138. Kevin Kelly | Excellent Advice For Living, AI, and Immortality - Transcripts
138. Welcome To The Alfalfa Podcast! 🌾
(0:00) Intro - Welcome Kevin Kelly!
(1:45) The Best Places To Travel In The World
(11:56) Long-Term Optimism
(29:56) Conscious AGI?
(41:54) Innovation and Evolution
(48:42) Crypto and AI
(56:35) Can We Censor AI?
(59:18) On The Topic of Death
(1:06:21) Kevin Kelly on His Death
(1:11:34) Imagining a Life With Immortality
(1:19:14) Yes Theory YT Channel
(1:21:08) Kevin Kelly on God and Religion
(1:23:08) Go Get Kevin's Book: 'Excellent Advice For Living'
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Welcome to the alfalfa podcast. Thank you for being here, man. Much appreciated.
It is a pleasure to be invited. I'm still looking forward to this conversation.
I'm really excited. Thanks for inviting me. Yeah, absolutely. We're very pumped. Our community and audience is very pumped. We'll start by just saying big congratulations on the book,
which came out yesterday. Is that correct? That I have my copy. Yes. So it's a little tiny book about filled with little tiny words and short sentences trying to encapsulate 5000 years of
wisdom. Wow. Excellent advice for living out everywhere. We're going to get to that for sure. But for those that don't know, which will be very few, I'm sure. So Kevin, you've been on my flow podcast twice. This is your first time on the alfalfa podcast. Those two episodes we did together were incredible for me. And I know Nick and Stephen and Eric, who's not here, listen to those, love those episodes. We're always looking forward to the day when they get to talk to you as well. So we've really been looking forward to this. So yes, those that don't know, Kevin is the co-founder of Wired magazine.
He's written for Times, Wall Street Journal, every publication you can imagine. He's a prolific author of multiple books, a couple of which are my favorites. We'll talk about today. And a futurist and also happens to be an incredible photographer. So we'll kick off there, actually, Kevin. You're an artist. You have an incredible eye. You're a prolific photographer. You've created a three volume series that we talked a lot about when you did your Kickstarter called Vanishing Asia. This is a three volume series, huge, huge books, which I'm a proud owner of. I'm curious, from a travel perspective, what are the most underrated, underappreciated or perhaps
even unknown places in the world? So I find that there's three different categories of reasons to travel. A very popular and legitimate one is for relaxation and regeneration. And that's often people wind up to go to comfy places, a spot to indulge themselves in a way they might not be able to at home or in order to recuperate or retreat. Then there's adventure, people who want to test themselves, to go to the limits, to go to the extremes, to go into a state of wildness, which we only don't encounter at home. And then the third type, which is the type that I gravitate to, is the type of travel that optimizes learning. So I go to learn and I tend to want to go to places that are very different, that are full of otherness, that maximizes that kind of differences in the delta between my life here and the other place. So I'm always headed towards those places that are the most different and that have the most to teach me. And so my answer to your question about what are the ones that are underestimated, I'm going to use that framing of ones in which it would maximize or optimize that kind of confrontating the other, the differences. And there's several different ways to answer that even with that. And that is those kind of places where I keep returning to, or those kind of places a few that I haven't even been to and then there's those kind of places that I have been to and can guarantee what I'm very certain would work for somebody else. So taking that last one, one of those kind of places I head to where there's a a huge amount of difference, and it's fairly easy to travel, is Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
And that's because it's kind of like last among those countries that were open to any kind of development. So it's basically, it has not been westernized to any degree. There's still a lot of people living very natively, we'll call it, indigenously. And it's fairly, there are parts of the country you're not allowed to go to because they have civil unrest. But for the most part of it, it's fairly easy to travel to. So that's a great trip. There are places that are easy to travel to and are different, like Japan, which I keep going back to. I've never had a bad time in Japan. It's a different kind of otherness, but it's super easy to travel to. And I recommend those. Japan is a first stop for someone who wants to kind of get on that train. But then there are a couple places that I never made it to that would like to try to go to, like Yemen, which is really other, or Ethiopia.
And so there are little, for various reasons, I never made it to it. But one area that's sort of close to Yemen and has the Arab culture, which is a very large significant part of the world that's fairly intact, is Oman. Very easy to travel in, wonderful, hospitable, pretty authentic, intact kind of culture. And like Myanmar, I think it's a pretty, what's the word I
want, reasonable and doable entry into that kind of a world. I love that idea of otherness. And it seems like, you know, you could kind of dissect that into two areas, like the ones that are easy to travel to, like you mentioned, Japan, I just got back from there a month ago, definitely a lot of otherness there. And then the ones where it's not so easy. And those ones might blend in a little
adventure with them too, like your second category of type of type of travel. Even if you didn't intend to, you know, like if you take a train to Myanmar is like, it's a trip because they don't seem to be any shocks on those trains. But anyway, so those are the kind of places that I'm aware of that I would head back to. And, you know, there are little pockets of other places that I find myself going back to. I will any chance that I have a go back to Bali, even though it's overrun with digital nomads at this point, who are doing this. They're trying to get them out. They're trying to get them out. No renting scooters, right? And so, but nonetheless, having said that, I have a grand time of otherness, kept confronting it and exploring it each time I go, you have to get further away from Ubud. But yeah, and so the perimeter expands. Yeah. But there are places in China and places in Mongolia, et cetera, that fulfill my requirements of having alternative ways of doing things that I think can be inspirational, that I can think be informative.
You know, I have been everywhere in India. I go back, India is a little bit like a whack on the side of the head. You kind of have to be ready for it. But nonetheless, there's just
so much to learn from that different way of approaching things that I will go back. Let's talk about that. So first of all, it feels like almost a kindred spirit for us because we all travel the same way. And it's interesting that you put it into that category, that third track. I'm curious, is that something that's innate for you, this style of desire for otherness and learning, or was that cultivated in your life over time?
I went to, my first trip was to Taiwan in 1972, 71, 72, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan. I was so young that that was my, you know, that was my formative years. And so I, yes, I was still impressionable when I landed without any idea of what it was, what I was looking for, why I was even really there. So I think, you know, I dropped out of college and I went to basically Asia and that became my university. Just walking around trying to photograph, it became my university in a sense of several different ways. One was because everything was out in the open, particularly in those days, they made the stuff of the world in these little tiny garages where you could just walk in. The sense of privacy was very different. It was considered almost public. You could literally walk in and see them making the stuff of the world. And you saw how the world was literally being made. And then there was this, the whole other, you know, the otherness of it that was visible, very clear in terms of reliance on history, the role of the social group versus individual. All these things were out there publicly.
And then there was just the fact that, you know, half of the world's population lives in Asia. And you were seeing how the rest of the world was living, actually living, not what the newspaper said, not what magazine says. You could see, really see it right before my eyes, the whole transformation into the modern world. So there was those ways in which this was my university. And that formed me so much that I don't know. That was the only
way. That's what I associated with travel. That just became the way. Yeah, it seems like,
go ahead. I was going to say, you know, you kind of need to take a, it requires a lot of optimism
to travel like that into some, some far off places or naive ignorance. Because I literally, I mean, I didn't know. I mean, it's like, I, I never been out of New England. I'd never eaten Chinese food. And I mean, I knew zero at zero expectations. I had zero anything. It was just anything. It was just like landing, like someone, like a UFO alien took me out of my suburban backyard in New Jersey and put me on another planet. It was like, there's nothing deliberate about that. There was, it was all luck in a certain sense. And I wish I had more thought
about those things. I mean, what an amazing feeling when you get dropped in those areas, it's almost like this dopamine rush you get when you realize you're in such a different place and your mind and body are just taking it all in. Yeah, that feeling turns into a little bit of a drug for me. I know the other guys have felt it too before. I wanted to switch to talking a little bit about optimism and some, some other things. I found that optimism is a big theme about your work. At least it seems like it. And it seems like a core tenant about your view on optimism seems to be taking a long time horizon view. I've heard you say that, you know, the longer view you take, the more things seem optimistic. And I noticed that you're also part of this long now foundation, which is creating a clock to accurately tell time for 10,000 years in an attempt to help foster long term thinking. And this is a definitely a selfless question. And I'm curious, like, do you have any advice for how to foster a long term view?
Because there are a lot of behavioral biases that come into play in life. And specifically for me when it comes to investing or like what I want to do over a long period of time, whether it's the companies I want to build or the impact I want to have on life. So anyway, would love to hear your advice on how to develop a long term thing or just your own experience on how that you've kind of curated that within yourself.
That's a really great question. I appreciate that. I would just reiterate this sort of maybe first, the values or the benefits of the long term view, which is that the kind of longer your horizon, the kind of higher your horizon, the more you can take advantage of this miraculous power of compounding value over time. So even if there's only a 1% more good than bad in the world, that 1% compounded over time becomes over a long time to become very, very significant, just like if you were compounding interest. And so this is kind of a compounding cultural interest. Maybe that becomes the longer your horizon, the more powerful that gets over time. And that enables you, that longer view enables you to basically accommodate even fairly large setbacks. It's like the stock market. The longer the view, the less meaningful any particular drop bust because it's just going to be overwhelmed by the compounding over time. And so that gives you a little bit of a confidence to be optimistic because that compounding over long periods of time, again, will overcome most hurdles and setbacks. So that's part of the value of the long term. And the second, there's a whole movement called long term ism right now, which is saying that most of the people in our species have yet been born.
The population in the future is more than the past. And so in that sense, it's a work of empathy, where we are being empathetic, not just to the people around us, not just the expanding that circle of empathy to say animals and other things. We're also expanding the circle of empathy to the unborn, the people who get to come. And we're kind of reckoning them, including them in our calculations. And we're trying to do things that will benefit them rather than harm them. And so that's some of the values of thinking long term. And then maybe the third one that I would mention is that there are obviously many great good things that will take a long time to produce or to invent or to discover. Fusion is like an example, it was very clear to most people when they first began working on that this was not going to be finished in a single PhD, four year program, right? I mean, this is going to be a long haul. And so there are going to be other things in front of us. And I think AI is one of them, despite the current, you know, flash of excitement that will take a long time to kind of really master and understand. But there may be other inventions and other achievements, world government, right?
I mean, we obviously need planetary governance of some sort, be it planetary problems. So getting there is not going to happen this year, next year, the year after. But that's a long term project that if we had a long term view, we could dedicate ourselves to saying, I know this is not going to happen this year, but we can start doing the things that would be needed if we wanted to be there in 50 years, say. And so those are the benefits. And how to become better at it, I think is, I found for me, one of the most useful ones is history. The more I became interested in the future, the mayor realized that the best futurists were really great historians, and the more valuable the past and that kind of pathway in the past has been. One is because a lot of these things have momentum, there is momentum. And if you can see where it's been coming from, you have a better sense of where it's going to. The other thing that history does is that I think it puts into stark relief the fact that progress is real. We have made progress. And if you are impartial and scientific about it, you have to acknowledge that there is real progress. And therefore, statistically, it will continue because all the conditions that made that progress are still intact, still here.
And so it's possible it could all stop immediately tomorrow. But it's very, very unlikely. And statistically, that's going to continue into the future. And so that's one example where paying attention to the past helps me take a longer view of the future.
Yeah, I'd even you know, one thing I'd call out from the one of the values of long term thinking was that about compounding is that you actually create a very low threshold for calling yourself an optimist or thinking of yourself as an optimist, because you mentioned that you only need to think that, you know, there's 1% more good than bad in the world. And so I found that just immediately helpful in thinking, you know, that's all I have to believe in order to consider myself an optimist and have an optimistic view. So I think that's a pretty,
the powerful framework in itself. Unfortunately, a lot of people, I think what often makes me a little bit sad, is a lot of people will look at the history of our species and still, after all that objective progress that's so measurable, have this pessimistic view of where we are headed in the future, which for me, it doesn't quite add up. I've always been an optimist. I'm also a techno-optimist, which in this day is becoming increasingly rare. I mean, I have rarely talked to someone that is not bearish on all of humanity and sees 97 ways in which we are going to end or eradicate or blow ourselves up versus... And I often ask them, I say, but how many ways are you focused on in which we don't? What is your vision of the future, protopia vision of the future in which we do continue to make progress? And they're like, well, I don't really think about that. I see all these things that are going to go wrong. I'm like, well, there we go. You know, like, where's your focus? What are you building?
What are you working towards? So I personally get a lot of pushback on my techno-optimism, and some people dare to call it naive. Naive is a word that you just brought up as well when you were talking even a little bit about your own early days. What would you say to people that call this type of thinking this optimism naive?
Yeah. So I actually think that optimism is the more realistic viewpoint. I mean, a lot of pessimism, I think people are pessimistic because it makes them sound smart. But actually, I think the smarter, more informed... Again, if you looked at the actual evidence, not that naive té, but let's look at the evidence, you have to acknowledge that the reality says that progress is real. Again, whether you can believe that that's going to continue, that's maybe part of the argument. But I don't... Again, I think the naiveté actually is pessimism today because it kind of is what I call the hype critic. A lot of the critics of technology believe the hype the most, okay? The people who believe the hype the most are the critics. They totally buy into this thing and all its imaginary powers. And so I think in a certain sense, I would call the radical pessimists are wrong, people like who are the anti-civilizationists.
But now there's a whole crop of the AI folks, from Elijah Yukowsky to Elon and Stephen Hawking and Jeffrey Hinton, who are not dumb at all, who are very, very smart, who have knowledge about it. And I think there's some disconnect there. And the main disconnect that this is my AI-specific response, which is that the main disconnect I feel with their views is that they have a very inflated and I think wildly inappropriate assessment of the value of intelligence. There's a lot of people, middle-aged guys who like to think, who think that thinking is the most important thing in the universe, okay? And so I think intelligence is necessary, but it's wildly overestimated as the factor of what succeeds and doesn't succeed. You can take a human and a lion and put them in a cage. Which one's going to win? The smartest one, okay? If you're looking at a company and you're looking at, is it the company with the smartest people on it that divides and thrives and becomes dominant? So there's just to take action in the world and require so many other qualities besides IQ. That saying, well, if I have infinite amount of IQ, I win. That's the person saying that is somebody who likes to think, who highly values their IQ, okay?
And so I just think that there is so much more involved in the real world besides intelligence. Yes, we're attracted to it. Yes, it's important. But enthusiasm, empathy, grit, patience, there are all these other things that will become a form factor in deciding who succeeds and dominates, other than just pure intelligence. Mark Zuckerberg, I'm sure, is very smart, okay? It's like, yeah, and, and, and. So I think, and so anyway, that's where I think the disconnect is, they really believe that IQ trumps everything else. If you have enough of it, nothing can stop it.
And I am skeptical of that claim. Wait, do you think then that as like a society, we have reached the sort of apex of intelligence and its value? Is AI going to compete all that away?
And then the grit is all that's going to matter in the future? I mean, the first thing about it is, is IQ is kind of a fiction. It's not a single dimension in any case. It's made up of many, many, we basically have no idea what intelligence really is right now. We're, and we're in the process, we're in the dawn of trying to figure out what it is. It's a complex ecosystem of many, many kinds of cognition and many kinds of problem solving. And the thing about, we tend to think of the human intelligence is that we're, we're at the center, that we're kind of like some uber general purpose, primeval intelligence. But once we start to map out all the possible minds there are in possible, in the universe and what we could make, we're going to discover that human intelligence is the most peculiar, the weirdest, very, very specific kind of mind that was evolved on this planet for survival. It's not at all some general universal thing. So, so then that's the other thing about the AIs is they have this sort of, I don't know, platonic or mystical view that there is a general purpose can do anything optimized in every dimension, which is, of course, in engineering and possibility, that it can, if you have it and you have a lot of it, you have, you have God-like powers. And that is, that's just not reality. Reality is that there are millions of different species of thinking.
And it's not that there's an unlimited because it's like one dimension that goes off into the stratosphere is that there is a space of them, i-dimensional space of all different varieties. And it's impossible to say one is superior to the other. It's like saying what's the, what is the most superior organism body type? What's the, what's the, what, what is the most superior body type in the, in the, in evolution, what's the general purpose body type, what body, what body type can dominate all other body types? is just like, there's a nonsense question. Because they're all very, very specific, and if you try to make a robot, it's like when we're making a robot that is the ultimate robot that's better than all other robots. Well, robots are very, very specific for specific jobs and if you're, something that jumps really high, can't really crawl fast. If something that can bend over and be nibble, can't really be the strongest, it's something that is the lightest, and you fly on the plane, won't necessarily be the fastest. So there's engineering trade-offs all the time. We would make anything in the world, and that includes intelligence. Something to be really, really strong, and this one cannot be strong in everything. There's always trade-offs, but they're positioning this idea that we, first of all, have some general purpose kind of intelligence that can just be amplified by speed, and then it becomes this unstoppable general purpose intelligence.
So those are some of my criticisms of why I'm optimistic, or why I'm not pessimistic about takeover, or singularity, or a substantial crisis, because these are gonna be engineering things, and most of them are gonna be very boring. Most of them are gonna be invisible. We're not gonna see most of the egg happening, just like we don't see most of the motors. And so I'm very excited for it, because there are tremendous parts of what we do that we won't do anymore, and it's very exciting because it is gonna challenge our own ideas of our own identity, and for the next 100 years, that's all we're gonna be talking about, is who are we, why are we here, what's our purpose as humans, what do we do? That is gonna be the main topic of discussion, but it's not gonna be decided in the next year, five years, and it's not gonna end.
We have lots of times to have this conversation.
And you seem to have just a very healthy view on all these matters, and it all seems to tie back into this long view of how you've cultivated the optimism. There seems to be this obsession, though, on this topic of general intelligence and AGI to birth and recreate this AGI that is something akin to a human being that one day then surpasses us and becomes a sort of super intelligence. There's this obsession is really what I think it comes down to for a lot of the community. Do you feel we'd be better served with these very specific models that serve very specific tasks, and what is this obsession about? Because I worry about that aspect a little bit because, I mean, you saw last year with the Lambda model, the Google engineer was already freaking out about having a conversation with a conscious AI. Obviously, that was pretty overblown. There are people that actually today even are saying GPT-4 exhibits certain characteristics of consciousness. I guess the crux of the question is where do you see this evolving if we develop an AGI that people begin to say is conscious? There's a lot of ethical issues that you say we'll have time to solve, but how will we even know? How will we agree? How will we come to a place where we can actually say, yes, we're seeing consciousness exhibited and this is a big social issue and we need to solve it?
Because I think that that can solve a lot of problems. First of all, because I think consciousness is not binary. It's not like you have it or you don't. You're going to have it in various degrees. I think consciousness itself is made up of many different parts and particles that we'll understand as we try and do it is that it's not one thing, that there's a continuum, that it's a polarity, that it's a composite and there will have, I mean, there's a level of consciousness in a gorilla. They have some level of self-awareness that richnessizes themselves in the mirror. They can make up a sentence. So it's not binary thing. It's a very complicated thing. We're going to have a better vocabulary as we try and do that. And there will be various levels and varieties of consciousness in different kinds of AIs. The full kind of level self-awareness that we have will, I think, be very rarely put into AIs because it's a liability for the most cases.
You don't want the thing driving your car to be worried about what it looks like in the mirror and whether it should have majored in finance instead of in English, right? So, you know, it wants to just drive.
Oh, you don't want your AI to have an existential crisis, okay, got it. Exactly, right, right. No quarter-life, mid-life crises, please.
Yes, got it. Exactly, right, right. Yes. So for the most part, consciousness is going to be only sparingly used for certain things. There is a level in which, as we try to inspect these AIs to understand what they do, what we're doing is we're making another AI to go in and probe that AI and report back. And that is the beginning of self-awareness, right? So you keep making towers of that and you soon have a variety. Again, it's a variety of consciousness. But again, we're going to discover that our kind of consciousness is not a general purpose consciousness. We have a very particular kind. We'll see once we begin to fill out the space of all possible consciousness. Ours is very particular.
We're very biased right now. We think ours is the only way. It's the only one kind and it's our kind. The only one kind of intelligence is like how humans think. That's so wrong. And we know this wrong because calculators are smarter than we are and have been for years. Google is smarter than we are in memory and stuff. And so many animals are smarter than we are in many dimensions if you've ever seen the gorilla playing the kytraco game. It's just, it's just phenomenal. Just blows humans away. So consciousness, again, and sentience are things that we're going to expand our understanding of and implement and put into different ways and this conversation is not going to end but we don't need to worry about it because we have time to make these machines make them different and do things and we're going to learn a whole lot about ourselves we don't know who we are right now we don't know what intelligence and consciousness is enough to really even ascertain what it'd be like and we by the way we also don't have very good pictures or models of what better than that looks like right so I made a list somewhere in one of my books of I was trying to imagine other kinds of minds just like what kinds of like the most common thing we say about super intelligence is that it can think faster than humans that's it but obviously there'll be other kinds of minds thinking very differently than us and we just haven't been able to imagine them I think we're going to have other varieties of conscious things putting them into different kinds of minds for different reasons I think pain and emotion the thing that we're not really prepared for is emotion we're growing up emotion was seen as something that you could only come after you're intelligent you know you had intelligent being a intelligent robot and then you gave it emotions to make it more human like but in fact what we know is actually emotionally emotions is very primitive very low just as we were surprised with chat gbt that you can have creativity in machine food you can' small C creativity, we're going to be able to put emotion, small e, into robots. And AI is very soon.
And that's really going to freak people out, because they'll have people bonding to these, becoming their friends, you know, like the her, but all different varieties. It's like people have dogs, people fall in love with their dogs. Of course, imagine the dog could talk, right? I mean, that's sort of what we've got the thing, you know, this, this, this conversational interface, right, that we're now putting on everything, you put a conversational interface on your dog. Of course, the emotional component of that is this amplified doesn't have to change anything else, just give it a conversational interface. And so bringing emotion and will program pain deliberately into these machines, pain is useful, if you have a robot going around, and it's starting in one of his limbs breaks, and you want it to not walk on the limb, you invent, invent this thing that is basically pain, you have a little signal that says that prevents us from using its leg, though it doesn't destroy it more. And every time it tries to use his leg, it's gotten this jolt, doesn't let it and we're inventing pain to give to the to the robots. And so, and so, so just at that level, there's so much more that we're going to be playing around with, we don't have to worry about them taking over and killing us in our sleep. I mean, it's just, it's not going to happen. Her is the best AI movie, by the way, most, most realistic that I that I do for the other weird things around it, like they're still using fax machines and stuff.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, that was weird. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that was weird. Postcards. Yeah, that's such a more nuanced view of the whole matter. In so many ways, isn't our isn't this just an extension of ourselves? I mean, aren't we ultimately just extent like you even said, and I think most people do not consider that idea at all that we have a very specific kind of intelligence, but aren't we just birthing alternate extensions of intelligence that we can
utilize in line with? Yeah, and you know, that's our first impulse is to make it like us. But what we're discovering the human brain, right, right. And this is, this is my whole thing. I think the best stands for us to treat these things is as artificial aliens, as if they're aliens, like, you know, Spock or Yoda coming down, they can be smart and settings and, and competent in many
ways. But they're the whole point of them is that they do not think like us, but what we're discovering
the human brain. Okay, and that's not a bug. That's the feature. It's the feature that they don't think like us because we can make more humans nine months without trained labor. It's very easy. What we're making with these AIs and what we want to make is we want to populate the whole of a possible mind space with different kinds of minds, because a lot of the problems that we have, I don't think can be solved with our kind of intelligence alone. What we need is we need to invent, it's a two step process. We need to invent other kinds of thinking that are way beyond what we could do or even imagine to work with us to solve quantum gravity, as an example, to figure out what that what is that, or to solve, you know, dark matter. And so, so that is, that's the high order thing of what we're going to do. And again, the fact that the more unlike us they are, the better. Okay. And so, and the only way we get minds that think like us is if they're running on substrate close to us, wet tissue.
So there may be another way we may re-engineer human minds, you know, if we can make meat from animal cells, then we might be able to make human brains from brain cells and start to modify those to think differently. But as long as they're running on meat, they're not going to think that differently than us. And so I just don't see us going very far with trying to make human like, we can make a human interface. We, I think we will. Again, this is the big bang that we're experiencing that's so much like the 90s, where we had 10 years, 20 years of the internet and nobody paid much attention. It was dismissed because it was just people typing boys in the basement and you had to use command line stuff. The big bang that changed everything was a graphical user interface in the web. Now suddenly everybody wanted it and get in. And that's what AI has been. The AI capability has not really changed very much. They've had it for at least 10 years. What it can do is been done for years.
We now have the conversational user interface and bang, we have this big bang and everybody's oh yeah, I won. I get it because now we have a way of interfacing with it and we're going to apply the conversational interface to everything. And so that's, you know, that's to me the exciting thing that we're going to be working on is trying to come up with as many different ways to think, to make computers that are not like us, but maybe we have, we can converse with them. We're going to have some user that's human scale thing that we can deal with, but we want them to be artificial aliens.
Kevin, I'm curious. So we've seen just exponential growth and technological innovation over, you know, whatever recent period of time you want to select for humanity, right?
I don't know if I would say exponential growth and innovation, but I know, I know what you're saying. Let's say the increase, the steady increase in it.
What would you say? Okay. I'm curious. When we are making technological process as a species, what is it that you think that we are aiming towards? And if you zoom out, like, I don't know, thousand years or 10,000 years, where are we ultimately going? Where will we end up?
Yeah. Yeah. So I wrote this book called What Technology Wants? That was sort of my answer to that question. And the basic premise is that I see technology as an extension and acceleration of the same self-organizing forces of life itself and evolution and the whole galactic cosmic story from the Big Bang, where you see the first at the initial of the Big Bang, there was only hydrogen, very, very simple molecules. And what you see is a self-organizing force that works in concert with entropy, which is this unchangeable, unescapable movement towards heat depth and uniformity, where this other force, what I call exotropy, is making things more complicated by accelerating the creation of entropy. So that's the thing about the life forces that actually accelerates entropy, though it's being driven by entropy. But what it's doing is that it's self-organizing into more and more specific and improbable structures. Course of the universe is the probable structure, the probable next thing that happens is something breaks or heats up or becomes more uniform. The improbable thing is that it arranges itself into a form that's never been seen anywhere in the universe before. So you have this movement of stars making new kinds of elements, arranging, you know, adding more complexity to hydrogen to make additional elements. And you have the first wave of star formation going through all the heavier, I mean, all the lighter elements through iron.
And then the second wave, once those stars explode, they come back and they can make another round to make the heavier elements. So you have this thing of galaxies and planets forming in this self-organizing way of greater and greater complexity and improbability. And with the advent of life, that's accelerated even faster, where it's actually organizing even into more complicated and more improbable structures. And the origin of DNA itself is a very, very, very improbable possible structure that can make all these other forms itself and self-replicate. And I see technology as the extension and acceleration of those same forces, where there is a kind of a desire, you call it, to make as many different forms and possibilities as possible. There's something driving it to fill it with these improbable ways of arranging things. And it's an infinite game where the purpose of it is to keep the game going by producing yet more improbable structures. So that's, for me, my theology, my cosmic theology, which is that there is this self-organizing force driving the universe towards more possibilities, more choices, more options, more freedoms, more ways of being more shapes. And that technology is extending that because it's using life in the mind to make it to create things that evolution itself couldn't get to. There are so many forms that wet tissue can not make, but it makes a mind that can then make all kinds of things dry and dry and all kinds of other materials. And so what I expect, the continuation, is that we're in the middle of something. We're now at the end of the beginning.
We're in the middle of this long arc where they'll be using technology to make more and more possible ways of being more and more possible creatures, including variations of ourselves as well as robots that will themselves be creating more possible materials, more possible things, more possible ways to ways to use technology, and I think to ask, to end where you did not ask me to go, which is that on other planets and other galaxies, I think the only reason I can imagine, you know, aliens traveling through interstellar space, which would be very costly no matter how you do it, is not to search for materials, because at some point you have enough intelligence that you can, the known elements are all known, you can make anything you want. You don't have to travel to another planet to find spice, right? Okay, right? You don't need to go to the spice island to make, to find spice. If you can travel interestingly, you can make spice at home. So the only reason that you'll be traveling around the world visiting other planets and other galaxies is you're looking for an idea, a technology that those minds invented that your minds and all that you know could not get to. Or maybe, maybe they're looking for otherness as well, to learn. They've met a million minds in their travels or they've developed a million minds. The only thing they're looking for is some new technology or idea that those million minds themselves could not have arrived at. So that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Oh, so good. I gotta listen to that 20 times, I think. That's satisfied you, Steven. No, no, I agree. Steven, I know you wanted to talk about, no, I agree, the crypto side and the intersection of crypto with AI. Do you want to open that up?
Yeah, it feels like such a small question now, but a huge chunk of our audience is in the crypto space, not just investors, but also builders. They are creating what we hope are the apps and whatever it may be of the future that's going to do whatever the internet did. I'm curious what your current thoughts are on crypto, where it's going, and to narrow that even down more specifically, like if you see a crossover between the world of AI and the world
of crypto. So I'm not steeped in crypto. I'm very skeptical of it, of the cryptocurrencies, I think they're fairly limited. And the reason is that I wrote a whole book about decentralized systems out of control in the 90s. And I think the thing that we don't appreciate about decentralization is that it comes at a cost. It's inefficient. Oftentimes, it's worth paying that inefficiency price. Like evolution is incredibly inefficient. I mean, it's like crazy that you have a lobster that will make a billion eggs to the three survive, right? I mean, that's just incredibly inefficient. But the advantages of a very decentralized system is that it's very adaptable, incredibly adaptable, very, very fluid and flexible. But there's a high price for it.
And so far in terms of currency, the question is whether the adaptability is going to be worth the high cost of doing it in a crypto way. So from my perspective, I think there's a beauty of the blockchain itself as a fabulous idea. And I think it can be very useful, but I still haven't really seen where I think it's going to be worth that cost of decentralization. And so I think it has great potential to do it. And I could imagine it being used in some ways for authentication of really large, distributed, decentralized platforms, like say the Metaverse would want to be, where you have so many things that you want authenticated and you want to verify that are hopefully on a distributed platform itself. And that some kind of blockchain would be useful in verifying things or making sure that these are semantically correct or authorized. I have no idea what that looks like. That might be part of Web3. I don't know. So I would say I'm not steeped in it. And from my outside perspective, I think it's still waiting for a really useful job because I don't think currency is its job. And Web3 might be its job, but I haven't actually seen it play out in that way.
My son and my son-in-law for a while were involved in it. And I would always say, hey, I'm willing to have a conversation about crypto with one caveat. You can't mention money. It can't be about money. Those conversations were very short. You can't talk about saving money, making money, moving money. No, no, no, no. If it's not about money, we're not going to talk about it. And it's like, let's talk about it. So it's like, those are very short conversations. So I think in the finance world, sure, there might be some, but I don't think that's
revolutionary enough. So anyway, that's my answer. All right. Yeah. Well, it's really interesting because I remember when we talked, it was one of the two episodes, Kevin, you talked about blockchain as this integral, important technology, but you also called it boring. And you said that it's just being glamorized as something more than it really is. But I think that's proving to be correct what you're saying. It's just an infrastructure layer. What we are lacking, what I bring up all the time on the podcast whenever crypto comes up is we're still missing that big bang moment. That big bang moment of the user interface that causes the explosion of
adoption has not occurred for me. I was suggesting that the technology succeed when they become invisible and boring. That's a mark of it. So the other thing is I find money basically kind of very boring. And that's why if it's just about money, I'm just not interested in it. I understand completely that many people find money fascinating and finance and there's a whole world there. And that's fine. I'm not saying that it is. It's the thing I find it boring. And so far, so I can tell it's really been a financial instrument and that's fine as it is. But I don't think, but if it doesn't go beyond that, it can't really revolutionize the world. And so I think it has great potential.
But like you say, I think it's waiting for the right job. I think that's part of what we're talking about. What I'm talking about is finding the right jobs for technologies like nuclear energy. The right job for it was not making bombs, but making electricity, you know, and the right job for DDT. The insecticide was not as a crop plantation insecticide, where it was a very detrimental to the environment, but it was to households as a malaria, eliminating malaria, saving hundreds of millions of lives a year. And so we want to find the right job for crypto.
And I don't think it has found the right job yet. Yeah, I think that the industry certainly has to do better and think beyond finance. Like we certainly get encapsulated by the financial part of it and like talking about it. But we're very much still building the protocol level of this technology. And maybe the money is just the first one that kind of greed incentivizes you to go in. But there are other applications, I'm hoping there will be, around identity, using decentralized tools to identify people. You know, DAOs are certainly a component where, you know, large groups of people, decentralized groups of people can make decisions and organize. So those will certainly be, hopefully, what's next to come. It's actually working. Oh, they're clown shows
for now. A hopeless event. A hopeless, it feels like. A centralized identity is a possibility. And the question is, you know, will it be worth or can it overcome the cost, the great cost of that decentralization that it will require? And that remains to be seen. So, I mean, I think it would be fabulous to have a decentralized ID. I think that would be really great. But yeah, it'll be
costly to do so. What about the idea that people might be seeking to like censor AI in a particular way, block particular data sets from being used, protocols from being assets, and that AI might end up turning to the crypto world in a way, if you could kind of permissionlessly put all of this data and stuff on chain in a way that anybody could access it, nobody could censor it. That's
like a thought I've had recently. I hadn't thought about that. I think you're right. There could be some imaginative, innovative thing. The one thing I will say about the training sets is that I fully expect us to see, going back to my idea, multiple species of these chatbots, we'll call them, all trained on different things. Some of them will be very curated training sets. And they'll have varieties like, you know, the conservatives will absolutely have their own version of a chatbot that's been trained on their list of things. And there will be other ones that will continue to say, no, no, we don't want a PG version. We want the, we want the worldly version that's seen everything bad and good. And it's just really much more wise to the world. And there'll be, you know, there'll be yet other versions of that. It's kind of like, be very similar to the kind of school choice thing.
It's like, okay, your kids, the AIs are children and they're going to go to school. What do you expose them to? Okay, do you expose them to the classics only? Do you expose them to wokeness woke approved stuff only? It's going to be my answer is we're going to see all of them. We're going to, we're going to see multiple versions and you'll have your version of how you want to get questions answered or help you work. Do you know, do you want the piece G version of it? Do you want the really cool tattooed kid version? I don't know. It's like, we're going to see all of them. And, um, uh, there'll be different, there'll be different philosophies of how they are trained. And so the market will kind of have a chance to decide.
Um, and, and you might even, you know, have different ones for different tasks.
And so I'm imagining yours, Armand, just piling in every philosopher and every philosophy book into one and just sitting there with your whiskey, uh, you know, chatting away with it. Um, sign me up. Yeah. Um, Kevin, I want to transition out of technology a little bit. Um, and I like to ask this question to, to deep thinkers and you're certainly one of them. Um, we talked a little bit about, um, optimism about life and the future of life, but I'm, I'm curious how you think about death, either death of loved ones or, or maybe your own death. And I'm particularly curious, does your thought about death kind of, um, feed back into your view of, of optimism or do you find their opposing views in there? They're kind of separate in your mind.
Yeah. That's a, that's a good question. When I was young, 29, I, I rehearsed a living for six months and having only six months to live. And I feel like I got a lot of, um, that I'm, I kind of prepared myself even for the rest of my life with that rehearsal of preparing myself to die in six months. And even today I have a death countdown clock on my computer, um, starting with actuarial tables about my typical insurance inspected lifespan and then turning that into days and showing how many days I would have if I were to be a typical person born when I was born and dying. And it's very, very sobering because it's 5,862 days and I have a lot to do and I was 5,000 days. So, um, uh, so, so I'm, I'm not, I'm not very, uh, persuaded that there's going to be really real movement in the longevity, certainly within my, my lifetime and even within your lifetime. I think this is a very, very, very difficult problem. And the unlike digital stuff, it moves at a more biological scale. Um, again, going back to thinkism, um, I don't think even the biggest AI can solve longevity by thinking about it. I think we still haven't done enough experiments. We still don't know enough.
And that's again, that's the thinkism idea that, well, if you have a super brain, they'll just look at all the papers today and they'll figure it out. That that's not, that's not true. You just can't, there's so much we don't know that we just can't think our way to. We actually have to continue to do the experiments and they take biological time. They can be accelerated with simulations, but when you celebrate with simulations, you, you're cheating, you're, you're leaving things out. So, um, I don't currently expect, um, there to be immortality, um, within any near future. Um, who knows in the longterm, but I think, uh, for the time being, uh, it's not something that we have to necessarily accommodate, um, or plan on or even count on, I should say. So, um, so yeah, so I'm going to die. And, um, one thing we know about human civilization is that within probably about no more than four generations, there's no memory of you. You're God. People that, you know, it's like no one remembers you at all. And that's pretty sobering too.
Um, so that's my expectations. Um, I am, uh, you know, I'm operating with that assumption that I have, you know, a short time left and then within several generations, um, nobody is even aware that I've ever lived, but you can leave things behind. You may not your name, but you can build things and do stuff, make stuff. There are books to be read or ideas to be introduced. Um, you can have influence indirectly. And so that's what I'm
working on. Kevin, did I, did I hear you accurately? Did you say when you were younger, you did an exercise where you rode out as if you had six months to live. Can you tell more about that?
Cause I've never actually heard that before. I thought, I thought, yeah, you did it right for six months. I told the story for the first and only time on this American life. And it was about a religious conversion that I had in Jerusalem on Easter. And the consequence of that thing was I got an assignment to, uh, live as to, to, to, to live with the idea of dying in six months. And so I knew rationally that I was very healthy, but I had to take the assignment seriously and fully, um, obey it. So that's what I did. So, so, so I had the whole thing of giving everything away, preparing it. And then I refused to think about the future beyond that day. And I was, did everything in my actual life to prepare for that moment. And, you know, to bed, uh, just fully in every way it could be to be ready not to awake the next morning. And of course I did awake and I had a rebirth and that was the payoff, which I did kind of, I mean, I did not expect because I was not, I didn't think about that.
I was not focused on that, but I had an incredible rebirth. That was the gift. I was reborn with the whole future in front of me and everything. And so that was, that, that rehearsal I felt was like, okay, I, I, I've done that. I know what that is, you know, if that feels like I want to not lose that. So, so I would say, I really tried to live my life so that I don't have, and you know, part of the thing I did was sort of like, people that I hurt, people that I felt I had, um, disappointed. I wrote letters to, you know, kind of like trying to leave with no regrets. And so I try to continue that now. One of the bits of advice in the book, I think it's in the book, I don't remember, which is that we shouldn't really withhold our compliments and praise for people until their memorial. It's kind of crazy that we wait to say all these really very heartfelt and good things to people when they're not here to hear it. We should be saying that to them while there's still a chance to impact their lives. And so that's the kind of regret,
minimization that I tried to do now. You also said in your book that at your memorial, at any memorial, people are not talking about the things you achieved, but rather they're talking about the way you made them feel emotionally as a person. And at the same time, to go back to what you said, first of all, I really appreciate you talking about this and being so open about it, because it's incredible wisdom that I rarely see people open up around. And I don't think I've ever met anyone who's rehearsed there, who's gone through a six month ritual of end of life ritual. So how does it all reconcile for you, given that in four generations, the name Kevin Kelly will be forgotten, and that you have this many 5,800 days to live or whatever, God knows. How do you reconcile that? What do you do with you? You said, I make, I create, I enjoy, I learn, I give. Is that what it ultimately comes down to? Is that what we can take away from all this at the end of the day? I mean, to go to sleep and not wake up one day still for me is hard to really
grapple with that concept. Yeah, I mean, I hate to break it to you, but I don't think there is much more. The traditional Christian tradition, of course, is this is just the any room to the real life and the afterlife. And I think there could be afterlives, plural. But here's the thing I'm pretty sure about. I wrote a whole graphic novel about this. I think this ride that we're having right now, where we're embedded into bodies, is like the ultimate ride. And this is the ride that all the other lives and angelic beings and beings in the other dimensions are totally envious of us about. Because this is like to get into meat and to have the sensual reality show and then to be able to have impact and impact. So the advantage that we have with bodies versus beings made of light or whatever, is that we can change things. We can do things. We can hurt somebody, we can hug somebody.
We can do something that has an impact over time. We can leave somebody behind that will affect several generations. We can make something, a building that will be used for many times. So there's this embodiment is very, very precious. And it's like maybe the best ride in the multiverse, okay? And so, um, uh, I think the, yeah, this ride is the thing. This is it. It may not be more than this, and that's why you really want to make the most of this. That's my philosophy. So, um, can you, I don't know if, I mean, uh, you know, Elon and others maybe believe that they can have an impact on millions and they can in some ways, but even their names are not going to be around for many generations. Um, but all of us can have, I mean, I, you know, I know Elon a little bit and he's a flawed character and his ability to affect people in the positive way at scale comes with the fact that he can hurt people and have other negative effects on people around him. So there's, there's a, there's a cost.
I think greatness is overrated and what I'm saying is that it's usually very flawed. Greatness, people who are great are terribly flawed, okay? And so, so there's, there's a near-term cost for him and he's making the decision to project his influence in a wide way and maybe losing the influence he could have nearby. We thought we can choose, and I may be choosing a different one, is to have more direct effect than those around me close to me, um, which might even in the long term have, you know, have the butterfly effect of things down the line. You don't know. So, um, but even that is what I'm saying. Even Elon's, whoever's Steve Jobs effect is, is limited. It's very limited and that's part of the deal of having an embodied life. It's limited. There's limits. There's doesn't go forever. It's not infinite.
So the thing about
death is by its definition, it's, it's a limitation by its definition. And also I think that's what ultimately the finiteness of life is what gives meaning to life. I think if we actually had immortality, I don't know. I've played this experiment many times. I'm curious if you have, you know, what would an immortal life actually look like? How much meaning would it contain? How much sort of urgency would there be to create, to impact, to, to enjoy, to smell the flowers? I think that would completely go away. I'm not saying that I wouldn't want a couple extra hundred years if I could have it, but I, I really believe that death is actually an incredible tool. And, it's, it's part of this experience for a reason. And I couldn't agree more about the soul or light beings looking at us and saying, wow, you get to experience depression. You get to experience pain and suffering because it truly is a human flesh experience to, to get such a thing.
And we overlook
that. Except death as a, as what life gives life meaning. I think, I think that's sort of, for now, this is the way it is. You know, if we can overcome death and make immortality, I think that's certainly worth trying to do, but for the foreseeable future, I think that is, that is our story. And that's what we, that's what we have. And that limitation is, is real, is real. And, and we have to work within those limitations and that is, that is the limit. But in the longterm, who knows? And, you know, it's a limit. Thousands of years out, I have no idea what, what we could possibly be. And if we did have some version of immortality, even if it was in like computers, I, I, I'm just going to have to imagine that there's again, some cost to that. That that's my sense of reality, reality is like nothing's free.
That, you know, that, that's my premise, like second law of thermodynamics, and then nothing is free, no free lunch. So those two things, I guess for me, you're the, of the ultimate, the ultimate limits, entropy and no free lunch.
Just talking to you, one of the things I think is very easy to observe is that your openness is very high, you know, from a, from a psychological perspective. And I'm sure that that's impacted your creativity in so many ways, your work, your desire to experience otherness and so on. And I've often found that, you know, the, the most interesting people that we meet that the greatest creators are very high in openness. Was that something cultivated or a way that you would
give advice to people on how to cultivate over time? That's a good, that's a good, yeah, openness. I have trouble remembering myself as a kid, even I just have bad memory as a kid, but bad memories about, I had a great childhood, I just, my memories about it are not very reliable or good. So I don't know where it came from, but I would definitely say that I'm, even as a kid, I was really seeking wisdom and wise people. That was, that's, for me, that was the ultimate compliment. Not that I would be smart or rich. What I wanted to be was wise, even as a kid. So I gravitated to that. The openness part, I don't, I don't think that was ever an articulation in my mind. I think it was something, I don't think we even use those kinds of words back when I was a kid, but I think that was something that I got rewarded for. And I think as the new age terminology and as things progressed, I had language for it, but I think it was just something I slowly accumulated over time by being rewarded for being open and how you, how to inculcate that in others, how to educate others, how to train others to be more open. I think you want to reward them for it.
And if you're a person who is trying to do it yourself, maybe again, highly or record or measure it yourself, you know, like try being more open and see if it gives you results or benefits or rewards. I certainly know that there's something called learned optimism, which child psychologists talk about and they can teach. Optimism is something that's teachable. And that's part of being open. And the optimism, they say one of the one of the chief qualities they try to instill in children to teach them optimism is to consider any setback as temporary and the kids that see the setbacks is sort of inevitable or part of their identity or something that because they're unlucky or something about them have don't thrive as well as the kids that see setbacks is temporary that C setbacks is temporary that can be overcome and that is one of the elements of this learned optimism. So the openness might be another part of that idea that you're open to other ideas or you're open to alternative ways or you're open up to trying something new. So I do think it can be taught. I may not have the a curriculum for it but I think being rewarded for it or rewarding yourself or when you are taking a chance and choosing something that has more options than that or involves more change then then maybe that's one good
way to become more open. I like I like rewarding yourself. I think it was one of our recent episodes we were talking about travel and I brought up the movie Walter Mitty. Have you ever seen that movie? You know straight edge guy very low in openness and all of a sudden he just rips it rips the cord and and gets out there and lives life and all of a sudden he becomes this wonder junkie full of awe and I think he's rewarded by for it by his environment but also rewards himself because he realizes he's actually stepping into who he really is and it's this process of uncovering who he really is which I've always found to be maybe the greatest journey of life is what we're all here to do at the end of the day is like to uncover and it sounds like such a such a very trite phrase like who you really are but those words are profound in their basic sort of meaning because I think it's a lifelong journey until death that we that we do this and I don't know every year I'm embarrassed by the person I used to be
last year and I think that's a good thing it's a good thing that's a really great thing I wonder maybe I would add to the list of ways to become more open is to subscribe to the yes theory YouTube channel oh yes have you seen them no we like oh my gosh there was a total oh yes theory they go around and reward people for saying yes they walk out to somebody and they would say would you want to join me for a surprise a trip somewhere whatever it is and then they don't say where it is and they're waiting for someone to say yes and then they hand them tickets to like join and go to Japan whatever it is or all kinds
of other situations where they're getting people to open up to say yes have
Have you seen them? No.
We like these right now. We like these right now. Oh my gosh.
Really? Oh my God. That's awesome.
You know how to make a note to myself?
It's a whole stuff channel. It's a whole stuff culture. I already subscribed. It's a movement. They've got school. I mean, it's a big, big thing.
I already subscribed. Wow. Damn. It's like Yes Man with Jim Carrey.
That was great. That's very... I mean, it actually almost brings tears, but they... Here's the thing. To be part of one of the deals is like the person who is benefited has to... Part of the yes thing is also being able to walk up to people randomly and get them to join you. Okay? No. I mean, they don't know it, but part of that other yes theory is opening up to talk to strangers and invite them. And so they're asking people literally at random and it's just amazing the kind of people who will say yes.
And so I think you guys are really enjoying it. We're on it. Oh man. I think we'll wrap with one last bit here.
Sure. Oh man. Yeah. Thank you so much for your time, Kevin. You've been awesome. It was great. I wanted to ask you one more thing. We talk a lot on the pod about a lot of the big questions in life and debate them. And something that comes up a lot is religion. And we've debated the nature of religion and God and all this a lot. We're always trying to talk about what is and isn't a rational way to live your life. Do you feel that you can make a rational argument for the belief in God?
Yes. I think you can make a rational argument. I don't think it's going to convince you, but in the briefest terms, I think there's kind of two or three basic framings of our understanding of the universe. Either the universe has always been exactly as it has been. It's just created, always been there some weird way that we don't understand what that even means. But the universe just is. Then there's the idea that the universe self-created itself. There was kind of a self-assembling universe out of what or how or why. And then there's the other one that there is this God that was self-created or self-made or always was. And it made the universe. None of those explanations are satisfactory. None of them are acceptable.
But the God one to me is a much more interesting story.
And so that's the one I choose to believe. Beautiful. Love it. We're going to talk about that one next week. I can feel it.
Oh, I want to go so much deeper on that. Well, I think there's an incredible amount of advice, more advice in your book. Excellent. Excellent advice.
I know. I would say advice. Excellent advice for living. A little tiny book. Best for a gift. Did you guys know all this stuff? Hair to somebody young doesn't know. Not at all.
You know, the thing about knowing stuff is that you, you know, you don't know a lot of stuff. You have to keep revisiting so much of this, what might appear basic.
And so you have to keep revisiting.
Yeah. We're, we're excited to support the book, the community listening out there, grab copies, gift them out. We really appreciate you being on, Kevin. Thanks for your time. You're an absolute legend. We hope we can get you back soon. We're actually building a podcast studio. Maybe we'll do something in person with you one day in the future. It would be awesome.
What's the, besides the book, any last, just sort of asks for the audience or just. I'm in the books on Amazon and I'll be at bookstores. There are audible and kiddo versions and I can be found at my initials, kk.org. My email there has been public for 35 years. And the only thing you might also want to be interested in is I do a little newsletter with two other friends we have for seven years now. It's a weekly free newsletter called recommendo where every week I recommend a couple of things that I am enjoying and using that week and you're a six, one, one pager that many people find useful. So recommendo.com. That's about it. I had a blast. What a fun group. Thank you. It was really exhilarating and fun and a great way to spend an afternoon.
So I appreciate your interest in the book. Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you so much, Kevin. Thank you. Thank you.