For our 10th episode of Future Brunch, we celebrated with a special "Ask Us Anything". This one was fun, we answered questions on how to find good news, how to stop feeling overwhelmed by the bad news, whether we think it's a good idea to have children, the power of scientific collaboration, things that have surprised us in 2020, the list goes on... oh! and we even gave away some prizes :)

There's a full transcript of the conversation below.


Tane:

Hi everyone, I'm Tane.

Gus:

I'm Gus.

Tane:

We're the co-founders of Future Crunch, welcome!

Gus:

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening. Wherever you are, it's brunch somewhere. We're really excited to be doing this. It's our first ever ask us anything. Before we go any further, we want to acknowledge that we are broadcasting to you today on the traditional lands of the First Nations people of Australia. This is stolen land. Where we are in Melbourne, this includes the lands of the Bunnurong, Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation. They're named for the place that we're broadcasting in, Fitzroy, was in Ngar'go. We would like to acknowledge their Elders, past, present and emerging. To acknowledge that we are on beautiful land and we are privileged to be able to learn from such an incredible culture. The oldest continuous living cultures on planet Earth.

Tane:

We don't know how this is going to go. We might have some prizes for the weirdest and most confronting question that you ask us. Just keep that in mind.

Tane:

All right well if you don't mind, I'd like to start with this question from Jan. Gus, what has surprised you the most in 2020?

Gus:

What has surprised me the most about 2020? I think what surprised me the most and it shouldn't have, but what has surprised me the most is the utter incompetence of people in power. I think this year, has taught me - and this is something that I've experienced in various different parts of my professional career - that no one's really in charge. We have this idea that people in positions of power are somehow better or smarter or cleverer or somehow more together. I think what this year has taught me is that everyone is winging it. Especially in European countries, some South American countries and of course the United States, the incompetence from elected officials has just been absolutely breathtaking. It shows that the people who are in power often don't really have a handle on the best way to manage things. That is both a terrifying thought but it's also quite comforting to understand that no one's really in charge and that we are all in this together.

If you told me at the beginning of this year that a pandemic was going to hit, I would have said to you that public health officials the world, after decades of experience, would have been able to handle this quite well. Yet we haven't been able to handle it well at all. That's come as a real surprise. That being said, it also shows where people have been competent. In countries like Australia and New Zealand, many African countries, and certainly in a lot of Southeast Asian countries, I think we've seen competence really shine through. It really shows. I think this year has exposed the gap between those who say they're in charge and know what they're doing and those who really do.

Tane:

Well I think the people in power, their main problem is they've been guided a lot by political economists and I think that's where they first get it wrong.

Gus:

Thanks Tane. Touché.

Tane:

As a scientist, what surprised me the most in 2020 is that I actually went into this year feeling quite dark about science. I do a lot of research and what really frustrated me so much is the lack of sharing and collaboration with scientists. You would think it should just be about knowledge and sharing information for the betterment of humanity. There are politics and a lot of money flies around there. One of the biggest surprises was that the pandemic brought scientists together. Never before have they worked so fast, so well together and shared so much incredible research and knowledge and resources, to come up with a vaccine and create solutions to save thousands and thousands of lives.

While it's been a terrible year, I think scientists and the medical professionals out there have really done a stunning job. It shows you that countries that listen to science and to public health officials have fared a lot better. That totally floored me. I actually went in with a pretty dark cloud over my head about research, especially in the medical field. That has completely changed. While there is a current war going on between anti-science and science, it's very clear, especially on a global scale, which is the better path, especially if you want to save lives rather than just maintain the status quo.

Gus:

Do you think that this kind of collaborative spirit or this collaborative approach, do you think that's going to stay in place after the pandemic?

Tane:

Well I hope so. We have short term memories. I hope it doesn't, but what it shows is that it can be done and this is a great example. It's on a global scale, so people hopefully will expect this and people will vote for this and medial professionals and the research grants and where the money is funneled will reflect this. I really hope it stays in place, but I think this is a great example of what can be done.

Gus:

Yeah you're right. The pace of vaccine development has just been absolutely mind blowing. At the beginning of this year, we wrote an article called A Decade of Vaccines, which was all about the amazing progress that we made with vaccines in the last decade and how many lives we've saved. In researching that article, one of the things that really surprised me was how difficult it is to actually develop a vaccine. It took them decades, for example, to get the Ebola vaccine across the line. And that was an amazing medical accomplishment that saved tens of thousands of lives. This is on a whole other scale though. To see a vaccine go from zero to stage three trials, which are where all the big, global vaccines are now, and to be potentially released to the public in the space of 12 to 13 months, that is just the most extraordinary, human achievement. I think when that vaccine does come out, hopefully, if it does come out, I think that will be an amazing thing for all humans to celebrate.

Tane:

I could go really deep into the science and all the new, cutting edge methods they're using but we'll save that because this is about your questions. Should we take one from Paul?

Gus:

Sure.

Tane:

Paul says, "What do you see as the greatest challenges in trying to build collective responses to macro scale challenges? How can the different sectors, public for profit, et cetera, make sure they're doing their parts?" You want to have a crack?

Gus:

Okay, there's two answers to this question. These two answers really encapsulate our approach at Future Crunch. It's two theories of change that we have. The first theory is that all change is local. That might sound kind of counterintuitive, especially when we're in the middle of a global pandemic and we have a global effort to try and develop a vaccine or we're facing global challenges like climate change or we're talking about a global financial system that is incredibly precarious or we're talking about big economic systems like capitalism.

Gus:

However, if you're a person that's trying to create change, if you want to change the world, or you want to make the world a better place, that becomes totally overwhelming. It feels like too much for one person to handle. I personally cannot save all the planet's forests, so therefore why bother starting it in the first place.

Real change though, if you look at successful conservation efforts, you look at successful clean energy efforts, you look at social justice movements, you look at gender equality movements. All of those big movements all started at the local scale. Social justice for example, doesn't start with changing humanity's attitudes towards the patriarchy or towards race. It starts with changing attitudes within your local sphere of influence. That can be as immediate as your family and friends and then you scale it up from there. I think when you take these big change problems on at a local scale, they become suddenly a lot more manageable.

The second part of the answer is a guiding philosophy of Future Crunch, which is that you don't change things by changing the existing reality, to change things you build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. That is a quote by Buckminster Fuller. It's on all of our merchandise, because it's such a powerful idea. That's why we love technology so much, engineering, technology.

Tane:

And science.

Gus:

And science! Because those disciplines are about attempting to create something new that makes the old model obsolete. The beautiful thing about doing that is that instead of fighting the status quo, you just kind of slip outside that slipstream and you say, "Look, I'm just going to build something that's better over here." That's a much better way to create change, in our opinion.

My favorite example of that is of course clean energy . We've been fighting to try and stop carbon emissions for 50 years now and yet the thing that's actually allowing us to turn the corner isn't the political fight and trying to tell people to consume less or try to tell people to change their lifestyles, it's that we've created new technologies that make the existing model obsolete. When you combine those two things together - change is always local and building a new model that makes the existing model obsolete, you kind of get Future Crunch, I guess.

Tane:

Yeah, but with the hope to have an effect on the global level. Glocalization. Think global and also act local. I think that's really important. It has a bit of, it's become a dirty word using by radical environmentalists, but I think what people forget, it's like the Tanzanian proverb. Little by little becomes a lot. That is so important. For example, South Australia last month for the first time 100% ran the electricity on solar energy alone. Over 70% of that came from households, individuals adding to the grid. That is huge. It made quite a large change, but from a lot of small, local acts.

Gus:

Okay, we've got some more questions. Paul, that was a tough question by the way. I'm glad you asked in advance. I'm not quite sure we would have been able to figure that one out on the fly.

Tane:

Gus stayed up all night trying to figure that one out.

Gus:

All right, more questions please folks. We'd love to answer them. If you have any questions for us, please let us know. All right, we've got some more. Tane, we've got a question here from Allie. How do you manage to stay upbeat with so much bad news?

Tane:

The best way is to not consume so much of it. Be very wary when you're consuming bad news. We like to think about how we consume information and news in the form of a diet. Just the same way we look at food, the same way we have an exercise regime. When you're consuming information, you want to search out for information and news that actually inspires you, that nourishes you. Stuff that gets you out of bed in the morning. Because what happens is, is we mainly unconsciously just consume a fire hose of negative information. What that does over time is it makes you feel really apathetic and really negative about the world. That doesn't inspire change. Instead, ask yourself, "What can you use to feed yourself?" Where are the whole grains, the nuts, the fruit, all the good carbs?

If you're looking for a place to start, we have blogs that were written earlier last year about information diet with a bunch of resources out there, about where we get our information as well. Think about it, you've got to exercise, you've got to actually, consciously make an effort to eat better, and the same is true for your information consumption. One thing that changed my life for example, was creating social media feeds and following people from around the world.

I just created a new Twitter account and started following people from every country, every major continent and every race, every gender, every sexual orientation, even many religions. I love comedians too, especially in different cultures and different religions because comedians have really interesting insight. They make it fun, a little less negative. If you do that and across the political spectrum, from all over the world, you suddenly get a very different information feed. That really opens your mind. It gets away from all the bullshit that's out there, that's designed as click bait to get your attention and also to make you, eyes fixed, feel bad and do nothing.

Gus:

I would answer this a different way. I do get overwhelmed by the bad news. I actually consume quite a lot of mainstream media - in researching and writing the newsletters, I have to read everything. Sometimes I just can't tear my eyes away. I do get overwhelmed. I read about environmental destruction and the roll back of democracy and the rise of authoritarianism and ecological collapse and I read about social justice movements being set back... the bad news kind of comes at you and you can hold it off for a while and then you just get to this point where it becomes so overwhelming that you despair for the fate of humanity and for the fate of the planet. That can leave me feeling totally helpless and feeling like we're never going to solve it though.

What helps is having to write the newsletter. In a sense, Future Crunch is the medicine that I need, for myself. Actively researching and seeking out stories of change and good news doesn't make the bad news go away, but it balances it out. It says to me, the world is actually a very complicated place. There are terrible things happening, but there are also incredible things happening and a whole range of other things in between and there are tens of thousands of stories happening simultaneously, from every corner of the planet, from 7.7 billion people.

When I actively research the good news and stories of change, it makes me realize that I'm only being fed the bad news from  the media channels we all usually rely on. You have to seek out the stories of good news and changes, whereas the stories of bad news come at you unbidden. If you can somehow manage to balance them out, that means that you can read the bad news but you can also counteract that with the good news. It doesn't mean that we're always upbeat, but it means that we feel level as opposed to just feeling completely in the hole and totally overwhelmed all the time.

Putting your head in the sand and ignoring the bad news altogether is not, for me personally an answer. Instead, the answer is to balance it out with good news and stories of change. That's how I stop from being completely overwhelmed.

Tane:

Yeah, also remember you can fall off the bandwagon and get on the negative side, it's really easy. But just keep reiterating, do it again. Just like a diet or just like exercise. No one is perfect. Also there's junk media out there. Go check out the cat videos or whatever excites you or silly Instagram photos. TikTok dancing, that is fine. It's like eating a pint of ice cream at midnight or a whole bag of chips. That's fine.

But just remember you can't do that all the time. The same thing is true with negative news. Junk and negative news are most of the information diet that most people consume. That balance is a tricky one and it is a constant journey. Just be conscious of how you're consuming your information. Gus and I get it wrong all the time. We get depressed and we often have to bring each other out of the deep, dark, murky depths all the time. That's why it's nice working with someone who is on the journey with you. People that you can surround yourself with that engage in good, quality information that uplifts you is also an important thing to do.

Gus:

That's a good idea, actually. Find a good news buddy, somebody you can call when you're in the pit of despair and say just give me something.

Tane:

Yeah, it's an important thing to have. You need help. You can't do it alone.

Gus:

Oh, and that fun thing is sharing good news with other people is like a double whammy. When you actually pass good news on, it goes out and comes back to you again. Not only do you consume it, but when you share it, you become a vector for sharing and spreading those stories. That really, really helps. I know that's certainly true for me.

Gus:

All right, we've got some more questions. We've got a question here from Ian. He's asked, does bringing children into the world these days fill you with excitement or trepidation or both? I know what Tane's going to answer.

Tane:

Yeah, yes. 100% yes.

Gus:

We're going to throw this question back at the rest of you. You'll see over here there's a little poll down at the bottom of the screen there. Is bringing children into the world something that should fill people with trepidation or excitement? Please answer in the poll over here. We'd love to get your answers and we'll come back to the question and tell you our opinion on that as well. Of course, we will just obviously go with whatever the crowd answers, because we're democratic like that.

Tane:

Yes, we're so democratic.

Gus:

Are you going to rig the polls?

Tane:

Yeah, I'm rigging it right now.

Gus:

I just want you to know that any answers that come in after the election deadline on that poll may or may not be counted, depending on the Supreme Court over here.

Tane:

I'm already filing a lawsuit.

Gus:

All right, some more questions...

Tane:

Sorry, I want to quickly say hi to Helen from Hobart, Courtney from California. There's people all over the world tuning in. Whatever time in the world it is for you, thank you so much for your time and lots of love coming from us.

Gus:

All right, a question here from Paul. What is a recent good news story that you wish more people knew about Tane?

Tane:

That is a really, really good question. I think there's two that immediately come to mind. The first is the amazing stuff happening in renewable energy around the world and most recently in Australia. I know there's political in-fighting but it's just, it's absolutely so clear. Solar energy, even with production costs and integrating it into the grid is now the cheapest energy that we have on planet Earth. Look, solar energy right behind us. We're filled with it. We're just taking a book from nature, biomimicry, to take energy from the sun.

The other big one I think for public health, which might actually save as many thousands and thousands if not hundreds of thousands of lives is how many people have stopped smoking during the COVID-19 crisis.

Gus:

Oh, nice one.

Tane:

It's going to have huge ramifications down the line. I'm in cancer research, and dealing with less people having lung cancer? That's really exciting. Especially the youth are quitting. That's going to have effects for decades. Not something that's talked about a lot.

Gus:

Those were good answers.

Tane:

How about you?

Gus:

The smoking one was a really good answer.

Tane:

It's going to have effects for years.

Gus:

In the United Kingdom, haven't a million people have given up smoking since the beginning of the year?

Tane:

Yeah, it's amazing. The stats, I mean they vary in different countries, but even in Australia we've seen over a 20% drop in the amount of people smoking.

Gus:

Wow.

Tane:

Yeah, so big tobacco, they're shaking in their boots.

Gus:

2020 has not been a great year for many of us, but I'll tell you who it's been a really, really shitty year for. Big tobacco and big oil and fossil fuels. They are having a terrible year.

Gus:

All right, I think I'm stalling. What is a recent good news story that I wish more people knew about? Well, it's that I think human beings are doing great on global pandemics. I'll explain. The COVID-19 pandemic gets our attention because it's fast, swift, highly infectious, it spreads very, very quickly and it's a new disease. It's novel. Anything that's new, fast and infectious is very, very scary.

Here's the thing though. In the past 30 years, humanity has been dealing with multiple concurrent epidemics that are way worse than COVID-19. AIDS has killed something like 32 million people. Tuberculosis, malaria, we've been dealing with for centuries. Multiple infectious diseases. Those diseases haven't gone away, it's just that we've been dealing with them over a longer time period. Most of those diseases, with the exception of AIDS, are diseases that already existed when we were born, so we don't think of them necessarily as scary or terrifying, but they've killed far more people, they are far more pernicious, they are far more difficult to get rid of.

Our success, especially in the last 15 years or so in tackling those big, global epidemics, tuberculosis, AIDS, meningitis..

Tane:

Polio.

Gus:

Yes! Polio. Our fight against these diseases has been incredibly successful in the 21st century. The number of lives that we've saved as a result of tackling those epidemics is in the hundreds of millions. At the risk of sounding totally utilitarian...

Tane:

Political economist.

Gus:

Yeah, it's not really a way that human beings should be.

Tane:

That's what matters.

Gus:

If you're looking at numbers alone, COVID-19 looks like it's going to probably kill between, depending on how the vaccine goes, between 1.5 million to 3.5million people, which is terrible. That is absolutely awful. However, at the height of the AIDS pandemic, AIDS was killing 1.5 million people every year. Most of those people were black or brown, so people in the West didn't pay much attention to it, but that doesn't make it any less of a disaster for humanity.

So, my answer to this, what is the best recent good news story, assuming that recent means in the last decade? That humanity has been very successful at tackling global pandemics. It's just that we've been tackling those on a much bigger scale over a slower period of time and those pandemics haven't gotten as much attention in the West.

Tane:

I couldn't agree more. A lot of these public health wins are volunteer led by the way, especially in Africa and the Middle East. Volunteers are the ones who've been giving out vaccines and preventative health measures to remote villages and educating the community. Again, that's a sign of glocalization or local action having global effects.

Tane:

Allie is asking, what's the quirkiest good news story you've discovered? I love this one too. For me, it's that there's a seaweed that cuts cow farts by 90%. Or cow burps. Methane. When added to cow feed, it could have a huge effect. It was actually created here in Australia. For countries that have such a big agricultural and livestock component to their economies, that could have a huge effect. If even a small percentage of farmers use this feed with their livestock, the reduction in emissions would be the equivalent of getting 50 to 100 million cars off the road. That's already in the pipeline in the next five to 10 years. I think that's pretty cool, and pretty quirky.

Gus:

I really love the Interceptor that's being built by The Ocean Cleanup organization. You might have heard of Boyan Slat, he was a teenager when he came up with this idea to clean the world's oceans. He created this big boom that was going to clean up plastic in the oceans. It's been a very difficult engineering challenge though. They're still working on it but unfortunately they've hit some problems.

In the meantime, they've been very smart and said, OK 90% of plastic in the oceans comes from 10 rivers and nine of those rivers are in Asia. They've said, "Let's actually look at the problem with an engineer's mindset. If we can stop the plastic from those 10 rivers going into the oceans, that's going to have a far bigger effect than any plastic bans or cleaning up plastic once it gets to the ocean."

So they've invented this thing called the Interceptor, which is basically just a long boom and as the water's coming down the river, all the plastic gets shuttled via the boom into a garbage collecting machine. It's all automated. It goes into a pick-up truck ready container. Then the pick-up truck just has to drive onto the platform, pickup the container and take it away. I think it's such an ingenious solution. It's so smart in the way that it tackles the problem right at the bottleneck. I wish we had more of those kinds of solutions.

Tane:

The good thing about that is that it doesn't mess with the environment. Fish can still go upriver to their breeding grounds. It's a great solution to a huge environment problem.

Gus:

Yep. All right, we've got some more problems over here. Sorry, not problems. We've got some more questions. Solutions.

Tane:

Questions that we will provide solutions to.

Gus:

Yes, what he said.

Tane:

All right, this is a good one.

Gus:

What would you advise Trump, Biden to concentrate on in the coming years, vis-a-vis current worldwide problems?

Tane:

Global warming and clean energy. I think those are the biggest ones. Yes, there's also the vaccine, but that's happening on a global scale. They should definitely of course work on it and pursue a COVID-19 vaccine, but it's really hard to get away from global warming and clean energy, because that has the ability to make the world better, not only for human beings but for all our planetary roommates. All of the plants and the animals that we share this beautiful rock and space with.

Gus:

Whoever the president is, he'll be the head of what is still the most respected and most powerful democracy in the world. I think one of the things that's really been missing from the last four years is that the United States, instead of leading by the power of example, has been leading by the example of power. The problem with this is that it puts us into a world that's a zero sum game, where the gains of one come at the expense of another.

What's been missing the last four years is a collaborative approach to big, global problems and the complete abdication of the United States from the world stage. The leaving of the Paris Accord, cutting funding to the WHO, what on earth is up with that? The whittling away of democracy domestically has had a knock-on effect around the world. Authoritarianism is on the rise. People who are willing to exercise naked hard power... there's not as much of a check on their power as there used to be.

What we're looking for from the United States is a return to being a country that practices democracy and that shows the rest of the world that democracy is the way forward. What's quite encouraging is that Biden, if he wins, says that he's going to convene a council of democracies from around the world. I think that's a very important first step towards stopping the rise of authoritarianism and providing a counterbalance. It's a return to an international order that relies on cooperation rather than competition to solve our big problems.

We're not naïve. That's not going to be something that's super easy to do. It's certainly not going to get rid of problems like North Korea or China or Russia and it's not going to solve climate change or global warming overnight. What it does though, is it puts us back on track to be able to tackle those problems over a longer time period. I think just stopping the bleeding and getting the United States to return to being a democratic example, I think will make a huge difference.

Gus:

One nominee is definitely going to do that, one nominee is definitely not going to do that. I will be sitting on the edge of my seat for the next four days. I'm probably not going to sleep watching those results come in. I'm worried.

Tane:

I'm actually going to do the opposite. I'm going to turn it off because you're just going to find out the answer when it comes. I'm telling my mother to back off from it too, because her and my father actually live part of the time in New Mexico in the United States.

Also... I would like to change my answer about what I think the next president should focus on.

Gus:

This is a science-friendly forum, you're allowed to change your mind, change your answers and backtrack on anything that you say so we're good.

Tane:

Yeah, admit when you're wrong.

I think misinformation is one of the biggest problems facing the world. I think that is a layer over our democracy, it's a layer over authoritarian regimes as well. I think if we could make a worldwide committee that actually fact checks information. In the same way that sending people harmful physical things has consequences, sending harmful information should have a consequence too. It doesn't do anyone any good. Currently it's just open season in the world of information. I mean, you can name the obvious ones like Q Anon, but it's not just conspiracy theories.

Misinformation and the big news organizations spreading that information and also artificial intelligence algorithms doing it at mass scale, leads to less action on climate change, leads to authoritarian regimes, more people getting richer, resources not going to the right place. Misinformation about the pandemics could lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. I would say if we can focus on misinformation and reducing it as much as possible, I think that could have a huge effect on the world.

Gus:

That'll be really easy to convene a global council where everyone agrees on what's good information and what's misinformation. Piece of cake.

Tane:

I mean, as long as it's true...

Gus:

But what is true Tane?

Tane:

Well if it can be replicated and there's evidence for it and enough people come together that are experts in the field and don't completely disagree, then yeah. That's true.

Gus:

That's a pretty good answer actually. All right, economics question. Thank you very much, Paul.

Tane:

And thanks Jim for the last question.

Gus:

Right, economics question. "Are there practical options, apart from exporting clean energy, for Australia to diversify its exports? Our education exports have collapsed this year and just about everything else is fancy pants for others."

Yes. There are definitely options. The future of the global economy is in three main areas. One of them is in digital technologies and from digital technologies moving into cognitive technologies. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, so an entire sphere of digital technologies. The second sphere is clean energy and Paul's already covered that as an export. Then the third is biomedical and medical technologies.

Australia currently has really great research and really great capabilities in all three areas, but it has a government that is utterly incompetent and has no industrial strategy to speak of. Resource led growth is not going to be the answer for the next 20 to 30 years, especially if we get into trade disputes with China and China decides to cut off its largest... Australia's largest export markets. Apparently that's happened this morning. Relying on China to export fancy rocks is certainly not the future, not just for Australia but for any country really. With one exception by the way, which is lithium. I won't get into that. But these three areas, digital technologies, clean energy, biomedical research and biomedical technologies, that's the future. As soon as governments can start investing more into those areas and stop giving subsidies towards sunset industries and industries of the 20th century, the sooner Australia's going to be able to move forward successfully into the 21st century. Right now, there seems to be no strategy to speak of whatsoever in that area.

Tane:

Yeah, I would just add one more to that, because we're total space geeks. I think having a space port in Australia and developing some of the technology, for example digital communications, manufacturing, all of that kind of stuff, is a great place for Australia to invest in. And they currently are. I think it's the Australian Space, I want to say Society, but the acronym would be ASS, so I think that is not correct. However, an Australian space+ could be - industry is huge and they're already working on it. That would mean local jobs, great manufacturing, high-tech, skilled manufacturing as well as a global platform for people to come and launch their rockets from.

Gus:

Yeah and not 20th century manufacturing.

Tane:

No, no, no.

Gus:

Yeah, we're talking about advanced, 21st century manufacturing and Australia punches well above its weight there. It's terrible government support for it there.

All right, great question here from Jan. Can you comment on how ethics are required with artificial intelligence? Tane, as a machine learning geek, as a cancer scientist that uses artificial intelligence in your day to day work, that is a definite question for you.

Tane:

All right, I will answer this in two ways. First of all, I think we need a Hippocratic Oath for machine learning and artificial intelligence. In the same way medical professionals and doctors have to say, "First I shall do no harm." I think that's a very good place to start. Start with a basic, fundamental, moral compass when you're dealing with machine learning and AI and not just profit driven and because it's cool and you can go viral.

The second I would say is diversity by design. Now diversity is so important. If you have a bunch of essentially white, male, Silicon Valley tech-bros who are pretty young and they're throwing up powerful...

Gus:

They don't even have beards. They don't count.

Tane:

Yeah, I know, if you can't even grow a beard then you shouldn't be writing machine learning! More seriously, I think that's a big problem. It's homogenous and it creates a lot of biases. That can be very damaging. I mean, I'm sure you've heard a lot of the biases when they're trying to use AI in the judicial system and trialling people, predicting crime prediction. More dangerous ones. Code is bias. First of all, human beings, we're biased, whether we like to believe it or not. We all have our cognitive and our racial and our cultural and our religious biases. But when we write code and we're not aware of those biases, then we actually impregnate that into the code.

Then the data also matters. If we take biased data from example a prejudiced culture, like the criminal justice system in the United States where it's heavily put against certain socio-economic and gender types, then I think you have, and racial types, then you're going to have a really biased algorithm. I think diversity by design, you need coders that are across all spectrums of race, socio-economic because code can be taught online. That diversity by design within coding will not only reduce our biases but allow us to pick up unconscious biases that have been placed into the code earlier so they can do far less damage. Just keep that process going. The more diverse, the better.

An interesting note on code in general, it's mainly a male dominated world, but actually in double blind studies when you're reading code, countless studies have shown that everyone prefers code written by women. It's more elegant and easier to read and better commented. Just hands down. It's been done on thousands and thousands and thousands of lines of code and everyone prefers female code apparently, in blind studies.

Gus:

Wouldn't you say that you're just further entrenching gender divides by saying code written by women is different to code written by men?

Tane:

No, I think it's more about saying that balance is important and right now it's really heavily male dominated and even the males think that females write better code. It's not saying we should, all coders should be female, but I think there's an obvious reason to bring some balance there.

Gus:

Are there any safeguards in the medical industry that you could kind of bring into the digital industry to make it safer or to make it... to do less harm?

Tane:

There's two suggestions I would have. One is peer reviewed code. Have someone else check over it, other companies. I mean you have big, international tech companies that are allowed to throw out code without any checks and balances and they're essentially black boxes. Proprietary software that no one else can look under the hood. I think it should all be peer reviewed. The other would be, peer reviewed and I would say...

Gus:

A Hippocratic Oath maybe?

Tane:

Well I already said Hippocratic Oath. All tech companies should have a Hippocratic Oath. I think decoupling of personal data. What we do in science and in the medical field is we actually remove people's names and their home addresses and their Medicare numbers and their insurance information. If you decouple that in a decentralized way, you actually keep a person's private information safe. I think that would be a... people are working on it. We just need to get the big companies to do it.

Gus:

Great. Now folks it's very exciting. In our poll, does bringing children into the world these days fill you with trepidation or excitement? We are neck and neck.

Tane:

I win, yes!

Gus:

Yeah, the answer is yes. We have three votes for each side, so please we need some deciding votes in there. If you haven't put your answer in, please we'd like to encourage you. You just got to do it down here. Go to the poll. We'd love to hear whether bringing children into the world these days fills people with excitement or trepidation.

Gus:

Let's talk, got some more questions here. Let's talk a little bit about, I think there's one right at the top. Rosemary, are you with us? I don't know if Rosemary's joined us or not. Let's just have a look and see if Rosemary's here. Yes, Rosemary is live.

Tane:

Hi Rosemary.

Gus:

Rosemary has asked a question which is, one of the things that she's been curious about is where we track down all of these stories. She thinks we must do an immense amount of reading. Where do we get all of our stories from? This is from, if people don't know what I'm talking about, it's from the newsletter. We're guessing everyone came here from the newsletter. We do a lot of reading on the internet. Most of our best quality information comes from, I know this is going to sound really weird, but from Reddit. Reddit if you don't know, it's kind of like the big message board of the internet, or certainly in the English-speaking world.

It's really where everything eventually ends up. It takes a bit of getting used to, to try and navigate into different fora and figure out which ones work for you and which ones don't. But what I think is so great about Reddit is that it has a kind of an upvoting system. Everyone who's on those different boards votes which content they think is good up to the top. That gives you an automatic filter for good quality information. That being said, you have to wade through a whole lot of crap on Reddit in order to find some of the good stuff. You just need to be quite information savvy. I've been reading the internet since I was 12 years old, so that's just come through experience.

The second place that I get all these stories from is from email newsletters. We could not do Future Crunch without email newsletters. We subscribe to some really fantastic thinkers, other people who are curating and researching stories. That helps us again, distinguish the signal from noise. What we're going to do for all of our members, our paid members is we're going to actually share with them our information diet when we switch it over to the new, paid model I think in a few weeks time. One of our first things we're going to do is give everyone basically a list of all of our favorite information sources, including all of our email newsletters.

Yeah, we have to wade through a ton of information. It doesn't feel like work. It feels exciting. I would read that stuff anyway, even if I wasn't doing the newsletter. At times it can be overwhelming but a lot of the time it's also very exciting. It's like a detective hunt. It's very helpful if you've got a specific idea in mind. If I'm searching specifically for good news, that helps me narrow it down in terms of which news it is that I'm subscribing to or which forums I'm going to on Reddit.

Tane:

I think that's really important. Just seek out places where information is curated and fact checked. Then you just get a good information funnel. It's really important. I think that's the power of working with Future Crunch for six years. What we've done together is we've tuned our information streams to stuff that helps us create a business and feed our... it puts a pep in our step as opposed to all the detritus and crap that is out there.

Gus:

Yep. That has come over time. My information diet today looks totally different to the information diet that I had in 2015. It's a long term project. My information diet today has been refined and honed over many, many different iterations. It's about saying I want a better information diet and then committing to crafting and curating a better information diet over the course of years rather than just a single decision that takes place in one moment. I want to just say as well, that is very much how change happens. We all tend to think that change is a destination. But in the Buddhist sense, a change is definitely not a destination. There is no destination.

Tane:

It's all about the journey, man.

Gus:

We're not heading towards some utopian, better world. We're engaged in a process of change. That process is multifaceted, it comes and it goes. Sometimes we have setbacks, sometimes we have failures, but it's a long term process. It's not a destination. I know that sounds obviously and I know that maybe sounds trite but it's also very true. This is a process that we're all involved in here. The destination that we're heading to doesn't exist. The process doesn't stop, regardless of what might happen in the elections this week or what might happen in 10 years time to the coral reefs or what might happen in 50 years time with artificial intelligence. The process is always unfolding. It's always evolving and it goes in myriad different ways. We cannot predict the future. All we can do is engage in the process itself.

Tane:

To put this into some context, when Gus and I first met and we formed Future Crunch, I was a tech utopian. Essentially a naïve optimist in the sense that I was like, "Technology and science is going to save everything." Gus, you were pretty down and out, worried about environmental degradation and the clean energy sector, especially in Australia. Over years, we started changing our information streams. We added layers of nuance. Sometimes it was more constructive and a bit more negative but overtime, we've built this robust amount of research and information streams that really helps us stay optimistic about our future. We have the tools, we just need to get people engaged in the solutions, not talking about the problems.

Gus:

Okay, we have an hour for this webinar. If people are okay with us, not that we love the sound of our own voices at all.

Tane:

Gus does.

Gus:

We might go maybe five minutes over if that's okay with everyone. Again, please feel free to leave if you have to, but I think we're going to go to... it's now 10:56. I think we're going to go to 11:05 so we've got about nine minutes left with you here. We will tell you right at the end who's won the jumper. But in the meantime I think let's tackle this question, one from Sally Tisdale here and then we're going to get to our poll and then we're going to see if we can try and unpack the answers to this poll. By the way if you haven't voted in the poll, please we'd love to hear from you.

Gus:

All right, last question I suppose from everyone. Tane, do you believe that the arc of the moral universe is long but it tends towards justice?

Tane:

I think that largely depends on what you define as justice. I think it tends towards, well I mean a fundamental, scientific level, it tends towards less order, which is not necessarily chaos and inequality. It actually is much more about diversity. I think from a scientific and an environmental point of view, I think it leads towards the justice of diversity and environmental stability. There's a lot of rocky bits along the road.

If you're talking about the human, human justice, I think we're in a better place. I know there's a lot of horrible things going on in the world, but I think human rights and inequality are improving for most of the planet. If you go back 50, 100 years ago, things looked a lot more dire. I tend to yes, but it is a wild rollercoaster road in thinking about it both through science and through a humanities lens.

Gus:

Great answer. I would say that the answer is no. Thank you Sally. She's also added in here, human culture as a whole, are we becoming a more just species? The answer to that question is no. There's nothing deterministic about the moral arc of the universe or are heading towards becoming a more just species. It's not a law of nature, it's not a law of how things will evolve, it's not a law of civilization, it's not a law of social science. What it is, is a wonderful, wonderful story that we tell ourselves. It's the best possible story that we can tell ourselves. The story, or the idea that the moral arc of the universe is long but it tends towards justice, allows us to actually bring that story into creation. It's an idea or a story that we tell ourselves in order to motivate ourselves to actually make that story happen. It gives us a direction to head in. It gives us a kind of an ethical or a moral framework by which we can work towards.

If you believe that human beings can become a more just species or you believe that we're part of a larger historical process in terms of becoming a more just species, then you're more likely to go out an actually make that happen. You need to believe in the thing before you can go out there and make that thing into a reality. Is the moral arc of the universe long and bending towards justice? No, it definitely isn't. It could go horribly wrong and certainly at many times throughout history, the moral arc of the universe has bended away from justice. There's nothing guaranteed about our future. But if we can tell ourselves that story, then we're far more likely to make it happen and to keep this moral arc that's really kind of been with us since the enlightenment, to keep that going. That gives me a lot of hope for the future. I would think stories are far more powerful than laws of nature. Certainly when it comes to human civilization.

Tane:

I think what sums it up is the quote on the back of this mug. This is from Gus, by the way. If we want to change the story of human race in the 21st century, we have to change the stories that we tell ourselves. The more good stories out there, the more people believe that we can make a better world, the more people will go out there and do it. Storytelling is one of the most ancient of technologies and it's also remains still one of the most powerful.

Gus:

Okay. This final question here. We're going to do the results of the poll. Someone said, someone asked the question does bringing a child into this world fill you with trepidation or excitement? I think there was someone else here who, Anna I think, said, "Gus speaking of kids, how has your worldview changed since becoming a parent?" First of all, let's get into the answer to the poll. We asked you, does bringing children into the world these days fill you with trepidation or excitement? Tane?

Tane:

I said yes.

Gus:

And the answer is? The crowd... the tribe has spoken.

Tane:

Yeah, okay.

Gus:

The tribe says no more children, by vote of six to five.

Tane:

Okay, yep. Climate change is coming. We're overpopulated. We're all doomed.

Gus:

Yeah, it's just as well. We're a democracy here so I'm afraid that's in folks. No more kids.

Tane:

But how does it make you feel?

Gus:

Look. Lola, my daughter is... 11 months ago I became a father. It has been an extraordinary experience, made even more special by the fact that we spent most of it in lockdown. Does bringing a child into the world fill me with trepidation or excitement? It depends, really. Sometimes I despair. I recently read The Overstory by Richard Powers, which is an amazing book about the destruction of trees during the 20th century, especially in North America and how human beings wiped out so many of these incredible forests and got rid of so many species of amazing living creatures, these trees. It absolutely floored me. I was... I cried for a day or two afterwards. I couldn't get out of bed. It was so devastating. It was one of those things that punches through the armor that you build up around yourself. I just felt total despair about the fate of the planet and this tendency that human beings have to destroy rather than to create.

But I also had my daughter, Lola. She isn't aware of all of those things. She doesn't have a natural tendency to destroy or to create. She's just learning and exploring and adapting and growing every day. She had this amazing innocence that doesn't necessarily lend itself towards the kinds of things that I was seeing in that book. For me, she was a really amazing point, a really amazing comfort and something that helped pull me out of that hole. I'm going to inculcate in her those ideas and those principles around regeneration, environmental conservation. Doing your bit. Making sure that you're part of the change rather than part of the problem. That's the only way that we're going to solve this. If the next generation don't have those principles in place and if they aren't educated, good people don't pass those lessons on to their kids, then we're never going to change anything.

Gus:

So for me, children give me total hope. Lola fills me with so much excitement and I'm so exited about what her generation might be able to do in the future going forward. That doesn't mean I don't feel despair and it doesn't mean that I'm not worried about the future, but she is the future and her generation is the future. They are going to be the ones that are going to have to change this. We are going to be the ones that have to guide them. Does bringing children into the world fill me with trepidation or excitement? It fills me with total excitement and hope and optimism and joy. My job as a steward is to pass on the lessons that I've learned, the hard lessons that I've learned, so that future generations, so that she certainly can go forward into the future with those ideas in place.

Tane:

That was beautiful. I would like to say one thing that Sally pointed out as well. You don't have to necessarily bring new human beings into the world to be an incredible parent. You can be an adoptive parent and help out kids in need and make the world a better place in that way as well.

Gus:

Okay, so we're going to wrap this up. Thank you for tuning in. It was small and sweet. It was really nice that you all joined us. We have to announce the winner for the jumper.

Tane:

Absolutely. Who do you reckon's going to get it? What was the hardest hitting question?

Gus:

What was the hardest question?

Tane:

I know what the best compliment was.

Gus:

What was the best compliment?

Tane:

Of the beards.

Gus:

What are you hiding under there, Tane?

Tane:

Oh, it's a gnarly, horrible chin.

Gus:

A weak chin.

Tane:

No, it's actually, it's like a smooth baby's bottom. I've had this since I was 17 years old. I've never shaved it...clean shaven it once since then. I imagine the skin is beautiful under there.

Gus:

I'm sure it's gorgeous. Lola loves my beard. She plays with it all the time. She started recently starting to yank it, which is not as exciting.

Tane:

All right, let's announce the winner.

Gus:

Let's announce the winner. I don't know. Can you choose this because you're a scientist and you know what the truth is.

Tane:

I have two. I like the moral arc of justice question and I also liked Paul's in the very beginning, the first one about renewable energy. What was it?

Gus:

About Australia's economy.

Tane:

Yeah, I think so.

Gus:

I think I really love Sally's question, the moral arc of the universe question. It's so simple, but it opens up vistas of all possibility, doesn't it?

Tane:

It's endless.

Gus:

I thought that was a fantastic question. Sally, we are delighted to send you a jumper or a sweater as you call it in the United States, or a hoodie as we call it all over the world. Please send us an email. You can write us at info@futurecrunch.com.au. Give us your address. We are going to send you a jumper in your size and we're going to make sure that we offset the air miles so that the sending of that jumper doesn't have any impact on global carbon emissions.

Tane:

Yeah well when the world opens up, I'll be going to the US so keep in touch. I'll let you know when we're going over there. I have many friends in Portland so maybe grab a coffee at one point too.

Gus:

Thank you very much for tuning in to our inaugural Future Brunch ask us anything. If you have any comments or feedback please, we'd love to hear from you in the comment box over there. Thank you. Any final words Tane?

Tane:

Thanks for all the questions from Allie, Jan, Paul. Thanks for staying up Allie. Thanks Helen from Hobart, Tasmania, the place where my mom comes from. Just lots of love to you all. Really love the questions. It was so much fun hanging out.

Gus:

Yeah, thanks very much everyone. We look forward to seeing you at the next Future Brunch and of course keep an eye out on your inboxes for the next few newsletters. Things are about to get very, very interesting on a global scale, fingers crossed for this week. Future Crunch out.

Tane:

Out. We could actually drop the mic.