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TED2017

Stewart Brand and Chris Anderson: Mammoths resurrected, geoengineering and other thoughts from a futurist

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Stewart Brand is a futurist, counterculturist and visionary with a very wide-ranging mind. In conversation with TED Curator Chris Anderson, Brand discusses ... just about everything: human nature, bringing back the wooly mammoth, geoengineering, rewilding and science as organized skepticism -- plus the story of an acid trip on a San Francisco rooftop in the '60s that sparked a perspective-shifting idea. "The story we're told is that we're the next meteor," Brand says, but "things are capable of getting better."

- Environmentalist, futurist
Since the counterculture '60s, Stewart Brand has been creating our internet-worked world. Now, with biotech accelerating four times faster than digital technology, Stewart Brand has a bold new plan ... Full bio

- TED Curator
After a long career in journalism and publishing, Chris Anderson became the curator of the TED Conference in 2002 and has developed it as a platform for identifying and disseminating ideas worth spreading. Full bio

Chris Anderson: OK, Stewart,
00:12
in the '60s, you -- I think it was '68 --
you founded this magazine.
00:14
Stewart Brand: Bravo!
It's the original one.
00:19
That's hard to find.
00:21
CA: Right. Issue One, right?
00:23
SB: Mm hmm.
00:24
CA: Why did that make so much impact?
00:25
SB: Counterculture was the main event
that I was part of at the time,
00:29
and it was made up
of hippies and New Left.
00:33
That was sort of my contemporaries,
00:37
the people I was just slightly older than.
00:39
And my mode is to look
at where the interesting flow is
00:42
and then look in the other direction.
00:47
CA: (Laughs)
00:49
SB: Partly, I was trained to do that
as an army officer,
00:51
but partly, it's just a cheap heuristic
to find originalities:
00:53
don't look where everybody
else is looking,
00:56
look the opposite way.
00:59
So the deal with counterculture is,
the hippies were very romantic
01:00
and kind of against technology,
01:04
except very good LSD from Sandoz,
01:06
and the New Left was against technology
01:09
because they thought
it was a power device.
01:12
Computers were: do not spindle,
fold, or mutilate.
01:15
Fight that.
01:19
And so, the Whole Earth Catalog
was kind of a counter-counterculture thing
01:20
in the sense that I bought
Buckminster Fuller's idea
01:25
that tools of are of the essence.
01:30
Science and engineers basically
define the world in interesting ways.
01:33
If all the politicians
disappeared one week,
01:38
it would be ... a nuisance.
01:41
But if all the scientists
and engineers disappeared one week,
01:43
it would be way more than a nuisance.
01:46
CA: We still believe that, I think.
01:48
SB: So focus on that.
01:51
And then the New Left was talking
about power to the people.
01:54
And people like Steve Jobs
and Steve Wozniak
01:59
cut that and just said, power to people,
02:02
tools that actually work.
02:06
And so, where Fuller was saying
don't try to change human nature,
02:08
people have been trying for a long time
and it does not even bend,
02:13
but you can change tools very easily.
02:17
So the efficient thing to do
if you want to make the world better
02:19
is not try to make people behave
differently like the New Left was,
02:22
but just give them tools
that go in the right direction.
02:25
That was the Whole Earth Catalog.
02:28
CA: And Stewart, the central image --
this is one of the first images,
02:30
the first time people had seen
Earth from outer space.
02:34
That had an impact, too.
02:36
SB: It was kind of a chance
that in the spring of '66,
02:38
thanks to an LSD experience
on a rooftop in San Francisco,
02:42
I got thinking about, again,
something that Fuller talked about,
02:45
that a lot of people assume
that the Earth is flat
02:48
and kind of infinite
in terms of its resources,
02:50
but once you really grasp
that it's a sphere
02:53
and that there's only so much of it,
02:55
then you start husbanding your resources
02:57
and thinking about it as a finite system.
03:00
"Spaceship Earth" was his metaphor.
03:02
And I wanted that to be the case,
03:04
but on LSD I was getting higher and higher
on my hundred micrograms
03:07
on the roof of San Francisco,
03:11
and noticed that the downtown buildings
which were right in front of me
03:14
were not all parallel,
they were sort of fanned out like this.
03:19
And that's because
they are on a curved surface.
03:22
And if I were even higher,
I would see that even more clearly,
03:26
higher than that, more clearly still,
03:29
higher enough, and it would close,
03:31
and you would get
the circle of Earth from space.
03:32
And I thought, you know, we've been
in space for 10 years --
03:35
at that time, this is '66 --
03:38
and the cameras had never looked back.
03:40
They'd always been looking out
or looking at just parts of the Earth.
03:42
And so I said, why haven't we seen
a photograph of the whole Earth yet?
03:45
And it went around and NASA got it
and senators, secretaries got it,
03:50
and various people
in the Politburo got it,
03:53
and it went around and around.
03:55
And within two and a half years,
03:57
about the time the Whole Earth
Catalog came out,
03:58
these images started to appear,
04:01
and indeed, they did transform everything.
04:02
And my idea of hacking civilization
04:04
is that you try to do something
lazy and ingenious
04:09
and just sort of trick the situation.
04:13
So all of these photographs
that you see --
04:16
and then the march for science last week,
04:18
they were carrying these
Whole Earth banners and so on --
04:20
I did that with no work.
04:23
I sold those buttons for 25 cents apiece.
04:26
So, you know, tweaking the system
04:28
is, I think, not only the most efficient
way to make the system go
04:32
in interesting ways,
04:36
but in some ways, the safest way,
04:37
because when you try to horse
the whole system around in a big way,
04:39
you can get into big
horsing-around problems,
04:42
but if you tweak it,
it will adjust to the tweak.
04:45
CA: So since then,
among many other things,
04:48
you've been regarded as a leading voice
in the environmental movement,
04:50
but you are also a counterculturalist,
04:53
and recently, you've been
taking on a lot of,
04:55
well, you've been declaring
04:59
what a lot of environmentalists
almost believe are heresies.
05:00
I kind of want to explore
a couple of those.
05:03
I mean, tell me about this image here.
05:05
SB: Ha-ha!
05:08
That's a National Geographic image
05:10
of what is called the mammoth steppe,
05:12
what the far north, the sub-Arctic
and Arctic region, used to look like.
05:16
In fact, the whole world
used to look like that.
05:20
What we find in South Africa
and the Serengeti now,
05:24
lots of big animals,
05:27
was the case in this part of Canada,
05:29
throughout the US, throughout Eurasia,
throughout the world.
05:32
This was the norm
05:35
and can be again.
05:37
So in a sense,
05:40
my long-term goal at this point
is to not only bring back those animals
05:42
and the grassland they made,
05:47
which could be a climate
stabilization system over the long run,
05:50
but even the mammoths
there in the background
05:55
that are part of the story.
05:57
And I think that's probably
a 200-year goal.
05:59
Maybe in 100, by the end of this century,
06:04
we should be able to dial down
the extinction rate
06:06
to sort of what it's been
in the background.
06:09
Bringing back this amount
of bio-abundance will take longer,
06:11
but it's worth doing.
06:14
CA: We'll come back to the mammoths,
06:15
but explain how we
should think of extinctions.
06:17
Obviously, one of the huge
concerns right now
06:20
is that extinction is happening
at a faster rate than ever in history.
06:24
That's the meme that's out there.
06:28
How should we think of it?
06:31
SB: The story that's out there
06:33
is that we're in the middle
of the Sixth Extinction
06:34
or maybe in the beginning
of the Sixth Extinction.
06:37
Because we're in
the de-extinction business,
06:39
the preventing-extinction business
with Revive & Restore,
06:42
we started looking at what's actually
going on with extinction.
06:45
And it turns out, there's a very confused
set of data out there
06:48
which gets oversimplified
06:52
into the narrative of we're becoming ...
06:55
Here are five mass extinctions that are
indicated by the yellow triangles,
06:58
and we're now next.
07:03
The last one there on the far right
07:06
was the meteor that struck
66 million years ago
07:08
and did in the dinosaurs.
07:11
And the story is, we're the next meteor.
07:14
Well, here's the deal.
07:17
I wound up researching this
for a paper I wrote,
07:18
that a mass extinction is when
75 percent of all the species
07:21
in the world go extinct.
07:27
Well, there's on the order
of five-and-a-half-million species,
07:31
of which we've identified
one and a half million.
07:34
Another 14,000 are being
identified every year.
07:36
There's a lot of biology
going on out there.
07:39
Since 1500,
07:42
about 500 species have gone extinct,
07:45
and you'll see the term "mass extinction"
kind of used in strange ways.
07:49
So there was, about a year and a half ago,
07:53
a front-page story by Carl Zimmer
in the New York Times,
07:55
"Mass Extinction in the Oceans,
Broad Studies Show."
07:58
And then you read into the article,
and it mentions that since 1500,
08:02
15 species -- one, five --
have gone extinct in the oceans,
08:06
and, oh, by the way,
none in the last 50 years.
08:11
And you read further
into the story, and it's saying,
08:14
the horrifying thing that's going on
08:16
is that the fisheries
are so overfishing the wild fishes,
08:18
that it is taking down
the fish populations in the oceans
08:22
by 38 percent.
08:25
That's the serious thing.
08:27
None of those species
are probably going to go extinct.
08:29
So you've just put, that headline writer
08:32
put a panic button
08:36
on the top of the story.
08:38
It's clickbait kind of stuff,
08:40
but it's basically saying,
"Oh my God, start panicking,
08:41
we're going to lose
all the species in the oceans."
08:45
Nothing like that is in prospect.
08:47
And in fact, what I then started
looking into in a little more detail,
08:50
the Red List shows about 23,000 species
that are considered threatened
08:55
at one level or another,
08:59
coming from the International Union
for the Conservation of Nature, the IUCN.
09:00
And Nature Magazine had a piece
surveying the loss of wildlife,
09:04
and it said,
09:09
"If all of those 23,000 went extinct
09:11
in the next century or so,
09:14
and that rate of extinction carried on
for more centuries and millennia,
09:16
then we might be at the beginning
of a sixth extinction.
09:21
So the exaggeration is way out of hand.
09:25
But environmentalists always exaggerate.
09:27
That's a problem.
09:29
CA: I mean, they probably feel
a moral responsibility to,
09:31
because they care so much about
the thing that they are looking at,
09:34
and unless you bang the drum for it,
maybe no one listens.
09:37
SB: Every time somebody says
moral this or moral that --
09:40
"moral hazard,"
"precautionary principle" --
09:43
these are terms that are used
to basically say no to things.
09:46
CA: So the problem isn't so much
fish extinction, animal extinction,
09:51
it's fish flourishing, animal flourishing,
09:55
that we're crowding them to some extent?
09:58
SB: Yeah, and I think we are crowding,
and there is losses going on.
10:00
The major losses
are caused by agriculture,
10:04
and so anything that improves agriculture
and basically makes it more condensed,
10:07
more highly productive,
10:13
including GMOs, please,
10:15
but even if you want to do
vertical farms in town,
10:17
including inside farms,
10:19
all the things that have been learned
about how to grow pot in basements,
10:21
is now being applied to growing
vegetables inside containers --
10:24
that's great, that's all good stuff,
10:27
because land sparing is the main thing
we can do for nature.
10:29
People moving to cities is good.
10:34
Making agriculture less
of a destruction of the landscape is good.
10:36
CA: There people talking about
bringing back species, rewilding ...
10:41
Well, first of all, rewilding species:
What's the story with these guys?
10:44
SB: Ha-ha! Wolves.
10:47
Europe, connecting to the previous point,
10:50
we're now at probably peak farmland,
10:53
and, by the way, in terms of population,
10:56
we are already
at peak children being alive.
10:57
Henceforth, there will be
fewer and fewer children.
11:00
We are in the last doubling
of human population,
11:03
and it will get to nine,
maybe nine and a half billion,
11:06
and then start not just leveling off,
but probably going down.
11:10
Likewise, farmland has now peaked,
11:14
and one of the ways
that plays out in Europe
11:17
is there's a lot
of abandoned farmland now,
11:21
which immediately reforests.
11:24
They don't do wildlife
corridors in Europe.
11:26
They don't need to, because
so many of these farms are connected
11:28
that they've made
reforested wildlife corridors,
11:32
that the wolves are coming back,
in this case, to Spain.
11:35
They've gotten all the way
to the Netherlands.
11:38
There's bears coming back.
There's lynx coming back.
11:40
There's the European jackal.
I had no idea such a thing existed.
11:44
They're coming back from Italy
to the rest of Europe.
11:47
And unlike here, these are all predators,
which is kind of interesting.
11:50
They are being welcomed by Europeans.
They've been missed.
11:53
CA: And counterintuitively,
when you bring back the predators,
11:57
it actually increases rather than reduces
12:00
the diversity of the underlying
ecosystem often.
12:02
SB: Yeah, generally predators
and large animals --
12:04
large animals and large animals
with sharp teeth and claws --
12:08
are turning out to be highly important
for a really rich ecosystem.
12:11
CA: Which maybe brings us to this rather
more dramatic rewilding project
12:16
that you've got yourself involved in.
12:20
Why would someone want to bring back
these terrifying woolly mammoths?
12:22
SB: Hmm. Asian elephants
are the closest relative
12:25
to the woolly mammoth,
12:28
and they're about the same size,
genetically very close.
12:31
They diverged quite recently
in evolutionary history.
12:34
The Asian elephants
are closer to woolly mammoths
12:38
than they are to African elephants,
12:40
but they're close enough
to African elephants
12:42
that they have successfully hybridized.
12:44
So we're working
with George Church at Harvard,
12:47
who has already moved the genes
for four major traits
12:51
from the now well-preserved, well-studied
genome of the woolly mammoth,
12:55
thanks to so-called
"ancient DNA analysis."
13:01
And in the lab, he has moved those genes
into living Asian elephant cell lines,
13:05
where they're taking up
their proper place thanks to CRISPR.
13:10
I mean, they're not shooting the genes in
like you did with genetic engineering.
13:14
Now with CRISPR you're editing,
basically, one allele,
13:18
and replacing it in the place
of another allele.
13:21
So you're now getting basically
Asian elephant germline cells
13:25
that are effectively in terms
of the traits that you're going for
13:31
to be comfortable in the Arctic,
13:35
you're getting them in there.
13:38
So we go through the process
13:40
of getting that through
a surrogate mother,
13:41
an Asian elephant mother.
13:44
You can get a proxy, as it's being called
by conservation biologists,
13:46
of the woolly mammoth,
13:50
that is effectively a hairy,
curly-trunked, Asian elephant
13:52
that is perfectly comfortable
in the sub-Arctic.
13:57
Now, it's the case, so many people say,
14:00
"Well, how are you going
to get them there?
14:02
And Asian elephants,
they don't like snow, right?"
14:04
Well, it turns out, they do like snow.
14:07
There's some in an Ontario zoo
14:09
that have made snowballs
bigger than people.
14:10
They just love -- you know, with a trunk,
you can start a little thing,
14:12
roll it and make it bigger.
14:16
And then people say,
14:18
"Yeah, but it's 22 months of gestation.
14:20
This kind of cross-species cloning
is tricky business, anyway.
14:25
Are you going to lose some of
the surrogate Asian elephant mothers?"
14:30
And then George Church
says, "That's all right.
14:33
We'll do an artificial uterus
and grow them that way."
14:35
Then people say, "Yeah,
next century, maybe,"
14:38
except the news came out
this week in Nature
14:40
that there's now an artificial uterus
in which they've grown a lamb
14:42
to four weeks.
14:47
That's halfway through
its gestation period.
14:48
So this stuff is moving right along.
14:52
CA: But why should we
want a world where --
14:54
Picture a world where there are
thousands of these things
14:57
thundering across Siberia.
14:59
Is that a better world?
15:01
SB: Potentially. It's --
15:03
(Laughter)
15:04
There's three groups, basically,
working on the woolly mammoth seriously:
15:06
Revive & Restore,
we're kind of in the middle;
15:11
George Church and the group at Harvard
that are doing the genetics in the lab;
15:13
and then there's an amazing
old scientist named Zimov
15:17
who works in northern Siberia,
15:23
and his son Nikita,
who has bought into the system,
15:28
and they are, Sergey and Nikita
Zimov have been, for 25 years,
15:31
creating what they call
"Pleistocene Park,"
15:37
which is a place in a really tough part
of Siberia that is pure tundra.
15:40
And the research that's been done shows
15:45
that there's probably one one-hundredth
of the animals on the landscape there
15:48
that there used to be.
15:53
Like that earlier image,
we saw lots of animals.
15:55
Now there's almost none.
15:57
The tundra is mostly moss,
and then there's the boreal forest.
15:59
And that's the way it is, folks.
There's just a few animals there.
16:02
So they brought in
a lot of grazing animals:
16:05
musk ox, Yakutian horses,
they're bringing in some bison,
16:08
they're bringing in some more now,
16:11
and put them in at the density
that they used to be.
16:13
And grasslands are made by grazers.
16:16
So these animals are there, grazing away,
16:19
and they're doing a couple of things.
16:22
First of all, they're turning the tundra,
the moss, back into grassland.
16:24
Grassland fixes carbon.
16:28
Tundra, in a warming world, is thawing
and releasing a lot of carbon dioxide
16:30
and also methane.
16:35
So already in their little
25 square miles,
16:36
they're doing a climate
stabilization thing.
16:39
Part of that story, though,
16:42
is that the boreal forest is
very absorbent to sunlight,
16:44
even in the winter
when snow is on the ground.
16:49
And the way the mammoth steppe,
16:52
which used to wrap all the way
around the North Pole --
16:53
there's a lot of landmass
around the North Pole --
16:56
that was all this grassland.
16:58
And the steppe was magnificent,
17:01
probably one of the most productive
biomes in the world,
17:04
the biggest biome in the world.
17:08
The forest part of it, right now,
Sergey Zimov and Nikita
17:11
go out with this old military tank
they got for nothing,
17:15
and they knock down the trees.
17:18
And that's a bore, and it's tiresome,
17:20
and as Sergey says,
"... and they make no dung!"
17:23
which, by the way, these big
animals do, including mammoths.
17:26
So mammoths become
what conservation biologists call
17:29
an umbrella species.
17:32
It's an exciting animal --
pandas in China or wherever --
17:34
that the excitement that goes on
of making life good for that animal
17:37
is making a habitat, an ecosystem,
17:42
which is good for a whole lot
of creatures and plants,
17:44
and it ideally gets to the point
of being self-managing,
17:47
where the conservation biologists
can back off and say,
17:50
"All we have to do is keep out
the destructive invasives,
17:53
and this thing can just cook."
17:56
CA: So there's many other species
that you're dreaming of de-extincting
17:58
at some point,
18:02
but I think what I'd actually
like to move on to
18:03
is this idea you talked about
how mammoths might help
18:06
green Siberia in a sense,
18:10
or at least, I'm not talking about
tropical rainforest,
18:12
but this question of greening the planet
you've thought about a lot.
18:18
And the traditional story is
18:22
that deforestation
is one of the most awful curses
18:24
of modern times,
18:30
and that it's a huge contributor
to climate change.
18:32
And then you went and sent me
this graph here, or this map.
18:36
What is this map?
18:39
SB: Global greening.
18:41
The thing to do with any narrative
that you get from headlines
18:43
and from short news stories
18:47
is to look for what else is going on,
18:49
and look for what Marc Andreessen
calls "narrative violation."
18:52
So the narrative -- and Al Gore
is master of putting it out there --
18:57
is that there's this
civilization-threatening
19:02
climate change coming on very rapidly.
19:06
We have to cease all extra production
of greenhouse gases, especially CO2,
19:08
as soon as possible,
19:15
otherwise, we're in deep, deep trouble.
19:16
All of that is true,
but it's not the whole story,
19:18
and the whole story is more interesting
than these fragmentary stories.
19:21
Plants love CO2.
19:25
What plants are made of is CO2
plus water via sunshine.
19:28
And so in many greenhouses,
industrialized greenhouses,
19:32
they add CO2 because the plants
turn that into plant matter.
19:37
So the studies have been done
with satellites and other things,
19:41
and what you're seeing here is a graph of,
over the last 33 years or so,
19:44
there's 14 percent more
leaf action going on.
19:48
There's that much more biomass.
19:54
There's that much more
what ecologists call "primary production."
19:56
There's that much more life happening,
19:59
thanks to climate change,
20:01
thanks to all of our goddam coal plants.
20:02
So -- whoa, what's going on here?
20:05
By the way, crop production
goes up with this.
20:08
This is a partial counter
20:11
to the increase of CO2,
20:16
because there's that much more plant
that is sucking it down
20:19
into plant matter.
20:22
Some of that then decays
and goes right back up,
20:24
but some of it is going down into roots
20:26
and going into the soil and staying there.
20:28
So these counter things are part
of what you need to bear in mind,
20:30
and the deeper story is
20:34
that thinking about and dealing with
and engineering climate
20:36
is a pretty complex process.
20:41
It's like medicine.
20:43
You're always, again,
tweaking around with the system
20:45
to see what makes an improvement.
20:48
Then you do more of that,
see it's still getting better,
20:50
then -- oop! -- that's enough,
back off half a turn.
20:53
CA: But might some people say,
"Not all green is created equal."
20:56
Possibly what we're doing is trading off
the magnificence of the rainforest
20:59
and all that diversity
21:02
for, I don't know, green pond scum
or grass or something like that.
21:03
SB: In this particular study, it turns out
every form of plant is increasing.
21:07
Now, what's interestingly
left out of this study
21:10
is what the hell is going on
in the oceans.
21:12
Primary production in the oceans,
21:15
the biota of the oceans, mostly microbial,
21:16
what they're up to is probably
the most important thing.
21:20
They're the ones
that create the atmosphere
21:22
that we're happily breathing,
21:24
and they're not part of this study.
21:26
This is one of the things
James Lovelock has been insisting;
21:29
basically, our knowledge of the oceans,
especially of ocean life,
21:31
is fundamentally vapor, in this sense.
21:35
So we're in the process of finding out
21:37
by inadvertent bad geoengineering
of too much CO2 in the atmosphere,
21:39
finding out, what is
the ocean doing with that?
21:44
Well, the ocean, with the extra heat,
21:47
is swelling up.
21:49
That's most of where we're getting
the sea level rise,
21:50
and there's a lot more coming
with more global warming.
21:53
We're getting terrible harm
to some of the coral reefs,
21:55
like off of Australia.
22:00
The great reef there is just
a lot of bleaching from overheating.
22:02
And this is why I and Danny Hillis,
in our previous session on the main stage,
22:06
was saying, "Look, geoengineering
is worth experimenting with enough
22:13
to see that it works,
22:17
to see if we can buy time
in the warming aspect of all of this,
22:19
tweak the system with small
but usable research,
22:24
and then see if we should
do more than tweak.
22:29
CA: OK, so this is what
we're going to talk about
22:32
for the last few minutes here
22:34
because it's such an important discussion.
22:35
First of all, this book
was just published by Yuval Harari.
22:38
He's basically saying the next evolution
of humans is to become as gods.
22:41
I think he --
22:46
SB: Now, you've talked to him.
And you've probably finished the book.
22:47
I haven't finished it yet.
22:50
Where does he come out on --
22:51
CA: I mean, it's a pretty radical view.
22:53
He thinks that we will
completely remake ourselves
22:57
using data, using bioengineering,
23:00
to become completely new creatures
23:04
that have, kind of, superpowers,
23:06
and that there will be huge inequality.
23:08
But we're about to write a very radical,
brand-new chapter of history.
23:11
That's what he believes.
23:17
SB: Is he nervous about that? I forget.
23:18
CA: He's nervous about it,
23:20
but I think he also
likes provoking people.
23:23
SB: Are you nervous about that?
23:26
CA: I'm nervous about that.
23:28
But, you know, with so much at TED,
I'm excited and nervous.
23:29
And the optimist in me
is trying hard to lean towards
23:33
"This is awesome and really exciting,"
23:37
while the sort of responsible
part of me is saying,
23:39
"But, uh, maybe we should
be a little bit careful
23:42
as to how we think of it."
23:44
SB: That's your secret sauce,
isn't it, for TED?
23:45
Staying nervous and excited.
23:48
CA: It's also the recipe for being
a little bit schizophrenic.
23:50
But he didn't quote you.
23:54
What I thought was an astonishing
statement that you made
23:58
right back in the original
Whole Earth Catalog,
24:01
you ended it with this powerful phrase:
24:05
"We are as gods,
and might as well get good at it."
24:09
And then more recently,
you've upgraded that statement.
24:12
I want you talk about this philosophy.
24:15
SB: Well, one of the things I'm learning
is that documentation
24:17
is better than memory -- by far.
24:20
And one of the things I've learned
from somebody --
24:23
I actually got on Twitter.
24:26
It changed my life --
it hasn't forgiven me yet!
24:29
And I took ownership of this phrase
when somebody quoted it,
24:33
and somebody else said,
24:37
"Oh by the way, that isn't
what you originally wrote
24:38
in that first 1968 Whole Earth Catalog.
24:41
You wrote, 'We are as gods
and might as well get used to it.'"
24:44
I'd forgotten that entirely.
24:47
The stories -- these goddam stories --
the stories we tell ourselves
24:49
become lies over time.
24:52
So, documentation helps cut through that.
24:55
It did move on to "We are as gods
and might as well get good at it,"
24:57
and that was the Whole Earth Catalog.
25:01
By the time I was doing a book
called "Whole Earth Discipline:
25:03
An Ecopragmatist Manifesto,"
25:06
and in light of climate change,
basically saying that we are as gods
25:08
and have to get good at it.
25:11
CA: We are as gods
and have to get good at it.
25:13
So talk about that, because
the psychological reaction
25:15
from so many people as soon
as you talk about geoengineering
25:19
is that the last thing they believe
is that humans should be gods --
25:22
some of them for religious reasons,
25:25
but most just for humility reasons,
25:27
that the systems are too complex,
25:30
we should not be dabbling that way.
25:32
SB: Well, this is the Greek
narrative about hubris.
25:35
And once you start getting
really sure of yourself,
25:39
you wind up sleeping with your mother.
25:42
(Laughter)
25:45
CA: I did not expect you would say that.
25:48
(Laughter)
25:50
SB: That's the Oedipus story.
25:53
Hubris is a really important
cautionary tale to always have at hand.
25:56
One of the guidelines
I've kept for myself is:
26:03
every day I ask myself how many things
I am dead wrong about.
26:07
And I'm a scientist by training
26:13
and getting to work
with scientists these days,
26:16
which is pure joy.
26:18
Science is organized skepticism.
26:20
So you're always insisting
26:24
that even when something
looks pretty good,
26:27
you maintain a full set
of not only suspicions
26:31
about whether it's as good as it looks,
26:35
but: What else is going on?
26:37
So this "What else is going?" on query,
26:38
I think, is how you get
away from fake news.
26:42
It's not necessarily real news,
26:46
but it's welcomely more complex news
26:50
that you're trying to take on.
26:54
CA: But coming back to the application
of this just for the environment:
26:55
it seems like the philosophy of this
is that, whether we like it or not,
26:59
we are already dominating so many aspects
of what happens on planets,
27:02
and we're doing it unintentionally,
27:06
so we really should start
doing it intentionally.
27:08
What would it look like to start
getting good at being a god?
27:12
How should we start doing that?
27:16
Are there small-scale experiments
or systems we can nudge and play with?
27:18
How on earth do we think about it?
27:22
SB: The mentor that sort of freed me
27:24
from total allegiance
to Buckminster Fuller
27:26
was Gregory Bateson.
27:28
And Gregory Bateson was an epistemologist
and anthropologist and biologist
27:30
and psychologist and many other things,
27:37
and he looked at how systems
basically look at themselves.
27:39
And that is, I think, part of how
you want to always be looking at things.
27:44
And what I like about David Keith's
approach to geoengineering
27:49
is you don't just haul off and do it.
27:53
David Keith's approach --
27:56
and this is what Danny Hillis
was talking about earlier --
27:57
is that you do it really,
really incrementally,
28:00
you do some stuff to tweak the system,
see how it responds,
28:02
that tells you something about the system.
28:06
That's responding to the fact
that people say, quite rightly,
28:08
"What are we talking about here?
28:13
We don't understand
how the climate system works.
28:14
You can't engineer a system
you don't understand."
28:17
And David says, "Well, that certainly
applies to the human body,
28:20
and yet medicine goes ahead,
and we're kind of glad that it has."
28:23
The way you engineer a system
that is so large and complex
28:27
that you can't completely understand it
28:31
is you tweak it,
28:33
and this is kind of
an anti-hubristic approach.
28:34
This is: try a little bit here,
28:37
back the hell off if it's an issue,
28:39
expand it if it seems to go OK,
28:41
meanwhile, have other paths going forward.
28:43
This is the whole argument for diversity
and dialogue and all these other things
28:45
and the things we were hearing
about earlier with Sebastian [Thrun].
28:49
So the non-hubristic approach
is looking for social license,
28:53
which is a terminology
that I think is a good one,
28:59
of including society enough
29:02
in these interesting,
problematic, deep issues
29:04
that they get to have a pretty good idea
29:08
and have people that they trust
paying close attention
29:12
to the sequence of experiments
as it's going forward,
29:15
the public dialogue
as it's going forward --
29:19
which is more public than ever,
which is fantastic --
29:22
and you feel your way,
29:25
you just ooze your way along,
29:28
and this is the muddle-through approach
that has worked pretty well so far.
29:30
The reason that Sebastian
and I are optimistic is we read
29:34
people like Steven Pinker,
"The Better Angels of Our Nature,"
29:38
and so far, so good.
29:42
Now, that can always change,
29:45
but you can build a lot on that sense
of: things are capable of getting better,
29:48
figure out the tools that made
that happen and apply those further.
29:54
That's the story.
29:57
CA: Stewart, I think
on that optimistic note,
29:59
we're actually going to wrap up.
30:01
I am in awe of how you always
are willing to challenge yourself
30:03
and other people.
30:08
I feel like this recipe for never
allowing yourself to be too certain
30:10
is so powerful.
30:15
I want to learn it more for myself,
30:17
and it's been very insightful
and inspiring, actually,
30:19
listening to you today.
30:23
Stewart Brand, thank you so much.
30:24
SB: Thank you.
30:26
(Applause)
30:27

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About the speakers:

Stewart Brand - Environmentalist, futurist
Since the counterculture '60s, Stewart Brand has been creating our internet-worked world. Now, with biotech accelerating four times faster than digital technology, Stewart Brand has a bold new plan ...

Why you should listen

With biotech accelerating four times faster than digital technology, the revival of extinct species is becoming possible. Stewart Brand plans to not only bring species back but restore them to the wild.

Brand is already a legend in the tech industry for things he’s created: the Whole Earth Catalog, The WELL, the Global Business Network, the Long Now Foundation, and the notion that “information wants to be free.” Now Brand, a lifelong environmentalist, wants to re-create -- or “de-extinct” -- a few animals that’ve disappeared from the planet.

Granted, resurrecting the woolly mammoth using ancient DNA may sound like mad science. But Brand’s Revive and Restore project has an entirely rational goal: to learn what causes extinctions so we can protect currently endangered species, preserve genetic and biological diversity, repair depleted ecosystems, and essentially “undo harm that humans have caused in the past.”

More profile about the speaker
Stewart Brand | Speaker | TED.com
Chris Anderson - TED Curator
After a long career in journalism and publishing, Chris Anderson became the curator of the TED Conference in 2002 and has developed it as a platform for identifying and disseminating ideas worth spreading.

Why you should listen

Chris Anderson is the Curator of TED, a nonprofit devoted to sharing valuable ideas, primarily through the medium of 'TED Talks' -- short talks that are offered free online to a global audience.

Chris was born in a remote village in Pakistan in 1957. He spent his early years in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where his parents worked as medical missionaries, and he attended an American school in the Himalayas for his early education. After boarding school in Bath, England, he went on to Oxford University, graduating in 1978 with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics.

Chris then trained as a journalist, working in newspapers and radio, including two years producing a world news service in the Seychelles Islands.

Back in the UK in 1984, Chris was captivated by the personal computer revolution and became an editor at one of the UK's early computer magazines. A year later he founded Future Publishing with a $25,000 bank loan. The new company initially focused on specialist computer publications but eventually expanded into other areas such as cycling, music, video games, technology and design, doubling in size every year for seven years. In 1994, Chris moved to the United States where he built Imagine Media, publisher of Business 2.0 magazine and creator of the popular video game users website IGN. Chris eventually merged Imagine and Future, taking the combined entity public in London in 1999, under the Future name. At its peak, it published 150 magazines and websites and employed 2,000 people.

This success allowed Chris to create a private nonprofit organization, the Sapling Foundation, with the hope of finding new ways to tackle tough global issues through media, technology, entrepreneurship and, most of all, ideas. In 2001, the foundation acquired the TED Conference, then an annual meeting of luminaries in the fields of Technology, Entertainment and Design held in Monterey, California, and Chris left Future to work full time on TED.

He expanded the conference's remit to cover all topics, including science, business and key global issues, while adding a Fellows program, which now has some 300 alumni, and the TED Prize, which grants its recipients "one wish to change the world." The TED stage has become a place for thinkers and doers from all fields to share their ideas and their work, capturing imaginations, sparking conversation and encouraging discovery along the way.

In 2006, TED experimented with posting some of its talks on the Internet. Their viral success encouraged Chris to begin positioning the organization as a global media initiative devoted to 'ideas worth spreading,' part of a new era of information dissemination using the power of online video. In June 2015, the organization posted its 2,000th talk online. The talks are free to view, and they have been translated into more than 100 languages with the help of volunteers from around the world. Viewership has grown to approximately one billion views per year.

Continuing a strategy of 'radical openness,' in 2009 Chris introduced the TEDx initiative, allowing free licenses to local organizers who wished to organize their own TED-like events. More than 8,000 such events have been held, generating an archive of 60,000 TEDx talks. And three years later, the TED-Ed program was launched, offering free educational videos and tools to students and teachers.

More profile about the speaker
Chris Anderson | Speaker | TED.com