Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

United States

The Long Now Foundation's monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking were started in 02003 to build a compelling body of ideas about long-term thinking; to help nudge civilization toward our goal of making long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare. The SALT talks are curated by Stewart Brand and supported by Long Now members who also get HD video of the Seminars. You can become a member and support the series for just $8 a month: https://longnow.org/membership/

Episodes

Philip Tetlock: Superforecasting  

The pundits we all listen to are no better at predictions than a “dart-throwing chimp,” and they are routinely surpassed by normal news-attentive citizens. So Philip Tetlock reported in his 02005 book, Expert Political Judgement—and in a January 02007 SALT talk. It now turns out there are some people who are spectacularly good at forecasting, and their skills can be learned. Tetlock discovered them in the course of building winning teams for a tournament of geopolitical forecasting run by IARPA—Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity. His brilliant new book, SUPERFORECASTING: The Art and Science of Prediction, spells out the methodology the superforecasters developed. Like Daniel Kahneman’s THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, the book changes how we think about thinking. Philip Tetlock is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. With his co-researcher (and wife) Barbara Mellors he is running the Good Judgement Project, with its open competition for aspiring forecasters.

Andy Weir: The Red Planet for Real  

Andy Weir's self-published novel The Martian has become a New York Times bestseller and the #1 movie in America. But it began with a series of blog posts that reflected Andy's lifelong love of space science and detailed research about traveling to and surviving on the fourth planet in our Solar System. You can see the film in theaters everywhere, but only at The Interval will you hear Andy skip the fiction and talk about the details of how a real world mission to reach and colonize Mars would work. He'll discuss his book, too, and answer your questions at this very special event in our Interval salon series.

James Fallows: Civilization's Infrastructure  

Infrastructure decisions—and failures to decide—affect everything about a society for centuries. That long shadow, James Fallows points out, is what makes the decisions so difficult, because "We must choose among options whose consequences we can't fully anticipate.” What we do know is that infrastructure projects are hugely disruptive and expensive in the short term, and neglecting to deal with infrastructure is even more disruptive and expensive in the long term. What would a healthy civilization do? These days California is making decisions about high-speed rail, about water supply for agriculture, about driverless cars, about clean energy—all infrastructure issues with long, uncertain shadows. Fallows reminds us that "Everything about today's California life is conditioned by decisions about its freeway network made 60-plus years ago, and by the decision to tear up the Southern California light-rail network in the decades before that.” (That remark came in a 15-part series of blogs about high-speed rail in California that Fallows posted at theatlantic.com. He approves of the project.) James Fallows is the journalist’s journalist, covering in depth subjects such as China, the Mideast, flying, the military, Presidential speeches (he once wrote them for Jimmy Carter), journalism itself, and his native California. Based at The Atlantic magazine for decades, he blogs brilliantly and has produced distinguished books such as Postcards from Tomorrow Square, Blind into Baghdad, and Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy. This will be the first time he speaks about civilization entire.

Saul Griffith: Infrastructure and Climate Change  

So far we are trying to deal with climate change at the wrong time scale. A really deep problem cannot be solved by shallow innovations, no matter how clever. The scale of climate change requires thinking and acting in multi-decade terms at the level of infrastructure—personal as well as societal. Get it right, and “the result can be like living in a beautifully managed garden.” Saul Griffith is an inventor and meta-inventor, currently founder of Otherlabs in San Francisco (devising such things as soft robotics, soft exoskeletons, cheap solar tracking, and conformable gas tanks.) He is a MacArthur Fellow and frequent TED dazzler. His 02009 SALT talk on Climate Change Recalculated is the most viewed video in our twelve-year series. See our blog for updates on tickets and other media; tickets will go on sale one month before the Seminar.

Sara Seager: Other Earths. Other Life.  

We are one tool away from learning which distant planets already have life on them and which might be welcoming to life. MIT Planetary Scientist Sara Seager is working on the tool. She is chair of the NASA team developing a “Starshade” that would allow a relatively rudimentary space telescope to observe Earth-size planets directly, which would yield atmospheric analysis, which would determine a planet’s life-worthiness. Despite 1,000-plus exoplanet discoveries by the Kepler spacecraft and the hundreds more expected from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite after 2017, neither instrument can make detailed observation of the atmosphere of small rocky planets, because each star’s brilliance overwhelms direct study of the rocky motes that might harbor life. A Starshade cures that. A former MacArthur Fellow, Seager is author of Exoplanet Atmospheres (02010) and an astrophysics professor at MIT. Her maxim: “For exoplanets, anything is possible under the laws of physics and chemistry.” Photo by Justin Knight.

Ramez Naam: Enhancing Humans, Advancing Humanity  

Techno thriller meets realistic optimism. Ramez Naam, a former Microsoft executive with 19 patents to his name, wrote a riveting just-completed science fiction trilogy (Nexus, Crux, and Apex) that plays out current trends in brain enhancement. As Naam reports in a recent blog, “Neural implants could accomplish things no external interface could: Virtual and augmented reality with all 5 senses (or more); augmentation of human memory, attention, and learning speed; even multi-sense telepathy — sharing what we see, hear, touch, and even perhaps what we think and feel with others.“ Naam is also the author of important nonfiction books on humanity’s prospects for this century and beyond: More Than Human: Embracing the promise of biological enhancement and The Infinite Resource: The power of ideas on a finite planet (that one has blurbs from four previous SALT speakers—Steven Pinker, Charles C. Mann, Ray Kurzweil, and Peter Diamandis.) In this talk Naam explores the growing convergence of human enhancements at the molecular, neural, and social levels: “I think the multiple visions of human enhancement will all focus on our increased connectivity with each other – in sci-fi ways like Nexus and in prosaic ways like the spread of computing power in mobile devices to people around the world.

Neil Gaiman: How Stories Last  

Neil's talk will explore the way stories, myths and tales survive over great lengths of time and why creating for the future means making works that will endure within the oral tradition. Preternaturally eloquent, Neil Gaiman has told stories in every medium—graphic novels (The Sandman), novels (The Ocean at the End of the Lane; American Gods), short stories (Trigger Warning), children’s books (The Graveyard Book), television (Dr Who), the occasional song ("I Google You", with Amanda Palmer), and the occasional speech that goes viral ("Make Good Art"). Photograph of Neil Gaiman by Kimberly Butler

Beth Shapiro: How to Clone a Mammoth  

Beth Shapiro is far from a giddy enthusiast about de-extinction. She knows more than nearly anyone about the subject because she is a highly regarded biologist in the middle of the two leading efforts in the new field—to resurrect extinct woolly mammoths and passenger pigeons. She knows exactly how challenging the whole process will be and how imperfect the later stages of success might appear. An evolutionary biologist who created and runs the paleogenomics lab at UC Santa Cruz, Shapiro is a careful skeptic, a great story teller and explainer, and an extremely productive scientist. In this talk she spans the full de-extinction narrative from DNA editing all the way to revived populations in the wild—from lab work with CRISPR Cas 9 and primordial germ cells through to the ethical and practical issues of restoring a long-absent keystone species in its former ecosystem. “The goal of de-extinction,” she points out, “is to restore ecosystems; to reinstate interactions between species that no longer exist because one or more of those species are extinct. We don’t need to create exact replicas of extinct species to achieve this goal.” She concludes, “De-extinction uses awesome, exciting, cutting-edge technology to take a giant step forward. De-extinction is a process that allows us to actively create a future that is really better than today, not just one that is less bad than what we anticipate.” Beth Shapiro is a MacArthur Fellow, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and author of the new book from Princeton University Press, How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction.”

Michael Shermer: The Long Arc of Moral Progress  

Steven Pinker writes: “Shermer has engaged the full mantle of moral progress and considered how far we have come and how much farther that arc can be bent toward truth, justice, and freedom." “Through copious data and compelling examples Shermer shows how the arc of the moral universe, seen from a historical vantage point, bends toward civil rights and civil liberties, the spread of liberal democracy and market economies, and the expansion of women’s rights, gay rights, and even animal rights. Never in history has such a large percentage of the world’s population enjoyed so much freedom, autonomy, and prosperity. The steadily unfolding revolution of gay marriage gives Shermer the opportunity to show how rights revolutions of many different kinds come about.“ [Steven Pinker is the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature. He gave a SALT talk on “The Decline of Violence” in 02012.] Michael Shermer’s new book is The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom. His previous books include The Believing Brain and The Science of Good and Evil. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine and has a monthly column in Scientific American.

Paul Saffo: The Creator Economy  

According to futurist (and Long Now board member) Paul Saffo, the "new economy” anticipated in the late 01990s is arriving late and in utterly unexpected ways. Social media, maker culture, the proliferation of sensors, and even the 02008 market crash are merely local phenomena in a much larger shift. What unfolds in the next few years will determine the shape of the global economy for the next half-century and will force a profound rethink of economic theory. Paul Saffo teaches forecasting at Stanford and Singularity University. Journalists rely on him for cruelly telling quotes about everything from the monthly disruptions in Silicon Valley to the yearly turmoils in the global economy.

David Keith: Patient Geoengineering  

The main arguments against geo-engineering (direct climate intervention) to stop global warming are: 1) It would be a massive, irreversible, risky bet; 2) everyone has to agree to it, which they won’t; 3) the unexpected side effects might be horrific; 4) once committed to, it could never be stopped. What if none of those need be true? Harvard climate expert David Keith has a practical proposal for an incremental, low-cost, easily reversible program of research and eventual deployment that builds on local research and is designed from the beginning for eventual shutdown. All it attempts is to reduce the rate of global warming to a manageable pace while the permanent solutions for excess greenhouse gases are worked out. Global rainfall would not be affected. The system is based on transparency and patience—each stage building adaptively only on the proven success of prior stages, deployed only as needed, and then phased out the same way. One of Time magazine’s “Heroes for the Environment,“ David Keith is a Professor of Applied Physics in Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Professor of Public Policy in the Harvard Kennedy School. He is also executive chairman of the Calgary-based company, Carbon Engineering, which is developing air capture of carbon dioxide.

Stewart Brand, Paul Saffo: Pace Layers Thinking  

Stewart Brand and Paul Saffo will discuss the Pace Layers framework for how a healthy society functions, which Stewart introduced in his book The Clock of Long Now (01999). More than fifteen years after its debut, this concept continues to be influential and inspiring. The Pace Layers idea is illustrated by a simple diagram showing six layers which function simultaneously at different speeds within society. They range from Nature (the slowest) to Fashion (the fastest, shown at the top). As the layers progress, Stewart proposed, their differing speeds help make a society more adaptable. Cultures can be robust and healthy precisely because these layers come into conflict. Each level should be allowed to operate at its own pace, safely sustained by the slower levels below and kept invigorated by livelier levels above. Though originally conceived as a tool for thinking about society, Pace Layers has had broad influence as experts in other disciplines have applied its framework to their areas including consulting and systems thinking. Jeff Veen of True Ventures (formerly Adobe, Adaptive Path, and Wired) recently said that Pace Layers provides a vocabulary to think about the stacked layers of contemporary design. Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, has called the Pace Layers chapter in The Clock of the Long Now “the most profound thing I've ever read.” Today in a networked world where everything seems to be about speed, awareness of the slower layers and perspective on how all layers interact can give insight into what the future may hold.

Jesse Ausubel: Nature is Rebounding: Land- and Ocean-sparing through Concentrating Human Activities  

In the field of environmental progress the conflict between anecdote and statistics is so flagrant that most public understanding on the subject is upside down. We worry about the wrong things, fail to worry about the right things, and fail to acknowledge and expand the things that are going well. For decades at Rockefeller University Jesse Ausubel has assembled global data and trends showing that humanity may be entering an exceptionally Green century. The most important trend is “land-sparing”—freeing up ever more land for nature thanks to agricultural efficiency and urbanization. Ausubel notes that we are now probably at “peak farmland“ (so long as we don’t pursue the folly of biofuels). Forests are coming back everywhere in the temperate zones and in many tropical areas, helped by replacing wild logging with tree plantations. Human population is leveling rapidly and we are now probably at “peak children.” Our energy sources continue to “decarbonize,” and a long-term “dematerialization” trend is reducing the physical load of civilization’s metabolism. In the ocean, however, market hunting for fish remains highly destructive, even though aquaculture and mariculture are taking off some of the pressure. In this area, as in the others, rigorous science and inventive technology are leading the way to the mutual flourishing of humanity and nature.

Kevin Kelly: Technium Unbound  

What comes after the Internet? What is bigger than the web? What will produce more wealth than all the startups to date? The answer is a planetary super-organism comprised of 4 billion mobile phones, 80 quintillion transistor chips, a million miles of fiber optic cables, and 6 billion human minds all wired together. The whole thing acts like a single organism, with its own behavior and character -- but at a scale we have little experience with. This is more than just a metaphor. Kelly takes the idea of a global super-organism seriously by describing what we know about it so far, how it is growing, where its boundaries are, and what it will mean for us as individuals and collectively. Both the smallest one-person enterprises today, and the largest mega-corporations on Earth, will have to learn to how this Technium operates, and how to exploit it.

Larry  Harvey: Why The Man Keeps Burning  

“Scaling up will kill Burning Man.” “That new rule will kill Burning Man.” “The Bureau of Land Management will kill Burning Man.” “Selling tickets that way will kill Burning Man.” “Board infighting will kill Burning Man.” “Upscale turnkey camps will kill Burning Man.” Ha. What if Burning Man is too fragile to be killed? What if celebrating ephemerality is the best guarantee of continuity? What if every year’s brand new suspension of disbelief has deep-down durability? What if conservatively radical principles and evolving rules are more robust over time than anything merely physical? What really keeps the Man burning? If anyone knows, it should be the event’s primary founder, author of The Principles, and ongoing Chief Philosophical Officer, artist Larry Harvey.

Drew Endy: The iGEM Revolution  

iGEM stands for the “International Genetically Engineered Machines” competition. Thousands of student bioengineers from all over the world construct new life forms and race them every year at the Giant Jamboree in Boston. iGEM has been going on for ten years (2,500 competitors this year, over 32 countries, 20,000+ alumni) and gives a peerless window into the global grassroots synthetic-biology revolution, yet the phenomenon has been largely overlooked by the media, industry, and most governments. iGEM began with college undergraduates and recently expanded to include high school teams. In making their genetic creations students get from and give back to a repository of over 10,000 genetic components called BioBricks parts. The organisms (mostly microbes) the students engineer range from frivolous (doing a stadium-style “wave”) to beneficial (detecting and eliminating water pollutants) to ingenious (increasing plant root structure to fix carbon while ensuring that no exotic genes can escape). iGEM teams "are also challenged to actively consider and address the safety, security and environmental implications of their work." Drew Endy, a professor of Bioengineering at Stanford, was one of the creators of iGEM and is co-founder and president of the BioBricks Foundation, an organization whose mission is "to develop biotechnology in an open and ethical manner to benefit all people and the planet." He is a strong proponent of “open source” biotech and public discussion of the techniques, benefits, and potential hazards of synthetic biology.

Anne Neuberger: Inside the NSA  

The NSA’s failures are public headlines. Its successes are secret. These days America’s National Security Agency lives at the intersection of two paranoias—governmental fears of attack and citizen fears about loss of privacy. Both paranoias were exacerbated by a pair of devastating attacks—9/11 and Edward Snowden. The agency now has to evolve rapidly while managing its normal heavy traffic of threats and staying ahead of the ever-accelerating frontier of cyber capabilities. In the emerging era of transparency, and in the thick of transition, what does the NSA look like from inside? Threats are daily, but governance is long term. At the heart of handling that balance is Anne Neuberger, Special Assistant to NSA Director Michael Rogers and Director of the Commercial Solutions Center. (Before this assignment she was Special Advisor to the Secretary of Navy; before that, in 02007, a White House Fellow.) She is exceptionally smart, articulate, and outspoken.

Adrian Hon: A History of the Future in 100 Objects  

Thinking about the future is so hard and so important that any trick to get some traction is a boon. Adrian Hon’s trick is to particularize. What thing would manifest a whole future trend the way museum objects manifest important past trends? Building on the pattern set by the British Museum’s great book, A History of the World in 100 Objects, Hon imagines 100 future objects that would illuminate transformative events in technology, politics, sports, justice, war, science, entertainment, religion, and exploration over the course of this century. The javelin that won victory for the last baseline human to compete successfully in the Paralympic Games for prosthetically enhanced athletes. The “Contrapuntal Hack” of 02031 that massively and consequentially altered computerized records so subtly that the changes were undetected. The empathy drug and targeted virus treatment that set off the Christian Consummation Movement. Adrian Hon is author of the new book, A History of the Future in 100 Objects, and CEO and founder of Six to Start, creators of the hugely successful smartphone fitness game “Zombies, Run!” His background is in neuroscience at Oxford and Cambridge.

Stefan Kroepelin: Civilization’s Mysterious Desert Cradle: Rediscovering the Deep Sahara  

Egypt’s pharaonic civilization rose on the Nile, but it was rooted in the deep Saharan desert and pushed by climate change, says Stefan Kröpelin. Described in Nature magazine as “one of the most devoted Sahara explorers of our time,” Kröpelin has survived every kind of desert hardship to discover the climate and cultural history of northern Africa. He found that the “Green Sahara” arrived with monsoon rains 10,500 years ago, and people quickly moved into the new fertile savannah. There they prospered as cattle pastoralists—their elaborate rock paintings show herds of rhinoceros and scenes of prehistoric life—until 7,300 years ago, when gradually increasing desiccation drove them to the Nile river, which they had previously considered too dangerous for occupation. To manage the Nile, the former pastoralists helped to invent a pharaonic state 5,100 years ago. Its 3,000-year continuity has never been surpassed. Kröpelin, a climate scientist at the University of Cologne, is a dazzling speaker with hair-raising stories, great images, and a compelling tale about climate change and civilization.

Sylvia Earle, Tierney Thys: Oceanic  

Land animals on an ocean planet, we have a lot to learn about how the world works. The microbes of the sea are Earth’s dominant life form. Ocean currents and temperatures drive climate and weather. Come ride a current to view bad news (dead zones, rising sea levels, melting sea ice, acidification, coral bleaching, fish piracy and overfishing) and good news (marine protected areas, functional ecosystems, megafaunal migrations, mid-Atlantic ridge, community involvement, citizen scientists) and continuing mysteries. Land is mercurial. Ocean abides. Two of the most eloquent voices of ocean science are Sylvia Earle and Tierney Thys. Both are National Geographic Explorers, both are stars of the TED stage. They have collaborated on original and adventurous research. For this talk they are collaborating to tell (and show) sea stories of deep waters, the deep past, and the deep future.

0:00/0:00
Video player is in betaClose