Byron Reese on emergence, superorganisms and our co-evolution with AI

Posted by Mike Walsh

Apr 14, 2024 7:34:09 PM

Byrone Reese 1-1


In this episode, I speak with Byron Reese, an acclaimed author, futurist, and entrepreneur, who shares his insights on the concept of ‘Agora’, a superorganism formed by the collective interactions of human beings. Drawing parallels complex adaptive systems like beehives, Reese argues that just as individual bees come together to create an entirely new organism with emergent properties, humans too form a higher-order entity through their differentiated roles and interactions. 

Reese delves into the idea of life spreading through the universe via panspermia and the role of natural selection in the evolution of intelligent life on planets. He posits that the purpose of Agora is to protect life on Earth from existential threats, such as asteroids, and that the optimal number of intelligent species on a planet is one, as too many would lead to self-destruction, while too few might fail to protect the planet.

In our discussion, we also touch upon the potential co-evolution of humans and artificial intelligence, the consolidation of human knowledge through language models, and the importance of individual actions in contributing to the well-being of the superorganism. 

5 Key Takeaways

1. Agora, a superorganism formed by human interactions, emerges from the differentiated roles and specialized interactions of individuals, much like a beehive.

2. Life may have spread throughout the universe via panspermia, and natural selection favors planets with a single intelligent species capable of protecting it from existential threats.

3. The purpose of Agora could be to safeguard life on Earth from catastrophic events, such as asteroid impacts, highlighting the importance of collective action.

4. The co-evolution of humans and artificial intelligence, along with the consolidation of human knowledge through language models, may significantly shape the future of society and decision-making.

5. Individual actions, such as kindness and personal growth, play a crucial role in contributing to the well-being and progress of the superorganism, potentially leading to a utopian future.





AI Genomics. Is this the future of health?

Posted by Mike Walsh

Jan 28, 2021 6:12:09 AM

Jo Bhakdi


What if within the span of the next decade, we could live for an additional ten years or more? A hundred years ago, advances in infection control and public health led to a near doubling of the human life span. For us to achieve a similar feat today, we will need more than just scientific breakthroughs. Despite the rise of AI, powerful computation platforms and new discoveries in genomics, there is still a gap between everyday medical practice and technological innovation.


Jo Bhakdi is the founder and CEO of Quantgene, a biotechnology and data company. In his view, when it comes to medical diagnoses, we are largely reliant on snapshot testing, quick discussions regarding patient symptoms, and the brain power of the practicing physicians.


AI-powered genomics, by contrast, allows us to now turn biology into a data problem, moving at the speed of statistical model development and falling computation costs. Genetic testing has the potential to uncover the root cause of disease and reveal its progression in the body - thus redefining the healthcare paradigm.


One area where this technology has the potential to impact our life expectancy is early stage cancer detection. Many cancers are treatable if caught early enough. While traditional medicine tends to intervene only when a tumor is advanced enough to warrant investigation, Quantgene has developed he capability to detect multiple types of cancer from a simple blood test. By identifying cellular mutations using artificial intelligence analytics and big data, they can unlock where a cancer is encoding itself into the human genome.



In this episode you will learn:


01:28 The unexpected implications of extreme longevity

04:31 Jo's origin story

06:19 Reimagining cancer detection

15:38 Healthcare is a system of broken incentives

30:20 Digital transformation & Big Pharma

35:29 Delivering innovation at scale

43:35 Privacy, rights and personal data


CATEGORY: Healthcare, AI

Algorithms, AI and the alignment problem

Posted by Mike Walsh

Dec 9, 2020 4:08:49 AM

Brian Christian


As we become more reliant on AI, algorithms and automation to manage the complexity of our world - we also face the challenge of systems that not aligned with our values or even our intentions. 


For Brian Christian, this is not unlike the position of Mickey Mouse in the Disney classic, ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, who suddenly finds himself overwhelmed by magic beyond his control. In his words, ‘we conjure a force, autonomous but totally compliant, give it a set of instructions, then scramble like mad to stop it once we realize our instructions are imprecise or incomplete—lest we get, in some clever, horrible way, precisely what we asked for’. 


Brian Christian is one of my favorite writers on AI, with a unique perspective that is very much at the intersection of computer science and philosophy. He is the author of the acclaimed bestsellers ‘The Most Human Human’ and ‘Algorithms To Live By’, which have been translated into nineteen languages. A visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, he lives in San Francisco. His latest book, and the subject of this interview, is ‘The Alignment Problem’. 



In this episode you will learn:


02:30 Brian’s origin story

05:01 Convergence: social sciences & tech

08:20 The alignment problem defined

14:12 AI Safety & the black box problem

18:28 Addressing the issue of bias

27:18 Business vs technical questions

37:06 Reinforcement learning

45:40 Challenging the system

52:45 Future skills