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S09 E05 – Yacht Money

Today, Doug and Laura ramble about Doug’s loss of his microphone and the sound quality of his Apple Studio display and into broader societal issues. Hear a critical take on Adobe’s commodification of creativity through digital credentials and the importance of local, community-driven initiatives. Their conversation also explores futuristic concepts like AI developing its own form of consciousness and experiencing the world directly, which contrasts with the natural communication observed in ecosystems, such as trees using mycelium networks.


Find all of our guests’ reading recommendations at our The Tao of WAO book club.


Important note: this is a lightly-edited AI transcription of the conversation. If you require verbatim quotations, please double-check against the audio!

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:22] Hello and welcome to the Tao of WAO, a podcast about the intersection of technology, society, and internet culture with a dash of philosophy and art for good measure, I am Laura Hilliger.

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:35] I’m Doug Belshaw with the not as good microphone. I get it. This podcast season is currently partially unfunded. You can support this podcast and other. We are open projects and products at Sometimes I feel like I want to do that as a jingle.

Laura Hilliger: [00:00:53] We can make a jingle for that.

Doug Belshaw: [00:00:56] You can support. We are open projects and products at Open Collective like, not like that obviously, because that’s horrendous.

Laura Hilliger: [00:01:06] Like long time listeners are like, nope, they’re singing. This season is done for me.

Doug Belshaw: [00:01:12] This podcast has jumped the shark. So, dear listeners, um, we don’t have an agenda today. Um, we’re just going to kind of wing it off the cuff. One of the things we’ve been talking about before, this is the fact that I lost my microphone. It’s in a box somewhere in the rental property that we’ve been in for the last few months. I say we I mean, my family, not Laura and I living together. Um, so it’s in a box somewhere. And so I’m using the built in microphone for my very expensive Apple Studio display, which you’d expect to be half decent. But actually, even though it’s three microphones and far field and all this bollocks, it’s actually pretty bad. Um, and I’m actually wondering at this point whether I’m going to go back to my old 4K monitor and sell my studio display, because I have to say, it’s only okay, and it’s like £1,500.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:08] But the camera moves with you when you move.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:12] It does, but I’m sure I could buy a webcam that does that. Yeah. So. Yeah. Anyway, um. What what are you thinking about at the moment? Have you got any kind of links and things you want to share? I’ve got. I’ve always got a rant to hand.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:25] Oh, no. Let’s start with your rants. Because right before this, I was somewhere else in my mind completely. And I was like, should I cancel the podcast today because I don’t know what’s going on?

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:35] Um, you’ve already heard you’ve already heard this rant. Um, but but I’ll run again.

Laura Hilliger: [00:02:41] So I’ll take a nap and you rant, and then we’ll see how how this turns out. Cool.

Doug Belshaw: [00:02:47] I actually used to I feel really bad about this because my grandma died a few years ago, but there was actually a time when I’d she’d start talking and I’d put the phone down, wander off and like, make a sandwich and come back and she’d still be talking. Um, so you could do that. You could do that. Yeah. Roach is off. So, um, we actually recorded this yesterday, so we do have a recording of this rant, but it was part of a conversation with Brian Mathers for some kind of visual thinkery that we’re doing. So Brian used to be a member of our co-op. He’s gone off and done some wandering and crying. He does his own thing through visual thinkery we hire him to do some stuff. One of the things we hire him to do is things around open badges and verifiable credentials. And yesterday I think it was my LinkedIn network, which is lots of people to do with digital credentials and stuff, were uncritically joyous about the fact that Adobe, as in the people who do Photoshop and that kind of thing, had released a report with some by some people we’ve never heard of. They’d commissioned this report, and it was basically telling us what we already knew about digital credentials that, hey, they can be useful. Um, and whilst it’s great that large organisations discover digital credentials such as open badges and standards and stuff 13 years after they’re, they’ve been created, um, and then kind of mansplain them at scale to us. Um, what isn’t so. What perhaps isn’t so useful is the rebundling of an unbundled higher education system in such a way that now creativity is packaged up and sold back to us as the Adobe Certified Professional badge? Like, that’s not a very useful thing. So instead of the like, vision of open badges and stuff being, uh, like a lifelong and lifelong life wide way of recognising all, all of the different skills and knowledge and behaviours that you might have and be. Instead, it’s like commodifying your creativity and giving it a name which has a brand on it, which seems massively problematic to me. I could go on, but I’ll stop there for for breath and for you to comment.

Laura Hilliger: [00:05:06] But you know, I agree with you, which is the problem. This is a problem we need to we need to start having conversations where we don’t agree so that listeners can hear our absolute throwdown fights.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:17] Okay.

Laura Hilliger: [00:05:18] Which would be funny. No, we shouldn’t do that. That would not be entertaining for anyone. Uh, but yeah, uh, in this case, I agree with you. You are correct. Uh, I remember a couple of years ago, Harvard invented digital credentials. Yes. Um, they they wrote a book.

Doug Belshaw: [00:05:33] IBM did as well.

Laura Hilliger: [00:05:34] Yep. Yep. Um, and it’s, it’s, you know, um, I mean, yesterday when we were talking about this, Brian was being purposefully provocative, and he said, but isn’t it good that it’s now in the mainstream? Because if Adobe is going to use digital credentialing and, you know, everybody’s going to sign up for their Adobe Certified Professional thing, um, then more people know about the technology and more people are earning badges across the ecosystem. And, um, isn’t that ultimately what we set out to do 13 years ago, 15 years ago is to have, you know, a world in which digital credentials, um, could actually be used to unlock opportunities.

Doug Belshaw: [00:06:16] Yeah. And so I’m absolutely on board with people who say things like, you know, quantity has a quality all of its own, like the number of credentials in the world changes, the conversation about, you know, badges being recognised. And that Adobe report does talk about how recognisable badges are as a thing. Micro-credentials all that kind of stuff. That’s great. But just because there’s more of a thing in the world doesn’t mean that everything is is necessarily cool and better. So like I’ve just said that if if we’re getting more credentials in the world where it’s an organisation trying to capture a particular domain. So for example, is it better that more people are earning degrees than ever before? Well, yeah that’s great. But also, is it great that there’s more private, for profit higher education institutions like, for example, Pearson, the global edtech company who I think most people who would know me think know that I don’t like, um, they have degree awarding powers. Is that a good thing? I would say no. Yeah. Is it is it a good thing that more badges exist in the world? Yeah, generally. Is it a good thing that Adobe seems to be trying to capture the market in creative problem solving and sticking their name on it, and identifying creative problem solving with using their tools? No, I don’t think it is.

Laura Hilliger: [00:07:41] Well, it’s I mean, as I said yesterday, it’s a very exclusionary way of going about things, because the fact of the matter is, is that Adobe as a suite of tools is prohibitively, prohibitively expensive. Um, it’s not open. You actually have to be in a privileged position to access those tools in the first place. Um, so, you know, if we’re looking at an industry where you can’t get an entry level graphic design job without knowing Photoshop, and that seems problematic and, you know, not inclusive at all, I don’t know, just in case.

Doug Belshaw: [00:08:17] Is anyone from Adobe listening to this? Right. Let me just explain another thing that I don’t like about you and your company. Um.

Laura Hilliger: [00:08:29] Are making so many friends go on. Right.

Doug Belshaw: [00:08:32] No, no, here we go. Right. So my my son, um, did graphic design at GCSE in the UK now because his school didn’t show up on Adobe’s, like, student license thing. Whatever. We couldn’t sign up with his student discount to begin with. Um, until like halfway through. Then there was a way of his teacher got involved and yadda yadda yadda, and we managed to get the student discount. I then signed up so that he could use the Adobe products at home. Right? So it was cheaper because his student discount, but I still had to sign up for like a year, and then I took it off month by month. It then renewed that without warning me sign up for another year. And then when I tried to cancel, it made me pay for the rest of the year in full. Yeah. Which I think is a very sneaky underhand practice. And I’m sure I’m not the only person who thinks this.

Laura Hilliger: [00:09:23] Uh, you’re not the only person that thinks this, but it’s also Adobe is not the only company that does that. That’s pretty standard operating procedure for a lot of the software tools that- we use.

Doug Belshaw: [00:09:34] I literally know no other organisation that does that.

Laura Hilliger: [00:09:37] Well, when we a couple of years ago wanted to cancel the Co-op’s Trello premium and we were like a month late, remember how you had to get in touch and have a whole discussion about it? And they did. Trello as a company did actually refund us the rest of the money, but if we hadn’t have gone after it, then the default would have been for them to actually, um, you know, charge the full.

Doug Belshaw: [00:10:01] But the difference was with Adobe, they basically said in a polite legal way, um, fuck. You know, you can’t like on the, on the buttons where you go to cancel. Yeah, yeah. Um, anyway, yeah. So, um, Adobe are on my short list. Um, uh, even though they’ve embraced open badges. It’s funny, isn’t it?

Laura Hilliger: [00:10:21] Yeah, I think it’s funny because I actually started my career training Adobe employees how to use Adobe products. Way says a lot.

Doug Belshaw: [00:10:28] About Adobe employees, doesn’t it? Really? I would say.

Laura Hilliger: [00:10:31] Ouch.

Doug Belshaw: [00:10:33] No, no. As in, like if you can’t train your own people on your own stuff.

Laura Hilliger: [00:10:37] Well, I mean, they had a partnership with a non-profit in the Bay area that was doing technical education, and I worked for the non-profit. Um, and.

Doug Belshaw: [00:10:48] I’m not casting aspersions on your ability to train.

Laura Hilliger: [00:10:50] People. No, no, but I’m saying I mean, there, you know, there’s an argument to be made that, you know, Adobe supporting this non-profit by sending their employees there and paying for their employees meant that the non-profit could actually have, like a corporate client that allowed them to put money towards other, more marginalised communities, which is exactly what they did.

Doug Belshaw: [00:11:10] Okay. Right. Well, Adobe is now the best thing in the world. Uh. Moving on. So what else have we got to talk about? I really enjoyed our conversation with Adam Greenfield, uh, last week.

Laura Hilliger: [00:11:22] Which I know to. Although I could not get a word in edgewise because somebody was very excited and had all the questions. Uh, and every time I was about to speak, I was like, oh, nope, lost my opportunity. And then the the conversation would go somewhere else. I had a million questions to ask him about, sort of the feasibility of lighthouses. Um, because I think it’s a beautiful utopian idea. But as somebody who has been running a neighbourhood non-profit for 13 years, um, and is one of the people that struggles with having to pull the cart, I wonder how, you know, how do we how how do we get community, local communities to engage around the idea of lighthouses? Um, you know, who runs them, who, who does the work? And he addressed this a little bit in the blog post that he, that he had written. Um, but he kind of waved it off like, yeah, yeah, everybody’s tired. And yes, that’s true, everybody is tired. But there are some people that, despite their tiredness, keep getting up, keep getting up, keep getting up. And like in this idea, my question is like, how do we actually create community spaces that are run by the community as opposed to by the three people you know, who really just keep showing up?

Doug Belshaw: [00:12:42] I don’t think you can answer that question at scale, because I think it’s very different in different situations. Um, what I’m fascinated by, though, which. I can’t remember where I came across this. Maybe you’ll know. I. I get discouraged when I put things out into the world, or I see other people put things out in the world, which are great ideas that they thought deeply about, and they don’t go anywhere. Mm. Yeah, I get discouraged about that. But then someone said like how ideas. And maybe it was Stephen Mitchell about like the long hunt or something or something like that basically when. When an when a particular paradigm has had its day, people go scouting around for ideas that are out there which people have thought of, that haven’t been used yet. It’s a bit like Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, that kind of thing. And then they go scouting about for like ideas, and they pick them up and look at them and go, oh, how about this one? And that’s how kind of ideas get established. Now, I don’t like that from a kind of, oh, it’s people who have already got power and influence and stuff who pick up the ideas and, you know, then they get the credit for them or whatever. But at least the ideas are. I use. I guess life houses is a bit like that. It’s like one of those ideas that gets a bit of attention. Then there’s a book and then it’s like one of those ideas that is an idea in waiting. Yeah. Mhm. And I think there’s quite a lot of those open badges, was an idea in waiting for quite a long time as well.

Laura Hilliger: [00:14:14] I mean, I think like I think that there. I’m interested to see to see what the book is. Although in our last episode, Adam did talk about the fact that, um, lighthouses was kind of like the last part of the book, um, and that most of the book isn’t actually about that idea. Um, and I thought that that was really interesting because the. I. I think that there are community driven efforts that exist in the world, and it would be interesting to have a look at them like like the library of things, for example. Um, you know, a place where you can go and borrow a drill so that you don’t have to buy one or a jackhammer or any other tool in the tool shed kind of thing. Um, and, you know, Library of Things has been around for a really long time and had an associated documentary, I think, that was called the The Story of things that like, traced how things move around a hyper local area. So like, where did the drill come from, who used it, what did they build, how did that impact their lives? That kind of thing. Um, and, you know, I mean, it’s like 20 years old, right? This, this idea and is well established, though maybe not, you know, talked about in as much anymore on the internet kind of thing. And I think that there are like a lot of small community based initiatives like that. And it would be interesting to see, like what’s common, like a map or, you know, paint the ecosystem because the, the. Like. It’s interesting as lighthouses are, you know, it’s a inspired idea, which means that it was inspired by other things. He even talked about what initially inspired the idea. So I think it would be, I don’t know, like, I think that this hyper local movement making, um, has been going on for a long time because like since the advent of the internet, at least probably longer, and that there’s a lot of really good ideas that are already out there, and maybe it’s time to revisit some of them.

Doug Belshaw: [00:16:15] Well, I definitely agree. There’s lots of interesting ideas out there. And one of the things when we were talking about Brian yesterday that I mentioned, maybe we should just release that, I don’t know. Um, instead of rehashing all ideas. But, um, one of the things I was talking about was how it’s. Like we we keep having to have. Like venture capital money, telling us that Uber is a good idea and we don’t need public transit. We keep needing billionaires like Elon Musk saying, oh, let’s just build a tunnel between two major US cities instead of having public transit. Um, we still we keep needing. People putting loads of money like Andreessen Horowitz into cryptocurrency to like, revolutionise. Like credit or, um, the banking system, rather than dealing with the underbanked in our society through kind of like governmental means and in other ways, like. The answer is always, let’s have a Start-Up or some kind of Start-Up ecosystem, or ways in which people can make more yacht money to to serve underserved populations. And I don’t I think the answers are already in the underserved people’s communities. Like the answers are there. We just need to kind of actually put some money in those communities rather than be extracted from them. Yeah, it pisses me off.

Laura Hilliger: [00:17:39] Yeah, but I think that you just said it like the answers are already there. The people are already doing these things, and maybe they’re not big and flashy with like, a very slick website. Um, but there are these initiatives that exist. And I guess my point is exactly what yours is. How can we like how can we find those initiatives, bring them up, and actually, like, help with the problems that they have, which may or may not be funding? To be fair, like, you know, some of these little neighbourhood, uh, nonprofits might have plenty of money to do what they want to do, but what they don’t have is people that are willing to lead, for example, or they don’t. They have enough to, like, support the operations, but they don’t have enough to employ someone, you know?

Doug Belshaw: [00:18:23] Yeah, I theres two things there. I think one is like this culture of volunteerism, which we come up against in the in the open source community and in the co-op community, as if like, there’s there’s something more noble about volunteering than getting paid to do, to do work, which I don’t think is true. And the second thing is there’s like this, this idea. And I think this is especially true in the US, although it’s also true in the UK, um, of like everyone being temporarily embarrassed millionaires and everyone looking up to like looking up in societies like one day I’ll get up there and yes, I want tax breaks for the rich because one day I’m going to be rich, rather than realising that actually what you need is solidarity with with people who are like you, who are working class or lower middle class or whatever it is. And what that means with your example of the library of things is instead of thinking, oh well, I need to be the kind of person who owns my own drill. Recognise that given the climate crisis, which might be the thing which changes the narrative, given kind of the climate emergency, everyone buying their own drill and lawnmower and whatever is kind of pointless and unsustainable. So why don’t we do it through that lens rather than I’m not a very successful person because I don’t own my own drill. That might be a way forward.

Laura Hilliger: [00:19:41] Yeah. So how do we how do we support that vision? Because I think you’re exactly right. And I know that you, as well as I, uh, try to live. I try to live my life in that way, you know, like my. I have a very close relationship with a lot of my neighbours. We share tools. We share skills. Uh, anybody who needs something sanded comes over to our house because we have three different sanders. Do a little bit of woodworking. It’s a thing, um, you know, but my my neighbour is a professional gardener. And when when I need to hack something up, I can go over there and use her industrial size hacker machine. I don’t know what this is called. What? It’s called a Häcksler in German, a CNC. It’s a thing that you put like you put wood into, and then it, uh, becomes mulch. What is this called?

Doug Belshaw: [00:20:31] Oh, a chipper.

Laura Hilliger: [00:20:32] A chipper. Yeah. She’s got like a proper chipper. And people in the neighbourhood can, you know, Chip.

Doug Belshaw: [00:20:38] So. But how do you. How do you find out about that? You don’t necessarily find out.

Doug Belshaw: [00:20:43] You talk to your neighbours. Exactly.

Doug Belshaw: [00:20:45] It’s not like. Oh, well, there’s a website and there’s a database and whatever like that might be as a result of actually talking to your neighbours. But I think that’s the point that Adam was, was saying like the Lifehouse is what did he what did he refer to it as, as a um. As a not ley line. What do I mean? Like a, uh, something point? It’s a, it’s a, it’s an organising point. It’s a place where you can go to where you can go and charge your phone and whatever and conversations go as a result. You don’t go there for the conversation, but you might do eventually because, um, you’re going there for something quite tangible to begin with. Yeah.

Laura Hilliger: [00:21:29] Yeah. The future is local. It is true.

Doug Belshaw: [00:21:34] Yeah. The other thing which I wanted to mention in that kind of vein was that I don’t know if you’ve seen that cities in Europe especially, have started introducing a tax for.

Laura Hilliger: [00:21:45] Oh, I love going to.

Doug Belshaw: [00:21:47] For going to like the city centres.

Laura Hilliger: [00:21:50] Oh. So, um, uh, what’s it I, I’m not sure if it was Vienna or Paris. But there is a city recently, um, that introduced a parking, a new parking fee structure and yeah, SUV Paris. Yeah. So for SUVs, it now costs like €14 an hour to park in the city centre. If you have an SUV and like a, you know, a small two door like compact car costs five bucks an hour or whatever the structure is. And I thought that was really interesting because like everywhere in Europe, outside of the cities, there are always like park and ride parking lots where you can park your car and get on a train and take the train into the city centre like it’s just a thing. We have a very good train system in Europe and every city has like public transportation. And so I think the I like the fact that the that the Europeans are trying to create auto free city centres. Um, it’s, I mean, because it’s, it’s better from a pollution perspective, a crowding perspective. I know in my city there’s a couple of initiatives constantly trying to, um, make it so that there is no driving in the city centre because there’s nowhere to park a, um, it’s super crowded. There’s like bike lanes, you know, bike lanes get parked into cars. Cars take up so much space simply, um, so there’s there’s lots of really good art movements that are going on to like, even in my city, I’ve seen, like, have you seen those tents that look like cars? They’re like a camping tent, but it looks like a car, and it’s the same size as sizes of, of a car. And people have been like putting them in parking spots in the middle of the city, on the streets. And then they just, like, hang out in lawn chairs and like, you know, drink beers and, and they and they’re basically like, you know, this is enough space for us to hang out. And if you know, a car, nobody’s hanging out in a car. So here’s our cool car tent.

Doug Belshaw: [00:23:48] That’s interesting. Yeah, I have seen people saying like the the space that a car takes up, you can have like a bench and a little flower bed and a place, you know, like it’s quite a lot of space if you think about it. Mhm. Um, you know, for people to sit and stuff. Paris was also the place I think we might have mentioned this in a previous episode, but it was also the place where they have got a um, a noise detector which has like the decibel levels and then it can read number plates because they had a real problem with very loud motorbikes waking up thousands of people within a like a square block or whatever it was. Um, but the one that I was, I was looking at, I’ve just been I subscribed to the Guardian Weekly. So I get it in physical form every week. And it’s just arrived and it was talking about, uh, Venice, Amsterdam and somewhere else that’s either introduced a charge, like with Venice or definitely started to discourage or somewhere in Spain must be Madrid started to discourage the kind of behaviours that were becoming synonymous with it. So for example, um, in Madrid, it would be like people crowding in one particular area, or in Rome, for example as well. In Venice it was like people going on the canals. In Amsterdam it was like people, especially from the UK coming in, you know, getting extremely high or extremely drunk or both. Um, and I think that’s interesting, as you say, as things start to go more local, like not relying post-pandemic on tourism because people are staying put more, there’s not as many events for work. Um, and also flying everywhere is just ridiculous for the, for the climate. So it’s that kind of protectionism is going to be quite interesting over the next couple of decades.

Laura Hilliger: [00:25:35] I was just thinking, um, you know, just thinking about the fact that Venice has been discouraging tourism since before the pandemic because essentially, like, you know, millions of tourists would descend on a relatively small piece of land in the sea. Venice is not very big. Um, and they, you know, they were trying to actually save the local environment because the under underneath Venice was essentially crumbling away because of the amount of people that kept coming. And locals had nowhere to go, nowhere to be, because it was just everything built out for tourists. Um.

Laura Hilliger: [00:26:11] Yeah.

Doug Belshaw: [00:26:12] Can you remember the fake news during the pandemic of dolphins returning to Venice?

Laura Hilliger: [00:26:16] Yes, I do remember that. And I, I remember being like, oh really? And then, oh, wait, no fake news.

Doug Belshaw: [00:26:25] Now. Exactly, exactly. Um, what else have you been paying attention to recently?

Laura Hilliger: [00:26:29] I mean, honestly, I haven’t really been paying attention to to much. I, um, you know, while I was off last week and I was in the forest, and whenever I, um, you know, very in the nature, when I come back, I’m, like, pretty zen and kind of it takes me a while to get back into my computer. I’ve been wildly unproductive this week.

Doug Belshaw: [00:26:51] I’ve got loads of stuff for us to talk about, right.

Doug Belshaw: [00:26:55] No, I really have, though, because there’s been such fascinating stuff that I’ve put on thought shrapnel as well. Um, so for example, um.

Doug Belshaw: [00:27:05] There was. Yeah. Let’s not go down the dark, dark rabbit hole. Um, there was this really interesting thing about kind of sports betting being a gateway drug to kind of neoliberal atomisation. That’s probably a little bit too highbrow, but the from someone who suffers from migraines as a migraine heir. There was a really interesting article about someone who was Hildegard of Bingen in the 16th century, who used to illuminate these manuscripts, basically in the style of the auras that you get when you get migraines.

Laura Hilliger: [00:27:42] Absolutely fantastic.

Laura Hilliger: [00:27:45] Do you have a link? I can’t actually even fathom. What that.

Laura Hilliger: [00:27:50] Yeah I’ve seen. Okay.

Doug Belshaw: [00:27:53] So like for anyone who’s listening to this who’s ever had any kind of aura, you see, when you get migraines, you get a very specific one that kind of creeps in. And it it makes things feel a bit like, you know, in the matrix film how things are kind of like a bit weird and wobbly and stuff, but it’s it’s kind of like a more advanced version, I guess, of when you’re really dehydrated. If you’ve ever seen those kind of like, weird flashing lights. Um, but this one’s amazing because it’s like. She she sometimes discounted apparently as a as a mystic um or like this religious experiences that she had because she was a migraineur. People think that she just basically confused. Her migraines with images of God. Which I have never done.

Laura Hilliger: [00:28:46] Neither. No, no. If I if it was an image of anything, then it definitely wouldn’t be God. It’s more like Satan. Um, I mean, yeah. I realised that I actually haven’t had a migraine lately, so guess who’s due?

Doug Belshaw: [00:29:02] Yes, exactly. And another thing which I’ll very happily share is I don’t know if you ever come across this. So I came across this guy. Um. Oh, I’m not gonna be able to find it quickly. Whispers oh, no, I can’t find it. Um, I came across this guy who was really interesting and was experimenting with, like, Midjourney and stuff, but I’ll ignore that for the moment. I came across and so I was like, rabbit holing on his blog and all of his work and whatever. And he’s got access to the alpha of Midjourney, which is super realistic. But that kind of takes me into this idea of consciousness porn. Now, this blog post was so like left field to the kind of stuff that I usually pay attention to that the three examples that this guy gave in the post I’d never heard of. So one was an example of a YouTube channel of someone just walking around with like a Steadicam Tokyo, which is obviously very different. You’ll know this because you’ve been there. Uh, very different to like, the kind of society that I grew up and inhabit. Another one was like a almost like a fortune kind of meme, which was a memetic kind of horror thing. And what was the third one? The third one was like another example. Oh, it was a it was a game, like a race, an illegal race that happens in New York, where people film like illegal bike races through the city. I’d never heard of any of these things. And he was talking about how he listens to techno music while he’s doing this, and it’s like inhabiting someone else’s consciousness. And it made me think about, like, watching other people play video games and all this kind of stuff and how that’s. A massive thing, especially post-pandemic.

Laura Hilliger: [00:30:48] So the definition of I haven’t read this to your listener, but I’m inferring that the definition of consciousness porn is stepping into somebody else’s perspective.

Doug Belshaw: [00:31:00] Yeah, it’s kind of this what he calls this chill phenomenological trippiness. So he feels like he’s experiencing what he calls a mutant art form. So he’s inhabiting someone else’s consciousness and experiencing it as if they were that person, which I guess you get through video games. We, you know, we’ve played Red Dead Redemption two a lot together and other things where you, like, inhabit someone else’s, which it’s a common thing in video games, right? But if you do it through like a YouTube video of something in the real world, like it’s that’s different, I guess.

Laura Hilliger: [00:31:34] Mm.

Doug Belshaw: [00:31:36] I think it’s interesting. The other thing to mention which every episode of everything these days and every article has to mention. I was quite a long article that I read very early this morning by Venkatesh Rao. I never see surname RKO, and he talks about like when we talk about scaling AI, he uses this analogy of skyscrapers and he’s like, if we’re trying to scale AI, which we totally need to do, and you don’t scale to build a 2500 foot skyscraper by using bricks and mortar. Use different materials, use different types of materials, use reinforced concrete, use rebar, use, um, you know, different types of materials and stuff. And he’s talking about this, a gigantic version of AI which learns through muddling through like it’s a it’s an evolutionary kind of idea. And the, the, the, the fascinating thing I found with him talking about this, which I don’t think I’ve put in that thought shrapnel post was that he he basically says at the moment I can’t respond in real time, like they have to be. They have to be, um, like programmed in advance. They have to be trained on data in advance. You can’t they can’t just be constantly being trained on data at the moment, which means that they’re they’re like genetically programmed in a bit like an an ant colony is like an ant doesn’t lay down pheromones, pheromones and stuff because it’s being creative. A bee doesn’t do a dance. It’s being creative like it’s programmed to do that kind of stuff in advance. And so we need to build composite AI models, which are agentic because they have agency and they can interact with one another and learn without humans mediating the world for them, which I thought was amazing.

Laura Hilliger: [00:33:44] I like how when you talk about this stuff, you’re like, we have to. We have to do it this way. Um, which I find. Interesting. Um.

Doug Belshaw: [00:33:54] I Don’t I don’t think we’re putting the AI genie back in the bottle.

Laura Hilliger: [00:33:57] No, no, and I’m not suggesting that we do, but I, uh. I mean. If different models are learning from each other, then the replication of problematic behaviour from AI’s problematic answer is going to be exponential, right? So that like without human interference into what is coming back out and correction. Um, then we’re going to continue to see the kinds of hallucinations and the kinds of, like, outright bullshit. Um, at a much larger scale, I would think.

Doug Belshaw: [00:34:33] Well, I find that I find the bullshit argument interesting. I was talking to my tutor last night about my had a 1 to 1 meeting with my MSC tutor, and she was asking me about my use of AI because she was quite interested in it. And yesterday when I was at the library, I put in, um, all of the articles that I had collected so far and books that I want to kind of go through, and I wanted to find out more. So I put in to GPT four and into Klaud three the list and said, come up with other ones and and both of them. And to to some extent, Klaud three did this more. It made up certain articles, but it didn’t make up all of them. So I actually came up with ones which I wouldn’t have come across by myself. Yeah. Mhm. Now it’s not like bullshit and fake news and disinformation doesn’t exist in the world. That’s why our AI models, which are trained on human data, are racist and misogynistic and make shit up like that’s part of the reason anyway. So for me it’s like reading this article. I didn’t agree with all of it. I didn’t understand all of it because it’s very long and quite technical in places. But my my understanding is that instead of having humans mediate the world. It’s obtains some kind of like personhood in inverted commas, without kind of. That scary notion by being. And again, embodiment is a weird word to use in this sense, but it can, it can. An eye can experience the world without having to go through a human’s experience first.

Laura Hilliger: [00:36:06] Mhm.

Doug Belshaw: [00:36:08] So, for example, instead of taking a human’s measurement of a thing, it can measure it itself. Instead of having a human like being trained on a human’s description of what something is like, it can try and experience it itself. Now, obviously it’s not a human being, but it can experience the world different senses in different ways and whatever. And that’s going to be interesting. And I’m not saying it’s going to have a a privileged view and a better view, because that would be. What do people call that? That’s almost like wanting to take us to the rapture and like, you know, robots take over the world. That’s not what I’m talking about at all. But it enables a different form of problem solving, which doesn’t. Like beg the question because it’s trained on the very data that got us into this mess. Like it can potentially solve the climate crisis by not being trained on. Oops. By not being trained on human data. I’m going in circles here, but you can kind of see what I’m saying.

Laura Hilliger: [00:37:14] Well, I think it’s really interesting because like, uh, humans, we do like to control things. Uh, so, like, as you were talking there and you were talking about AI, you know, basically having its own experience not filtered through the lens of a human like nature does that all of the time. And we still exact our control over every living thing on the planet. Uh, however we want to. Um, and I think it’s it’s a interesting philosophical thread to, to to follow. Like what? What would that actually mean when something can communicate with us, um, in a way that we understand much better than the way that other things communicate. So, like, if I think about, you know, like plants communicate with us, and if you have house plants, if you have a garden, um, you know, when your plant is not doing well because it doesn’t have the appropriate environment, it’s going to tell you its leaves turn brown, it shrivels up, it says, hey, I could really use some water. And if you’re a human that can actually speak to plants and then you, you know, you listen to it. I’m thinking of this article I read a decade ago. It’s probably the most, uh, shared article. I’m sure I’ve sent it to you, uh, before most shared from me. I mean, um, it was called The Secret Life of Plants, and it was about a number of experimental experiments that they did, I think, in a university in Florence, uh, where botanists were essentially trying to understand how plants work like.

Laura Hilliger: [00:38:45] And they used words like learning, communicate, collaborate, etc.. And then there was this big to do in the scientific community because they said plants don’t have brains, they can’t communicate, they can’t learn like this is the wrong language to be using. But like as we have seen since that article, which as I said, is a good ten years old, um, plants do communicate and they do learn. And like there are underground neural networks of roots which have nothing to do with neurones. But, um, there’s like a forest is an ecosystem. It communicates like trees communicate. Uh, a tree can send nutrients to other trees, whether it’s their species or not, through these underground networks of roots. It’s super fascinating. This is all like the natural world communicating with us. And even though we know that we’re still deforesting deforesting like there’s no tomorrow, we’re still driving climate change. And I think it’s really interesting that you bring climate change in and, you know, say that I could help us solve it. We already know what the solves are. We just refuse to do them like.

Doug Belshaw: [00:39:54] yeah, but, yeah. So there’s that article that you have shared with me several times. Um, I think I don’t know if it was written by the same person, but I started reading The Mushroom at the End of the world, which talks about how trees can use mycelium networks for mushrooms as as messengers. Like and actually. Places and forests and, and and environments which have this mycelium network. The trees do a lot better because they can signal to each other using that network. So I mean, if you think about it, that’s kind of an alien network, really, and it’s completely beyond, as you’re saying, like it’s it’s it’s using words which we talk about like in human communication in a very different way. And it’s, it’s very it’s not scary because it’s out there in the world like it already exists and it’s not threatening us, whereas we think that AI is is threatening because we’ve got this kind of dystopian narrative based on on films and stuff. And what what Venkateshwar was saying is that we can’t really build this. Um, artificial. General intelligence out of the tools that we’ve currently got. Like, it just it can’t work. Sam Altman might be asking for trillions of dollars to build this thing, but you wouldn’t be able to build that thing in a monolithic way anyway. You’d have to build it in a kind of decentralised, different agents talking to each other kind of thing. As soon as you do that well, you can put different agencies, human agencies in charge of those different AIS. They can talk to each other. You can give them different kind of personalities, like one’s very risk averse or the ones like you can do all that kind of stuff. It’s much more as he’s talking about a genetic rather than pre-programmed and, um, like a genetic approach. So I find that really interesting. I need to think more about it. But it’s another example why you need not just engineers. But you need philosophers in these kinds of spaces, right?

Laura Hilliger: [00:41:53] Mm. Yeah. I’m gonna have to. I’m gonna have to actually read the article we’re talking about.

Doug Belshaw: [00:41:58] Yes, it’s very long. And there’s a bit in the middle which I was struggling to understand. So it’s very technical, but you can skip it and and it’s it’s all good. Um, so there we are. Um, I think we should probably end things about here. Is there anything else that you want to say before we finish?

Laura Hilliger: [00:42:20] Um, I not really. I mean, I’m just wondering what, um, I phobia is called. I mean, not that I have it. I’m just curious because I remember reading an article recently that there is a new, uh, phobia in the like that the psychiatrist psychologists in the world have decided to name. And it’s a phobia of not having your phone, and it’s called nomophobia, and it’s literally the I think I probably sent you a thing about it. So I’m wondering what, um, like if there will be a framework of phobias surrounding. I like people who are afraid of general I versus, you know, people who are afraid of I that exists in gas station fuelling fuelling stations versus people who are afraid of AI in their home. It feels like. It feels like an area ripe for phobias and I am quite.

Doug Belshaw: [00:43:15] It would be very easy to say, oh well, what most people call AI is actually machine learning, but actually the start of the word anxiety. And you only need to put another AI in there. And it’s a anxiety AI anxiety.

Doug Belshaw: [00:43:29] Which is very difficult to say.

Laura Hilliger: [00:43:32] Um, okay. Well, I don’t know if we’ll ever publish this, but, um, way to go on. Having a full on teardown of Adobe at the beginning. Um, shifting gears into how we build hyper local communities that are, you know, full of solidarity, compassion and support and then ending with AI phobias being coined AI anxiety.

Doug Belshaw: [00:43:57] And on that bombshell, um, that’s it for this series, I think.

Laura Hilliger: [00:44:01] No, no, this is only episode five.

Doug Belshaw: [00:44:04] Oh, okay.

Doug Belshaw: [00:44:04] We’ve got one more. There we go.

Laura Hilliger: [00:44:06] All right. Bye!

Doug Belshaw: [00:44:07] Bye!