from the world's big
Before You Start a Project, Do Your Best to Kill It
Astro Teller's innovation tip? Fail fast. Here's how he cultivates and rewards intellectually honest failures, and helps his team get comfortable with the idea.
Hertz Fellow Astro Teller is now the Captain of Moonshots (aka CEO) at X, formerly Google X, where he oversees X's moonshot factory for building magical, audacious ideas that through science and technology can be brought to reality. Additionally, Astro is co-founder and director of Cerebellum Capital, Inc, a hedge fund management firm whose investments are continuously designed, executed, and improved by a software system based on techniques from statistical machine learning.
Previously, Astro was the co-founder and CEO of BodyMedia, Inc, a leading wearable body monitoring company that was sold to Jawbone in 2013. Prior to starting BodyMedia, Dr. Teller was co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Sandbox Advanced Development, an advanced development technology company. Before his tenure as a business executive, Dr. Teller taught at Stanford University and was an engineer and researcher for Phoenix Laser Technologies, Stanford's Center for Integrated Systems, and The Carnegie Group Incorporated.
As a respected scientist and seasoned entrepreneur, Teller has successfully created and grown five companies and holds numerous U.S. patents related to his work in hardware and software technology. Dr. Teller's work in science, literature, art, and business has appeared in international media from the New York Times to CNN to NPR's All Things Considered. Teller regularly gives invited talks for national and international technology, government, and business forums on the subject of the future of intelligent technology.
In addition, Astro is a writer. In 1997 Random House published his first fiction novel, Exegesis, which went on to critical acclaim and publication around the world in many other languages. He has since published a second novel, sold a movie to Paramount, placed many op-ed pieces and journal articles, and his third book, this one a non-fiction work called Sacred Cows about our society's confusions about marriage and divorce, was published in July of 2014.
For his undergrad work, Dr. Teller received a BS in computer science from Stanford University, and continued at Stanford to obtain an MS in symbolic and heuristic computation. Afterwards, Teller matriculated into Carnegie Mellon University, with the support of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation Fellowship to pursue a PhD in artificial intelligence.
Astro Teller: Failure, seen properly, is just a recognition of fast learning. So I have training wheels, which I try to put on this concept within X, to try to help everyone get comfortable with the idea. Here's an example. You're working on a project. It either has an Achilles’ heel or it doesn't. Would we like to discover that Achilles’ heel, if it exists, now or later? If you say later you've just signed up to be intellectually dishonest. You're not really going to sign up for that. As soon as you acknowledge that should it have an Achilles’ heel we'd like to know about that now rather than later, then it becomes the right way for us to behave – to check to see if it has an Achilles’ heel now, right now. If it has the Achilles’ heel we'll end the project and we'll go find something better to do. And if it doesn't have an Achilles’ heel we can move forward with that increased level of excitement and certainty that we're on the right track.
Let's pretend that you are setting out to make a time machine at X and you have two choices. One, to cause a pebble or a mouse to move backwards one minute in time to actually cause some small amount of time travel, or to design the user interface for the cockpit of the time machine. I think we can all agree in this particular example that working on the user interface for the cockpit, once you get it done it will look like you've made progress but you haven't you've made motion. We can all sit there, look at your cockpit and say the chances that we succeed are exactly the same as they were before. We've not actually made any progress because all of the risk was on the part you chose not to do. What you should have done first was the other one.
Our shorthand for this at X is we joke #MonkeyFirst. Similar to the time machine, if you're trying to get a monkey to stand on a pedestal ten feet high and recite Shakespeare monologues and you have a choice between training the monkey first and building the pedestal, if you build the pedestal first when your boss walks by he's like, “Hey nice pedestal!” And then you feel good. You just did something useful, you just got a little bit of attaboy. That's why people do that. But you've utterly wasted your company's money if you build the pedestal first because all of the hard part is getting the monkey to recite Shakespeare. If you can get the monkey to recite Shakespeare we can always build the pedestal afterwards. But if you can't, thank goodness we didn't spend a moment or a penny building what turned out to be a useless pedestal.
Now, in order to get a culture at X to do that we need to reward people when they do it. So when someone raises their hand and says, “My project looks really good but I've discovered I don't think it's going to work out because of this subtle but important issue,” and those ten people now need to find a new jobs. If we say, “Sucks to be you,” no one at X will ever again raise their hand and say that. But if we say to them, “Hey, that was awesome. What incredible intellectual honesty you just displayed and good critical thinking to have discovered this. We're going to work super hard to find all of you new jobs somewhere at X or at Alphabet. We're going to give you all bonuses for having ended your project so thoughtfully. Take long vacations and then when you're done come back and join another project here and get going again with extra levels of passion because you're now working on something that you don't secretly know is going to fail at some point in the future, which is how you would have felt if you had stuck on your old project.”
People are sad when they have to end their projects. They don't end of their projects lightly. But because they've come to understand that ending their project is just being intellectually honest, it's driving for high efficiency, which is why we use the word factory and tie it to moonshots because we're trying to systematize innovation. We're trying to drive to high efficiency innovation. And that can best be done by being honest when you're on the wrong track. And that is failing fast.
Astro Teller is a Hertz Foundation Fellow and recipient of the prestigious Hertz Foundation Grant for graduate study in the applications of the physical, biological and engineering sciences. Teller is now the CEO, aka ‘Captain of Moonshots’, at the innovation factory simply called X (formerly Google X). In this video, he illuminates a critical difference: when undertaking a project, do you want to feel you’ve accomplished something, or do you actuallywant to accomplish it? With the support of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, he pursued a PhD in artificial intelligence at Carnegie Mellon University.
The Hertz Foundation mission is to provide unique financial and fellowship support to the nation's most remarkable PhD students in the hard sciences. Hertz Fellowships are among the most prestigious in the world, and the foundation has invested over $200 million in Hertz Fellows since 1963 (present value) and supported over 1,100 brilliant and creative young scientists, who have gone on to become Nobel laureates, high-ranking military personnel, astronauts, inventors, Silicon Valley leaders, and tenured university professors. For more information, visit hertzfoundation.org.
Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.
A time for sleep<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="Mt29uUqI" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="931343dee3c02121445e51e94ba22446"> <div id="botr_Mt29uUqI_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Mt29uUqI-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/Mt29uUqI-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Mt29uUqI-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Previous studies had already suggested a link between persistent nightmares in childhood and psychosis and borderline personality disorder (BPD) by adolescence, but researchers at the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology wanted to see if a similar connection existed between these mental disorders and other childhood behavioral sleep problems.</p><p>To do this, they scoured data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a longitudinal cohort study that followed approximately 14,000 children born in Avon, England, in the early 1990s. The study followed the children for more than 13 years. During that time, mothers filled out questionnaires asking about the children's lives. Factors looked at included housing, parenting, nutrition, physical health, mental wellbeing, environmental exposures, and so on. </p><p>The cohort study inquired about sleep routines, sleep duration, and awakening frequency when the children were 6, 18, and 30 months old, and then again at 3.5, 4.8, and 5.8 years. It also assessed mental health in adolescence using semi-structured interviews, such as the Psychosis-Like Symptom Interview.</p><p>"We know that adolescence is a key developmental period to study the onset of many mental disorders, including psychosis or BPD. This is because of particular brain and hormonal changes which occur at this stage," <a href="https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/psychology/marwaha-steven.aspx" target="_blank">Steven Marwaha</a>, professor of psychiatry at Birmingham and senior author on the study, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200701125431.htm" target="_blank">said in a release</a>. "Sleep may be one of the most important underlying factors—and it's one that we can influence with effective, early interventions, so it's important that we understand these links."</p><p>After compiling the data, the researchers discovered an association between children with irregular sleeping patterns and teenagers with <a href="https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/psychosis/about-psychosis/" target="_blank">psychotic experiences</a>—that is, episodes when the person perceives reality differently than those around them. Even when depression at 10 years old was considered as a mediating factor, their findings still suggested "a specific pathway between these childhood sleep problems and adolescent psychotic experiences." </p><p>Toddlers with shorter nighttime sleep duration and late bedtimes were likewise associated with a <a href="https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml" target="_blank">borderline personality disorder</a>—a disorder marked by a pattern of varying moods, self-images, and behaviors—in their teenage years. Depression at age 10 did not mediate this particular association, suggesting a separate and more specific pathway. </p>
A more restful tomorrow<p>While the sample size was large and mental health was assessed with a validated interview, there nevertheless remain limitations to this data. For starters, sleep habits were based on mothers' reports. Because they came from memory, versus a more direct observation method such as actigraphy, these data may be prone to imperfect recollection and reporting error. There are also many confounders that could be secretly nudging the results, such as family conditions, prenatal medicines, and a host of environmental factors. Finally, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6024884/#:~:text=Sleep%20difficulties%20in%20youth%20with,fear%20of%20dark%20%5B13%5D." target="_blank">the relationship between sleep problems and mental disorders</a> is both complex and two-way.</p><p>As such, the study shows an association between poor childhood sleep later mental disorders but does not prove a causal link. Parents need not worry that a string of nightmares or the eternal struggle settle into bed will be the first ingredients in a witches' brew of debilitating mental disorders. The goal of the study, the researchers point out, is not to create undue worry but improve our ability to recognize the signs of at-risk children and deliver necessary interventions earlier.</p><p>"The results of this study could have important implications for helping practitioners identify children who might be at higher risk for psychotic experiences or BPD symptoms in adolescence, and potentially lead to the design of more effectively targeted sleep or psychological interventions to prevent the onset or attenuate these mental disorders," Isabel Morales-Muñoz, the study's lead researcher, <a href="https://www.healio.com/news/psychiatry/20200702/childhood-sleep-problems-linked-to-adolescent-psychosis-borderline-personality-disorder#:~:text=Sleep%20problems%20during%20early%20childhood,study%20published%20in%20JAMA%20Psychiatry." target="_blank">told Healio Psychiatry</a><u>.</u></p><p>If a parent reading this is worried that their child's sleep patterns are deleterious, the take away should not be despair over an unyielding fate. It should be to seek professional help as soon as possible to begin improving sleep duration and quality. Even if you aren't worried, it's worth remembering that childhood experiences lay the foundation for a lifetime of salubrious sleeping habits. It's so much more than beauty rest.</p>
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.