Dec. 16, 2019

Robots, Science Fiction, and the Anthropological Imagination: a Guest Podcast TAL's Adam Gamwell on Trending in Education

Robots, Science Fiction, and the Anthropological Imagination: a Guest Podcast TAL's Adam Gamwell on Trending in Education
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Special guest podcast! - Adam Gamwell guests on Trending in Education with Mike Palmer.  

For this week’s extra, Mike is joined by Design  Anthropologist and Podcaster, Dr Adam Gamwell, to explore how robots,  science fiction, and anthropology are interrelated. In a free flowing  and imaginative conversation, we explore how the narratives and secular  myths of pop culture and our collective consciousness provide insights  into how we understand what it means to be human, how we engage with the  Other, and how we grapple to understand how new technologies are  driving profound changes to the world around us.

Listen in for an illuminating conversation. We hope you enjoy!

Catch more great episodes of Trending in Education over on Stitcher

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Robots, Science Fiction, and the Anthropological Imagination

Adam Gamwell:[00:00:00] Hey guys, Adam, here fromThis Anthro Life, I want to let you know that today's episode is brought to us byAnchoris the easiest way to make a podcast. Let me explain it's free. And they offer creation tools that allow you to record and edit your podcast right from your phone or your computer. So you don't have to use a bunch of complicated editing software and plugins and such.

Anchors got it all built in, which is great. They can add music, you can add sound effects. You can add multiple voices. You can have different segments of episodes. It's really easy and fun to use. I've been using it for a while now, on top of that, Anchor will distribute your podcast for you. So it can be heard on Spotify, Apple podcasts, and any of the other great platforms or people like to download and listen to voices. What’s super cool is that you can make money from your podcast with no required minimum listenership. Now think about that. That's a very important thing for democratizing podcasting and helping the little guy and little gal, make a little money on the side and find some extra support for their podcast.

So it's everything you need to make a podcast in one place. So download the free anchor app or go toanchor.fmto get started.

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Mike Palmer:[00:02:07] Welcome back toTrending in Education.Mike Palmerhere for a special anthropological  episode of training and education where we're joined byDr. Adam Gamwell, who is host ofThis Anthro Life. Which is a really interesting podcast that I've listened to on a handful of occasions and I'd recommend it to our listeners.

And Adam's got a really wonderful cross section of experiences that I think he can bring to bear. And in particular, we want to talk about robots, the future of work, Anthropology, and science fiction. So, uh, quite a lot to cover and Adam, welcome to the show. 

Adam Gamwell:[00:02:54] Yeah. Mike, thanks for having me. It's a great honor to be here. I love Trending in Education so it's fun to kind of have a cross sectional episode two together. 

Mike Palmer:[00:03:01] Absolutely. And, uh, and then speaking of cross sections and sort of diverse interests I wanted to begin by talking to you a little bit about yourself and what you do, uh, and the concept of design anthropologist, design anthropology, isn't necessarily something that everybody's fully aware of but I'd love you to maybe in your own words, give us a quick summary of who you are and what you do professionally. 

Adam Gamwell:[00:03:35] Yeah, sure. Yeah, so I do kind of an interesting mix of things I suppose or interesting to me. But so I kind of count myself  as a designer, an anthropologist. What that means is an anthropologist is somebody that studies, you know, the remarkable complexity of human cultures across time and space.

Which sounds fantastic anyway, doesn't it. But the idea of just studying like the change over time of how cultures and languages shift, um, and that can be, you know, as people move from one state to another, or it could be across time as you know, you may speak differently as a child than as an adult.

And then of course, as you pass those down across generations, right? So studying trends and patterns of behavior and attitudes and beliefs and then the design angle comes in because to me it's interesting about design. Yeah, It is about making sort of complex information understandable and simple.

Well, if I find two people, that's when you put these two things together, it's like, we better understand ourselves as humans. You know, why we change over time? Why we use interfaces like we do on computers. Why do we read signage the way where you sign? Like, why is it a stop sign red and a certain shape?

And so all sorts of things like our entire environment is designed in so many ways. And so this is kind of the intersection of putting these two pieces together, studying humans and change over time, as well as how we communicate who we are in that sense. And then also I'm a podcaster as you mentioned, and so to me too, that's just the other way of like, how do we communicate these remarkable findings?

You know, we're just a crazy species and there's so much to think about there, you know? And so I podcast, I also am a design educator. I teach design as well as in journalism programs in Boston, so kind of, so I don't know, I'm a freelance for lifer, or I guess, you know, both podcasting education anthropology.So just across all these things. And 

Mike Palmer:[00:05:14] So we like to talk about . Yeah. And we'd like to talk about multi potentialites and I would include you in that category, you know, someone who has a wide range of interests across multiple domains, and in really interesting intersections, you know, so, you were talking about the stop sign and I was thinking about the intersection that the stop sign was on so right away, you got me there.

But also design thinking is interesting and trying to help people think about their intentions when they design things and trying to understand who they're being designed for and wait for it here it comes. And that brings me to the topic of robots, cause robots have to be designed, right? And then when they're designed, they're gonna need to interact with humans in new and interesting ways. And I think that was what got us, maybe on this path to getting you on the show, was that we shared a love of robots and talking about how robots make us think about what it means to be human.

And then that got me and us thinking about how anthropology intersects with science fiction. And that's a lot right there. I mean, that's going to be a wonderful show and that's the show fortunately enough that we're about to have together. So any thoughts on that? I don't know where you want to start.

Do you wanna start with robots? Do you want us, you know, there's plenty of range. You're an experienced podcaster. So I'll pick up what you're putting down. Where do you want to go next? 

Adam Gamwell:[00:06:57] Cool. You know, I mean, what really was interesting to me about this entire intersection is this idea that like, so if people don't really know what anthropology is, I don't wanna spend too much time on it, but point out that anthropology is a social science, which means that we study with animals and  amongst humans in this case, the social systems of people. And we also, the science side of that and putting it in, you probably can't see this. If you're listening to it, the science side of this is that we of course use evidence, right?

We like to do what we might call the test. You know, it's not a repeatable hypothesis, hypothesis experiment, but we are going to say, we think people act a certain way in this environment or just go out and see how do people act at the stop sign at the intersection. And so we collect data by talking with people by observing them.

And so then we can derive theories of why people do what they do, you know, from that was super interesting about that with science fiction. Of course now fiction is fiction, it's made up right. However, the science side of both of those is really interesting because science, like sci fi. I'm a huge SciFinder, a big Star Wars nerd.

I'm gonna put that out there. I do that Star Trek too, but I'm a Doctor Who, Whovian I guess, we're called. And Star Warsian, I guess. So that's kind of my entree to these fields where like both of these shows and Star Trek too, and like any your favorite thing, The Matrix Ex Machina, you know, the Terminator and all of these kinds of sci fi films raise these really interesting questions about what it means to be human. And so like for me as an anthropologist, it's like, what kind of patterns of behavior do we observe? Like what do these films tell us about what we think about what it means to be you. Right? And then robots in real life. Yeah. It was this moment of saying, wait, okay, we're actually making this stuff now.

We're making these pieces. We're not, we're trying to like make some of the scifi real. And then at the same time, we're just going in ways that scifi doesn't go. And I think that's really fascinating too. You're like these different kinds of pieces that we can you know, put together here.

Yeah for me, I don't know. Like sci fi always was so interesting because it's, you know, this genre of writing and now, you know, film and audio and podcasts and stuff, and that, um, really helps us speculate on what the future could be. You know, what might it be like if robots take over, what might it be like if this thing happens or there's other ways of thinking about if an idea mutates, like if aliens came down and like, how would we deal with that? You know? And so I love the breadth that scifi lets us really kind of think about what it could be, you know, what life could be like, or would it be like if something radically was different.

Mike Palmer:[00:09:18] Yeah. It, you know, it's really interesting that was wonderful by the way. But it's really interesting to think about how, for me, a lot of future thinking, cause that's a big part of what we wound up doing on this show is tied to thought experiments and allegories. And, frequently when you're thinking about a hypothetical future.

That's a bit of a thought experiment and that's the type of thing that, you know, philosophers, ethicists spend a lot of time in, and it was interesting as I did research for this show to see that the whole concept of anticipatory anthropology and what was the other term? It was a good one.

Adam Gamwell:[00:10:00] speculative anthro. 

Mike Palmer:[00:10:02] Yeah. Yeah. Speculative anthropology,anthropological science fictionis some, there's an entry in Wikipedia for that, and then alsocyborg anthropology, which we're going to have to save some of that for later. But that's certainly interesting. So, in addition to philosophy as an area that is very interested in the future and hypothetical scenarios, I did think the allegorical nature of science fiction as it relates to engaging with the other and engaging with different cultures, you know, whether it's aliens or robots, something that is not as inherently human as we are.

In some ways I think that hearkens back to the earlier days of cultural anthropology, You know,Margaret Meadin the South Pacific and, and other sorts of investigations like that, which also made me think about, Star Trek, even though I know you're a Star Warsian, you're fluent in, in things Star Trek  but there was the notion of theprime directive. And as the enterprise went out there, there was almost an ethnographic orientation towards the different cultures that would be encountered, any thoughts, on this line of thinking. 

Adam Gamwell:[00:11:29] Yeah, totally. So, I mean, I think that's actually a great way to think about it. It's like ethnography of course, right is the, in anthropology study of different groups of people, like kind of with the intention of understanding in their own logic, in their own words, in their own ways, rather than us coming and saying, hey, this is how we see you. It's more like, how do you see yourselves, is the ultimate goal?

How well Star Trek or anthropologists do that is, is always up for question, which is important to always kind of be critical of our own practices. I think that that's totally right. And I think that idea is so interesting too. And like even, you know, and as you mentioned, Margaret Mead and, andFranz Boas, some of the progenitors of anthropology in the early 20th century know yeah.

Their ideas where to go study other cultures, that we're not, you know, Western European or American cultures, partially in a way to then say, we actually do want it to say that these other cultures are valuable in the contemporary society and that they have a place. And again, this was fighting against a lot of racism and colonialism saying like, these people are not worthwhile because they're not like, you know, Supreme Western, European or Americans. And it's so interesting too because that is tied to this notion you said of the other, right. And the idea of like going to see what the other is in this you know, again, and I like that bad sense, racist sense, colonial sense, the less than human. But again, that allegorical  idea does totally come in the scifi world.

Aliens are the ultimate other, right? They're not human. Right. I mean, the fact that we have the term alien for migrants across the planet tells you something very interesting. Anthropologically and also kind of scifi too. It's like, as if they like, you know, speeding down a ship to a different part of the planet, you know, it's weird.

But scifi is so interesting because of that. It's like, it deals with that otherness. Right. And so that's such a good doorway to ask ourselves, like, so. why are we obsessed with the other? We are fascinated by that, which we don't totally understand. And we're both horrified and really drawn to it. You know, that's why robots are so interesting because it's like, robots are not humans, you know, we're trying to make them human and we can talk about anthropomorphizing them. They can look like people, but we're totally drawn into this otherness. Right.

Mike Palmer:[00:13:36] Right, Sure. And that got me to this notion of anticipatory or speculative anthropology and the idea that, as I looked a little, yeah, but there are folks who anthropologists see what I've said.

One of the problems in the field is that it winds up being too backwards facing. So like look at the historical precedents that lead to what currently exists. And for that to be the entirety of the spheres within which anthropologists operate is somewhat limiting. And it's not necessarily trying to anticipate or speculate on where we're heading as humans.

I'd love to get your perspective on that, even in your own practice. You know, in some ways maybe the design thinking is helping you be at least a little more anticipatory, in that, like when you're putting something out in the world, you're expecting it to be engaged with in a more practical way.

But any thoughts on like the more speculative or like, how do you look, say 5 to 10 years out in the future as an anthropologist. And how does that come to bear on anything we might be interested on this show. 

Adam Gamwell:[00:14:58] Yeah, totally I mean, you know,  it's kinda funny cause anthropology has a PR problem, right. That we like, you hear it like, Oh yeah, you study ancient peoples. And it's like, well, some of us do. So it's like that it's not incorrect, but you're right. It's like were not really known for being forward thinking and part of it too is again, cause like as one level of science, in the way the anthropologists are trained is to like, you know, again, through observation, through interviews, through living with people, you gather evidence about what patterns of behavior people do and why not get a sense of why they do what they do in people's own cultural logic.

And so then it's what we might call diagnostic. Right? It's like understanding or diagnosing a current situation. Right. But then you're totally right. There is this anticipatory movement or like, how do we predict what might happen next? And anthropology is totally in a great spot to do that, you know?

And I think that's also, again, for me, like as a design anthropologist, as a design thinker, this is one great way of doing that because one of the main differences is like traditional anthropology would go out and study a different group of people in a different culture, or even in the wrong culture.

And then, you know, come back and write the book about it. Right. You know, kind of make information available to a different group about this other group. Now what design does also is it actually works today, actively intervene in a current situation, right. To help improve the future. Right. So on one level it is inherently predictive.It's also interventionists, I think is an important piece too. Right? 

So it's like, how do we sort of ethically find a way to intervene in people's lives? And part of that, I think the anthropology part is important because what it does is let us understand alongside you. Let us talk with you, let us get to know what you're going through and then we can help diagnose an issue together to then solve for something for the future. Right. And so part of being anticipatory is like, there's an anthropologist namedTim Ingold,  that talks about having foresight. The idea with this is to be anticipatory is to kind of go out and run ahead of events and pull them along the timeline to where you want them to go, which I think is a really beautiful kind of allegory. And so it's just kind of like being attentive to what, what are people's goals instead of just saying where you come from, it's kind of saying, where do you want to go?

What do you see happening in 5 to 10 years? And like the more time you spend with people, you can ask more questions about their anticipations, of what they're looking for. And you can see, I mean, you know, contemporary we're in 2019 in the United States, there's a lot of anxiety over political challenges right now.

There's global challenges happening in multiple countries. There's issues of climate. You know, it's not hard to see how people are thinking about the future and these very broad strokes. And so then perhaps some of those, and then kind of run ahead with people and say, where do you think we're going with those?

You know, in design sense, then it's like, how do we then pull that to a practical level of saying, okay, what steps can we take to make some change possible? Right, 

Mike Palmer:[00:17:36] Right, right. And to that end, let's talk robots. Right. So if we're looking ahead, let's say the next 5 to 10 years, pretty much anyone who's doing that is thinking about automation is thinking about skills and domains that are going to be disrupted by what's been called the fourth industrial revolution or the fourth wave industrial revolution, which is really fully leveraging some of the emerging capabilities around, artificial intelligence, machine learning and robots.

And, I'd love to get your perspective on that as an anthropologist, as a design anthropologist and someone who thinks about the future. I also think it's an interesting time to think about how much of this is really allegorical is more like a secular myth which is something we were talking about coming in, we're less, particularly, you know, post enlightenment, scientific revolution, in some ways the gods are less part of our secular narrative, but there are still places where we want to sort of grapple with what might be superhuman or sort of beyond our current conceptions of what's possible. And I think that's frequently where we sort of, we use these constructs like robots and aliens to sort of both identify the other, but identify something that might be godlike or beyond us, which also starts to get us into the cyborg side. So, uh, so thoughts on this? 

Adam Gamwell:[00:19:31] Yeah, that's good. Actually cyborg is actually a really good way to start thinking about this. So like the idea of cyborg anthropology in cyborgs themselves, right, is it's actually a cyborg is a being that has both organic and inorganic components. And so it's like cyborg anthropology almost as kind of a joke.

If you think about it because it means I have a cell phone it is kind of like, that's a way of thinking about, it's actuallyAmber Casethat does a really wonderfulTed Talkabout cyborg anthropology. And then she kind of points us. Like I'm going to show you a picture of a cyborg, just, just to get this warmed up.

And she turns the slide on it is a picture of a baby holding a cell phone, you know, and it's like this funny idea that like, Oh, that's when it comes down to it. That's what really, what we're talking about. Like the idea of how we sort of interface with, nonorganic components and certainly with electronic ones like this.

And so on one level, like all of us are cyborgs now. Right? We have all become cyborguised or whatever. We are a cyborgian, and it's just this idea likeDonna Harawayis an anthropologist, talks about us being misnamed. And like, that is like, we're just like this messy middle where it's like we interact with these organic and nonorganic devices all the time.

And that we live our lives, we make our meaning using them. Right. We have Twitter and we have our cell phones and we're talking on a podcast right now across time and space. You know? And so given that like on one level, like we are super used to like working with this kind of level of technology.

Right? So on one level, like we can't actually not be cyborgs, right? Like we have to relearn how to be humans without having this technology. And so it's interesting, isn't it robots add this extra layer of anxiety and excitement. Right. And I think godlike powers are an interesting way of thinking about that.

Like the number one easy way to think about God power is you don't have to sleep. Right. Right we tend to think about God as like, you know, certainly in the United States and in Western Europe and stuff, that God is like the dominant religion is monotheism maybe Atheism is taking over. But by and large is that there's like one single, like mega God.

I know. Right but if you go toDragon Ball Z, are you going to any other places there's a Pantheon, even like the ancient Greek gods. And this is what the historianYuval Noah Hararitalks about. AndHomo Deus,he wrote the bookSapiens, but you know, they're really cool trilogy of books about where humans came from, where we're going, and where we might be today.

And in this book, he talks about  the human quest for immortality and for happiness and for just making ourselves have God-like powers. But what really struck me about this when he's setting this up is that it isn't that we want to become this omnipotent. You know, monotheistic God, it's that we're actually taking on powers.

Like we might see with the South Asian or Hindu gods or Greek god, that we can travel really fast. So we can see really far away are we like something like a third site? You know? So it's not this everything, but it's like, we're getting these like upgrades, you know, you play any video game, it's like an RPG, right? You can level up your XP, add things to your stuff. You know, it's kinda like that. So it's an interesting amalgamation where it's not just this, block of like, we become God. Right But it's like this really interesting mix, like again, and that's a sign of being a cyborg is like, you can get a better cell phone. Alright, I leveled up. You know, my computer is fast. I leveled up. Right. Really interesting mix. 

Mike Palmer:[00:22:36] Yeah. Well, and the one we've talked about, particularly as it relates to cyborgs is a brain computer interfaces which isn't like, it's also science fiction is super interesting in terms of the narrative elements and the mythmaking where like I do think that is, I think we both have read a lot ofYuval Harari, so apologies for those you haven't, but it's really accessible. I would encourage you to check it out, particularlySapiens and Homo Deusis a nice view of the history of our species. And thenHomo Deusis a little more speculative about where we may be heading, but it's really interesting to think about the mythmaking and the narrative aspect of all of this and myths and the stories that cultures tell their members is a big part of anthropology.

And thinking about how the stories we tell and the stories were told about robots are frequently tied to media experiences. And we talked aboutWestworlda bunch when it was out there partly because I think it captures our imagination just in general, like the narrative itself.

And then partly because exploring those possible futures that may not be too far off frequently can help us understand how we want to get to those next phases. So  I liked the way you were talking about, being somewhat interventionists, you know, flouting the prime directive to say based on the possible future that I see on the horizon, I need to introduce things that might steer us in a different way. I'd love to get your take on those concepts and then maybe a touch a bit on theuncanny valleytoo. Cause that was another thing that we've both covered a few times on our independent shows and I'm trying to figure out as we talk about the intersection.

You know, there's a stop sign there, but there's also some discussion of the uncanny valley. So, uh, yeah, just pass the stop sign is exactly stop. There'd be dragons, cyborg. You may want to be able to pause for proceeding but you could maybe spend a few moments talking about what the uncanny valley is as you understand it and how it might relate to these narratives and how we think about what it means to be human. 

Adam Gamwell:[00:25:21] Yeah definitely cause the uncanny valley is really interesting, right? It's this, if we visualize a curve kind of like a pyramid for looking at a line graph and it kind of starts bottom in like on the very left side of this graph is like things that don't seem very human in this case. Right. And then the valley is when you kind of go up like robots look more and more and more human until you reach this point where it  looks so much like you, it just feels like an uncanny. It's like, this is uncomfortable because I can't distinguish myself, or like what the human is from the robot and then it kind of dips into super creepy. And so like, this is where it's like, we might talk about, if you've seenDoctor Whothat's okay. But there's like aDalekor looks like it looks like a small tank on wheels. Like, it looks nothing like a human, it looks like a stupid like gum ball with wheels that is not anywhere near the, uncanny valley. Like that's on like the far side of like, looks like a robot, you know, and that safely in robot territory and, you know, a lot of old school robots that we conceptualize, these big metal things, or on that side, but as we get closer, we move intoC-3POand then we can talked aboutDatabefore, too from Star Trek, who was actually just an actor painted with slightly gold skin, up until like, you might see if you sawEx Machinathat came out two years ago, with theAlicia Vikanderwas, was this robot that was just a human, but happens to also be a robot, you know, you can just tell, cause she doesn't have half of a head, you know, the other half is like clear.

Yeah, and so I was like getting into the space where you can't tell the difference between, you know, a human and a robot and part of this is interesting too, because this has a with what's called theTuring Test, which is like, can a computer trick you into thinking it's a person?

So there's these two pieces. Does it look like a human? And also can trick you into thinking it's a human? Which both are kind of scary ideas and that's where things like the human computer interface, like are way past the uncanny valley. Cause you can't even see the interface it's just in, you know, and then am I me?

Am I the interface? I don't know, right. From like, tank robot all the way to you are the computers. Right. And then that's really interesting, because it blends really quickly. Once you get over that hump of the valley. 

Am I a robot?

Mike Palmer:[00:27:28] yeah. Oh my God. Well, I don't know. If that's a good question. If you are, you're passing the Turing Test right now and somebody did some significant, programming on the other end. So hats off to them or not but the goal of that is it's hugely interesting to me in terms of how that coincides with the crisis of trust we're all facing nowadays where we're not clear what is true. And we're not clear on who am I actually engaging with at this point in time? And there's all this blurring of engaging with humans and engaging with smart agents who are human like. I always think about chatbots in that context and then frequently the chatbot handles the initial interaction.

And then if they need to bubble that up to sort of a human, because of an escalation of some kind, increasingly I think the design thinking is creating a system where the machines do the things that machines do best to preserve some space for the humans to do what humans do best. And interestingly, I think the human, particularly when humans engage with other humans, building trust, empathy, and a sense of a shared experience or shared meaning are the places that the Turing Test would argue that the robots will have trouble crossing that divide.

Like that's the valley, the valley beyond for those of us who are Westworld fans but I think that is that's very much, I think again, like an allegory for one of the most like, sort of fundamental like existential crises that I think we're facing right now and that all circles back to the concept of the singularity whichRay Kurzweilput out there, like the futurist is still around, but I believe, but was, yeah, it was putting out some of these ideas. I think singular, he even hasSingularity University, I think he founded it but he was talking about how humans and machines would be combined in what was then the distant future, what is now in the next, say 5 to 10 years, this idea that there is something distinctly human that is independent from the cell phone, the baby's holding that you were describing before, that that blending is likely to happen and it's happening already. And it's also happening at a time when we're not necessarily trusting technology.

I think it's hugely interesting. So, I'd love to get, and by the way, we could go on, clearly we could go on at length about this. It's been wonderful having you on but yeah I'd love to get your perspective on that. And then we'll probably try to wrap with any thoughts on how this might relate to learning, education at large, or teaching cause that is what the thrust of this show is about. But any thoughts on that? Like just the crisis of trust and the level to which we're sort of approaching this singularity moment when the sort of blends between humans and AI are gonna become more standard.

And then I think that does relate in part to the Turing Test too. Like the Turing test, I think in some ways was saying, Turing was speculating. That'd be difficult to create the sort of blends, but that was back in the 1950s, you know, we're almost 70 years beyond when he was speculating about this stuff.

You know, it seems like when it comes to chat from what I've read, like people are like, designers are already passing the Turing Test. So, um, any thoughts on that? 

Adam Gamwell:[00:31:49] Well, I think that that's a great, that chatbots are really interesting question. And I think about the idea of trust with AI and robots, because they're an example of people using texts to deceive.

I mean, like a chatbot helping you on a website is not deceiving you, but a chatbot in a textbook Twitter to so false information is used to deceive. And so I think part of the reason that we have this challenge of trust is because people are using people, not robots are using the technology to do different things, right?

Some are like, let me help you. Like, instead of looking at an FAQ list, just talk to the robot or let me put a bunch of bullshit, sorry, put a bunch of bad stuff on, Twitter, that kinda insights political anger. And so, it's interesting, the trust, we tend not to trust the technology, but it's actually the people behind it, which has an anthropologist again, it's this again, who's doing it.

It's one of the questions. So there always is a question of power. I have to just put a plug in there for power, but literally you have to plug in the power, but also just like, there's a power dynamics of who's controlling the information. Right. And so as we get to the singularity, I think part of the fear, same with automation and loss of jobs.

To jump over to that for a second is again, that's not being done because that's necessarily good for people it's being done because it's good for a business. Right. And while it does help turn out and we'll say more cars, or it can help. I don't know, I mean doing an AI color palette can help you pick the color palette for your website faster than the human could potentially, you know, right. There are these things that they can do, like quicker, but again, what is that good for? You know, is it, is it really on one level necessary to make color palettes faster? Maybe, maybe not. Is it necessary to make cars faster? Maybe, maybe not. So, the crisis of trust is interesting, cause like it gets placed on robots sometimes, and it certainly can be because why would you trust an algorithm?

Right. We also, literally can't ever see in the people that made it also can't see them, but different topic for a different episode.

Mike Palmer:[00:33:44] Right. And that's the vague paranoia or specific paranoia phase. 

Adam Gamwell:[00:33:50] Yeah. That's exactly right. But then the other side of it too, is that like, you know, who's, who's making these decisions and why, and that's why,Byron Reesejust came out with a book calledThe Fourth Agethat is about this idea of the fourth industrial revolution moving this turn into in that we're going to more automation and stuff.

And again it is advancing industry, but it's causing an existential crisis for a lot of people to the extent that all of us have to rethink what education means. Right. Do I need to keep going back to school? Do I need to keep learning new things? And the answer so far I'm seeing is yeah.

You know? Yeah. Like lifelong learning is now used to be a cool thing. And now it's like a requirement, which is both cool, but also just like, but again, what is that education for it? And again, like, it's kind of shifted this idea of like, if I am an auto factory worker that gets booted out because robots took over my job that I'm going to do a vocational training program. I'm probably not going to get a degree in philosophy. Right. So I think one of the things that we definitely want to be thinking about for education going forward is, Hey, I obviously want to advocate for having space for humanities and social sciences on top of my working with STEM, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

But then like, not reduce education to vocation and only, however, I think it's also important to help traditional universities that do STEM and humanities to also have vocational training. So it's like we really could learn to rethink all of these pieces together as we move into more automation, as we want to robot proof ourselves.

Because things like humanities and social sciences, anthropology, sociology do kind of, as you said, point out some of the key things that humans do, that robots don't do, right. That we relate to each other really well. We make meaning well together. We make really cool narratives. You know, we know how to bond.

You can be friends with the robot too, but, there's certain things that at least for now, right, are uniquely human and those ought to be both celebrated and in the age of automation, not diminished, I guess. And that I think that is actually a part of the work of education today. Right.

That's something we can design into our curriculum. It's like, well, you have to find ways to both celebrate and teach, I guess, as weird as it sounds like what it means to be human and like, and then it's okay. And then it's also valuable to society. It's not just, you know, can I go be a UX designer and make a hundred grand?

Or can I go be a podcast or, you know, become a cagillionaire  or like we all are, it's just more like, we actually need to on level, come back to the basics. It's like this is what it means to be a good human, right. You know, like the prime directive. Right. 

Do no harm and do well and like study and understand other people on their own terms. You know, it's like maybe Star Trek was right. 

Mike Palmer:[00:36:21] Yeah. And, Immanuel Kant, the Buddha and others, Jesus was onto some things too, you know what I mean? Like all that stuff, but it's really interesting. And maybe just to sort of conclude, like you were, you were talking a bit about, I think you were saying, like, future-proofing, your thinking about your own career prospects, and then also how we think about education.

I'd love to get your perspective on that. As we look at domains that are getting disrupted by automation and by robots and by many of the things we talked about on the show today, How do you think about the things that it makes sense to invest in even in terms of your own lifelong learning?

You know just to use you as an example, you're a trained anthropologist, you know you teach at universities, but you've also ramped up on the creative side. And you know, you operate a production studio among other things I'd love to maybe end maybe on a little bit more of a personal note in terms of how you think about the future and how you think about at least on a personal level how you'll stay future proof and relevant, but, but maybe trying to extrapolate that to any, any lessons or recommendations you might want to provide to our listeners around, how to really lean into the lifelong learning side of maybe the next 5 to 10 years.

Adam Gamwell:[00:38:00] Yeah. I mean, that's a, that's a great question. I mean, it's funny that this is an adage that I have heard from creatives, in that it's, you know, if you're looking at, for example, like what do, if you're looking for a job and user experience design and you look at like a bunch of descriptions of jobs and what they're looking for.

It's really funny because all of them say we want someone that's curious, and that is a very simple idea, but however it occurred to me again, like, I guess both as an anthropologists and someone that's read a bunch of job apps over the, over the years is that well, if they're saying that, that means they're not seeing it. And they also realize there's a value in that. And so I guess part of my thing is I just say yes, I think for myself too, it's like I think that was like a subtle way of me realizing that being curious is okay and important. Right? Like being interested in a lot of things is helpful. Like not that one has to be in order to be successful, but if you're interested in something, if you're interested in music or interior design or I don't know, stop sign design or ice cream flavors, whatever it is, it doesn't really matter. It's not being afraid to kind of follow your nose a little bit and say, I want to go a little bit down this rabbit hole and see what it is.

Right and oftentimes when you meet some level of resistance is usually when you can then understand, do I want to pursue or not, you know? And oftentimes it's worth dealing with some of that resistance. Right. I was told when I first started podcasting that it wasn't really worth my time.

And I guess the verdict is still out, but six years later, I love doing it, you know? And you know, here we are. So, it's like, I think part of it too, is like, I mean, follow your nose. If somebody that's kind of what I've been doing. And that's where it's like, you know, I began anthropology and then I started doing podcasting as a way  for me, bring anthropological thinking to different audiences. And also I'm a really slow reader and being a student is very frustrating. You have to read all the time, how do I get information easier to myself? Why don't I listen to it? 

Mike Palmer:[00:39:56] Right. Right. 

Adam Gamwell:[00:39:56] And so, I mean, that was part of, it was again, like I saw one of my own problems. How do I help solve that? Right. How do I help improve my future condition by doing something about it? That was, I guess I design thought my own podcasts back in the day, and I didn't realize that. 

Mike Palmer:[00:40:08] Wow. 

Adam Gamwell:[00:40:12] It’s like therapy. Then I guess part of that, and then just like what's interesting today is as I kind of joked before, when I started on my freelancer for life, and part of it, I think it's like, what's incredible about today is that you can make a living doing most anything.

And you know, I mean, you have to put hard work into it, but like, because we have the internet, because we have access to so much technology and communication technology and the logistics, like if you need to get something shipped to you, you can do that. Um, you have access toMOOCsonline education.

Right? You can kind of pursue most, anything. You know, this is of course in the utopian world, in which we don't have cultural constraints and parents saying get a real job. So there's that mix of these two things, I guess, but like part of it, I guess I stuck with it long enough.

And then my parents stopped asking what I was going to do with my life, because it started looking like I was doing something, you know? I guess it's a mix of those things. But I think for me, it's like just stay curious, you know, and like, it's worth the fight to keep trying to follow what you're, what you care about.

Right. I don't mean that in some, you know, some hippy dippy sense, but just like, you can actually make a living doing it. If you actually take the time to figure out what the industry looks like, what the space looks like, what people are, what problems do they face, right. Being anthropologists, you know?

Right, right. A 

Mike Palmer:[00:41:27] A little bit. Yeah. No, for sure. It made me think, the jury's out on whether I like the terms, but I like the idea of the distinction between the gig economy and the passion economy, which I've seen a little more lately, which is like pursue spaces where you can derive meaning and value in your life, and then sort of find the way to sort of generate income.

Out of that I think it's an interesting macro lesson. I think it can become challenging. Like you're not necessarily, you know, rather than pursuing extrinsic rewards, which generally, as we know from podcasting might include income. And then, and to your point, like I think frequently you can find I guess if you, if you sort of pursue more like where you find passion and meaning in your lives, and then you're ready to be flexible and entrepreneurial in that endeavor, there are plenty of ways to say relevant. I think increasingly they're going to involve making things and they're going to involve being a creative and maybe just the last, uh, piece, to bring you in on too, is like, can you talk a little bit about the production studio side of what you do?

Cause I think that that is interesting. Not every anthropologist is also doing the production stuff that you do. So I'd love to maybe close with that, just to kind of open up how people think about the quote unquote passion economy. 

Adam Gamwell:[00:43:04] Yeah, that's a great, that's a great question. I guess I run a production company calledMissing Link Studioshere in Boston and actually my business partner lives in Texas. So we're a distributed team but again, she and I are both passionate about making things, right. And so part of it, and she's also trained anthropologist, but she's worked in data science for years, and I am also trained anthropologist, but working on the design side.

So we found a kind of space in the middle where data and design come together. And that is the magic word of storytelling. And yeah, again, speaking of things that humans do well, it's one of the things that we have fundamentally, always done, right? We talked about myths and narratives across robots and education and the future.

And like, that's what we do. We tell stories as people, right? And so amazingly the studio is just the space in which we can both do things like the visual design or data design, but also help people tell stories. You know, we do podcast production as well. And so it's part of it is just like, what does it mean to give people the space for unfettered creativity, right.

And how do we help you? I want to tell the story either visually, or I don't know what I want to do. I have this thing I want to tell, I didn't want to get my brand up to date, or I just want to make those podcasts about X, Y, Z. You know, part of it is like, how do we design things that problem. Opening up the creative palette of audio and visual data.

And we have so many, like we have, our pallet is full right. Of these different kinds of mediums we could use. I mean, that's what the Missing Link is about. And so you know, we're just getting off the ground. So, you know, this is like if people have any questions or want to learn more about that, we'd love to hang out and talk with you. Yeah, that's really, that's just the dream it's like again, making is what it's about. I think you're absolutely right. Like we're at the point now where, since we have so many tools like you and I, we can podcast and like, you know, we're using distributed tools to do this also, so that people have access to these it means we can, we should make right. And people love making stuff. Right. So it's like, let's just, let's put some guardrails in the bowling alley to make it sound good and look good. That's what our training is for and then I mean, that's the dream, I guess. 

Mike Palmer:[00:44:58] Awesome. Dr. Adam Gamwell thanks for joining us. We made something, we made a podcast.

Adam Gamwell:[00:45:06] We did.

Mike Palmer:[00:45:06] Awesome. So thanks again to Adam. If you want to track him down, it's This Anthro Life,thisanthrolife.comalsoMissing Link Studios. You can find a link to it from This Anthro Life. And I think you can also trackAdam on Twitter, find them through whatever ways in which you track people. And I look forward to staying in touch as a fun conversation. Thanks for joining. 

Adam Gamwell:[00:45:31] Thanks for doing this. It was great. 

Mike Palmer:[00:45:32] Awesome. And to our listeners. Thanks again for listening and we'll be back again soon.