Utopias, Dystopias and Today's Technology

Inaugural Episode

January 01, 2023 Johannes Castner Episode 0
Utopias, Dystopias and Today's Technology
Inaugural Episode
Show Notes Transcript

This is a short, inaugural episode of my new show, Utopias, Dystopias and Today's Technology.  There will be a new episode every week, starting on Wednesday, January 18th.

The guests featured in this inaugural episode are:

Somil Gupta: https://www.linkedin.com/in/somilguptaai  (scheduled to appear on the show on Wednesday the 18th of January, 2023). Topic: the sharing and collaborative economies. 

Shamika Klassen: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shamikalashawn (scheduled to appear on the show on Wednesday, the 25th of January, 2023). Topic: Technowomanism. 

Ashish Kumar Singh: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ashish-kumar-singh- (scheduled to appear on the show on February 1st, 2023) Topic: the Metaverse. 

Amara Sesay.  (scheduled to appear on the show on Wednesday February the 8th). Topic: Technology in Education for children in Nigeria. 

Flávio Azevedo: https://www.linkedin.com/in/flavioazevedo85 (scheduled to appear on the show on Wednesday February 15th). Topic: The Blockchain and Crypto Currencies.  

Olivia Gambelin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/oliviagambelin (scheduled to appear on the show on Wednesday February 22nd).  Topic: Virtue Ethics for AI ethics.

Igniting the Global Conversation


[00:00:35] Johannes Castner: Hello and welcome. My name is Johannes, I will be the host of this new show, Utopias, Dystopias and Today's Technology, and this particular episode will be special of course as the show goes on, I am hoping that you will put in some feedback and let me know and the direction can evolve naturally in some ways.

So what is this show? Wh [00:01:00] why do I bring it and who am I? I am my name is Johannes, as I said. I I originated from Europe, from the German Austrian area. I was born in Germany, but. Spent my teenagehood in Vienna, Austria from which I then went to Los Angeles when I was 19 years old.

And that's where the story really starts. 

So I will begin with a short introduction and broad strokes of my life from when I moved to Santa Monica, to the present time. So I, I was, as I said, living in a motor home behind the Santa Monica Cemetery for the most part, but it was mobile, so I, I lived all over Los Angeles in, in that sense.

And then I, I moved to New York to start my bachelor's, um, or to finish my bachelor's, which I was, a lot of, of the courses were I credited, uh, at Santa Monica College. But, um, I, I finished my bachelor's at at, in New [00:02:00] York City at Columbia University. where I majored in economics with a minor in cultural anthropology.

I then worked for two years as a research assistant to macro economist Chris Foote at the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston. And, and, and that's very interesting time because it was during the crisis at which, um, you know, it was an interesting time. It was a tragic time. You can say. It motivated me. Uh, it was, it was certainly emotional.

at the same time. It was fascinating because you could really see, well, when, when a system breaks, you can often see a lot about it. A lot of, a lot of the parts reveal themselves 

Importantly, also during this time I started, uh, I studied, um, at Harvard, uh, as a special graduate student where I took a particularly noteworthy course with Amartya Sen, who argues among other things in, uh, in his capability approach to [00:03:00] ethics, that public debate, uh, around ethical issues is absolutely crucial

to come to, to overcome certain impossibilities that are baked into, or that seemingly are baked into, um, making decisions collectively. And, uh, and basically having a representative approach to, to ethics. Uh, so for that, what is really important is to use public debate, uh, to overcome superficial differences and to, to arrive in a world where o where only those differences between cultural differences in, in ethical differences really, uh, persist that are really based on, on reasons that are defendable.

and, and then I started, uh, my masters in sustainable development at Columbia University again, where I moved back to New York City.

I was [00:04:00] there quite a bit of time. I took a little bit longer. Uh, and I, I worked on some computational social science, um, models as well as experiments in the, in, in the Columbia University Social Science Laboratory, where I ran some experiments having to do with the complexity of a system and the, um, the, the, the world views that emerged from that, or, or, you know, these were, I mean, it's quite restricted type of worldview, which is a causal one.

So you observe some, some stochastic system of related variables, and you build a model in, in the experimental, in, in, in this sort of experimental laboratory, everybody builds a, a model of the system that they observe and then they get paid according to, um, according to events from that system as they are drawn

from that system, and, and they get paid, basically correlated with their [00:05:00] beliefs, how accurate their beliefs are of the system. This was an interesting ex experiment where I found basically that, you know, diversity of opinions or belief systems, uh, in this kind of situation persists much longer, uh, persists much longer in more complex systems, unsurprising.

But anyway, so in this process of, of building these experiments, I wa uh, worked on an open source, uh, software package, um, that, that was on Baysian believe networks, which happened to have been developed by the then head of data science at eBay, who hired me at, at eBay. And I worked there for nearly three years.

Um, as a, as a data scientist. and then I moved to, to London. Well, I, you know, I, I still, uh, spent a lot of time in, in the United States, but I, I live currently in London, uh, where, [00:06:00] where I've been, uh, active in data science and various, uh, consultancies advising, uh, people on their, uh, machine learning problems, um, companies, uh, small, um, municipalities.

Government agencies, um, mostly companies, , um, but also hospital, uh, hospital and so on, um, on, on their machine learning strategies, uh, and on their particular algorithms to solve various problems and the, and, and all this practice for me , um, isn't complete unless I have a conversation that is global, innate in nature about, uh, technology, at least about machine learning and, and artificial intelligence, because that is where my practice is.

But I, I, I want to make this conversation broader so as to really touch all, uh, areas of, of [00:07:00] technology. At the moment, there are a lot of buzzwords floating around and people are not so sure what these things mean. 

[00:07:08] Flavio Azevedo: Blockchain and crypto are concepts that are very correlated. 

[00:07:11] Johannes Castner: We, we will try on this show to explain what these terms mean from various perspectives, and I will have guests from all over the world.

my first guest, Somil Gupta, will be calling in from 

[00:07:25] Somil Gupta: Sweden. Okay. So I'm, I'm basically, I live in Sweden and I originally from India.

[00:07:30] Johannes Castner: my second guest, Shamika Klassen, will be calling in from Colorado in the United States. My third guest, Ashish Kumar Singh, will call in from

[00:07:42] Ashish Kumar Singh: in Dub Dubai,

[00:07:43] Johannes Castner: My fourth guest, Amara, will call in from 

[00:07:46] Amara Sesay: I'm actually in Nigeria, but I, I was born in Australia.

[00:07:50] Johannes Castner: my fifth guest, Flavio Azeveda, will be calling in from wherever he is on his digital nomad journey. My sixth guest, um, [00:08:00] Olivia Gamblin, will be calling in from San Francisco from the San Francisco Bay Area.

I feel very strongly about the fact that the technologies that we build, affect humans all over the planet, all over the world. And we often don't really understand their circumstances very well. 

[00:08:19] Amara Sesay: your assumption is that this, uh, tech, uh, is gonna work perfectly because it is good. It is a good technology. You've tried it in the uk, it's fantastic. But now you are talking to somebody, uh, in the heart of Africa, is that going to be the same outcome?

[00:08:38] Johannes Castner: Humans are the only species that studies itself, and this started in the social sciences. and then now it has become data science, which is part, part of a, um, a tech, the tech stack, if you will now of most companies. And now we're [00:09:00] studying ourselves in sometimes useful ways and ways that will elevate ourselves if we understand ourselves better.

The way that corporations study humans often is, um, is, is to take advantage of their weaknesses, to sell them more or to engage them more in some ways, which not always is beneficial to them.

at times during this show, we will go quite deep, uh, into a historical, into a historical depth.

[00:09:31] Somil Gupta: So 200 years ago when we were starting with Industrial Revolution, uh, I just came across one, uh, newspaper article where people felt that they are being forced into employment.

[00:09:43] Johannes Castner: And we might be saying, sometimes we might be talking about things that some people don't want to hear , 

[00:09:49] Shamika Klassen: Africans were brought to the United States and enslaved, they were considered subhuman. 

[00:09:53] Johannes Castner: We will talk about differences in culture, 

[00:09:57] Amara Sesay: parents have different reasons for [00:10:00] exposing their, their children to technology. And, and that's what makes it really, really complex

[00:10:05] Johannes Castner: as well as some ways in which we are all the same 

[00:10:08] Olivia Gamblin: but the interesting thing for me is the virtues across different cultures, across different societies. do see patterns in what kind of virtues are praised. For example, the virtue of being honest.

[00:10:20] Johannes Castner: We will be talking about the actual technologies that everyone is, uh, has on their lips these days. We will discuss such things as the metaverse, the blockchain, ai, machine learning

[00:10:33] Flavio Azevedo: That's why I normally I like the term distributed ledger technology because it can be like a kind of umbrella that packs all these concepts because like I said the blockchain by itself is just a kind of database of transactions.

[00:10:45] Ashish Kumar Singh: So, you know, digital twin is a terminology which talks about that. Okay? Uh, you know, what you are in the real world can be replicated in the digital world. If you are, uh, if you recall movies like CRO and, you know, other sci-fi.

[00:10:59] Somil Gupta: That [00:11:00] brings us to the sharing economy. How can we use these assets more effectively within our economy so that none of us gets, have unmet needs, but at the same time, we do not create wastage.

[00:11:12] Johannes Castner: We will talk about centralized and decentralized systems and the difference between them.

[00:11:18] Ashish Kumar Singh: So, uh, first of all, we need to understand that why decentralization is important. So decentralization is as good as democracy. So what is democracy? Democracy for the people, by the people. So if that had to happen in technology, what was happening before is, like today, Google has your entire data.

Facebook has your entire information, but if you want to really, you know, segregate it at, give control to the, you know, the, you can say the owner of the data that makes it, makes it decentralized. And that was actually the essence of creating decentralized metaverse. But again, metaverse is just a fronted.

[00:11:59] Johannes Castner: [00:12:00] Some guests I will challenge where by, for example, calling the Metaverse a digital dollhouse.

[00:12:06] Ashish Kumar Singh: you know, the serious people are doing serious stuff in the metaverse.

It may not become your defacto technology. It may not become part of your life as a major, as a major thing, but it'll stay, it'll, it's going to stay, it'll stay there. So if you learn it, if you know about it, you might be able to contribute in, in a, in a better manner.

[00:12:26] Somil Gupta: See my focus is always not on how it should be, but I to look at what is available to me because I don't think ever, at least what I'm aware of or even in my lifetime ever has been so much knowledge, resources, tools, opportunities available to each and every one of for practically free of cost.

[00:12:52] Johannes Castner: and we will talk about ethics.

[00:12:54] Shamika Klassen: Techno womanism is applying the womanist ethic to social justice issues [00:13:00] that happen in and around the digital space and around technology. 

[00:13:03] Olivia Gamblin: But you have to know, as an individual going in, you have to know where your lines are that you are not going to cross. 

[00:13:09] Johannes Castner: We will talk about what empowers people 

[00:13:13] Amara Sesay: so, uh, why don't you teach them that their technologies out there that put them in the driver seats, Give them the upper hand to use technology in very innovative ways.

[00:13:26] Ashish Kumar Singh: Of course we are doing something. I mean, um, uh, something in the healthcare industry and that's, that's definitely revolutionary from our perspective. And we are doing it with the regulators here. 

You have to get the experts around the globe at real time. You know, giving real time, you know, attention to how the surgery is happening or how the, you know, diagnosis is happening. and that becomes, you know, a very, very inefficient, uh, you know, uh, method if it is not happening in a real time basis with some immersive experience.

[00:13:57] Shamika Klassen: a user experience researcher, [00:14:00] would want to bring in marginalized voices who are impacted by various digital products, and bring them into the 

conversation from the inception of a technology all the way through to. um, when it's released out into the market.

[00:14:14] Johannes Castner: and we will talk about what disempowers people.

[00:14:17] Amara Sesay: Uh, but because of the nature of the economy and the fact that they have to juggle a lot of things, to make ends meet. So a lot of parents, uh, would rather tech to substitute that quality time they have with their children.

From age two, they're exposing their children to technology because when the children are crying or trying tantrums and they expose them to phone, I think there's something the screen does to their brain that makes them keep quiet or that makes them excited.

[00:14:53] Ashish Kumar Singh: So that's where I think the responsibility comes in, in, in our hands. I mean, people like us who have been, you know, [00:15:00] working in this area for, for, you know, for so long should segregate what is required in metaverse and what is not required in metaverse. So again, metaverse is not a replacement of your real life experiences.

[00:15:13] Amara Sesay: but nobody, uh, looked at it from a very, very holistic point of view. And that is why discussions like this are very, very important because now we, we are talking about schools, education educators, and technology, but see, uh, how the conver the conversation moved into inequality and.

Standard of living

[00:15:36] Somil Gupta: And I want to also kind of appreciate this, this initiative. I think it's a great initiative because, uh, I think a lot of these things, they don't get discussed. That's always there. So I think it's also good that I'm, I'm, I'm really kind of very, uh, happy and, uh, you know, want to congratulate you because putting it, this, platform together and this initiative, I think it's, it's a great, uh, and we might have a lot of opinions, but at least.

As long as we have a forum to share it, you know, I think we will. [00:16:00] We are making progress. 

[00:16:00] Amara Sesay: Because it is when people have this exposure that they build, uh, technology with more empathy, and they build technology with a global outlook.

[00:16:10] Johannes Castner: This show will be published Wednesdays at 5:00 AM Eastern Standard time every week. Please come and join the conversation and start by subscribing to this show now.

since we are still waiting for Spotify approval, it will take about two weeks. Um, uh, don't expect the show next week and the coming week after that. Um, but expect one the week's following every single week. Um, we will begin with Somil Gupta's show, uh, and I will see you in about three weeks on Wednesday.