Notes: The Future of Intelligence on the Sam Harris Podcast

Here are my notes from The Future of Intelligence, a Conversation with Max Tegmark on the Sam Harris Podcast.

You can listen to it here:

My notes and thoughts:

  • We always focus on the downsides of super intelligent AI. There are, however, upsides. Super intelligence can help solve some of the biggest problems of our time: Safety, medical issues, justice, etc.
  • Containment is both a technical and a moral issue. Much more difficult than currently given credit for. Given ways we have to construct it, we likely can just “unplug” it.
  • Tegmark defines these three stages of life:
    • Life 1.0: Both hardware and software determined by evolution. (Flagella)
    • Life 2.0: Hardware determined by evolution, software can be learned (Humans)
    • Life 3.0: Both hardware and software can be changed at will. (AI machines)
  • Wide vs narrow intelligence: Humans have wide intelligence. Generally good a lot a lot of different tasks and can learn a lot implicitly. Computers have (so far) with narrow intelligence. They can calculate and do programmed tasks much better than us. But will completely fail at needing to account for unwritten constraints when someone says, “take me to the airport as fast as possible.”
  • The moment the top narrow intelligence gets knit together and meets the minimum of general intelligence, it will likely surpass human intelligence.
  • What makes us intelligent is the pattern in which the hardware is arranged. Not the building blocks themselves.
  • The software isn’t aware of the hardware. Our bodies are completely different from when we were young, but we feel like the same person.
  • The question of consciousness is key. A subjective experience depends on it.
  • We probably already have the hardware to get human-level general intelligence. What we are missing is the software. It is unlikely to be the same architecture as the human brain, likely similar. (Planes are much more simple than birds.)
  • AI Safety research needs to go hand-in-hand with AI research. How do we make computers unhackable? How do we contain it in development? How do we ensure system stability?
  • One further issue you are going to need to overcome is having computers answer how a decision was made in an understandable way instead of just dumping a stack trace.
  • Tegmark councils his own kids to go into fields that computers are bad at. Fields where people pay a premium for them to be done by Humans.

TK Coleman’s Career Journey on the Isaac Morehouse Podcast

TK Coleman, my coworker on the education team at Praxis, told his career journey story in two parts on the Isaac Morehouse podcast. It is worth a listen:

I’ve heard many parts of this story through working with TK, but I hadn’t heard the entire thing laid out. I immensely respected TK before listening to this, but hearing his early story just added to it further. Here are a few things from these shows that I find admirable:

  • TK’s complete dedication to topics.
  • How he unapologetically structures his life around his top priorities.
  • How humble he is. He knows so much more than he lets on. The last time he stayed with Amanda and me, I assumed that he knew very little about cocktails because he didn’t drink and never hinted at knowing about cocktails when I talked about them. In this show I learned that he was a professional bartender for a while and dove into bartending with the same intensity that he dives into everything else. He is this way about everything. He knows so much, be he never flaunts it. He approaches everything as a learning opportunity and doesn’t let his current knowledge get in the way of learning something new. He told me that one of his pet peeves is that people prefer to talk instead of listen, so he tries his best to avoid that.
  • He isn’t afraid to admit that he was scared and that stopped him from going to Hollywood at first. He always seems confident and fearless, so hearing this makes him seem more real. And even better.

Here are some of my takeaways from the two shows:

  • It is okay to stick with a few things and do them seriously for a few years and then decide to move on to something else. Just don’t treat those two years as a half-hearted effort. Go all-in. You don’t need a grand life plan early in your career. When I think that the place I’m currently at in life is a huge deal, remember that there are multiple parts of TK’s story where he made something his life for two years, moved on, and now it barely comes up unless someone asks.
  • Don’t celebrate or call your Mom until the check clears
  • If your startup has a significant tech component, bring on a tech cofounder. Don’t rely on contractors for a core product.
  • Never take money from someone unless you know they can lose it and be okay with it
  • Never take money out of a place of desperation or powerlessness. Walk away.
  • Doing something that you don’t need permission to do is the ultimate expression of power.
  • When you are working for free or cheap, the expectations are low. It is easy to blow people away. When you get brought on full time, now all the things that were impressive before are expected.
  • Leave things in a way that allows you to come back in the future.
  • The best path forward is doing whatever you are doing now fully and with integrity.


Listening Notes: You Are Not So Smart podcast ep 92: Bullshit

Episode link:


  • Methods of thinking are more important than raw intelligence. The people who were burning witches probably didn’t have a lower IQ than the people who went to the moon. They thought about the world in a different way. 
  • Bullshit and lying aren’t the same. Bullshit may contain lies, but the purpose is different. Lies intentionally deceive, but bullshit’s goal is impressing the listener. 
  • Falling for bullshit isn’t a good indicator for someone’s intelligence. 
  • People may fall for bullshit for non-obvious reasons, such as reading too far into it or projecting their own beliefs onto it. 

Listening Notes: Invisibilia – Emotions Part One 

Link to episode:

  • Emotions don’t happen to us, they are responses to things that happen to us. 
  • In fact, we don’t respond directly to the things that happen to us, but rather we respond to our concept of what happens. We don’t directly respond to the outside world, we respond to our mind’s interpretation of the outside world. 
  • If someone who has been blind from birth gets a cornea transplant, they don’t automatically see what we see. They see blobs of light and dark for days, weeks, and sometimes years, until their mind forms a conceptual understanding of what it takes in. 
  • Everything around us (what we see) and inside us (what we feel) is a blob until we learn how to interpret it.
  • Our brain has four basic reactions: pleasant, unpleasant, aroused, calm. Our brain then reacts to our concepts of what happens to us and makes meanings based on past experience. Those are emotions. 
  • We can change our concepts of the outside world. 
  • The consequence of this is that we can also change our emotions. This means we have control and responsibility over our emotions. 
  • Emotions aren’t objective. Trauma isn’t the same as cells that have corrupted and turned cancerous. 
  • It can be a long a difficult task to change our concepts. But it can be done. We control our experience of reality. 

Listening Notes: Venkatesh Rao on The Three Types of Decision Makers, Mental Models, and How to Process Information | The Knowledge Podcast

Listening Notes for Venkatesh Rao on The Three Types of Decision Makers, Mental Models, and How to Process Information | The Knowledge Podcast

Link to the podcast:

Types of Decision Makers

  • Evidence-based
  • Moral (right vs wrong)
  • Tribal (emotional/affiliation decision-making)

Staying grounded in reality by maintaining cracks in your mental models. (Note: I first need to codify my existing mental models)

From Wikipedia: Red Queen effect is an evolutionary hypothesis which proposes that organisms must constantly adapt, evolve, and proliferate not merely to gain reproductive advantage, but also simply to survive while pitted against ever-evolving opposing organisms in an ever-changing environment. The phenomenon’s name is derived from a statement that the Red Queen made to Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass in her explanation of the nature of Looking-Glass Land: “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

Venkatesh Rao only takes notes when he is doing academic research (for references and quotes). He optimizes normal reading for serendipity. Note taking, he thinks, interferes with that.

How do we structure organizations as we get more and more independent workers/free agents?

There are two ways of looking at the Uber situation:

  1. Drivers not getting paid enough based on their being the necessary labor (drivers) (1920s labor style)
  2. Drivers training an AI data set for self-driving cars, so being paid as researchers helping the tech transition.

Not picking a book that influenced you the most. Influence is difficult to measure. I read quite a bit and different books do different things for me at various points in my life. There are books that were important to me at a particular time that I wouldn’t even have finished the first chapter of at another time. There are books I reread every few years, but I think it has more to do with personal attachment and what I need, not necessarily what will work for someone else. This is what I like to tell people: Go read more. Read things that give you joy. Read things you are curious about.

Energy Management

Notes from The Productivity Show | Why Time Management Doesn’t Work & Why You Should Focus on Energy Instead (TPS142)

The best time management system is worthless if you don’t have the energy to work on it. Energy has four components:

  1. Physical
  2. Emotional
  3. Mental
  4. Spiritual

You need dedicated recovery time in each of these areas. 

General notes:

  • Life is not a marathon, it is a series of sprints. 
  • You probably won’t see results from individual exercise sessions, especially when you first start. But it compounds over time. 

Tips for increasing energy: 

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat clean
  • Take strategic breaks. (Watching TV or listening to podcasts is not actually a mental break)
  • Establish rituals
  • Know your why. Understand your purpose. 
  • Give to others.