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Upcoming events:

Mon. May 25th, 6pm - 7pm: Steven Levy, author, "Facebook: The Inside Story" (More info...)

Options April 20, 2020: Toby Ord, author, "The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity"

Listen to this show: MP3 - 128K |  Pop‑up player!

Tonight: Toby Ord, author, "The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity"



About Toby Ord:

• Toby's book: The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity

• Toby's websites: tobyord.com and theprecipice.com

• Toby on Twitter: @tobyordoxford

• Oxford's Future of Humanity Institute

• Toby also founded Giving What We Can, encouraging "effective altruism."

Tech news:

Google's former CEO hopes the coronavirus makes people more "grateful" for Big Tech (by Teddy Schleifer in Recode, Apr 14): Eric Schmidt, on a livestream to the Economic Club of New York, said: "Think about what your life would be like in America without Amazon, for example. The benefit of these corporations — which we love to malign — in terms of the ability to communicate ... the ability to get information, is profound — and I hope people will remember that when this thing is finally over. ... So let's be a little bit grateful that these companies got the capital, did the investment, built the tools that we're using now and have really helped us out. Imagine having the same reality of this pandemic without these tools." (See also Teddy's thread on the speech.)

Apple and Google's Coronavirus Tracking Plan Is a Symptom of Their Power (by Jordan Pearson in Motherboard, Apr 15): "In the absence of a competent government response to the virus, and within a fragile and precarious economic system, politicians seem primed to put their faith in what Google and Apple are proposing because they are proposing something. ... Apple and Google aren't the first entities to propose such a scheme, but their power makes it nearly impossible for anybody but them to do it effectively. ... Apple and Google's proposal is utterly predictable given that the last decade-plus has been defined by the slow acclimation to constant tracking and surveillance by corporations and the government, for the often interlocking purposes of 'economy' and 'safety.'"

Disadvantages of the Google/Apple contact tracing proposal (Rachel Thomas summarizing The Markup coverage, Apr 14): "vulnerable to trolls and spoofing, other apps may try to grab data, long history of supposedly anonymous datasets being de-anonymized, and it relies on testing, which is lacking."

Will the Pandemic Usher in an Era of Mass Surveillance in Higher Education? (Chronicle of Higher Ed, Apr 14), includes quote from recent Techtonic guest Chris Gilliard: "The pandemic will hasten a 'race to the bottom to a surveillance society, with very little indication that it's going to make people safer,' said Chris Gilliard, a professor of English at Macomb Community College, in Michigan, who studies privacy and digital policy."

- - -

Check out techtonic.fm for recent Techtonic interviews and Little Slice of Tech Pie segments.

PODCAST: Subscribe to the Techtonic podcast

Artist Track Images Approx. start time
  Toby Ord, author of "The Precipice," on the end of the world.
Tomaš Dvořák  Game Boy Tune   Options
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  Mark's intro  
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  Interview with Toby Ord, Part 1  
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0:14:53 (MP3 | Pop‑up)
  Interview with Toby Ord, Part 2  
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0:39:34 (MP3 | Pop‑up)


Listener comments!

Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:00pm listener james from westwood:

"Unaligned artificial intelligence"—well, neutral is better than chaotic evil, I guess.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:00pm ultradamno:

Hello Mark! Techtonagnarökers!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:01pm Handy Haversack:

Hi, Mark and the Technically Isolated! Tech Gin: poured! All we need is ...

@james: that position is assailed by the players in my game, trust me.

Hey, ultradamno!
  6:01pm chresti:

Hi Mark and techtards!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:01pm ultradamno:

Hiya Handy!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:02pm Mark Hurst:

@James, @ultra, @Handy, @chresti, welcome!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:02pm Phillippe Bastille:

Hey Mark and people technically adept at using a comment board
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:03pm Mark Hurst:

That includes you, Phillippe - and welcome
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:03pm Bas NL:

Mark! Markettes!
Avatar 6:03pm herb.nyc:

hi all. i cheated and scrolled down, and see a 1 in 6 chance of existential risk. i take it as tue, wed, thu, fri, sat, and sun being the riskiest. ie, we're safe.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:03pm Mark Hurst:

@Bas!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:03pm Handy Haversack:

Hey, Phillippe! Glad humanity was not wiped out before you got here!
  6:03pm Dave Miss:

techtard here. Hello all.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:04pm Phillippe Bastille:

@Handy It hasn't been?
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:04pm Handy Haversack:

@herb.nyc: Thursdays are traditional for it.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:04pm Mark Hurst:

@Dave, @herb, greetings!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:04pm queems:

howdy all
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:04pm Mark Hurst:

@queems thanks for joining us
Avatar 6:05pm Franco Twinkie:

Okay, got some of coffee and I'm all ready for the bad news. Fire away, Mark!
Avatar 6:05pm herb.nyc:

@handy, holy sinner's crossroads, batman!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:05pm queems:

@mark i'm always lurking around here somewhere
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:05pm Mark Hurst:

@Franco between the news & the coffee, you should be well awake by the end of the show
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:06pm ultradamno:

Well, that little pink Covid-19 looks like he could turn out to be your little buddy sidekick on all your sexy space adventures going forward.
Avatar 6:06pm herb.nyc:

Economics Club? any economics person may join? if so, we are *grateful*.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:06pm Ignatatus666:

FYI
NYPD detained 68 and arrested 2 at a Brooklyn barber shop for not social distancing
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:07pm queems:

@ignatatus pretty sure the two arrested had illegal firearms
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:07pm Handy Haversack:

It's like he's asking us to keep wanting chemotherapy after the cancer is cured -- cured by other means, in this case.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:09pm Phillippe Bastille:

Social distancing really hit the oil companies today. Oil is at -$13 a barrel -- basically they are paying to get the oil taken off their hands.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:09pm Ike:

If Amazon didn't exist, wouldn't that mean buy dot com (remember them?) would still exist and would be partly in its place instead?
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:09pm Megaroni:

Thank you Techtonic for calling out these horrible tech giants so out of touch with working people!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:10pm Mark Hurst:

@igna @ike @megi hello!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:11pm melinda:

hi everyone!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:11pm Mark Hurst:

@melinda, thanks for joining
@megaroni appreciate it
Avatar 6:12pm Peter from Dover NJ:

Let's also remember Microsoft's war against Netscape in the browser wars of the 1990s.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:15pm Mr. Pumpy:

many mansions
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:15pm melinda:

I sat out a Zoom cocktail hour with old friends partly because I don't trust Zoom, then felt lame. Pandemic social dilemmas.
  6:16pm twirlaround:

Hey Mark. It's Bobby. Listening in.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:16pm Ken From Hyde Park:

Good evening, Mark and Branch Covidians.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:16pm queems:

@melinda same, and then i had to download it for a work thing anyway so i missed the fun and i'm still being surveilled
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:16pm Handy Haversack:

All of these points are things we should all remember for the *inevitable* times in the near and middle future when friends, coworkers, family, and strangers on the damn street will be praising Google and Amazon and Apple for this stuff. We're the front lines of not letting it be normalized!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:16pm Mark Hurst:

Hey Bobby, thanks for joining!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:17pm Mark Hurst:

@KenFHP good evening, sir
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:17pm Mark Hurst:

@Handy make sure you praise them loudly and enthusiastically... Amazon in particular doesn't seem to have much patience for (employees, now ex-employees) who ask too many questions.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:18pm Handy Haversack:

@queems, I have to use it for work and other things, too. But I uninstall after every call and never get into anything sensitive: health, immigration, shoe size ...
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:19pm melinda:

@Handy true! I've accepted the role of tin foil hat wearer.
  6:19pm kevlicki:

Hello everyone! Late to the party, but finally listening live after a couple weeks off.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:20pm ultradamno:

They get right down to Trump language about a fired strike organizer www.cnbc.com...
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:20pm Mark Hurst:

Hi kevlicki, thanks for making it to the live broadcast. Just in time for a list of nightmares!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:20pm mndave:

Good evening Mark and techizens! "Hierarchy of nightmares" is a phrase I'm borrowing for the near future, hope that's okay
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:21pm Mark Hurst:

@mndave hello hello! "Nightmare Hierarchy" would be a really bad name for a band (or would it)...
Avatar 6:22pm herb.nyc:

asteroids? how about that Monty Python foot stomping on us?
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:23pm Mark Hurst:

Scientists say the foot will miss us by a million miles.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:23pm ultradamno:

There was a Japanese band called Nightmare, there was probably a hierarchy with the membership www.discogs.com...
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:24pm ultradamno:

...or within.
  6:24pm chresti:

Haha Mark “destroy humaniteeheehee”
Avatar 6:25pm herb.nyc:

how about that Monty Python joke that was used in WWII, and it killed so many soldiers.
  6:25pm Dave Miss:

BTW was on an open Zoom “comedy show“ which got zero-day exploited, And whoever it was started showing child pornography in front of about 30 people. It was horrible! So don’t use that bullshit platform. NOPE
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:26pm queems:

@dave YIKES
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:27pm Handy Haversack:

@Dave, there are measures hosts can take to make the meetings more secure from *other people* now -- but the host has to know to do it. And that doesn't keep Zoom from selling, using, turning over any data from the meetings.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:28pm ultradamno:

Or best time to be at Yellowstone, it could be more unpleasant every where else once it blows.

After the earthquake in Boise recently, there were reports that it had nothing to do with the supervolcano, which made me think it had everything to do with the supervolcano.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:28pm Mark Hurst:

@Handy exactly right on both counts
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:29pm Handy Haversack:

Was never head of supervolcano. Born in Shropshire I was.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:29pm Mark Hurst:

@ultra "no one panic, this has NOTHING TO DO with the supervolcano percolating below our feet"
Avatar 6:30pm herb.nyc:

USandA v Russia nuke war? how about nuke usage by a 3rd country?
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:31pm Mark Hurst:

@herb here he's talking about the exchanges that are most likely to end all human life (like i said, nightmare hierarchy)
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:32pm Mark Hurst:

OK, everyone, get ready for THE SCARIEST part of the interview, in my opinion: pandemics
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:32pm queems:

D:
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:32pm Handy Haversack:

If anyone wants to read about what it might look like in existential-level climate change or supervulcanism, check out _Carboniferous Giants and Mass Extinction: The Late Paleozoic Ice Age World_.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:32pm ultradamno:

Fry:
This snow is beautiful. I'm glad global warming never happened.

Leela:
Actually, it did. But thank God nuclear winter canceled it out.

-Futurama
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:33pm Mark Hurst:

"Supervulcan" sounds cool, tho
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:33pm Carmichael:

OK, popping up for some air. Heya Mark and technos.
Avatar 6:33pm herb.nyc:

thanks for clarification, mark. i sleep better tonight.
  6:33pm Dave Miss:

@handy @mark. I’m with you. I gave the warning to my friend (host) before but wasn’t heeded.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:33pm Mark Hurst:

@Carmichael good to see you
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:34pm Handy Haversack:

Hey, Carm! This has nothing to do with the supervolcano!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:34pm Carmichael:

Glad to hear that!?
Avatar 6:36pm Jack:

I hope this isn't inappropriate. Over at Slate Star Codex, there was a recent review and discussion of Toby Ord's book: slatestarcodex.com...
Avatar 6:36pm MacDonald:

Does Toby get into why we're all having weird dreams?
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:37pm queems:

i've been worried about germs my whole life so this has been great
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:37pm Mark Hurst:

@Jack good pointer, thanks
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:38pm Mark Hurst:

@queems stay worried...
Avatar 6:38pm dale:

plum island in suffolk county could be an epicenter of an animal virus that wipes us out.
  6:38pm Dano312:

Why will people understand the odds the author is writing about (such as 1 in 1000) if they get crazy when the lottery grows high and some think they will be "lucky" even though the odds are often 100 of millions to one, orders higher magnitude than what we are talking about. Who will really understand these
numbers
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:38pm queems:

@mark oh i will
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:38pm Mark Hurst:

@MacDonald no, Toby doesn't, but the NYT did recently - www.nytimes.com...
  6:39pm kevlicki:

Mark, I’m on the wait list for David Quammans book called spillover. About disease coming from other parts of the animal kingdom to humyns. Excitedly anticipating hearing the audio book
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:39pm Mark Hurst:

@kevlicki interested to hear what you think. maybe DQ should be on the show?
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:40pm Handy Haversack:

Getting rid of industrial meat production does help reduce risk of zoonotic diseases, too.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:40pm ultradamno:

So is everyone worried about being injected with ID/tracker chips with a hypothetical Covid-19 vaccine (and would they have to wait when flu vaccines exist)? www.express.co.uk...
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:40pm Mark Hurst:

@Handy agreed - hard to see how that happens, tho
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:42pm melinda:

Spillover is scary.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:42pm Mark Hurst:

@ultra subdermal chips are real, and Covid "passport" proposals are real, but that particular story comes across as sensationalist. i'd be very skeptical
Avatar 6:42pm MacDonald:

Thanks Mark, and thanks for this interview and the show...
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:42pm Handy Haversack:

If every Techtonic listener just convinces 10,000,000 other people to become a vegetarian, we're most of the way there!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:42pm Mark Hurst:

@Handy let's have it done by Thursday, please
@MacDonald thanks!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:43pm Phillippe Bastille:

@Handy I'll only promise 3,000,000 conversions. My evangelical skills kinda suck
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:44pm Mark Hurst:

C'mon, Phillippe, TRY HARDER
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:44pm queems:

:|
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:44pm ultradamno:

Well, these people aren't ready to be that nuanced, they see the vaccine chip as the mark of the beast twitter.com...
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:44pm Mark Hurst:

So sorry, queems. (germ nightmares)
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:45pm queems:

@mark i guess we all have to go sometime
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:45pm Phillippe Bastille:

@Mark that would be me trying harder, unfortunately.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:45pm Mark Hurst:

@ultra they're out there, true... anti-vaxxer worldview is not welcome on this show
  6:46pm kevlicki:

Mark, I heard quammen on Doug Henwopds program, he’s done fascinating research
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:46pm Mark Hurst:

@Phillippe ok, ok. 3,000,000 is fine (sigh)
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:47pm Handy Haversack:

Looks like we'll be adding Phillippe to table 6.1 ...
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:48pm ultradamno:

A lot of you have probably seen this, but it made think of it: Goth Anti-Vaxxer Refuses to Listen to The Cure www.rivetingnews.org...
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:48pm Phillippe Bastille:

speaking of anti-vaxxing... I learned today that the CDC is discouraging pharmacies from doing vaccinations in the current environment. I spent 4 hours driving around trying to get a tetanus booster
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:50pm Carmichael:

Ultra, that's a hilarious story. A guy who thinks his mother is an alien, a lab in Geneva has opened a portal to another dimension, and COVID chips will be inserted in everyone. And ... wait for it .... he's an elected official!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:50pm Mark Hurst:

@Phillippe that is annoying (& scary if it stays this way)
Avatar 6:50pm Peter from Dover NJ:

My daughter's K-8 school had a high percentage of anti-wax parents. A chickenpox epidemic hit, and 25-30% of the student body was out sick. We were in daily contact with the NJ Dept of Health. I'm pro vaccinator nation.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:51pm Handy Haversack:

Yes, I do very much hope that however we wipe ourselves out doesn't foreclose the possibility of the winner of the kangaroo-raccoon wars from achieving spaceflight.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:51pm Mark Hurst:

We can thank Google's YouTube, and Facebook's Facebook, for encouraging, spreading, & monetizing anti-vax (and flat-earth and other conspiracies). See the May 20, 2019 show for more on flat-earthers - www.wfmu.org...
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:51pm ultradamno:

John Oliver did a nice piece about (in part) Lupus patients running short on their needed Hydroxychloroquine pills because of the current, largely White House/Fox News driven rush to get it.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:51pm Phillippe Bastille:

If you had to get a COVID chip, which camp would you be in: Salsa, guacamole, or onion dip?
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:52pm Handy Haversack:

Also: what are the chances, I wonder, that climate change and energy shortages put a stop to AI research and other tech research rather before this transformation can occur.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:54pm fleep:

AI needs power. Until it can eat, can't we just pull the plug?
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:54pm Mark Hurst:

@fleep let's hope
  6:54pm kevlicki:

Anyone else bummed about the delayed delivery of irpair and reflectables? Stupid virus
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:55pm Handy Haversack:

We *are* good at designing foolproof failsafes, @fleep!
Avatar 6:56pm Peter from Dover NJ:

@ Mark Hurst: on artificial intelligence: so were the Terminator movies an premonition of what we might expect? I'm serious here.
  6:57pm Dave Miss:

Thanks Mark. Sweet dreams everybody!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:57pm Carmichael:

More like Total Recall, Peter.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:57pm Mark Hurst:

@Peter I think there are other risks from AI-related companies (look at our economy right now), not so much shape-shifting time-traveling robots etc.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:57pm Handy Haversack:

Very interesting interview, Mark. There are so many ways we might wipe ourselves out, one starts arguing for favorites like they are dog breeds or makes of car.

Still got my fingers crossed that kangaroos or raccoons make it off this rock!

Thanks so much for the show!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:58pm Mark Hurst:

@Dave have a nice relaxing evening. Cuppa tea?
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:58pm Corey:

Thanks Mark for the interesting discussion. Contemplating apocalyptic scenarios is much more charged these days!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:58pm Mark Hurst:

@Handy thanks. I'd prefer kangaroos, but realistically I think raccoons have it.
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:58pm Mark Hurst:

@Corey so true - and thanks
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:59pm Handy Haversack:

They *do* have a lot of practice washing their hands already!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:59pm Bas NL:

So.. carpe diem folks! Great interview. Thanks Mark & Toby!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:59pm queems:

thanks mark!
  6:59pm chresti:

Thanks Mark!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 6:59pm Phillippe Bastille:

Thanks Mark!
  6:59pm twirlaround:

Great show! Good night
Avatar 6:59pm Franco Twinkie:

Bold and refreshing!
Avatar Swag For Life Member 7:00pm Mark Hurst:

Thanks, everyone!
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