Life is too short to listen to a 3 hour conversation between the successful normal person Mark Zuckerberg and farcically neutral Joe Rogan, so I take a different approach: I scroll very quickly through an extremely long transcript and pick out nuggets more or less at random. Here’s what Zuckerberg thinks about different things.
(These quotes have been edited very lightly for clarity.)
Zuckerberg on symmetry
Part of what’s a little weird about it is that in some ways some of these experiences, I think, seem more realistic than, say, a Zoom call, right, where you can actually see the person’s face. Because I mean the way our memory works is very special. right So, you know, when I, when I leave here today, I’ll remember that you were against me and there’s a symmetry, right, it’s like you’re against me. So that means I’m against you. We have a shared memory of the kind of space, of the place.
I guess it doesn’t quite work because the headphones, but usually, you know, if I, if you’re talking, it’s coming from that direction, and spatial sound and kind of directional building of a spatial model of things is how we create memories. So you take something like Zoom and it just completely blows it up. Because now every date you have looks the same, right? No symmetry, right? So if you’re in the top left corner of my, on my box, square, that doesn’t mean I’m in the same place as you. So we don’t really have any shared spatial sense of it.
While I appreciate Zuckerberg’s attempt at an aesthetic (in a broader sense) argument regarding the sympathetic nature of shared memory formation, I feel that the interactions he describes are actually very asymmetrical in real life and Zoom actually creates a sort of supersymmetry contained within the flat display that doesn’t reflect the differences we would feel. If you and I are in the same room, what we see and hear from each other is really quite different, and we may remember it very differently.
It is true that a shared VR environment would create more of a sense of space shared by both participants, but I doubt that this environment would be more memory-friendly than a video call. Certainly the environments available on Meta’s VR platforms are incredibly generic.
Zuckerberg to improve art
So in a world, in the future, where you know, many of the things that might be physical today, I mean, maybe these, this kind of art and sculptures and things that you have here. Maybe in the future they’re not physical, maybe they’re just holograms because you can change them really easily. Maybe over time the ratio of the amount of physical stuff we interact with to the digital stuff changes and becomes more balanced or something.
Whereas historically everything has been physical and had very little kind of information or digital overlay on it… I think it’s probably going to be a lot healthier for us. Instead of consuming all this extra context through this tiny little portal that we carry everywhere on the phone, and you’re just looking at this and missing all the context. I think it should be overlayable and, you know, have people be able to go in and interact with them through it.
Tellingly, Zuckerberg thinks the problem with art today is that there isn’t enough virtual context overlaid directly on it and holographic docents offering you a virtual guided tour of the work. Of course, anything that gets people to engage more with art is probably a good thing, but you have to wonder if the solution is really an augmented reality headset you’re given when you enter the Louvre. Why physically go there or anywhere at all? I guess his whole company is an attempt to answer that question.
Zuckerberg on the evolution of social media
The Holy Grail is building something that can create a sense of human presence. right It’s like I’ve spent the last almost 20 years of my life building social software, you know, making it so that whatever limited computing you have, you can share something about your experience. And it started mainly with text, right, when I was in college, then we all had these smartphones and cameras, so there was a lot of photography. Now mobile networks are good enough that more and more video is starting to happen. And for me, this kind of immersive experience is obviously going to be the next step.
The progression from text to image to video certainly suggests that something more “immersive” will be the next step, but that ignores the fact that all three of these formats work perfectly with a phone-type device, and the only difference between them is essentially bitrate. It is quantitative progression and Zuckerberg suggests that we are on the verge of a fundamental qualitative a change that disposes of everything people already value about the text, images, and videos they engage with (as humans have engaged with them for millennia) and replaces an expensive, invasive, and highly unfamiliar new method. I don’t think it follows.
Zuckerberg waking up
You wake up in the morning. Look at my phone to get a million messages… Usually not good, right? I mean, people save the nice things to tell me in person, right? But it’s like, well, what’s going on in the world that I have to pay attention to that day, so it’s almost like, every day you wake up and you’re like, punched in the stomach and it’s like, well, well, screw it .
I saw this quote picked up by someone earlier so it caught my attention. Of course, this is relative, although most of us don’t run a company going through PR crisis after PR crisis. What I wonder is how he wakes up every morning feeling like he’s been hit, A) when he’s rich and can do literally anything, but B) when he runs a company that touches so many people and provides so many opportunities for improve it somehow. Year after year, Facebook and other social platforms increase and generate controversy and extremism. You wake up every day and see the fruits of it, and your response is to reset yourself, not the system you created.
To be fair, that might be what he thinks about as he “resets” by going “surfing or foiling” at his family ranch on Kauai. Here, fouling means smoking crack, but he probably means sports.
Zuckerberg on angry platforms
One of the decisions that we’ve basically made is if somebody takes, if somebody gives an angry reaction, we don’t really even count that in terms of whether to show it to somebody else.
When I was making this decision internally, a bunch of teams were like, well, you know, there’s a lot of wrong in the world and people should be angry about it and things like that. Chances are…that’s fair. But I’m not here to design a service that makes people angry.
Facebook both promotes and profits from outrage and anger on a scale almost unprecedented in world history. I feel like the horse has left the barn here and Zuckerberg is here carefully oiling the lock pins.
Zuckerberg to debug the brain
And then you can use AI techniques over time to be able to extrapolate from what you’ve seen in very high resolution of the tissue that you’ve removed from the body to what you can now recover from, even though there’s like the optical and physical limits of what you can see with a microscope in the body, you can use all this data that’s generated in AI to be able to effectively see the interaction of different cells as if no one had ever seen a synapse, you know, a neuron, like fire, like, as it appears in the synapse of the brain before, like in a living organism.
But I kind of think that my engineering, my perspective on it is like, how are you going to debug a system or help solve it if you can’t go through the code, right, like one line at a time and like, look at everything that’s going on it happens If you want to really understand what’s going on in the brain, you have to see it, right?
This type of perspective is one of many valid, but sort of magisterial, non-overlapping views when it comes to the question of how to understand the brain. Obviously, psychologists and behaviorists focus on higher-level phenomena and don’t really care how many neurons of any kind are involved. Others see the potential for action and immediately interpret it as a code, since they are essentially binary (although they ultimately form an analog system). That Zuckerberg would take this view was a foregone conclusion.
The idea that the operations of the brain are a form of code and must be made understandable in order to be “debugged” is not necessarily harmful, although it is (like most mental models) somehow fundamentally reductive. But it has the potential to do harm if, as many in tech do, people prematurely claim to have the system figured out. Some of the worst treatments and rejected intellectual approaches to intelligence, consciousness, and perception come from people with little information and a big agenda.
Zuckerberg on his face
I mean… Obviously, Senate testimony isn’t exactly an environment that’s designed to emphasize the humanity of the subject. I do not know. If you stay up there for six or seven hours, you’ll make some meme-worthy face.
Fair enough, but we watched and he made that face almost the whole time.