Astrophysicist, author, and television host Neil deGrasse Tyson closes out the first season of Reimagine by sharing his cosmic view of life and why understanding science is key to building back a better world.
COVID doesn't care about what tribe you belong to, it doesn't care how you worship or who you have sex with, or what your skin color is, or what side of a line in the sand you were born on. It infects you because you are human, okay? It is the fact that our greatest enemy this year, the greatest enemy in decades, is something that sees all humans as one... is that what we needed to get that lesson? Did we need a lethal virus to tell us that we're all the same? Maybe so, unfortunately, but yeah.
Okay, so now let's take a step back. The virus sees us all as one, how come we don't? Okay? And in that light, can we celebrate what is different rather than tribalize over what's different?
Eric Schmidt (00:57):
The coronavirus pandemic is a global tragedy. But it's also an opportunity to rethink the world. To make it better, faster, for more people than ever before. I'm Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, and now co-founder of Schmidt Futures. And this is Reimagine, a podcast where trailblazing leaders imagine how we can build back better.
Eric Schmidt (01:34):
I want you to take a moment, wherever you are, and look at the world around you. I want you to ask yourself how much of what you're seeing and experiencing is a result of science. Probably not trees or birds, but a light bulb, or a car, or a heater, or even the sound of my recorded voice traveling to your ear. So much of the fabric of our modern lives exists thanks to science, and yet we take it for granted. During the global pandemic, so many people turned their back on this essential endeavor. Many of our leaders have decided to endorse conspiracies and misguided beliefs over science and truth. The result has been utterly disastrous. At the time of this recording, more than 1.1 million people around the world have died. More than 40 million are infected, with many more to come.
Eric Schmidt (02:20):
On each episode of this podcast, we've tried to reimagine a better world after COVID. And if we truly are to build back better, it starts with more appreciation for science. So on our final episode, we'll talk with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson about how science can help us understand our world, what we can learn from COVID, and why we should have hope.
Eric Schmidt (02:53):
Joining us now is renowned author, speaker, and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Neil is a friend with whom I've worked for many years. He's also one of the most gifted communicators in America today. He's written numerous books and delivered countless lectures that translate complex scientific concepts into a language anyone can understand. Throughout his career, Neil has expanded our imagination of what's possible in life and in the universe. He is the perfect guest as we zoom out for our final episode of the Reimagined podcast, and consider what are the most important lessons to take away from COVID? Neil, thanks for being with me.
I'm honored, deeply honored. Thank you.
Eric Schmidt (03:34):
At the beginning of the pandemic, you said COVID will be a test of will people listen to scientists? And then in April you tweeted that every disaster movie begins with a scientist being ignored. Well, we didn't listen to the scientists, and the consequences have been a disaster. So, why are people so resistant to this? Why are they so resistant to listening to you, and your message, and scientists in general? How do we fix this?
Yeah, I don't have a silver bullet here, but first, I'm delighted and flattered that you read my tweets, okay? I didn't know if you were a tweeting guy.
Eric Schmidt (04:10):
By the way, you have a huge Twitter audience.
Yeah, it's interesting. I try to keep the tweets informative but also fun and entertaining, otherwise I don't want it to be a chore for people. By the way, that message, "Every disaster movie begins with people in charge ignoring the advice of scientists," that's a fleshed out version of a poster that I saw at the science march back... well, I guess it's now four years ago. And think about it, we actually had a science march. A march for science, like, that became necessary.
You usually march for something that no one is doing, and you want to put some progressive light in the field of view of those in charge. So the fact that we needed a science march was itself an indicator. I think... I can only tell you what I think, I can't tell you here what I know for sure. What I think is, people are taught science as though it's just some other class in school. This is science, and this is English, and this is Spanish, and this is history, and now, go forth and make whatever world you want.
And people's belief systems are cherished in this world on many fronts. Not only your religious beliefs, but your cultural beliefs, your political beliefs... any belief system that is contained around a demographic is something that we, historically, have valued and cherished. And I don't have a problem with that. Belief systems are the sources of our rituals, and that's why we have Thanksgiving and religious holidays, and they're rituals that come out of these beliefs, okay?
But, if a scientist tells you something that conflicts with your belief, you don't have the option to discard the science in favor of your belief if actions based on that information affect other people. So, that's the long-winded way of saying I don't think we've taught people science in a way where they view it as a path to objective truths in this world. If they did, they would see science as this unique enterprise, different from everything else they've ever studied, where it is how you can tell whether someone is full of shit. Okay? Forgive the language.
But if someone is telling you something that is not true because it conflicts with what is objectively true, established by the methods and tools of science, you know you don't need to give them... you can try to help them out and get them to see what is and is not true, but if you fail at that, you just move on. But if those people become in charge, that's a recipe for the unraveling of an informed democracy. And that worries me.
Eric Schmidt (07:13):
We've talked about this before, and I've heard you say that the most important moments in your life are decided not by what you know, but how you think. Is this an educational problem?
Yes. Yes. And the best example I can give... this is a little contrived, but it's... and forgive that it'll talk an extra minute to tell it, but I think it's illuminating. And you probably know this from having worked at Google, but if I'm an architect, and I have a firm, and I have an intern slot this summer, and there are two people, basically the same on paper, so I want to have an interview. So they come in, and again, this is a contrived example, but just stay with me on it. And one walks in, and I say, "How tall is that church spire outside the window?" They look out... "Oh, that's 136 feet." I say, "Wow, how do you know that?" "I memorize the heights of all important structures in every city I'm visiting, so I just know all this information." I say, "Okay, thank you."
Next person comes in. "How tall is that spire outside?" "I don't know. I'll get back to you." And they run away for 10 minutes. Then they come back and they say, "I'm not sure, somewhere between 130 and 140 feet." And I'll say, "How do you know that?" And they say, "Well, I went outside, and I know how tall I am. I measured the length of my shadow. I then measured the length of the shadow of the building, and I did the math." Now, who are you going to hire? And I'm hiring the person who figured it out.
Eric Schmidt (08:44):
Right. The point is, you're going to hire the second person.
Eric Schmidt (08:48):
Because they had a method of estimating it, and they had an approach to solve the problem.
They figured out how to figure it out. And that, in my life, and I think in the life of many people, cannot be denied as having extreme value to your health, your wealth, your security, everything about you. Yet, the school system doesn't teach that. School system says, "You got the wrong answer, it's wrong. It's just wrong." Issac Asimov wrote an essay called The Relativity of Wrong, and he gives this example. It's a spelling bee. Okay? Spell "cat." And you say, "K-A-T." Well, that's just wrong. Okay? You get zero points for that.
Someone else spells it "X-Q-W." That's wrong, they get zero points for that. But wait a minute. These are not equally wrong answers. Okay? In fact, you can argue that K-A-T is a better spelling than C-A-T, because if you look up C-A-T in the dictionary, it spells it phonetically K-A-T. So, the school system rewards a right answer, and rarely celebrates thought process that gets you to an answer. Okay?
Eric Schmidt (10:06):
It's all about critical thinking. Critical thinking is, how do you think? And so it's not what you think, it's how do you think? How is your brain wired to figure things out? And yes, I'd hire the second intern who came in, because I'd want the people to figure things out. So, if that's how you're wired, you can find something new in the world, and then you will invest energy and curiosity to figure it out.
Eric Schmidt (10:33):
So in your real job, you are a noted astrophysicist who spends an awful lot of time thinking about what's going on outside of Earth. Give us a sense of the perspective of what we're dealing with now versus the cosmic world that you spend as much time as you can in, and where your research is.
Yeah. That's a great question, and let me just say that I, as an astrophysicist, as is true for so many, if not 100% of my colleagues, is we spend so much time in space, with our head in space, that when we look back to Earth, Earth looks really different to us than it does to other people. When I see Earth, I see Earth the way the Apollo astronauts saw Earth. The way the Apollo VIII photo of Earth rising over the lunar horizon appeared. Do you realize that until that photo was published, people hardly ever even drew Earth with clouds on it?
So they'd draw Earth, and they'd just draw continents. They're not thinking, "We have an atmosphere that sustains us with its climate and the water and the..." So things changed about us at that time, and there was Earth, not as a globe of color-coded countries, as we've been so trained in our social studies class, no. It was Earth, with blue oceans, and land, atmosphere. And then you zoom down in, and the closer you get, the more you see people in conflict with one another based on what color is their skin, who they have sex with, who they worship, what side of a line in the sand they were born on. And the absurdity of it all when you come to that from this cosmic perspective.
And so, you will never see an astrophysicist leading armies into battle. Okay? That's just not going to happen. The astronauts call it the overview effect. I will call it a cosmic perspective. So when I see the tribalistic conduct unfolding before our very eyes, people dividing... now, in a way, social media and the internet has been a vector for this behavior. All right?
Eric Schmidt (13:01):
It's clearly made it worse.
Initially you say, "Oh, this is great, now I can find other hobbyists who like collecting stamps who I've never met before." So it did that, it did that marvelously. But then it found other people. I think the Earth is flat. I will now, with one search, find every other person who thinks that, and we will form a community, create an echo chamber, and we will think that we are correct and that everyone else is wrong. That's kind of innocent as long as they don't become head of NASA, but suppose...
Eric Schmidt (13:31):
Just for the record, the Earth is not flat, correct?
Eric Schmidt (13:37):
Let's ask the physicist.
It looks flat... because something looks some way, doesn't mean it is that in the methods and tools of science. We can demonstrate this, it's why they were invented, to enhance, and in many cases replace, the physiological senses that we're born with, because they themselves are not entirely accurate records of the world in which you're immersed. And so the methods and tools of science get through that, and then deliver you what is accurate.
Eric Schmidt (14:08):
But let's have you explain the methods of science, because I think non-scientists somehow think that science is corrupted by, these guys disagree with these guys, and then nobody agrees, and I'll do whatever I want. How does science actually work?
The nobody agrees part, that is normal and healthy, and happens on the frontier. On the frontier, I have a result, I don't know if it's true. You try it, you get a different result. We argue about it at conferences, someone else gets a third result, somebody else says "No, wait a minute, two of you just didn't do the experiment right. Here's a fourth experiment..." and oh my gosh, that's what we were... we were poking at an elephant, and you see the elephant. And then at the end, we all agree, and then we move on to the next problem.
So when you experimentally verify something is true in science, it doesn't later on become not true. That's the difference. There actually is a canon of objective truths that the methods and tools of science have established. The press... I don't want to put all the blame on the press, but let me just say, the press loves saying, "The scientists believe that now, though through this new experiment they believe this. And oh, now they have to go back to the drawing board."
What they're not making clear is that what used to be believed was never justifiably believed to begin with. It was just a prevailing idea.
Eric Schmidt (15:35):
But they may be aided with money. In other words, it may be that some special interest is paying for the spread of this misinformation to try to confuse people to try to keep their special interest going.
That would be true with to without science. That would happen with news stories, stories about people, places, and things. So that's an unfortunate common denominator in all of this. What I will say is that the science that a scientist conducts can be influenced by money. Okay? So, if you're a military contractor and you want science to be applied to making new weapons, and I want a job, I might take that job. Okay?
But when science is done properly, it will not influence what results I get. Now, we all have bias, because we're human. It is possible for a scientist to be biased by a funder. That is possible. That's why we have the methods and tools of science. So that no one should follow any one scientific result. You need verification by other scientists, by your competitors, by everybody else who has other ideas. The press doesn't realize this. They'll find the one result by the one scientist, and put it forth as though that is the next truth, without saying, "Oh, this is a really weird result. We're not even going to report on it until it's verified seven other ways." They don't do that.
And as a result, if you're just casually looking over the fence, eavesdropping on this conversation, you will think that science is just whatever people want to think is true, so therefore, whatever you think is true is just as good as whatever the scientists think is true. There's a failure in the educational system.
Eric Schmidt (17:20):
As an astrophysicist, you're working hard on a number of projects. I'm interested in where you think the really great new science will be in your field. I was reading about a bunch of philanthropists who are supporting Starshot, which is an idea to send a miniature space probe to Alpha Centauri. Do these things make sense to you? Should we be doing more of these things? What's the next 10 or 20 years look like if we do it well? If we manage to get through COVID and we actually start doing proper astrophysics science?
Yeah. So, there's a lot in that question, and let me just pick at pieces of it, and if that gets your answer, that's good. If not, just keep asking me. In my field, philanthropic roles have been fundamental to success in our field. The philanthropic role has not been to fund experiments. No. Because that has risk of bias, and it could distort where we want to be as a field. Where philanthropic monies have been valuable is people have paid for, or have been principal funders of, tools that we use.
So, the Mount Palomar telescope, the one in California, which was significant in discovering how stars work in the 20th century, those are called the Hale Observatories. Hale is a family, a wealthy family that donated money to make those telescopes. They were even involved in the first of those large telescopes that were used by Edwin Hubble himself to discover the expanding universe, and to discover that we are not alone as a galaxy in the expanding universe.
The Keck Telescopes in Hawaii, that's the Keck Foundation. All right? So you create a tool that we all then have access to as a tool. So, the Allen Telescopes, Allen of Microsoft fame, of course. He invested money in a set of telescopes that's going to search for alien signals. Okay, it's a radio telescope that monitors billions of frequencies simultaneously in case there's signals coming through. Okay, it's called the Allen Array. So, philanthropic monies are good in that way, because you're making something that serves the entire community and has legs. Okay, it goes for decades and decades and decades.
In my field, the search for life on planets is a frontier right now. That involves spacecraft, and it involves long-time lead times, because you have to design it, build it, we agree upon it, and then that goes. We're looking for life in the soils of Mars, looking for life in the liquid oceans of moons orbiting Jupiter. Jupiter's outside of the Goldilocks zone, so that would ordinarily be frozen, but there's heat pumped in by the tidal forces of Jupiter and other moons that keeps these... they're called the icy moons, but below the ice, it's oceans of liquid water. They've been liquid for billions of years. We're looking for life there as well.
Eric Schmidt (20:36):
And the Goldilocks zone is the zone where life is thought to be able to flourish.
More precisely, it's any zone that can sustain liquid water. And any place on Earth where we have found liquid water, we find life. So, the NASA mantra is follow the water. And Goldilocks, yes, it's not so cold that it would be frozen, not so hot that it would evaporate.
Eric Schmidt (20:58):
Do you believe we'll find life?
Let me make a stronger statement than that. I think, in our lifetimes... we're within a few years of each other. In our lifetime, we will know for sure whether there is or is not life in our own solar system, in our own backyard, based on the missions plan for Mars, and the missions plan for the moons of Jupiter, these places where we're tracking liquid water other than on Earth. That's a stronger statement. We will know whether, or whether or not there is life. And just in our backyard. And if there is, oh my gosh. That opens the floodgates of dreams. It's like, if we have life twice in our own star system, no reason to think life wouldn't be completely abundant anyplace you even look as you cross the galaxy. That's an important frontier, not only for astrophysics, but for biology as well.
Eric Schmidt (21:59):
There are three very large, billion-dollar telescopes coming online in the next five years or so, mostly in Chili on the Atacama Desert. What's your view of the trade-off between looking deeply with telescopes into the history of the universe versus looking for life on a planet, right? They're not the same. Where's the greatest strategic leverage for physics?
Yeah. That's a good question. I don't know. Because the thing with a billion-dollar telescope... which, by the way, that's expensive for Earth, but it's not expensive for a space telescope. The Hubble was billions and billions of dollars. So, on Earth, that's very expensive because you're not launching it into space, and that comes with its own costs. But the Vera Rubin Telescope, for example, is a telescope that will basically take a movie of the entire night sky. A continuous movie. So if anything goes blip in the night, we'll find it. Whereas, previously, if you go blip, and you weren't looking at that moment, you'd completely miss it. There are entire categories of objects that we think will be revealed in this new telescope that's coming online in the next few years.
Then there's the next-generation space telescope, that's the Webb Telescope, named after the former head of NASA. That one is going to look to the early universe, just as you said, but it'll also have the power to look for newly-born stars deep enshrouded in gas clouds that are nearby. So it'll have a double utility to us as a community.
So you want to know dollar for return on a dollar. I will not value judge the unknown. I'm not going to do that. Because who would have guessed in the 1920s... and if you came up to me, I'm a funder, and you say, "Yeah, I want to study the atom." You can't even see the atom. "Well, it's an unknown." What are you going to... I'm a carpenter, I just care that my wood is made of wood atoms. What are you... "No, it's just kind of we don't know what's going on, there's some mysteries there." Okay, so now you do the research, and you bring in your friends, and you have friends and they have friends, and in the 1920s, you discover quantum physics.
And I say, this is weird, okay, it has no relevance to anything other than your obscure work. We wasted our billions of dollars making your lab. And then, 50 years later, the entire IT revolution unfolds, and it exists only because of the exploitation of quantum physics. I cannot and I will not presume that a frontier in one place is more valuable to our enlightenment or the future of civilization than broaching a frontier in another place. To me, all frontiers are equal.
Eric Schmidt (24:53):
What happens next for you? Do you have something else you want to get done? How are we going to see you during this pandemic and after?
Going forward, I have two books I still want to write that are I think unique statements of my relationship to this world, educationally, scientifically, they need to be written. My big fear, if I catch some fatal disease, that I won't have enough time to finish those books. Okay? That's my state of mind regarding those two books. But they're down the line, and I'm not even going to talk about them. But those, I want to get done. Beyond that, any other really visible things, I have my StarTalk podcast. That is my active energy trying to spread the love of science.
I say there's a lot of science out there that is... there's some science radio that you can find, Science Friday, nobody doesn't love Science Friday on NPR. But every three months they got to beg for money. And I said, I bet there's a model out there where we can take science, shape it in a way that anybody wants to hear it, and they'll come reaching for it, and that would then get the attention of advertisers. But no one believes it can happen. NSF said, "Here, try it." And we did it. We got a three year grant, but it took five years. So we got bridge money from the Sloan Foundation. But by the end of those five years, we had sponsors, we had advertisers, and we turned the learning of science into a commercial enterprise, and it continues to this day. Very proud of that, with the whole team that made that work.
And the difference was, I, the scientist, interview people who are generally not scientists, rather than getting a journalist interviewing a scientist. So I'll bring in someone who is a pop culture figure you've heard of for other reasons. You follow that person because they're your favorite actor. And then we'll talk about a movie they were just in where there's some CGI that put them on the moon, and then I bring in a programmer to talk about what that required. So you'll come for the pop culture aspect of it, but you end up staying for the science.
And so that, dare I call it, recipe, is what fuels StarTalk. And I'm very proud of that, I'm proud of all the people who participated in it. And that's the one-fourth of all the times you'll see me in public. The rest of it... someone said, "You know, I saw you on the Today Show, I saw you on Good Morning America. Who's your agent?" And I say, "No... the universe is my agent, okay?" A star just exploded, or a black hole was discovered. I'm not trying to get on these shows. They have an interest because the universe stimulated it, and I'm an easy date because I live in New York City. Nowadays it's all COVID distance...
Eric Schmidt (27:40):
My only criticism would be your humility and your commitment to the world really is showing. There's a reason why people want you to do these things. Can you take a minute and give us a sense of why we should be optimistic? You're extraordinarily gifted in thinking about people, and how society works, and matching science to it. Are we going to get through this? How should people behave during this?
Yeah, well I joked just on Twitter, just a couple of days ago. I alerted people of this refrigerator-sized asteroid that's headed straight for Earth, and current models show that it'll basically buzz cut Earth the day before Election Day. But there's a chance that it'll hit us based on our uncertainties of orbit. It's less than one half of one percent, but even if it does hit, it's harmless, it'll be a very bright bolide, we call them, like explosion in the air. You might even hear a shockwave, but you're not going to... we can calculate how much energy it is, it's not going to harm anything. All right?
So I said that, and then at the end I said, because it won't harm anything, if the world ends in 2020, you can't blame the universe. I don't think of myself as an optimist. I think of myself, not to put too much spin on word definitions, I think of myself as a positive realist. Okay? I don't want to dust the risk of harm or disaster under the rug. All right? I will recognize it. But let me tell you this. To me, the word 'hope'... that's a word you use in the same way you might use the word 'pray.' Okay, those two words are common when you have really just admitted to yourself that you're not in control. Okay?
When you don't know an outcome because you don't know... you have no control of what's going on. So I try to say to myself, I try to avoid the word 'hope.' I know its value just as a word, in poetry and human emotion, I get that. But if a hurricane's ready to hit the Florida coast, and your first response is, "Let's pack up the car, buy toilet paper, water, and let's escape... I'm glad we could escape," and your first thought was not, "How can I tap the cyclonic energy of that hurricane and use that energy to drive the power needs of a city, and thereby render the hurricane into a tropical storm?" That's not your first thought. Okay, if you don't have those thoughts, then all you can do is hope that the hurricane doesn't level your hometown. That's all you can do, is hope.
But if you are scientifically literate, the world looks different to you, and you end up no longer hoping things will happen, you take action to make things happen. So, how are we going to get through this year? Yeah, it's a tough year. I think we need to identify the problem, watch how we tribalized after we found each other's belief systems. Oh my gosh. Can we just take a step back for a minute? Maybe everyone should fly into space and then just look down at the Earth, and look at video playback of what we've been doing to each other this past year, and say, oh my gosh. Can we do something about that? Yeah, we kind of can. By the way, COVID doesn't care about what tribe you belong to. It doesn't care who you worship or who you have sex with, or what your skin color is, or what side of a line in the sand you were born on. It infects you because you are a human. Okay? The fact that our greatest enemy this year, the greatest enemy in decades, is something that sees all humans as one... is that what we needed to get that lesson?
Did we need a lethal virus to tell us that we're all the same? Maybe so, unfortunately, but yeah. Okay, so now let's take step back. The virus sees us all as one, how come we don't? Okay? And in that light, can we celebrate what is different rather than tribalize over what's different? By the way, recognize that we came from tribal roots, okay? We certainly came from tribal roots. Go back 30000 years, no doubt about it. Can we rise above this? That's what civilization is. Civilization is behaving in ways that transcend what you might primally want to do anyway.
That's what it means to be civilized. All right? So let's not throw this out the window, this hard-earned work, over centuries and millennia, of building the art, and philosophy, and culture, and music, and technology that makes us live the lives that we can, and say, "Now, I'm going to hate you because you sleep with someone different than I would sleep with." Or are you going to just think of the absurdity of that when you see that from space?
So, what is my hope? My hope is that there will be a slow, slow increment... I hope it's fast, but I don't believe it'll be fast. Slow increment of rationality, of science literacy, that what we're doing to the world, the solutions to that are found in the areas of science and technology, the STEM field. And when people begin to recognize that, the next generation kind of feels that, by the way. They don't live without their cell phone, their smartphone, and they know this is the merging of 100 different technologies. They know that intuitively, if not explicitly, and they value it.
That's why there's such a shift in political thinking generationally. All right? I can't wait until the next generation takes over, because the world that they want to make is way better than anything we've left them. And I don't know any older generation that has ever said that about a younger generation. Ever since the days of the Bible, they complain the next generation doesn't respect their elders, and I fear for tomorrow. All right? There's no end of those kind of quotes that grown-ups say about the next generation. I'm not among them. They all have their heads screwed on right. It's the older folks that have the problem.
Eric Schmidt (34:09):
Neil, you're just at the beginning of the impact that you're going to have, and I'm convinced that the COVID crisis will give you an even broader platform for this message of hope and of working together to solve a common enemy. I cannot thank you enough for everything you've done.
Well, thank you, thank you. And it's good to see that you, and your genius, and your resources, are trying to do right by this world, even when people don't realize that they need it, and that's part of the challenge.
Eric Schmidt (34:44):
So where are we now? Despite the enormous scientific progress made in recent years, COVID-19 has shown us that we still have a lot to learn. We were completely unprepared to deal with the deadly pandemic, something experts had been warning us about for years. It was our distrust of science that caused us to ignore them. Look at what the outcome has been. Science is one of our best ways to find truth about the natural world. If the knowledge that science brings us is not understood, we create a vacuum for misinformation, fear, and propaganda to spread. But when we appreciate science, the world reveals itself differently. We're no longer blind. We become empowered humans with the knowledge necessary to defeat a fatal infectious disease. Scientific thinking is critical thinking, and it allows us to transcend biases that can cloud our judgment. I hope we can all come together and remember science is our friend, not a foe.
Eric Schmidt (35:40):
The more we trust science and use it to ask better questions and discover better answers, that's when we will have a better understanding of the world around us. Dr. Tyson represents the best of science, and our solutions in COVID mean we have to follow science. Science is not optional. I wish I could say, "Oh, it's just not true." But because of the nature of science and that it's constantly being tested and repeated, we know it to be true. We know it's our foe, we know it's our friend, and we know we have to deal with it. Wishful thinking, misinformation, I'll just ignore it, does not mean that the eventual outcome has been rescheduled.
Eric Schmidt (36:22):
In many areas of science, progress has been slow because it's been so difficult to compute things. Computers were invented a long time ago, but the problems in science take more computers than we'll ever have. New algorithms in artificial intelligence means that we can begin to, shall we say, simulate and otherwise estimate what the natural world is doing at a whole new level. It's like having a new telescope with much more lens. A much deeper look into how science works, how biology works. The consequence will be enormous innovation in drugs, things that make our health better, much stronger materials, and better ways to live our lives.
Eric Schmidt (37:05):
When I look at my own life, the principles of science are what got me here. The invention of the transistor. The invention of fiber optics. All of the things that have happened in computing have been based on the principles of science. So with the success of Google, it made perfect sense to take that money and plow it back into science for the next generation, more likely than not in other fields. When we founded Schmidt Futures, we wanted to work on science, to pay back science for the opportunity that it gave me. Because of the work that we and others are funding, there will be huge new industries, trillion-dollar industries, new jobs, new products, new solutions that are beyond incredible.
Eric Schmidt (37:51):
I think a lot of people are turned off about science because of the math, because of some of its inscrutability, and then they decide that it doesn't matter. If you look at Dr. Tyson's work, he points out the fundamental discoveries of astrophysics over the last few billions of years have allowed us to understand the mechanisms of chemistry and physics. Why does it matter to us? Because it's ultimately the next great material. It's how your car works. It's how your computer works. So by popularizing science through something like astrophysics, for the average person, because we're all in it together, we're all citizens of this world, it has an enormous impact of people understanding the power of science.
Eric Schmidt (38:37):
Science is one of the best ways to find truth about the natural world. If the knowledge that science brings us is not understood, we create a vacuum for misinformation, fear, and propaganda to spread. But when we appreciate science, the world reveals itself differently. We're no longer blind. We become empowered humans with the knowledge necessary to defeat a fatal infectious disease. The pandemic has taught us that the way the world is, is not the way the world will always be. We're going to be living, and fighting, and coexisting with this virus for a very long time. Every day it begins its same relentless mission. That's what viruses do. It doesn't give up. It only has one goal, which is its replication, and along the way, it produces enormous damage on our humans.
Eric Schmidt (39:27):
We have to figure out a way to minimize its spread, get [inaudible 00:39:31] below one, and get it to be a minor component of our daily lives. Had the political leaders listened to the medical professionals and the scientists, we would have had far fewer deaths, far fewer injuries, and we would have had an economic recovery much quicker. Because people didn't start by asking the scientists, the epidemiologists, and the healthcare professionals what to do, they just made things up, and the result is a disaster on the scale of World War II or worse.
Eric Schmidt (40:01):
The virus should be a unifying point where we understand that we really are all the same, and we're certainly all the same in terms of fundamental threats to our existence. The virus is an opportunity for us to renounce unimportant differences, embrace our shared humanity, figure out how to get ahead of this, and do so on a global basis. Every human deserves a chance of life without the virus.
Eric Schmidt (40:27):
Many of our disagreements and failures through the pandemic have been rooted in a distrust of science, so let's take a step back and reimagine a world in which scientists, and science, have been trusted from the beginning. This is where your and my work begins. Throughout this podcast, we viewed the pandemic as an opportunity to reflect and create change on multiple fronts. We've talked with some of the most accomplished scientists, politicians, economists, and leaders in the world who have helped us see the possibilities for a more prosperous planet beyond COVID. But just talking isn't enough. We can't let this moment pass us without taking concrete steps to make the world better.
Eric Schmidt (41:06):
The pandemic has taught us that the way the world is, is not the way the world will always be. This is moment for action, no matter how big or small. So go out into the world, and make it better for everyone. I will be cheering you on every step of your way.
Eric Schmidt (41:22):
This is our last regular episode of Reimagine, but we aren't quite done yet. Stay tuned and keep an eye on our feed for a special epilogue episode. We'll look back on our season and continue to reimagine and improve our world for everyone.