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Jan 23, 2020

What will it take to solve many of the world’s most difficult and complex challenges?

Rebecca D. Costa is an American sociobiologist and futurist. She is the preeminent global expert on the subject of "fast adaptation" and recipient of the prestigious Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Technology Award. Her career spans four decades of working with founders, executives and leading venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. Costa's work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, The Guardian, and other leading publications. She presently serves on the Advisory Committee for the Lifeboat Foundation along with futurist Ray Kurzweil and Nobel Laureates Daniel Kahneman, Eric S. Maskin, Richard J. Roberts and Wole Soyinka.

Costa was the founder and CEO of one of the largest technology marketing firms in California, where she developed an extensive track record of launching game-changing technologies. Her clients included industry innovators such as Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computer, Oracle, Siebel Systems, General Electric, 3M and others. She has been on the forefront of technological and scientific innovation, assisting venture capitalists and large corporations to identify, fund and launch disruptive new trends.

Retiring at the zenith of her career in Silicon Valley, Costa spent six years researching and writing the international bestseller The Watchman's Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse. Her follow-on book, titled On the Verge was introduced in 2017 to critical acclaim, shooting to the top of Amazon's #1 New Business Releases.

In today’s conversation with us, Rebecca Costa explains how climate change and other world problems remain unresolved because they are similar in nature. The real culprit is our lack of distinction between empirical fact and our beliefs and opinions, leaving us at the mercy of competing interests.

Rebecca shows how artificial intelligence-powered predictive models can help us solve these issues, and help us predict future events with unprecedented accuracy, paving the way for leaders to act before-the-fact.  Using real world examples, she demonstrates how the certainty of future outcomes is changing the way business and governments solve problems and preempt danger. 

Key Takeaways

  1. As a society loses a grip on the difference between an unproven belief and an empirical provable fact, it loses its way. Social and public policy quickly becomes based on opinion.
  2. The distinction between what is a scientific and empirical fact and what is your opinion or belief is probably the most important distinction to make in any transformation.
  3. There are billions of temperature recordings of the Earth’s surface temperature. Like it or don’t like it, believe it or don’t believe it, it doesn’t matter. The empirical data says that the oceans are warming and the land is warming. We are beginning to see some of the symptoms of that. Record floods, super storms, and other signs that scientists predicted would happen.
  4. The predictions on the timeline have been wrong, so it’s easy to dismiss the empirical facts, but that doesn’t change the fact that the climate is changing and it is warming.
  5. The political question is now, how much if any has human activity contributed to it? Causation in science is extremely difficult to prove, particularly with something as complex as global climate change.
  6. Even if human activity contributed all, part or none, do we have the ability to reverse that climate change? That’s the question to focus on.
  7. When it comes to complex problems, the danger people have is they overstate what the empirical data indicates and that will eventually bite you in the behind.
  8. Rather than saying something is causal, say it’s correlated. We have to be careful about telling the truth about what we know and what we surmise.
  9. If there is any threat that could wipe out the entire species then better safe than sorry comes to mind. We owe it to ourselves to do everything we can, knowing that it may not do anything. But at least we’re doing everything we can.
  10. If I have worry right now, it’s that we’re not an empirical-driven world. If I have optimism, it’s that we’re relying more on machines to make decisions on our behalf. And machines do not have beliefs, only data.
  11. There can be no social change of any importance without recruitment. When you get into someone’s face and alienate them, call them names, and treat them as they are stupid and their opinions are invalid, you’re doing exactly the reverse of what you intend to do.
  12. In order to create social change, you must leverage the media to do that recruitment, to bring the reason you seeking social change into the livingroom of every human being.
  13. Make your message compelling and relevant to them. Without critical mass you have nothing.
  14. The polarization we see right now between the Republicans and the Democrats is the reason that nothing gets done. They don’t understand that they have to recruit people from the other team.
  15. There are many things in life where you may not know that the outcome is certain. So you place really good bets. The bigger the upside and downside the more important it is to place those bets.
  16. Unlike previous civilizations we have this tremendous opportunity to allow computers and artificial intelligence to guide our decisions on an empirical and factual basis, in spite of our opinions and theories.
  17. The billions of data points that artificial intelligence can observe and analyze data in real time in a dynamic way, is going to overshadow human capability, and is already doing so.
  18. What AI and quantum computing has allowed us to do is take millions of facts and very precisely predict whether a future event is going to occur.
  19. In many respects, we’re moving into an era where we can avoid many problems – like mass shootings – because we can work backwards to see the data that showed that the mass shooter was moving toward criticality. That data is actually in the public domain. They’re posting their manifestos on social media.
  20. Opioid addiction is rampant around the world. Companies like Fuzzy Logix can administer a written questionnaire and look at your health records and determine within 85-90% whether you are genetically predisposed to become an opioid addict before the doctor gives you your first prescription.
  21. We’re getting to a point where AI algorithms can do everything from inform judges at arraignment hearings whether the person should be released on their own recognizance, what the bail should be, and whether they should not be released into society.
  22. So predictive algorithms can inform us of the likelihood of a future event so we can make better decisions today.
  23. But there is a problem with knowing what the future is. In 99.999% of the cases, we can predict what you’re going to do, however there is that small chance that you could intervene through free will. There’s always a chance that you could override, make a different decision and change course. But are we going to bet on free will or are we going to play the percentages?
  24. When you know what the future is, you can reverse engineer the decision to avoid a failure or danger. So there really shouldn’t ever be a product launch that doesn’t make it because we have tools that will say, how many will sell, at what price, and when your product needs refreshing or be dead in the water.
  25. Where it gets tricky is where computers don’t have any information. Innovation for example.
  26. The challenge right now is that the tools to do this are very expensive. In some ways that digital divide is creating a social divide. For those who know what’s going to happen, there couldn’t be a bigger advantage.
  27. There are some very fundamental building blocks you have to have in order to experience happiness. 50-60% of your aptitude to be happy and enjoy life is genetically inherited.
  28. Approximately one-third is your decisions in life, which makes that one-third extra important because it’s the only part that you can manipulate.
  29. Unemployment numbers should not be looked at as an economic barometer anymore. It’s actually tied to people’s ability to be optimistic and happy in life. When you have massive unemployment you are actually building a depressed society.

Resources

Connect With Rebecca D. Costa