Hashgraph
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Hashgraph
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Episode 56
Featuring Tom Trowbridge
Hashgraph made its public debut less than one year ago. It has since raised over $100mln on its way towards the release of its public ledger. In this conversation, President Tom Trowbridge, shares stories about the team’s challenges, its successes, and how he thinks the future will shake out for competing protocols.

In this week’s episode of Hidden Forces, Demetri Kofinas speaks with Hedera Hashgraph President Tom Trowbridge about the latest news from the company that made its splash on the Hidden Forces podcast less than one year ago.

 

In the Fall of 2008, equity markets were in free fall. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500, and Nasdaq Composite were all on their way towards lows not seen since the mid-1990’s. Stock valuations would collapse by more than fifty percent, prominent investment banks filed for bankruptcy while others fled into the rapacious arms of their competitors or under the safe umbrella of Congress and the Federal Reserve.

 

At the same time as Schumpeter’s ghost was rattling his chains on Wall Street, Satoshi's white paper was making the rounds on a cryptography mailing list in some obscure corner of the Internet. “I’ve been working on a new electronic cash system that’s fully peer-to-peer, with no trusted third party,” he wrote, directing the several hundred recipients to his paper, "Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.” “Merchants must be wary of their customers,” he writes, “a certain percentage of fraud is accepted as unavoidable. These costs and payment uncertainties can be avoided in person by using physical currency, but no mechanism exists to make payments over a communications channel without a trusted party.” This last bit was only partly true. It was Satoshi’s paper, after all, that made it untrue. Though few realized it at the time, the Bitcoin whitepaper marked the beginning of the Internet’s second act. In the ten years since its publication, we have seen an explosion of interest, development, and investment in protocols built from Satoshi’s underlying blockchain technology, designed to execute commands across a distributed, trustless network of computers. Ethereum led the way with its pioneering Virtual Machine, able to execute smart contracts across a permissionless network, and since, several competing ledgers have cropped up, each claiming some advancement over prior versions.

 

But what if, in their bid to create a faster horse, developers and investors alike have missed a crucial turning point in the evolution of the Internet? Satoshi’s white paper, brilliant as it was, never claimed to be the blueprint for a world computer. As the bitcoin network has grown, so too have the costs of its transactions, and this is because adding blocks takes time. Deciding what chain to build on requires the network to agree on which chain is the longest, and when chains are growing too fast, it’s hard to tell the difference. In the last several years we’ve seen an explosion of brainpower devoted towards creating workarounds to the scalability problem, but we’ve also seen a quiet, committed effort at building alternatives that aren’t saddled with blockchain’s limitations.

 

Perhaps the most interesting of these alternatives is hashgraph, built as a directed acyclic graph, it’s fundamental innovation is not in its architecture, but in its consensus. Even to those who see promise in hashgraph, the technology can often seem like magic. One might describe its consensus protocol as nothing more than a compression algorithm for the casting of votes. What would have once taken an impossible amount of time, can now be accomplished in a matter of seconds. A voting algorithm for a global network. It was Claude Shannon, the father of information theory, who stated it most clearly: “The fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another.”

 

In its first iteration, the Internet solved the problem of communication across a network without the need for a trusted third party, but making definitive statements about that communication has always required an intermediary. In order to harness the full power of the Internet, we need to do for data processing, computation, and storage what the existing suite of Internet protocols have already done for communication. A revolution for a new generation. The Internet’s second act.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Tom Trowbridge is the President of Hedera Hashgraph. Prior to joining, he started and ran the New York office for UK-based Odey Asset Management. Before Odey, he held various positions at Lombard Odier, Atticus Capital, and Goldman Sachs. He began his career in 1996 as an investment banker in the telecom group at Bear, Stearns & Co., and subsequently spent three and a half years at the private equity firm Alta Communications, where he executed ten deals in technology, telecom, and media and served on two boards. Tom has a BA from Yale University and an MBA from Columbia University, where he was a member of Beta Gamma Sigma.

 

@hashgraph

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Cryptocurrency
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Episode 55
Featuring Ryan Selkis
Information has become, quite literally, the currency of the digital age. In a world of informational abundance, the quality of that information increasingly determines the types of decisions we make. Ryan Selkis joins us to explain how his company, Messari, is helping us locate the signal in the noise of a new financial system.

Information has become, quite literally, the currency of the digital age. Yet, even before the advent of cryptocurrencies, investors have always understood information to be a valuable asset. “The most valuable commodity I know of is information,” said the iconic Wall Street villain Gordon Gekko. However, information is a commodity, only in so far as it derives its value from the computational efforts of those who seek to process it. In a world of informational abundance, the quality of our computations, not their quantity, determine the scale of our harvest.

 

Ryan Selkis believes that harvesting, processing, and storing data about the crypto economy can be done better. His team at Messari is building an open data library, as well as a set of curation tools that will help researchers, investors, and regulators make sense of the industry. Ryan has stated outright that the “Bloomberg of crypto will be a network, not a centralized company.” This is where his work on token-curated registries factors in.

 

“Token-curated registries are decentrally-curated lists with intrinsic economic incentives for token holders to curate the list’s contents judiciously,” wrote Mike Goldin, in a 2017 article titled “Token-Curated Registries 1.0.” You could say that if Wikipedia and Bitcoin had a baby, the child would be a TCR. Such databases could theoretically replace all commercially curated, owned, and operated, libraries on earth, by offering a new set of economic incentives that harness the networks and expertise of the planet’s seven-and-a-half billion people.

 

In this week’s episode of Hidden Forces, Ryan Selkis joins Demetri Kofinas for a conversation about information, cryptocurrency, and how Messari is working to build the database for a new financial system.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Ryan Selkis is co-founder and CEO of Messari, an open, trusted source of cryptoasset data. Prior to founding Messari, he was an entrepreneur-in-residence at ConsenSys, and was on the founding teams of Digital Currency Group, where he managed the firm’s seed investing activity, and CoinDesk, where he led the company’s restructuring and annual Consensus conferences. He has been an investor and prolific writer in the crypto industry since 2013.

 

Messari is building an open-source data library for the cryptoasset community. The library contains financial information, issuer disclosures, and blockchain analytics for thousands of tokens, as well as general information regarding the teams, advisors, and investors affiliated with a given project. Messari is also creating a “whitelist” of cryptoasset projects that abide by community-dictated transparency standards, via its token curated registry. The company also runs one of the industry's most popular newsfeeds and email newsletters.

 

Twitter @twobitidiot

Medium @twobitidiot

 

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Economics
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Episode 54
Featuring Barry Eichengreen
Barry Eichengreen shares his experience studying currency pegs and exchange rate mechanisms, as we explore how the legacy of globalization, trade liberalization, and the great moderation laid the foundation for the challenges facing the modern economy. Topics include populism, politics, protectionism, monetary history, and global trade.

In the history of human affairs, money has occupied a primacy rivaled only by the word of God. An expedient of civilizations and a progenitor of wars, it has enabled humanity to move mountains along the precipice of its own annihilation. Understanding the history of money and how our system of currency and credit operates is crucial for understanding financial markets and the global economy today.

 

Barry Eichengreen has made a career of studying the history of money and the role that currency has played in the international order. Currency regimes are not fixed in stone. Our current system of floating exchange rates backed by the petrodollar has only been with for the last forty years. Before it, the Western world existed on the gold exchange rate mechanism of Bretton Woods, which lasted for less than thirty years, and whose dissolution lead to a period of high inflation and unemployment that challenged the economic models of the time and put the American economy and political establishment through a decade of frustration, uncertainty, and unrest.

 

However, In the years after the stagflation of the 1970’s and the deregulation of the 1980’s, a period of moderation swept across the Western World. The cost of capital declined, as inflation steadied and markets rose. Developing economies hitched their wagons to the industrialized West, pegging their currencies to the US Dollar, which was seen as the coinage of a New World Order. The Euro project, once a gradual process of integration, was fast-tracked under Maastricht and the reunification of the German Reich. Communist China, humbled by the fall of the Soviet Union and motivated by the riots in Tiananmen Square, set itself down the path towards becoming the growth engine of a new sort of global economy. At the time, many adopted Francis Fukuyama’s phrase, “the End of History,” to describe this period of optimism in the establishment of a neoliberal world order that they hoped would last for the rest of time.

 

Alas, the grand ambitions and lofty ideals of the Washington consensus proved premature. The rush of capital from Western countries into Eastern ones precipitated a series of financial crises beginning in Asia, and ending on the balance sheets of America’s legendary financial institutions, leading to a government-engineered bailout of the country’s investment banks. Eventually, the high-flying stock market of the late 90’s popped in spectacular fashion, and thus began a series of monetary countermeasures, rate cuts, and wealth effects that would lead, inexorably, towards the Great Financial Crisis, a watershed moment in the history of markets whose consequences we have yet to fully reckon with to this very day.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Play
Episode 17
Featuring Robert Johnson
Episode 17
Featuring Robert Johnson
Play
Episode 43
Featuring Elizabeth C. Economy
Episode 43
Featuring Elizabeth C. Economy

Barry Eichengreen is the George C. Pardee and Helen N. Pardee Professor of Economics and Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught since 1987. He is a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research (Cambridge, Massachusetts) and Research Fellow of the Centre for Economic Policy Research (London, England). In 1997-98 he was Senior Policy Advisor at the International Monetary Fund. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (class of 1997).

 

Professor Eichengreen is the convener of the Bellagio Group of academics and economic officials. He has held Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships and has been a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (Palo Alto) and the Institute for Advanced Study (Berlin). He is a regular monthly columnist for Project Syndicate.

 

Perhaps, most famously known for this book Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression (
1919-1939)
, his more recent books are The Populist Temptation: Economic Grievance and Political Reaction in the Modern Era (Oxford University Press, 2018), How Global Currencies Work: Past, Present, and Future with Livia Chitu and Arnaud Mehl (November 2017), The Korean Economy: From a Miraculous Past to a Sustainable Future with Wonhyuk Lim, Yung Chul Park and Dwight H. Perkins (March 2015), Renminbi Internationalization: Achievements, Prospects, and Challenges, with Masahiro Kawai (February 2015), Hall of Mirrors: The Great Depression, The Great Recession, and the Uses--and Misuses--of History (January 2015), From Miracle to Maturity: The Growth of the Korean Economy with Dwight H. Perkins and Kwanho Shin (2012) and Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary System (2011) (shortlisted for the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award in 2011).

 

Professor Eichengreen was awarded the Economic History Association's Jonathan R.T. Hughes Prize for Excellence in Teaching in 2002 and the University of California at Berkeley Social Science Division's Distinguished Teaching Award in 2004. He is the recipient of a doctor honoris causa from the American University in Paris, and the 2010 recipient of the Schumpeter Prize from the International Schumpeter Society. He was named one of Foreign Policy Magazine 's 100 Leading Global Thinkers in 2011. He is a past president of the Economic History Association (2010-11 academic year).

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Sed egestas, ante et vulputate volutpat, eros pede semper est, vitae luctus metus libero eu augue. Morbi purus libero, faucibus adipiscing, commodo quis, gravida id, est. Sed lectus. Praesent elementum hendrerit tortor. Sed semper lorem at felis. Vestibulum volutpat, lacus a ultrices sagittis, mi neque euismod dui, eu pulvinar nunc sapien ornare nisl. Phasellus pede arcu, dapibus eu, fermentum et, dapibus sed, urna.

Morbi interdum mollis sapien. Sed ac risus. Phasellus lacinia, magna a ullamcorper laoreet, lectus arcu pulvinar risus, vitae facilisis libero dolor a purus. Sed vel lacus. Mauris nibh felis, adipiscing varius, adipiscing in, lacinia vel, tellus. Suspendisse ac urna. Etiam pellentesque mauris ut lectus. Nunc tellus ante, mattis eget, gravida vitae, ultricies ac, leo. Integer leo pede, ornare a, lacinia eu, vulputate vel, nisl.

Suspendisse mauris. Fusce accumsan mollis eros. Pellentesque a diam sit amet mi ullamcorper vehicula. Integer adipiscing risus a sem. Nullam quis massa sit amet nibh viverra malesuada. Nunc sem lacus, accumsan quis, faucibus non, congue vel, arcu. Ut scelerisque hendrerit tellus. Integer sagittis. Vivamus a mauris eget arcu gravida tristique. Nunc iaculis mi in ante. Vivamus imperdiet nibh feugiat est.

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Sed egestas, ante et vulputate volutpat, eros pede semper est, vitae luctus metus libero eu augue. Morbi purus libero, faucibus adipiscing, commodo quis, gravida id, est. Sed lectus. Praesent elementum hendrerit tortor. Sed semper lorem at felis. Vestibulum volutpat, lacus a ultrices sagittis, mi neque euismod dui, eu pulvinar nunc sapien ornare nisl. Phasellus pede arcu, dapibus eu, fermentum et, dapibus sed, urna.

Morbi interdum mollis sapien. Sed ac risus. Phasellus lacinia, magna a ullamcorper laoreet, lectus arcu pulvinar risus, vitae facilisis libero dolor a purus. Sed vel lacus. Mauris nibh felis, adipiscing varius, adipiscing in, lacinia vel, tellus. Suspendisse ac urna. Etiam pellentesque mauris ut lectus. Nunc tellus ante, mattis eget, gravida vitae, ultricies ac, leo. Integer leo pede, ornare a, lacinia eu, vulputate vel, nisl.

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Business
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Episode 53
Featuring Gillian Tett
Gillian Tett shares stories about her experience at the Financial Times and explains how her background in anthropology has helped her identify financial bubbles in technology and the economy. Topics include corporate debt, unicorns, ETFs, EMEs, volatility, dollar carry-trade, protectionism, interest rates, populism, and geopolitics.

“It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future,” said the famous Yankee captain, Yogi Berra, and yet, this hasn’t stopped us from trying. Attempting to predict the future is a sport as old as civilization itself. Oracles and wishing wells litter the landscape of humanity’s past. Yet, in a world whose outcomes are no longer determined by the forces of nature, ordaining the future has become a matter of market introspection. Learning how to cultivate a sense of objectivity, empathy, and cultural awareness can be the difference between staying ahead of the curve or falling far behind it.

 

Gillian Tett has managed well by this measure. The Managing Editor of the Financial Times US is trained as a cultural anthropologist who applies her knowledge of human cultural practices, values, and norms towards trying to identify key trends in finance and the economy. In this almost hour-long conversation with Demetri Kofinas, Gillian shares stories about her experience covering financial markets, as well as how her background as a cultural anthropologist has helped her to spot financial bubbles in technology and the economy.

 

Prior to the crisis, Gillian Tett and her team of capital markets reporters were some of the only financial journalists to cover the arcane world of credit derivatives. Since 2008, she has been one of the most important journalistic voices in all of economics and finance, moderating panels and conducting interviews at the most prestigious conferences and private gatherings around the world.

 

Our conversation begins in Tajikistan, where Gillian studied local wedding rituals as part of her doctorate in cultural anthropology. She would later draw a useful comparison between Tajik wedding rituals and what she was seeing in the space of credit derivatives (specifically, the innovations happening at JP Morgan). The conversation quickly shifts to the 2008 financial crisis, and what the now managing editor of the Financial Times learned from her experience covering the panic of ’08-’09. This was a period in which central banks engaged in extraordinary measures aimed at shoring up the global financial system for fear that if they did not, a banking collapse would ensue. Fortunately, the system survived, but not without leaving some lasting scars…

 

The rest of Demetri’s conversation with Gillian Tett is an exploration of the current financial landscape. Where have the risks accumulated post-2008? Much of today’s investment capital has accumulated in technology stocks and in technology-related companies. Private placements have boomed, and pre-IPO valuations have skyrocketed. Unicorns like Uber, Theranos, and a litany of cryptocurrency ICO’s have shot straight to the moon. The growth of wealth and income inequality since 2008 can be seen in these sky-high valuations.

 

Sovereign balance sheets have also exploded as a legacy of the crisis, but little has been discussed about the growth in corporate debt over the last six to eight years. Not only is the amount of corporate debt important, but the form that debt has taken is telling. Hampered by new regulations, as well as the memory of the last crisis, banks have curbed back their lending only to see bond make up the difference, buying up new offerings across the risk curve. Emerging markets have been a big beneficiary, not only of the appetite for high-yield debt but also, of loose monetary policy. The dollar carry-trade has become a powerful funding mechanism for emerging market economies and companies, which are now at risk of a dangerous snap back as the Fed continues to tighten, raising interest rates and shrinking the size of its balance sheet. Volatility remains low, but with prices having made all-time highs across various asset classes, geopolitical tensions between the United States, Russia, and China may prove the straw that breaks the market’s back. Additionally, the developing trade war with China, as well as the protections measures taken against Canada and Europe may finally create the type of consumer price inflation that the Fed has been begging for. You know what they say? Be careful what you wish for…

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Play
Episode 18
Featuring Samuel Bowles
Episode 18
Featuring Samuel Bowles
Play
Episode 17
Featuring Robert Johnson
Episode 17
Featuring Robert Johnson
Play
Episode 6
Featuring Joan Freese
Episode 6
Featuring Joan Freese

Gillian Tett serves as US managing editor, leading the FT’s editorial operations in the region across all platforms. She writes weekly columns for the Financial Times, covering a range of economic, financial, political and social issues throughout the globe.

 

Tett previously served as assistant editor, US managing editor from 2010-2012, and prior to this as the assistant editor responsible for the FT’s markets coverage. Her other roles at the FT have included capital markets editor, deputy editor of the Lex column, Tokyo bureau chief, Tokyo correspondent, London-based economics reporter and a reporter in Russia and Brussels.

 

Tett’s latest book The Silo Effect, published by Simon & Schuster in September 2015, looks at the global economy and financial system through the lens of cultural anthropology.

 

Most recently in 2016, Tett received honorary degrees from the University of Exeter in July and the University of Miami in May; and in 2015, an honorary doctorate from Lancaster University in the UK, one of the top ten British universities. In 2014, Tett was named Columnist of the Year in the British Press Awards, with judges describing her column as “provocative, revealing, often counter-intuitive” and commending her for covering “a gloriously eclectic range of themes”. She also received the 2014 Royal Anthropological Institute Marsh Award, which recognizes an individual who works outside academia and has used anthropology or anthropological ideas to contribute to a better understanding of the world’s problems. In 2012, she received a Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW) Award for best feature article, “Madoff Spins his Story.” Her other awards include a President’s Medal by the British Academy (2011), being recognized as Journalist of the Year (2009) and Business Journalist of the Year (2008) by the British Press Awards, and as Senior Financial Journalist of the Year (2007) by the Wincott Awards.

 

She is the author of New York Times bestseller Fool’s Gold: How Unrestrained Greed Corrupted a Dream, Shattered Global Markets and Unleashed a Catastrophe (Little Brown, UK and Simon and Schuster, US) published in May 2009, and Saving the Sun: A Wall Street Gamble to Rescue Japan from its Trillion Dollar Meltdown (Harper Collins,2003). Fool’s Gold won Financial Book of the Year at the Spear’s Book Awards in 2009.

 

Before joining the Financial Times in 1993, Tett was awarded a PhD in social anthropology from Cambridge University based on fieldwork in the former Soviet Union. While pursuing the PhD, she freelanced for the FT and the BBC. She is a graduate of Cambridge University.

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Engineering
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Episode 52
Featuring Simon Winchester
Our world hinges on our ability to have everything made just so. Precision engineering fuels and sustains modern society. Yet, it has also put our lives in peril and caused us to question what it is that we really want. Here, Simon Winchester discusses our quest for perfection and meaning. Can we really have both?

Few things are as responsible for the making of the modern world as precision engineering; yet, it is largely invisible to us. We live our lives in a customizable fashion, expecting the world to conform to our expectations, wants and desires. And yet, below this surface layer of personalization and complexity exists a world of exactness so precise that it evades our capacity to notice it. It is this world of increasing perfection, uniformity, and repetition that Simon Winchester writes so eloquently about. 

 

This conversation is neither a salute to precision or a rebuke of perfection. It is a commentary on both the genius brought to bear by humanity in reshaping the world, as well as an homage to the craftsmanship and personal touch that has given it meaning. 

 

Our endless striving for that which is flawless is most human. Yet, try as we might, we cannot rid the world of all its imperfections. Humanity, after all, is by its very nature hopelessly, beautifully, fatally flawed. "To err is human," said Alexander Pope. Forgiveness is divine. 

 

In chronicling the history of precision engineering, Simon Winchester, has not only found something forgivable in humanity's shortcomings but indeed, something worthy of honor and celebration.

 

In his book, “The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World” Winchester asks whether a wish for perfection is actually essential to modern health and happiness, whether it is “a necessary component of our very being?” He answers with a resounding, “no.”

 

Yet, the problem, as Winchester articulates it, is not simply an existential one. It is a technical one as well.

 

For proof, we’ve only to look to our jet engines, where microscopic errors can quickly cause cascading problems that lead to catastrophic loss of life. In fact, this is exactly what happened in 1989 on a United Airlines flight, when a microscopic metallurgical defect in the titanium disk caused the engine to fail. 112 people died as a result. Unfortunately, such tales aren’t relegated to the annals of history. Many similar events have occurred in the decades since. If the past is any guide, then as our technologies continue to multiply (we made 13 trillion transistors each second of 2015) and shrink in size, we can expect the threats associated with them to become larger and more pronounced. 

 

In today’s episode, Simon Winchester joins host Demetri Kofinas for a conversation that is equally a discussion of the significance of exponential technologies, an investigation into the kind of world we want to build, and an exploration of what it means to have a life well lived.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

 

Simon Winchester is a British-American author and journalist. In his career at The Guardian newspaper, Winchester covered numerous significant events, including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal. He is the acclaimed author of many New York Times bestsellers, including The Professor and the Madman, The Men Who United the States, Atlantic, Pacific, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa, as well as his latest book, The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World

 

In 2006 Mr. Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen. He lives in western Massachusetts.

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Theory of Mind
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Theory of Mind
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Episode 51
Featuring Patrick Grim
The human brain contains three pounds of gray matter, a few neurons, and a handful of synapses. How can consciousness — everything that we think and feel — be explained by a few pounds of flesh? Here, Patrick Grim explores the history of mind-body philosophy, as we look to solve the hard problem of consciousness.

Recent advances in science and technology have allowed us to reveal — and in some cases even alter — the innermost workings of the human body. With electron microscopes, we can see our DNA, the source code of life itself. With nanobots, we can send cameras throughout our bodies and deliver drugs directly into the areas where they are most needed. We are even using artificially intelligent robots to perform surgeries on ourselves with unprecedented precision and accuracy

But despite all the advances that we’ve made, there’s one part of our biology that remains largely in the shadows: the human brain.

We know that the brain is a material object. It is composed of gray matter, neurons, and trillions of synapses. What we don’t understand, and what philosophers and neuroscientists have been trying to figure out for quite some time, is how our consciousness (our thoughts, emotions, experiences, and everything that makes us who we are) can be explained by these few pounds of matter.

Ultimately, it is a problem that’s centered on the relationship between mind and body. Formally, it is known as “the mind-body problem.” Put succinctly, it’s the problem of trying to explain the relationship between the mental realm and the physical realm - between the material and immaterial. It is also known more commonly by David Chalmer’s phraseology “the hard problem of consciousness.”

Although Rene Descartes is often credited as being the first thinker to worry about the connection between mind and body (or mind and matter), the question is actually a far older one. In fact, it extends at least as far back as Plato and Socrates, and it is characterized by three primary schools of thought.

Materialism says that the cosmos, and all that is contains, is an objective physical reality. As a result, philosophers who subscribe to this school of thought assert that consciousness, and all that it entails, arises from material interactions. As such, the material world (our flesh, neurons, synapse, etc.) is what creates consciousness.

Idealism says that the universe is entirely subjective and that reality is something that is mentally constructed. In other words, consciousness is something that is immaterial and cannot be observed or measured empirically. Since consciousness is what creates the material world, according to this school of thought, it is unclear if we can ever truly know anything that is mind-independent and beyond our subjective experience.

Dualism essentially holds that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical in nature. In this respect, the mind and the body exist, but they are distinct and separable.

Although most modern philosophers subscribe to the materialist view, determining, and ultimately understanding, the nature of human consciousness using an empirical methodology is a remarkably difficult task. The primary issue with accomplishing the aforementioned is that empirical science requires things to be measured objectively. And when it comes to consciousness, everything is subjective.

 

So, what can science say about human consciousness? Can it say anything at all?

In this week’s episode, Patrick Grim joins host Demetri Kofinas for an exploration of the roots of human consciousness and an examination of what the world's greatest philosophers think about the relationship between the mind and body.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Patrick Grim just retired from the State University of New York at Stony Brook as Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, becoming Philosopher in Residence at the Center for Complex Systems at the University of Michigan.

 

He graduated with highest honors in anthropology and philosophy from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was named a Fulbright Fellow to the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, from which he earned his B.Phil., with a Ph.D. from Boston University. In addition to being named SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor, Dr. Grim has been awarded the President and Chancellor’s awards for excellence in teaching and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars. The Weinberg Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Michigan in 2006, Professor Grim has also held a visiting fellowship at the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

Professor Grim is author of The Incomplete Universe: Totality, Knowledge, and Truth and coauthor of The Philosophical Computer: Exploratory Essays in Philosophical Computer Modeling and Reflexivity: From Paradox to Consciousness. He is editor of Mind and Consciousness: 5 Questions and is widely published in scholarly journals across a range of disciplines. He has recorded four lecture series with the Great Courses—in Mind-Body Philosophy, Philosophy of Mind, The Philosopher’s Toolkit and Questions of Value. Grim is founder and co-editor of over 35 volumes of The Philosopher’s Annual, an anthology of the best articles published in philosophy each year. Starting in 2019 he will assume Editorship of the American Philosophical Quarterly.

 

 

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Stablecoins
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Stablecoins
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Episode 50
Featuring Nevin Freeman
The future of cryptocurrency may well depends on the success of stablecoins. According to Nevin Freeman, current stablecoin projects are doomed to fail. To explain why, this episode examines the fundamental properties of money, the meaning of value and price, and how existing stablecoins are trying to solve the hard problem of currency.

This is the year of the stablecoin, or so says Nevin Freeman, the founder of a new stable-value cryptocurrency project based in the San Francisco Bay area. In order to understand what stablecoins and how they work, we first need to understand money.

 

In order for something to qualify as money, it has traditionally needed to function as both a store of value, and as a medium of exchange for goods and services. The medium of exchange component of money allows it to function as a vital coordination mechanism for society, allowing humans and international governments and organizations to collaborate on a massive scale. Money is thus an intrinsic part of our capitalist infrastructure and, without currency, many of our most important institutions and organizational structures would collapse.

 

Yet, our system of money and credit is not without its share of problems. Middlemen, financial intermediaries, and other central organizations often charge exorbitant fees for their services. These same intermediaries often function as “gatekeepers,” permitting or preventing access to financial counterparities at their discretion. The mismanagement of our financial system by such institutions has become a major source of systemic risk, the brunt of which is disproportionately carried by those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

 

Cryptocurrencies offer a possible solution to many of the most prominent problems associated with fiat currency systems. However, there are significant roadblocks on the path to widespread adoption. As we mentioned, in order to qualify as money, a currency needs to both the medium of exchange and store of value functions. This becomes difficult to do when currency volatility can wipe out 50% of your net worth in a single day or double the cost of your company’s inputs overnight.

 

It is no secret that crypto markets are remarkably volatile. Even the most prominent cryptocurrencies - Bitcoin and Ether - fluctuate wildly. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for a decentralized currency to function as an effective store of value if its price varies by as much as 15% on any given day and in any given direction. Even if the cryptocurrency in question were rarely to drop in price, upside volatility can create a speculative feed-back loop that discourages anyone from actually using it as a medium of exchange. Why would you pay someone’s salary in bitcoin if you expected the currency to be worth more after you sold it? In this sense, even a highly volatile asset with little downside risk that serves as a great store of value can still be a poor medium of exchange.

 

Until cryptocurrencies are able to function as both a store of value and as a medium of exchange, they are unlikely to become truly mainstream or see real-world adoption. Yet, as previously mentioned in the case of bitcoin, a cryptocurrency’s capacity to store value directly undermines it’s use as a medium of exchange. How do we resolve this paradox?

 

This is where stablecoins come in. They aim to solve the problems of our volatile crypto markets by establishing price-stable cryptocurrencies that are pegged to some other stable asset, for example, the US dollar. Notably, these pegs are not determined by supply and demand. Instead, stablecoins effectively “price themselves” by making a standing promise to fulfill any buy or sell order at a set price, regardless of changes in demand for the currency by market participants. In traditional currency pegs and exchange rate mechanisms, currency boards manage the value of the peg by overseeing the promise to buy or sell at a preset conversion price. So, how does a currency peg work in the case of stablecoins?Here is an overview of how the most prominent stablecoin projects on the market promise to do this today:

 

Traditional asset-backed stablecoins: In short, under this system, each unit of the particular stablecoin is backed by a corresponding unit of fiat currency. Let’s use the US dollar as an example. According to this system, a third-party issuer sells tokens for one dollar each. The issuer then keeps all the dollars taken in from these sales in an account. If an individual holding a unit of the stablecoin wishes to cash out, the third party gives a US Dollar to the holder and removes a unit of the stablecoin.

 

The problems with this method loom large. First, there’s the obvious fact that, at any moment, the organization or individual issuing the stablecoin can abscond with all the money that’s supposed to be in the bank account. Second, a government or other centralized organization could freeze the aforementioned account of the issuer, which would grind the project to an abrupt halt. In short, there’s a lot of risk and a lot of trust needed for this method to function properly.

 

Collateralized Debt Stablecoins: Under this system, instead of attempting to back units of a stablecoin one-to-one with a fiat currency, the stablecoins hold a ratio greater than one-to-one of a crypto asset (or more commonly, various kinds of crypto assets). The way this works is rather simple. An individual who holds a crypto asset can deposit this asset into a smart contract, which creates a stablecoin for them. 

 

The peg (the value of the stablecoin) is primarily maintained by the promise of future redemption for collateral if the stablecoin price diverges from the target for too long or the value of the collateral begins to drop. In either of these cases, all of the stablecoin holders can trade their coins for $1 worth of the collateralized crypto assets. In theory, speculators will step in to buy stablecoins below the target price based on this promise of future redemption and that will keep the price stable all of the time. The primary problem with this system is that that the underlying collateral is, by its very nature, volatile. As a result, in order to ensure itself against significant price drops, the system needs to hold a significant amount of collateral (often two-to-one, or even more). This is also a much more complex system, making it difficult to implement in a way that is efficient.

 

Future Growth-Backed Stablecoins: According to this system, the value is maintained by neither fiat or cryptocurrency holdings. Instead, a central account is created that uses algorithms to maintain the stability and manage the supply of the cryptocurrency in the face of fluctuating demand. It accomplishes this by increasing the number of stablecoins when the price goes up and decreasing the number when the price goes down. The increase in stablecoin supply is meant to reduce the market price of the coin to its target level. Conversely, when the price of the stablecoin drops below its target price, the system will reduce the supply of stablecoins and increase the price of the coin so that it returns to its target level. The primary issue with this method is tied to speculators. If they happen to lose interest in purchasing or actively begin to short the stablecoin, then the peg eventually breaks because the entire mechanism becomes worthless.

 

At the moment, it remains unclear which system, if any, will work. History has not been kind to currency boards, and the challenges of implementing a purely digital version of a currency peg has never before been tried until now.

 

In order to better understand the nature of stablecoins, and the promise that they have, Nevin Freeman joins us for a conversation about money and the fundamental properties of currency.

 

Ultimately, this is an exploration of how we can make cryptocurrencies a true store of value, while at the same time enabling these decentralized currencies to function as real and viable mediums of exchange.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

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Episode 17
Featuring Robert Johnson
Episode 17
Featuring Robert Johnson

Nevin Freeman began life as an environmentalist in southern Oregon, where he studied wilderness preservation, thought about climate change, and considered ways of producing energy more efficiently. He stuck with this theme in college, studying mechanical and transportation system engineering in Portland, Oregon, in hopes of producing more efficient vehicles. But upon graduating, Nevin realized his understanding of the global ecosystem was simplistic and he was not on track to single-handedly solve global climate change the way he had imagined as a child.

 

After reflecting on why he wanted to preserve the ecosystem on the planet in the first place and realizing the thing he valued was flourishing of conscious beings, Nevin took a much broader approach to thinking about global problems and opportunities, integrating himself into the Future of Humanity Institute community, and co-creating the Effective Altruism movement – a group of people relying on reason and evidence to find the highest leverage ways of improving our world. He co-produced the first Effective Altruism Summit, directed the second one, and facilitated its transition to what is now Effective Altruism Global.

 

Nevin has spent his recent years building Paradigm Academy, a company builder in the Bay Area that specializes in recruiting and training ambitious, altruistic founders. Last year, Nevin left his full-time role at Paradigm to spin off Reserve, a full-stack open currency designed to bring economic stability to regions in the world with inflation problems. The Reserve team comes largely out of the Effective Altruism community, where many people aim to earn profits in order to fund the most important causes in the world.

 

Nevin's mission in life is to solve the coordination problems that are stopping humanity achieving its potential, and he’s particularly concerned about averting the long-term risks posed by the development of artificial intelligence. You can reach him through LinkedIn.

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Ethereum
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Episode 49
Featuring Vitalik Buterin & Vlad Zamfir
In 2013, Vitalik Buterin described an ambitious technology that offered a new vision of the future — one that would give us new ways of governing interactions among nations, organizations, and individuals. But challenges remain on the path towards widespread adoption. Here, Buterin and Vlad Zamfir discuss the future roadmap for Ethereum.

If contracts are the foundation of modern civilization, then our record systems are the infrastructure that keep this foundation from falling apart. These features allow our society to establish and verify identities; give value to goods and services; create and enforce laws; govern interactions between individuals, organizations, and nations — in short, they secure our social, economic, and political policies and allow us to maintain the social order.

 

But there is a problem with these systems, and they are beginning to buckle and crack.

 

The information age vastly accelerated the pace of society, allowing individuals to dramatically expand their circles of influence. People can now exchange goods and services (or even enter into contracts) with strangers on the other side of the globe instantaneously. Government agencies and international organizations can maximize processes by storing and retrieving information online. However, these processes are fraught with challenges.

 

Without the presence of intermediaries, digital transactions have thus far been impossible to verify or enforce. Mediators and middlemen provide accountability on the one hand, in return for higher centralization on the other. This centralization creates opportunities for companies like Facebook and Google to make billions of dollars mining and selling our data. It also presents lucrative opportunities for malicious actors looking to capitalize on our insecure digital infrastructure. The digital records kept by banks and government institutions are frequently the subject of cyber attacks, putting this same data at risk.

 

As the first decentralized digital currency, bitcoin promised to solve some of these issues; however, bitcoin's use cases have remained limited to a very narrow set of financial transactions. In response, Vitalik Buterin created Ethereum. In his 2012 white paper,  Vitalik outlined an ambitious vision of the future — one that would endeavor to solve the problems associated with our contracts, transactions, and records by creating a new, decentralized layer for data processing and computation on which society could run.

 

Whereas Bitcoin’s aim was to erect a platform for unmediated digital payments, the goal of Ethereum’s blockchain-based architecture is to entirely dismantle traditional power structures and methods of control. It attempts this by allowing decentralization to saturate all levels of society through the use of an open, distributed ledger that records transactions between parties in a more trusted way way.

 

In Ethereum blockchain, contracts are embedded within digital code, which are stored in transparent, shared databases. In theory, it makes intermediaries like bankers and lawyers unnecessary and allows individuals to transact freely. Ethereum increase access, transparency, and accountability, without relying on third-parties to secure the ledger.

 

Ethereum blockchain has opened the door to a new type of economy, yet challenges remain — specifically, challenges to scale.

 

The most prominent of these scaling challenges has been transaction throughput. Currently, the Ethereum network can process no more than fifteen transactions per second (TPS). This is major barrier to widespread adoption and it has prevented the blockchain from being able to support the type of network traffic that would result from the popular use of any decentralized application (dApp). In response, Vitalik, Vlad, and other key members of the Ethereum have put forward a roadmap for scaling the Ethereum network.

 

From sharding to Plasma to Casper, in this week’s episode, host Demetri Kofinas is joined by Vlad Zamfir, one of is the world’s leading Ethereum researchers, and Vitalik Buterin to discuss the future of Ethereum, the problems it faces on the path to widespread adoption, and the solutions that promise to carry us into a decentralized digital age.  

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Vitalik Buterin is the creator of Ethereum. He first discovered blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies through Bitcoin in 2011, and was immediately excited by the technology and its potential. He cofounded Bitcoin Magazine in September 2011, and after two and a half years looking at what the existing blockchain technology and applications had to offer, wrote the Ethereum white paper in November 2013. He now leads Ethereum's research team, working on future versions of the Ethereum protocol.

 

Vlad Zamfir is a researcher known in the Ethereum blockchain community for his work on blockchain-based consensus protocols, especially on proof-of-stake (Casper), and sharding. He also does research and education in other related areas, such as cryptoeconomics and blockchain governance.

 

@VitalikButerin

@VladZamfir

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Decision Making
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Episode 48
Featuring Annie Duke
How can we tell if we’re making a good decision? Is there a sure bet way of overcoming uncertainty and fear? Here, poker champion Annie Duke outlines why success depends on our ability to shift our thinking from a need for certainty to the goal of accurately assessing what we know. In other words, why we need to think in bets.

We make millions of decisions over the course of our lives. Most of these seem to be small and of little consequence, and so we make our choices and act with little care or thought. Other decisions require more care and consideration, as their significance will, for better or worse, have a lasting impact on our life: What job offer to accept, what life partner to choose, how to invest in retirement.

 

When faced with these truly important decisions, many people become crippled by their fear and doubt. What if it’s a bad prediction? What if I am missing information, and so my choice is wrong? Often, such fears have a cascade effect, they trickle down and impact our ability to make even the smallest judgement, leaving us paralyzed.

 

However, there is a way to increase the likelihood that we’re making a sure bet.

 

According to Annie Duke, a World Series of Poker champion and the author of Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts, regardless of whether the choice is small or large, the key to solid decision-making rests in our ability to shift our thinking from a need for absolute certainty to “a goal of accurately assessing what you know and what you don't.” In other words, people need to look at every decision as though it were a bet.

 

Ultimately, Duke argues that by adopting this way of thinking — by assessing how sure we are of something, tracing the possible outcomes, and analyzing the odds of failure — we can ensure long-term success for ourselves, our loved ones, and our business partners.

 

Calling on her degrees in behavioral and cognitive psychology, and her years of experience in professional poker, throughout the episode, Duke speaks with host Demetri Kofinas about how we can  eliminate fear and unproductive emotions from our decision-making processes, embrace uncertainty, and make better decisions.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Annie Duke is an experienced corporate speaker and consultant on the behavior of decision making.

 

On February 6, 2018, Annie’s first book for general audiences, “Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts” was released by Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

 

As a former professional poker player, she won more than $4 million in tournament poker. She has won a World Series of Poker bracelet, the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions, and the NBC National Poker Heads-Up Championship.

 

She has written five books, raised four children and raised more than $18 million for charities. Annie is a cofounder of HowIDecide.org, a member of the National Board of After-School All-Stars and a member of the NationSwell Council.

 

In 2016 she joined the board of directors of the Franklin Institute, one of America's oldest and greatest museums. She has also won a televised championship in rock-paper-scissors.

 

Connect with Annie on FacebookTwitterYouTube or LinkedIn. Her website is: www.AnnieDuke.com where you can also sign up for her newsletter or read her blog with her periodic analysis of all things data, pop culture, politics and more.

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Technology
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Episode 47
Featuring Jimmy Soni
The digitization of information transformed the foundation of our society, thrusting us into an era, and economy, dominated by information technology. This information age was created by one man: Claude Shannon. Here, we dive into Shannon’s work, the most important thesis of the 20th century, a mathematical theory of communication.

The 20th century is known as the information age, and for a good reason. It is a period that is dominated by knowledge and data. It’s an era in which the economy is no longer driven by traditional industries — such as construction, manufacturing, or agriculture — but by advanced information technologies that store, retrieve, transmit, and manipulate data.

 

This revolution finds its roots in Information Theory. And remarkably, it is a theory that was developed by one man: Claude Shannon.
 

Before Shannon, society had a rather immature understanding of what information was. Information was understood as something immaterial and intangible. It was not seen as something that could be touched or manipulated. It was assumed that the only way to send information (intelligence, as it was then refered to) across a greater distance was to “boost” the signal by using more power. This was a notoriously imperfect system, as it increased the amount of “noise” that was received and made the message more difficult to discern.
 

In his foundational work, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, Shannon solved this issue and presented a completely new way of understanding information. He showed that information isn’t insubstantial, but something that we can measure and manipulate — something that has physical characteristics and can be quantified. Shannon also created a diagram which showed that all information has certain, set components — such as a source, a transmitter, a recipient, and so on. As such, not only did he show that information is something that can be made material, through his work, Shannon proved that all information (be it a radio signal, a photo, or a song) can be governed through a set of common laws.

 

In short, he turned information into something that can be computed and reliably transmitted, laying the foundation for the digital revolution.

 

In this episode, Jimmy Soni, author of A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age, joins Demetri Kofinas to discuss how Shannon was able to develop a new way of automating thought, one that would prove to be far more powerful than the analog machine.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Jimmy is a New York based author, editor, and speechwriter. He's the co-author of Rome's Last Citizen, a biography of the ancient Roman Senator Cato, and A Mind at Play, a biography of the late mathematician Claude Shannon. The latter book won the Neumann Prize for the top book in the history of mathematics for 2017 and was named

one of the best books of the year by Nature and Bloomberg. Jimmy has also served as an editor at the Huffington Post, the New York Observer, and the Washington Examiner. He's also the absurdly proud father of a nearly three-year-old daughter.

 

@jimmyasoni

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Cosmology
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Episode 46
Featuring Brian Keating
Cosmologists stare into the abyss of space in an attempt to uncover the origins of the cosmos and the beginnings of time itself. However, they're often waylaid on their quest. Here, Brian Keating discusses the most remarkable discoveries in physics and the biases and incentives that are shredding the fabric of modern science.

When we think about competition, we don’t typically think about scientists. Instead of seeing these individuals as adversaries competing for fickle prizes or glory, we see them as impartial explorers of the cosmos. We see them as the selfless gatekeepers of knowledge. This view, as we are coming to learn, is more than a little askew.


The darker sides of science — the prejudices and egos and dubious incentives — are realities that we are forced to face almost as soon as we start investigating what it is that drives scientists in their pursuits.


And they are realities that Brian Keating knows all too well.


Keating is an astrophysicist at UC San Diego's Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences. He is also the author of Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition, and the Perils of Science's Highest Honor and is credited as being the driving force behind BICEP2, the most powerful cosmology telescope ever made. BICEP2 was tasked with answering some of the biggest questions in physics, such as how our cosmos came to be and what the universe was like at the beginning of time. Specifically, the telescope was created to detect the unique B-mode polarization signature of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), a byproduct of the cosmos’ first moments of expansion.


For a time, Keating and his team believed they had detected this signature. The work almost won Keating the Nobel Prize in Physics. Almost.


In this episode, Keating joins host Demetri Kofinas to walk us through the history of experimental cosmology and trace its course to modern science. He starts with an examination of the early geocentric models of the universe and shows how the scientific revolution, and the introduction of empiricism, altered the course of history and set us on the path to modern physics. The episode culminates with a discussion of what it is that drives scientists in their pursuits. From wealth to fame, from a genuine desire to understand the origins of the cosmos to an egotistical desire to wage war on religion, Keating outlines some of the most remarkable discoveries in physics and how biases and incentives are slowing innovation and shredding the fabric of modern science.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

 

Brian Keating is an astrophysicist with UC San Diego’s Department of Physics. He and his team develop instrumentation to study the early universe at radio, microwave and infrared wavelengths. He is the author of over 100 scientific publications and holds two U.S.Patents. He received an NSF CAREER award in 2006 and a 2007 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers at the White House from President Bush for a telescope he invented and deployed at the U.S. South Pole Research Station called “BICEP".

 

Professor Keating became a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2016. He co-leads the Simons Observatory Cosmic Microwave Background experiments in the Atacama Desert of Chile, and is the author of Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition, and the Perils of Science's Highest Honor, selected as one of Amazon.com’s Ten Best Nonfiction Books of the Month and one of Nature Magazine’s Six Best Books of the Season.

 

@DrBrianKeating

BrianKeating.com

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Social Science
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Episode 45
Featuring Daniel H. Pink
Life is a never-ending series of "when" decisions. When to schedule a class? When to do something creative? Yet, we make our choices based on whims and impulses, not the biological reality of our daily rhythms. Daniel Pink explains how chronobiology allows us to hack our lives using our biological clock and the science of perfect timing.

Timing is everything, so it’s kind of surprising that most of us don’t give it any serious consideration. We think about what things we want to do. We think about who we want to do these things with. When we want to do something is generally our final consideration — if we consider it at all.

 

Take college students, for example. They must take classes in art, math, history, science, and a host of other fields. Each year, just before the semester begins, students flock to their computers and plot out the class schedules that will govern their lives for the next five months. Their top considerations are when their friends are taking classes, how they can avoid getting up early, and how they can ensure their classes are all on the same day so that they get a few extra days off.

 

This is a bit of a problem.

 

As Daniel Pink notes in his latest book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, there is a biological reality to our daily rhythms. This means that, at certain times, we are better at problem solving. At others, we perform better when it comes to creative endeavors. It may seem counterintuitive, but we each have a biological clock that has a material impact on our lives. Put simply, the time that we choose to do something alters our performance, influences our wellbeing, and shapes our overall experience. So if we are making decisions about when to do things on an impulse or according to whatever happens to be convenient, in many ways, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

 

However, there is a solution to this problem. It’s known as “chronobiology,” and it allows us to make fact-based decisions about when we should do things. By using chronobiology — by following the natural patterns found in our biology — we can help ensure that we are at our peak performance when we attempt any given task.

 

But how can we tell what our natural cycle is? How do we know if we are making good when-based decisions? In this episode, Demetri Kofinas speaks with Pink about the science of perfect timing and why when we do something is just as important as what we doand how well we do it.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Daniel H. Pink is the author of six provocative books — including his newest, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, which has spent three months on the New York Times bestseller list. His other books include the long-running New York Times bestseller A Whole New Mind and the #1 New York Times bestsellers Drive and To Sell is Human. His books have won multiple awards and have been translated into 37 languages. He lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and their three children.

 

Pink was host and co-executive producer of “Crowd Control,” a television series about human behavior on the National Geographic Channel. He also appears frequently on NPR’s Hidden Brain, the PBS NewsHour, and other TV and radio networks in the US and abroad.

 

He has been a contributing editor at Fast Company and Wired as well as a business columnist for The Sunday Telegraph. His articles and essays have also appeared in The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, The New Republic, Slate, and other publications. In 2007, he was a Japan Society Media fellow in Tokyo, where he studied the country’s massive comic industry.

 

For the last six years, London-based Thinkers 50 named him, alongside Michael Porter and Clayton Christensen, as one of the top 15 business thinkers in the world.

 

Pink’s TED Talk on the science of motivation is one of the 10 most-watched TED Talks of all time, with more than 19 million views. His RSA Animate video about the ideas in his book, Drive, has collected more than 14 million views.

 

He currently serves on the advisory boards of RiseSmart, Betterment Institutional, Heleo, and Hubspot.

Before venturing out on his own 20 years ago, Dan worked in several positions in politics and government, including serving from 1995 to 1997 as chief speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore.

 

He received a BA from Northwestern University, where he was a Truman Scholar and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and a JD from Yale Law School. He has also received honorary doctorates from Georgetown University, the Pratt Institute, the Ringling College of Art and Design, and Westfield State University.

Pink and his wife live in Washington, DC. They have three children — a college junior, a college freshman, and a high school freshman.

 

@DanielPink

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Sports
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Episode 44
Featuring Sam Walker
Humans naturally gravitate towards sports. But it's about more than competition. Our love for athletic performance offers a glimpse at millions of years of evolution – at the impulses and urges of our ancestors. Here, Sam Walker discusses what sports reveal about the traits we value and the evolutionary forces that shape team selection.

People love sports. As we love watching the teams we adore try and fight their way towards victory. Their wins are our wins, and we celebrate these triumphs with feelings of joy that are difficult to match or even describe. Their losses are equally ours, and the pain of those losses can feel like a personal failure.


Much has been said about the psychology of sports, about those things that draw us in and keep us spellbound. However, scientists have failed to locate exactly what it is that draws us towards sports or, equally, what draws us towards the teams we love.


Is it the rivalry and the satisfaction that comes through conquest and the defeat of the opposition? Is it the fun, the entertainment, or the freedom that sports give us to let go of the stress and struggles of daily life? Is it a kinship felt towards a particular player? According to Sam Walker, author of The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World's Greatest Teams, the answer is a resounding “no.”


Human beings naturally gravitate towards communal displays of athletic performance. We crave friendly competition. But according to Walker, our love affair with such exhibitions isn’t really about rivalry or entertainment.


Rather, as our lives become increasingly intermediated by computer interfaces, spectator sports provide one of the few remaining ways of experiencing the elegance and power of the human body. Herein lies the secret of our love affair with sports: In a world that is constantly changing, sports are a window into the into millions of years of evolution – the impulses, characteristics, and behavioral urges of our ancestors. Team sports, in particular, give us a front row seat to the unfolding drama of the human experience and the evolutionary forces that have shaped human selection.


Over the course of this episode, Walker speaks with host Demetri Kofinas about what he has learned about the forces that shape the world’s greatest teams. The conversation is, in some sense, a search for the DNA of greatness.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Sam Walker is The Wall Street Journal’s leadership columnist, a keynote speaker and team-building consultant. In his two decades at the Journal, he has served as sports columnist, deputy page-one editor and founding editor of the paper’s prizewinning daily sports coverage. His bestselling 2006 book, Fantasyland, chronicled his bid to win Tout Wars, the world’s top fantasy-baseball expert competition (of which he is a two-time champion). He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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China Politics
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Episode 43
Featuring Elizabeth C. Economy
China Politics
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Episode 43
Featuring Elizabeth C. Economy
In just five years, Xi Jinping has seized all the most important leadership positions in the Chinese government. By centralizing institutional power, he may thrust China into a new imperial age. Here, Elizabeth Economy discusses Xi’s top political, economic, and foreign policies and the impact that this new empire may have on the world.

We may be witnessing the birth of a new imperial China, one that was brought about by the charismatic machinations of the nation’s leader, Xi Jinping. At the present juncture, it’s not exactly clear what Xi’s excessive centralization of power means or how his disruptive new policies will impact the rest of the world, but we can say one thing with certainty — international power dynamics are already starting to shift in response.

 

Xi’s tenure truly began in 2012, when he became the General Secretary for China’s Communist Party, which is the sole governing party in China. Today, he also serves as the head of the state and the head of the military. Taken as a whole, these are all of the most important leadership positions in the Chinese government. If that’s not enough, earlier this year, in a highly controversial move, Xi did away with presidential term limits. So, he may be president for life.

 

Because of the near-total control that Xi wields, he is able to keep both his adversaries in the government and the citizens he presides over on a tight leash.

 

He eliminates his dissenters using divisive anticorruption campaigns, he oversees massive propaganda operations rooted in fabricated news and events, and he denies his people access to information by censuring the internet behind a Great Firewall.

 

Although many Western nations may balk at such practices, they have their benefits. Ultimately, Xi’s illiberal maneuverings often allow China to outcompete nations that cling to liberal values. This fact forces world leaders to contend with a question that cannot be ignored: Can liberal nations keep pace with Xi’s imperial policies and ensure that power structures remain stable?

 

In today’s episode, Elizabeth Economy, author of The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State, joins Demetri Kofinas for an extensive exploration of Jinping’s top political, economic, and foreign policy priorities and the impact that his policies will likely have on the rest of the world.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

 

Elizabeth Economy is the C. V. Starr senior fellow and director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

 

Dr. Economy is an acclaimed author and expert on Chinese domestic and foreign policy. Her recently released book, The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State, (Oxford University Press, 2018) analyzes the contradictory nature of reform under President Xi Jinping. She is also author of By All Means Necessary: How China's Resource Quest is Changing the World (Oxford University Press, 2014) with Michael Levi, and The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future (Cornell University Press, 2004; 2nd edition, 2010; Japanese edition, 2005; Chinese edition, 2011). Dr. Economy has published articles in foreign policy and scholarly journals including Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and the Harvard Business Review; and op-eds in the New York Times and Washington Post, among others.

 

Dr. Economy serves on the board of managers of Swarthmore College and the board of trustees of the Asia Foundation. She was also on the advisory council of Network 20/20 and the science advisory council of the Stockholm Environment Forum. She served as a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Global Agenda Council on the United States from 2014 to 2016 and served as a member and then vice chair of WEF’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of China from 2008 to 2014. She has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses at Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, and the University of Washington's Jackson School of International Studies.

 

Dr. Economy received her BA from Swarthmore College, her AM from Stanford University, and her PhD from the University of Michigan. In 2008, she received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Vermont Law School.

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Education
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Episode 42
Featuring Fred Swaniker
By 2050, almost a quarter of the world’s population will live in African countries. Helping these individuals succeed and participate in the world economy can help us avert global catastrophe. What is the most effective way of doing that? Education. Here, Fred Swaniker explains why our future depends on empowering Africa.

By the year 2050, the human population will increase by a staggering 2.4 billion. According to data from the UN World Population Prospects, the figures are cause for great concern. Researchers worry that our planet may not have the carrying capacity to sustain a population of this size; however, their primary concern stems from the fact that a majority of the increases will take place in the world’s most depressed areas. In fact, experts predict that approximately 50% of the increase will take place in African countries. Put another way, by 2050, a quarter of the world’s population will live in Africa.

 

Some may contend that there’s no real cause for concern — 2050 is still decades away and that we have plenty of time. This leaves out the crucial fact that in just seventeen years, Africa will have the largest workforce in the world. 

 

By giving these individuals the tools and resources necessary to succeed, we can help ensure that they become valued and productive members of society. By ensuring that they have the opportunities necessary to participate on the world stage, we can secure for future generations an era of unimaginable innovation and prosperity. The alternative? The mass unemployment, starvation, poverty, and displacement of over a billion people — a global catastrophe the likes of which we’ve yet to witness in the modern age.   

 

The difference between the abundance narrative and the scarcity narrative rests on one simple thing: Education and the leadership skills that it fosters. Seventeen years is just 6,000 days away. Time is short, and it’s passing remarkably fast. We must act now. And we are.

 

Fred Swaniker is the co-founder of three organizations that aim to catalyze a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders in Africa: the African Leadership Academy, the African Leadership Network, and the African Leadership University. His paradigm-shifting approach to education is transforming how we conceptualize learning. But more than that, through his work Swaniker is empowering a generation and creating a revolution in Africa.

 

In this episode, Swaniker talks with host Demetri Kofinas about the difference between financial poverty and poverty of the spirit, the importance of faith and determination, and why our future depends on empowering Africa.
 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Fred ​Swaniker is the co-founder of three organizations that aim to catalyze a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial African leaders: African Leadership Academy, African Leadership Network, and African Leadership University. Collectively, these institutions aim to groom 3 million leaders for Africa over a 50-year period.

 

A passionate entrepreneur, Fred also served as Founder and CEO of Terra Education, a global education company that today provides leadership training to about 4,000 people annually at 46 sites in 20 countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Prior to his work in education, Swaniker co-founded Synexa Life Sciences, a biotechnology company with operations in Cape Town, Berlin, London, and Dublin. Prior to launching his entrepreneurial pursuits, Swaniker worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company in South Africa. Swaniker has been recognized as a ​Young Global Leader ​by the World Economic Forum and was listed by Forbes Magazine among the top ten young ‘power men’ in Africa.

 

Fred has an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, where he was named an ​Arjay Miller Scholar​, a distinction awarded to the top 10% of each graduating class. He holds a BA in Economics with a minor in Mathematical Statistics from Macalester College (​magna cum laude). ​He was born in Ghana but has lived and worked in about 10 different African countries.

 

@FredSwaniker

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Metaphysics
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Episode 41
Featuring Jim Holt
Jim Holt's on a quest to understand the universe. Why does the world exist? What is infinity? Is time real? Answering the perennial questions posed by metaphysics is no easy task. Here, Holt tests the limits of our explanatory powers, walking us to the edge of science and philosophy, pursuing answers to the cosmos' greatest mysteries.

Jim Holt is on a quest to understand the fundamental nature and meaning of our universe. What is infinity? Is time real? Why does the world exist? These are the most important questions that humanity has ever pondered. When attempting to answer such large, existential questions, it’s not enough to use observational evidence alone. This is where metaphysics comes in.

 

Unlike the hard-nosed, falsifiable propositions that form the foundation of empirical science, metaphysics poses questions for which definitive answers are hard to come by. Aristotle famously heralded the field as “the first philosophy,” since it explores those questions which are generally accepted as being the most basic and vital.

 

In short, this branch of philosophy seeks to explain the nature of being, reality, and the meaning of existence. Since metaphysics is not based on falsifiable propositions, it is is not bounded by the constraints of formal logic or scientific truth. As a result, finding conclusive answers to the perennial questions that it poses may well be impossible.

 

Still, something about these questions jabs at us. Why? Perhaps it is in our nature to question everything, even those things for which answers do not exist. Or perhaps the act of engaging in ontological arguments is itself the goal. In either case, in our answer-based culture, exploring the philosophy of science and metaphysics is a necessarily humbling experience. It forces us to contend with the mystery of our own existence, and it presses the limits of our explanatory powers.

 

In his latest book, “When Einstein Walked with Gödel: Excursions to the Edge of Thought,” Jim Holt explores the nature of logic and truth. And in this episode, he joins host Demetri Kofinas for an hour-long conversation on the philosophy of science and metaphysics. Over the course of the discussion, we explore the questions that have concerned philosophers for more than two thousand years — questions that remain unanswered.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Play
Episode 18
Featuring Samuel Bowles
Episode 18
Featuring Samuel Bowles

Jim Holt is a longtime contributor to the New Yorker, where he has written on string theory, time, infinity, numbers, jokes, logic, truth, and bullshit. He also writes regularly for the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books, and he is a former book-columnist for the Wall Street Journal. His latest book, "When Einstein Walked with Gödel: Excursions to the Edge of Thought," will be published in May 2018 by Farrar Straus Giroux. His 2012 book "Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story" was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for general nonfiction and was named one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times Book Review. An international bestseller, "Why Does the World Exist?" has been published worldwide in 18 languages. His 2006 book "Stop Me If You've Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes" was published in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, and in French, Italian, and German translation. He is currently at work on a book titled "Living (Theory and Practice)," to be published in the U.S. by Farrar Straus, in the UK by Penguin, and in German by Rowohlt. Holt has taught mathematics at the University of Virginia, philosophy at Columbia University, and economics at the City University of New York. He lives in Greenwich Village.

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Social Media
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Social Media
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Episode 40
Featuring Jeremy Heimans & Henry Timms
Recently, our world has borne witness to a dramatic shift in power. Control no longer rests in the hands of the wealthy and powerful. It rests in the hands of the crowd and in those who know how to inspire the viral masses. Here, Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms explore crowdsourcing, new power, and how the dynamics of control are changing.

There is no question that our world is experiencing a dramatic shift in power. On the surface, this is to be expected. After all, to quote Friedrich Nietzsche, power is "a sea of forces flowing and rushing together, eternally changing." Yet, for nearly all of human history, power was held and jealously guarded by a select minority of individuals. Although control could be seized by new parties through uprisings, such attempts have only been successful when made by nobles or military leaders. Real power has been out of the reach of the vast majority of people since time immemorial.


Today, this is no longer true.


Thanks to the rapid advancements being made in science and technology, the locus of power is shifting faster than ever before, and it is undergoing a fundamental transformation that has never before been witnessed. Power, in the modern age, is becoming open and distributed. Power is now being allocated to the crowd.


We see this fact nearly everywhere we look. Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding methods such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter are replacing traditional, centralized methods of sourcing materials and raising funds. But the best example of this crowdfunding can be seen in the growth of cryptocurrencies and the recent surge in ICOs (initial coin offerings). Likewise, political conversations and the various social changes that spring from them are increasingly being driven by the demands of the crowd. Campaigns such as the Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, and #Metoo have all found their roots in social media, where supporters spontaneously organized, act, and then dissolved back into the voluminous crowd. Of course, not all the examples are positive ones. Terrorist organizations now also use crowdsourcing methods to get new recruits from countries that they cannot otherwise travel to or access.


Yet, for good or ill, the tide of this new kind of power is sweeping over all of us.


So, how is this battle between old and new power shifting who governs us, altering how we work, and revising how we think and feel? And what can the distribution of power in the 21st century tell us about how the future is going to unfold? In their book, “New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World and How to Make It Work for You,” Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms explore these questions. Throughout the narrative, they investigate the nature of modern power and try to help readers understand this new world and our role in it. In this episode, Heimans and Timms join host Demetri Kofinas for a timely exploration of these topics.

 

Ultimately, this conversation is an attempt to better understand whether or not our newfound ability to mobilize the mass of humanity is a net positive development for the aims of egalitarianism and progress.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Play
Episode 18
Featuring Samuel Bowles
Episode 18
Featuring Samuel Bowles

Jeremy Heimans is the co-founder and CEO of Purpose, an organization specializing in building social movements around the world. In 2005, he co-founded GetUp!, an Australian political organization with more members than all of Australia’s political parties combined. He is a co-founder of the now 45-million strong global campaigning organization Avaaz and the LGBT rights platform All Out. He received the Ford Foundation’s 75th Anniversary Visionary Award for his work as a movement pioneer. He has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business and chaired the World Economic Forum’s global council on civic participation.

 

@JeremyHeimans


Henry Timms is president and CEO of 92nd Street Y, a cultural and community center that creates programs and movements that foster learning and civic engagement. Under his leadership, the 144-year-old institution was named to Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Companies” list. He is the co-founder of #GivingTuesday, a global philanthropic movement that engages people in close to 100 countries that has generated hundreds of millions of dollars for good causes. He is a Visiting Fellow at Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.

 

@HenryTimms

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Investing
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Episode 39
Featuring Mark Spiegel
Elon Musk is heralded as the hero of the 21st century. He seems to be single-handedly revolutionizing neuroscience, travel, artificial intelligence, and space flight. But are Musk’s actions more about sensationalism and showmanship than actual substance? Here, Mark Spiegel discusses bull markets, tech bubbles, and the cult of Elon Musk.

When asked to name a hero of the modern age, most people don’t have to think long before giving their answer. Elon Musk is the man who sits at the helm of this era’s most disruptive industries. Through SpaceX, Musk is democratizing space and leading humanity into an era that’s dominated by privately held companies — an era in which anyone can, quite literally, reach for the stars. His Boring company is set to revolutionize travel by making vacuum-powered, ultra-high-speed transportation systems a reality. And Elon Musk is even transforming that which is most immutable: the human brain. In 2016, Musk founded Neuralink to develop implantable brain-computer interfaces and meld the human mind with machines. Then, of course, there is Tesla, the electric car company that has shaken the foundations of the fossil fuel industry and given society its first self-driving vehicles. Or, has it?


The cult of Elon Musk surpasses anything we have seen in decades. Even Steve Jobs did not command as much adoration from his congregations of the faithful. And yet, something is rotten in the state of Denmark…

 

Tesla sits at the intersection of a number of powerful forces: the ready availability of cheap financing, the growing wealth and income gap, and the preponderance of technology in popular culture. In this sense, Tesla is about more than just electric vehicles or the car manufacturing business. It is a poster child for the financial excesses, stock price manipulations, and cult-like followings of Silicon Valley.


And as the Federal Reserve continues to tighten by raising interest rates, companies like Tesla, which have relied on cheap financing in order to fund their businesses, are feeling increasing pressure. Exhibit A: the company’s stock, which was besieged by speculative shorts and heavy selling in March of this year. Tesla’s stock recouped more than half of those losses shortly thereafter but, serious questions remain about the company’s path towards profitability. Indeed, does it even have one?


Even if Tesla can raise the capital it needs from investors over the next six months, can it manage to overcome the major production challenges that have plagued the Model 3? What happens when Jaguar, Audi, Mercedes, and Porsche each come to market with their own electric vehicles, some of which are cheaper than Tesla’s suite of electric cars? Finally, what about Elon Musk?

 

The famous short seller Jim Chanos, who took down Enron in the early 2000’s for defrauding its investors, has made similar claims against the popular Silicon Valley car executive. And Chanos isn’t alone in his rebukes. Mark Spiegel, Managing Member and Portfolio Manager of Stanphyl Capital Partners, has also been openly critical of Elon Musk, whom he believes is committing securities fraud by misleading investors about the capabilities of Tesla's present and future products and financial prospects.


In last week’s episode, we asked about the path towards profitability for Tesla. In this week’s episode, host Demetri Kofinas is joined by Mark Spiegel, who questions the credibility of Elon Musk as CEO of the electric car company. We exam