I recently invited Steven Johnson, author if Emergence and Tom Malone, the Director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence to join a conversation about Emergence over Authority, one of the principles in our new book Whiplash. This was part of a series of experiments that we are conducting in the Facebook group for the book. We used a software system call Soapbox.tv to stream the video to Facebook Live.
Karole describes herself as a former "punk ballerina" and through dance and movement is able to connect so many interesting ideas and worlds. She's already started to actively collaborate with a number of people at the Lab. In this conversation we discuss some of those collaborations as well as some new ideas.
John Brockman's EDGE asks a tough question every year. For 2017 the question was "What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely know?" My answer was:
Humans have diversity in neurological conditions. While some, such as autism are considered disabilities, many argue that they are the result of normal variations in the human genome. The neurodiversity movement is an international civil rights movement that argues that autism shouldn't be "cured" and that it is an authentic form of human diversity that should be protected.
In the early 1900s eugenics and the sterilization of people considered genetically inferior were scientifically sanctioned ideas, with outspoken advocates like Theodore Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger, Winston Churchill and US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. The horror of the Holocaust, inspired by the eugenics movement, demonstrated the danger and devastation these programs can exact when put into practice.
Temple Grandin, an outspoken spokesperson for autism and neurodiversity argues that Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Mozart and Nikola Tesla would have been diagnosed on the "autistic spectrum" if they had been alive today. She also believes that autism has long contributed to human development and that "without autism traits we might still be living in caves." Today, non-neurotypical children often suffer through a remedial programs in the traditional educational system only to be discovered to be geniuses later. Many of these kids end up at MIT and other research institutes.
With the discovery of CRISPR the possibility of editing the human genome at scale has suddenly become feasible. The initial applications that are being developed involve the "fixing" of genetic mutations that cause debilitating diseases, but they are also taking us down a path with the potential to eliminate not only autism but much of the diversity that makes human society flourish. Our understanding of the human genome is rudimentary enough that it will be some time before we are able to enact complex changes that involve things like intelligence or personality, but it's a slippery slope. I saw a business plan a few years ago that argued that autism was just "errors" in the genome that could be identified and "corrected" in the manner of "de-noising" a grainy photograph or audio recording.
Clearly some children born with autism are in states that require intervention and have debilitating issues. However, our attempts to "cure" autism, either through remediation or eventually through genetic engineering, could result in the eradication of a neurological diversity that drives scholarship, innovation, arts and many of the essential elements of a healthy society.
We know that diversity is essential for healthy ecosystems. We see how agricultural monocultures have created fragile and unsustainable systems.
My concern is that even if we figure out and understand that neurological diversity is essential for our society, I worry that we will develop the tools for designing away any risky traits that deviate from the norm, and that given a choice, people will tend to opt for a neuro-typical child.
As we march down the path of genetic engineering to eliminate disabilities and disease, it's important to be aware that this path, while more scientifically sophisticated, has been followed before with unintended and possibly irreversible consequences and side-effects.
Andre and Karthik were both took the Principles in Awareness class that Tenzin Priyadarshi and I taught twice over the last few years. They both independently became interested in connecting the idea of non-duality and artificial intelligence. We'd been Slacking and chatting and thinking about the topic so I invited Andre over for lunch the other day and Skyped Karthik in from India and did a Facebook Live about the topic.
The next step is to write up a short post about the idea. :-)
I first met Virginia in 2015 when she and I were on a panel with Fareed Zarkaria at the Connecticut Forum. Late last year, she and Panio from Heleo reached out to see if I'd join Virginia in a conversation over Skype. Heleo "curates compelling, candid conversations between writers and thinkers about their work, research, and interests." You can see their great summary of the conversation on their website.
Virginia and I had recently gotten each other's books and a wide ranging but super-fun conversation ensued. It definitely left me excited to talk to Virginia again and expanded the perspective - thinking about the Internet in the context of art and design - that she covers in her book. We talk about the media, the Internet (yes, I still capitalize "Internet"), design, art, culture and many other things.
Also, as I explore various modes of publishing conversations online, I find it fascinating running into others exploring this space too.
I recently had a Facebook Live conversation with Shaka Senghor, a Media Lab Director's Fellow and author. Shaka spent 19 years in prison for second-degree murder. In prison Shaka found a path to redemption initially through reading and then writing. I met him just after he had come out of prison. You can read more about this in the foreword to his book that I wrote.
Shaka's an amazing leader, writer, inspiration and an important voice behind the fight against the systematic mass incarceration in the US.
I had my third podcast conversation with Michael Harren for his podcast Mikeypod and streamed it on Facebook while recording it for my own podcast (iTunes/Soundcloud). My first podcast co-production!
(I sometimes call him Mikey because of his podcast name, but I think I'm supposed to call him Michael.) Michael is an activist, vegan and loves animals. We've inspired each other over the years and it was great to catch up with him after he read Whiplash. We talked about podcasting, veganism and lots of other stuff.