Big Think Interview with Peter Sisson
Peter Sisson, CEO of Line2 (also known as Toktumi), is an entrepreneur and VoIP pioneer whose last company, Teleo, was acquired by Microsoft in 2005. He has been on the forefront of the Internet industry for 15 years, starting four companies and nurturing many others through advisory roles. He was named one of the top 10 “people to watch” by CNET, and won the Arthur Anderson Best Practices Award for Strategic Leadership with Wineshopper.com. He is a graduate of Dartmouth, Stanford and Cornell Universities.
Question: What’s the very first step to starting a company?
Peter Sisson: That's a great question. I think the first thing is, don't quit your day job until you've done real diligence on the idea. And what I mean by that is, really look at the market, look at where the market is headed, look at the trends, look at the competitive landscape, and try to play a few strategic moves into the future. So see, is this something that's ultimately going to be dominated by X big company or Y big company? That's not always a reason to say no, but it's certainly something you want to look at. And then make sure you have a business model and you know how you're going to make money. And then bounce it off a few smart people, but not too many; people you really trust but will be honest with you. If it passes all of those tests, then you should ignore everyone else that tells you it's a bad idea, because you will hear endlessly from people that are naysayers or don't understand it and haven't researched it as well as you have at that point, who all say no, that's not possible, and here's why. Part of being an entrepreneur is that as long as you've done that initial diligence and you've convinced a few smart people, and you all agree that this is an opportunity, then you've got to just believe that to the very end, because you will get a lot of days where you start to second-guess yourself and where people are telling you that it's not a good idea.
Now, I'll qualify that with they key to startup success, and why they succeed where big companies don't, is that they can turn on a dime. And the whole process is really about test and measure, test and measure, in a sense. There's the Facebooks of the world and there's the Googles, and they're these massive homeruns. And everyone thinks, “I just put up a Web site, and if I get lucky and do the right things it's going to take off.” But very few businesses are created that way, and you can count the major stars on two hands, and everybody else is working their ass off. Not that they don't work either, but it's a little easier for them. And so the trick is, you know, to once you've gotten past your own barriers of self-criticism to make sure that you know how that you believe it can succeed, then there's a whole series of steps that I could talk for two hours about. Bottom line is, you don't have to risk a lot of capital upfront to learn things. So the way we do it is -- and you don't have to get it right -- but you get it out there. Get something out there. If you sit and stew and try to make it perfect, and nothing ever gets out there, you can be too cautious. So the trick is, get it out there and then iterate. Get feedback from customers.
And that's what we've been doing. We got the first version of our product out in February of 2008, and we didn't do much to promote it. We got 50, 70 beta customers, and then we iterated on what they were telling us. What did they like about it? What didn't they like about it? What features were missing? What did they want to see? And we iterated for nine months until we were comfortable to actually start to put marketing money behind it. And there's a lot of learning that is -- you have to be receptive to. So it isn't really sort of this, you know, put it out there, build the field and they will come, which really has a whole other aspect to it. Once you've got the product right, the real challenge is attracting customers to it. It can be a fantastic, insanely great product, but if you can't get the word out and acquire customers cost-effectively so that you have a business model and can make money, it doesn't matter how nice a product it is.
Question: What’s the story of your career?
Peter Sisson: I have always wanted to start a business. I have always felt that running my own company was really the best place for me, the best home for me, for a lot of reasons which we can go into. And typically I'd look at different opportunities and see what could pan out. And the trick is to be very hard on yourself when you're first thinking of an idea, and talk to smart people to make sure that you kind of vet it out. Typically you want to solve a problem, right? And the problem I had was that I liked wine, but I would go into a wine store, and I had no idea which wine was good and which wasn't, which is still a problem today. So you could read Wine Spectator, other magazines, to learn about wine, but then you could never find the wines that they were talking about. So there was a mismatch between the ability to learn about a wine and then act on that information and make a purchase. WineShopper was my first company, which was a site that combined the ability to buy wine with the information, including ratings from Wine Spectator and wine enthusiasts and other agencies' reviews, community and all this. This was in 1999. It was a bubble company. It was funded by Kleiner Perkins and Amazon.com, raised $46 million and built a 200-employee company very quickly, and ultimately learned some painful lessons in terms of access to capital and how quickly that can dry up. The company was ultimately acquired by a competitor, and -- but that competitor did not survive. So that was my first sort of big venture kind of deal. Good experience, lots of learning, but nobody made any money.
I was pretty upset for a little while, and then I realized that you've just got to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. Entrepreneurship is really like sales in that you get a lot of discouragement along the way, and you have to be really strong and just keep going. So I just got right back up on the horse, started a company called Mixonic, which is now profitable and growing nicely, still private. I'm on the board. So that one's a wait and see, I'd say.
Then I started something called Teleo, which was a white-label version of Skype, if you know what Skype is; I think most people do now. And that was very lucky timing and was acquired by Microsoft within 18 months of its being founded. And I didn't want to work for Microsoft so I signed a noncompete, took a year off and traveled, and then started my latest venture, Line2, also known as Toktumi. But Line2 is really a solution for where business is headed today in terms of the way people work.
Question: What is the mission of Line2?
Peter Sisson: So if you think about land lines, more and more people are saying, why do I need a land line? They're getting rid of them. And they're sticking entirely to their mobile phone, and there are some problems with that because it doesn't always work in your home, and there's battery-life issues and stuff. But a lot of people are getting rid of land lines. We believe with Line2 the same thing is happening in the office environment, particularly small businesses. You don't really need an office where everyone has to drive their car in and park in order to be productive. You have all of this technology; you can use the Internet and communication technologies to be productive virtually.
So Line2 basically is a business line on your mobile phone. It's a second line, so you add a second line to your mobile phone -- that's why it's called Line2 -- that has all the features, ultimately, that that office phone had: transferring calls, setting up conferences and stuff like that. And so we just released it. It was approved by Apple in early September, and sales have been very strong. I think there's a lot of need for that, and ultimately, the problem we're solving is that people want to work and be productive, but they don't want or need an office, and they don't want to be tethered. Everyone's using WiFi; there's not even a jack into which to plug an office phone in most office environments, for new companies. So that's what we do. So the long answer to your question, to sort of give you a synopsis of each business, it's always about trying to solve a problem.
Question: How important is social media?
Peter Sisson: Very important. I was skeptical at first, and I still scratch my head about Twitter, but I now it's here to stay. You know, it's one of those things that it's a self-fulfilling -- it became popular because it became popular; I don't know how to describe it. But at any rate, the guy that does my marketing is religious about that. So for example, there are a lot of cool tricks. There's a lot of stuff that's important, and one of them is, you need to blog. And I was like, why do I need to blog? Part of it is, if you have constantly changing content on your Web site -- so the blog has to be on your Web site -- then search engines reward that. So like a news site or something, constantly changing content. So if you put up a Web site and do nothing with it, you'll slip down. If you keep changing the content and making that content relevant to the service that you offer and the types of customers you're trying to attract, you'll start to go up in natural search.
The other thing that you do is, once you blog a post -- this is where the social media comes in -- post a blog entry, then you Tweet it and you post it to LinkedIn, Facebook, everywhere, and to different groups. And then what happens is, this magic thing happens where it just reverberates through the Web. It's really fascinating. And so one blog post suddenly translates into multiple hits, and those hits are all then linking back to your blog post, and that means you're getting more links into your Web site, which, as you probably know in search engine optimization, that's another thing that's very important, is to generate links back to your site. So I was sort of dragged kicking and screaming, but now I’m a true believer. It really does work.
Question: How are you rising above the fold of competitors?
Peter Sisson: There's a lot of companies offering phone service, obviously, and you know, we are -- our differentiation is our focus. And I think this is an important lesson for all startups, is that we have a lot of people, because we only charge $14.95 a month, who ask us if they can hook up an ATA, which is what Vonage provides you, which is a little box that you plug your phone into. One end is Internet, the other end is the phone. They want an ATA. But I know from looking at Vonage and other companies that the biggest support expense for those companies is that ATA, because getting people to get under their desks and play with their routers and hook that thing up is a pain. And everyone practically needs a customer support person holding their hand through the process, so it's very expensive. And so we're like, yes, our customers -- there are customers that are trying to drag us in that direction, but we are razor-focused on our belief that the future is not about wired phones, that the future is about mobile and laptop calling. So it's like Skype and your mobile phone. So what does business phone service look like in a world of Skype and mobile phones? And that's what we're laser-focused on, and we're the only ones positioned that way. And by being that focused, it just makes everything better. One, you can communicate your position to the market in a much more laser-focused way so that you can actually stand out as a brand.
Question: Do you have plans to expand out of the SOHO market?
Peter Sisson: That's an interesting question because we are increasingly getting consumers who come to us, and so the Line2 app, as I talked about earlier -- particularly young people, they're like, a land line? Why? Why does it make sense for me to buy a phone wired to a wall? And particularly young people because they're moving from dorms and then apartments, and many apartments -- it just makes no sense, and you can't even use it most of the time because you're out and about and what have you. What's the point? People want to get rid of their land line. The problem is, some can't because either they don't have cell phone reception at home or, you know, they talk a lot and they don't want to wear down the battery. You know, there are all sorts of reasons. And so you can use Line2 -- the current version works over cellular, but the version coming out in a couple months will work over cellular or over WiFi, and that's going to be the first dual-mode thing on your iPhone, phone on the market in the U.S. So like Skype can only work over WiFi; it can't go over broadband. So bottom line is -- excuse me, it can't go over cellular; Skype only works over WiFi on the iPhone. So if you can, this now gives you a way to ditch your land line. So a long answer to your question, but you could use a Line2 number as your land line substitute. You can use it over WiFi when you're at home and you don't have cell phone reception.
You can use it as sort of a number you give out to everybody else, not the number -- your best friends have your cell phone number. But your bank people and credit card company statement. You know, anyone billing, anyone where they ask for your home phone number that you're doing business with or something, and you don't want to be bothered on your cell phone. You do that on your Line2 number, and then you have all these controls where you can say let certain people through, depending on the time of day, who they are, whether they're a friend, whether a business, different greetings depending on who they are. You can do all this stuff to sort of make it much more of a tool rather than a nuisance, which I think -- like my land line phone at home I never answer any more because it's all spam. It's -- even though I'm on the Do Not Call list and have been since they started it, people -- I don't know where they get my number, but every call I get is some kind of marketing call, so it's useless.
Question: What mistakes did you make with your first two ventures?
Peter Sisson: I mean, constant. That's how you learn, right? And what's nice about Silicon Valley is that it rewards that. Well, no, let me take that back. It doesn't reward that; it tolerates it more than a large enterprise, where mistakes can be career-ending in a really bad company where they -- you know, where it's a fear. Typically a corporation that's run on fear versus encouragement, and sticks rather than carrots, tends to be an environment where mistakes are not tolerated, and then no innovation happens. And so Silicon Valley is the opposite. It encourages you to take risks. Entrepreneurs are not rational business people. If you look at the risk and reward curves, we're way out here. We're taking a lot of risk in the hopes of a lot of reward, but it's not really rational. Actually, most business people are much closer to the origin there, where there's some risk and some reward, but not the kind of risks that entrepreneurs take.
The mistakes I've made in taking those risks have been numerous. WineShopper, obviously. We were burning $3 million a month before we even had customers. That was the dog food that everybody was eating back then, or the Kool-Aid that everybody was drinking was, you know, build these -- build it; it's a land grab. Everyone believed that the Internet was a land grab, and you had to build this thing. We build a 20,000-order-a-day pick/pack center to automatically fulfill wine and it was a thing of beauty. Built it from green field to full production in six months, had 15 bays for big UPS trucks to back up into. And it never got to ship much wine. Those assets were restarted by Kleiner in a new company called New Vine Logistics, which did ship wine in the back end for winery clubs and what have you. But it was never, never the opportunity that we all believed it would be.
You make hiring mistakes, you make strategic mistakes. I had an opportunity to merge with a company earlier in WineShopper's history that I did not pursue. Hindsight is 20/20. I should have pursued it. But each time you get smarter, and the other thing you learn to do is, you don't fret over your mistakes. You just instantly correct and move on. You make a bad hire, you've got to make the decision to say, listen, this isn't right; it's not working out. And you cut and run and you hire someone else. So as long as you can act decisively, you can undo the effects of bad decisions. But I think we all make bad decisions. The fact is, if you never made any bad decisions, you probably weren't taking any risks.
Question: What’s your advice for startups looking to raise capital?
Peter Sisson: Fund-raising is hard right now. Angels have -- their personal net worths have been depleted. In some cases not depleted, but certainly reduced to where they're less willing to take risks. Some VCs have had trouble closing new funds. The top VCs have money to spend, and there's plenty of money that's being spent and invested. The way I think of it is -- well, in terms of the stages, it almost always is going to be credit card debt and friends and family initially. It's very rare that you're going to go right out of whatever you idea is and pop into Kleiner Perkins and they're going to write you a check. You're going to have to prove something before you can typically raise money from a VC. And the four areas that they look at, there are four areas of risk. And investing is all about risk versus reward. They want as little risk for the most reward, so they're going to try and reduce that risk. There's management risk, market risk, financial risk, and technology risk. Management risk: if you've never run a company before, you'll do much better going in to pitch a VC if you've already got two or three seasoned people who have run the types of functions you need them to run and done it successfully on your team. So that reduces management risk: people in the company who've done it before. You don't have to do all four of these, but you have to, you know, typically hit, depending on the investing climate, two to four.
Market risk is, is there a market for your product? What's the competitive landscape? Is it a billion-dollar option? Because VCs typically want to see at least a billion-dollar adjustable market. That doesn't mean you can't start a company if it doesn't have an adjustable market of a billion dollars. It just means it's probably not a VC play. It's probably a different type of business. And you don't have to attract venture to build a great business, as many people know.
The third one was financial risk, which is, is there a business model? Can you actually make money? Is there a way for this business to sustain itself and be profitable?
And the fourth is technology risk, which, if your company involves some kind of new technology or new thing, have you built one and proven that it can be done? During the bubble days, like in 1998 and '99, when it was really crazy, you could probably only have to tick off one of those boxes to get VC funding. Now you probably need to tick off probably all four, maybe three. And you know, mitigating market risk means having paying customers, right? So that's not always the case. Certainly in the past few years there's been a rush of money sent into social media stuff, but the more that you can sort of address those four issues and do it in a very convincing way through data, through beta customers, through letters of intent -- whatever you can do to sort of increase the likelihood that you're going to be able to execute is going to improve your chances of getting funded.
Question: How do you make smart hiring decisions?
Peter Sisson: It's very hard. Hiring is the most important job of the CEO, and it's the hardest in many ways, because if you think about it, the screening process is broken, right? You get an e-mail and a résumé, and you're supposed to figure out who this person is. So clearly, the screening process means you're leaving some good people behind. If you can find someone who you're somehow connected with, that sort of is the pre-screen process, either through someone -- so that helps with the screening. You know, different people look for different things. Part of the reason I'm an entrepreneur is that I am not a political animal. I don't think I could ever succeed, quite frankly, in a big enterprise where, in my opinion -- and this may be unfair to people in big enterprises -- where half the battle of getting ahead is playing the political game correctly. It's not purely about the best ideas.
In a startup environment, you get a chance to see your ideas tried very quickly, and it's not about who you play golf with. When I'm hiring, I try to look for people who have succeeded in environments where politics probably wasn't part of their success. And there are ways to read that. You can read it in body language and in answers to certain questions. But I really try to wean out the political animals and focus on people who are really good, not just really politically savvy. And the other thing I do is, I think it's very important to ask them some questions that are more on the human side, not just -- you know, the work stuff is a given. Do they have the skills? You're going to get that out of the way pretty quickly. But then you've got a sort of, is this someone I want to work with? Is this someone I can trust? Is this someone who's a team player? And one of the things I did with my first company, actually, with WineShopper, was the condition of being hired was that everyone was going to make the same base salary, and it was going to be low. And you know, this was when, with Kleiner Perkins and Amazon backing us, there are a lot of people who were coming to us with dollar signs in their eyes. And I said, I want to wean out the people that are really passionate about this opportunity, so I'm going to only offer -- and these were people from big companies, seasoned people -- I'm going to only offer $130,000 in salary. I'll take that salary, and everyone will get the same salary. And for the first year everyone's going to get the same salary. And then after that it'll be more merit-based.
And that was really effective at building a cohesive team, because one, people who were in it just for the money, that was a turnoff for them, and they were out the door. They never even applied. And then everyone felt like -- there's this whole sort of salary envy thing that can happen in a management team, like how come that person's getting paid more? If everyone knows that everybody's paid the same, then it sort of breaks down that one potential for tension in the office. And it worked great. We built at WineShopper -- it was probably the best management team I've ever built. I mean, it really was an excellent team. And so it's a tough process, though. And you do have to move quickly when you make a mistake.
Question: Has being gay affected your experience as an entrepreneur?
Peter Sisson: Yeah, I think where it has has mostly been in the opportunity to bond with people in the industry. Certainly in the Bay Area, where I've started most of my businesses, it's really a non-issue, and in fact it can even be a plus because there's so much networking within the gay world there. There was an instance where a couple, you know, a guy who was very senior at Facebook and has moved on to an even bigger role elsewhere, a guy, a really good guy to know, very smart guy. I've known him for 10 years. And you know, he and another guy I know went on kind of a stag trip to Las Vegas. And I wasn't invited and didn't know about, and found out afterwards, and it was fine, but you know, I think they wouldn't have felt comfortable with me being there because it was kind of a stag, male bonding thing. And I probably wouldn't have been comfortable in it. The other thing that happens is increasingly -- I've chosen not to have kids; I realize you can have kids as a gay adult, but I've chosen not to -- and increasingly, peoples' lives center around their families and social calendars. So there's stuff that maybe I'm not as connected with people because I don't set up play dates with their kids and my kids and all that kind of stuff. So there's some social aspects, maybe, that I miss out on, but there's never been any sort of problem with anyone finding out that I was gay and suddenly not wanting to do business with me or not wanting to fund me, or -- you know, in fact, typically what happens -- because I was afraid to tell people -- but when I finally told people at WineShopper, the management team, it was amazing. It really was amazing.
I was in a fraternity in college and learned how to fit into a very male-dominated environment and was just fine at it. So I tended to slip into that. But you know, what I don't do any more is, I don't feign interest in sports, because I'm simply not. And I don't feign interest in girls, because I'm simply not. And so whereas up until maybe even 10 years ago I would sort of, you know, jump in on those conversations, and it just felt so wrong, right? So I think that was -- that's the only issues, is maybe just missing out on some bonding opportunities with people that are straight-oriented, like family stuff and stuff. But other than that, not really an issue.
Question: Who do you look to as a gay business icon?
Peter Sisson: I looked at that question, and you know, my favorite business icon is Steve Jobs in terms of my role model, and he's not gay. But I couldn't think of anyone in the business world that I knew was gay, and that, I think, is telling, right? Because I'm sure that some of these very successful business people that are out there are gay, but they're not out. And so that's why it's difficult to answer that question in the business world, because you know, I know -- confidentially, so I won't say -- but I can think of five major household name companies where I know either the CEO or very senior people who are gay, but they're very careful about it. And so I think the business world is kind of the last frontier, I think, for that kind of diversity to really take hold, and it's interesting: it also is very regional. I think if you're in -- it's a big difference if you're trying to business in perhaps a more conservative part of the country than it would be if you're doing business in San Francisco or New York, where really it is completely a non-issue, it's just irrelevant.
Question: How do you anticipate dealing with cultures that treat homosexuality differently?
Peter Sisson: Yeah, there are issues. I think in the Arab world, for example, I think it would be very challenging. And China -- I don't know as much about their views on homosexuality, but I imagine not great. You know, the bottom line is that business -- unless you're in the sex business -- there's no reason to mix sex and business. And just like in the straight world, it would be inappropriate in a meeting to discuss your fetishes or something like that, and you know, your wife and all. You just don't talk about it, and so it really doesn't need to be relevant, and it doesn't need to be discussed. And it would be weird. I actually -- I've always been of the belief that I should just be myself. And if someone asks me, “Are you gay?” I will answer them honestly, but I'm not going to broadcast it, because it's a personal characteristic of me. I was made this way, and it's nothing that I need to rub in everybody's face. It’s just an aspect of me. I have no problems with it. I'm proud of myself, but it isn't something I need to wear on my sleeve. And so I just can't think of, in 20 years of doing business in some form, I can't think of any situation where it's ever come up in any kind of meeting with, you know, big companies, Sony, Dell, Staples, all big corporations I've met with, New York Times. And it just never comes up, which is great.
Recorded on October 1, 2009
A conversation with the founder and CEO of Line2.
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live this Thursday at 1pm ET.
Astronomers spot an object heading into Earth orbit.
Minimoons<p>Scientists have confirmed just two prior minimoons. One was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_RH120" target="_blank">2006 RH120</a>, which orbited us from September 2006 to June 2007. The other was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_CD3" target="_blank">2020 CD3</a>, which got stuck in the 2015–2016 timeframe, and is believed to gotten away in May 2020.</p><p>2020 SO, the new kid on the block, is expected to arrive in October 2020 and pop out of orbit in May 2021.</p><div id="37962" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4c0fc8a2cba6536ea4cd960ebed3e6e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1307729521869611008" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Asteroid 2020 SO may get captured by Earth from Oct 2020 - May 2021. Current nominal trajectory shows shows capture… https://t.co/F5utxRvN6Z</div> — Tony Dunn (@Tony Dunn)<a href="https://twitter.com/tony873004/statuses/1307729521869611008">1600621989.0</a></blockquote></div>
Identifying 2020 SO<p>The first clue 2020 SO isn't your ordinary asteroid is its exceptionally low velocity. It's traveling much more slowly that a typical asteroid — their <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank">average rate of travel</a> <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a>is 18 kilometers (58,000 feet) per second. Even <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_rock" target="_blank">moon rocks</a> sent careening into Earth orbit by impacts on the lunar surface outpace pokey 2020 SO.</p><p>For another thing, 2020 SO has an orbital path very similar to Earth's, lasting about one Earth year. It's also just slightly less circular than our own orbit, from which it's barely tilted off-axis.</p><p>So, what is it? <a href="https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/" target="_blank">NASA estimates</a> that the object has dimensions very reminiscent of a discarded Centaur rocket stage from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveyor_2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Surveyor 2 mission</a> that landed an unmanned craft on the moon. Back in the day, rocket stages were jettisoned as craft were aimed toward their desired position. This stuff, if released high enough, remains in space. It appears that this Centaur rocket, launched in September 1966, is now making its way back homeward, at least for a little bit.</p><p>When 2020 SO arrives at its closest point in December, the rocket is expected to be about 50,000 kilometers from Earth. Its next closest approach is much further: 220,000 kilometers, in February 2010.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzMDk3NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyODg1MTQ1MX0.HGknDwqp0GmeuczKY_AS7vrPG7KMFUc_XO95tNoI2xo/img.jpg?width=980" id="e5cda" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="85eb1f790d8c3ee5b261f7ba13eaa5e1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Centaur rocket stage" />
Centaur rocket stage
What we may be able to learn<p>Earthly space programs being as young as they are, scientists would love to know what's happened to our rocket during a half century in space.</p><p>While 2020 SO won't get close enough to drop into our atmosphere, its slow progress has scientists hopeful that they'll still get some kind of a decent look at it.</p><p>Spectroscopy may be able to reveal what the rocket's surface is like now — has any of its paint survived, for example? Of course, being out in space, it's likely to have been hit by lots of dust and micrometeorites, so the current state of its surfaces is also of interest. Experts are curious to know how reflective the rocket is at this point, valuable information that can help planners of future long-term missions anticipate how well a craft out in space for extended periods will remain able to reflect sunlight.</p>
From cryonics to time travel, here are some of the (highly speculative) methods that might someday be used to bring people back to life.
- Alexey Turchin and Maxim Chernyakov, researchers belonging to the transhumanism movement, wrote a paper outlining the main ways technology might someday make resurrection possible.
- The methods are highly speculative, ranging from cryonics to digital reconstruction of individual personalities.
- Surveys suggest most people would not choose to live forever if given the option.
Immortality and identity<p>The paper defines life as a "continued stream of subjective experiences" and death as the permanent end of that stream. Immortality, to them, is a "life stream without end," and resurrection is the "continuation of that same stream of experiences after an arbitrarily long gap."</p><p>Another key clarification is the identity problem: How would you know that a downloaded copy of yourself really was going to be <em>you? </em>Couldn't it just be a convincing yet incomplete and fundamentally distinct representation of your brain?</p><p>If you believe that your copy is not <em>you</em>, that implies you believe there's something more to your identity than the (currently) quantifiable information contained within your brain and body, according to the researchers. In other words, your "informational identity" does not constitute your true identity.</p><p>In this scenario, there must exist what the researchers call a "non-informational identity carrier" (NIIC). This could be something like a "soul." It could be "qualia," which are the unmeasurable "subjective experiences which could be unique to every person." Or maybe it doesn't exist at all.</p><p>It's no matter: The researchers say resurrection, in some form, should be possible in either scenario.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If no 'soul' exist[s], resurrection is possible via information preservation; if soul[s] exist, resurrection is possible via returning of the "soul" into the new body. But some forms of NIIC are also very fragile and mortal, like continuity," the researchers noted.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The problem of the nature of human identity could be solved by future superintelligent AI, but for now it cannot be definitively solved. This means that we should try to preserve as much identity as possible and not refuse any approaches to life extension and resurrection even if they contradict our intuitions about identity, as our notions of identity could change later."</p>
Potential resurrection methods<p>Turchin and Chernyakov outline seven broad categories of potential resurrection methods, ranked from the most plausible to most speculative.<br></p><p>The first category includes methods practiced while the person is alive, like cryonics, plastination, and preserving brain tissue through processes like chemical fixation. The researchers noted that there have been "suggestions that the claustrum, hypothalamus, or even a single neuron is the neural correlate of consciousness," so it may be possible to preserve just that part of a person, and later implant it into another organism.</p><p>Other methods get far stranger. For example, one method includes super-intelligent AI that uses a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyson_sphere#:~:text=A%20Dyson%20sphere%20is%20a,percentage%20of%20its%20power%20output." target="_blank">Dyson sphere</a> to harness the power of the sun to "power enormous calculation engines" that would "reconstruct" people who collected a sufficient amount of data on their identities.</p>
Turchin<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The main idea of a resurrection-simulation is that if one takes the DNA of a past person and subjects it to the same developmental condition, as well as correcting the development based on some known outcomes, it is possible to create a model of a past person which is very close to the original," the researchers wrote.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"DNA samples of most people who lived in past 1 to 2 centuries could be extracted via global archeology. After the moment of death, the simulated person is moved into some form of the afterlife, perhaps similar to his religious expectations, where he meets his relatives."</p><p>Delving further into sci-fi territory, another resurrection method would use time-travel technology.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If there will at some point be technology that allows travel to the past, then our future descendants will be able to directly save people dying in the past by collecting their brains at the moment of death and replacing them with replicas," the paper states.</p><p>How? Sending tiny robots back in time.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"A nanorobot could be sent several billion years before now, where it could secretly replicate and sow nanotech within all living being[s] without affecting the course of history. At the moment of death, such nanorobots could be activated to collect data about the brain and preserve it somewhere until its future resurrection; thus, there would be no need for forward time travel."</p>
Pixabay<p>The paper <a href="https://www.academia.edu/36998733/Classification_of_the_approaches_to_the_technological_resurrection" target="_blank">goes on to outline some more resurrection methods</a>, including ones that involve parallel worlds, aliens, and clones, along with a good, old-fashioned possibility: God exists and one day he resurrects us. </p><p>In short, it's all extremely speculative.</p><p>But the aim of the paper was to catalogue known potential ways humans might be able to cheat death. For Turchin, that's not some far-off project: In addition to studying global risks and transhumanism, the Russian researcher heads the <a href="http://immortality-roadmap.com/" target="_blank">Immortality Roadmap</a>, which, similar to the 2018 paper, outlines various ways in which we might someday achieve immortality.</p><p>Although it may take centuries before humans come close to "digital immortality," Turchin believes that life-extension technology could allow some modern people to survive long enough to see it happen. </p><p>Want a shot at being among them? Beyond the obvious, like staying healthy, the Immortality Roadmap suggests you start collecting extensive data on yourself: diaries, video recordings, DNA information, EEGs, complex creative objects — all of which could someday be used to digitally "reconstruct" your identity.</p>But odds are you're not interested. Although Turchin and other scientists are bent on finding ways to avoid death and extend life indefinitely, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/may/16/dying-still-taboo-subject-poll" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">surveys</a> <a href="https://quillette.com/2018/03/02/would-you-opt-for-immortality/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">repeatedly</a> <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutesvanity-fair-poll-the-afterlife/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">show</a> that most people would not opt to live forever if given the choice.
Astronomers find these five chapters to be a handy way of conceiving the universe's incredibly long lifespan.
- We're in the middle, or thereabouts, of the universe's Stelliferous era.
- If you think there's a lot going on out there now, the first era's drama makes things these days look pretty calm.
- Scientists attempt to understand the past and present by bringing together the last couple of centuries' major schools of thought.
The 5 eras of the universe<p>There are many ways to consider and discuss the past, present, and future of the universe, but one in particular has caught the fancy of many astronomers. First published in 1999 in their book <a href="https://amzn.to/2wFQLiL" target="_blank"><em>The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity</em></a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Adams" target="_blank">Fred Adams</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_P._Laughlin" target="_blank">Gregory Laughlin</a> divided the universe's life story into five eras:</p><ul><li>Primordial era</li><li>Stellferous era</li><li>Degenerate era</li><li>Black Hole Era</li><li>Dark era</li></ul><p>The book was last updated according to current scientific understandings in 2013.</p><p>It's worth noting that not everyone is a subscriber to the book's structure. Popular astrophysics writer <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/ethansiegel/#30921c93683e" target="_blank">Ethan C. Siegel</a>, for example, published an article on <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2019/07/26/we-have-already-entered-the-sixth-and-final-era-of-our-universe/#7072d52d4e5d" target="_blank"><em>Medium</em></a> last June called "We Have Already Entered The Sixth And Final Era Of Our Universe." Nonetheless, many astronomers find the quintet a useful way of discuss such an extraordinarily vast amount of time.</p>
The Primordial era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTEyMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjEzMjY1OX0.PRpvAoa99qwsDNprDme9tBWDim6mS7Mjx6IwF60fSN8/img.jpg?width=980" id="db4eb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0e568b0cc12ed624bb8d7e5ff45882bd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Sagittarius Production/Shutterstock<p> This is where the universe begins, though what came before it and where it came from are certainly still up for discussion. It begins at the Big Bang about 13.8 billion years ago. </p><p> For the first little, and we mean <em>very</em> little, bit of time, spacetime and the laws of physics are thought not yet to have existed. That weird, unknowable interval is the <a href="https://www.universeadventure.org/eras/era1-plankepoch.htm" target="_blank">Planck Epoch</a> that lasted for 10<sup>-44</sup> seconds, or 10 million of a trillion of a trillion of a trillionth of a second. Much of what we currently believe about the Planck Epoch eras is theoretical, based largely on a hybrid of general-relativity and quantum theories called quantum gravity. And it's all subject to revision. </p><p> That having been said, within a second after the Big Bang finished Big Banging, inflation began, a sudden ballooning of the universe into 100 trillion trillion times its original size. </p><p> Within minutes, the plasma began cooling, and subatomic particles began to form and stick together. In the 20 minutes after the Big Bang, atoms started forming in the super-hot, fusion-fired universe. Cooling proceeded apace, leaving us with a universe containing mostly 75% hydrogen and 25% helium, similar to that we see in the Sun today. Electrons gobbled up photons, leaving the universe opaque. </p><p> About 380,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe had cooled enough that the first stable atoms capable of surviving began forming. With electrons thus occupied in atoms, photons were released as the background glow that astronomers detect today as cosmic background radiation. </p><p> Inflation is believed to have happened due to the remarkable overall consistency astronomers measure in cosmic background radiation. Astronomer <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGCVTSQw7WU" target="_blank">Phil Plait</a> suggests that inflation was like pulling on a bedsheet, suddenly pulling the universe's energy smooth. The smaller irregularities that survived eventually enlarged, pooling in denser areas of energy that served as seeds for star formation—their gravity pulled in dark matter and matter that eventually coalesced into the first stars. </p>
The Stelliferous era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTEzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjA0OTcwMn0.GVCCFbBSsPdA1kciHivFfWlegOfKfXUfEtFKEF3otQg/img.jpg?width=980" id="bc650" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c8f86bf160ecdea6b330f818447393cd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Casey Horner/unsplash<p>The era we know, the age of stars, in which most matter existing in the universe takes the form of stars and galaxies during this active period. </p><p>A star is formed when a gas pocket becomes denser and denser until it, and matter nearby, collapse in on itself, producing enough heat to trigger nuclear fusion in its core, the source of most of the universe's energy now. The first stars were immense, eventually exploding as supernovas, forming many more, smaller stars. These coalesced, thanks to gravity, into galaxies.</p><p>One axiom of the Stelliferous era is that the bigger the star, the more quickly it burns through its energy, and then dies, typically in just a couple of million years. Smaller stars that consume energy more slowly stay active longer. In any event, stars — and galaxies — are coming and going all the time in this era, burning out and colliding.</p><p>Scientists predict that our Milky Way galaxy, for example, will crash into and combine with the neighboring Andromeda galaxy in about 4 billion years to form a new one astronomers are calling the Milkomeda galaxy.</p><p>Our solar system may actually survive that merger, amazingly, but don't get too complacent. About a billion years later, the Sun will start running out of hydrogen and begin enlarging into its red giant phase, eventually subsuming Earth and its companions, before shrining down to a white dwarf star.</p>
The Degenerate era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTk3NDQyN30.gy4__ALBQrdbdm-byW5gQoaGNvFTuxP5KLYxEMBImNc/img.jpg?width=980" id="77f72" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="08bb56ea9fde2cee02d63ed472d79ca3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Diego Barucco/Shutterstock/Big Think<p>Next up is the Degenerate era, which will begin about 1 quintillion years after the Big Bang, and last until 1 duodecillion after it. This is the period during which the remains of stars we see today will dominate the universe. Were we to look up — we'll assuredly be outta here long before then — we'd see a much darker sky with just a handful of dim pinpoints of light remaining: <a href="https://earthsky.org/space/evaporating-giant-exoplanet-white-dwarf-star" target="_blank">white dwarfs</a>, <a href="https://earthsky.org/space/new-observations-where-stars-end-and-brown-dwarfs-begin" target="_blank">brown dwarfs</a>, and <a href="https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/definition-what-is-a-neutron-star" target="_blank">neutron stars</a>. These"degenerate stars" are much cooler and less light-emitting than what we see up there now. Occasionally, star corpses will pair off into orbital death spirals that result in a brief flash of energy as they collide, and their combined mass may become low-wattage stars that will last for a little while in cosmic-timescale terms. But mostly the skies will be be bereft of light in the visible spectrum.</p><p>During this era, small brown dwarfs will wind up holding most of the available hydrogen, and black holes will grow and grow and grow, fed on stellar remains. With so little hydrogen around for the formation of new stars, the universe will grow duller and duller, colder and colder.</p><p>And then the protons, having been around since the beginning of the universe will start dying off, dissolving matter, leaving behind a universe of subatomic particles, unclaimed radiation…and black holes.</p>
The Black Hole era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjE0OTQ2MX0.ifwOQJgU0uItiSRg9z8IxFD9jmfXlfrw6Jc1y-22FuQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="103ea" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f0e6a71dacf95ee780dd7a1eadde288d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock/Big Think<p> For a considerable length of time, black holes will dominate the universe, pulling in what mass and energy still remain. </p><p> Eventually, though, black holes evaporate, albeit super-slowly, leaking small bits of their contents as they do. Plait estimates that a small black hole 50 times the mass of the sun would take about 10<sup>68</sup> years to dissipate. A massive one? A 1 followed by 92 zeros. </p><p> When a black hole finally drips to its last drop, a small pop of light occurs letting out some of the only remaining energy in the universe. At that point, at 10<sup>92</sup>, the universe will be pretty much history, containing only low-energy, very weak subatomic particles and photons. </p>
The Dark Era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE5NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0Mzg5OTEyMH0.AwiPRGJlGIcQjjSoRLi6V3g5klRYtxQJIpHFgZdZkuo/img.jpg?width=980" id="60c77" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7a857fb7f0d85cf4a248dbb3350a6e1c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Big Think<p>We can sum this up pretty easily. Lights out. Forever.</p>
Archaeology clues us in on the dangers of letting viruses hang around.
- A University of Otago researcher investigates the spread of disease in ancient Vietnam.
- The infectious disease, yaws, has been with us for thousands of years with no known cure.
- Using archaeology to investigate disease offers clues into modern-day pandemics.
History-Changing Archaeological Finds<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ed6ad05071e93f257aa0b73f4001c805"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gydYHHfnLhE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>While we rightfully look toward infectious disease experts during times such as now, archaeologists also have plenty to offer. A <a href="http://journals.upress.ufl.edu/bioarchaeology/article/view/1173" target="_blank">new research article</a>, published in the journal, Bioarchaeology Journal, turns back the clock to ancient Vietnam. The findings offer important clues about why we need to eradicate COVID-19.</p><p>Lead author Melandri Vlok, a PhD student at the University of Otago in New Zealand (with support from researchers in Australia, Vietnam, Japan, and the UK), investigated a case of yaws that ran through the Neolithic archeological site of Mán Bạc in Northeast Vietnam. </p><p>Yaws remains a common infectious disease in at least 13 tropical countries, with up to a half-million infected each year. Hard skin lesions form on the victim's bodies; they can form painful ulcers. While lesions usually subside within six months, bone and joint pain and fatigue are common. Some cases last many years and result in permanent scars. On occasion, death follows a long battle. </p><p>Subsistence farmers in mainland China have long battled the environment. Finding the right soil and water sources for their crops has been a generational battle. Roughly 4,000 years ago, such farmers made their way into Mainland Southeast China (modern day Vietnam), where, as Vlok writes, "genetic admixture and social transition occurs between foragers and farmers." In 2018, Vlok traveled to Mán Bạc to study the remains of seven skeletons, which included two adults, two adolescents, and two children.</p><p>Her findings help give us perspective on today's proliferation of the coronavirus. As she <a href="https://www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/releases/otago744185.html" target="_blank">says</a>, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This matters, because knowing more about this disease and its evolution, it changes how we understand the relationship people have with it. It helps us understand why it's so difficult to eradicate. If it's been with us thousands of years it has probably developed to fit very well with humans." </p>
My Son Sanctuary, Quang Nam, Vietnam.
Credit: Mrkela / Shutterstock<p>Yaws is not the only disease considered in the article. Tuberculosis, brucellosis, and cancers were also discussed. The goal of the research was to identify disease spread through cultures and the chronic problems left behind, sometimes for millennia. Vlok notes how temperature fluctuations in the Mán Bạc region affected a variety of diseases. Yaws appeared to have spread easily due to an abundance of water and vegetation, combined with increased population density—children are more likely to spread this disease.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Pre-industrialized agricultural communities have also been associated with increased incidence of yaws. The coastal region is also slightly warmer and more humid than inland northern Vietnam and therefore more conducive to the spread of yaws."</p><p>The Climate Clock is <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/09/21/climate-change-metronome-clock-nyc/" target="_blank">ticking down</a>. We're already experiencing the ravages of this global shift, and it's not going to get any easier if interventions are not immediately legislated. While no single science will help us wrap our heads around the immediate future, Vlok suggests factoring in archaeology. Past precedent matters.</p><p>Gazing back a few hundred generations offers important clues for the future—really, the present—that we must confront. A concerted effort by the World Health Organization in the 1950s couldn't eradicate yaws. Diseases that have an opportunity to hang around will exploit every advantage it can. The blasé attitude too many Americans currently hold about the novel coronavirus's dangers is going to have a reverberating effect through the generations. As Vlok concludes, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This shows us what happens when we don't take action with these diseases. It's a lesson of what infectious diseases can do to a population if you let them spread widely. It highlights the need to intervene, because sometimes these diseases are so good at adapting to us, at spreading between us."</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" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>