Talking To Robots With David Ewing Duncan

Episode 31

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know that I’m a total TECH GEEK! I love learning about ANYthing new in the world of emerging technology: AI (artificial intelligence), ML (machine learning), VR (virtual reality), AR (augmented reality), IoT (internet of things). The future possibilities are super exciting and at times … can be scary as hell. Tech is a double-edged sword. It can be used for good or evil … even though technology itself is neutral.

Well, except for Facebook. On the record, I think it’s evil and not to be trusted any further than the Chinese government. That’s a whole different story and rabbit hole we won’t dive into today.

This week on the show, I got to chat with David Ewing Duncan, the author of Talking To Robots. It’s one of the COOLEST books I’ve read in a long time. It’s half nonfiction and half fiction, and chock-full of robots! Twenty-four to be exact … from teddy bear bot to sex bot to Facebook bot to warrior bot and even god bot!

Here’s the concept: David interviewed some of the greatest thinkers of our time (people like Kevin Kelly, Tim O’Reilly, and Brian Greene) and asked them, “What kind of robot would you want to meet or be afraid to meet in the future?” Then, he shares a story about each one. Normally, David is a nonfiction writer, but this story is actually told from the future. There’s a narrator, but we don’t know who it is. It could be a man, it could be a woman, it could be a robot who lives in the future and actually knows how things turned out!

An overarching theme of David’s career has been writing about technology, mostly biotechnologies, genetics, and synthetic biology. Like me, he’s interested in the technology and the people doing it, but he’s MORE interested in how it affects society.

The book is structured to give us some possible future scenarios. David’s opinion (and mine) is that we are at a pivotal moment in human history where we are about to have the power to build robots that we’ve thought about and are trying to understand ourselves. It’s about trying to understand our emotions and how things might play out in different scenarios. It’s a little bit playful, it’s a little whimsical, and at times it makes fun of our culture.

Case in point: The chapter “Politics Bot” pokes fun at our current government and the unbelievable lunacy/soap opera in motion. Vladimir Putin makes an appearance too!

It was an absolute pleasure chatting with David about his book at the Near Future Summit, and I HIGHLY recommend checking it out. We had such a great conversation and so much more we wanted to touch on, so there will be a follow-up interview in the future.