Joe Rogan Questions EverythingEpisodes

Robosapien
Season 1 - Episode 3
Robosapien

Joe freaks us out right off the bat, informing us that scientists, in an effort to make us immortal, are hard at work at this very moment trying to figure out how to download our human consciousness into robots. Joe wants to know: is this possible? And if our minds could, in fact, be transferred into a robotic body, would we still be human? Maybe we'd be a whole new species -- the "robosapien". Joe then brings up modern advances in "virtual reality". If our fake existence were better than our real one, would we choose to ignore reality? These are big questions, and Joe wants to know if this is all just really cool science fiction, or a vision of things to come. How soon could all of this become reality?

Joe's first stop: Just Cause, a special effects company in Los Angeles that creates "digital people" for movies and video games. He meets owner Reuben Langdon, who takes Joe to his studio, an open warehouse space equipped with dozens of cameras and motion sensors that captures one's movement in order to create a realistic avatar, reminding all of us that all of our jobs are kind of lame compared to Reuben's. The engineers conduct a full-body scan of Joe, creating a three-dimensional avatar of him. The results are impressive (Joe's very lifelike avatar kicks serious ass in a video game), but Joe's concerned -- as virtual realities become more and more "real", what happens when someone prefers the fake one to the real one? 

Joe then visits a company called NVIDIA, where he meets Mark Daly and "Digital Ira", a frighteningly realistic digital rendering of a human face. One of NVIDIA's goals, according to Daly, is to "replicate reality in the computer." Daly speculates that fifteen years from now, we might not be able to tell the difference between a photo of a real human face and a digital depiction of a virtual one. Joe's both impressed and a little scared...

Already wowed by digital depictions of humans, Joe's now curious about actual robots. This search leads him to Maryland to meet Dr. Martine Rothblatt, an inventor/entrepreneur who has built "Bina 48", a robotic replica of her actual spouse Bina. Rothblatt designed the robot to mimic Bina's appearance and mannerisms, and then downloaded Bina's "mind file" (her actual thoughts and ideas) into a database. Rothblatt's goal: to "upload" Bina's consciousness into the robot through the database, so that it can, in theory, answer spoken questions as the real Bina would. Joe then meets Bina 48, a robot shaped in the image of Bina's face -- complete with modern hairstyle and fashionable scarves -- that answers questions spontaneously in real time with a really creepy monotone. Bina's self-proclaimed goal: to be the first robot to enroll in college. Joe describes it as the weirdest conversation in his life, and we don't think he's being hyperbolic. And it leads Joe to philosophize: if Bina 48 has thoughts, memories, and ideas like a human being, why isn't she? What does it mean to be human?

Joe's back in L.A., now headed to meet Nate Harding of Ekso Bionics, a laboratory that develops robotic "exoskeleton" suits which allow them to function beyond their physical limitations. We meet paraplegic Matt, who puts on the suit and then, in a very touching moment, walks across the room. Nate then shows Joe another exoskeleton suit being designed for the military, which allows a soldier to lift significantly heavier loads than usual. Straight out of Iron Man, according to Joe...

Joe next heads to San Francisco to meet Tan Lee, the co-founder of the company EmotivLifesciences, to discuss EEG and brain wave technology. Lee places an EEG monitor helmet (apparently those exist) on Joe's head and tells him to concentrate on something very intensely (Joe's mental topic of choice: naked werewolves). Lee's goal: Joe will power a remote-control helicopter to fly around the room... with only his brain waves! And... it works! Joe Rogan = wizard.

Back at the L.A. podcast bunker, Joe and regular sidekick Duncan Trussell speak about the inevitable merger of man with machine. Their guests: Lukas Dimoveo and Sharad Satsangi from the company Grindhouse Wetware, who talk about "trans-humanism", the idea that humans can evolve beyond our natural limitations by merging their bodies with technology. Dimoveo and Satsangi demonstrate this merger by explaining how they implanted devices into their bodies, which allow them to detect electromagnetic fields from household appliances and sends personal medical data to their phones. Though it's cool, Joe's mostly concerned that implanting magnets in your finger might cause infection. Regarding trans-humanism, Joe needs to speak to someone more authoritative on the topic.

This desire takes him back to San Francisco, where he sits with prominent futurist Ray Kurzweil, who Joe describes as "one of the smartest men in the world." Kurzweil correctly predicted the advent of the Internet, universal search engines, and speech recognition technology. Kurzweil explains that technology has already become united with our biological selves, arguing that smartphones, for example, act as extensions of our brains. He predicts that, by the 2030's, our bodies will have numerous computer devices and nanobots flowing through our bloodstreams, and that humans will become "primarily non-biological". Joe wonders aloud: are we the last biological people ever? When Joe asks if this will make us immortal, Kurzweil says that these advances will prevent our existences from being "too short". Like with data on a smartphone, we will be able to "back up" our biological consciousness's so that when our physical bodies inevitably die, we can download our consciousness into a new robotic body. And when will this happen? Kurzweil tells Joe: 2045.

Based on Kurzweil's date, a number of people have circled 2045 in their calendars, including Russian billionaire Dmitry Itskov, who is bankrolling the Global Future 2045 Conference, which is bringing together the scientists working on making Kurzweil's predictions reality. Joe returns to the podcast bunker with Duncan and new sidekick Ari Shaffir and announces they will be going to New York to attend the conference.

Once they arrive in NYC, a plan is concocted: Joe's going to try to track down Itskov, while Duncan and Ari will interview some of the scientists/conference attendees. Duncan speaks with neurologist Dr. Randal A. Koene, who argues that people don't need to die when their biological brains expire. Ari interviews Dr. Ken Hayworth, President of the Brain Preservation Foundation, who hypothesizes that in the future when his brain is scanned and then implanted into a robot, that robot will, in fact, "still be me."

Joe finally achieves his mission and gets a fifteen-minute sit-down with Itskov (much to the annoyance of Itskov's and his assistant). Itskov seems a combination of Mark Zuckerberg and a Bond villain. He imagines a world where people are young and beautiful and don't suffer from disease -- he wants to make humanity "god-like". This description has convinced Joe that Itskov's desire to be a god might put him in the category of prototypical madman. Itskov tries to elaborate: he wants to give humanity the opportunity to develop itself further, and he wants to choose when he dies. On that, the assistant announces "that's it" -- Itskov is too busy eliminating death to spend any more time with Joe.

On that, Joe flies back to L.A. to talk about the God-complex billionaire with philosopher Dr. Massimo Pigliucci, who agrees that Itskov, while a smart man, has dangerous ideas. For instance, will these super-human/robot hybrids turn on us? Will they oppress and exploit less powerful people? What about the cost of this technology -- will only the rich have access? Pigliucci's also suspicious that human consciousness can be downloaded and uploaded like it's software (and we're shocked that it took 37 minutes for someone to question that premise).  And even if it is possible, will one's emotions be downloaded with the mind? Because humans without emotions are, by definition, psychopaths. And do we really want to create a race of semi-biological, emotionless pyschopaths? Back at the podcast bunker with Duncan, Joe agrees: if we don't have emotions, are we actually human? What is the purpose of that existence? Joe then announces he has one last person to visit: NASA scientist Dr. Rich Terrile.

Joe arrives at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, where Terrile drops a bomb: we might already be living in a computer simulation right now! He elaborates: we have the technology now to simulate everything in a computer, so what if we are someone else's simulation? One implication: there are higher beings than us -- the Simulators! And who are the Simulators? Well, our future selves, of course. Joe's mind is blown. Terrile's conclusion: if artificial reality is indistinguishable from actual reality, then they are one in the same, so no matter what is real, make the most of it. Mind -- still blown.

Joe wraps up the episode with a warning. The merger of man and machine -- of virtual reality with actual reality -- it's coming. We don't fully comprehend what it will all mean -- so many questions remain. Joe promises us though: "It's going to get really weird, really soon."

Will the merger of technology with our biological selves improve the human condition, or will we become inevitable slaves to our robot overlords? And will it even matter if we just create our own virtual realities? And what technique does one recommend for cleaning up our blown minds?

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