of stuff the human mind can do
in terms of memory, in terms of cognition,
in terms of reasoning, common sense reasoning.
This doesn’t seem to take us there.
So the initial impulse was,
can I talk to these folks,
do science together through conversation?
And I also thought that there was not enough,
I didn’t think there was enough good conversations
with world-class minds that I got to meet,
and not the ones with a book,
or this was the thing,
oftentimes you go on this tour when you have a book,
but there’s a lot of minds that don’t write books.
And the books constrain the conversation too,
because then you’re talking about this thing, this book.
But there’s, I’ve noticed that
with people that haven’t written a book, who are brilliant,
we get to talk about ideas in a new way.
We both haven’t actually,
when we raise a question, we don’t know the answer to it,
once the question is raised,
and we try to arrive there.
Like, I don’t know, I remember asking questions
of world-class researchers in deep learning
of why do neural networks work as well as they do?
That question is often loosely asked,
but like, when you have microphones,
and you have to think through it,
and you have 30 minutes to an hour
to think through it together,
I think that’s science.
I think that’s really powerful.
So that was the one goal.
The other one is,
I, again, don’t usually talk about this,
but there’s some sense in which
I wanted to have dangerous conversations.
Part of the reasons I wanted to wear a suit
is like, I wanted to be fearless.
The reason I don’t usually talk about it
is because I feel like I’m not good at conversation.
So it looks like it doesn’t match the current skill level,
but I wanted to have really dangerous conversations
that I uniquely would be able to do.
Not completely uniquely,
but like, I’m a huge fan of Joe Rogan,
and I had to ask myself,
what conversations can I do that Joe Rogan can’t?
For me, I know I bring this up,
but for me, that person I thought about
at the time was Putin.
Like, that’s why I bring him up.
He’s, just like with Costello, he’s not just a person.
He’s also an idea to me for what I strive for,
just to have those dangerous conversations.
And the reason I’m uniquely qualified is both the Russian,
but also there’s the judo and the martial arts.
There’s a lot of elements that make me have a conversation
he hasn’t had before.
And there’s a few other people that I kept in mind,
like Don Knuth, he’s a computer scientist from Stanford,
that I thought is one of the most beautiful minds ever.
And nobody really talked to him, like really talked to him.
He’s did a few lectures, which people love,
but really just have a conversation with him.
There’s a few people like that.
One of them passed away, John Conway,
that never got, we agreed to talk,
but he died before we did.
There’s a few people like that,
that I thought like, it’s such a crime
to not hear those folks.
And I have the unique ability to know how to purchase
a microphone on Amazon and plug it into a device
that records audio and then publish it,
which seems relatively unique.
Like, that’s not easy in the scientific community,
people knowing how to plug in a microphone.
No, they can build Faraday cages and two photon microscopes
and bioengineer all sorts of things.
But the idea that you could take ideas
and export them into a structure or a pseudostructure
that people would benefit from,
seems like a cosmic achievement to them.
I don’t know if it’s a fear or just basically
they haven’t tried it,
so they haven’t learned the skill level.
But I think they’re not trained.
I mean, we could riff on this for a while,
but I think that, but it’s important and maybe we should,
which is that it’s, they’re not trained to do it.
They’re trained to think in specific aims
and specific hypotheses,
and many of them don’t care to, right?
They don’t, they became scientists
because that’s where they felt safe.
And so why would they leave that haven of safety?
Well, they also don’t necessarily always see the value in it.
It’s, we’re all together learning.
You and I are learning the value of this.
I think you’re probably,
you have an exceptionally successful and amazing podcast
that you started just recently.
Thanks to your encouragement.
Well, but there’s a raw skill there
that you’re definitely an inspiration to me
in how you do the podcast,
in the level of excellence you reach.
But I think you’ve discovered
that that’s also an impactful way to do science,
And I think a lot of scientists have not yet discovered that,
that this is, if they apply the same kind of rigor
as they do to academic publication
or to even conference presentations,
and they do that rigor and effort to podcast,
whatever that is, that could be a five-minute podcast,
a two-hour podcast, it could be conversational,
or it can be more like lecture-like.
If they apply that effort,
you have the potential to reach,
over time, tens of thousands,
hundreds of thousands, millions of people.
And that’s really, really powerful.
But yeah, for me,
giving a platform to a few of those folks,
especially for me personally,
so maybe you can speak to what fields you’re drawn to,
but I thought computer scientists
were especially bad at this.
So there’s brilliant computer scientists
that I thought would be amazing to explore their mind,
explore their thinking.
And so I took that almost on as an effort.
And at the same time, I had other guests in mind
or people that connect to my own interests.
So the wrestling,
wrestling, music, football,
both American football and soccer.
I have a few particular people that I’m really interested in.
Bovai Tsar, Satyavs, the Satyav brothers,
even Khabib for wrestling, just to talk to them.
Oh, because you guys can communicate.
In Russian and in wrestling.
As wrestlers and as Russians.
And so that little,
it’s like an opportunity to explore a mind
that I’m able to bring to the world.
And also, I feel like it makes me a better person
just that being that vulnerable
and exploring ideas together.
I don’t know, like good conversation.
I don’t know how often
you have really good conversation with friends,
but like podcasts are like that.
And it’s deeply moving.
It’s the best, you know?
And what you’ve brought through,
I mean, when I saw you sit down with Penrose,
you know, Nobel prize-winning physicist
and these other folks,
it’s not just because he has a Nobel,
it’s what comes out of his mouth is incredible.
And what you were able to hold in that conversation
was so much better.
Light years beyond what he had any other interviewer,
I don’t want to even call you an interviewer
because it’s really about conversation,
light years beyond what anyone else had been able
to engage with him was such a beacon of what’s possible.
And I know that, I think that’s what people are drawn to.
And there’s a certain intimacy
that certainly if two people are friends as we are
and they know each other, that there’s more of that,
but there’s an intimacy
in those kinds of private conversations
that are made public and-
Well, that’s the, with you,
you’re probably starting to realize,
and Costello, it’s like part of it,
because you’re authentic
and you’re putting yourself out there completely,
people are almost not just consuming the words you’re saying,
they also enjoy watching you, Andrew,
struggle with these ideas
or try to communicate these ideas.
They like the flaws, they like a human being-
Oh good, they like flaws?
Well, that’s good because I got plenty of those.
Well, they like the self-critical aspects
where you’re very self-critical about your flaws.
I mean, in that same way, it’s interesting, I think,
for people to watch me talk to Penrose,
not just because Penrose is communicating ideas,
but here’s this silly kid trying to explore ideas.
They know this kid,
there’s a human connection that is really powerful.
Same, I think, with Putin.
It’s not just a good interview with Putin,
it’s also here’s this kid struggling
to talk with one of the most powerful,
and some would argue, dangerous people in the world.
They love that, the authenticity that led up to that.
And in return, I get to connect everybody I run to
in the street and all those kinds of things.
There’s a depth of connection there
almost within a minute or two that’s unlike any other.
Yeah, there’s an intimacy that you’ve formed with them.
We’ve been on this journey together.
I mean, I have the same thing with Joe Rogan
before I ever met him, right?
Because I was a fan of Joe for so many years.
There’s a kind of friendship,
as absurd as it might be to say, in podcasting,
in listening to podcasts.
Yeah, maybe it fills in a little bit of that,
or solves a little bit of that loneliness
that you’re talking about.
Until the robots are here.
I have just a couple more questions,
but one of them is on behalf of your audience,
which is, I’m not going to ask you
the meaning of the hedgehog,
but I just want to know, does it have a name?
And you don’t have to tell us the name,
but just does it have a name, yes or no?
Well, there’s a name he likes to be referred to as,
and then there’s a private name
in the privacy-owned company that we call each other.
No, I’m not that insane.
No, his name is Hedgy.
He’s a hedgehog.
I don’t like stuffed animals,
but his story is one of minimalism.
So I gave away everything I own,
now three times in my life.
By everything, I mean, almost everything.
Kept jeans and shirt and a laptop.
And recently it’s also been guitar, things like that.
But he survived because he was always in the,
at least in the first two times, was in the laptop bag
and he just got lucky.
And so I just like the perseverance of that.
And I first saw him in the,
the reason I got a stuffed animal
and I don’t have other stuffed animals
is it was in a thrift store
in this like giant pile of stuffed animals.
And he jumped out at me because unlike all the rest of them,
he has this intense, mean look about him.
That he’s just, he’s upset at life,
at the cruelty of life.
And just, especially in the contrast
of the other stuffed animals,
they have this dumb smile on their face.
If you look at most stuffed animals,
they have this dumb look on their face.
They’re just happy, it’s like Pleasantville.
That’s what we say in neuroscience,
they have a smooth cortex, not many fold.
And this, like Hedgy like saw through all of it.
He was like Dostoevsky’s man from underground.
I mean, there’s a sense that he saw
the darkness of the world and persevered.
So like, and there’s also a famous Russian cartoon,
Hedgehog in the Fog, that I grew up with,
I connected with.
There’s people who know of that cartoon,
you can see it on YouTube.
Hedgehog in the Fog?
It’s just as you would expect,
especially from like early Soviet cartoons.
It’s a hedgehog, like sad, walking through the fog,
exploring like loneliness and sadness.
It’s like, but it’s beautiful.
It’s like a piece of art.
People should, even if you don’t speak Russian,
you’ll see, you’ll understand.
Oh, the moment you said that, I was going to ask,
so it’s in Russian, but of course it’s in Russian.
It’s in Russian, but it’s more,
there’s very little speaking in it.
It’s almost, there’s an interesting exploration
of how you make sense of the world
when you see it only vaguely through the fog.
So he’s trying to understand the world.
Here we have Mickey Mouse.
We have Bugs Bunny.
We have all these crazy animals
and you have the hedgehog in the fog.
So there’s a certain period, and this is again,
I don’t know what to attribute it to,
but it was really powerful,
which there’s a period in Soviet history,
I think probably 70s and 80s where like,
especially kids were treated very seriously.
Like they were treated like they’re able to deal
with the weightiness of life.
And that was reflected in the cartoons.
And it was allowed to have like really artistic content,
not like dumb cartoons that are trying to get you
to be like smile and run around, but like create art,
like stuff that, you know how like short cartoons
or short films can win Oscars?
Like that’s what they’re swinging for.
So what strikes me about this is a little bit
how we were talking about the suit earlier.
It’s almost like they treat kids with respect.
Like that they have an intelligence
and they honor that intelligence.
Yeah, they’re really just adult in a small body.
Like you want to protect them
from the true cruelty of the world.
But in terms of their intellectual capacity
or like philosophical capacity,
they’re right there with you.
And so the cartoons reflected that,
the art that they consumed, education reflected that.
So he represents that.
I mean, there’s a sense of, because he survived so long
and because I don’t like stuffed animals,
that it’s like, we’ve been through all of this together.
And it’s the same, sharing the moments together.
It’s the friendship.
And there’s a sense in which, you know,
if all the world turns on you and goes to hell,
at least we got each other.
And he doesn’t die because he’s an inanimate object.
Until you animate him.
Until you animate him.
And then I probably wouldn’t want to know
what he was thinking about this whole time.
He’s probably really into Taylor Swift or something like that
that I wouldn’t even want to know.
Well, I now feel a connection to Hedgy the Hedgehog
that I certainly didn’t have before.
And I think that encapsulates the kind of possibility
of connection that is possible between human
and other object and through robotics, certainly.
There’s a saying that I heard when I was a graduate student
that’s just been ringing in my mind
throughout this conversation in such a,
I think, appropriate way, which is that, Lex,
you are in a minority of one.
You are truly extraordinary in your ability
to encapsulate so many aspects of science, engineering,
public communication about so many topics,
martial arts, and the emotional depth that you bring to it.
And just the purposefulness.
And I think if it’s not clear to people,
it absolutely should be stated,
but I think it’s abundantly clear that just the amount
of time and thinking that you put into things
is it is the ultimate mark of respect.
So I’m just extraordinarily grateful for your friendship
and for this conversation.
I’m proud to be your friend.
And I just wish you showed me the same kind of respect
by wearing a suit and make your father proud
maybe next time.
Next time, indeed.
Thanks so much, my friend.
Thank you, Andrew.
Thank you for joining me for my discussion
with Dr. Lex Friedman.
If you’re enjoying this podcast and learning from it,
please consider subscribing on YouTube.
As well, you can subscribe to us on Spotify or Apple.
Please leave any questions and comments and suggestions
that you have for future podcast episodes and guests
in the comment section on YouTube.
At Apple, you can also leave us up to a five-star review.
And as mentioned at the beginning of today’s episode,
we are now partnered with Momentous Supplements
because they make single ingredient formulations
that are of the absolute highest quality
and they ship international.
If you go to livemomentous.com slash Huberman,
you will find many of the supplements
that have been discussed on various episodes
of the Huberman Lab Podcast,
and you will find various protocols
related to those supplements.
Also, please check out our sponsors mentioned
at the beginning of the podcast episode.
That’s the best way to support this podcast.
Links to our sponsors can be found in the show notes.
And finally, thank you for your interest in science.
And finally, thank you for your interest in science.