Brent Bushnell is one of the most positive people I know. He’s created Two Bit Circus to reimagine how the newest developments in computing technology can shape the future of entertainment, work, education and human interaction. Brent grew up in the house that built Atari and has been a lifelong hands-on maker that brings a prototyping mindset to everything he does. Listen in to this candid and eclectic conversation and learn about the mass of possibilities that we can bring into fruition with just a little stretch of our imagination.
Pablos: We’re rolling.
Brent: Have you heard that term from reality shows, frankenbiting where they have a conversation for eight hours, “What do you think of Hitler? What do you think of all this stuff? What do you think of Pablos?” Later they cut those responses together and it is like, “Pablos is the worst person I’ve ever heard about.”
I’ve seen for the Joe Rogan podcast people who do that to his show. They’re like, “Joe Rogan wants to eradicate Jews.” They clipped together two words snippets to make it sound like that’s what he said, but it’s such a popular show that people probably count it as clickbait.
It’s almost like Machinima, people did with video games in order to be able to tell stories, but the AI side of that and the whole Deepfake thing has me excited from an entertainment perspective.
I was ahead of that one because my view of the entertainment industry for the last decade or so has been that the camera would get replaced with this pile of sensors. You could have a human actor, but the point would be to capture what they do because we’re going to render them anyway. We’re going to render them at the point of consumption like a video game. The reason for that is you don’t know when you’re making the film, my native language dialect, the aspect ratio of my screen, my preference for how big the boobs are or whether it’s Ferrari’s or Lamborghini’s and product placement.
It’s all going to get rendered at the point of consumption like a video game. The video game is oppression and showing the future of all entertainment and all media. It’s interesting because a couple of things happened out of order. We’ve been making video game rendering better so that we could do real-time rendering equivalent to Pixar. We’re getting pretty close to that, but then Deepfakes turbo-charged it because that gives you the ability to imagine making these high-quality renderings out of people who didn’t even know. I saw somebody who’s trying to make like a James Dean movie starring James Dean, “The legal parts were done with the estate of James Dean. He’s going to star in a new movie.”
The guy creating it won’t ever leave his room and the rendering bay.
You might still have a human actor because the toolkit for the guy in the room to make the virtual actor expressive is still limited. That’s why we still use a human actor because they’re a stand-in, but it could be your wife playing James Dean, get a real actor. They have to move and express themselves.
There are certain times where the expression says that the actual mouth forming the syllabus matters less. If they were across the room, all of a sudden you could do synthetic audio and James Dean is pronouncing your names.
The AI to do the synthetic audio are there. With twenty minutes of audio from you, we can make you say anything. We can make you read war and peace falsely and know the Brent Bushnell applications. That’s all solved. We’re not going to be aiming a camera at the actor’s lips for that because we’re going to render the actor in speaking whatever language the audience is watching. Get rid of the subtitles, overdubbing and stuff.
I think it’s better to get the audio right than their lips matching.
I thought about this a long time for AR and VR. Everybody’s fixated on those goggles, but the audio matters.
The 360 is amazing. Some of these proximity audio games, you turn your head.
I don’t understand a lot about audio engineering, because one of the fundamental problems you probably run into a bunch that’s been described to me in VR is it’s been a difficult medium to try and use for narrative, for stories like movies. In a movie, the director controls where the camera is and controls what you see. In VR, you control the camera. The problem is if I’m trying to tell you a story and you’re wearing goggles and you look away when I’m trying to, it’s like, “There’s an explosion. You missed the thing that you need to know. The clue was over here.” There’s this problem that makes it difficult because the director in a movie can experience linearly exactly what’s going to happen.
You know that they controlled your perspectives. Here’s how I have thought a lot about this because we did two-bit. We did a ton of 360 audio and video production. In the early days, in 2012, we built our own 360 cameras, a bunch of GoPros in a 3D printed rig because they weren’t the greatest solution. We captured content for the NFL, Olympics and all kinds of stuff. I hate 360 VR.
Is this for this reason or what?
I grew to hate it because of the exact problem you’re talking about. You don’t know where you’re looking. It’s presented to you like it’s interactive but all you get is to control the camera angle. The rest of it, you’re this passive observer. The better solution is much more interactive. Let’s go back to the game engine. Now, instead of being the passive observer of this world, I am in the world. I am Harry Potter. Here’s the frame. Here’s the land that I can explore.” That’s the part they missed. If 1,000 years of entertainment was passive. You read a book, watch a movie, looking in on the world, the future for me is all interactive.
What was described to me one time was that video game developers were getting clever because they have had this problem. They may have less narrative, but they still need you to get through the adventure. In video games, I remember hearing that like, “Valve would do these conniving things,” where like if you’re on a street and there’s a UFO coming down, you need to look up for the thing to happen. It’s like waiting for you to look up, but to get you to look up, they would do these subtle things like all the streetlamps would bend and point up. You don’t even see that happening, but it creates this feeling that like your eyes are drawn up, which should be out of the frame it initially. There are audio things that they’re doing that I don’t understand to get you to lookup. How do you make audio? I don’t understand how anything could be above you in stereo, but somehow it feels that way.
The one that I wanted for Two Bit was this ambisonics where you set up individually addressable speakers in a three-dimensional grid around the whole room so that you’re in there, I’m in there and Ellis is in there. We’re all getting exactly how the scene should unfold from our position in the room. I loved that.
Who has that?
It’s like a tech stack that is mostly open-source.
Can I set it up in my house?
You can set it up in your house. There’s some Linux version, but you need some special hardware.
This became super relevant to me because in March 2020, all the events got shut down. All my jet-setting came to an end. All the things that would have been like speaking at a conference became Zoom calls. It sucked. I could play Pablo’s character in front of a webcam, but it was not interactive. It was not very rewarding. I was not making new friends.
It’s broadcast. All the beautiful one-on-one personalization died.
I instantly realized, “The whole point of these conferences wasn’t to see me on stage after all. It was people hanging out together, having a shared experience, hanging out in the lobby, going to lunch, going to happy hour or going to the after-party.”
You were the clickbait.
I wanted to figure out how to replace that hanging out part. I played with a bunch of different technology. The one that has made the biggest impression on me was High Fidelity, which Philip Rosedale made. He was fixated earlier because he was doing this for virtual reality. Before COVID, he was trying to figure out how to do a great job of that 3G audio experience for VR. Since COVID, we started playing with that and some other technology trying to have events where you could have a better human connection. With High fidelity, I made friends with people. There’s no video, just audio, you can wander around chat.
You have a little avatar.
Audio is high quality, no bandpass filtering, little to no compression, high bit rate. If you close your eyes in High Fidelity, it sounds like we’re hanging out together here. People are spatially positioned around you. I talked to Phillip about some and he describes some of the neurological cues that are being sabotaged by Zoom and other video conferencing things. An example of that is like, for all of human history, every conversation we had was zero latency. It was face-to-face with no compression.
Also, super high resolution. Your intonation, facial expressions and arm gestures, all of that is part of the resolution.
In the last 100 years, we’ve had phones. The phones at first were good. One of the metrics I remember Phillip told me is, “Your brain can handle about 180 milliseconds latency.”
It’s aware of about 50 milliseconds?
For music, it’s much lower, like musicians jamming together. In a conversation, 180 milliseconds is the max. After that, the conversation becomes, “No, you go ahead.” It’s that shitty talking over each other.
What latency are we looking at in something like Zoom?
Zoom can be lower 180 bits, often more. He told me an average Verizon call in the US is 350 milliseconds latency. I started learning more about this and realized that it’s almost as if Zoom is actively sabotaging the neurological cues that make me feel connected to you. It’s because the eye contact isn’t there, even if I’m desperately staring at my camera trying to make eye contact but I’m looking at your forehead.
The future of entertainment is interactive.Tweet
It’s such a simple thing, but it’s complex when you try to fix this.
We are evolved with eye contact. You know how it is. I can be across the room and you’ll know if I’m making eye contact with you or if I’m looking at your ear. It’s Incredible.
Even the idea that you could be looking at the screen, but looking at something else. The fact that they’re, “I know right now you’re not looking at a screen because we’re here in person.”
“I’m staring at your eyes the whole time.”
We feel connected because at least we know that there’s a mutual focus.
Another one is that spatial positioning. People are scattered all over your screen, but their sound is as if they’re in a pile. There’s no way for these twenty people to be in a pile, but from an audio perspective, if you close your eyes, that’s what it sounds like. They’re all sitting in the same chair. It’s weird for your brain. Your brain is telling you, “Pablos is fake. That’s not a real person and you can’t trust him.” That’s the message that your subconscious has given you on Zoom.
Twenty people in a pile don’t even work physically.
No human in history has ever experienced that. Phillip is doing a great job with High Fidelity pioneering that stuff. It bodes well for the future of VR. I’m interested in figuring out how I can come up with some of those types of technologies now to help improve the human experience online. There’s real potential in it. We could do a little better.
You were talking about that phones were great and Zoom has its problems. As we move along the immersion curve towards the best live experience, you’re adding resolution. It’s getting better. Who hasn’t sent a text message that has been misunderstood because of the million aspects of context that were lost? I’m all in on live experiences and I love in-person, but once Two Bit is closed and we started to explore what virtual looked like, I started to realize that hybrid is going to be with us for a long time. As we’ve broken work, we shattered it opened so that now some of your colleagues are going to be remote.
When it comes time for your HR person to throw a holiday party, doing it in person is not going to be enough anymore or worse some of your people are at risk which I think is going to need to be accommodation like ADA for a long time. All of a sudden, it’s like an event has to be offered in both ways. The one that I’m super interested in is how do those connect? What are the connection points between the physical and the virtual? I don’t know if you remember in Disneyland haunted house, in that huge room Madame Leota where she’s projected on the crystal ball and it’s her face. Behind the scenes, Imagineering is projecting on Styrofoam. You get the face in its early movement.
It’s like fake projection mapping or analog projection mapping.
Analog early is a bust, a head up. Imagine that I had a cocktail table at Two Bit with Futurama and you could come in and we can have a conversation, but a lot of the aspect ratio, the eye positioning, all of those things will be solved. The camera would be embedded right there in the forehead of the head in the jar. I’m able to look right at you. You’re right-sized. You’re at the right place on the table.
My head moves more than madame whatever. You could imagine trying to solve for some of those things over time. Hybrid, I think has meant like we’re going to have a physical event and then we’re going to live stream it out to people who are stuck at home. We’ve got to be able to do better than that.
There are voyeurs on it. I have become super aware of the role of the live audience in place. It’s a character in the show. Without them responding, comedy sucks.
That’s the one where the live audience matters the most and because of that, they’ve been the most damaged by not having live shows.
It is shocking because you would imagine you and I as public speakers, it’s the ultimate thing. A comedian being able to walk into a room and entertain 10,000 people where this lady arrives with ten semi-trucks and 100 people. A comedian is the ultimate low-fi and yet you would expect it to adapt perfectly to it, but without the audience, it breaks.
I was thinking about comedy and that’s one I want to play with because I think I know how to solve that. If you think about a comedian on stage needs that live audience, but the truth is when we’re on stage, you can only see the front row. There are lights in your face. I’m looking at the front row to see if they’re hanging in there. Are they getting it? Are they laughing? Am I my pissing them off? What is it? I think we could fix a comedy club because the truth is if I put a comedian on stage, I give you a front row sitting in every other seat to be distanced, it could be your family or the stage guys, they’ve all been COVID tested.
I give you a front row, you’ve got half a dozen or a dozen people and you can get the theater for free. I put speakers in twenty other seats behind them and everything they do like if a guy in the front row laughs, then I render laughter from the rest of the audience. On stage, it sounds like I got 200 people laughing, but it’s only one guy. I’m getting those cues back as a performer. I’m seeing the front row, I’m hearing 200 people. You don’t look behind you at 200 people, you hear them. I’m going to put the sound back there and then we filmed the whole thing and then it can still be a Netflix special. This is how to make a Netflix special for a comedian. Those people, they weren’t interactive. They’re at home on their couch laughing, but they’re feeling the energy that was there in that live performance.
The Geffen Playhouse is a great theater here in Los Angeles. When the second COVID hit, they launched The Geffen Stayhouse. Maggie and I watched one of their performances and it was a magician. When you bought your ticket, you could buy a regular or a VIP option. The VIP option had some random chance of being 1 of 25 of their live studio audience. Their live studio audience in COVID times meant a 5×5 grid of zoom people, but there were 6,000 people watching the Livestream. The camera would cut between the zoom of the magician, the 25 of the live studio audience zoom and back and forth. That addition as an audience member made a huge difference.
Magicians are the best at figuring shit out.
I got my magic puzzle company puzzles delivered, which is a puzzle company made by magicians and they deliver. It was a Kickstarter. They got funded supremely. It’s a bunch of people from the Magic Castle.
Here’s what I want to understand. I have some softball questions for you. What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything? My models show that it’s 41.98276417.
It was approximate for convenience.
If you think about the definition of technology, for my daughter it means the new iPhone. There’s no actual new technology in the new iPhone. Technology refers to something for a stage of its life cycle, but eventually, we don’t think of wheels as technology anymore. There’s some curve to that. For people working on technology a lot of them are deep in it then. Their idea of what technology is and what the point is and stuff is technical. For scientists, a lot of times it’s exploratory. It’s like, “How does this work?”
They mix it to the layperson, intimidating and confusing. They throw their hands up. You get people concerned about 5G.
The technology can be complex and intimidating. That’s one problem. That thing that’s interesting to me here is you and I are both guys who are somehow early on in our lives got dead set on applied technology, like using it to do things for people. Make it accessible, use it as an ingredient in magic. I’ve always tried to use computers to do things for people. You’re using technology in trying to bring it in some sense to entertainment, performance, live experience and all these things that most nerds are never going to do. I think that’s unique.
The tools are so awesome now. You can go so far. When Eric and I, my cofounder first started collaborating, we’re both nerds. The fact that computer vision was open source, depth-sensing cameras were easy to use and inexpensive, all of a sudden it was like, there were many ingredients. It was like, “What do you want? How do you want to play?”
It keeps getting better every day. We get new types of cameras, new types of sensors, faster networks and computers. I believe that we’ve gotten to this point in our lives that your dad didn’t have where we’re not computationally constrained. His whole career was computationally constrained wanting a faster and more powerful computer. We don’t have that problem. Imagine this is supposed to be a star in space, just pretend. It’s one way to die. We have enough computational ability, put six of them on screen at once and we’re flying.
There was an interesting thing that happened as a result of that. The game had to be awesome. There was this weird thing happened with video games. People were willing to make that conceit of imagining as long as the game mechanic was compelling. There was this weird moment in video games where the rendering got so great that people were like, “It’s got to be beautiful. Let’s get it beautiful first and we’ll fix the game later.” That part is hard and takes a long time. There were these dark days for video games for a while.
They were pretty and shitty. That happened with movies for a little bit, too. Many years ago, the race was on to see who could render hair. There was like Japanese studios trying to render hair. Toy story had no hair, but then Monsters, Inc. came out and it was competing with Shrek and they were both like, “Who could they do the coolest hair?” Now hair is a solved problem and we’ve moved on to like, “You got the hair, but what about the translucency of skin,” and then there was this contest. My contention is that we’re not computationally constrained, we’re imagination constrained.
The harder job is how you take that toolkit that grows, is amazing and is also democratized in the sense. As you said an open-source code can do motion detection. It can do projection mapping. It can do depth sensing. It can do all this stuff. Kids in Argentina get that. Kids in Romania get that. They have the same tools as me. I’m not trying to make a case that it’s all totally fair. I’m saying like, people don’t stop to celebrate the fact that the most democratizing thing in the world has been this computer technology and it goes everywhere. It’s not locked up at giant corporations like IBM, the way it was when we were kids. Everybody’s got it.
Computer vision used to be in the domain of tons of PhDs and if you want to do anything interesting, it was going to take you the whole year.
There are kids in third world countries running circles around me making creative shit with the same tools that I have.
I love where you’ve landed because I do feel like the imagination constraints, a creative constraint is going to be the driving thing for most roles in the future of work. It is who is able to come up with interesting novels, play and figure out what to build.
It’s fascinating to me because your vocabulary is different than mine because you say novelty, you say play, I’d never used those words because that’s what you’re trying to optimize for just like what you’re trying to build. I’m trying to figure out how to solve problems and it’s not that my problems are more important than yours. It’s the same thing.
I had an interesting inner exploration when COVID was happening because they were like, “These businesses are essential. These businesses are not. We were in the non-essential category.” I was like, “It’s just play I get it,” but play is important and as people were going nuts without social interaction, I realized that stuff is important. I was like, “Do we have one foot in like the mental health industry in bringing entertainment and levity to people when their lives are difficult for one reason or another?” It was an interesting deep dive.
Entertainment may not be considered ‘essential,’ but it has one foot in the mental health industry.Tweet
I’ve tried to contemplate that similarly because it’s easy to measure death. It seems to be less easy to measure cases of COVID. We, more or less are pretty good at measuring how many people died. That’s one number that’s gotten mucked with a bit here and there, but you don’t know what they died of. That number is screwed up, but the number of how many people died, you can count. You can’t count seemingly as well the number of jobs and businesses lost.
The number of conditions that were accelerated because they didn’t get treated.
When you extend that to mental health, the suicide rate is extreme. The contemplation of suicide rate is skyrocketing. These things are sad and serious. When you say essential and non-essential without articulating your values, then it’s 100% completely wrong. This is one of the problems we have in technology is that we try to ascribe value to things before we’ve defined our values.
We saw the rise and fall of Facebook and Twitter, “Arab Spring, this is amazing.” All of a sudden, “No, the dark side is really dark.” At that scale, how to get the values in there because you are talking about the entire diversity of humanity and whose values?
The notion that we’re going to somehow have a watered-down set of values that the whole planet ascribes to is wrong. That’s one of the beautiful things that I feel I’ve been lucky to internalize a bit from traveling, meeting people all over the world, different countries, different industries and doing different things. People live completely differently than I do. I don’t want to live like that, but it works and it’s their choice, culture and way. What could be more judgmental than to say that they shouldn’t be able to do that? I do think there’s probably a set of human rights we should all acknowledge. I’m advancing that, but I don’t think Facebook’s going to be the one to do it.
We can say healthcare is a human right to safety.
With healthcare, you can’t do that. You can’t make healthcare a human right because a human right should be like what you get from birth without infringing on anyone else.
Like access to clean water.
It sounds good because I think the not infringing on anyone else part of it is important.
The healthcare infringes on somebody else.
Someone else has to do it. You can’t make that a human right. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to give everyone healthcare, but you can’t classify it as a right.
Even something like clean water.
Everyone should get a right to the clean water. If I’m fucking up the water so that you don’t get it, I’m violating your rights but if I have to show up at work at 3:00 in the morning to give you a triple bypass because you have that human right while you’re infringing on my rights to not show or choose what I want to do with my life. It’s sad to see in America what we’ve done to doctors. They’re the most abused humans I know, but in COVID, with healthcare workers, indentured servitude would have been better in what we’re putting these people through right now. It’s sickening. They have to show up while all I got to do is stay home and watch Netflix to get through COVID. They got to go.
They have to deal with the absolute epicenter.
That’s an example. I don’t think you can coerce people to do that.
When I was going down this thread of like, “I hope that in a world, that we can have people,” just like you would like everybody to have ongoing education, which is the news. It may not be a human right, but a truth in your news.
Lifelong access to news is seemingly a human right, but not lifelong access to education or learning. I don’t know if that’s true. This is something we also don’t seem to acknowledge, which is that when you and I were kids, I had to go to the library, get a book that was published seven years ago and finally showed up at my library about computer mainframes or something. Now, kids can go to Wikipedia and YouTube and learn anything overnight.
My problem is that if we’re going to make sure that everybody’s listening to you or you want to represent no bias in your news, you could represent the different scientists and uncle Joe crackpot in a van in the desert with a counter view, do they get equal weighting?
What I think about it is that access to knowledge, we don’t have a distribution problem anymore, but we do have a curatorial problem. What’s happening is we have this societal discussion around how good of a job Facebook is doing at the curation or Twitter because you follow too many people. You don’t have time to read all their posts. Somehow it has to be prioritized. What’s happened is Facebook has said, “Don’t worry about it. We have magical algorithms that will turn the knobs and prioritize for you.” The problem with that is I don’t get control of the knobs. You don’t get control of the knobs. I think this whole problem that we’re living with the social media platforms, it could be completely sidestepped if they gave us the knobs. Let me turn the knob and say, “I want more or less Donald Trump in my feet.” If I had that knob, then they could be absolved of all responsibility.
Isn’t that ostensibly the like button?
No, it’s not discreet enough. They have some magical algorithm that I don’t get access to determining what’s going to keep my dopamine machine running. They’re optimizing and that’s why they don’t want to give me control of the knobs because they want to control of the knobs. The truth is if they bury them in a setting somewhere, like all the other settings that no one can ever affect, then you could at least say, “It’s not our fault. This is what the users chose.” I could sign up for people to turn my knobs for me.
I could have the ACLU turn my knobs or I could have the New York Times. That’s what those media organizations used to do. If you want CNN turning your knobs, fine. You could sign up to let them. That’s what they should do. Facebook and Twitter could kick back and say, “It’s not our fault.”
You could sign up or whoever you wanted to inform.
It’s because it’s our time to turn their own knobs and that’s how it should be. We’ve architected all that wrong. I believe that’s where we’ll end up in the future because none of these things are permanent, but that’s how it should be. In that way, if you want dynasty turning your knobs, you can do it. That’s democratic. That’s freedom and that’s the internet that we imagined. Right now, we have this problem where opportunists who want to build empires build huge walled gardens, start and want control. That’s true for governments and Facebook. I have an idea for how to get there, but it’s technical minutia. That’s where we want to end up. You can do it right now in a complicated way because the internet the hacker’s built has this thing called RSS.
That’s what made blogs work, but Facebook killed off the blogs.
This is not Facebook’s fault. It’s the user’s fault. We chose Facebook over blogs. Blogs were open and distributed, democratic and egalitarian. Anybody could make a blog and post wherever you want. You don’t have to subscribe. The blog was content and curation. You subscribed to the content and curation that you wanted to using RSS reader. It turns out that almost every website still supports RSS. It’s just that no one uses it. I use RSS. I have a reader that subscribes to different websites, blogs and news. I’ve created my own knobs. I have filters that say, “If the word Donald Trump is in there, I don’t read it.” I do not read news about elections. I don’t read news about Donald Trump. I don’t want to know. It’s not reaching my life. I’ve got better things to do.
The first time I set this up was many years ago. I didn’t want to hear about Disney. I do not give a shit about Disney. Cory Doctorow loves Disney. I have minus Disney and everything else minus Donald Trump. That was my initial motivation to make these filters. I use RSS and I still get too much stuff so I have to constantly go back and add more filters to reduce and unsubscribe from things that send me too many things. That’s why I would like a curation organization. I would like to be able to subscribe to it.
It could be part of their API.
You could choose different people. It’s like, “I only want to read whatever Kanye is reading. I want the feed of what Kanye is feed. I want what he reads because Kanye is the most informed American and I would like to be up on his level.” I use a service called Inoreader, which allows me to do all the subscriptions and filters and things. You can set up things like search so you could have it search the internet for any time there’s a new post about Two Bit Circus or whatever. Google Alerts do that thing for you. On the phone, I use an app called Reeder 4.
In order to be able to do those alerts, does it have its own spidering?
It’s not as hard as it sounds. We used to think spidering was magical, now, it’s not that hard.
Thanks for waking me back up to RSS.
It makes a feed customized for me. I pay $5 for Inoreader.
I have this trigger that happens in my brain when I’m using email for too much of something. That’s usually an indicative problem that there are some problems. I’m taking notes that way. It’s like, “I should have a note-taking thing.” I’m getting all my news that way. I’ve got newsletter overload and duplicate articles across them.
I see why people do it. One of the problems has been for publishers or any creators, the platforms are fucking them over. Facebook’s charging me to send a post to my own followers. Instagram is the same thing. They’re intermediating these creators from their own followers. The only thing that doesn’t do that is email. Email is a different problem, which is that it’s full of spam and shit. Now, for brands and things, Gmail, the dominant reader is moving all that stuff to the promotions tab and stuff. You still can’t get to people with high reliability with email, and that’s why everyone is switching to SMS. That’s why every company is trying to give them your phone number. They don’t care about your email address anymore. They want your phone number because email open rates are 6% to 20% and SMS is 98%.
I see it with myself. My SMS looks so much more organized than my email.
Innovation is, by nature, new and different and you’re going to not necessarily recognize it when you see it.Tweet
In 2 or 3 years, it’ll be full spam and you’ll need a spam filter for your SMS. It’s going to be the same bullshit, but all that is solvable too, but the problem is who’s incentivized to do it?
As we go down the list of them, I feel like the calendar has had potential solutions. Upcoming.org and a few of those that centralized events for your community because sometimes I’m getting an email because they’re trying to put something on my calendar. Frankly, I might want it on my calendar. I would love to get the email too.
For a while, Facebook events were working great. Not in COVID, it died in COVID, but for the last many years, because you can load the events app on your phone without even loading Facebook. What it does is it’s easy to invite friends. Facebook for better or worse is the social network that’s mostly built out and most of your friends are there. If you’re having an event, like I would do dinner parties, everybody I’m inviting is on Facebook. You add them and that one was good.
The original architects of the internet did such an incredible job imagining RSS. RSS for news, great. Email for communication, great.
The calendar is working pretty well with Google Calendar and it’s standard spaced and it works. Most of that I think is working well.
Can I subscribe to a feed of events?
You subscribe to a calendar. Like my kid goes to her school and has a calendar for the lacrosse team. You subscribed to that. The user interface could be better, but I’m not sure that there’s a major buy-in for this thing. Unfortunately, I have the sixth-grade lacrosse calendar from many years ago. It’s still in my Google calendar. I need to go and unsubscribed from that now because it’s historic junk. That needs to be managed a little better. Probably what we need is like a way to put events in RSS.
I would like to be able to review and say, “These are the things that are available.” I don’t want to hear about the same thing ten times but, “Here’s what my opportunities are tomorrow, tonight, next week, next month.” I was talking with a friend of mine, Adam Pingel years ago and he said, “The time between when he thinks about something and finds out it’s already been done is shrinking as soon as you do that.”
There’s a thing that I loved that died that got acquired by Nokia a decade ago called Dopple. It was a cool website that would ingest all my travel plans and all my friend’s travel plans and tell you who is going to be around on your next trip?” You could plan to hang out with them. I love it and I can’t believe it’s been so long and no one’s made anything like that.
Pablos, I feel like that’s the future of social interaction is that my AI would be out negotiating with your AI and the fact that you were passing through LA, neither of us would have had to do anything other than say yes. It would have been like, “Would you want to make sure that you guys get together?” That needs to happen.
We got to get her because how many times. All I do is I’m like, “I’m going to LA, who do I know in LA?” Texting, “You’re going to be around?” “Nope, we’re in Austin.”
I have run into my dad in Customs. This happened twice.
On Christmas vacation for three years in a row, we ran into each other in airports.
Maggie and I, during the trip we got engaged, she was on Facebook and realized some of our best friends were in Florence at the exact same time. We missed them by hours.
That’s the thing that easily solves for us.
I want that personal AI in the cloud acting on it. I love that everybody’s got Siri and Alexa and all the early interfaces into this, but what I’m looking for is something that is actively sitting out there all the time and advocating on it.
This is one of the interesting problems is that when you look at things like Siri and Alexa, they need to know you. I want my computer to know everything about me because I can’t remember everything about me. I’m using that to help me decide what my options are.
Some decisions they can make for me. I don’t even need to be involved.
That’s the dream. Some of these things are architecturally working against us. It’s going to take a little while to get there and one of your dad’s observations was that these things need volition. Alexa needs to be able to pipe up in the conversation when she has something useful to offer like a person would. That’s one of the major things that’s missing is Siri should be able to sit there and listen to our conversation.
“You’re double-booked that night. You should do it differently.”
Also say, “Pablos, you’re full of shit. There aren’t that many cases of COVID in Australia or Berlin.” Recording a podcast wouldn’t require a fact-check. Don’t bother fact-checking this podcast. It’s built 100% accurate and not worth the waste of your time. That’s the thing that if the robots had volition and could join up, then they could build better relationships with us. They could be more useful. There are some veering that way.
The first that I’ve started seeing as some of these humans augmented by AI as a personal assistant. Their virtual assistants that are somewhere in there is a human that is puppeteering and it’s highly leveraged across their distance. They start to know, but I think it’s got a long way to go, but I have been impressed with some of that. They’re building some dossier on you or at least the kinds of things that you do.
A higher-level way of thinking about that is we want to turn these things into tools for humans. When you see technology like Deepfakes or GPT-3, these are technologies that exist. Machine learning has given us these abilities, but we don’t have the toolkit to go steer them yet. For example, GPT-3 can write an unlimited amount of texts that sound legit, but it has no notion of story art or character development or things like that. What we would like is to turn those into tools that humans could use and say, “Write some Hemingway, but I want a character that’s like Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” I want to incorporate a chess prodigy and I want to be able to start to steer it and say, “Make sure there’s a scene that white castle.” All this stuff, I should be able to manage. I become a director with those tools and in the same thing true for my itinerary in my social events calendar, assuming I ever have one again.
I love the promise of that because, at the end of the day, this was another dadaism. He’s like, “Look at any of the problems that you have and any of those things is a business opportunity because ideally, you want each one of us to have that much better of life. Remove a little bit of pain and suffering. Every one of those is missing something.”
I see it as like the Silicon Valley of the ‘80s mentality. It was paired with technology drivers. It’s like every one of those business opportunities, you got to revisit every time you get new technology. Now, we have computer vision toolkits and open source or depth cams and those things. Every time you get a new technology like that, you get to ask yourself, “Does this change anything humans have ever done? Any of those business opportunities? Can I do it faster, cheaper and better?” That opportunity comes up every time we get something new. Whether your dad expressed it or not, that’s what he was doing in a lot of cases. What you’re doing in a lot of cases is taking the new technology to say, “Now, I can do such cool new stuff.”
To your point, the next step is imagination because we are both taking that new tech. Imagine, as you look at all the different ways in the past of how we’ve done things, how can you imagine this new technology completely eroding those things? Innovation by its nature is going to be new, different and you’re going to not necessarily recognize it when you see it.
One of the things that I always think about is we don’t stop to celebrate these advancements and these improvements. I remember I read an interview with Jay-Z talking about growing up in the projects and they would celebrate every small victory. “Somebody got a new pair of sneakers? Let’s have a party.” The culture was oriented around celebrating whatever advancement they have. Where I grew up or at least how I ended up is like, “Those sneakers are cool. Click buy now. They’ll be here tomorrow.” My daughter is like, “Did you get new shoes?” I’m like, “Yeah.” She’s like, “Why?” I’m like, “It’s not an event. It’s my birthday.”
I think that this is a problem. The celebration is super important. Humans are social animals. I’m a big fan of that book, Bowling Alone, where he talks about Harvard sociologists looks at all the ways in which humans engage socially. Church going, union attendance, card-playing all over the ages. It was like attendance in everything was cratering in modern times. We don’t do anything with it. What happens on average is you’re home alone. In fact, depressed whether you know it or not. There was this other book, Lost Connections.
He looked at all the different ways with people that tried to treat depression. The one that was the most, having friends, have freaking social relationships. The Bowling Alone guy concluded that tracking with not hanging out with people live and socially, their civic engagement is also greater alongside. This is an insidious problem because on the surface, “It’s just my birthday.” It feels like nothing, but the pattern of not seeing people and unplugging from society is super dangerous.
I didn’t read that book, but I should. I had an experience when I was twenty where I felt depressed. I never was diagnosed and didn’t have it nearly as bad as lots of people. For about 1.5-year, most of my interactions were like, “Did you know everything sucks? Let me tell you.” I managed to convince a lot of other people to be depressed too. It was terrible I don’t claim to suffer the way other people have. At the time I was obsessed with rock climbing and my partner, the guy who I used to climb with started dating a single mom and they joined Amway and he wasn’t allowed to climb more.
I was stuck with no partner. Anybody I knew, I would say, “We’re going climbing.” My friends would be like, “I don’t do that.” I’d be like, “No problem. I’ll teach you.” They’re like, “I don’t have any gear.” I’d be like, “No problem, I got a truckload of gear. Get in the car.” I needed someone to belay. I ran out of friends and I would stop at the mall, meet strangers and take them rock climbing. I ended up taking like 100 people rock climbing that summer who’d never gone before. Rock climbing is this amazing thing where you drive out to the woods, hike back a ways to a cliff, hike up the clave, set up an anchor, and you’re hanging out in nature. It’s all beautiful. Rock climbing’s like this extraordinary experience for people, especially at the beginning.
I realized after doing that I’m not depressed anymore. For me, the thing I pinned it on was like, “I have something to give again. I’m sharing this thing I have, which is climbing with people.” This is before rock gyms were invented. This is ancient history. It’s a nature-oriented experience. I felt like I had something to share and that paid off for me. Fortunately, I’ve decided like, “If I ever get depressed again, I’m taking the drugs because that would sucked.” Luckily, I’ve never had that problem again. Maybe you’re right, the social interaction was part of it, but having something to give was a huge part of it for me.
It makes me wonder about the future of work because people feel great when they have meaning in their life. Meaning can be teaching like you were doing, providing some incredible service, being able to build with your hands. Where are we going to get millions of jobs? That meaning creation is an important part of human happiness. I’m not sure what that be.
I was looking at it as I tend to do from a broad perspective. People had that meeting almost 100% of the time until the last couple hundred years because you had to get up at 5:00 in the morning and you had to get out on the farm and start working. You came home and went straight to bed. You’re on the farm with your family, whoever’s working with you, but you worked constantly. To keep everybody alive, you had to work. This is like crayon charts and graphs I’m making here. With the industrial revolution, we started to get efficient enough that not everybody had to work all the time.
You started to get that first consistent free time. I’m not saying there was no free time, but regular, huge chunks of free time. Yuval Harari thinks that hunting and gathering was mostly leisure. I don’t know about that. For modern humans, that consistent free time, that’s what created the entertainment industry. That’s entirely stuffed you do to fill your free time. If you were to make an asymptote graph over the last 100 years, the entertainment industry went on the whole millions of dollars a year.
It was buskers and circuses.
Hyper-exposure is the root of creativity.Tweet
That all grew and became movies, TV, books, music, elections and video games. Elections are entertained and news too, unfortunately. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m saying it’s how it is. Free time grew to build that. The amount of time and attention devoted to work has plummeted. Depression goes up on a curve, similar to the entertainment industry growth curve. That sense of feeling needed, feeling part of something that you got from work that we get from work, not everybody gets out so much.
It also came from religion.
We used to get a lot out of religion. That was the social hub. That was the meaning in life hub.
COVID is like a reset. Reset people’s relationship with work, commute, all of that stuff and gone forever. I’m on with the CEO Newsletter and somebody posted like, “What are we going to do with go back to work protocols and best practices.” Everybody responded, “There is no go back. It’s over. We got rid of our office. We’re downsizing.” We might get on a cadence where we see each other live once a week in a facilitated session. If that’s the case, there’s a high onus on everybody to look at their patterns because we do need some structure. It becomes a habit when you start doing it at least once. What’s going to be the way that we structure getting back together again live doing some of the community, give back live? Being an active member of your society at a time when the structures that used to do that.
There’s been this progression with a lot of the important stuff you need was embodied in religions. We moved a lot of it to governments over the last few centuries and now we moved it to corporations and now they’re failing us. My view of that is probably because of where I come from is that people need to take some personal responsibility for the recipe for their life and go figure out like, “How much Netflix is making my life better and how much is too much? How Instagram? How much exercise?” You got to build that recipe yourself. We’re blaming Facebook for getting it wrong.
It feels to me like a high, a lot to expect.
It is but I think people need to step up. It would be nice if you could count on Facebook to give you a great life, but I think it’s a lot to expect from Facebook.
Back to our news curatorial CNN running my Facebook selection algorithm. Where’s my suggested life habits from the people that I respect the structuring? What’s the new religion that has me engaged with a like-minded community?
You can’t have a like-minded community because that wouldn’t be enough diversity.
I want to make sure there’s the diversity algorithm in there too. Expecting people to discover it all on their own is what we should all go find light ourselves.
I don’t mean that.
I said that only to be extreme. There are some best practices. A simple example is exercise in the morning. Neurologically your brain grows right after exercise. You are primed for learning in the hours after exercise. Exercise before you’re going to do something.
You don’t know how much I can learn when I’m sleeping. I’m a salsa dancer. I exercise and then go to bed and I wake up ready to go. The point is, we got to get away from this one size fits all recommendations in every race. You have Chinese people who want to get up and exercise with their coworkers before working in the factory dungeon to make my sweatshirts. That’s great for them. That’s their choice. I’m not going to do that. That’s not my idea of exercise. It varies for different people and different people are optimizing for different things. We don’t need everybody to exercise. I don’t know if Stephen King exercises, but he’s prolific at what he does.
I don’t need to love and respect him for his exercise routine. Where I’m trying to land is like smoking gets a lot of airplay. It’s bad to do that inside. It’s bad to do it around a kid. If we know that there’s data that you are depressed if you don’t have friends, why is that not have more airplay? Why are we not talking about the importance of spending time together in the social community? I’m looking for some guidance.
What we want to be doing with our kids is say, “You’re probably overdoing it on Netflix. You might want to get smoking and get some friends.” The patterns that we’ve seen play out show that too much smoking in Netflix doesn’t give you the life that you’re going to want down the road.
Part of it is you were the least equipped to know that you need that when you’re in the middle of it. It’s like, if you only pick up the phone and call that friend of yours, they would talk you off the cliff or make you smile.
It is our problem. You’re getting to one of the winning strategies is to develop relationships with people. For me, it’s been helpful having people at different stages of their lives. My daughter doesn’t realize it, but I put amazing people in her life that she thinks of as friends who are adults. This is a weird thing that I did. Her friends from a young age are adults probably because I didn’t want to hang out with other kids. I’m her dad. Nothing I do can be cool in her mind. For those people, she thinks they’re awesome.
For those people hanging out with her, a lot of value for them also. She’s super creative, super interesting, seeing the world for the first time and all of that. Having multi-generational friends was great.
I went to see some friends of mine for dinner at their house. I took her with me and right before we got to their door, I got a call that I took and I told her, “I’m going to do this call.” I expect her to wait for me to finish the call and then we’d go knock on the door. She’s never met these people. She goes to knocks on the door. I finish the call ten minutes later, I show up and they’re hanging out chatting. She made friends with, “How’s it going?” She didn’t know whose house we were going. She’s well socialized as well. If you give up on yourself and you don’t try to create a recipe that works for you, then you’re not going to be happy with the results. You might try to make a recipe and fail a bunch of times, but that’s part of learning to cook.
The difference of working on the business, working in the business, you apply that to yourself. You’re going about your day-to-day or thinking about your life.
One of the things you’ve seen to try to fill the gap where religion dropped the ball is all the self-improvement mindfulness. If you go to a bookstore in any other country, there’s no self-improvement section. Can you go into a bookstore in America? Not that we have them. Look in the airport, I do this if I’m traveling. If you’re in the airport in America, self-help is a huge section. You go to an airport bookstore in Europe, Asia, Middle East, there’s no self-help section. That’s not what they do. They’ll probably end up there. I’m not saying self-help is specifically working better than religion. I don’t know.
One nice thing I like about it is there are instances that go both ways. Some of them are looking for somebody to replace the religion that they can follow. That might be as good as it gets for some people. I’m not specifically trying to criticize that choice. You do want to be careful about who you choose, but maybe that’s what works for people where we’re built to follow, humans are. You want to be careful about who you choose to follow. What is cool in our lives is like a lot of freedom around exploration and trying different things. To figure out what works going forward, we have to try a lot of stuff and some of it is not going to work. You’ve got to give people a chance to try things.
That hyper exposure is also the root of creativity. You expose yourself to lots of stuff and then you’ve got a big wealth to drawn.
Some of these things are going to work. I saw some article about a family that had a garage sale, sold everything they had and got Bitcoin. At that time, it was worth like $900. They’ve been traveling the world ever since, the whole family, going everywhere they want, living off of Bitcoin. There’s a lot there, but what I love is we have so much potential, the technologies are giving us new potential. You’re taking all this in a direction that’s underexplored. You seem to see nothing, but more things you could do if you only had time. That’s a marker that more people should be trying not to bring you a competition you don’t want.
Please bring it because I want to do more stuff.
If you were going to use my vocabulary and describe problems that you want to solve or think need to be solved, what else do you see?
Have you done any immersive theater? Rather than traditional theater, where you sit in a seat-facing a stage, the immersive theater is all around you. It’s site-specific. You’re in a huge building and the buildings got lots of great themes going around. The thing that’s special about that is you have agency as an audience member. You’re wandering around, you get to decide which way to go, what actor to follow. Now and again, the actor will grab you by the hand, pull you down a hallway, the door locks behind you and you are alone one-on-one with this actor. They are responding to you, Pablos, and the words that you said now. Even though you’re in the middle of an entertainment theater experience, that personalization is magical. From an economic perspective, it’s super expensive to have a human one-on-one with you.
Those theater productions can only be so big. They’re never going to be in the Staple Center. It’s hard to get that level of immersion at scale, except if you have conversational AI and all of the tech and words that you get to experience every day. You get incredible personalization for people so that their entertainment experience is made for them. There’s another way when you were talking about the cameras being tons of sensors so that it could be translated into lots of languages depending on who they were and whether it was Ferraris and Lamborghinis. From the audience perspective, imagine those characters, all of that stuff is responding to me, who I am now, what I’m interested in, the questions that I ask, and the path of the narrative that I have taken off.
I want to be Michael Douglas in the game. I want that game to surround my life and dip into it. I don’t need to be drugged and buried alive in Mexico, but he had all terrible stuff happened to them. The better stuff, the things that were super interesting. He had a global puzzle he was unraveling and all of his faculties were being called on. Could he run fast? Could he solve puzzles? Could he navigate the world on $1 a day? Each of those things was a real skill. The thing that I think would be got with it was beautiful in the end as he went from being a jerk to a nice guy. It was an educational experience.
There is great data to show that you will work out harder in VR than you will in regular life. You would know that anecdotally. You’ll play a game of soccer with a broken foot because your head’s in the game and you will die on a treadmill because you’re driving it nuts. These things that we discover, explore, prototype and get right in entertainment have so much application in learning, fitness, therapy and retraining. The future of those harder subjects is going to be so much driven by making a great personal life experience.
I was on the board of a college. I didn’t go to college, so it’s not clear that I should have been on the board in the first place. I don’t feel really optimistic about the future of colleges.
I don’t either and it’s accelerated by who made it.
I finally managed to quit or they let me. It was great. I loved all the guys on that board, the people that were there. I learned so much from them, but I didn’t feel like they needed me because I don’t think that’s where the action is. A lot of it is I see the future of education being in games. My kid, I remember 2nd or 3rd or 4th, she’d go to school for six hours having learned nothing. She comes home, plays 45 minutes of games on her iPad and learn a ton.
I would even expand that to say the future of education in entertainment, games being one of the tools in the toolbox. Imagine we put her in an immersive theater experience that was all around Marie Curie and had entire chemistry. That would be freaking awesome.
In education, as we know it now, nobody’s taking responsibility for making it interesting. The only thing that brain wants to learn is what it’s interested in. I learned a lot because I was interested in computers. I would spend an absurd amount of time and energy trying to learn more about the computer. When I look at my kid, I look for whatever she’s interested in and add fuel to the fire. I don’t care if she turns out like all the other kids, but when you look at a school, there are still schools that are architected to try and make all the kids turn out the same.
It’s a model that hasn’t changed for many years and that is terrible because we’ve figured out solutions. A simple example of that is the flipped learning model. The idea that you go home and watch the videos of what was the lecture in the classroom, and then go into the classroom to do the homework because now the teacher can be an exception handler. The head of the class can be the cascading mentor to everybody else, so that you’ve much more efficiently distributed resources. It’s facilitated by technology but it requires imaginative thinking on behalf of the administration.
We don’t need our kids to all turn out the same anymore. Education should strive to produce great, unique, and special snowflakes.Tweet
What I found at least in college, I’m bottomless pit of ideas and it didn’t matter. They’re constrained by accreditation because the costs have gone up, the only way to go to college is to get student loans. The student loans are federally-backed, but they dictate that you can only use the loans at schools that are accredited. These accrediting bodies are outside the university or the school, their job is to make sure that you do everything exactly the same as the way they’re used to see it. I don’t even think you could do that in a college and get away with it with the most accrediting bodies. The whole system is there’s so much bureaucracy that works against innovation that I think it’s going to collapse.
I agree with you. There’s a lot of problems there and in K-12, we’ve also got it wrong. This is no fault of the teachers who are the hardest working most incredible people. I love them and I want them to be more empowered for their tools. As I think about your daughter’s education, the scaffolding of the interest in the led learning approach. It’s not okay to do nothing. You have to do something. You’re going to be interest-led, and you’re going to figure out the thing that you want to do now and the next week, but we know as a functioning member of society, we need you to get a couple of backbone of things. Basic finance, basic for a state that you should be able to read. What I can’t wait to see is what’s the scaffolded approach that says, “Take this video from Khan Academy.”
Piecing these things together, did you ever read The Diamond Age?
I love that book. We’re finally there. We’ve got it. The iPad is ready to go.
Neal Stephenson gets a lot of credit for Snow Crash.
A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer was a master.
For readers, Snow Crash was the first practical vision of virtual reality and underpins every virtual reality project since the book. A lot of people didn’t read The Diamond Age which was the next book after that, that Neal wrote. Not only it’s got a whole nanotechnology thing that was probably a little too early, but I don’t think that’s the important part. That’s what people fix it on. The primer is the most important thing in education.
The main character had this tablet device. The tablet device had a character in it that grew up with her. That character was puppeted on the backend by lots of different humans, but it was the same person to her. It was a personalized learning agent. It knew her intimately, knew what she knew and what she didn’t know as she grew up with her and was bringing the right learning there at the right time.
It was an amazing vision because I remember an example was the story when she first reads it, it’s a story about a princess, the girl’s name is Nell. The princess goes on these adventures and learns all the things that Nell needs to learn. The book is interactive. She’s reading the same book for the first eighteen years of her life or something, but we have all the tech to do that now. It was unimagined. This book is from 1992.
Now, we could build a primer and I believe that we should hold the primer. The reason is my daughter is already growing up with iPads. The things that are on it are Netflix. She’s watching TV shows, playing video games, and watching YouTube stuff. It’s okay, but here’s what I was thinking. Here’s how we solve it. Imagine that we need you to learn what Pi means. You could learn Pi any way you want, but you don’t get any credit for it until you teach somebody else. Somebody else you can pick anyone on earth. Any student could be in China. It doesn’t matter. You’re going to teach Pi to somebody. The way you do it is you got to figure out how to make it interesting to them.
If that student is into skateboarding, teach him Pi. “Here’s how a skate ramp works or electric guitar.” Whatever they’re into, you’re going to adapt Pi to be relevant to that. You’re going to make a YouTube video or write an essay or whatever it is that’s relevant to you or whatever medium you can express in. Do you want to write a song about Pi? Go for it. The job is to teach that discreet atomic lesson like in Khan Academy, it’s a five-minute thing. It’s one concept. You’re going to teach that in a way that’s interesting to that kid. His job is to teach it to somebody else. Now that he’s learned Pi, he might have to take what he learned in the context of electric guitar, and then go teach it to somebody else in the context of skateboarding.
The point is, if you do this in a school every year in one class, you get 30 versions of Pi. Khan Academy has one. Solomon’s in Khan explaining Pi, which is fine if you’re into English and your interests are on Pi, but if you’re skateboarding, that’s not cool. There should be 1,000 versions. You can’t afford to make 1,000 versions unless you have the kids creating the curriculum for future generations. We don’t. Our kids, my kid learns Pi, write it on a piece of paper, looks how the teacher glances at it and watches it, go in the trash. What could be more motivating than that? It is frustrating to me that every kid grows up doing what they know is fake work. It has no relevance to them.
Teaching somebody else is real work. You imparting knowledge to someone, that’s a real task.
Even if for no other reason, you’re learning it so that you can know you can do a good job at teaching your little buddy.
When I had thought about the million-job problem, caregivers were always the ones I kept coming back to because we don’t do a good job of daycare. Teachers are overwhelmed and trying to broadcast to 30 students. Atomizing each of the lessons and decentralized for everybody. These are great solutions.
No kid has to teach them all, no kid has to learn them all. We don’t need all the kids to turn out the same anymore. We want great, unique and special snowflakes. The truth is, you’re a little cocky.
That’s not just a million jobs.
That’s a billion jobs.
Through high school, I’m going to have to teach 50 things. That’s a lot of jobs.
One of the things is the value you get out of a job we’re looking at a paycheck. That’s one of them, but we’re not looking at that mental health, the well-being needed in society. You get that from jobs too. You don’t get it from watching Netflix. What’s happening now is as we get more automation and efficiency, we are giving you more free time with this imperative question of what are you going to do with the free time? Watch more Netflix, or maybe you could help teach? My daughter’s classes have 30 kids and one teacher in a public school all through elementary school and we’re bitching and moaning about student-teacher ratios. Maybe we could get it down to 27 to 1? Maybe we could get it down to 26 to 1? We’re never going to get it down to one-to-one and that’s what we need. You don’t even need to be a good teacher if you only have one student to pay attention to. Our teachers are amazing because they can do it with 27. We only need only one to do that.
It’s like, “Do you understand that last second? How about the five seconds before that?” You know exactly when you lost them.
I’ve been lucky because I could afford to get tutors for my kid. All I did at from preschool on, I got her tutors and not to do a drill for the Math test. I’m like, “Figure out what she’s interested in and do it.” They turned my sauna into a camera obscura. They made stop motion movies with her iPad and her Barbies. She was four. She has all kinds of cool stuff. She doesn’t even realize she’s learning. She’s having fun. They did dance routines. One cool side effect for parents who care, she learned to work with a tutor. That context is so comfortable to her that when it became time to a drill for a test to get into private school, she was on it. No problem.
That one-on-one thing I believe in. The way to scale it is to turn the students themselves into teachers and get rid of this notion that teaching comes from on high. I’ve been looking for a context to do that. I got into this idea almost many years ago, because I was trying to start a private high school that would work this way. It ended up being way too much trouble to start up a private high school. I had no idea.
The Two Bit Circus Foundation is doing a bunch of after school stuff. It’s all creativity play basis.
Why play-based learning?
There are four core components. We train teachers, even as a History teacher, how to incorporate STEM and steam into their curriculum. Teacher’s professional development, we deploy makerspaces, physical tool deployment. We’ll bring tool benches with all the gear, consumable materials. This is the clean waste we collect from companies. Extra cutout, fabric cutouts from the fashion company, extra packaging from UPS, extra bottle caps that didn’t get used. All that stuff becomes the tools they use in the projects and event programs. Imagine a full replacement for the science fair where instead of building a baking soda, vinegar, volcano, kids are building their own game and throwing their own carnivals. It’s a full-stack replacement for that.
Is it working?
It’s working. It is not expensive. The way we’ve structured it is a little bit of a Robin Hood model. We sell the program to affluent schools so we can give it away to those at risk. More than half of our work is all in at-risk communities all over.
Imagine like a version of Khan Academy where you watch Salman Khan video on Pi, then you make your own and that gets posted. We have some AI that when a new kid comes in, we’re like, “Watch these three videos on Pi and your job is to make one better.”
The next student arrives and all of a sudden, they get the perfect session. Show them the three videos, “Which one did you like the best?” That metadata gets incorporated into that video so that now the kinesthetic learner is going to be getting the right Pi video. It gets perfect because I think about those educators that changed my life. Tom Wisdom, my Physics professor in high school, he was almost like Monty Python, a British guy that made it fun. It was incredible. I loved Physics. He was part of the reason I went into Engineering. Whatever his version of teaching stuff would be is going to resonate with certain people, kids like me, and a different version from a different Physics professor.
I never had Physics. I had to learn by working with astrophysicists and trying to build spaceships. I had to learn Physics on the top, but I’m a good fake physicist now, but I didn’t have that experience with Physics. imagine that every kid could have that teacher or one that could master them.
That’s the best educator. He has done a great job because he has been elevated because his approach is so awesome. What are 1,000 more Salman Khans or 10,000 more so that all of a sudden, you’re reaching everybody optimally? Imagine how fast could K-12 education happen? How fast could those minimum requirements be made so it’s all interesting? Everything that you want is the thing that you’re learning.
Thanks, Brent. It’s been amazing.
This was fun. Thanks a lot, Pablos. I appreciate it.
- High Fidelity
- Reeder 4
- Bowling Alone
- Lost Connections
- The Diamond Age
- Snow Crash
- Two Bit Circus Foundation
- Brent Bushnell
About Brent Bushnell
Brent Bushnell is an entrepreneur, engineer and CEO/co-founder of Two Bit Circus, a Los Angeles-based experiential entertainment company. The interdisciplinary team strives to create immersive, social fun and is currently building a network of micro-amusement parks featuring free-roaming VR, robot bartenders, an interactive supper club and more. Previously they created STEAM Carnival, a traveling event to inspire kids about science, technology, engineering, art and math.
Brent is on fire about using play and spectacle to inspire inventors. He is passionate about rebranding STEM learning to STEAM with the inclusion of art and creativity. He is motivated by the power of group games and interactive media to bring people together in fun and meaningful ways. As a UCLA-trained engineer, he is a hands-on maker who uses rapid prototyping to turn vision into reality. He’s board president of Two Bit Circus Foundation, an LA-based 501c3 that deploys STEAM-based programs for middle and high school students.
Previously, he was the on-camera inventor for the ABC TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. He was a founding member of Syyn Labs, a creative collective creating stunts for brands like Google and Disney and helped OK Go build the Rube Goldberg machine for their viral This Too Shall Pass music video that garnered 50+ million views on YouTube.
In his spare time, Brent enjoys mentoring teens in entrepreneurship via programs such as NFTE. He’s a supporter of Clowns Without Borders and publishes on Twitter at @brentbushnell.