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Should This Exist?

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It's the question of our times: How is technology impacting our humanity? "Should This Exist?" invites the creators of radical new technologies to set aside their business plan, and think through the human side: What is the invention’s greatest promise? And what could possibly go wrong? Show host Caterina Fake (Partner, Yes VC; Cofounder Flickr) is a celebrated tech pioneer and one of Silicon Valley’s most eloquent commentators on technology and the human condition. Joined by a roster of all-star expert guests who have a knack for looking around corners, Caterina drops listeners into the minds of today’s ingenious entrepreneurs and guides them through the journey of foreseeing what their technology might do to us, and for us. Should This Exist? is a WaitWhat original series in partnership with Quartz.

19 Episodes
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UCSF bioengineer Shuvo Roy and his team have created the world’s first bionic kidney. The coffee-cup-sized device includes a silicon nanotechnology filter to cleanse the blood, while living kidney cells grown in a bioreactor perform the other functions of a natural kidney. A bioartificial kidney could save kidney patients from being stuck on a dialysis machine for life – or dying while waiting for a rare transplant. But is the promise of such a life-changing device enough to convince investors to bring such a thing to market? We talk through the ethics of artificial organs. 
Could you, would you, go one full hour without your phone? The average American spends one-third of their waking hours on a smartphone; we’ve been told our devices make life better, faster, and easier. What happens when we choose to live without them – or when we are forced to? In this episode, we’ll talk to media studies professor Douglas Rushkoff, get the down low from a U.S. senator who sat in a “digitally sequestered” hearing for three weeks (guess which one) – and travel to the WiFi-free town of Green Bank, West Virginia, to find out exactly what happens when we unplug.Listen to Douglas Rushkoff’s podcast Team Human: http://teamhuman.fmGet Douglas’ book Team Human: https://rushkoff.com/books/team-human-bookFind more resources about this episode at shouldthisexist.comSubscribe to our excellent newsletter at http://eepurl.com/gnZTf9
Standard college admissions tests are: a. based on an outdated model of intelligence; b. exclusionary; c. a lucrative business and a near-monopoly; d. all of the above. 28-year-old Harvard dropout Rebecca Kantar is disrupting the paradigm of pencil-and-paper tests like the SAT and ACT by designing interactive scenarios that play like video games, and that test for qualities like grit and creativity. But is another test the answer? Given the spotty history of aptitude tests, maybe it’s time to completely reevaluate how colleges evaluate prospective frosh.
VR vs. PTSD

VR vs. PTSD

2020-11-1142:571

A VR system called Bravemind allows combat veterans with PTSD to confront and process their trauma in a virtual environment. The therapy, developed by psychologist Skip Rizzo, shows promise for PTSD and potential for other issues like phobias and addiction – and it may have applications to help healing more broadly. But does the potential for harm from virtual self-medication outweigh the good it can do in a clinical setting? And given what we know about how VR affects the brain – is it as safe as it seems? Find an episode transcript at shouldthisexist.comGet our spectacular newsletter at eepurl.com/gnZTf9
Young blood / old brains

Young blood / old brains

2020-10-2836:034

What if you could extend your healthy life by 10 or 20 years – with a blood transfusion from someone younger and healthier than you? Research by Stanford professor Tony Wyss-Coray shows potential to treat Alzheimer’s and prevent age-related cognitive decline: He’s discovered that proteins found in the blood of young mice can dramatically reverse the effects of aging when transfused into older mice. Doing the same thing in humans could increase our quality of life as we age, and our life expectancy too. We’re years away from seeing any clinical applications of this research, which gives us time to ask about its implications. Who will have access to this treatment? Who are the donors providing young blood? We could add years to our lives – but is that what we really want?Get the weekly Should This Exist? newsletter for reading list and discussion questions: http://eepurl.com/gnZTf9
Is it the loneliest idea you’ve ever heard? Or an ingenious hack that helps human caregivers be more attentive and empathetic? You might have these questions when you meet the robot caregivers who roam the halls at retirement homes, doing basic tasks for residents and keeping them connected. Is elder care something we want a robot to do? Roboticist Conor McGinn from Trinity College Dublin actually moved into a retirement home in Washington, DC, to gain a deeper understanding of what residents might want from a robot. The answer surprised him, and it prompts deeper questions: As humans, what responsibility do we have toward our elders? When we fail them, should robots close the gap? And is that the future we want for ourselves?Get the weekly Should This Exist? newsletter for reading list and discussion questions: http://eepurl.com/gnZTf9
It’s one of the best weapons we have to contain a pandemic. But can it defeat the disease without spying on people who might carry it? MIT’s Kevin Esvelt has a bold idea: Let’s try a new form of contact tracing that could more than double the program’s impact. Bi-directional tracing looks both forward and backward from a known transmission, building a chart of the “undiscovered branches of the viral family tree,” and identifying potential spreaders other systems can’t see. But how much of our data are we willing to give the government, even if it’s to fight Covid-19? Get the weekly Should This Exist? newsletter for reading list and discussion questions: http://eepurl.com/gnZTf9.
The deepfake detective

The deepfake detective

2020-10-1438:415

Chances are, you’ve seen a “deepfake” video. But did you know it? A new breed of tech detectives are building tools to spot these hyper-realistic videos – built with AI – where people say things they didn’t say or do things they’d never do. Some of these clips are just good, fanciful fun. But a deepfake deployed at the right moment could sway an election, or wreck a life. That’s why UC Berkeley professor Hany Farid is working on a “deepfake detective" – a tool to help media outlets know what’s real and what isn’t. But the same program could also give deepfakers a blueprint for how to make their work undetectable. Deepfake technology already exists. This episode asks: What should we do now? Get the weekly Should This Exist? newsletter for reading list and discussion questions: http://eepurl.com/gnZTf9.
How is technology impacting our humanity? It’s the question of our times. Join host Caterina Fake for Season 2 of Should This Exist – where each week we take a single technology and ask: What’s its greatest potential? And what could possibly go wrong? With fascinating guests telling great stories, we’ll talk about some astounding technologies. Robots who could become our caregivers in old age. Video games that aim to replace the SAT. And virtual reality that could heal our trauma and rewire our brains.Our boldest new technologies can help us flourish as human beings. Or destroy the very thing that makes us human. You can’t uninvent these technologies. So what are we going to do with them now?Season 2 of Should This Exist? starts October 14, with 11 all-new episodes. Subscribe now, wherever you listen. And join the Should This Exist newsletter at shouldthisexist.com.
The web is broken. Data is mined, sold, and exploited. Social media is an endless and biased scroll through the worst of humanity. Nobody’s personal information is safe. And worst of all, it’s inescapable. The web is a cornerstone of our lives. It’s how we work, communicate with each other, and get information. And it wasn’t supposed to be like this. How did a utopian vision of a free, open, and democratic internet turn into nothing more than a machine for marketing and surveillance? In the season finale of Should This Exist?, Caterina Fake is joined by early web adopters Steven Berlin Johnson, Anil Dash, and Kevin Delaney to ask: Where did the web go wrong? Could we have prevented it? And what, if anything, can we now do to fix it? It’s a question that affects us all and will determine the future of our lives online… and off.
Imagine meeting your great-great-great-grandkids. Or going to law school in your 80s, learning to snowboard at 110, taking a gap decade instead of a gap year. Greg Bailey dreams of a world where everybody lives twice as long, and no one gets sick. His startup, Juvenescence, is developing a whole ecosystem of anti-aging medications to help you live longer, healthier. Which sounds great. But would this world of perky centenarians wreak havoc on our already strained resources? Would natural aging become taboo? Would dying? It's a technology that prompts us to ask some of the biggest questions of all.
Imagine biting into a steak that didn’t come from a cow. Or a chicken breast that did not come from a chicken. Imagine if your favorite meat dish did not involve an animal getting killed. This is Isha Datar’s dream. She is a scientist on a mission to not only reinvent meat but the entire meat industry. If Isha's dream comes true, we'll live in a post-animal bioeconomy where animal products – from meat to leather and wool – are harvested from cell cultures, not animals. And we're able to feed a growing global population sustainably, affordably and safely.But does meat grown in a lab really take animals out of the picture? And do we want to step further into a landscape of man-made, mass-produced food? Host Caterina Fake discusses the possibilities and pitfalls with Isha Datar, executive director of New Harvest, and Kevin Delaney (Quartz Editor-in-Chief); Ben Turley and Brent Young (owners, The Meat Hook); and Andrew Pelling (biophysicist).
Mike Pappas and Carter Huffman believe their invention fulfills the promise of the digital world: the complete freedom to design your identity. But what if we all used it? The human voice is a key marker of authenticity and individuality, and Modulate uses A.I to transform your voice into anything you want it to be. In real time. If you’re a woman and want to sound like a man, Modulate can help you. If you’re a teen and want to sound like a grandparent, Modulate can do that. If you’re from Italy but want to adopt a French accent, speak into Modulate, and you will. Should this exist? The gift of free expression also comes with a price. Yes: Modulate could allow people to be their true selves and speak in a voice that represents who they are. Yes: Modulate could expose institutional vocal bias against certain sounds and accents. But it also could contribute to the world of deep faking and harassment. At what point is digitizing our real-world identity too much?
Kevin Esvelt knows the stakes are high. As a geneticist at the MIT Media Lab, Kevin discovered a technique called a gene drive, which gives humans a power we’ve never had before: to change the DNA of entire species in nature. This capacity is so new and so unprecedented that when Kevin made the discovery six years ago, it was “literally unimagined by any human being at that time — not in science fiction, not in any form of literature, not in any scientific journals.” Used successfully for good, a gene drive has the potential to save millions of lives by eliminating diseases like Malaria. But in the wrong hands — or even in well-intentioned hands — the results could be catastrophic. How do we weigh the potential for enormous good against the terrifying unknowns? Host Caterina Fake thinks it through with scientist Kevin Esvelt as well as special guests Baratunde Thurston (Comedian and host of the podcasts Spit and #TellBlackStories); Janna Levin (Director of Science Programs at Pioneer Works, Columbia Professor of Astronomy) and Joi Ito (Director of the MIT Media Lab).
What do you do if your invention becomes a weapon? This happened to Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired Magazine, who launched DIY Drones, an open source community that helps anyone build their own flying machines. Chris and his community evolved drones from a military tool to an everyday gadget. Now, drones are used by conservationists to monitor bird's nests, contractors to insure safety standards at building sites, and filmmakers to capture sweeping vistas, among other things. But, they're also used by ISIS to drop bombs on civilians. So, what is Chris' responsibility? Did he foster innovation for a community of like-minded do-gooders or democratize a weapon for a terrorist group across the globe? Host Caterina Fake discusses the possibilities with 3DR founder and CEO Chris Anderson and special guests comedian Baratunde Thurston and Quartz Editor-in-Chief Kevin Delaney.
Throughout human history, we’ve wanted to fly – and to fly fast. So it’s hard to resist Blake Scholl’s idea. His startup, Boom, is building a new supersonic jet, which will fly at twice the speed of sound. If he succeeds, it could be the biggest disruption to air travel since the Jet Age of the 1960s. But progress always has a price. There’s the sonic boom, yes. But also — what happens when the world’s wealthiest can descend en masse on places that used to be hard to reach? And what happens to all of us when supersonic speeds up our already sped-up world? To help us see around this corner, host Caterina Fake discusses the possibilities with Boom Founder and CEO Blake Scholl, and special guests including author Anand Giridharadas, physicist Janna Levin, comedian Baratunde Thurston, and Quartz Editor-in-Chief Kevin Delaney.
What if your computer had an "emotion chip" — AI that could read the expression on your face (or the tone in your voice) and know how you’re feeling? Could online courses teach you better if they knew when you were bored or confused? Could your car help you stay awake if you drift off when driving? These are the questions Rana El-Kaliouby asked when she built an AI tool that examines every micro-muscle in the human face to detect universal emotions — happiness, fear, grief, disgust.Through her company Affectiva, Rana wants to make technology more human, which she believes will serve us better. But if put the wrong hands, could this emotion-reading engine take advantage of us at our most vulnerable moments? Could our inner thoughts be displayed publicly if we don’t want them to be? How might advertisers exploit us if they are able to read our facial expressions?To help us see around corners — we’re joined by special guests including Esther Perel (Relationship expert; host of podcast “Where Should We Begin?”), Joy Buolamwini (Founder, Algorithmic Justice League); Sam Altman (Chairman Y Combinator, Cofounder Open AI); Greg Brockman (Cofounder, Open AI); and Joi Ito (Director, MIT Media Lab).
Woebot is a mobile app that gives one-on-one therapy and gets 2 million messages a week. But Woebot isn't a person – it's a chatbot. It was invented and developed by psychologist Alison Darcy and it uses AI to guide users through a session, anytime, anywhere. Darcy hopes that Woebot will help break down the stigma of therapy and help provide services to communities with a lack of mental health resources. But what happens when we remove the human therapist from therapy? Host Caterina Fake, Woebot founder and CEO Alison Darcy, and experts Esther Perel, Baratunde Thurston, and Kevin Delaney debate the possibilities.
Neuroscientist Daniel Chao created a headset that hacks your brain with electricity so you can learn as fast as a kid again. It’s called Halo, and it helps you learn motor skills faster. Athletes use it; musicians too. But we’re not far from a future when Halo could help anyone master anything. Where will that take us? Host Caterina Fake leads the journey, joined by Comedian Baratunde Thurston and Quartz Editor in Chief Kevin Delaney, who help Daniel future-cast, and see his invention through the future best for humanity.
Comments (12)

Chanaka Hettige

*Me hearing price/cost stats from US medical industry for Dialysis* You can reduce that price by budgeting in a normal country. Not in a country with artifical prices 😂

Dec 2nd
Reply

Chanaka Hettige

It's entertaining to listen to how Black Plague would have been with the accelerated travel of now-a-days and we getting a real time example just an year later 😅 Would love to hear your take on SpaceX's point-to-point transportation plan. It had already stepped into the dystopian user case by sliding into weapon transportation. Which adds another negativity to this technology, which we missed on this episode.

Oct 20th
Reply

Chanaka Hettige

Without sounding too arrogant, isn't this a simple application of face recognition technology which already exists, in a certain way? Should it exists or not is not decided by this company as it already exists beyond them!

Oct 20th
Reply

Shreyansh Das

interesting

Jun 18th
Reply

Kevin Bales

sorry, I found the rap at the end incredibly cringe-worthy.

May 29th
Reply

Mate Škara

Scary and Fantastic at the same time

May 28th
Reply

Amber Williams

inventors should be free to invent. If you don't invent it first, someone else will.

Apr 26th
Reply

Pedro Corpuz

Love the reflection of the long game of utiopia and distopia ends of new technology.

Apr 9th
Reply (1)

Annie

Wow. The sound effects are SO bad. The capstone was the cheesy conversation between the woman and the bartender at 10:58. Unfortunately, I just can't listen anymore...

Feb 27th
Reply

Annie

Promising, but they really need to lose the hokey sound effects

Feb 26th
Reply

MUHAMMAD YOUSAF AWAN

a great new idea

Feb 16th
Reply
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