This week our guest is Stephen Fry, famed actor, comedian, writer, and director whose prolific list of creative and intellectual endeavors have touched so many aspects of our lives.
On this episode, we start by exploring the lessons myth can teach us about technology in honor of Stephen’s latest book release, Troy, which follows Mythos and Heroes, a series of compendiums where Stephen retells the myths of ancient Greece, albeit with his trademark proclivity towards wit and wisdom. From there we explore the rise of artificial intelligence and the upcoming technological transformation of humanity, with an emphasis on the role culture plays in steering this future.
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Music by: Amine el Filali
people, technology, gods, intelligence, zeus, myth, gave, talking, singularity, world, idea, pandora, mankind, promethean, culture, part, story, called, earth, prometheus
Stephen Fry, Steven Parton
Stephen Fry 00:00
Everything casts a shadow. Indeed often the brighter and sharper the light, the darker the shadow that is cast. And every technology that we have ever, ever come up with has cast a shadow.
Steven Parton 00:28
How's it going everybody my name is Steven Parton and you are listening to the feedback loop on singularity radio, where we keep you up to date on the latest technological trends and how they're impacting the transformation of consciousness and culture from the individual to society at large. This week, I am extremely excited and humbled to have on the show, one of my favorite thinkers, and creatives, the myth, the legend himself, Stephen Fry. For those of you who may not be familiar with Stephen Fry, he is an actor, a comedian, writer and director who starred in numerous films produced documentaries. He's done the audio books for all the Harry Potter's. He's created podcast about technology, and he's constantly fought for reason, empiricism, kindness, and humanism throughout his entire life. His list of accomplishments is so vast that it would take far too long to cover here. So I'll simply let you look at his Wikipedia and get a sense of how prolific Stephen truly is. And instead, we'll just go ahead and dig in. And I'll let you know a little bit about what we talked about on this episode. Specifically, we start by exploring the lessons that myths can teach us, especially as it relates to technology. And this was an honor of Stephens latest book release Troy, which follows his other works mythos and heroes, a series of compendiums, where Steven retells the myths of ancient Greece sprucing up the storytelling with his trademark proclivity towards Wit and Wisdom. From there, we move on to explore the rise of artificial intelligence and the upcoming technological transformation of humanity with an emphasis on exploring the role that culture plays in steering this future. Now before we get into it, there are a few things I want to quickly let you know about that are happening within the singularity universe. First, let's jump to a short message about our premium membership experience, where you can learn how to unlock a special offer for two weeks of free access.
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Steven Parton 03:30
And so there you have it, everybody two free weeks of premium membership ready for the taking. If you find your curiosity Pete, if you've been wanting a chance to get a look inside singularity, this is going to be one of the best ways to do it. Additionally, we do have some very exciting news. After taking 2020 off due to the pandemic, we're happy to announce that singularities executive program is returning. So for those of you who are ready to take your next transformative leap into becoming a leader of the future, you can join us between November 7 and 11th, where we'll help you challenge your ideas of what is possible. This is your chance to develop a new understanding about the role technology will play in the world of tomorrow. And you'll leave the event feeling inspired by a radically new mindset and skill set that will help you start companies change companies and really make an impact on the world. You can learn more and apply by visiting su.org slash ep 2021 so check the show notes if you're interested in either the premium membership or the executive program and all the links you need will be there. But for now let's get to the real reason you were here everybody it is time to welcome to the podcast, the ever endearing and inspirational Stephen Fry. To start that's one of the things I would love to focus on is why do you find these Greek myths so appealing and Why retell these ancient stories? As always,
Stephen Fry 05:03
I think with a lot of human instincts and impulses, you have to try and rationalize after the fact because there's no question I am very drawn to these stories and always have been since I was a child, I just found them so full of character and juice and a kind of truth. Of course, I never believed for a minute that Hermes and Athena and Zeus walk to the earth or indeed set in stone thrones on Mount Olympus. But there was a truth to it that I instinctively apprehended, I think, and a lot of people do a lot of people especially is in their sort of mid to late childhood, adolescence, they find something very rewarding and appealing about these characters, you somehow join into a great stream of human thinking. But since that time, of course, after writing these three books, and currently engaged in the fourth, which is the Odyssey, I have naturally had cause to wonder what it is about them that is so appealing, what draws me to them. And there are different ways you can rationalize or even intellectualizing, quite fanciful. manners. What's fascinating about myth is that it is an expression of what Jung called the collective unconscious. In a sense, you can look at it as a sort of, it's part of the human urge to use ritual and ceremony as kind of metaphors, almost a sort of performative algebra through which we can work out our, our feelings and our thoughts. And as always, I'm an empiricist. And I hate talking in abstract terms in general terms. So I try and come down to an example. And for me, I think that hit me over the head, and which is very appropriate for you and singularity and any thoughts that we might have about futurology, and so on a thing that really struck me, and I'll just retell the story slightly so that those who are not familiar will get a sense of it is Prometheus, the Titan, his name means forethought as it happens. But I would urge everyone not to regard Greek myths as allegories in which there's a simple substitution for everything that can tell us a story that, but they have allegorical areas. Anyway, promethease was a Titan, one of the earliest forms of Immortal being. And he was a great friend of Zeus, the king of the gods who ran Olympus. And between them, they had this idea of creating a new species on Earth, there were animals. And there were the semi divine and divine figures, the nymphs and the dryads, and various spirits of forms and things like that spirits of the trees and woods, and of course, the gods themselves and these great powers. But they decided they wanted to create another species, a species that had the same sort of intelligence as the gods probably language. But not the divine spark the gods, Zeus was very clear about that. There could be a sort of plaything for the gods a toy, little autometer little a little godlike creatures, as long as they knew their place, and they could serve and they could worship and and sacrifice to the gods. And Prometheus was made to agree that they could have everything except fire. And fire you can take to mean both the fire that roasts and toasts and melts and smells the fire that causes technology to give us ceramics and metalwork and all the remarkable things that fire can do to protect these creatures because Promethean has made them and they were called anthropoid from the ground from the earth, man, as we would call them, or humankind. But they didn't have any weapons like most animals do, they couldn't fly or swim particularly well. They didn't have horns, or echolocation, or any special tricks that almost all animals have to do really have claws and teeth that were as good as most predators and live and have the strength that the prey animals have. And the primitive is worried about this because he loved these little creatures. They weren't like Gods a bit smaller, forked animals, you know, with two legs and two, two arms and uprights, like the guards. And he couldn't resist it. He said, he went to Olympus and he stole fire from heaven. Against deduces orders and gave it to mankind. Now that fire is the same as both literal fire but it's also the divine fire the spark of self consciousness that so distinguishes humanity from other life forms. So that's our special gift as we know this is our divine fire. Anyway, Zeus was so angry, that man had been given fire because he looked down from heaven and saw these little flames busting out and realized, most importantly, that it meant man would no longer need the gods, we could literally stand on our own two feet, but we could also protect ourselves with fire. And we could use this awareness, this consciousness, this godlike ability to feel that we could name the universe of the parts of the world into which we were born and, and colonize it in a very different way to the way that animals do. This, Zeus knew would mean they would no longer need gods. And sure enough, in time we gave up on the gods we relegated them to paintings and stories and amusing ideas and dramas and Brad Pitt played them, you know, Achilles and so on. And Alright, that's a nice story. It is essentially an origin story, like the Garden of Eden. How did mankind get this strange thing called consciousness, the Garden of Eden, it's a fruit. That gives us the ability to discriminate between good and evil and to, to name things that Adam does, and so on. And it's a very different, it's a story of guilt. And we're ashamed. We have committed a sin, original sin, but in the Greek idea it is that we were given this and God was the gods were jealous, because we could suddenly ape them. We are now at a new Promethean age. And never before, at least as far as we know, have we been in such an interesting situation. So akin to that to Prometheus and Zeus. There are people who will say, it's nearly always 30 years we know the cliches about AI winters, and how it's always 30 years ahead. But there is as your podcast title helps us remember this idea of a singularity of a moment when some Compendium some mixture of biologically augmented humanity, Gene edited with new materials, controlled by quantum computing, and with the latest in robotics, and AI, will create entities we will call them that with robots is a word that's confusing an API is to have too broad an idea stretched across so many different servers and countries and so on. But entities could certainly be produced without anyone thinking we're fanciful, who reach a phase of intelligence, that is enough to suggest that that spark of self consciousness might arrive, that that moment might arrive. And here in the world, people like you and me who are interested in this development, people like Elon Musk, of course, others who have their own views about the dangers or the excitements of this coming, tsunami of convergent technologies, which will all build towards this moment, this singularity. And some of us are promethease is who say, let's give these creatures the ability, these entities the ability to think for themselves, and actually, to have a sense of intelligence akin to ours that took to spark a consciousness like ours to give that flame. Let's do it. And others, like Zeus will say, No, we can't. If we do, they won't need us anymore. They will just regard us as a strange organic mess in the corner to be to be dispensed with, just as we dispensed with the gods. And of course, maybe the gods themselves were created back in the past by another race of beings who that who then were made useless because the gods did, you know, got their own intelligence, and so on and so on. I mean, it's who could have guessed that these Mediterranean people who gathered together around the Bronze Age should have come up and before In fact, should have come up with a metaphor, a dramatic playing out of ideas about ourselves and our consciousness and what separates us from other people, other animals, that it should be so, so much the best story to explain to those interested and I hope that's the whole human population in in what direction? technology's potentially taking us at the moment. And that, that drama, that dialectic between Zeus and premier atheists, which is the basis of the Shelly poem, is still with us.
Steven Parton 14:57
What I'm curious about is where you fall on that. Do you think The Greek myths have guided you to fall towards the Promethean side, the zoo side, or are you staying in the middle, perpetually agnostic?
Stephen Fry 15:08
It's a really good question, Stephen, that I think anybody who's, who's tried to look into this, this question of artificial intelligence for any length of time, is if they're honest, is likely to swing one way or another part of us out of sheer intellectual curiosity and excitement belongs to the promethease camp that wants to see what can be done. Whether we can you know, shout like Victor Frankenstein and, you know, as Boris Karloff, it's alive, you know, it's, it's that feeling that amazing feeling that we could be midwife to a whole generation of extraordinary, intelligent creatures who become more and more intelligent at each iteration each pass, of course, that they, and then another part of me, of course, is very, very frightened is, is at least there's the possibility of absolute destruction on the hands of these creatures, which I think I hope and believe were sensible enough to be able to forestall in various ways we can set ourselves important clever puzzles, and, you know, people like you and others that right up to the great rate cuts found himself or the, you know, are very good at writing quite simple apparent is simple rules, a bit like the axiom of rules of robotics, you know, which are quite simple but but very important as establishing protocols. But, as I say, whether whether the whole world will obey them, and that's the thing we imagine some mad East European or whatever, whatever our racist propensity to drives us to, to believing is the most dangerous part of the world. So I'm evil genius, could easily be in London, let's be honest. who just doesn't? Who doesn't obey the rules? And who is just too excited to see? So I don't know is the answer. But I mean, I couldn't remember when I first was interested in AI, which was back in the days of the great Marvin Minsky, who's often regarded as cliche coming, the father of AI, but he wrote such marvelous things thinks about his first moves and his colleagues moves towards thinking about an AI, that I almost regarded the whole business as a kind of bit like Plato, if you never, ever get there. Because in the 60s and 70s, it really did seem miles and miles away. But it teaches you so much about our own intelligence, looking at artificial intelligence, is a wonderful way of looking at ours because it makes us break down literally analyze in every way, what it is that makes us intelligent, and indeed, how many rooms there are in the mention of human cognition and memory. The segment here to say this one memory is like saying, you know, most people who speak English of familiar with the idea that it's a failure in the language that we only have one word for love, which you know, covers so many different forms of it. Many other languages, like Greek, for example, have five or six. And similarly, with intelligence or with memory, to have one word for memory, the part of your brain that recalls the first ice cream you ever add is surely not the same part of the brain that recalls that the Battle of Bannockburn was in the year 1314, or whatever, you know, and, and, and then many other forms of memory too, and forms of intelligence, cognition, calculator abilities, and so on. All these you have to look at when trying to plan how you might have such a thing as an artificially intelligent being.
Steven Parton 19:06
You said before that I love a quote that you said before that I think is really relevant, it was something to the effect of, we need to understand who humans are before we can grapple with the nature of what machines may or may not be. And I just wonder, what's that relationship like to you in terms of specifically the need to understand the arts and humanities? Before we create machines?
Stephen Fry 19:29
I think it's very interesting, I think, the arts and humanities like myth and obviously like science to different ways of trying to penetrate the mystery of of who we are, and what is it that makes us this bundle of different abilities and competencies and deficits and failures, and appetites and so on. So many of them contradictory and it is kind of supreme irony that Rather typical of our race is a species that at just this moment that we are closest to really being able to create an artificial intelligence of some kind of general intelligence at least. We are also through the work of quite brilliant neuroscientists, and economists and philosophers like Daniel Kahneman, for example, discovering the absolute contingency and vulnerability of everything within that, actually, we realize our intelligence is a very, very feeble and frail network of things that are totally unreliable, that, that the optical illusions that fill gaps that make us amused when we look at them, are actually just tiny versions of the even vaster illusion, which is our apprehension of the world, both through empirically through our senses, and rationally through our reasoning. We seem to erect something utterly fake but utterly convincing a lattice of a matrix as in the movie, if you like, you know, that it's, it's something that philosophers have always been aware of this, this idea of the contingency and the, you know, the unreliability of our senses and our reason. And, and we have no other window on MRI, either reality or metaphysics, either the real world as we perceive it, or the laws that stitch it together, the metaphysical laws, if you like, we can only approach them with, with our eyes and senses, empirical senses, or with reason.
Steven Parton 21:51
I'm wondering what your thoughts are, and how the interplay between culture, language and technology is unfolding? Are these cultural narratives? Are our public dreams? Are myths currently creating a technology that is maybe undermining the best of our human potential? Or is the technology? Do you feel that technology is potentially driving us towards creating culture that is undermining?
Stephen Fry 22:17
It's a very interesting question. I mean, I think that there is an obvious reciprocity between technology and the arts and language and cultural considerations. And I can't remember who it was who pointed out but it's a it's a, it's a very good way of looking at this is that the very language we use to describe, for example, the mind is really dependent on our technology, or what is around us. So when St. Augustine was writing about the mind, he wrote about canyons and ravines and peaks, because he looks out of his window or his cell. And he saw a little more than a little more, it's enough, he saw nature he saw canyons and ravines and mountains and streams. And so his metaphors were always that of consciousness as a river or have mountains to be scaled and peaks and so on. And then a little later on in sort of 19th century and so on, as the Machine Age took off the mind and was seen as a machine as, as something were rolling cubs, literally, the cogs are turning in the in the mind, because suddenly that was a metaphor we could take from technology and applied inwards. And then, of course, it became like a motorcar the engine the mind would start it. And in the period, another period of the 19th century. One that I think a lot of people don't understand that traumatic nature, enough of which was geology because it's what I think Ruskin the the art critic call it those damned hammers. Those the hammers of the geologists hammered away at everything that was believed about the age of the earth and about the primacy of man, it was a huge moment, deserve bigger really than, than Darwin, but we remember Darwin as being the thing that upset everything. But it was really, because the geology proved Darwin department of the house incontrovertibly showed that the one flaw in Darwin that Kelvin and other scientists had seen was that there would have to be so much time to allow for his biological algorithms to play out. And as if by magic geologists suddenly discovered that, Oh, look, there was enough time and these fossils appeared and other such things and so those damned hammers and similarly as we started talking about the mind we started to talk about layers of secretions and sedimentary layers of memory. And that we're down there to be drilled down into. And that's what the first alienist and psychologists and psychiatrists did. And then of course, obviously, you started to get computing. And that's where we're sort of stuck. Now the mind is a computer, it computes, it has a central processing system, it sends out messages electrically to other bits as a stack, and it has registers and it does all those things. It has kind of programming in it, if only we could know. So, in that sense, our language and our sense of self is dependent on the technology that we offer. And so our culture has always been a magnificent way of showing a profound confidence in our place in the world. And it is a colonizing confluence of influence. And in some ways, it's parallel to the disastrous colonizing influence that we've had, in terms of the our influence on the biosphere in climate change, pollution, and plastics, and all the other horrible things we've done. By colonizing the earth by feeling that we are the gods of it, we have really screwed it up as we know. But in terms of, of culture, we have created this series of stories, narratives, explanations of who we are, and how we think and where we come from. And they can fit almost any genre, you can tell the truth, the same story, in almost any way you can tell it in a mythic way, you can tell it in a movie, you can tell it in a poem, you can tell it in a painting, you can suggest the same thing. But inside we are, I think, just as I don't think you could ever meet a surgeon or a doctor who said I, I cut this person over, and I discovered they had three hearts, or this person didn't have any kidneys. The fact is, if we are standing up and keep, you know, not totally in some terrible physical or cognitive deficit, we have two kidneys, we have one liver, we have two loans with, you know, we are all this, it doesn't matter whether we're Jeff Bezos, or whether we're a subsistence farmer in Madagascar, we are identical in that physical sense, actually, in terms of our feelings, and our beliefs about hopes and our desires and our failures. And, you know, our needs, we are just identical. No, you know, it's that the one thing that culture and myths should teach us and we need this less now more than ever, is that point that an alien looking at the earth for the first time, would really see very little difference between us between our languages. But, you know, even though they seem so different, what they'd say, Oh, right, they will speak in exactly the same way but slightly different sounds. They all stand the same way. They all eat feed, same way, they all hurt each other. Sometimes they all do the you know, there is just no difference between it's it's it's absurd that most almost all the trouble in the world is based on this idea that of differences between us. They are functionally almost done to another at zero.
Steven Parton 28:26
And that's something you've talked a lot about. And I would say, for most of your life really is the way culture is potentially becoming corruptive. You've said before that the Enlightenment values are being deliberately and systematically pushed back. You've talked a lot about religion, about political correctness, and a lot of these ideas. Do you think that? Do you think that we can create a new myth to maybe help unify us? Do you think there are ideas that we can put forth to maybe help right right the ship as we navigate this transformation into potentially Promethean, artificially intelligent future?
Stephen Fry 29:08
It's a very interesting idea, isn't it? Because the last thing we want to do is to is to break through the membrane separating us the now from this from the general intelligence singularity. At a time when we are most opposed to each other when there are new Cold War's and new walls of misunderstanding between cultures, it would be a disastrous time. In particular, it would be lovely to think we were unified. Historically, when has mankind ever been unified? Well, we don't know because we've never been mankind in a global sort of McLuhan, sense of the global village or, you know, all aware of each other before. So you can talk about times when individual cultures have unified and that's always, almost always I think, because there's been a threat An outside threat either in the form of an invader invading people, or a disease or a famine. It's the, the the horsemen of the apocalypse essentially are what unite people. And so when I remember saying a couple of years ago, Hmm, I say something along the lines of the only thing that will heal up the rift within our culture, then speaking, you as a member of the same sort of what used to be called Western culture, whatever we like to call it, we know there's a huge rift in America and Britain in all over Europe and that part, as well as the various rift we may have with China and Russia, and so on. And I remember saying the only thing that will heat it up would be if there were a threat, maybe from outer space, and then we would all come together to protect the planet. And then I thought, well, actually how long, there is a threat to the planet, it's never been greater. That's the threat of climate change, and pollution and destruction and species depredation and all as ocean acidification and sea rise level and all those things. That's a threat, and that hasn't united This is actually done more to throw us apart. And then came COVID. Well, there's a threat that can unite us has that united as ellner. I mean, it hasn't hasn't caused a war think this could have been a more disastrous response. But the poor old world health authority World Health Organization has hardly had a central unifying role has done its best, but you know, so the fact is, we do seem to be doomed not to be united. And I've course come from a place where a mixture of fantasy and misremembering, which is common to all humans, so I have my view of, there was a time when we had, we all drank from the same trough, we, we were the same, you know, we had a similar outlook, similar beliefs, similar hopes we went divided by these hatreds. Just as you know, the great Make America Great Again, people have a misremembered view that there was an America that was just this perfect place of happiness and prosperity and cookies and milk. And it was all lovely, little 15 baskets. And I like I can this, this fantasy of the 50s America, which was a time of the witch trials in the midst of poor Jim Crow ism, and goodness knows what else. So you know, we're all as guilty of thinking that there was a golden age. And that's again, something that myth can tell us because from the very beginning, the Greek and many other mythological cycles have had this idea of a previous Golden Age, and arcadio, in which, you know, that we were with mankind was youth justice, we think of our youth as being full of opportunity and sexiness, and surprise and fitness and bright eyed, bushy tailed, glossy hair loveliness. That was I was young, and I skipped about and I was appetizing and always beautiful. And now look, my nipples are descending by two inches every year. Oh, I'm a mess. And similarly, we looked at the world like that the world was young, it was a golden age, we were skipping nonsense. Of course, it's nonsense. And anybody who reads history and literature knows it's nonsense, and that we've always written about the corruptive forces of the contemporary culture. They wrote about it in the 18th century, they wrote about it in Shakespeare's day, and in the famous john of Gaunt speech in which the second match of Hamlet and all kinds of other parts of Shakespeare are full of people talking about the other new ages is is a corrupt age that there was a golden age of, you know, a foul Steffie an age in the case of Shakespeare, and then again, you go back to the classics, and the same thing, to the dawn of the historical age, ad, age, right protein, people have talked about this idea. So the body is, of course, the best hope, therefore to, to unite to Unitas in in in some way in some way to Unitas. And there are counterintuitive proposals that you you sort of detect around a counterintuitive one is of course, the what unites us is our ability to accept our differences. And that's a view that I think I share and that has become pretty mainstream now is that it's not homogeneity that that will force us all to be accepting and you lighted and harmonious. It is, as the name harmony suggests, musically, by combining the different elements, accepting Lee and sweetly and gracefully that we find that harmony not by, you know it's not to keep it musical it's not it's not by doing it in a what's the musical term to T you know our words it's non hot, non harmonized, where everybody's singing the same notes, it's where everybody's singing different notes that you get harmony. So that's a cute little thing that could make out hippie folk song, and it doesn't solve the problems of the world. But it suggests that, that is one way of doing it, because the only other way that has ever really worked has been what you might call a benign dictatorship. And those are very, very rare. And they don't last very long. In other words, a strong leader, where people, as I say, unite in a common cause under a strong leader. And we know the dark side of that is dictators and tyrants. And so where would you look in the history of any nation to give inspiration? And that's really the problem, isn't it? Because those of us who are fascinated by science, technology, the progress of the intellectual quest of the Enlightenment, obviously, believe that if there is to be a solution, it will be found by us using all our senses by our intelligence, our reason, our empirical skills, and our scientific endeavors, our philosophical, ethical questing, all of that will have to be engaged whereas there are those on the mystical side of things some of whom are very well trained in philosophy and are by no means just dopey idiots have the you know, the Deepak Chopra variety, but you know, the Alan Watts variety more likely or other types of slightly crazy Buddhist crazy stoical philosophical views but which are about taking yourself out of society and are about repudiating turning your back on the, the, the energies that make Western science and philosophical inquiry is so powerful, that those energies can be seen to have torn us apart they are because they, you know, they, they do what we do to the earth they query they tear, they rip they rape the earth and, and what's left to deadzones and slag heaps and, and in terms of economics, underclasses and, and those who are not served by the onwards sweep of progress, there's a huge residue of unhappiness and misery. Therefore, the answer is to turn our back on science. Now, is there a middle? Of course, that's the question, isn't it? Yeah. Go ahead. No, I see you are about to ask a question. I wonder if that was about why it was just in between?
Steven Parton 38:11
Yeah, it was just making me think, you know, my, I'm actually working on a personal podcast called society in question. And it's all about kind of navigating that very thing you're talking about. So as you're talking about that, yeah, because
Stephen Fry 38:22
it is so interesting. If you're much younger than me, but I do think if I were I, you know, an old teenager, a young 20 year old, I, I would genuinely think about the possibility of with friends devising a sort of new communitarian philosophy with, you know, it turned very sour in the late 60s, when the hippie movement became the drug movement, and the Manson family and various other images kind of arose out of the, and it just looked like a squalid mess and those communities look like pigs dies, and suddenly, it made me feel very bourgeois and swell, and wanting nothing to do with it. But that that's a shame. It doesn't mean one has to throw away all the ideas and idealism. Because, again, it was a repeat it had happened in the late 19th century with the arts and crafts movement of William Morris and various others, various utopian views of of, of finding medieval craft oriented. And, and people have tried to do that. I mean, the language is always such a giveaway. If you look at the language of the past 10 years that emerged from Silicon Valley, everything is now hand crafted in batches by artisans, when in fact Of course, it's the product of endless economic meetings with the financial whiz kids and modelers and it's pure business but but it's it's it's like pure business, but putting up a wrapping that's got bits of straw and pigment here and there just to make it look kind of really earthy. And, and so anyway, yes, sorry.
Steven Parton 40:15
No, I just I love that idea that you were saying about having a community because that's one of the if there was a myth or a idea that I think is very important right now it's this idea of having a third space, you know, getting away from the binary dualistic us versus them mentality, and having really a third place where you don't have to be left or right. But you can be a free thinker in the middle. And as long as you're kind and respectful. You're welcome. And that that way, you always have community and you don't feel the peer pressure of being forced to one of the extremes.
Stephen Fry 40:47
And you wouldn't be quoted for some for some misbegotten tweet that would come back to bite you in the ass when you feel literally able to think freely and openly. Because, you know, I be careful what you wish for, and those whom the gods wish to punish the first answer their prayers and all the rest of it. I think that's very true. And, or at least, it contains elements of great truth. And I wished for this internet revolution, I mean, I, I was on compuserve, and Phantom, all kinds of online, commercial online services, and then AOL and then I forgot my first dial up accountant in the 90s, before there was a, you know, a worldwide web or anything and, and I, I, I was so excited. And here's another Greek myth. Pandora, she is part of juices punishment to mankind, for daring to have the intelligence that promethease gave us through stealing fire. He prepared a trap for mankind, because he was literally mankind, it was only men, he created the first one. So it's like an eveness. And he, he gave all the other gods instructions to give this woman all their attributes and skills. So Athena gave her handcrafted wisdom, and Apollo gave her grace and prophecy and music and so on. And so she was all gifted at the Greek for all gifted is Pandora. So she was called Pandora. And she was sent down with this jar, which through a translation accident in medieval England, was turned into a box, but so it's become Pandora's box. But it was actually a pithos jar, not a pixel Sabbath. It was just a mistake on the part of Erasmus for people who mistranslated that's a side issue, and I'm so sorry to go off on it, because I've almost lost my thread, but I haven't. So she's taken down to earth, and she marries Prometheus, his brother epimetheus. In fact, whose name means afterthought, as opposed to Prometheus meaning forethought and they have a happier they have children or if but she she's been told bases she has never opened this jar. And of course, she does an outcome. These traps these terrible creatures, these flying fizzing things with shrieking, howling, leathery wings, and they are lies and murder and misrepresentation of cruelty and abuse and war and, and all the terrible things. So a little bit like, as I say, thing, eating the apple, it's this moment, again, unfortunately, a myth created by a woman, that a man who does it, and outcome all these, all these horrible things. So she slams the lid back on the jar, not knowing that there was one little fairy left in there, beating its wings forever against the inside of the jar. And that was LPs, which is the Greek for hope. So hope was left inside the jar, which Nisha and various other philosophers said was a very good thing, because hope is the most appalling and terrible curse that can ever before a human being, because in a hopeless, meaningless universe, hope is just an absolute cruel trick. Anyway, so that that's that was the myth and so to mankind came, having been a golden age, she opened the jar and outcome all those. So there I am in the 90s. Thinking, the internet is Pandora. It is all gifted this music and concerts when I want them, their films, there are libraries there are museums there are beautiful Yes, there are of course there are slums. There's you know, pornography shops in that part of town as it were, and and there are some pretty nasty people down there and I wouldn't send my children to that area. But that's true of any great city, any great, beautiful organic creation for men. You know, there's bound to be a mixture, but look at what there is public squares, places to talk to change. You know, you can meet people who've got similar interests, from all over the world, you can, oh my goodness, it's Pandora. It's perfect. And then at some point, one became aware that the lidded come off and outed pause these terrible abusers, hackers and malware writers and trolls, and all the beast in US burst out of it. So again, it's part of how a myth can tell an eternal story. Obviously, the Greeks weren't thinking of the internet, when they tell the Pandora story, what they were thinking of, I suppose was that everything casts a shadow that there is a, the indeed, often the brighter and sharper the light, the darker the shadow that is cast. And every technology that we have ever, ever come up with, has cast a shadow,
Steven Parton 45:48
as I say, it just seems we would want people to shore up the shadows, so to speak, you know, as Pandora's Box opened, and I would say new light and new shadows come out, it does seem helpful to help people shore up the shadows as we go along.
Stephen Fry 46:01
Yeah, that's a very good way. But
Steven Parton 46:04
as we do move along, are there trends, light, or shadows, that you're excited about either culturally, socially, or technologically, or maybe concerned with but as you look forward, is there something that really speaks to your your heart and your soul?
Stephen Fry 46:21
Well, I have a sort of probabilistic hope, if you like, you know the way those who are urging everybody to get vaccinated and saying, It's not because I care about your health, it's because the more people are vaccinated, the less chance the virus will have to multiply. But to such a degree, that new variants are inevitable, because, you know, if there are a million instances of a virus, virus, you might get one variant in it, which is destructive to the virus, and it'll die, we might get half a variant, which is, it's passed on to the next generation. But if you have a billion instances, you have, obviously 1000 times more. And if you have a billion billion, etc, etc, we all know, that's obvious. And so the more people that are vaccinated, the fewer instances of the virus there are, therefore, the less likelihood of a now in a positive way, the more podcasts there are, the more people talk, the more people exchange ideas, the more people push on the frontiers of neuroscience and computer science and, and and, you know, African intelligence science and all these other sciences and philosophies, the more people do that, the more chances there are of smart ideas, variants popping up, which might well blend with other variants, which might produce coherent and credible and verifiable ways of looking to our future in a, in a manner that will save us if you like, just by talking as a huge amount of hot air, and most variants will stumble and fall will not be as a, as a biologist would say viable into the next generation, but some might just have legs and be able to walk and talk as ideas in new ways. Because that's, you know, that's the glory of free speech and open scientific inquiry is that it certain times in our history, Florence in the 15th and 16th centuries, England in the 17th and 18th centuries, perhaps in America and elsewhere. Now and just so much talking so much energy, so many people gathering in corridors and exchanging thoughts and so much, you know, swapping of, of insights and, and a lot of it is useless. Of course, it is, of course, it's all like this is all out there. But some ways someone may be just saying, maybe if we tried or why don't we or there's a way they have of doing things in Bhutan, which dot dot dot, you know, I mean, it this is all very fluffy and meaningless and unstructured as a as a piece of optimism. But I do I do, cling to the idea, at least, that what any golden hope in the future will come from effort and thought and understanding not from luck, or from an angel leaning down from heaven with a bar of gold. It will be through thought and exchanging ideas. So, so we might as well do that as much as possible. Exactly.
Steven Parton 49:41
How are you on time, Stephen? I want to make sure we're
Stephen Fry 49:44
not very good. Actually. I've sort of got to leave the house up as well. Yeah. To zoom off to do a test a what's the word qpcr, you know, COVID test. Sure.
Steven Parton 49:59
I would then On that note, Let's just go ahead and I want to give you the floor real quick before we wrap up, is there anything you'd like to just point people towards, you know, the book, any other stuff that we'll take a look at.
Stephen Fry 50:10
It's obviously delighted talking to you. And I would be thrilled if people were interested. They wanted to read my, my three books so far on Greek myths or mythos heroes and Troy, but I would urge people to interest themselves in this whole field of artificial intelligence and what the implications of it are and, and the story of it there are there are always ways of, of looking at this, which aren't too head spinning the mathematical. Obviously, if you're inclined, there are ways of looking at it, which are exceedingly mathematical. But there are some really good writers. Bostrom for example, the Swedish philosopher worked at Oxford and Max teal, and people like that there are books of general interest, but of greater authority, which show us the thrilling ride that we're all in for whether we like it or not. So, so keep talking, keep listening and keep being interested in this fantastic subject.
Steven Parton 51:16
Wonderful, Steven. Again, thank you so much, man.
Stephen Fry 51:21
That Thank you. Great pleasure. Bye bye.