In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris talks to biologist David Krakauer about information, complex systems, and the future of humanity.
David Krakauer is President and William H. Miller Professor of Complex Systems at the Santa Fe Institute. His research explores the evolution of intelligence on earth. This includes studying the evolution of genetic, neural, linguistic, social and cultural mechanisms supporting memory and information processing, and exploring their generalities. He served as the founding Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, the Co-Director of the Center for Complexity and Collective Computation, and was Professor of mathematical genetics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He previously served as chair of the faculty and a resident professor and external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He has also been a visiting fellow at the Genomics Frontiers Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, a Sage Fellow at the Sage Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of Santa Barbara, a long-term Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and visiting Professor of Evolution at Princeton University. In 2012 Dr. Krakauer was included in the Wired Magazine Smart List as one of 50 people “who will change the World.”
For information about the Santa Fe Institute: www.santafe.edu
Krakauer: That isn’t the kind of cover that works for me. But, yeah, exactly. So I’m not saying the past is great. I’m simply saying that if you develop a technology that could give you incredible freedom, why not use it to do that? I think what’s so intriguing about the history of civilization and technologies is that with every new technology that offers some increment of possibility, it comes with the greater possibility of its own negation. So the bookstore example is a wonderful one. We were limited by our access to good bookstores—and most of them, quite frankly, were shitty, right? They had terrible taste. It was just endless shelves of self-help books that would help us better by burning to keep us warm. Amazon is a godsend with respect to access to books when you live in remote parts of the world. But what comes along with it is this all-seeing eye that wants to impose, out of largely economic considerations, constraints on what you do. And it’s our job to maintain the freedom of the technology. That’s all I’m saying. Let’s fight the instinct of the technology to treat us as a nuisance in a machine-learning algorithm that would want to be able to predict us perfectly, and let’s surprise it constantly. But yes, I have very little nostalgia for the past.
Krakauer: Look, here is what information is. That is the reduction of uncertainty. It turns out that Shannon realized that information is in fact the negative of thermodynamic entropy.
Me: Thermodinamic entropy is measured in J/K (Joules per Kelvin) but information is measured in bits.