Interviewer: Hello, and welcome to another episode of “Executive Breakthroughs.” I have a fantastic guest here today, a futurist and a fascinating person, Byron Reese. Thanks for being on the show today.
Byron Reese: Thank you for having me.
Interviewer: We’re going to have some great conversations and you’re going to learn a lot about what’s happening in today, in tomorrow, and things you should keep track of. I just want to ask you a little bit of background for people, like where did you grow up? A little bit about your background and kind of how you got on this path.
Byron Reese: Well, I grew up in a small town in East Texas. Grew up on a farm, then moved to a big city. I got into business really far back. My mom wanted the numbers painted on our curb, so she went and bought the stencils and a can of spray paint. She said, “Paint the number on our curb,” so I painted it. Mr. Rowland, the neighbor across the street, saw me. He was like, “While you’re out here, would you just do that?” I painted his and he gave me five bucks.
This is in 1980, mind you. Five dollars for like a minute’s worth of work. All of a sudden, ching, this thing went off, and I was like, “That’s like, that’s teenager money,” right? I started going door to door with my stencils and my can of spray paint charging five dollars to, “Chh, chh, chh.” I made like a kid-sized fortune with that. That was how I got into business, and where I grew up.
Interviewer: Then you went on to school, and went on to college at Rice.
Byron Reese: I did. I went to Rice University, where I met my wife. Obviously she was not my wife at the time, it wasn’t one of those situations, but I met the woman who would become my wife.
Interviewer: How did you meet her?
Byron Reese: She was a fellow student. We had the same parole officer, that helps too.
Interviewer: Well yeah, that does.
Byron Reese: We did not really have the same parole officer, they were different. Then we married right out of college. I mean it’s one of those things. Then we moved to the Bay Area to make our fortune. Then eventually, we decided to start a family, so we moved back to where our family was, near Austin, Texas, which is where we reside today.
Interviewer: You did some fascinating things in college. You started a debate program?
Byron Reese: You could say that. You could say that. When I went to Rice University, oddly, they didn’t have debate. I came out of high school with four years of debate, and so that was kind of one of the things I did, so we went to the administration at Rice and said, “Somehow or another we don’t have a debate program, can you fund us?” They funded us. They gave us a bunch of money to go to tournaments, which travel cost, basically what it cost me.
Byron Reese: We did really well, and so they gave us more money and let us hire faculty and all of that.
Interviewer: That’s pretty entrepreneurial as well, I mean starting a [crosstalk 00:02:51]
Byron Reese: I didn’t think so at the time, but I guess so. I mean, I didn’t think so at the time, it was just like all right, well where is it?
Byron Reese: So yes, then I, I think what you said earlier is I also ran for Houston School Board when I was-
Interviewer: Why did you, I mean out of curiosity, that’s a pretty interesting thing to run for a School Board when you’re in college. I mean, what possessed you to do that? Did you want to create some change or something that you saw or like …
Byron Reese: I was in Houston, so it was big, and it was a district, so I had a district that I was running in, and it was a vacant, it was an open seat. I saw that and thought to myself, “It’s strange that you have all these School Boards and they never, ever had a single student on them.”
I said, “I should just run and be like the student voice of it.” It was six candidates, I came in, I believe, third out of six, and got lots of endorsements, and all of that. I didn’t have any money though. I didn’t have, obviously, any money. It was word of mouth. We didn’t have word of mouse back then, it was all just word of mouth. That’s what I did. That was a long, long, long time ago. I hardly even … It just seems like another world.
Interviewer: In your career, when is the first … I mean I know you’ve had, you’ve worked for many different companies. When-
Byron Reese: It sounds like I can’t hold a job.
Interviewer: Ah, well I think it’s more of an entrepreneurial path for you, where you’re working on different stuff-
Byron Reese: Maybe I can’t, I don’t know.
Interviewer: Well, it’s all right too. That’s something, that’s part of life. Sometimes we just have to do what we’re good at. Is the first company you founded HotData? Was that-
Byron Reese: That is true.
Interviewer: How did you end up finding that? That’s back in ’97, so back in the beginning of the gold rush, really.
Byron Reese: Yeah, it’s funny because at the time, I thought we were late. I thought, so here was my thesis back then. I said, “Wow, the Internet’s out, and the only way people use the Internet is they got to use it through a browser, and that’s so cumbersome. Like what’s this browser thing all about?” What I really want, is I want all the apps I use to connect to the Internet. I want my spreadsheet to update my stock prices in it, if that’s what I have. I want my contact manager, if somebody moves, I wanted to update them.
I said, “I’m going to build the stuff that allows applications to talk to data over the Internet.” I just was like, “Oh my gosh. We have to do this quickly or somebody else is going to do it.” Which by the way is almost always not true, in my experience. When you’re in it, you feel like everything’s urgent, but in reality, 20 years have passed and there’s still not somebody who kind of owns that space.
I raised a lot of money, you could, a 20 something kid from nowhere could raise $20 million from venture and make a go of it, this was the ’90s. That company ultimately was sold, and I started another one called PageWise. I started that in February of 2000. The crash happened in April of 2000, so I kind of ducked in and raised a little money right before that happened. The thing is, is that I think overall I fail, or I don’t think, I know. I fail at almost everything I do. I wish there was like a humorous “but,” but there’s not one.
I typically fail at most things I do, but I make up for it by I do a lot of things. PageWise was a company that I started with a thesis, and then a different thesis, and then a different one, and a different one, and a different one, and a different one, until we finally found something that worked really well. I got into video before YouTube even existed, and I had a profitable business, and I just pushed all the money into video because I was like, “I know for a fact, people would rather watch something than read it. I just know that,” so people … “Videos could be huge.” We ended up building a library of how-to videos that … I have twice as many views as Justin Bieber has, I mean it’s that big.
Interviewer: That’s amazing.
Byron Reese: I know.
Interviewer: Because how many buildings do you-
Byron Reese: Three or so.
Interviewer: Three. That’s amazing.
Byron Reese: Yeah. It’s a big number.
Interviewer: I think the lesson then is it’s important for the entrepreneur to kill ideas quickly, right? I mean we everyone, “Persevere, be determined,” and yes, that’s true but also, I mean in your instance, if you try all these different things, all you really need is one home run.
Byron Reese: Right, I try-
Interviewer: The more things you try, the more opportunities that you have.
Byron Reese: Right.
Interviewer: Especially killer, at some point you have to know when the writing’s on the wall. A lot of times, people don’t and they just keep trying to run that idea, and it could take years or decades out of their life.
Byron Reese: Yeah. I hesitate to say any kind of … People want to distill business down usually to a set of rules, and it’s like, “If you obey these rules, you’re going to be successful.” They tell people that, and I think it’s wrong. I think that it gives people the impression that running a business is kind of memorizing a series of dos and don’ts, and if you kind of keep all those in your head, you’re going to be successful. What I learned early on was that if you listen to conventional wisdom like, “Look before you leap.” You’ve heard that before, right?
Byron Reese: Is that fair advice?
Interviewer: A lot of times, you just have to take a leap.
Byron Reese: That’s the other one, right? “He who hesitates is lost.”
Byron Reese: Some people say, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” but the opposite of that, which is, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” It’s like almost piece of advice somebody gives you-
Interviewer: It’s got two sides.
Byron Reese: It has an exact opposite, and so you say, “Well, is it all worthless?” It’s like, “No, no.” The skill is knowing when you should, “Look before you leap” and when, “He who hesitates is lost,” and that’s it. Because, and anybody who tries to tell you that, oh, it’s just simple, they didn’t … You take a company that failed, and it’s like, “They didn’t change with the times, they didn’t change with the times.”
Then you look at a company that was really adaptive and you say, “They didn’t stick to the knitting. They should have stuck to the knitting.” It’s this retroactive kind of causality where we comfort ourselves and it’s like, “Life’s really simple, it’s just a few rules.” What happens is, people forget those rules every now and then, and then they have failure. That is, in my experience, that’s not how things work.
Interviewer: How do you acquire that skill, or what would you tell someone about what to do to get good at that, and being able to navigate between both sides and all the different possibilities that you could do?
Byron Reese: I don’t know. I always hesitate to give people advice because I fail at almost everything I do. That being said is, the thing is, is that businesses that work … Here’s two ideas. One of them is, there used to be singing telegrams, right? You see those in sitcoms.
Byron Reese: I had this idea, I was like, “Hey, why don’t I bring that back? What I’ll do is you pay $10, and you schedule it on our website, and then you pick the little song. Then somebody on that day calls that person up and sings them a ‘Happy Birthday,’ and it’s $10, only twice as much as a card costs.” It’s like, so that’s an idea.
Then I said, “When I was a kid, people used to send …” My mom and dad used to write me letters from Santa, and it was so cool. I read you could like send letters from North Pole, Alaska, and they’d put the stamp. I said, “What about a service where you just go, and you type in your kids’ information, and they get a letter from Santa for $10?” What do you think of those two ideas? If you were to pick one, like what would you pick?
Interviewer: Probably the Santa letter, actually.
Byron Reese: All right, so I did both of those. The Santa letter … The first one, singing telegram sold zero, none. Like I didn’t get any pity orders from my friends, which I’m not bitter about it, but you would have thought somebody I know would have ordered one of these things and yet, if you look at the Santa letters, I sold millions and millions and millions of dollars worth of those. Now, I mean it’s still in business, and it sends hundreds of thousands of letters a month, and it’s a great business with all kinds of other things added on to it.
The thing is, is that when you’re sitting on the one side of that, they both sound kind of plausible, right? Yet one of them was a catastrophic failure, and one of them knocked it out of the park, it was profitable and a great business. I don’t know how you would tell those two things apart, other than I can say that things that work for me work right away. Not perfectly, but you get some glimmer of interest. You get somebody, you get some number of people who say, “Hey, that’s kind of cool.” What happens with most of my failures is nobody cares, nobody. That’s the thing that it’s hard to get over but I mean, I tried so many, many, many things.
The thing is, the thing about the failing is that you do … For me, I think there’s lots of people who have much better track records that I have. I’m willing to shoot stuff very quickly. What I never give up on is my business. PageWise eventually sold for a number that was satisfying to the shareholders, but and so it’s like you don’t give up, you just say, “That wasn’t a good idea.”
Also, try not to internalize it. It’s like you didn’t fail. The thing that you tried failed but you, you don’t wreck … The cool thing about this when you’re successful, you also don’t get that either. You don’t get to say, “I’m all that.” Right? It’s like, “Oh, that one worked. I’m very grateful.” It’s a way not to be swung around by the inevitable ups and downs. You just can’t …
I remember back during the boom, I read a magazine and I don’t know … Anyway, somebody had a t-shirt that said, “I am not my stock price,” and you kind of get that. Whatever my company stock is trading for today, that is not my value or where I wrap my value up to.
Interviewer: From there, you started another company, Demand Media.
Byron Reese: I didn’t start that one.
Interviewer: You didn’t start it-
Byron Reese: I sold PageWise to Demand Media, and then Demand Media went public, and it had a really big IPO, it was a $2 billion evaluation. When that happens, and I was the Chief Innovation Officer, and when that happens, all kinds of people invite you to come speak to their group, right? This was kind of new to me. Good speakers do something very interesting. Good speakers, they give the same speech over and over again.
Byron Reese: I am not a good speaker, I’m terrible, because I never give the same speech twice. I just can’t do it. I just cannot bring myself to do it. It’s like phoning it in. It’s like every audience is different, every audience is there for a different reason. Everybody’s … I mean the whole thing is different. For me, just to show up and recite lines like, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ear.” It’s like, “Uhh.” I just can’t do it.
I would get all these invitations, and I would say yes to many of them, and for every one of them, I would sit back and say, “Hmm. Why are they here? What are they doing?” I would write them a speech. After a while, what happened is I noticed that a lot of these speeches had the same themes developing throughout them. Same technology, same effects of technology. I said, “Wow. This sounds a lot like a book,” and so I wrote a book, many of the chapters of which are actually-
Interviewer: “Infinite Progress.”
Byron Reese: Exactly. “Infinite Progress.” Wrote that book, many of the chapters of which are going to be speeches I wrote. I mean, it doesn’t read like that, I edited it all, but that’s really the genesis of it. I would speak to a group about food, and I would talk about the future of hunger. Then I would speak to a group about energy, and I would talk about the future of energy. Over time, that became the bulk of this book, “Infinite Purpose.”
Interviewer: Then, it has morphed into you going into the publishing business, and how did that come about? Because, obviously, when you left Demand Media, and then went to Gigaom and [crosstalk 00:15:28]
Byron Reese: I’ve been in the publishing business forever. PageWise started in 2000 and was a publishing company. We hired writers and wrote material and put it online. We loved non-fiction, we loved action oriented things, we loved how-to, and all of that, and so, and I’m a writer, right? I write and I publish, so publishing is kind of in my blood. I started a company called Knowingly two or three years ago. Knowingly, it was a publishing company, is a publishing company, and it was going to publish a bunch of different stuff. Then, I read about Gigaom, and how they let everybody go and they shutdown business and the assets were going to be sold.
I had always been such a huge fan of Gigaom. I went to Gigaom events, I read Gigaom, and it just seemed a tragedy to me that this property would just kind of vanish, so I put in a bid on it, Knowingly but in a bid on it, and we purchased it. Now, Gigaom is up and running. Some of the people who wanted to rejoin have joined, and it’s doing its thing. Along the way, I got very interested in artificial intelligence.
I wrote another book that’s coming out at the end of the year by Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. It’s called “The Fourth Age,” and it’s about robots and artificial intelligence, and whether computers can become conscious, and so forth. What really intrigued me about those questions … The first two especially, are the robots going to take all the jobs, and is AI going to kind of take over, is it something to fear? What really intrigued me about them is how informed, smart people had radically different opinions about them. Like people you would assume …
Byron Reese: Yet, they have these incredibly divergent opinions, and that’s what got me into it. Because I was like, “I wonder why that is?” I got very interested in artificial intelligence. I started writing this other book, which was really hard work. It was hard, hard, hard, hard.
Interviewer: Why was it hard? Because you had to reconcile all these different ideas and complexities of [crosstalk 00:17:48]
Byron Reese: It’s one thing to sit back and talk about what you think about the future. “I think technology is going to do this,” and all of that. You kind of can’t be wrong, in the sense that that’s your opinion, and what you think, and what you are working on. If instead, your goal is to say, “I’m going to take this complex issue, which exists on top of all of these kind of big philosophical questions, and I’m going to treat it journalistically, so that somebody could read this book and not really ever infer what I think.”
Because the thesis of the book is, “Here’s maybe a way to think about those things. To apply your own value system to them, and figure out what you think.” That’s just much harder because you’re not just kind of spouting off your opinion. You’re trying to be very respectful to every position, and understand it. When you ask the question, “Can computers become conscious?” You have to say, “Well, what is consciousness? Why are we conscious?” That’s not, “Ah, I’ll just knock that off before I go to work this morning.” Right?
Byron Reese: I wrote that book, and this was at the same time that I acquired Gigaom, and Gigaom is primarily a research company, so we do research on technologies that enterprises use, Cloud and Internet and other things, and luckily, artificial intelligence. Gigaom is doing more and more in the AI space because I don’t think there is, there’s no bigger … No matter what you think about artificial intelligence and where it’s ultimately going, whether you think it’s got a modest future, or whether you think, whatever, it’s big. It’s like all the headlines you read that say it’s big, none of those overstate it. The things that say, “Okay, the robots are going to take over,” or this, or this, or this. Those may or may not be right, but artificial intelligence is this thing whose time has finally come. It’s the ability to make better decisions.
Our descendants are going to look back on this and they’re going to think we just kind of staggered through our lives like drunken sailors on shore leave, just making these decisions just kind of randomly. Like think about how you decide, like when you go through your day, “Where should I have lunch? Who should I hang out with? What clothes should I buy? What should I read? What should I watch on TV?” Every single one of those things, you just kind of wing it because there’s no guru, there’s no oracle telling you what to do, and there’s about to be an oracle that will … You don’t have to do it, but the oracle will say, “This will be the best thing for you to do.” That got me into AI, that got me writing.
Interviewer: AI, I want to talk about that for a second. What are some companies that are doing some fascinating things, or you believe that they are so people can … Because when people think about that, a lot of times they’re not, they don’t really know how to think about artificial intelligence and how it can be applied today and how there are companies out there leveraging it and using it.
Byron Reese: You mean from a business understanding?
Interviewer: From a business standpoint, yeah.
Byron Reese: I would say there are three things that a business leader would find useful. The first is understand the basic platforms. You’ve got Amazon, you’ve got Google, you’ve got, well, Facebook. You have organizations who not only … Let’s just take Amazon. Not only is there a place to put your data, but there’s algorithms up there that can do all kinds of smart stuff to your data. You don’t need a data scientist, you don’t need …
It’s like these platforms exist where 99 percent of the work is done for you. You need to find your data that you have and ask the questions from it. That’s what you need to kind of think about. Like look around and say, “If I had infinite knowledge of everything, what would I want to know?” Then you say, “Well, where might that answer be hiding?” Usually, it’s in some colossal amount of data. Usually …
You think of a, here’s a bad example, this is not an AI example. There’s an antidepressant that’s been on the market forever called Wellbutrin. I don’t know, 50 years on the market. Some of the people taking Wellbutrin reported, when they check-in, that, “My cravings for cigarettes are down a bit.” A few people just kind of anecdotally report this, “My cravings for cigarettes are down.” It gets back to Pfizer and Pfizer was like, “Ah, we should study that.” They study it and they find out, low and behold, Wellbutrin is great for smoking cessation, so they rebrand it, the same exact drug, as Zyban, and you can get a prescription of it and stop smoking.
Now think about how we figured that out. Like just some people were like, “Hey, I happened to notice this.” Then through this process somehow information got … I mean, there’s a million things like that that exist in the world that we’re never going to stumble across because we … Look, I’m bullish on humans, way over, bullish on humans over computers, if you have to choose I’m there. When I watch a “Terminator” movie, I’m definitely rooting for the people.
There are things that we do really well that I don’t think machines will be able to do any time soon, if ever, but you got to give credit where credit is due. What machines are really good at doing is sorting through large amounts of data looking for things in a way that … It’s kind of like we don’t … The way our memories are set up, we don’t remember data really, we just kind of remember conclusions for the most part.
Byron Reese: We use those conclusions just to kind of weave our way through life and that’s what we do. It works for us, but so the first thing, I’m rambling here, the first thing are platforms. Learn about the idea of Watson. It’s like you can use that for free. You can take your data, and you can use Watson on it. It’s like that’s a great place to start. The second thing I would do is buy a smart speaker. Whether it’s a Google Home or Amazon Alexa, and put it on your desk. Because what those are, they’re like Siri or Microsoft’s is called Cortana.
Let’s just, we’ll just pick Amazon again. You put this on your desk, Alexa, and you just start talking to it, asking it questions, and it’s really easy to build things for that and for Google Home. You have to kind of rewind to the beginning of the app era, which I think the app store has like two million apps in it, and you have to go back in time to when there was just a few thousand. That’s kind of where we are on this platforms. They give you, the end user, a really clear sense of how voice recognition is working, how … I mean, they’re just a way to be very close to it for $149.
Then the third thing I would do, and if I had to prioritize … Well, I’m not going to do that because it matters by situation. The third thing I would do are chatbots. Alexa is great, as an example. It has four, five, six million users, I don’t know. You take something like Facebook Messenger … Like what you see around the world is that people use chatbots to interact with the web. Because if you think about it, if you have a desktop machine, you’re sitting in front of a big monitor, the web is great. You like go to your thing and then, but when you’re trying to do it on this, it’s like-
Byron Reese: A chatbot, on the other hand, it’s just Q&A, it’s just text and, “Ch, ch, ch, ch, ch, ch, ch.” What happens is, around the world, especially in areas where mobile dominates, we see chatbots being the way that people want to interact with it, because you could just talk to it. I would study up on chatbots, and platforms for building them. If you understood those three things, you will know what to do next.
Interviewer: That’s fascinating. What do you think about robotics? I mean, this whole self-driving cars. I mean, where do you think this, where in the next 10, 15 years, what should people expect to start happening in their lives? Because a lot of times you read things, and it’s talking about the fact people won’t be driving cars near as much, there’ll be, self-driving cars will be significantly on the road. I mean, where is all this heading for people in the near term, and how quickly will be actually see this unfold?
Byron Reese: Self-driving cars or robotics in general?
Interviewer: Well, I could say robotics in general.
Byron Reese: Robots are hard because I forget who it is, somebody in the robotics industry says that if the robots, “If there’s ever a robot uprising, just wait 15 minutes, and all their batteries will run dead.” Because it’s like that’s … Whenever you watch robot videos on like YouTube or whatever, they always have to speed them up because the speed at which the robots move, it’s often slow. We have for computers something called Moore’s Law, which basically says computers are doubling in power every couple of years.
The cool thing about it is all technology, almost all technology seems to behave in that exact same way. They don’t double every two years, but they double every N years, so maybe every 20 years something doubles, or every six months something doubles. The power of that doubling is something that humans radically underestimate because very few things in our lives, nothing in the physical world doubles and doubles and doubles and doubles and doubles and doubles.
Interviewer: Not at that rate.
Byron Reese: Right. You don’t wake up with two kids and 4 then 8 then 16 then 32
Byron Reese: We really underestimate what doubling can do over time. What it means in a very real sense is while it took us 3,000 years to get from the abacus to the iPad, in just 30 years, we’re going to have something as far ahead of the iPad as it is ahead of the abacus. How does that relate to robotics? It’s like I’m bullish on robots in terms of Rosie the Robot doing your … Zipping around cleaning stuff up. Interestingly, we live closer to the time “The Jetsons” was set in than we do the time “The Jetsons” was made. We’re closer to the world it saw then the world it came from. We don’t have a Rosie, right?
The thing is, is what all the Moore’s Law kinds of things that are happening in the robotics world, they’re not doubling every two years, they’re doubling slower than that. Robots are hard because you’ve got the kinetic world you’re interacting with, you’ve got power issues, you’ve got materials and they’re very hard, so it’s natural that computers and AI are kind of evolving at a pace that’s dizzying, while robots seem to be taking longer and longer and longer. The first commercial robot, of course, or that I can think of, is the Roomba. Again, it zips around, and that was years ago, and yet, you don’t have kind of the equivalent going around washing your windows or anything like that.
I’m bulling on robots, but I wouldn’t expect anything to happen … I certainly wouldn’t worry about … I don’t worry about unemployment for automation the way other people do. Because what I had noticed is that with these technologies, we always employ them, we always use, humans use technology to increase the productivity, and therefore their wages. That’s how come we can have constant innovation in this country while we have rising income over the long period of time.
Unemployment in the United States is four to nine percent, always, take the Depression out, which was, it’s an anomalist event, but four to nine percent, four to ten percent, unemployment always is in there, even though along the way we electrify industry and invent machinery and harness steam power, and four to nine percent, four to nine percent, four to nine percent over and over.
Self-driving cars, that being said, self-driving cars, that’s one of those things where the technology is largely there. Like you could have them but regula- … Like socially and from a regulatory basis … If a person crashes a car once every 100,000 times they drive, I don’t know the number, don’t hold me to that, and a self-driving car does it once every million times, people are still going to perceive the self-driving car as worse.
Byron Reese: They have all of that to overcome. I don’t feel like I can predict adoption of those because it isn’t a technical question, it’s a sociological move. You got to think about everybody’s who’s enacted, you have to think about this hybrid mix of self-driving, not self-driving, you have to think about different places. You might have municipalities outlaw cars, or drivers entirely within their city limits. I don’t know.
Interviewer: One other thing I saw you bring up is human immortality. I’d love to have a little, just a really brief insight into kind of how you see that unfolding and people living longer, because that’s just a fascinating topic because people, they all want to know like, “Are we going to start living to 90 or 100 or more as common in our own lifetime?” Is that’s something that’s going to be happening or unfolding?
Byron Reese: Yes. First of all, you won’t be immortal. You’ll probably be … Even if your body presumably could in theory be perpetuated indefinitely, you’ll only live to about 6,700 because that’s how long it will take for some freakish like Wile E. Coyote, piano falling off the top of a building onto you thing to happen. Like you will still be mortal in the sense that eventually, something catastrophic will happen, maybe comically catastrophic-
Interviewer: 6,700, that’s a long … Compared to where we think now-
Byron Reese: Yes. No, no, no. I’m not … Let me back up and answer that, not in isolation. We know technology, and technology is stuff that we use to multiply what we’re able to do. Technology, like I said a minute ago, it grows at this rate, this exponential rate. What the implication of that is, if you think about it, is that all technical problems we’re going to solve. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of things in life that aren’t technical problems. Hatred and envy and all of that aren’t technical problems. In the end, the great challenge for us is to be better people, and technology answered that a little, lets the steam off, but it doesn’t really. The good news is that anything that is purely a technical problem, purely technical, almost by definition has a technical solution.
Given that technology doubles and doubles and doubles and doubles and doubles, we will see the technological solutions to these questions. Some things are obvious, like disease, that’s a technical problem. Like you don’t have to have disease, it’s a technological problem, and so you will most likely live to see the end of disease because our technology grows faster than the intelligence of the pathogen. The question then becomes is mortality, is human mortality a technical problem? Do you have to die? I don’t think so. I think you only age for four reasons, and they all appear to be technical problems. There’s not reason that they can’t be solved.
As Aubrey de Gray, the researcher in this, points out, all you have to do is get to a point, what he calls Escape Velocity, where you are extending life expectancy more than a year every year. Once you get into that, if you extend life expectancy 13 months every year, then as you’re getting older, the technology is staying ahead of you, and so that’s what I think will happen. Unfortunately, the downside of it is, all these technologies, when they come out, are available generally to the wealthy.
It’s always been the consolation of the poor that no matter how wealthy somebody is, you can eventually dance on their gravestone if you so desire to. If we ever become a society where there’s a group of rich people who live forever and everybody else, the rest of us have to die, that will be uncomfortable. The good news is, most all of these technologies, fall in price, they have every 80 years as well. Eventually, that happens. Aspirin eventually becomes essentially free. In 1899, I’m sure it was more …
Byron Reese: Exactly.
Interviewer: The last question I have for you is, I love your TEDx speech. I think it’s fantastic, and I’ll have it in the show notes for people. I just wanted you to talk about achieving greatness and what sabotages people from the research that you’ve done on it. Because I think it’s eye opening for people to have this realization and it’s something that I think people would find pretty interesting.
Byron Reese: That began, that talk came out of an exercise I had, which was, I wondered if they were best practices for having … Now there are these people who have enormous impacts on the world. I mean, you name your favorite. I mean all throughout history there are people who do something and it has an effect that we’re still feeling today, or they do something in their life and it affects a million people. There are those. I wanted to know, like was there something they knew that we didn’t know? Was there some practice that they were doing that we, that I didn’t know?
I just started finding these people and calling them or emailing them and asking if I could interview them. What I found was that they were, without a doubt, all people who were very relatable, very much had problems, and they didn’t any of them seem super human. That was a very empowering thing to me. If you listen to the talk there are a lot of examples in there, it goes into a lot more detail.
That’s the basic idea, is that the people that had these outcomes, the only one thing they all have in common is that they tried something, and they stuck with it. That was it if you think about it, that’s what they did. They did something small and they did something a little more, a little more, a little more, a little more, a little more, a little more, until one day we’re like, “Wow, that is a great person.” From their perspective, it was just a lot of hard work.
Interviewer: Taking action is the key in implementation.
Byron Reese: Absolutely. That was the conclusion of the talk is that in the end, if you want to be in that company, if you want to have that kind of impact on the world, you can do one of two things. You can be paralyzed by the enormity of that idea or you can just start, take the first step, and that’s what the talk is about.
Interviewer: That’s fantastic. How can people reach you, find out more about the things that you’re working on?
Byron Reese: I’m the easiest person in the world to find. My email address is ByronReese@gmail. I’m super easy to find. Go to ByronReese.com, it’s being revamped, and that’s where you’ll be able to find links to stuff I write and so forth.
Interviewer: Well thanks for coming on the show today. I’d like to thank everyone for joining us for another episode of “Executive Breakthroughs.” We’ll have all of Byron’s information in the show notes, and a lot of the things that we spoke about, so we will talk to you all later.
Byron Reese: Thank you so much for having me.
Interviewer: Yeah, I appreciate it.