Transcript: Introductions – Episode #0

Corey welcome to the show Steve welcome to the show this is something we’ve been meaning to do for a long time but as we head into the Christmas season we got a little free time and we finally have a time to sit down and record one of our conversations which I think hopefully the listeners will be happy to hear about and we’re just gonna talk about a few topics that we find interesting that’s right stuff that’s we think Stan in the news quite a bit so what what I’m gonna do is I think what we agreed to do is I’m gonna introduce you to the viewers and then you’re gonna introduce me right and we can ask each other a few questions just so they get to know about us a little bit who who’s actually on the show so I’m gonna start with your sort of CV bio kind of information and if I get something wrong you just correct me okay I’m gonna start from your childhood all the way through today you know it all right so grew up Amherst Massachusetts that’s right age 16 started Amherst 15 15 started Amherst math major for a while not major throughout the whole time due out the whole time physics major for a while okay that’s awesome as a physicist yes and then it was off to MIT that’s right where you studied linguistics that’s great okay and then from MIT it was to Stanford PhD in philosophy and is it correct to say philosophy of language that’s right okay philosophy of language so then you became professional philosopher faculty appointments University of Washington University of Maryland then you realize something now is it too strong to say you realize what you had been doing maybe it was BS or you weren’t happy with you didn’t you to think that you didn’t think you were gonna make progress on the questions that you were interested in through purely philosophical means is that fair or I I guess I began to lose faith in what I was doing there’s a probably better ways I would just say it’s you found out it was BS or you know I’m kidding it wasn’t for me it wasn’t for you okay so then you did something really heroic which when I tell my other friends about you I always say this about you that you know in fairly well into your life adult life you made a career change where you said to understand the mind I think your whole purpose this whole time was to understand the human mind right so to understand the mind better you decided you really want to study the workings of it the neuroscience of it and so you somehow got admitted to the lab of a Nobel Prize winner at Columbia in neuroscience well you did your second PhD am i correct right that’s right okay and you are one of the world’s experts on color vision in Drosophila my is that correct er yeah I think I know a fair amount about um I guess I’d say chromatic vision because it’s actually not clear they have color vision okay they’ve got something on the board mine got it okay but you lovingly caressed in a dark room hundreds of fruit flies hundreds of thousands hundreds of thousands of fruit for five years in a windowless room okay counting fruit flies okay and all in the service of understanding the human mind yeah my view was you want to start with something you could actually understand a sir simple system and that may be the best way to get a window into a very complex system like humans and so that’s what attracted me to flies and they do as a Flies would be a kind of almost mechanistic way of understand something that’s very not mechanistic when you get through all the complexity of humans excellent so I just went through that to establish your scientific and humanistic chops and I’ll just mention briefly that you spent some time at McKinsey as a consultant so you’ve seen the inner workings of the business world as well that’s right and you’ve also been involved in technology startup so you’ve seen a lot about technological innovation business model innovation and things like that okay so in a sense I would say you have one of the broadest backgrounds intellectual backgrounds of anybody I know call it broad who call random yeah I want to be I want to be only positive now couple random things about you that I know is that when you were an undergraduate we were close friends with David Foster Wallace one of the I would say leading writers of the 28 20th century in America that’s right yeah dave was a good friend in college that’s right so hopefully in a further later podcast or videocast we’ll come back and talk more about foster Walker I glad to okay by coincidence I have a good friend when I was at the University of Oregon who’s uh did his PhD in English at Berkeley when I was there and he’s writing a huge monumental scholarly work on Wallace and has like already many hundreds of pages so um well you know yeah so I I I’ve read a little bit of walls but I’m not digging and you’ve actually you forgot to mention that’s really strange quirk of history of how I ended up here well I actually I wanted to yeah before we get into that I just want to say something about how we know each other okay so we’ve known each other since anyone 1990 ball of not the fall of 90 okay okay and so almost 20 years 18 plus years and Steve what almost 30 years almost 30 years sorry can’t do math anyway almost 30 years we’ve know each other and we met on an aeroplane that’s right headed from San Francisco to Boston and we are both being interviewed by the Society of fellows at Harvard and the lady this wonderful lady secretary Diana Morris who was the secretary of the Society of fellows just decided that since we were both coming from West Coast universities you were coming from Stanford I was coming from Berkeley that she wanted to seat us together on the plane so we could chat on the way to our interview that’s right and so that’s how we first met and we talked the whole flight that’s right it’s great and since that after that after you got in and I didn’t that was I don’t want to talk about that but subsequently though hanging out in the Bay Area because we still had time left before we finished our degrees and went off to where we went off you went to Seattle and I went to Cambridge I remember whole days where I think you thought the Stanford ogor was kind of boring so you would always come up to Berkeley was felt it was not hip back then yeah I don’t know if it’s hip now but if you like startups that’s it’s the place to be but I remember whole day where we would walk around Berkeley and there were so many big beautiful bookstores at the time so this is pre-internet days basically and the only way to get information into your brain was to walk into Kody’s books or Shakespeare local storefront and just just spend hours reading and the you know the humble book clerk at one of these bookstores had impeccable taste and so the books that were on display were you know the brilliant leading edge books and so a huge part of my education as a grad student was actually just hanging out at these bookstores and I remember hanging out with you and just walking through Berkeley on bright sunny days and just talking the whole time fantastic yeah those are some of the best times yeah so that’s what I hope to reproduce on this podcast is us talking with the occasional guest about the same types of things some of these questions are still unresolved about a consciousness and how the brain works and what’s fundamental physics so hopefully we can have that those kinds of discussions but now share them with a broader audience and then I just want to say I also remember I think we met in Madrid in Paris also and also wandered around there as well so I have very fond memories of you and so anyway well let’s my I’ll stop here with my introduction of you but anyway I hope to recapture those conversations here but on a video and podcast format fabulous that’s astonishing memory Steve so let me give you your biographies I call it you grew up in Iowa Ames Iowa Ames Iowa and you it’s interesting you you you you took a interest in science very for early so a call and your father was a physicist is that right father was an engineer sure there was a professor of engineering aerospace engineering wasn’t the action I was always interested in science a little bit but actually when I was a kid my parents always used to say that I was gonna be a lawyer because I was very argumentative so every every discussion at the dinner table Steve would have to make his point or something like this so so they used to kid me that I was gonna be a lawyer I remember you describing your father as Spock raised points my dad was a very Confucian guy I could get into that whole colorful history of how he got to the United States so he came to the u.s.
in 1948 so for the Communists took over and he was a very serious scholar kind of his life philosophy was very Confucian interestingly my mother comes from a line of devout Christians and her family were converted to Christianity by a missionary hundreds of years ago actually in China so a I think 1800s so pretty weird pretty interesting mix of my mom was a very outgoing Christian person and my dad was this very stoic Confucian professor on the kind of very on the nerdy side so interesting family yeah we should like to talk about Iowa cuz you know I’m reppin East Coast and for people his coasts the Midwest was and still is this incredible mystery although you live here now I live for now yeah I’m from the Midwest cuz I was born in Urbana Illinois right but you know I understanding the middle pusses was very different I do remember the Iowa had the heavy I highest readership of newspapers in the country I was an interesting state and I would say that we could we should this is another topic for another podcast but the Midwest for me is a very high trust you can see this northern European influence here so Germanic or scant even in Iowa would be very Scandinavian Iowa in Minnesota Wisconsin so it’s very high trust and for us the East Coast was very strange and and so for me when I first went when I went to Cambridge and start spending time in New York and places like that I was like wow this place is kind of a low trust dystopia like you can’t go up to a random person and expect that you could rely on what they’re telling you or that they’ll do what they say or you know whereas in Iowa you could like many times my my you know drunk friends and I would get our car stuck in the snow or something on a Saturday night and a farm guy would like to us out or something or just do really sort of trust hi altruistic highly altruistic things which I think on the East Coast you’d think the guy would rob you or kill you or whatever we just have the experience like four years ago in the highway in Michigan yeah see there you go no there you go so yeah we talked about other things about also the size of people in the Upper Midwest yeah and people are big in Iowa and and Minnesota and probably here in Michigan to you struck by how short people were in these coasts when I when I when I went to LA and went for college which I guess you to talk about but when I went off to the coast for college and for work yeah I was kind of amazed if people are a lot smaller than in Iowa so you went to Caltech for for college yeah I went to a very strange place for college which is famous if you’re in physics or in math these kind of places as an undergraduate or anyone else Caltech is in some ways is much of a mecca as MIT and so a call there’s something people saying out have you told me this or not but you you start off in orientation and they say look around you yeah and they’re there for people around you and one of those four people will not be there graduation is that yes it happens so I was I was a my friends call me like to say that I was a Fineman idolaters because my hero was this guy called richard fineman and so I went to Caltech largely because of him because I learned about Caltech largely because of him and Caltech is actually now even more so than before a very unusual University because they’re super committed to meritocracy so it’s basically we want to know your test scores and your grades and you know whether you won some science or physics competition at a national level or something that’s the kind of thing they care about and we’re gonna MIT our students just based on that and it’s a very small class my graduating class was a 186 kids so it’s smaller than my half the size of my high school and it’s incredibly intense so there everybody there has to take two years of advanced mathematics two years of physics including quantum mechanics so even the biology majors neuroscience majors have to take quantum mechanics you could say that’s not wise but on the other hand you could say wow the people who get through that are gonna be potentially pretty dynamite scientists and if you do a study of the ratio of Nobel Prize winners and if you include you could even include Literature Prize or economics prize the number of Nobel Prizes one divided by the size of the alumni population Caltech is for US universities number one by a large margin Amherst actually does very well number eight I think yeah Amherst does very well Harvard is I think number two I think Emerson other we have three is it once a physicist actually it’s a physicist it’s Carlos and we’ll go we’ll go into the some point oh yeah anyway I went to a weird school right and I think he graduate in three years right I graduate in three years because there were no girls there male to female ratio assume you didn’t tell me may other female ratio was five to one Wow and I I thought being a naive Iowan I thought Oh in LA no problem there’ll be plenty of flight social life in LA and I die real I didn’t realize until I got there that no you I’m kind of stuck on this little campus which is almost all male and we’re working all the time and so I’ve by the end of my freshman year I was like I have two choices I either have to transfer I have to get out of here as soon as possible so that’s part of the reason I got out so I thought was just purely intellectually you would kind of I had done a lot of college coursework at Iowa State University where my father was a professor before I went to college so I was very advanced so I could get out in three years but had that not been a possibility I probably would have transferred I would probably transferred to somewhere like Stanford or Princeton so those were there two other schools that I was thinking of when I went to college now is it right that there’s a week at the end of the year at Cal Tech where crazy stuff happens there is it there’s a day called ditch day ditch day which is very famous and the seniors barricade their rooms and the underclassmen try to break into the rooms and then once you if you break into somebody’s room then you can do what’s called a counter stack and so people have done counter stacks like take apart the guy’s motorcycle and put it together or a car even and put it together in his room running or so you know really crazy stuff and the stacks come in different varieties some are brute force stacks where you you literally like pounding on like guy bricks up his door or something those are actually pretty stupid actually but then there are finesse stacks where you assign a task to the underclassmen they have to perform these tasks we have an honor code at Cal Tech and if you successfully perform the tasks then you get into the room so it’s all honor code and a famous stack was a math problem that was solvable but it was so hard that nobody could solve it for you know for two did for the whole tired day day last like 12 hours or something my stack was a finesse stack and it was for the students underclassmen to go to the Hollywood sign in the Hollywood Hills and change it to read Caltech well and a bunch of underclassmen because I was a well-known senior so a lot of underclassmen were gonna work on this project so they had bed sheets and stuff ready to go and do this and the press the LA press the TV stations covered ditch day sometimes so one of them just said to a reporter they said oh what’s tacky working on they’re like we’re gonna go and change the Hollywood sign to say Caltech and this this lady reporter called the Hollywood Police Department and said hey what do you think of these Caltech kids coming up and the and the and the and the cops said well they’re gonna meet a police car when they go up there so they they were foiled they never got into my room the next year the same kids who are now some of them are now seniors managed to change the sign so when I was a first-year grad student at Berkeley I got this postcard and on the postcard was a picture of the Hollywood sign but it had been changed to read Caltech that’s not you so they executed it on my stack but they didn’t get to trash my room there’s a similar practice in Mighty towards the end of the year they have some sort of prank and of yeah it’s I think’s just before I got there but someone arranged to dissemble a car yeah assemble on top of the MIT star I think it was a police car guard yeah with two stuffed police and they’re eating Donuts yep it’s fabulous so that’s the kind of thing that goes on at Caltech so after Caltech you leave and you go to Berkeley for graduate school yeah that’s right and there you were studying theoretical physics you as a for your PhD yep tell me a little bit about at that time that was a great time in my life because I was still very young I I finished my undergrad degree when I was 19 so I was like a kid and I deliberately wanted to go to Berkeley because I felt like okay I’ve been cooped up Caltech for three years and I want to go to the okay first it’s got to be a good physical top Physics Department okay but then I want to go to the biggest craziest school that I can find and that was Berkeley and which is why we were always walking around Berkeley not walking around powerful so sign it up there and I had a great time and really intellectually it was fantastic because they they have great faculty there there’s Lawrence Berkeley Lab is there and it’s on the larger side for physics graduate schools so there were a lot of really good classmates that I’m you know still friends with today or still even professionally interact with because a lot of them are you know professional physicists now so I think those were definitely among the you know among the happiest days of my life for sure it’s funny sure I mean I was sense that you were a poor people but not quite of Berkeley so you know we see yourself as bohemian like you describe me as a bohemian and I’m not a bohemian you’re actually think how little bohemian us but yeah you’re more bohemian than I am there’s no doubt about that but but I you know like okay what if you got to put yourself back into like late 80s America I had never had an espresso but and in fact there was only one this is pre Starbucks I think even pre Pete’s coffee was just getting going which was the inspiration for Starbucks for Howard Schultz in Berkeley and so I remember going there in these big beautiful cafes that were open late at night and the bookstores and so it was a bohemian aspect of Berkeley that attracted me which actually to be honest did not exist anywhere else in the u.s. at that time I would say and so that that is what I loved about it plus the the weather was perfect and the and the light even the light off the bay I’ll always remember yeah people don’t realize that but if you drive around the East Bay late in the day you’re always getting this kind of reflected sunlight off the bay and it’s just everything is just beautiful so there’s a famous a guy called the Paul Graham who’s one of the founders of Y Combinator he’s a famous startup guy and he has this characterization of what is the what is the nature of particular cities and he says like okay if you’re walking around New York or Manhattan the number one message you’re getting constantly beamed into your head is you should be richer because everything is so expensive here there’s no way you can survive here in Manhattan without a lot of money that’s fun so you should be richer right if you walk around DC he says number one message for you is you should be more powerful because DC is all about power hierarchies like do you are you in a motorcade going through town or use some schlub who has to go through like security to get you know in Boston or Cambridge in particular you should know more he says you because the focus in Cambridge is really on pure knowledge that’s right scholarly achievement and he says in Berkeley the message is you should live better this is the most beautiful aesthetic experience that you can have is and you should you should go to I forgot who that who’s the the famous chef just north of campus well anyway there’s a there’s a there’s a very famous chef Chez Panisse merritt ship anis is the restaurant but but there anyway the all kinds of things got starred in berkeley culinary movement no throm cafes in america good coffee you have european culture that you should also be sort of more open yes sir mental exactly exactly so i love that in and you know nowadays it seems like at the time it seemed like the 80s were very distant from the 60s and 70s but but now when I look back it wasn’t that I’m not and so that culture was still around and there were coops and food co-ops that’s right so and then his eccentric characters remember there was a basketball man yes remember the Polka Dot lady yes I mean it’s a large Gabon’s of people sort of with a guy said playing guitar in front of sprawl plaza and after we graduate there was a guy called the naked man that’s right the tram is an undergrad who would actually go to class naked yeah he came to us he gave a talk at Stanford I think the headline headline was a Angie Martinez has a small penis oh that’s nice he was quite open about the fact he wasn’t showing off okay I never saw but anyway I I definitely enjoyed my time there he wouldn’t even go to class naked in the winter Wally it was a pretty astonishing I think I wore short the time I was in California I think I basically wore shorts every day it’s funny because you it’s remind I don’t know if this true for Santa Cruz but Santa Cruz actually had a clothing-optional College around a lot of time so I don’t know if that’s still around but does sure how far things hit certain maintain yeah and I remember in the early 80s in unison Massachusetts my dad taught that there’s still these kind of radical kind of left organizations which are really much more popular they’ve kind of come back a little but these are sort of full-on sore trotskyists organizations something kind of revolution and it really was a part of the 60s that continued yeah I mean kind of parallel to a lot of conserve tisn’t was arriving it they still subsisted but yeah we lived through an era where well we lived through ronald you and I lived through ronald reagan and all that and now finally people are openly talking again about socialism in America it’s kind of kind of an interesting time I’m very it’s another thing we’re gonna talk about more I think where we think America is going and and where it’s been that’s one of the fabulous things about getting old is you can look back at things yeah you have a you have a well of experience that you can draw back on in some situations I think we’re seeing now we’ve seen before we kind of know how it’s gonna play out whereas if you’re a young person you’re seeing it for the first time you have no idea how this is gonna play out is interesting how the conversation with a friend of mine this was when Hugo Chavez first came to power in Venezuela and his response was I’ve seen its movie before exactly and this was like you know 13 years yeah so so after Berkeley I you know we go on the plane flight we go on the plane flight we get interviewed I have this senior fellows at Harvard I have a disastrous interview the seat if the Society of fellows it was I’ll describe at some point in time but anyway you’d a very good interview and it’s pretty clear even by the dinner that night that you were elected to get admitted to the fellow subscribe that dinner to remember that it’s funny I don’t remember the dinner that well how interesting what I really remember strongly is being in my apartment in Berkeley and getting a phone call from them saying that I was going to be admitted to the Society of fellows and that that was like oh you were kind of placed at the center of this very sort of very large kind of huge oak table you know table exactly and people have come even talking to you and I was kind of pushed over the collar I was I guess I didn’t notice yeah I was that be sitting with them with a very famous philosopher Quine but I think I was like a tree yeah exactly was but you know anyway I think my answer is I was Lee almost on the way out of philosophy at that point on so I think you know but but it was clear at that time I was very happy when you and you got the call so you’re years you’re there in Cambridge for sat three four years I was actually there for a little over three years because I had this other fellowship from the supercollider at the same time they’re building the supercollider thing and they gave me a fellowship so I actually got what very few felted most senior fellows don’t want to leave because you have no responsibilities you have a travel by no responsibilities and you can do whatever you want so it’s like heaven it’s like being at the Institute for Advanced Wrestling and you’re right in the middle of Harvard and instead you you might become an assistant professor at some godforsaken Midwestern universe were you leaving so people don’t want to leave so I got to stay a little bit longer because I had this extra fellowship and I lived in Dunster house which is one of the river houses and I an apartment there and it was mostly undergrads but there were Harvard has a tutorial system so there are a lot of older people as well the tutors who lived in the house it was really a very vibrant social situation and I really got to see what does the world look like to a Harvard undergrad thing which gave me I think a lot of insight about elite culture in America and what is the path into Goldman Sachs or the path and McKinsey all these things I think you would never understand those things if you hadn’t had that experience even at Stanford I think even at Cal Tech or Stanford MIT you don’t understand these things but if you spend time at Yale Princeton Harvard you get a sense of what the track looks like it’s interesting because at that time you know Stanford hadn’t actually come up as far as exact now it’s now it’s different yeah things are still dominated by those East Coast five yes yeah so after the junior of time ajuna fellows you went to Texas for the no they killed the supercollider you never went there yet no I’ve never actually visited it because because the Congress defunded it’s right so I had this fellowship for the to do research related to the super collider and then the u.s. just backed out and just just there’s this huge tunnel partially dug tunnel under the ground and they actually filled it in and so it was actually a very bad time to be in particle physics because of that so I think there a couple of complex things happening at a time there was they kill the super collider and that time the Soviet Union collapsed right yeah and yes and we could talk about that I was actually there during that week in Moscow but I was here to receive the hordes of local I was going to say that exactly who left the Soviet Union and all took jobs in the United States at exactly the time when I was applying for jobs so so there is a boon for us mathematics and physics but it’s very difficult if you’re on the no qualm mark you know the only thing there ever that rivaled that was when all the Jews escaped Europe under Hitler and staffed all our universities so what brought the u.s. from total backwater scientifically to world leadership it was those emigrates interested and it happened again the Soviet Union had if anything a bigger scientific infrastructure being a socialist state you know you desert sheep they had if anything a bigger scientific infrastructure especially physical science and engineering than the United States and they all came here so it was it was tough for young physicists at that time thing but that’s why I’m very sensitive about immigration know I can people say immigration doesn’t hurt native-born people or people who are from the United States it’s not true it’s actually a hundred percent not true what did about your cases people I think often view it is having effect people who are sort of lower income or sort of they say jobs Americans don’t want but you’re actually scribing something so high as high and as you get right and stuff but you know when we’re now coupled pretty tightly to a billion people in India a billion people in China and their intellectual elite are all trying to come here tell me that does not affect the prospects of a bright kid from Amherst trying to get a top faculty job of course it affects that kid but also you can say it also positively affects the US economy is simply incredible talent it’s it’s a double-edged sword helps the US economy hurts certain classes of America sure yeah and this is gonna be consistent themes think we both see that yeah many many issues and many phenomena are double-edged swords and often people are one side of the spectrum only view one side of the sword and not see the other side of the sword correct I would say my biggest disappointment about academia is actually how not particularly rational and balanced is the reasoning that we find in our colleagues so they’re they’re not often aware of the best arguments against their physicians and we’ll just a dad just fall into line and adopt some party line kind of view but I guess I think that’s not different than many people right I think many of us exist in cultures where the people around us and since our interests for example align with one particular point of view and there’s not a lot of pressure to adopt the other point I have to say right now people can adopt the other point of view when it’s absolutely critical to be accurate right and so you know when truth really matters people often see both things you know one of the we’ll talk about this a little bit you know one of my favorite analysts but Stein was it was really probably made them so great is you aren’t said left to argue like a lot a lot of you know act intellectually acted people and you’d be argued Einstein with is from to argue with them and then about some topic very passionately then they realize halfway through the argument he’d switch sides yeah he’s arcing the other side I I absolutely think if I think was it Goethe or mill I think mill said something about this if you don’t understand the other side’s arguments you know little about your own argument that’s right so and I totally agree and I think one of the topics that we’re both interested in is rationality or epistemology how do people come to the views and the confidence levels they have in those rights and what is the right way to do it and what is the wrong way to do it’s the best way probably to kind of get it truth and very uncertain world right and what kinds of systems in force people to use good epistemology as opposed to bad what’s interesting is you find people Einstein who just he had this view which was he wasn’t committed to anything yeah and he would simply argue every perspective he could until you just adopt the strongest moment just often some combination and if that flexibility I think you know they often allowed him to be as creative he’s could because he simply could get outside of an existing paradigm and view it from the very deal way like Spock Xbox yeah lilyc Spock exactly exactly so this is connection your bio after after the super collider collapsed whether you have imploded then you you’re off to Yale that’s right my first faculty job was at Yale as an assistant professor and that looks good right you where you went to Harvard you were at Harvard and then you went to Yale so that’s pretty good I always viewed it as being sent down because Yale is a kind of no offense to Yale he’s out there in the world but Yale’s kind of a pale imitation of Harvard let’s just be honest I did say yes yes we’ll be saying this a lot ELISA I will take the heat for what I just have a sign yet just basically yeah just yeah I’m not attributing to you but I did spend I think slightly longer did I spend slightly longer it yeah about the same time so I was professor there for about three and a half years and I enjoyed it I really enjoyed living in New Haven and I had a lot of good friends there but deaf there was a there is a difference between Harvard and Yale I feel and it’s true to say that Yale has more of a humanities focus a little bit less of a science focus but anyway I enjoyed my time there and yeah so the X is one of the actor debates in academia this this time about you know Yale’s trajectory over the past 20 years or so down well many many schools have made a big bet right on science yes a large degree and Harvard in fact has developed and built an engineering college right Stanford’s built itself up through technology yeah I merrily yeah and Yale took a bridge from path yep and they’re paying for it you know I think even schools like small liberal arts colleges where I’m from I think people really realize it’s extremely important to have both brand-new undergraduates have both a technical and humanities back I think that’s where the power XE comes and we sort share this right it’s good to have sort of a humanist perspective scientific perspective but so you were your Yale for a couple years that’s interesting it’s funny we’ve lost touch for a little bit but I think I can’t think of when I first was listening to you on the radio this was after you left Yale and I’m listening on the radio and I’m hearing what triangle boy and you’re on and on yes okay good and I am I where that this started at Yale my one of my PhD students at Yale and I started a company what year was this this was the end about the end of the 20th century okay so late 90s and it was when the internet thing was happening and we had we were setting up some inexpensive Linux workstations at the time that was like a new thing and they were immediately broke it into they were scanned and broken into by a hacker you know probably halfway across the world and we discovered this this is all this valuable physics oh well they just scan everything in those days there were no firewalls there wasn’t people were just scanning constantly networks and if they saw that oh hey this particular distribution of Linux has this vulnerability I’ll just attack it right away it’s automated yeah and that the hacker had installed a packet sniffer so he could see all of the Internet traffic within the physics building and we were playing with the packet sniffer and we could actually see I could see what the other grad the grad students in the lab downstairs we’re looking at Playboy magazine or something I could actually sniff their pack and see what they were doing so my student and I realized wow we both thought the internet was going to be huge we realized security is basically completely nascent it’s not been – but all these technologies that are common now like firewalls and things like this had not been developed and encryption wasn’t really well understood so we decided we would start a company and that was partially why I left Yale to go to the west coast I took a job at the University of Oregon Eugene which is another kind of hippie town actually it’s like a small college hippie town in the in the woods in the in forest it’s an hour flight from Silicon Valley and so you could conceivably be a professor but also run a startup in Silicon Valley because you could there were like five flights a day this is you know big the bubble was huge at that time so there I think they were like five or six flights a day from Eugene Airport to San Francisco and so I moved west my student I did a startup and the startup was first it was in Berkeley and then we moved it to Emeryville so and was staffed by I think there were a dozen PhDs in physics in that startup so it’s interesting that the the product I heard about was fast and cuz it wasn’t pure security you were actually helping people in China hide their tracks from the Chinese government by bouncing their signals a third party so we built all kinds of fancy tools and one of our early investors was the CIA venture fund called Inc you tell and a lot of these technologies went into the CIA but we built a very lightweight piece of code that anybody could run in their computer and it would allow packets to be rerouted through that machine so you could make the the Chinese government was just setting up its firewall and you could make it look to the Chinese government like this person in China was just looking at you know communicating with a computer in your house or maybe at some university but it was reflecting the packets so that it could then load like the New York Times or BBC or what it’s you know whatever banned content they couldn’t get in China and so there we had this thing called triangle boy which would route the packets in a triangular path and it’s funny that you still remember that because in in the hacker world there’s still some people who remember that is like being one of the coolest things developed in the early internet days but most people now have no idea what that is that could also absorbed into the CIA yes thing it’s fine because I’m one of my this is my my college roommate was he’s an interesting character Miller Meili he I started Amherst at 12 graduate 16 and went to MIT actually he got to pitch he’s won in comp sign and Princeton what got one in math but um Miller sort of disappeared into the NSA I’m not just his code back to the physical Miller yeah so if you google them or written Brown you use no trace well there’s like there’s like sense obscure Institute and then like there’s you can find like it’s weird like it’s like a laundry list of email it’s like a web page sort of circa you know they were really primitive webpages yeah anyway you can find his email on there and that’s what I last time yeah so I didn’t say is I at least at one time it may still be the single largest employer of mathematicians and so there are a ton there’s a huge accumulation of really smart guys at NSA and they’re extremely strong its CIA not so much but CI is better now but at the time they were really behind they’re being robbed oh I think Microsoft is making a similar claim that they it could be it could be but so so this startup you intially sold it to Symantec that’s right for 20 million 26 million dollars on cash Wow and you had some interesting claim I think I ran into her this afterwards we’re talking about the stress you had towards the end of the sale because yes they saying people’s interest start diverges yeah it’s very interesting if you’ve ever done a start-up you use you quickly get educated and a whole bunch of things like microeconomics or game theory and so this is a game theory observation that for the founders and the people in the startup wow the startup is running everybody’s interests are mostly aligned you have these almost worthless shares in the company which only become worthwhile if the company becomes really successful and you’re getting you’re paying yourself below market salary okay so everybody’s interests are aligned the team has to win the company has to win otherwise none of us win the moment your company is acquired by say a public company then everyone’s gonna cash out somebody’s gonna get the plum job within semantics and somebody’s gonna get kicked out etcetera etcetera now I wasn’t really involved in that because I wanted to go back to being a professor so I wasn’t actually actually at the back already at the University when the company got acquired so I wasn’t involved in that but I saw the guys on my team all you know instantaneously stab each other in the back the moment the incentives became disalignment and it’s a it’s a cliche every it happens in every startup and think you also talked about having to fire somebody but is not something that many professors and how difficult this was for you the most emotionally difficult thing I maybe have ever had to do in my professional life I won’t talk about my personal life why we can talk about it but was there was a point in time when the Nasdaq bubble really popped it was actually soon after our startup was funded and we realized we’re gonna have to conserve cash and we had bulked up we had a lot of employees some of whom were actually old people that I’d known for many years who were physicists that I’d hired one guy from Los Alamos he had been at Los Alamos and we he wanted to leave Los Alamos and we brought him into the startup a bunch of guys like that and we had to downsize we had to fire about 10 people and I remember it was a beautiful sunny day right on the bay cuz our offices were overlooking the bay from Emeryville and we we had and you know it’s funny when you’re and when you’re a startup guy it’s so much more high degree of complexity and difficult more difficult than being a university administrator because you never have to do anything like this as a university administrator so we had to fire about you know a pretty good chunk of our team and how do you do that because if you start calling people in one at a time to a conference room because the firing process is quite complicated you have to get them to sign Anaya you know non-compete or release and all these other things or a bunch of legal things that have to be hashed out if you start doing it one at a time and people in the office see what’s happening all hell can break loose so we actually took these guys out of the office and we fired them out in the sunshine under some palm trees you know near the near the entry of the building and I’ll never forget that because one of the guys who was an older guy who actually had kids and I’d pulled him out of physics to do this startup he started crying and I just said you know this guy’s now a successful person in the IT industry but at the time his future was very uncertain because left physics and this was his first tech related job and I just said the guy say hey on a palm it’s good it’s gonna be okay but I you know I take full responsibility for this because I brought you here but I for the good of this startup I have to let you go because you’re not part of the the crucial core that we need to keep but you know to do that to a friend of yours is it’s extremely hard and after that so you you’ve sold this startup to Symantec you’ve stayed involved the technology since then but after that you you’re at University of Oregon right and you got a um you started so you start a blog I guess that’s part of the backstory he started blahs started a blog 2004’s or blog and at some point time after your universe Orion you get a phone call from a headhunter yeah the thing that brought me to Michigan State I was actually at a physics conference on black holes and quantum information doesn’t sound like those two are related but they’re actually related and I get a phone call from a headhunter and I think it’s a mistake I thought it was a mistake I they said are you I’m calling on behalf of Michigan State University they’re searching for a vice president for research we’re wondering if you’d be interested in a job and I I said I think you know the wrong Steve Schuh you know like because there was another guy there’s another guy called Steve Chu and was a Stanford professor and won a Nobel Prize and he was the it was the Secretary of Energy under Obama so I thought I calling the right guy like what you want me to do this administrative job at a university I’m you know I’m so and it turns out I was the person they actually wanted to talk to you because they had been looking they had to ven two sets and they were looking for the overlap in the Venn diagram between strong research background and knew something about startups because they were they’re trying to build up their tech transfer capability here at Michigan State and believe it or not in that little intersection of of those two sets there were not that many people and so that that’s how I ended up here actually so you’re back to the Midwest back to the Midwest back where things are normal comfortable i i have kids now and so for me i feel like the biggest thing is that they’re getting this same kind of i think from what was for my brother and myself super positive childhood youth childhood no tension no stress no driving an hour you know to go to your soccer game in La Trappe you know that stuff they’re just really just enjoying it and they’re I think it’s a very positive environment for them so for me going coming back to the Midwest was not a problem and this is at the point well it tell me exactly when one of us he began to sir move out of physics and got interested you got interests in genomics I was on sabbatical in Taiwan in 2009 or 10 and I was reading an article in The Economist I oh I guess I’m I was writing my blog at the time so I had read this article in The Economist I think that showed the decline of cost of genotyping it was a super exponential kind of Moore’s Law curve and I had been interested in evolution and molecular biology and stuff like that when I was at Caltech but I kind of realized like after taking a few courses I realized like these guys the technology is so weak that they’re so far from answering the fundamental questions that I’m interested in it’s a mystic to physics but after I saw those that curve I said well let me just extrapolate this 10 years I’ve got 10 more good years in me well let’s let’s extrapolate 10 years and if this curve continues what will we be able to do and I realized oh my god all these interesting problems that I never dreamed I would be we would be able to solve in my lifetime we’re gonna be able to solve and that’s how I got interested in genomics and I actually reached out to this big lab in China which at the time was had the most sequencing power of any lab it’s called BGI and because I was in Taiwan they said oh come over and so I came over and gave some lectures on what I you know the sort of the math behind what would show that certain things were going to be possible once we had enough data so I went over there and gave those lectures and that’s how I got involved that’s really interesting you just say that you looked at those curves because I think it’s a very important way to begin trying to see the future you know many of us are surprised at how technology is advanced over these if you look at Moore’s Law by going back in 70s and 80s you could just see how the way computing power was improved yeah and how miniaturization was going to get possible yeah and so I think a lot of the things that we may be surprised by today or you can’t say the predictable and because they’re not particularly predictable but what’s the possibilities are there the main the main assumption was whether that curve was going to continue and then you have to look at the core technologies and say is it plausible that they can keep pushing it down or is it they’re gonna hit some brick wall like weak Moore’s law is kind of ended exams I said so I didn’t know for sure that the sequencing Moore’s law was going to super Moore’s law was going to continue but it actually has and so now you know there are millions of genotypes stored around the world that can be analyzed and so that what what I had anticipated has actually come true so I think way back to my time at MIT when my roommate was there I didn’t computer science that’s when they bit really began to these design chips and three dimensions Rex Moore’s law two dimensions are beginning to yep yeah begin to run up against a wall but three dimensions gave them some space yeah I think we can see nowadays they’re running prints other limits right than me yep – no it’s not a bad run for it you know I know you’re fantastic and actually if you if you actually ask yourself above the deep reasons why society is different today than one say we were in high school most of it is Moore’s law right all this internet stuff the cell phone all that stuff is Moore’s law so in addition well it’s Moore’s law and it’s see how the applications that come out of there and including leashes we got to begin talking about today right which is but but if you I just want to say if you think about like okay cars are better than like when we were in school like in high school my car would break down all the time and I had to like actually learn how to like do stuff nowadays your car doesn’t really break down but it’s not that much better you’re driving the same slinky yeah when we fly abroad to Paris like when you went on your school trip to Paris you fly at the same speed as we did forty years ago but it’s all this compute and information technology that is is orders of magnitude different it’s saying sadly we have very similar missions I like to fly to Paris quite a lot a problem is pumping out you know in North sponsor greenhouse gas and that doesn’t write know quite and yeah well now we’re aware of it yeah I keep saying I many of my friends and I are real advocates of common environmental good demerit mentor stewardship but almost everyone I know takes trips to you know Taiwan they take trips to Bangkok they trips to Africa the trips to Paris and it’s hard to find something that’s it in my day-to-day life I’m super green I Drive a Honda Fit for God’s sake and it’s like the cheapest Honda you can buy in the smallest Honda and I recycle everything I’m totally like I don’t even use plastic bottles I you know but Travel overwhelms all that if you actually look at my environmental footprint it sucks because I every time you get on a plane you actually burn as much gas or you generate as much carbon flying from A to B as if you got in your one-ton car and drove from A to B so bad most people are not aware of that yes something I think we have to look at people like you and me who yes why why well I think telepresence will eventually get to the point where you can have the Internet at least for business purposes or you can have this kind of connection and interaction through VR when we reach that tipping point then that’s interesting a lot of business travel will go away it’s funny why don’t wonder what our saying to this office is that big primates like to interact face-to-face yeah so we have in-person meetings we talk directly we’re in the same room right now yeah but maybe VR may get to the point where you can always add clearance in the startup world we often say apes have to sniff each other before they’ll sign a deal basically I mean there’s something about our wiring that you feel like you know the person better if you had a face-to-face meeting maybe had a drink with them or something I don’t know that it’s actually true but psychologically it’s true but can you really predict their behavior better after a one or two hour face-to-face interaction compared to like three hours yes guys watchin yeah it’s not clear to me but if we think that’s true we feel that’s true well if they find out about it yeah in fears so is that enough about us oh we’ve used up a lot of time