you’re listening to the futures podcast with me luke robert mason on this episode i speak to science journalist gemma milne hype only has power in its illusion and if more people started from this mindset of critical thinking hype wouldn’t have its power gemma shared her insights into how the hype machine impacts the way scientific advances are communicated how technology companies work to attract interest and attention and how the general public can better engage in critical thinking when faced with the possibilities offered by new innovations this episode is an edited version of a recent live stream event you can view the full unedited video of this conversation at futurespodcast.net [Applause] hype has become an essential tool for scientists and technologists it’s used to attract investors gain the attention of the media and drive support from the general public but hype can also mislead distract and in some cases disrupt scientific progress in her new book smoke and mirrors how hype obscures the future and how to see past it gemma milne explores the impact that bold claims have on our perception of recent innovations including artificial intelligence quantum computing brain computer interfaces cancer drugs future foods and fusion energy but gemma i want to kick off by asking you this and what is hype it is an exaggeration to say that it’s a it’s a form of marketing or a form of advertising or is hype just straight up lying yeah this is one of the questions that i i actually in some sense was struggling to answer for quite some time when i first started working on the book i interviewed about 60 people for the book and i asked them all you know what does hype mean to you how would you define it and almost every time you got this very emotional answer oh it’s this annoying thing that gets in the way of truth and which was definitely sort of where i started you know wrote the book particularly from a place of frustration to begin with and but over time i came to kind of think of hype as more of a tool and the reason that i kind of got to there was because i did actually want to separate it from misinformation and disinformation because there’s obviously quite a lot out there already about it and i wanted to focus on particular phenomenon so the way i the sort of anecdote i use which is part of the reason why the book’s called smoking mirrors um is around uh fooling so if you if you go to a magic show you’re being sort of consensually filled you know you’re walking in and saying fool me or or i’m gonna try and work it out but it’s okay for you to try non-consensual feeling is also called lying which is where i would also put kind of fake news and and deliberate uh disinformation or misinformation and hype i think of as a tool that can sometimes cause accidental filling so the person who’s putting out is not necessarily trying to lie or trick or mislead at least not in a sort of really detrimental way they’re not trying to kind of get you to think the wrong thing um but when taken out of context hype can cause um misinformation so that i suppose the the definition i’m coming to spoken mirrors with is this idea of a tool for exaggerated publicity or the use of advertising to get a message across so in your opinion gemma do you think hype do you think it interferes or hinders with scientific progress or does it actually help it i mean both it’s it’s a tool right so you can use it whichever way you please my plead in the book is for people to use it more responsibly um but i mean i think you know yeah at the end of the day we need hype we need to be able to make the complex simple we need to cut through all of the information that’s out there on the internet we need to be able to to surface important ideas and important messages particularly when it comes to things like uh you know public campaigns around health for instance and but yes i do um argue that it can disrupt it can distract it can keep a status quo that we don’t want um it can send people around the the down the wrong alleys it can cause opportunity cost if it you know pushes investment in certain places and not on others so it’s there’s a lot of different kind of um shall we say results of this accidental feeling which are not always beneficial for society now now you’re a science journalist but it wasn’t always that way you started your career at wpp’s advertising agency ogilvy and i just wonder what did you learn in the advertising industry about this thing called hype yeah uh lots i think i also crafted my um shall we say emotional relationship with it there too um but actually i actually would say i started my career in investment banking and i wasn’t there very long but that was where i originally um started and the department i was in was is called equity capital markets and the job there is selling ipos um so you know it’s a sales job really it’s a hype job right trying to get investors over the word

excited about what you’re doing i was obviously very junior i wasn’t traveling but you know i so i suppose i’ve always been attracted to this idea of like how did you tell stories how did you kind of um get people to believe most of the time really exciting interesting things how do you kind of um you know my always say one of my life’s goals to try and prove to my mum that euler’s theorem is amazing i studied maths uni and she every time i speak about it she’s like um so but when i got to ogilvy i started off in the advertising team in the account management team for american express and so of course we were creating hype shall we say or advertising for for the business um didn’t last all that long and there i didn’t like it but i ended up in corporate innovation and that’s actually where i think i got my much more nuanced and emotional um i suppose understanding of hype where you know my job was to go and meet startups meet interesting people and bring them into the agency and so i was going to tech conferences all over the world where of course you’re hearing startup pitches and corporate execs getting on stage i was getting on stage as as a corporate exec telling people about what ogovey was doing in the innovation team and but then i was also having clients come to me as the representative of ogilvy and the innovation team going hey can we do something innovative and of course we’re a marketing agency so you know when they say we want to do something innovative it doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to be innovative it’s they want to be seen to be innovative and so i suppose there was times where i was like you know helping create hyper helping work out how to create hype and there was times that i was picking apart and you know i was advising companies saying actually no don’t look at that company this one’s actually the one that you want to be looking at or you know that startup not so much this one’s better you know um so unpicking hype and then obviously um having to push back when maybe being asked to do it in certain ways that i personally didn’t think were um neither useful nor responsible so i don’t know i think it was a lot of you know growing up with the idea of what hype meant to me um and after i well ogilvy left me they shot the innovation department i was made redundant in 2016 i then you know started freelancing as a writer and still going to conferences and still seeing these pictures but instead of thinking about okay how do i make this useful for the clients that i work with in the company i work with it was okay how do i analyze this from a more journalistic perspective and of course that completely shifts the way you look at messages as well i suppose i’ve always had kind of an interesting i suppose relationship with hype when it comes to hype do you think there’s a fundamental difference the sort of hype that you hear around consumer technology such as virtual reality and augmented reality which don’t really feature in the book versus the sorts of technologies you do feature in the book the deep tech technologies the heavily science-laden forms of technologies i just wonder what sort of differences you see there in some sense it’s sometimes easier for hype to be misconstrued with deep tech because deep tech tends to be harder to understand so you know it’s it’s easier to be fooled or it’s easier to take the wrong idea away from a narrative concerning something really complex like for instance quantum computing because you’re not going to feel as empowered to ask a question about it or feel able to go well i’m not sure i agree with that article when you’re going i don’t know anything about quantum physics whereas with things like vr and ar i think it’s much easier to dive in and have an opinion without you know necessarily understanding the technology it’s the same the sort of analogy i use a lot of time is with um music i say you know if i’m in a room at a conference i’ll say okay put your hands up if you play a musical instrument and loads people doing two instruments three instruments by the time you get like five you maybe got one person in the back and you’re like you’re awesome but cool and i say okay but how many people in the room have an opinion about the new beyonce album and loads of people put their hands up and it’s the same with technology i think it’s you don’t need to understand the inner workings of how an engine works to have an opinion about pollution and petrol and usage of cars you know so that’s kind of what i want to make the point and i deliberately focus on deep tech for that reason that i think this is the the tech that’s kind of not being analyzed by people outside of the expertise or um on it because of this complexity now you focus on nine different technologies in the book and all of those technologies are deep tech examples and some might even call them moon shots and i just wonder all those nine technologies that you feature which do you think is the most over hyped it’s funny you said the moonshot i actually originally wanted to call the book grounding the moonshots but i was told that moonshot didn’t make sense outside of the sort of tech industry which i still think is incorrect but anyway um what’s the one that’s most over hyped i’d probably say ai and the reason i see ai is because frankly it’s just talked about more there’s a lot of really simplified narratives that get repeated over and over and over again the one in the book that i focus on is robots are going to steal your jobs whereas with something like quantum computing which i would say there’s a lot of overhype in there it’s still relatively contained um in terms of the audience so i suppose if you’re talking about sheer number it would

probably be ai maybe i mean maybe even some forms of cancer therapeutics and i think immunotherapy is is in some sense over hyped or the way we talk about it is over-hyped i mean the hard thing with with over-hyping things like cancer treatments and in fact you focus on this idea of curing cancer and the hype that comes with new drugs that can cure cancer is really the cost of that hype is a human cost it gets people um really excited in in ways in which they think there’s there’s hope perhaps to save either themselves or their loved ones there’s there’s real costs to hype yeah there is but it’s also why hype does so well because it’s emotional right i mean messages are built to try and make you think a certain thing i mean that’s that’s one of the things you learn about working in advertising agency there’s like the two rules it’s like know your audience and what’s your message and you know i think a lot of the time we forget that a lot of money research time and energy goes into how do we not to sound like a conspiracy theory but how do we manipulate people into believing things doing things whatever through the use of language and and spurring emotions and like making associations between metaphors and all these sorts of things and when it comes to something like cancer it’s like well you know you could argue that we need a lot of hype around curing cancer so that people donate to charities and are happy when the government spends money on research and when new politicians sort of campaign around upping the investment in r d and all these sorts of things if we keep over hyping the idea that we can cure cancer and that these are the ways to do it we’re basically not investing in bigger and better ways to do that we’re kind of stuck with the status quo and so the the cost of over hyping is i would say more than the cost of under hyping but the cost of underhyping is you don’t have support so it’s this sort of like hype is a double-edged sword and we kind of need it but we also don’t want it and it’s like how do you sit in that weird space in the middle and do things in the most responsible way so that people are not kind of being too badly affected i mean to jump to hype’s defense for a second innovation in deep tech often it feels like it’s it’s very reliant on hype but money can be difficult to come by so in some cases the hype can help sustain both investors and consumers at least their interests and their money in the company whilst the company tries to work hard to actually get the products out into the world so is there a good argument for hype does it actually give companies the sort of runways they need to affect the sorts of change they want to see in the world 100 100 it then comes back to the question though as to you know do you think placebos are good you know do you think they’re ethical that’s the sort of question i’m posing is this idea of like how ethical do we see this kind of verging on misinformation or this lack of correcting the record and we saw this with them with d-wave the the sort of famous start-up in the quantum computing space where they massively hyped what they did in order to get investment and all that and sort of to begin with you could say it was sort of responsible hyping maybe um in order to get attention but then when incorrect narratives were being reported they weren’t saying oh no that’s that’s not actually what we mean you know they were kind of riding on that hype and in the end there was you know there’s still a lot of misunderstanding about what they do and the way i sort of argue it is well is there an opportunity cost how you know them getting the funding and the attention the media coverage and you know buyers they’ve got clients customers it’s a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy they’ve needed that in order to actually now create something that is useful depending on how you analyze it and it depends what you you know whether you think certain use cases of contributing are better than others but you know you could argue that they it was right that they got all that so that they could sort of this thing could materialize but then you could also argue that well the people who were investing what else could they have put money in where else could attention have been i mean then you have the argument of as a zero-sum game you know maybe not but i think these questions around hype being good or bad i don’t actually think is the central question or at least it’s not it’s maybe what i start with but it’s certainly not what i answer at the end and it’s not what i want to focus on um in the book because i actually think that if you focus on whether hype is good or bad you kind of miss the deeper questions which is you know do we want to be investing in these kind of technologies do we think that this is a fair company do we think the the the people in power are making the right decisions like these kind of deeper harder to answer questions but they kind of get caught up and hype around hype not to be too meta the crazy thing about placebos is that placebos work and in a funny sort of way you you have to welcome his hype exactly and then you look at the um he features quite regularly in the book the hype meister himself elon musk because he’s unique in the way in which he’s been so successful in using hype to generate futures i mean i mean elon can make a

proclamation and it opens the overton window of what’s possible and you see that there’s real world effect so elon can make an announcement about uh tesla or batteries or space and you see real world changes in his stock market valuation for the companies that he’s hyping that he’s espousing and those stock market valuation changes allow him then to have the the material i.e of money to then go ahead and generate the future that he wants so in a funny sort of way language has a direct relation to the future in fact language in that case can actually generate the future that he wants to see so should we actually see hypers as a useful tool that we should all learn as scientists and technologists and as futurists all learn how to use correctly because it can affect that real change i think that the wheel of musk was about things is highly immoral again it depends on what you value right if you value tesla and spacex and and whatnot and you think that they are universally good then you could argue that it’s warranted what he’s doing there’s many things that elon does that aren’t good treatment of workers being one of them and so i would argue that could that money focus expertise be better spent elsewhere i mean elon’s not the genius the people in his companies are there’s other people that can do that stuff so i this idea of like the sole genius is i think highly problematic and hyped up in and of itself so and also it depends on what you mean by value i mean stock market value is not the same as real real world value and yes it means there’s more money in the bank but it doesn’t necessarily uh translate into good product you know there’s many discussions about the real value of of many of elon musk related products not being that great so you know so again it comes back to do you think that this is fair game and everyone’s going to have a different answer to that but if we don’t kind of open up those discussions you you end up you basically have to have a world where if you assume that we’re never going to be able to you know teach everyone about this right if you if you start there and say everyone’s going to get caught up in hype all the time there’s no point trying to change it so should we manipulate the masses in order to create a good society or should we invest in educating the masses and then more people can be part of the discussion and it’s kind of this like you know on one side of a coin you’ve got this two perfect worlds one where there’s perfect information and one where there’s perfect trust and everyone acts in a moral way neither of those exist so it’s kind of where do you sit in these this sort of spectrum in between i would like to sit closer towards perfect information as opposed to private checks i don’t think i i don’t think humans are gonna get there we can’t work towards that we can work towards better information and my i suppose angle that i’m coming at is going to the masses and going this is how you can act in a way that essentially makes the world a better place by you not always so easily falling for this and that doesn’t mean that elon musk suddenly doesn’t get believed and he’s doing bad things and everyone’s like it means that people understand in a more transparent way what he’s doing and why and even the conversation we’re having right now you know that the kind of is it fair game everyone should be able to be part of that discussion and decide whether they think it’s fair game as opposed to being part of the the field and that’s kind of what i’m trying to do with the book i want to say to people you know sometimes you’ll get filled and sometimes that’s okay but you you have a right to kind of be aware of it and i really want to empower more people to feel able to to sit in it and not feel helpless against it i think a lot of people do feel helpless and i don’t think that’s fair i don’t want to labor the point but the idea that language itself can literally speak the future into existence is what i’m trying to get at and a good example of this is self-fulfilling prophecy you know people can say certain things and that affects a certain way in which a society operates and therefore that thing comes about because it becomes a vicious cycle i think the most recent example would probably be toilet paper the russian toilet paper was really about suddenly someone heard that maybe there was something wrong with the the cardboard inside of the toilet rolls so they started a panic by toilet rolls so people started to see that there was no toilet roll on the shelf so they kept panicked buying it and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy suddenly there was no toilet roll it became a reality i would challenge that look to some extent yes but actually if you look at supply chains it’s a different story the the language actually it doesn’t have as much of an impact as you think so if you if you take it back and look at the system which is what i always try and advocate for if you look at the system as to how toilet paper gets into supermarkets right more people are at home a lot so therefore we need more toilet paper in the homes instead of in offices so instead of

where offices normally built buy from completely different suppliers everybody’s going to sainsbury’s or to tesco so the same volume of toilet roll is being used but it’s from different suppliers so it’s not just the case that people were bulk buying and there was none it was that sainsbury’s doesn’t normally account for so many people needing to buy toilet paper from those individual branches every single day and so they had to completely change the supply chain to simply just get more in to basically divert from so i agree with you that i agree with you this idea that of course i mean of course words like look the pen is mightier than the sword like look at hitler like the words matter things happen because of words of course i agree with you but i do think that there’s more to be said around words not necessarily always being useful and that it’s important that people understand these broader systems and then can take the words into context and make their own decision as opposed to just trusting the words and and that’s really what smokingmerz is about i i love how we’ve gone from quantum computing to toilet paper in the course of the first of the first 30 minutes and the reason i label the point around self-fulfilling prophecy is because the examples of banks certain banks collapsing there’s been historical examples of where there’s been a rumor that perhaps a certain bank doesn’t have a the amount of liquidity that it needs and that causes a physical run on the bank and people queue up outside they take their money out of the bank and self-fulfilling prophecy being self-fulfilling prophecy the bank collapses anyway it wouldn’t of if uh if that story hadn’t happened in the first place and to apply that uh to hype it’s very similar to the positivist movement in a similar sort of way the idea that if you can dream something that you can make it happen and and hype is is it feels like a at least a weird sibling of the positivist movement whereby if you’re able to drive enough interest towards something you’re able to realize it there’s this kind of very techno-optimist way of looking at the world based purely on the fact that if you’re able to rally the troops and you’re able to generate the external conditions to actually actualize that thing from the future into the present moment and i just wonder that it’s so wonderful that the book uses this term smoker mirrors because it feels like hype can almost be used as this magical material to generate the future in the present yeah yeah i mean god yeah i mean wouldn’t it be wonderful if you know getting something amazing into the world wasn’t a case of how good you are talking about it but rather how good you are making it and i suppose that’s my pushback it’s like i’m a good speaker i’m a good writer all that sort of thing should i get more say on the future versus someone who’s a great engineer or a great doctor or a great lawyer who doesn’t speak quite so well or doesn’t write quite so well or isn’t quite as compelling and the way they put their ideas across i don’t think that’s fair what i’m trying to argue in smoke and mirrors and what i believe is that yes if you want to get stuff in the world you have to get people on board and all that sort of thing but it shouldn’t be enough in and of itself and sometimes when hype goes wrong it is and that’s where problems happen because we rely too much on the jury the so-called dreams the the narratives the way things are spoke about as opposed to the actuality and reality of the way that they’re being brought into the world and the ethics around how they’re being brought into the world it’s not enough to rely on narrative so i suppose i agree with you that i think you know we need i’m i’m optimistic i’m i’m very optimistic and i think that we we need to be optimistic we need to you know talk about why things are amazing and talk about you know these imagined futures and all that sort of stuff i agree with you but equally if we don’t have the people on the other end of that message you know critically thinking around it not assuming it’s wrong not immediately going nah you’re wrong rubbish but going that’s interesting huh huh you’re really tickling me there i wonder about this and i wonder about that and oh i wonder if i can help you or i wonder if there’s any voting happening on this or i wonder what’s happening with the money and oh god i’ve seen something problematic but i still really believe in this idea i think it’s great so now that i’ve spotted something what can we do to try and make it better so it’s not about trying to halt people it’s genuinely it’s coming from an optimistic place i think that if people were more conscious of hype more able to contextualize it more people would be able to get involved and i hope that that would mean that things would be better that we’d actually be able to weed out the stuff that’s not worth doing for society and stuff that is so i agree with you i just don’t think it’s enough words aren’t enough they’re powerful but they’re not enough and just one of your thoughts on the the current landscape of tech and science journalism because it feels like science and tech journalism is to a degree having a resurgence we’re seeing more and more online platforms espousing these these wonderful science and tech innovations and before we only had things like wired magazine but now we have numerous outlets focusing purely on these science and tech ideas so do you think gemma that science and tech journalism is stronger than it’s ever been i mean i haven’t done an analysis as such comparing science

journalism in the 50s versus now um i would hope that more people doing it would mean that it’s better i think there are quite a lot of platforms that don’t do a very good job of science science and tech journalism and i suppose the way i tend to separate it out is this idea of you’ve sort of two forms of of um comms around science you’ve got whizbang isn’t this amazing and then you’ve got critical thinking and there’s lots of investment lots of focus lots of interest lots of government money into this whiz bank because it’s also really tied with education too but there’s a lot of wiz bang there’s a lot of platforms i would say most of the platforms to some degree focus on this whiz bang but the idea of critical thinking around science i think because some people kind of associate it with like lacking trust and experts or you know being negative or you know investigative journalism has to be back you know all this sort of stuff and it’s like actually no i think that critically thinking and encouraging critical thinking around science and tech is way more interesting than being like look at this meteor isn’t it amazing like no like tell me some actual information about it and tell me why it’s so crazy that it’s made it here and tell me what’s problematic about it and maybe it’s because i’m a total nerd i love systems i think supply chains are fascinating i love systems if we can be better at explaining the interconnectedness of stuff and how science is not just this thing on its own but rather how it impacts how it’s part of society how there’s many different elements to it other than just you know what’s the paper what’s the tech i think that’s more interesting way of talking about science tech and we are seeing more focus on that i think wired sometimes does that really really well and other times it falls into the whiz bang nothing wrong with this bang i just think that there’s enough of that and i i i am seeing more of the kind of deeper stuff which is great i just hope that people are reading it and being you know wanting to engage in that kind of science content as opposed to just the brian cox look at the stars isn’t this pretty sort of stuff which is lovely because of the quantum well this is just a difference between education and kind of entertainment and then i think what i’m what i think is interesting is sort of something in the middle but realistically what you’re actually trying to do is turn turn it to the audience and go what do you think i’ve given you enough information to kind of you know plant some seeds and give you the sort of foundations of this um area so that you can not only understand the tech but you can now understand what are these weird awkward open questions that nobody knows how to answer and i can engage in them isn’t that exciting that’s way more exciting than being told how the doppler effect works you know i’d rather want to know like what are mathematicians arguing about right now way more exciting sometimes it feels like science and tech journalists they can really make or break an idea and i used to work closely with the team at futurism.com and i used to joke with futurism.com that every time they would write something about blockchain you would see the impact on the price of ether on coinbase they had such a massive reach amongst blockchain bros on on platforms like facebook that the memes and the media that they would put out would actually impact the the price of this stuff in the real world and i just wonder as a science and tech journalist do you feel sometimes responsible for other people’s uh innovations yeah 100 i mean god i you know i do some work with him forbes and you know it was about a year ago i was on the tube in london and i looked up at one of the adverts and one of the stations and it had you know it was a startup it had like the product it was an app you know said the phone with the app on the screen and then at the top it just said like astounding or something like that forbes not who are just forbes not the title of the of the the journalist or anything and what that made me think of is like well forbes works on two different models it’s got journalism and then it’s got contributors and there are journalists who are contributors like myself but there are many people who are not journalists who are contributors and the stuff isn’t edited to the same degree as the journal the actual journalists that work for forbes so if you write something in a in a piece of reforms and you’ve got a startup plastering it all across london to you know kind of back up why people should buy their their product then yeah that scares living daylights out of me and i you know i don’t also don’t want to be part of a marketing campaign for any company it’s one of the reasons i rarely take anything from a press release because i’m like i’m not here to be your kind of megaphone that’s that’s not my response that’s not my role or my responsibility i think part of the problem is that the part of the problem when it goes wrong because it’s not always a problem is that i think a lot of people who write about science and tech love science and tech and they think it’s amazing and so when they see an awesome new technology or an awesome new discovery or whatever the first thing you want to do is believe it and think it’s amazing and tell people the story and share it and all that and i think that also comes from this kind of science communication starts from a place of like educating those that don’t get it and this kind of really

idealistic like we need to get everyone as excited as me right and it doesn’t always translate into the same kind of journalism in other ways also because it’s hugely productified you know there’s a lot of it’s a lot of selling which is quite different from a lot of other types of journalism i personally am very very very aware of my responsibility i think it’s part of the reason i’m not as prolific as i’d like to be because every time i sit down to write your piece i’m going right okay how do i make sure i’m doing this correctly and right and then in some sense probably i’m a bit too you know cautious maybe you know the political journalists are being told you’re holding the powerful to account that’s your job as a journalist in other places in science tech it’s more about how to be you know communicate this stuff to the masses it’s a very it’s like the mission of it seems different um so i think that science and tech journalism as a whole would do do well to you know ensure there’s enough people focusing on that mission of holding to account again not being negative but making it better by holding it to account that’s what journalism is about it’s about making the world better by holding it to account no no the responsibility isn’t just with the journalists it’s also with the readers with the general public and you ask in the book for people to take time to pause and question the statements that they read in the science and technology outlets and how do you find the time how do people find the time to have that moment of pause and have that moment of questioning in their busy lives i think it depends on the level by which you’re reading and then the impacts by which a sharing of that message is going to have so as we hear in spider-man with great power comes great responsibility and i think if you’re the sort of person that’s going to take some form of message and then spread it you have a responsibility to pause a little bit longer than someone who’s maybe just reading it and not doing anything with it scanning past it and i do think that every single person can pause for a second it’s not it’s not really that difficult and for for me the kind of big thing i say is try and not get caught up in the emotional reaction that the writers or the headline writer is trying to get from you because that is that’s the point of a headline right is to try and capture you in a certain way but it does mean that you can fall for that very quickly so it’s more about pausing and going okay i understand what they’re trying to do with this headline you’ve got my attention i’m gonna not have this emotional reaction i’m now gonna be like okay what what are they actually trying to say you need to click through and properly read it because lots of people don’t do that properly read it and see if there’s nuance in there or just quickly ask yourself you know what does this depend on or what’s the context of this message who’s seeing it what platform are they using why are they selling something are they trying to convince me are they campaigners are they public health officials like who are they and you know that doesn’t take very long it’s like a second in your head you don’t have to go and do tons of research but it would have a huge impact on stopping retweets of things that shouldn’t necessarily be retweeted or the sort of decontextualization if that’s a word of messages that shouldn’t be contextualized in that way and so i suppose that’s kind of what i mean by pause i don’t mean go and sit in a library and take out 20 books on fusion energy every time you see a headline about it unless you want to go for it great um but no just more kind of be aware of the role that i hope i mean we’re aware of what adverts do why are we not aware so much of of hyper of narratives or of you know things that are lacking in nuance you have the journalists and you have the readers but the third prong is the scientists and the technologists themselves and i just wonder firstly how can technologists ensure that hype doesn’t misdirect or doesn’t derail the sort of progress they want to see and for scientists how do you think they can better communicate the nuances of their work so i think it’s about realizing there’s two things that you should communicate or you should try to communicate one is the reality of what’s going on so exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it and the vision of why you’re doing it and making it really really clear which is which i think a lot of time where a hype happens is when there’s a miscommunication or a misunderstanding around vision and current reality and the other thing that i would be aware of is the difference between communicating a single uh solution problem story um or problem solution rather story and communicating system stories better and so instead of saying you know this is a problem in this industry this is how many people it affects we’ve made this thing it solves the problem that’s a very there’s truth in that but it’ll be missing stuff and it’s very easy for people to to get lost in that narrative very quickly of course it’s very good for getting money and whatnot but system narratives are are more truthful and are not necessarily that much more complicated to um to communicate i think people think that it’s harder to communicate this stuff it’s not it does it takes a little bit more effort and responsibility but we should all have that effort responsibility and not be lazy so i i i think it’s those kind of two areas this vision versus reality and then this problem uh solution uh versus system

narrative there’s there’s questions to be asked around you know whether it’s a scientist or a business or whoever around what messages are you putting out what’s the reason you’re putting them out and are you being thoughtful about the the actual narratives that you’re creating you you break the book down into three sections and under those three sections you feature three different types of technology and then the first section is the now section which focuses on the future of food on cancer cures and on batteries and reading that section i i couldn’t help but think that those are the kind of save the world sorts of technologies and i know you were to a degree critical over save the world narratives but isn’t it better to have those sort of lofty goals to want to save the world rather than just have banal incremental aims to save the world oh yeah no i mean my argument is that the people seeing these are actually doing very incremental things and so it’s not fulfilling the narrative that they’re using i think the narrative saying that we want to do it and genuinely trying to do it great awesome as long as you’re doing it thoughtfully and that you’re you’re thinking about how you’re actually trying to do it and not assuming there’s only one way of doing it you know um but i you know i think that a lot of the issue around save the world narratives is they are used to minimize and blinker and distract people from the reality that is incremental progress if you look at innovation that happens in agritech you can split it into stuff that feeds the hungry um and stuff that feeds the wealthy in comparison to hungary and and both use the term and feed the world by the way both you know innovations in the space are talked about in terms of feeding the world and that’s where i see a problem right because you start having this kind of misattribution of of kind of um what’s really going on i mean vertical farming is a perfect example vertical farming right now maybe in the future who knows but right now vertical farming is not feeding the world it is getting expensive salads to people who live in cities that’s what vertical farming is currently doing and if we talk about vertical farming as a solution to feeding the world and don’t be really clear about the current state of the technology the the issues the inherent energy usage for instance issues in the technology and you know whether or not we’re actually going to expand the innovations into countries that need it slightly more than say you know new york city so again it’s it’s it’s how you attribute that narrative and precisely what you’re attributing it to one of the things i mentioned in the in the food chapter is if you look at investment in agritech innovations it’s massively gone up over the last couple years it’s amazing the amount of er attention that’s going into sort of farming tech but most of that is going into like deliveroo and companies like this and you’re kind of like is that feeding the world are we saving the world or are we getting stuff delivered to us in cities so i don’t think there’s anything wrong with us all trying to save the world but the using the narrative when you’re not is very problematic looking at some of those future food examples i mean vertical farming yes it is based in cities but it maybe i’m just believing the hype but it is now 120 times more efficient than field farming it does use less energy and the fact that you don’t have to ship this stuff halfway across the country means that you’re reducing for fuel costs that’s not true not true why not because if fuel costs are higher in short because you’re burst you’re having to stop loads in a city short trips it’s not fuel efficient and what’s more fuel efficient is a lorry going across the country than a small van in a city having to weedle around so fuel efficient arguments are not necessarily true and it depends on every single journey also you’re talking about efficiency well efficiency for fought it doesn’t negate the need for other forms of farming right you still need to grow potatoes and anything with roots and anything that has a flower of some kind like like a strawberry or something like that right because it’s a fish it’s efficient making greens it’s efficient making salad greens it’s not efficient when you do potatoes and so you aren’t negating the need for farming you’re not solving the issue of soil depletion you’re not solving the issue of you know lorries having to transport stuff across across countries you’re creating salad and other certain types of things that you can grow in cities and that’s good that’s useful at the moment with the current state of things we are not at the point where we can make these claims we can say that that’s what we’re trying to do and we can outline those methods and then we can say well is that method the best method are we you know is it realistic to say that we’re actually going to be able to do that but saying vertical farming can do this is incorrect and that’s what i mean by hype right it becomes an issue of having to see the whole thing aggregate essentially the entire system and the system and to your point the supply chain that contributes the entirety of farming it’s it’s so funny you mention hamburgers because it makes a feature in

the in the book impossible burger and the wonderful thing about impossible burger that is that even the brand name is a form of hype in fact it makes me question the brand name because an impossible burger has now proven that it is possible and they are selling these things to i think it’s a burger king in the uh in the us so when you have a hype’s name like impossible burger where do you go from there when what was previously impossible is now just possible well it’s also do you call it a burger i mean i mean there’s a whole but there’s a whole big debate around um plant-based milk whether or not we should call it milk does it count as dairy and all these sorts of things because it’s obviously not dairy but it’s masquerading as dairy and and you know and fair play because obviously people want to replace things i don’t know i mean i i feature i feature the kind of alternative alternative meats and i kind of obviously have everything in there from insects as protein to plant-based alternatives to labrador and alternatives which are obviously different and even things like corn one of my bigger questions is around acceptability and how do you convince people to shift their behavior so in some sense calling it the impossible burger is very clever because you’re trying you’re not necessarily trying to attract vegans you know actually a lot of times vegans won’t buy this stuff because they’re not bothered about necessarily eating burgers what you’re trying to get is either ex meat eaters who have moved over for ideological purposes but still like burgers or people who like burgers that are hesitant to move so you’ve got to make a case essentially it’s exciting it’s good we’ve done the impossible we’ve created you know you get you get to cheat essentially you don’t have to change your behavior you get to kind of um you know come in the side door and so it’s a clever way of doing it and again you know there’s an argument we made that that’s a really really good thing we need to trick people into into switching behaviors around meat consumption all these sorts of things so it’s clever for sure you focus on three more technologies and and they’re the uh the more industrial feeling technologies that their energy their space and their quantum computing and i love that you’re so positive about the idea of space but does it feel like space is the example of where we have the most hype because it feels like most space startups are just complete and out of bollocks for one of a better word i mean i i remember going to some of these space startup fairs down in in san jose and in san francisco and you’d walk around the conference floor and then you’d have these small space startups in their booth exhibiting a poster and uh exhibiting a powerpoint and you’d go up and you’d see these designs for these beautiful space labs and you’d ask them that wow this is incredible how are you going to get the funding and when are you going to build it and they turn around to you and go oh no no we’re not going to build it we just have the intellectual property for it and we have a patent on this small thing within this uh space ecosystem and what we’re hoping is that either spacex or nasa are just going to purchase us within the next 10 years and and that’s the way we’re going to make our return on investment and you think well that’s crazy how can you get away with just stagnating innovation by just holding on to the space ips so do you think that this space is one of these really tricky space really tricky hype is really uh stagnating um our ability to actually make real world uh changes and innovations my argument is that we’re way too optimistic and we do our list way too idealistic about space and the biggest piece of feedback i’ve got about that chapter is i’m too negative by people who love space i mean a lot of that is fueled by sci-fi a lot of us that is fueled by the sort of mission driven um you know new frontiers adventure kind of narratives around going to space that have been apparent since the 1950s and 60s and this whole idea of like new space is is is the kind of current narrative around it this you know things will be different in space utopia is in space and the argument that i make in the chapter is that what’s really happening in space right now is not space hotels and asteroid mining and you know holidays and all that jazz it’s a satellite business as a communications business like every single industry on the planet it does have its problems it has its power problems it has its mining problems it has you know all the stuff that every other industry you can look at and see you know sustainability problems you know and whether you look at retail and say oh it’s bad because of this or you look at oil and say it’s bad because of this we’re not very good at doing that with the space industry because we are caught up in this idea of it being this other thing this future thing that is at one point humanity’s gonna sort itself out before we go to space i mean i just think that’s crazy and a lot of the stuff that’s said about space is this idea of

there was a bit there’s a bit i quote where someone says it’s talking they’re talking about asteroid by the things we we war have wars over with resources on planet earth are infinite in space so he’s essentially arguing that like what war wouldn’t be a thing if we could do asteroid mining in space it’s like no that’s ridiculous that’s ridiculous we will be having different sorts of war i mean the argument that they’re making there is you have abundant access to goals you have abundant access to rare earth minerals but the crazy thing is what you don’t have on an asteroid is abundant access to water and oxygen so suddenly here on earth we could build buildings out of gold but water and oxygen will suddenly become these rare commodities and the way that gold and rare earth minerals have and that’s actually the thing you can get quite a lot off from the mining going back to what you said about ip because i think that’s really interesting i mean that’s basically the the model of biotech right like you you just you paint not you just painted it something that sell it but i mean you know it’s a lot of work that goes into these things most of the time um but the idea is that you try and get a painting you sometimes maybe have to like you know go through if it’s medical you might need to go through a clinical trial or two before someone will buy it but the point is you’re trying to essentially either be bought as a company or sell a license um to something to one of the big pharma there’s not necessarily i was gonna say there’s not necessarily something wrong with that i mean there are many things wrong with it but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad innovation or it’s not innovative um i mean a lot of the time with deep tech it’s actually daft for inventors to try and take to market the thing that they invent because they don’t have a distribution they don’t have the money to run the trials they can’t get accredited all these sorts of things and so in some sense trying to get nasa or spacex river to buy you is actually probably the best way of getting it to market so it doesn’t necessarily negate it but what again it’s this lack of clarity it’s the lack of being up front and the thing is is like it’s interesting it’s an interesting business model it’s an interesting thing to put forward it’s not boring but we’re caught up in this oh we need to make a cool poster with we’re gonna you know and you see it with with people who are trying to sell uh cell patents on their their biotech whether it’s we’re gonna cure cancer with us it’s like well not you or not you’ve invented something that eventually you know and i think actually telling those stories have the bravery to do it have the bravery that people will take you way more seriously you might not get the interest of the masses but you’ll get the interest of the people who matter in terms of advancing your business you know whether it’s the investors or the policy makers or whoever and um and you’d probably get a lot more respect from the media because they’re like thank god someone’s actually being honest with me how do you tell the system story and the system of like business model and ip again might just be because i’m a system nerd is fascinating and it’s interesting to be like oh so you’ve decided to do that then you’re going to do this you made this platform that is actually really really clever and there’s something interesting in that story as opposed to going we’re eventually going to build a rocket it’s kind of like because no one’s going to believe it and it’s not true so you know we could talk about space startups forever but the only space startup i’ve ever seen where i’ve gone oh you know what this is actually happening and actually um living out in the world well there’s two actually one is made in space who managed finally to get a 3d printer onto the international space station and another was just a very banal company that was sending cubesats up into space but they were sending these cubesats with small little containers 10 by 10 containers and there were 10 of these slots that they could put in this cubesat and what they were filling the containers with were ashes of your dead relatives so they could uh take your ashes um place it into this cubesat they were charging about two thousand dollars for that and there were a thousand of these um uh little containers that you could put your ashes into so they were making you know close to two hundred thousand dollars just on uh collecting the ashes and put it into cubesat and it only cost them about twenty thousand to send it into space thanks to the russians it was the only time i’ve ever actually seen a real space business a business that actually makes money right now today from space no but see that’s that’s the thing that’s that’s where that’s that’s that’s the thing there’s lots of space companies that make money right now and they do it in satellites that’s how you make money in space right now you either build satellites launch satellites analyze the data from satellites sell the comms network that come off satellites um store the data that comes off satellites all these companies make make money do very well or are set to you know if they’re early stage because there’s a huge market humongous market a growing market especially when you think about wi-fi access and internet access globally we’re trying to increase that that that’s part of i guess the hype that i try and um explore in that chapter as i say you know we’re hearing about all these new space you know kind of crazy ideas that are interesting and fascinating oh put your ashes in space that’s exciting but the reality of the situation is this is a satellite business that is that is what it is and elon musk is not making money from trying to get to mars he makes money in

the satellite business that’s how he makes money so age-old phrase follow the money like work out who is act that’s one of the ways you beat hype you work out what actually is making money who is you know not necessarily who’s investing but who’s got revenue and who’s able to kind of you know grow companies and all that sort of thing and it’s a really quick way of realizing okay what are people talking about this really exciting versus what’s the reality the current situation and that that’s something that i really wanted to try and bring to the fore with you know space in particular and again not to make it boring the satellite industry is actually really interesting would you know you know so again it’s like trying to bring a little bit of like interest and excitement and hopefully empower people to feel that they can kind of engage with it um in a way that’s beyond one day we’ll go to mars now before we go to the uh youtube questions i do want to focus on the last section of the book which is brain computer interfaces artificial intelligence and oddly enough aliens um i guess my first question gemma is is artificial intelligence out to steal our jobs yeah no the the argument i make is that it’s uh that it is not um the narrative robots are gonna steal jobs or ai is going to steal jobs is problematic because you other the technology you blame the technology whereas if you say corporate executives are making active decisions to employ automation as opposed to humans that’s not me saying that’s a bad thing i mean it may sound sarcastic to you but i’m just stating the facts some people would argue that’s a bad thing because obviously you’re making people redundant and putting profit before people and all these sorts of things but then you could also make the argument that that’s you know efficient and useful and you know you’re freeing up humans to do more creative thinking and all these sorts of things but the problem is if you use robots are going to say their job or ai is going to see your job as a narrative you end up talking about rights of robots when’s the singularity going to happen what is creativity things that are very kind of philosophical very you know in the future which are fun interesting conversations to be had but then you’re not having conversations about universal basic income reskilling of people power of corporates should people be able to make decisions like this should be tax should we have an innovation tax i mean this is an interesting thing this whole idea of i think it was bill gates said we should tax robots if we if we do automation which sounds like a compelling thing you know tax rebates yeah let’s not tax people but when you again reframe it and say we should tax innovative companies who have employed automation really efficiently and quickly we should essentially find them for that of course that sounds like a really bad thing so you know if if you’re on sort of my side of the kind of another i’m on cyber if you’re on the side of the employee i would argue you should say tax robots but then not never say robots are stealing jobs because you essentially nudge people towards your your world view but again it just comes back to this whole idea of othering if we don’t know if we keep blaming technology as opposed to individuals that’s when we start to lose control and one of the big fears around ai and robots is we lose control and the argument i’m trying to make is that well if we keep referring to them as them and not hold those two to account who are the ones building it right now then yeah we will lose control that is what will happen so we need to understand what control means right now and where our limits are and a lot of that does come back to language what are your thoughts on brain computer interfaces because folks like brian johnson and uh elon musk with neurolink and brian johnson with colonel and facebook with their still yet fairly unknown project are all espousing this idea that we can directly connect the brain to machines and in many cases that’s the way we’re going to overcome the singularity because we’re just going to upgrade our brains but you help us sort of navigate some of the issues with those proclamations and these claims that we can directly interface the human body with technology do you think it’s a case of hype or do you think it’s actually just a pure misunderstanding of how brains interface with hardware here well i mean there’s two things here um in terms of what we currently can do in some sense we’ve we’ve done amazing things when it comes to bringing boot interfaces in the medical field um you’ve all seen those videos where you know you’ve got a paralyzed person who’s got this big sort of jack literally inserted in their brain as a hole in their head and they can move their legs the first time in however many years right so we we’ve done amazing things when it comes to bringing computer interfaces in terms of what i think the way it’s spoken about in the kind of new age bringing people to interfaces around kernel and neural link this idea of you know being able to meld man and machine her women and machine and and you know take control of ai and all this that’s not the reality of what we can do right now so it’s a very very far future vision where my sort of take on bringkpout interfaces is that i think we would do well to separate what we want and what we need and you know a lot of technology has its or the way we talk about technology is has its roots in sci-fi and i i at the start of the chapter i talk about my two

favorite device sci-fi devices um it’s the you know point of view gone from hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy where the the woman can shoot the man and he doesn’t die but he um you know he feels he understands how she feels it’s like a lot of people who are uh slightly more empathetic or feminine energy or whatever you want to call it normally want that of their partners and and and the other one is the sort of brain jack the usb jack from the matrix you know you can plug in and learn anything right those are those are my two things i want to be understood and i want to learn anything that’s like me twitty um so so i’m like that would be awesome to have these amazing sci-fi devices and the next step for that would be i’m going to support anyone who tries to make them and if you think about it being understood by people understanding what’s in your brain and being able to learn anything is essentially the goal of brain computer interfaces that’s what that’s what they’re tapping into this idea that we want to be able to do anything think anything be understood and the pro there’s many problems with it particularly when it comes to like socio-economic equality inequalities um you know haves and have-nots you know what happens when some people who can afford or get access to these devices when if and when they work in the way that we we desire you know get to sit an exam with you know months of extra learning versus someone who hasn’t how’s that fair um are we going to get to the point where you know right now you essentially have to have an email of course you have choice you don’t have to sign up for an email but you can’t really take part in in civilized society without one it’s quite difficult to do that so isaac are we going to get to a point where if everyone has one you’re not gonna have a choice even though you don’t want something in your brain normally probably sold by a company that’s getting all of your information um so there’s lots of info interesting again far future um but if you assume we’re going to get there and you assume it’s going to happen then we have these problems what i say is well should we even bother going there you know why don’t we just focus on the medical elements why don’t we just focus on giving back the human things that people lose through disease or accident or whatever and not try and do the superhuman thing that can cause huge issues and it’s a question i think we don’t ask often enough in technology is you know do we need this is this inevitable and is this assumption that technology is inevitable i think could be quite problematic at times so there is a degree of argument to be had to say look at least exploring some of these things allows us to incrementally uh learn more and more about the human body and the human brain a friend of mine nigel lachland a amputee looks at what’s going on with the brain jack and says look you know it’s wonderful that they’re enabling this person to move their arms a paralyzed person to move their arms but the reality of the fact is this person went through a traumatic injury to become paralyzed and now you’re arguing that we should start drilling holes in their head it just doesn’t make sense that these individuals should then become the the fodder for science and technology innovation and in many ways the bci your chapter reminded me a lot around prosthetics and prosthetic envy and yeah anybody with a 3d printer back in 2016 2017 suddenly thought they could print a 3d printed prosthetic limb because self-printed limbs was this big thing and yes it did a wondrous job at getting limbs to the people who needed them the most but the reality was a lot of people were 3d printing limbs that just weren’t fit for purpose 50 of them were because the people had the proper kit but everybody else just had to make a bot downloaded some things and thought they could do it too because they got attracted to the hype so you’re absolutely right jim and these things they’re so complicated they’re so nuanced they they have effects and effects on themselves and i’m gonna take um a couple of questions from uh youtube the first one is from meg who asks is there a surefire way to critically look at the integrity of people creating these narratives in other words is there a way that we know we can trust someone is not just selling us a dream in actual fact that there is a degree of reality around what they’re espousing in some cases fame is the judgmental level that’s why elon does so well ideas are talked about for years and years and years but until someone who is either famous or rich enough to actualize that thing says it does it become a reality so how do we measure uh integrity to understand as to whether this person is is being honest with us or just selling us a dream that’s a great question it’s actually something i’m thinking a lot about at the moment in terms of like pseudo measures for expertise that the internet has kind of um created so you know they have lots of followers and a blue tick they must be trust trustworthy um you know either blue takes a chance exactly well that’s what i mean and it’s like you know forbes 30 under 30 is pseudo-measurement there’s many people on there i’ve seen over the years i’m like really i suppose what i’m trying to say is i think

there’s a lot of ways that we try to measure people and try and measure whether it’s integrity or success or whatever and we need to do them because it’s very very difficult to make sense of really complex systems and it’s difficult to try and as you say assess the integrity but again we have to come back to this idea that when we try and find a simple answer to a question is this person trustworthy where we can so easily come up with the wrong answer if we try and find a simple way of answering that question the reality is it’s complex i don’t think that there’s a recipe for checking someone’s integrity but i do think that the critical thinking in practice is how you do it and it’s about you know checking credentials googling see who else is endorsed what other things are they saying beyond what they’re saying what’s the flow of money what’s the flow of power it’s not assuming that everyone is a bad person or that everything’s a conspiracy or that nobody’s trustworthy but i do think we have a responsibility to not just believe what we read whether that’s this person one forbes 30 under 30 therefore they’re successful it’s like well no anyone can apply for forbes 30 under 30 you know that and anyone can put an application in and anyone can read the application and all these sorts of things so you know that’s not necessarily the best way of measuring it’s a good sifting mechanism it’s not it’s not the only measure this idea of is there a way of determining integrity i i would i would see yes it’s called critical thinking but also no because it’s not a framework the other thing i want to quickly say is i’m not advocating for everyone to not trust experts this is where you get climate denying anti-vaxxers right where there’s a problem or a difficult thing to do in science and tech is how do you ensure that it’s trustworthy without asking people to blindly trust you and i think it’s about encouraging and critical thinking and also you know sitting back and going but what do i think you know in finding other sources and comparing the danger so it comes sometimes with the weird middleman of the pr agency a lot of people who can look like they have a lot of integrity and can find themselves on some incredible stages and and publish incredible things but in actual fact there’s a lot of engineering that happens um below them or underneath whether it’s plumbing yeah and whether it’s how they dress or how they speak or even the things that they say um sometimes they’re not always the the agency of that individual we have another uh question from youtube this time from uh cyber salon i’m assuming it’s ava pasco who asks is hype just the socializing of a new idea in other words is hype really really useful for getting the general public and people uh used to and comfortable with a new concept um yeah i think it can be again it comes back to how do you do it in a responsible way and how do people who are on the other end of it effectively assess it to work out if they’re believing it because it’s founded on reality or whether they’re believing it based purely on narrative and i think that’s where we have to be careful around hype yes we can use it to get to gather attention but it’s kind of like cheating it’s like saying i’ve got this really exciting thing it’s not really that exciting but i’m gonna tell you it’s exciting and hope that you believe me as opposed to being upfront and telling you what actually is it actually is happening and then if people are excited it’s actually more truthful i know that that’s that’s minimizing because of course it’s difficult to get the full message across and blah blah blah but in some sense i think sometimes hype can be a plaster over something that’s actually not that great it’s mislea you’re are you really socializing are you really understanding what people think about it when you’re not actually being fully truthful and fully transparent about what the reality of it is you’re you’re only socializing the idea not the reality of what of what the tech or sign says well we have another uh question from youtube this time from digital void which is josh chapterland and how would you if you would at all differentiate between uh hype and a person or a company’s desire to create their vision through causative thinking so i think in a way this kind of goes similar to your yeah the point about what i was earlier asking how do you differentiate between those things how do you rally the troops and also responsibly use use hype this whole idea of like building and they will come is not always true right we know that but at the same time if you create something that’s properly transformative not incrementally transformative properly transferred i’m talking about like fusion energy here i’m not talking about an app right i i suppose i kind of refuse to believe that nobody’s going to pay attention at all right and especially if you then try with the proof that you have and i you know i understand that sometimes it’s difficult to get to that proof without having the buy-in right difficult to get funding it’s difficult to get attention all that sort of stuff but i think it’s more impressive to find ways find ways around it find ways of proving it find ways of getting people’s attention and trust that isn’t almost lying i suppose that’s where i come back to

this whole thing of it’s a tool right you can use the tool in a way that you can advertise and talk about i’m not against advertising you know i put facebook ads up to try and get people to pre-order my book right i you need advertising but it’s it’s just about being truthful about what it is that you’re advertising and not using oversimplified narratives that that you can normally know is going to push people in the wrong direction right if i said this book is going to make you understand how to be type all of the time that’s the goal of the book that’s the vision of the book that i believe if you read it a million times and really take in what it’s saying arguably it might maybe fulfill on that but i would that would be not only hyping but kind of knowing that i would be sort of lying a little bit and that’s the sort of hype i’m talking about it’s that stuff that’s it’s different saying my goal for the book is this you know it’s funny i actually the ad that i did on him i think it was on facebook i wrote a little post underneath the book and i said you know i wanted to create a book i wanted to do this and i felt like that was the most responsible way of talking about my goal for the book without you know declaring that if you read it you will get this and i actually had someone comment under it being like well you should have tried harder then because i’d said i wanted as opposed to this does and i was like that’s the problem this kind of one people wanting to get these simple answers and these simple solutions it just doesn’t exist it’s not it’s not the world we live in it gets a following so that that answer is from the bbc’s ian forrester who asks um surely you need some ideas or narratives that drive people to think bigger and he gives the example of apple who are well known to demo things before they were actually ready and and ava pasco followed up by saying well look could you argue actually that vaporware in some rare cases actually moves the world forward yeah but it’s being put forward as a vision i think there’s a difference between saying imagine a world when it could look like this here it is here this is what it would look like this is what it could do we are getting there we’re close or whatever you know our like or not even thinking about to be is this was it just imagine a world where and it’s right here in my pocket i think it’s just the difference between what is vision and what is reality and and when people misinterpret your vision correcting it not sort of riding the wave of incorrect information that’s that’s where i see the problem it’s like and you know it’s also detrimental for you at the end of the day because if if you mismanage expectations as we all know things can go drastically wrong if you say something can do this we have built a thing that does this and then someone you only need one example of when it doesn’t work for folk to not believe anything you say anymore so it’s a dangerous it’s a dangerous line to kind of go down so you know i think it’s the difference between vision and and hard claim and also what that what that vision is you know how big is it how what kind of promise are you making to people what kind of hope false hope are you instilling in people things but different with like an eye a thing that plays music versus feeding the world i i think that goes back in some ways to your idea of responsible hype um and and it would be irresponsible of me not to mention the current crisis we’ve done so well to get this far and not mention coven 19 but i just wonder gemma how do you think hype is causing challenges to our understanding of the current covid19 crisis or at least the science behind this crisis i think that actually hype is um i think it could have been used better shall we say i think the tool you know hype for good could have been used in a better way i feel like there’s quite a lot there’s a lot of conflicting narratives there aren’t really they’re not that many narratives that are winning out that are all so clear so like stay at home for some people that’s very clear but for others it’s like well depending on what you know and and when and is it okay to go run can i sit in a park bench can i not you know um so you’d argue there’s not really much clarity in there for you know it’s not a really kind of useful hyped up narrative my sort of take on things is that i think that we haven’t used hype for good in a very good way particularly when we’re talking about getting you know public health messages out to be pollen and um and making people feel safe and and all these sorts of things i think but one of the biggest narratives that i wish was louder is we don’t know we don’t know this is really hard we don’t know this hasn’t happened before we don’t know and i think this kind of trying to answer questions simply in a situation that right now we still don’t know the answer um is is it responsible and as you’re kind of missing a trick why don’t we hype up the idea that it’s okay to not know and this is going to be hard and we we all have to accept uncertainty why don’t we put you know time and energy and effort into making that narrative land as opposed to trying to give false hope that can so easily be

undermined which is what’s happened multiple times particularly here in the uk another way of looking at it is one example i keep coming back to is what happens with the oxford paper at the end of march so for any people that don’t know there was a university of oxford paper there was a preprint that was published that insinuated that um over half the population had already been infected by by chronic paris and at the time that was like a really a huge thing to kind of be thinking and it was sort of influencing a whole load of you know oh we’re gonna have to change all the policies and and all those sort of things the ft published this the headline was like half the population may already be affected says oxford study or something like that and it was up for a week loads of people were commenting on it politicians were commenting on it people were fearful of this it was a narrative that really caught on there was there was hype around this idea of half the population and a week later the fd published a letter with a whole load of professors epidemiologists and whatnot from from oxford and italy as well saying uh you know it was wrong there was an assumption made that was not scientifically um sort of literate and then there was a whole load of hype around the idea of these scientists or baddies and they shouldn’t have published this and the ft are terrible and all these sorts of things and then we had all these calls for you know the science needs to be done better and all this sort of thing and for anyone who’s in science like preprint is like a normal thing to happen and correcting pre-prints is a good thing that is that is science working well the problem is is that a newspaper came in and reported on a preprint without taking the context and the message went you know crazy and so there’s an interesting thing where it’s like how do we kind of work around the fact that the vast majority public don’t understand how science works you know do we start doing science behind closed doors and start going back and all these amazing movements we’ve had in open science and pre-prints being a great thing in that sense or do we now in a sort of frenzy trying to explain pre-prints to the whole of the uk which is is obviously ludicrous so in some sense it’s like we probably we either had to be extremely transparent about absolutely everything or use hype for good for these simplified narratives that people can kind of hang on to or trust so i don’t necessarily think there’s been tons of there’s been misinformation and hype around this information and god look at all the 5g stuff but i don’t actually think there’s been some really useful interesting hyped up narratives that have been helpful in terms of i mean there’s been good you know lots of people are staying at home but you know it’s still confusing in that case how do we keep people who use hype accountable do we need someone censoring hype do we need trusted experts to decide what gets airtime and i guess we’re kind of seeing that right now with youtube being very selective over how it’s algorithmically taking down covert 19 content that doesn’t agree with the world health organization so can we actually build that accountability in so that hype no longer becomes an issue in the future my solution to hype is that everybody thinks their way around it hype only has power in its illusion and if more people started from a mindset of critical thinking hype wouldn’t have its power it would still be useful because it would still gather attention and then people would look at it in a nuanced manner i i’ve thought a lot about this like how you know could you you know is it the same as like advertising laws could you complain to the asa and all these things and you can do that with with hype sometimes because you can argue that it’s misinformation in some instances but it’s it’s not an easy thing to to regulate against and also it you know it is just sometimes being really loud and it’s also sometimes messages that are true or out of context and all these sorts of things so maybe this is the idealist in me coming out which does exist is that i i think the best way to try and make the situation better is for individuals to change the way they think about messaging and hype and just knowing that hype is a thing and being more more aware of it and you know that that is the goal the book is to try and be like you have the power and the power the power of hype is in its illusion and the spread of its illusion and that only happens if a lot of people retweet so you know it’s like you don’t retweet or you think about retweeting or you comment above the retweet or something that’s when you start kind of creating that nuance and having a spread again idealistic we can’t obviously get absolutely everyone to do that but i do think with more people doing it maybe there’s a sort of logarithmic uh you know you don’t maybe don’t need that many people doing it to kind of curb it probably have to test that a bit more empirically so so on that note it feels like we all have a responsibility here gemma i just want to say thank you for joining us today thank you very much for having me thank you to gemma for sharing her insights into how hype can obscure the nuances of the scientific process you can find out more by

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