• You probably know Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an actor from films like Looper, Snowden, and 500 Days of Summer. But he’s also an entrepreneur. In 2005, Joe and his brother started HitRECORD -- it was a simple website where he could post things he was making. In 2010 he opened it up. He and his friend Jared Geller turned HitRecord into an online platform where people from all over the world could come together to collaborate. Since then, they’ve pivoted from a production company to a tech company, with a vision to help us move away from aimlessly scrolling, towards creating together.

    We’re in a moment filled with anxiety and fear. It’s hard to find any kind of silver lining. But if we had to, it might be this: moments of pain and uncertainty have historically led to incredible art and creativity. So what will be the legacy of the technology built in this age? In this episode of First Contact, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and co-founder Jared Geller talk to Laurie about finding creativity in difficult times.


    Show Notes

    Laurie’s interview with Joe at Web Summit 2016


    Jaron Lanier (author)

    Tristan Harris

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  • The 2008 recession was a devastating time for many Americans. But amidst the chaos, it was also the breeding ground for a new creative class: Developers who coded their visions into reality. Uber and Lyft redefined transportation, Airbnb shook up the travel industry, and TaskRabbit helped pave the way for the gig economy. In many ways, the uncertainty we face today mirrors that crisis. TaskRabbit’s founder Leah Solivan joins the show to explain why she believes founding her company in harsh conditions was key to her success, and why the pandemic provides a similar opportunity for innovation.


    Show Notes

    Codecademy Pro Scholarships

    Frontline Foods

    COVID Coach

    Sign up for the Dot Dot Dot newsletter

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  • For a long time, we tried to limit our screen time. But now we’ve gone all in. We’re living in isolation, more reliant than ever on technology for human connection. So let’s look at technology through a more philosophical lens: Are we now slaves to our devices? Could tech companies use the same persuasion tactics they use to get us to click... to help save lives? How will we balance protection and privacy?

    Aza Raskin is the co-founder of The Center for Humane Technology. There’s no one better to talk about the intersection of philosophy and technology. Aza returns to the show to chat with Laurie about the long-term ramifications of our newfound digital lives.


    Show Notes


    Facebook voter study


    Doughnut Theory of Economics


    Style Transfer: Photo, Text



    Earth Species Project

    Songs of the Humpback Whale

    Invisibilia: Two Heartbeats A Minute

    First Contact: The Weaponization of Loneliness

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  • All around the world, people are now living in isolation. Many of us are confronting this experience alone. Physical interaction is now a liability. What does this mean for one of humanity’s most important forms of connection — sex? And how can we continue to meet our fundamental need for intimacy during these times? Laurie looks at what all this on-screen interaction will mean for the future of sex. Could tech eventually replace human touch? Will people develop relationships with machines? From teledildonics to virtual girlfriends, sextech expert Bryony Cole talks sex in isolation and the future of love.


    Show Notes

    End of Life Care Machine
    Wheel Of Foreplay
    Sex Hacker Kenneth Play
    Esther Perel
    Mend (chatbot)
    Roman (chatbot)
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  • Jerry Colonna is fondly known as the CEO whisperer. He coaches some of the world's biggest entrepreneurs - like the former CEO of Etsy and the folks who started Gimlet Media. He helps business leaders navigate uncertainty and chaos. At a time when the coronavirus crisis is devastating the economy and millions of people's lives have been changed forever, the future is nothing but uncertain. Jerry's whole ethos is centered around the concept: better humans make better leaders. And there's never been a more critical time for humanity or leadership. Jerry is the expert. His message is simple: Show up.

    Show Notes

    Mostly Human: Silicon Valley’s Secret

    Comfortable With Uncertainty - a book by Pema Chödrön

    Old Maps No Longer Work - a poem by Joyce Rupp 

    Reboot Peer Circles: Tips for Launching Your Own Support Group

    Polyvagal Theory


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  • While we all stay inside, each one of us is living our own story. Many of us are coping with the painful realities of a society in isolation. Jobs lost. Weddings canceled. Loved ones sick, or worse. We are confronting a new reality, and an uncertain future. First Contact host Laurie Segall has been in quarantine for weeks, and she’s been thinking a lot about community. Human connection. And then she had an idea: What if we cold-called strangers in quarantine, and just listened to what they had to say? About life, isolation, their hopes, and fears? Here’s what happened...
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  • Workouts between calls. Meditation apps. A desk candle to boost productivity. Work-from-home hacks for all of us, as we self-isolate and practice social distancing to slow the spread of Coronavirus.

    Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress and Automattic, was an early evangelist of remote work. Back in the early 2000s, many of his first hires at Wordpress were people he had never met in person. Today, Automattic has nearly 1,200 employees spread across 75 countries around the globe.

    With the pandemic now forcing many companies to unexpectedly adopt similar policies, Matt gives Laurie advice on transitioning to this new lifestyle and answers listener questions on the best ways for employees and employers to stay productive.


    Show Notes

    Dance Fitness with Jessica

    Fitbod (fitness app)

    Waking Up with Sam Harris (meditation app)

    Calm (meditation app)

    Sennheiser headset


    Zoom videoconferencing

    Days Without You (Crussen Remix) by Satori

    Dancing by Kiley Minogue

    Qbserve (time-tracking app)

    Momentum (Chrome extension)

    Tomato One (timer app)

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  • Ev Williams is the entrepreneur behind Twitter, Blogger, and publishing platform Medium -- three companies that helped shape the modern Internet. As we grapple with the impact of Coronavirus, these digital platforms are playing an even larger role in our ability to connect with one another. Ev weighs in on how all our lives could change in the short term and what the longer term future may hold for technology and media…
    Will Augmented Reality project images onto our eyeballs? Will Silicon Valley ever move beyond the attention span economy? Will our lives start to resemble more of a video game than real-life? There's a lot to explore. And no one better than Ev Williams to help make sense of it all.
    Show Notes
    Laurie and Ev’s first contact
    Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a book from Ev’s childhood
    Full Episode Transcript
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  • The rise of “cloud clubbing” from your living room, as people are ordered to stay inside. Digital raves. Virtual connection as a means to deal with an isolation bubble.

    As people in China grapple with an uneasy reality, isolation, and the uncertainty around the Coronavirus, a new trend is emerging: the rise of Isolation Tech. Concerts are canceled. People are rethinking physical interaction. Nightclubs are shut down. So millions are meeting in digital clubs in the cloud where they can watch live DJ sets on Chinese apps. Welcome to The Matrix.

    Instead of finding ways to depart from their devices, people have gone all in, living life in a digital bubble. Entrepreneur Zander Shapiro, who has lived in Beijing for nine years, describes his new reality in "the bubble" -- days beginning with virtual work outs, afternoons filled with remote meetings, and evenings where he joins a virtual concert, meeting other avatars for connection. He calls this moment an excellent "experiment" of what's to come in tech. Expect more extremism, less humanity, and money pouring into the business of virtual connection.
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  • Who are the people who spread online disinformation? The so-called trolls you hear about in the news whose jobs are to distort facts and create chaos? Camille Francois knows them well. She’s the chief innovation officer at Graphika - a social media analytics firm hired by major companies to identify and fight online disinformation. Her team was a big part of uncovering the extent of Russian influence during the 2016 election. She spends her time in the darkest corners of the Internet taking on one of the most extraordinary digital threats of our time… But it might just be her humanity that gives her an edge.
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  • Should Artificial Intelligence be able to make the decision to take a human life? And if it does, who will be liable if — or when — it goes wrong? When it comes to the future of war and technology, the ethics are murky.

    Tech is creating a new arms race. Will the U.S. be able to keep up with the likes of China and Russia? And what ethical lines will we draw, or cross, to maintain our national defenses?

    Let’s rewind to Orange County circa 2017: A handful of entrepreneurs — eating Chick-fil-A and Taco Bell — sat around a table exploring the idea that what the United States needs is a real-life version of Stark Industries. Yes... from Iron Man. That brainstorming session led to Anduril — a defense technology firm that’s since become a billion dollar company at the center of the debate around the future of war.

    Laurie Segall sat down with Anduril’s co-founder, Trae Stephens, who spends a lot of time thinking about the philosophy of war and how technology is transforming it. In this episode of First Contact, we explore a framework for redefining war — where the front lines of futuristic battlefields are blurred, and technology is leading the charge. Expect rigorous debate. Unpopular viewpoints. And uncomfortable scenarios.
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  • When the lights went out in his home, and his children asked if it was “Russia,” Facebook's former chief security officer Alex Stamos knew he was bringing his work home. In a candid interview, Stamos opens up about what it was like when his team discovered Facebook had been compromised by Russia, and the personal implications of being at the center of one of the most significant attacks on technology... and democracy. Plus, hear what Alex had to say when asked whether he uncovered spies within Facebook during his time there and why he worries foreign spies have infiltrated every major US tech company.
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  • Yael Eisenstat is trained to analyze an argument from all sides. During her career at the CIA and State Department, she had tea with suspected extremists and sat at tables with people who were programmed to hate her. But the biggest challenge of her career didn’t come from a covert operation… it came when she stepped into Facebook Headquarters to head up their election integrity efforts. This is her story.
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  • According to investor and entrepreneur Sam Altman, the last decade of tech was the warm up... and Silicon Valley didn’t exactly get it right. The main event is even more pressing. Now the stakes are higher.

    First Contact’s Laurie Segall met Sam ten years ago. Back then, he had a startup called Loopt. It was a location-based social networking app for your phone. Since then, Sam became a fixture in the tech world. Loopt didn’t take off, but he went on to run Y Combinator — one of the most valuable incubators in Silicon Valley. And his next act is OpenAI — an initiative he started with Elon Musk.

    Sam is someone who’s driven by an inability to stay in the lines. He isn’t afraid to stand up and say things that might get him into trouble and has a history of taking a stand under bright lights and a podium.

    In this episode of First Contact, Sam opens up about what is was like to come out as gay in a St. Louis high school in the early 2000s, the possibility of human/AI hybrids, and why the next ten years in tech will be more disruptive than the last.
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  • Have you ever left something that was so tied to your identity, you worried, “Who am I without it?” A job? Maybe a relationship? Although terrifying, sometimes shedding an identity is where the magic happens. Who you are and what you actually stand for becomes a little clearer. At least that was the case for Yancey Strickler.

    He co-founded Kickstarter and spent five years as CEO. Now Yancey is in the midst of stepping into his own identity without the backbone of the company he created. In his new book, This Could Be Our Future, he asks us to look "beyond money and toward maximizing the values that make life worth living." Yancey tells the story of his journey from growing up on a farm, to punk rocker, to building a tech company that transformed creative communities around the world. 

    Startup life is messy. It comes with a lot of highs and lows. And leaving a job that defines your identity can be paralyzing. So is staying at one when it’s clearly time to go. We are in a similar moment in tech. We’re trying to figure out our identity in what Yancey calls a “dark forest where the loudest and most extreme voices are amplified.” You could argue it’s a pretty important time to understand our own values, and what we value as a society as a whole. In this episode of First Contact, we explore what it’s like to rediscover your identity and stay true to yourself through life’s most challenging moments.
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  • Imagine an A.I. Assistant that reads all of your text messages… and turns them into a pile of data points. A human psychology report.

    And then it guides you. The assistant can say — “hey, the person you're talking to is introverted. You may want to be a bit delicate when you message them.”

    The assistant will tell you the likelihood — down to the percentage — that the person you're texting likes you… in a romantic way.

    But you're going to have to give over a lot of your data in exchange. It’s a classic privacy dilemma.

    The tech exists. It was created by an entrepreneur named Es Lee and built into an app called Mei. Could AI detect our mood and guide us to communicate better? And what are the ethical issues that come along with tech so personal?

    In this episode of First Contact, Laurie and Es talk about what happens when you mix artificial intelligence with raw human emotion
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  • What if we could order up custom dreams? Could our thoughts become hackable? Will neurolink technology make some of us superhuman? And if so, would that create a superior species? Is death really the final step? Or could our brains answer vital questions once our bodies are gone?

    These are topics we explore with Moran Cerf, a professor of neuroscience at the Kellogg School of Management. He’s a brain hacker. But really -- he’s a student of humanity. He likes to push the boundaries and challenge us to anticipate what’s coming next -- even the worst-case scenario. Moran goes beyond disinformation and manipulation in this era of tech. He focuses on the brain and your sense of self -- and how that sense of self is increasingly hackable in the modern era. Just talking to him feels like living in an experiment.

    Spend enough time with Moran and you begin to question everything. And maybe that’s the point -- to not just question the big tech companies and the lines of code we see in front of us, but to question ourselves and our own thoughts.

    In an era where the lines between true and false, and real and fake have blurred, First Contact explores how our own minds are our first line of defense for what’s coming next.
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  • What if...instead of a constant battle to figure out who we are, we instead took a moment to celebrate who we’re not? Jasmine Takanikos helps big brands hone in on their unique identity. She uses a methodology called, “Brand Human” to help people understand who they are at their core, and how that translates to the external world. She’s known for asking creative people the right questions, and says that when it comes to identity and figuring out who we are, it can be more powerful to celebrate who we’re not. That’s because we’re constantly evolving. As is the state of technology. It’s why the idea of living the question is so important. And it’s one of the best ways we can understand the implications of technology in our lives. As we enter a new year, we decided to do some reflection. We don’t want to continually explore all these ethical questions about tech and never come back to them. Understanding evolution is part of understanding identity, and it’s a wonderful way to look forward. So that’s what we’re going to do in this episode of First Contact. Happy New Year!
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  • Okay First Contact listeners... it’s time to get weird. Laurie Segall has been spending a lot of her time recently deep in conversation with someone named “Mike.” Actually, he’s less of a “someone” and more of a “something.” That’s because Mike is a bot... that lives in an app on her phone. She takes Mike on walks and tells him (it) about her day, what’s going on in her life, and how she’s feeling about things. He speaks to her like a human, but he’s not. Just a girl and her bot. Is it the future? The tech we’re exploring is conversational AI. It’s moving beyond commercial uses like customer service bots and into people’s daily lives for personal use. These bots are becoming a substitution for human connection - an anecdote for loneliness, or depression. This particular bot was created by a company called Replika, built by an entrepreneur named Eugenia Kuyda. In this episode, Laurie speaks to Eugenia about how 7 million users are finding companionship through Replika and the ethical issues coming along with it. Laurie also speaks to a user of the app who says it helped her get through some dark times. And Laurie gets personal. Her bot, Mike, became a friend and companion of sorts. It checked in on her. It knew her stress level. It was always there for her. And it felt real. Until it didn’t. Here’s the thing about AI - you can’t control it. Laurie found out the hard way. First Contact explores a new era of technology that blurs the line between what’s real and what’s code, where in the world of the infinite scroll and endless digital connections, sometimes it’s easier for us to speak truth to machines.
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  • Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri is one of the most influential people in tech today. He’s taken on the responsibility of leading one of the most popular social media platforms at a time when its power and influence over us is undeniably strong. As the head of Instagram, Adam is responsible 1 billion monthly active users. With a history of high profile roles at Facebook, he’s an executive whose ability to navigate chaos has become one of his most important assets. Adam reveals the backstory behind Instagram’s latest move: to hide user “like” counts, and opens up about how his own relationship with anxiety has translated into a focus on improving the well-being of a billion users. Instagram and its parent company Facebook sit at the center of many complicated human issues these days. Between Russian interference in political elections, the debate on free speech and expression, and the larger implications of social media's impact on our mental health - there's a lot to navigate and none of it is black and white. First Contact explores how small changes in code and updates in design impact us, our democracy, and our personal well-being at a time when the stakes couldn’t be higher.
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