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Creative Futurism

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Culture, Business, Creativity, and the Future

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Culture, Business, Creativity, and the Future

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Cover image of Creative Futurism

Creative Futurism

Latest release on Dec 06, 2018

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Rank #1: Zombies, Traditional Publishing, and Indie Publishing - Creative Futurism

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Just after the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, we had zombies on our mind (and spoilers!) Kevin discusses his brand new novel in his series featuring Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. and transitioning those books from a traditional publishing house to his own new-model indie press, a path that many authors are being forced to follow.

Relevant links:

Join the Wordfire Readers Group

Buy Kevin’s latest book “Tastes Like Chicken”

Pre-order John’s book “Breaking Digital Gridlock”

Transcript:

John:

Hello everyone and welcome to Creative Futurism. I’m John Best.

Kevin:

And I’m Kevin J. Anderson.

John:

And we’re here to bring you the future and-

Kevin:

-and creativity and business and all those things together. We’re sort of like the Seinfeld podcast. No, it’s not a podcast about nothing. It’s a podcast about interesting things that are changing and interesting opportunities to look at. And how we as supposedly intelligent people are trying to deal with a rapidly changing world.

John:

Adapting quickly.

Kevin:

I just came home and this is like totally ad lib guys because we aren’t planning this. But we wanted to chat a little bit. I was just in Las Vegas and Arizona this past weekend. I went to visit some friends and visit family members. We had sort of a halfway between Thanksgiving and Christmas thing. And I had two almost identical conversations with utterly different people. And I was kind of doing the things are changing so fast and it’s exhausting to keep up with it. But as a writer and an entrepreneur you can’t sit back on your morals. And then we had this discussion, again this is two completely different people. One in Las Vegas and one in Kingman Arizona. And the discussion was that it’s a different generational expectation. And my parents’ generation they expected that you got out of high school, or college if you went to college, and you got a job. And you worked your way up in the company and you had that job until you retired. You worked in the auto plant. My dad worked as an accountant who then got a job at a bank. Who then worked his way up to a loan officer and a vice president, the president of a bank. And he’s been president of a bunch of banks. So, that’s the way-I mean he’s moved around a little bit. But that’s what his career was. And I’m the next generation. And I became a very successful writer. I’m like in the 90’s-well, I published 145 books. And 56 of them have been best sellers.

John:

It’s amazing.

Kevin:

And 23 million copies in print. And I’m thinking like one of the years in the 1990’s I had like five New York Times best sellers in one year. So, that was my job. I was set. I was like a professor invested in college and everything. And then my whole industry just changed. It’s like everything that I was working on was building up the Blockbuster video franchise and all of a sudden that went away. And so now I’m reinventing and doing all kinds of-I mean we can talk plenty about that. So, I was kind of grousing about I’m 55 and I don’t really want to learn how to do a branded career anymore because I spent all of my time doing that. And then the two people I’m talking with were pointing out that there’s always dramatic upheaval and changes. But they used to happen slower. And the blacksmiths didn’t like the fact that factories could make things better. And the horse buggy people didn’t like the fact that automobiles were taking over. So, that was always there. But you have time for your son realized he couldn’t take over the family business of making buggy whips because it wasn’t going to be around. And now we wake up every week to go at. But then the first phase of this conversation was but the generation X or the Y or the newer people, they’re in no ways expecting that they’re going to have the same job for their entire career. They’re always open. They’re always doing things. They’re always changing. They’re always adapting.

John:

There is no loyalty there like there used to be. When your dad worked for the ship builder’s factory and he went to the Christmas parties and you were at all the picnics, I was just at a family reunion a couple of years ago out in Kansas City. I didn’t know it but my mom’s side of the family was two groups of them there. One was they started a baker’s union I guess in Kansas City. And the other one started the electrical union, the IBW, that chapter there. And everybody was an electrician, every single person. There were pictures on the wall of people dating back to I guess to electricity when Edison started. I was looking to see if it just kind of devolved into Edison. He was the last picture on the wall.

Kevin:

Or Franklin with the kite and the key.

John:

Exactly. And I think your point is really relevant. What I call this rate of change, I call it revs. That’s my name for it. And the revs are getting faster, right?

Kevin:

Like the refresh rate almost?

John:

Yeah. It’s almost like revolutions. And so, an example would be that-how long it took-so, do you know how long it took for TV to reach like a million people watching it?

Kevin:

No idea.

John:

It took a long time. It took like five or six years, right? Now, how long did it take Facebook to get to a million people? It was a really short rev, you know, revolution. And so, this march to scale has been shortening and that’s what’s causing what you’re talking about. We see these things really change very quickly because scale is achievable in a way that it never was before. For you there was only a few channels to sell a book. Because not everybody could open a store like Barnes & Nobles and get it into strip malls somewhere. So, the bar for that was really high. It used to cost millions of dollars to go and get that department store. But now anybody-I could publish a book tomorrow about squirrels.

Kevin:

And I do. Not about squirrels but about zombies.

John:

Right. And we’re going to talk about that. So, that bar is lowered, right? But it doesn’t mean that the quality has lowered. That’s the interesting part about it. We’ve talked before on this program about Andy Wear and the martian and kind of how that came about. Here’s a guy that tried so hard to be you. I mean, it seemed like he just desperately wanted to be you. And then gave up, went home and went never mind.

Kevin:

And just posted it as a blog.

John:

Posted it as a blog and boom, right? So, sometimes and here’s why, because the scale of the blog reached a very niche audience. You had guys from the laboratory logging in to this thing. Like you, you’ve attracted all these neat people that are really smart that are interested in what you do. And by the way you were talking about all of the best sellers, I can’t tell you how many times I say, ‘Yeah, I’ve got this in a podcast. It’s called Creative Futurism.’ ‘Well what’s it about?’ ‘Oh, me and my friend he’s an author. ‘Who is it?’ ‘Oh, Kevin J. Anderson.’ ‘Oh. I’ve read some of his stuff.’ All the time, all the time. So, either I hang out with a bunch of geeks which is highly likely, highly likely. Or you are just that popular my friend. Speaking of being that popular, I hear that we’ve got another Dan Shamble book coming out.

Kevin:

Well, that’s what I kind of wanted to announce, that I have a brand new book that we just released. And it’s not the Martians. It’s not quite as involved and tech but it’s a little more fun. It’s called Tastes Like Chicken. I’ve got this series of really humorous mystery adventures that feature Dan Shamble zombie PI. And this is like the naked gun in Space Balls. It’s like really slapstick. I watch the Walking Dead. We just watched the mid-season finale last night. But they’re grim. And they’re violent. And they’re nasty. And I thought, ‘It’s kind of time to do the Space Balls treatment on it.’ So, I did a series. The first one was called Death Warmed Over. And then the next one was Unnatural Knacks, and then Hair Raising and Slimy Underbelly. And then I did a collection called Working Stiff. And this is a new one about-it’s Dan Shamble’s most fowl case yet because it’s a flock of demon possessed chickens that are terrorizing the town. And that just came out.

John:

And where can I get it?

Kevin:

Well, we have it listed on all of your-you can order it in a bookstore. Remember we’re a small publisher so it’s-but you can get it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and on Kobo and everything.

But so this isn’t just a commercial, I want to talk about some of the interesting ways this came about and why it came about. So, my first one, Death Warmed Over, we sold it to a regular traditional New York publisher. But these are 250 page books. They’re skinny books. They’re slapstick fun. You read them in a day or two, you’re done with them.

John:

Right, take them on vacation.

Kevin:

And as beach reads. And I’m a fast writer. I mean as the listeners of this podcast have probably figured out I write all the time and I’m fairly fast. And the traditional publisher wanted to release like one book a year for Dan Shamble. I went, ‘Well, that’s not good enough. People are going to want to read it and then they’ll want the next one.’ And I could write them fast. In fact, I had written the first three of them by the time we had sold and made a deal for the first one. And I kind of twisted their arms. I said, ‘Look, I really want these to come out like every five months or every six months.’ And they were very skeptical. They thought, ‘Well, that doesn’t give us enough time to promote it.’ And again, in hindsight maybe they were right because of their model. But I kind of twisted their arm and they brought out book one, book two, and book three. All was in-I think book one was in August or September. And book two was in January. And book three was in May or June. And what happens though is that it takes them six months or eight months or even two to digest their sales to know whether it was doing any good or not. So of course, they’re still trying to figure out how book one is selling and they’re already putting book three out. And they weren’t quite able to capitalize on everything. And so, I was ready to do the fourth one. And it was called Slimy Underbelly. And I wanted to keep the series going because from talking with all of my friends who had had successful-hugely successful series, like vampire series and werewolf series and all those, that they said it always took five or six books before the critics showed up. So, I kind of had to twist the publishers arm to let me do the fourth one. But by this time they were sort of, ‘Well, we’re not really sure how this is doing because we don’t have the numbers yet. And now he’s already turning a fourth one.’ And I was building up my own Wordfire Press and releasing things myself. And seeing how successful I could be when I actually cut out all the middlemen. And then you get to the point where uh oh, I kind of want to have these rights back. Because I don’t really want to be stuck with a publisher that doesn’t agree with me on how to do it. Now, for the listeners who aren’t writers, it always used to be like a funeral when a publisher let your book go out of print. Because oh, the books gone now. Nowadays it’s a joyous celebration. Yay, I got my rights back. Because when a publisher signs a contract they can just keep the rights as long as they keep it in print. And nowadays keeping it in print just means you put it up as an e-book file somewhere. It’s like impossible to get your rights back. Well, and there’s also option clauses. So, the publisher had the option to do the next Dan Shamble book. Well, I kind of wanted to do the next one myself. So, how do you break the option? Well, you have to make them say no. Well, and they might not want to say no because they never know what if it takes off? So, I made them an offer that they couldn’t refuse. Or that they had to refuse. So, I said my next Dan Shamble book is a collection of short stories called Working Stiff. It’s all the short stories of Dan Shamble. Well, publishers hate short story collections. They say that they never work and they can’t stand them. And so, that’s how I broke my-

John:

-Tell that to Stephen King. But okay.

Kevin:

Yeah. But that’s how I broke my option. I said, ‘Okay, my next one is going to be a collection of short stories.’ And they go, ‘Oh, well we don’t want them anymore.’ So, I got the rights and I published a collection of short stories called Working Stiff.

John:

And so, how do you publish those? I mean you finish them up, what? Do you just upload them onto Amazon?

Kevin:

Well, I mean Wordfire Press. Wordfirepress.com if you want to go on. That we’re an actual… we do print. We do e-book formats. We’re on iBooks. We’re on Kindle and Kobo and all these different formats. So, we just release them. It’s called independent publishing. It’s a very popular thing. So, we just did the Dan Shamble story collection ourselves. And surprise, I made as much money doing it myself as I did with the big publisher.

John:

I mean, I can’t tell the difference. I’ve seen the ones-I went to the bookstore not too long ago. And I’m always looking for new books. I’m just interested. And I bought a couple that you were even surprised that I could find that I’ve had you sign. And I’ve seen those. And then I knew because you had me put them on the website, the ones that you’ve self-published have been working around. What’s the difference? There’s no difference.

Kevin:

Well, I mean my backgrounds in book design and publishing.

John:

They look great.

Kevin:

And so, so I published the Working Stiff. And then I wrote my next one myself called Tastes Like Chicken which Wordfire is just going to publish. Because we have the option on the series now. But I want the other ones back because we’re trying to sell TV rights or whatever. So, if it’s a TV show I don’t want the other publisher having it.

John:

Netflix. Got to go to Netflix. That’s where to be these days. I see a Netflix show with Jake Gyllenhaal if you can get him.

Kevin:

Jake if you’re listening, please consider it. And so, by pestering the original publisher-because these books, they had lost interest so they just had their copies in the warehouse. And I slowly wore them down. I did get the rights back to Death Warmed Over, the first one. And then I got the rights back to Unnatural Acts, the second one. But they’re still holding onto the rights to book three and book four. And it’s a challenge because-so now I’ve-I Wordfire Press have book one, book two, the short story collection, and book five. Well, so that’s kind of hard. And then when I was talking with Dean Wesley Smith, who’s a very active independent publisher, and I said, ‘Well, I’m kind of stuck because I’ve got book three and book four that I don’t have the rights back for.’ And he said, ‘Well, look at your contract carefully because if they didn’t buy the rights to like anthala omnivous editions, maybe you can do an omnivous.’ Which means you put two books in one. So, I wrote them and I asked for their permission to do an omnivous of book three and book four, Hair Raising and Slimy Underbelly. And they said, ‘Sure, we don’t mind.’ So, I now have the rights to publish book three and book four but they just happen to be in a two in one volume. Which we’re going to call the Harry Slimy Zomus.

John:

So, is that like-for example Marvel, right? I have a cousin who is an editor for Marvel. And you look where they sold the rights to Spiderman as a character to Sony. And then they sold the rights to X-men to Fox I think it was. And then obviously they started their own very incredibly successful studio. But like mixing those characters is difficult for them because there’s all these insane rights. Is that kind of a similar thing?

Kevin:

It is. And in that specific-well, in what I’m trying to do is get all the Dan Shamble stuff under Wordfire. Which is kind of what we’ve succeeded in doing. And I don’t know the full details on this but in your exact example that you’ve got there, there’s a character called Quicksilver who is in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

John:

Quicksilver is phantom-what is it? It’s the world leaders guy. So sorry, I was thinking of Silver Surfer.

Kevin:

Yeah. But because they found out they were going to put it in the Avengers movie, Quicksilver appears briefly in X-men: Days of Future Past so that they could establish that he appeared in the X-men universe first before the-look, I’m not a lawyer. And I’m not-so, it was one of those they need to say that his footprint was in this universe before that universe.

John:

And let me just say something. That guy is the cure to all problems. All you’ve got to do is take super-fast guy with you and the rest of that movie is really short. I mean I was watching that movie and I was like, ‘Where’s super-fast guy?’ Everything else that happens could be solved by super-fast guy. I was struggling with that.

Kevin:

My wife wrote some stuff for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And you’d be amazed that almost every single one of their episodes could be solved if the kids just had a cellphone.

John:

That’s probably true as well.

Kevin:

So actually, I’ll throw back to the Dan Shamble stuff, that’s what we’re pushing now, Tastes Like Chicken. And the new one came out and we just love this series. And so, to get to more of the Creative Futurism thing, because I can’t just be a writer anymore, none of us is allowed to just write books and send them somewhere. We have to be the publishers and the marketers and the entrepreneurs and all the other stuff. And one of the things that we need to do then is these aren’t the days when there were three TV networks and if you were the star of one of the shows that’s on the three TV networks then you’re world famous you’ve got it made. Well now there’s so many fragmented things you have to find your own tribe. Your own cohort of people that likes you or likes your stuff. Which puts the ominous back on us. The people who found my stuff, well they walked into Barnes & Noble and they saw a display or whatever. Well, that’s no longer good enough. I’ve got three Facebook pages and a Twitter and a blog.

John:

Which by the way have been going great, you’ve been posting some amazing stuff. If you’re not following Kevin on Twitter it’s @thekja. And he’s just posting amazing stuff. Like stuff that has been really relevant I think as a result.

Kevin:

But the problem with like Facebook is I’ve got over 25,000 followers around my Facebook pages. But when I say I’ve got a new book, Tastes Like Chicken coming out and here’s the cover of it, I hope you’ll all go out and get it, unless I pay Facebook only like 500 of my people will see that.

John:

Yep. They’ll all get to see it. You’ve got to boost it.

Kevin:

Well, I want the 25,000 who signed up to be able to see what I have to say. So, long story short, what I’m actively trying to do now is to have more of the control to build up my own readers group and mailing list of people so that there’s people who have self-identified as we’d like to read your books. And so, when I have a new book come out then like Tastes Like Chicken, then I can just let them know and they’ll buy it.

John:

Well, I think you want to trade them something too to get the information. Like the first chapter or something.

Kevin:

Well, not even the first chapter. Here’s what’s even better, so if you go-I think we’ll put the link up on our futurism thing. But my website is wordfire.com. And just on the homepage there’s a sign up for our readers group. Well, I’m giving away that entire collection of Dan Shamble short stories called Working Stiff. So, if you just sign up to be part of my readers group which means I’d let you know when I have a new Dan Shamble book out, you’d get the entire book for free. And then what we’ve been building up is the interaction with the fans and the newsletters. Well, you can’t call it a newsletter because nobody wants a newsletter.

John:

Yeah, newsletter sounds so 1980’s.

Kevin:

But I’m actually-I’m devoting a lot of my time now to talking with the fans, to really working with them. And I’ve got several emails that go out. We have our own publishing house, Wordfire Press which is wordfirepress.com. If you sign up for that readers group then you get another one of the Kevin J. Anderson novels that we publish. It’s not just self-serving as Kevin J. Anderson. But I have the rights to my own books so I can give them away.

John:

No, your wife has a lot of good books too.

Kevin:

Right. So, if you go to wordfirepress.com and sign up-and that will be more of a traditional these were the five books that were released in this month and maybe an interview with an author. But if you sign up for that one then you get my novel Blindfolded. It’s a big science fiction novel. But then keeping the interaction with the fans and keeping it going it’s like pulling teeth. You have to convince people how important it is to post a review on Amazon. I mean, you read a book, you like it, and then you go onto the next one. If it takes you two minutes and you post a review because the number of reviews is what puts you on Amazon’s radar. And when you’re on Amazon’s radar then it gets into the you bought things. Where you bought a book and it says, ‘Hey if you liked that book you might like this one too.’ Because it had similar key words or something. Well, they only do that if the book has a certain number of reviews. I’m talking nonstop because it’s exhausting.

John:

Exhausting, yeah, I could feel it. It is. I mean it’s the world we live in too for banking, for finance. It’s nonstop because if you don’t do it someone else will fill that void. They’ll fill that vacuum. And people enjoy your content. And it’s interesting because what you have Kevin is such gold to marketers, right? So, the challenge is is that there are a lot of people who are really good at reaching people that are out there. But they don’t have good content to go with.

Kevin:

Yeah, the pasta straightener.

John:

Yeah. Nobody wants the pasta straightener but everybody might be interested in soon to be the Netflix movie Dan Shamble or whatever it is. They’re very interested in that series. A great example of that is-and I think we’ll just keep going on this, is talking about the licensing and stuff. So, I’m rereading-and I rarely do this. I just rarely reread a book.

Kevin:

There’s too many other books to read.

John:

That’s true. But for some reason I saw the trailer for Ready Player One, and do you know Ernest Kline?

Kevin:

I know here and I’ve read the book. We’re fellow Rush fans.

John:

That’s what I was about to say. There’s a connection here for Rush, right? And that’s what I was going to ask you. So, he’s mentioning Rush.  He’s got every video game you could ever imagine. How does that work with all that licensing? Imagine that movie, I mean he’s driving around in the Back to the Future car.

Kevin:

Well, for the book I’m not sure it was that relevant. But for Steven Spielberg to make that movie, well, he is Steven Spielberg so-

John:

-He can probably just walk up to anybody and . .

Kevin:

But if you remember back when we were much younger, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Roger Rabbit was one of those how did they ever get the rights to Betty Boob, and Mickey Mouse, and Bugs Bunny? I mean everything in the same-so, I guess if you have a big enough name and a big enough army of lawyers. Which I mean Spielberg clearly-if I were Ernest Kline and I wrote this book, in my mind I would go nobody will ever make this as a movie because it’s a legal nightmare. But on the other hand, we are in such a pop culture society now where when you’re reading a book, and the character goes to the fridge and he takes out a can of Cola, does that not raise your-no, he takes out a Coke or a Pepsi or whatever. But I mean literally we live in a society where-let me pose a question which we don’t have an answer for. So, if I wrote a story about an obsessive crazy fanboy who actually decided he wanted to Batman. And dressed up and went out to stop crime. This would be a mainstream story and it’s realistic. I mean, I could see somebody deciding there’s too much crime on the streets so I’m going to dress up like Batman.

John:

I’m sure it happens all the time.

Kevin:

But if I wrote the novel where he did that I would probably have to make it Pointy Man or something like that. Although, I don’t know how a lawyer would answer that question because you cannot say that Batman is not a cultural reference so that you can’t say that. Well, of course Batman’s not in the public domain. But it’s like if I say, ‘May the force be with you,’ and Lucas Films sue me, I mean everybody knows may the force be with you. So, I honestly don’t know where that legal-

John:

-Because I was just wondering. And I also-just my own personal question, have you spoke to-obviously you wrote with Neil Peart, Clockwork Angels. Have you spoke to him about.

Kevin:

I have not.

John:

Oh, you’ve got to talk to him about that. The lyrics to Syrinx, that’s all him. That’s the key to the liner notes. The liner notes was the key. Not to give it away for people who haven’t-by the way, read the book. Read that. Read Dan Shamble.

Kevin:

Actually, I love the audio book Ready Player One because Will Wheaton reads it and he’s a good fanboy. But in fact, I did an anthology called 21-13, which is Rush stories that are inspired by Rush by a bunch of other authors. But I wrote a sequel to their album 21-20. And as I was literally writing that short novel, when I was finishing reading Ready Player One. And again, no spoilers but there is a certain key in the liner notes to the 21-12 album. That there’s like a story written around the lyrics.

John:

Very important. Because what Rush did that was so cool back then was it wasn’t just the lyrics to the song. Along with it was a story. That whole thing was one of the very first story based albums.

Kevin:

But as I’m writing my own sequel to 21-12 I’m listening to Ready Player One, and I have had this album since 1978. And I’ve played it three billion times. I had utterly forgotten that there were liner notes. And I went, ‘Oh no.’ And I had to go back and I had to look because there’s text in there. Like there’s names of the priests. I better put these details into my story otherwise the Rush fans are going to kill me.

John:

They’d eat you alive, yeah.

Kevin:

So, Ernest Kline thank you for saving my bacon at that proper moment.

John:

Just real quick, what I want to do, you know what? We can just turn this into a pop culture episode. Which I think would be fun. Before we go though I just want to share a little bit of what I’ve learned. And obviously you’ve been doing this process a lot but believe it or not I got today the proofs back for my book. Which is titled Breaking Digital Gridlock and it’s a book for financial institutions to move past digital transformation. It’s not go digital. Nobody needs to be told that they have to go digital. I think everybody gets it. This is how to go digital. This is practical knowledge and information, experience that I’ve gained over the years after having been through this digital transformation time and again in different organizations that I’m sharing to say, ‘Hey, here’s some practical things that you could do today that won’t-no pun intended-break the bank. That you can get started on to turn that ship in this direction.’ But as I’m going through the process one of the things I have to do is get the release notes. And I was talking to Brett. Remember Brett who was on the show? Brett King. So, he’s authored many books. And Brett is a huge fan of yours and he’s doing the forward for my book. Which I’m so thankful for. And I’ve got to get release forms from all these people that I either mentioned or quoted in the book. And so, it’s been interesting to go through that process. You know, as you were talking about. And I have my idea for a second book which I shared with them. And like you, they’re like, ‘Well, we want to see how the first book goes.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ll move on.’ They’re like, ‘Well, wait a minute. We didn’t say no.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, but-‘

Kevin:

-But I have to write it a year in advance for all the production for you guys.

John:

Right. Because the challenge is is that what I’m writing about is going to be Bitcoin and cryptocurrency and that stuff’s now. It’s not tomorrow, it’s not the next day. And if I wait six months you’ll miss that market. And as you know, I’ve been heavily involved in this. So, I just thought it was fascinating as I go through the process, something that’s clearly old hat to you and not anything that you worry about. But I just find it fascinating as I continue to go through the process like pagination. I can’t change anything now because it’s all been paginated and there’s all these details.

Kevin:

You can’t change anything because it’s with a publisher that’s kind of doing it, in fact, in the next episode that we record will be Dean Wesley Smith. We’ll be talking all about the turn on demand and everything. And in fact, for the kind of books that you write, it’s almost a roadblock to be going through a traditional publisher that has the year turnaround time worth of stuff. Remember how there were some astonishingly fast released books that-like the 9/11 report when it came out. That they produced it and they had it out within six weeks. At the time that was a miracle. And in fact, I think there was an OJ Simpson trial book or something that came out really fast. But for stuff that you’re doing which is so topical, which also invites another thing, what happens with rev too? Because you’re going to need to update that every eight months. Well, that’s not your publisher like Wiley-

John:

They’ve already said that they have rights for my derivative works I think.

Kevin:

Right. But the thing is, Wiley isn’t going to want to update their printed book every six months. Whereas if you do it the way-and I’m not selling you on Wordfire. But if you’re doing it the way Wordfire does it or any of these indie books, I can have the new version uploaded tomorrow if you give it to me. You make a change, you swap out a chapter. Because they become living documents that-

John:

-That’s like what we were talking to Mark about Kobo and how they could tell you where people stopped. And you could actually go make a change in that chapter.

Kevin:

A sex scene right here and they’ll keep reading.

John:

Yeah, this will fix this. They won’t stop. But let’s talk about something else. Obviously we share a love of the Walking Dead. I think we should love the same stuff.

Kevin:

Well, I think it’s pop culture nerdy . .

John:

Yeah, but I’m interested in your thoughts here. So, do you know Robert Kirkman?

Kevin:

Not personally.

John:

Not personally, okay.

Kevin:

The guy I knew was Charlie Adlard who drew the comics because he also was the artist on the X-files comics when I was working on the X-files so we were at conventions together.

John:

Oh, so you guys were together a lot. So, what’s interesting to me is that-so for those of you who don’t know, well spoiler alert. We’re going to have spoilers. So, if you haven’t watched the last season-the mid-season finale of-this is 2017 in December of the Walking Dead. Pause this and come back and listen to it later. But spoiler alert we’re going to talk about this. So, I was just blown away that they deviated so much from the comic book, you know?

Kevin:

I own them. I have potentially not read them just because I’m enjoying the show so much. And I didn’t want to get into the wait, this is different. Or wait, this isn’t

John:

Right, right. And I’ve read the comic books. And it goes back to your point on like these very successful things where the reason I think it did so well, and you can buy these compendiums now like you were talking about, but that’s basically a serial in the comic format. So, every month you’re going to get this update to the story. And I remember as a kid I just lived and died for those. I was a Spiderman reader. And so, what keeps you from putting a Dan Shamble book out every month if you want to? I guess nothing at this point.

Kevin:

Well, just the fact that it takes me that long to write one and I’m doing other things.

John:

You’re pretty quick.

Kevin:

Yeah, okay. But here’s the-this is another really dramatic shift. And I’ve been studying this with other-they’re called indie authors. People that do it themselves. The romantic suspense writers, and the military suspense writers, and all these other things. Readers really truly want to finish and pick up the next one.

John:

Yeah, it’s like binge watching. You know what the worst thing is? They should shoot the guy. Because it used to be ten seconds between episodes on Netflix. Now it’s five. You know what that does? That-

Kevin:

-You don’t even have time to go to the bathroom.

John:

Yeah, the problem is me and my wife and I go, ‘Oh, should we watch another?’ We were watching Stranger Things 2. And this weekend and we’re like, ‘Do you want to watch another one?’ And she’s like, ‘Well . .’ It’s like wait we didn’t even get a chance. Now we’re like, ‘Well, I guess we’re in it now.’ They’re geniuses on that binge watching. Your books should work like that. You should flip the next page and it goes download another book unless you tell me not to within five seconds.

Kevin:

Well that’s true. I think I’d give people streaming it. But here’s exactly what I was talking about. I remember one year this was back in late 70’s, early 80‘’s, when Stephen King came out with two books in one year. And everybody freaked out that only Stephen King could come out with two books in one year because the market can’t sustain that. And the writers that I know now, the really active indie writers that-I just talked to one guy that his goal is I’m going to do twelve novels this year. One every month. And the people will buy the next one. It’s like did you ever meet the old ladies that read Harlequin romances that grab them by the grocery bag full?

John:

Yeah, in Stranger Things 2 there’s a scene where the mom of one of the kids is reading one of those Harlequin’s or whatever and my wife went, ‘I’ve read all of those.’ There’s literally thousands of those.

Kevin:

Oh, there are thousands. And here’s the other-this is one of Kevin’s mutations trying to adapt to it. I became successful and the thing I became known from doing like the Saga of Sons books or the Dune books I write with Bryan Herbert or my Terra Incognita series, is I write like Game of Thrones size things. They’re 600-700 pages long. There’s 35 main characters. There’s big storylines. They’re the doorstop epic fantasies or epic science fiction. Well, people don’t want one doorstop every year and a half. They want one shorter book every three months. And so, in my attitude right now if I ever did another series like that, and I am-I’m thinking of it, I would. I mean it’s a story. It’s a big epic story. But I would be slicing it up into like into forty or fifty thousand word pieces. Just so you know, a big fat novel is like 200,000 words.

John:

Oh yeah. Like I almost bought Ready Player One in its short paper book. But things like I was going to buy it for my nephew. I wanted him to read it. And I knew that if he saw book that I’m holding my hands up and I’m like it looks like a big sandwich, like a burger from Chili’s, it’s huge. And I thought, ‘My nephew’s going to take one look at this and go I’ll just wait for them movie. And I wanted him so badly to read the book. So, I bought the longer bigger one which was thinner.

Kevin:

But so what I’m finding out now is-and again, I can write fast. And because if I produce the books myself through Wordfire which again, all next podcast we’re going to be talking about this whole thing. Is I can release a book every month or two. And my pool of readers, the ones that signed up at the Wordfire.com readers group and got their free copy of Working Stiff, they will be there every month buying the new book that I come out with. Because they’ll read it and then want the next one. They don’t want to wait three years for the next one.

John:

And that was where I was going with Walking Dead. So, back to Walking Dead and the spoiler. So we get through the episode, Neegan-they get out. We don’t know how. We know Eugene. For those of you that watch it I’m not going to get into all the characters. You either watch this or you don’t. And at the end we discover that a couple episodes ago, while helping some homeless person, that one of the main Characters, Rick’s son Karl, which we’ll never get to hear anymore, has been bitten. That we know of.

Kevin:

I thought that happened in the last episode. That had happened a long time ago, a while ago.

John:

Well, maybe it wasn’t the last of it. I thought the last episode was-I don’t remember. Maybe it was.

Kevin:

It’s revealed that he’s been bitten.

John:

It’s been revealed. You thought he might have been.

Kevin:

But see, I missed the fact that he might have been bitten.

John:

Yeah, I had a feeling. But I forgot about it all together because I was so wrapped up in the action and his events. But so here we’ve killed off this character. Now we’ve got to wait until February. Well, he isn’t dead yet. As a matter of fact, one of the things I guess-

Kevin:

-He’s been bitten so we know that he doesn’t have long.

John:

Yes, we know how people who get bitten end. So, here we are waiting until February 21st after the Superbowl I think before we’ll know. Like okay, he has this opportunity. How is he going to use his death in service of the group?

Kevin:

Well here, let me point this out because we were watching it last night. And there are some scenes in this finale episode where-a lot of scenes where young Karl is trying to get his father, who’s gone a little bit nuts, back on track. Like do we need to kill all of Neegan’s people? Do we have to make it be a constant war? Can’t we just figure out a way to have peace? Can’t we figure out that it shouldn’t be violence all the time? We have to rebuild our world. And my wife who is a best-selling author, Rebecca Mesa, she’s sitting next to me and she says, ‘Uh oh, Karl’s dead.’ And I went, ‘What?’ She said, ‘Every time you have a moral compass on this show, the person who’s saying that will get killed.’ And I thought, ‘What? It’s Karl.’ But it’s the Walking Dead. They kill off people with impunity all the time. So, it was funny that Karl is saying all of these, ‘We really need to be civilized. We really need to do this.’ And I went, ‘This doesn’t sound like normal Karl dialogue.’ And Rebecca said, ‘Uh oh, he’s being the moral compass.’ But that also put a whole different perspective on his fatalism when he offers Neegan if you need to kill somebody. We’re on an episode of the Talking Dead right now.

John:

Yeah, we really are. But what was interesting to me and here’s where I went with. So, what he’s saying is, ‘Hey, if we continue violence between each other we’re creating more enemies.’ And it reminded me-and it might have been Homeland. Do you watch Homeland?

Kevin:

I have not.

John:

Okay, so Homeland had sort of a plot at the very beginning. I stopped watching it after a while. But it had a plot in the very beginning about kind of drones. Okay, so you’re trying to kill the bad guys, the ISIS guy or whatever. And you also inadvertently take out a wife and a child. Horrible thing. And so, you take out these two. And then it may not be the husband or it may be the brother or anything. But you just created another round of enemies, right? And I think that was Karl’s point is okay, so we killed Neegan. There’s another Neegan behind him. Do we want the Neegan we know verses the Neegan we don’t know? And how does that play out as people for a resource? I just thought it was fascinating. I also thought it was fascinating that Maggie took the tact that she did where she helped them kill one of her people. And she immediately went back and took out one of them. Although she picked the wrong guy. Why not-they’ve got a special death planned for that really jerky blonde guy that’s in that pen. The long haired blonde guy.

Kevin:

Yeah, but this was the one that Jesus wouldn’t kill. This was the one where they had that whole argument of whether or not he should die. So, he wasn’t a non-player character.

John:

That’s right. He was in the room where he was pretending, ‘I was just with them,’ or whatever. And that’s when she goes, ‘What cupcake?’ And that’s about all he got. So, let’s close this out.

Kevin:

We could do a whole episode. So, Dan Shamble is funnier than the Walking Dead. We can say that.

John:

Yes, it’s not the same thing. And I hope people will go read it. I’ll definitely be posting it on my Twitter feed. And if you want to find me I’m @JBfintech. You can go to creativefuturism.com. You can sign up. You’ll get-every time we release anything you’ll be on our mailing list as well and you’ll get that information. And we’ll send out all the podcasts.

Kevin:

Like I said, if you’re intrigued by Dan Shamble but don’t want to buy the first book you can get all the short stories for free if you just sign up for them. And you know what? If you sign up for it, you download it, and then you say, ‘No, I don’t want to be on your list anymore.’

John:

Yes, because you’re very much about privacy. So, thank you everyone for listening and we’ll be back soon.

Kevin:

Thank you, have a creative future.

Jan 09 2018

41mins

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Rank #2: Inspiring the next generation to the stars - Creative Futurism

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Lance Bush, President of the Challenger Learning Centers for Space Science Education talks about his mission to interest kids in pursuing careers in science and engineering, how to motivate the next generation to truly look to the future. “The first person who will walk on Mars is alive today and in a classroom somewhere.”

For more information about Challenger Learning Centers, or to donate, visit www.challenger.org

Full Transcription:

Kevin:             Welcome to Creative Futurism podcast. I’m Kevin J. Anderson.

John:               And I’m John Best.

Kevin:             And we’ve got a great show for you today and a really cool guest. Something that’s kind of near and dear to my heart. And I’ll give you a little background because as a science fiction writer of course I was always interested in the space program and NASA and exploring other planets. And I’ve got almost an odd story because when I was just a little kid I was watching Lost in Space and Star Trek and science fiction movies. And I remember I think I was seven years old when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. And everybody was glued to their television sets and everybody was watching when he came down the ladder and the eagle and stepped foot on the moon. And I remember my old aunts had tears running down their face. And my parents were all excited. And I remember looking at it and going, ‘Huh, did we do that already?’ Because I was watching science fiction movies all the time and I thought, ‘Where’s the monsters? This isn’t nearly as exciting.

John:               Forbidden Planet, right?

Kevin:           Yeah, but I grew up always following the space program. And I got my own telescope when I was in high school. I majored in astronomy because I wanted to be a science fiction writer and if you’re going to be a science fiction writer you have to know how like black holes and quasars and colliding galaxies and all kinds of stuff like that. But I also was following NASA, following the shuttle program. I saw a shuttle launch, an Atlantis launch in person down at the Kennedy space center. And I like just about everybody else in this country remember exactly where I was when the news of the Challenger accident happened. And that was such a huge effect on me for years. I mean that was sort of our-not exactly our first tragedy but it was really our first-you know if you’re going to go where no one has gone before sometimes it’s dangerous. And many years later after I had a career all on my own, science fiction writing, through another science fiction friend my wife and I got in touch with June Scobee Rogers whose husband was the commander of the Challenger mission. And June wanted to write a young adult science fiction series to inspire kids in science and space. And so, she started working first with my wife Rebecca but then I kind of came aboard to help write it. And we wrote a series called The Star Challengers about basically kids doing science stuff but there’s an adventure behind it. So that the readers were secretly being tricked into learning science while they were reading about alien invasions. We got to know June really well. And June is just-if you have a list of the most wonderful people in the world, June is sort of above the top of it. So, she’s great and she got me involved in her organization called The Challenger Center. The Challenger Learning Center where her goal was to get young people interested in science and technology. And eventually she asked me which means that you say yes because you never say no to June Scobee Rogers. She asked me to become a board member of the Challenger Center. And I’ve been serving them as a board member for probably ten years or so. I’m sorry, I didn’t look it up. Anyway, when you and I started this podcast one of my first guests that I wanted to have was the head of The Challenger Learning Center.

John:               I remember that.

Kevin:             Not June Scobee Rogers. But Lance Bush who was the president and CEO of Challenger Center. And Lance I’ve known for probably five or six years too and he’s a good friend of mine. But he’s also a really intelligent guy, very well-spoken guy. He’s nervous there in the background as we’re talking about him. But he’ll be on here in just a second. I’m going to give a quick little bio before we bring Lance on to start talking. Because I’m just really pumped about this. And I love this organization and what they do. Let’s see, Lance bush is president, CEO of The Challenger Center which annually serves about 260,000 students worldwide. The Challenger Center has been thirty years old. And we’ll talk about this, they have this amazing hands on, it’s sort of like a you are there simulator mission of moon missions and asteroid missions and stuff. And Lance has been-he’ll tell us how many years he’s been at The Challenger Centers. But he’s really helped revive it. He’s been a great support of the organization. In fact, Challenger Center was recently recognized by the National Science board public service award for its work to promote public understanding in science and engineering. And Lance started his career at NASA as a Chief Engineer. So, designing next generation space vehicles. So he really is a rocket scientist. He’s served as the Chief Strategic Officer at Paragon Space Development Corporation. And at that time Paragon was one of the Inc. 5000 fastest growing companies for five years. But Lance is going to talk with us about Challenger Centers and his work there. And now that I’ve filled the airwaves, welcome Lance, thanks for being on our podcast.

Lance:           Thank you for having me on Kevin and Jon. I’m always thrilled to share the message of Challenger Center. And I have to say, on behalf of the other board of directors on Challenger Center, we are very privileged to have you on the board of directors. And I am-all of my friends know me as a rocket scientist but few people also know that I had a minor in art history. And as such, I had this very great appreciation and understanding that it was actually the artist, the writers, the filmmakers that created these vision of the future that us engineers came behind you and tried to create those. So, you are a natural fit with this organization and I pay homage to you for what you do in terms of inspiring people and thank you for serving our organization.

Kevin:             Well, we’ve talked on the podcast before about how science fiction people made up things like the communicators on Star Trek and then engineers actually made smartphones. So the Challenger Learning Centers, why don’t you tell us what their mission is and what they actually do.

Lance:            So, our mission is really to ignite the potential from within every student we see. Today’s students are tomorrows innovators. Too many of them lose interest in crucial subjects like science, engineering, technology at an early age. And that limits their opportunities in life, their career options in a global economy, and frankly we need them for the future challenges. So Challenger Center was created very specifically to give students an exposure to a variety of fields, a chance to work with their fellow students in real world scenarios, and open their eyes to new possibilities for the future. So what we created many years ago are these full on immersive simulations that takes you to the surface of Mars. The students are flying these missions. We have highly trained educators in there with the students but they’re just kind of a guide. The students have to have accomplished this mission on their own. And when they’re all done several things are accomplished. We’ve kind of tricked the kids into learning math and science. We’ve tricked them into realizing that it’s actually fun, interesting, at a critical age, that middle school age that perhaps they do want to continue to pursue this. To pursue careers and studies and have a passion for learning. And they have a great time doing it. And that’s what’s going to carry them forward. That’s The Challenger Center experience. I can probably talk a lot more. You’ve probably heard me say it before, as CEO I could probably talk for eight hours on this but I know the podcast is a lot shorter. So, I’m going to pause my comments there and let’s see where this conversation goes.

Kevin:             And just to emphasize to the listeners here, The Challenger Center is an actual-it’s a thing. It’s almost like a movie set. A couple movie sets where sometimes they’re part of museums or planetariums. Sometimes they’re part of high schools or middle schools. Here in Colorado Springs we have one that’s part of surprise, Challenger school. And it’s broken up into two rooms. One is mission control which is on Earth, quote unquote. And then you go through like this air lock. They simulate it. I mean there’s flashing lights and stuff so that you think that you’re actually going up on the shuttle or going up onto the space station. And then the other half of the room, the other half of the movie set, they’re on the space station, they’re in the moon base. And they have to walk around and one of the students is assigned the communications officer. One of the students is assigned as like the geologist.

John:               So, is one of them wearing a red shirt? Because that guy doesn’t come back. We know that, right?

Kevin:             Oh, we don’t know that. They’re all wearing jumpsuits. You can’t tell if they’ve got red shirts on or not.

Lance:            We don’t leave anybody behind.

John:               Okay, just checking.

Kevin:             But they do actual science. And if you don’t calculate your orbits right your space station might go down into the atmosphere. Or there’s always some emergency. Either there’s an oxygen leak or a meteor storm or something. But this is so immersive and you watch the kids and I’ve watched probably half a dozen of these things going and it’s an hour or two long. They just come out of this so amazed. And they feel like they really did it. And it just is so cool. I’m stealing all your thunder here Lance but I’m pretty enthusiastic about it. I think it’s really cool.

John:               Well, let me ask you a few questions about it. So, I coach wrestling in a past life along with a friend of yours, Joe. So, I’ve been to this school and I saw what it was but I didn’t know what it was. You see what I’m saying? I saw like a section of it because we were coaching-we had a wrestling tournament there. So, how do you choose kids? How do you get the kids involved? Do you go to each school that’s in the district? Or how do kids get involved? How do they find their way to this? I assume it’s not just kids at the Challenger school but I’m assuming it’s a lot of them. But how does that happen?

Lance:            Yeah, well one of the beautiful things about Challenger Centers is that we’re really an inclusive experience. We’re trying to reach all the students of different skill levels and abilities. And so, when we work with a community and we create a Challenger Center there we want to know even ahead of time there’s a model that’s set up that will include not just the students from that particular school or location but from all the surrounding schools. We can serve a school district of about a 50,000-student body. So we can see about 10,000 students a year in it in a Challenger Center. And they’ll come from visiting schools. From that school we can have Girl Scouts, Boy Scots, there are summer camps. So a lot of different ways to do it. But there is a minimum number of people you have to have and it really is an educational experience. It’s not just a fun thing. And so we even write these missions, these storylines that include science standards and math standards for the students. And the teachers are well aware of that when they bring them. So, there’s a real kind of designed way of getting students there.

John:               So, when the students come in and-well first of all, does the school district have to pay or is this a-

Kevin:             -Well, it’s like a field trip. The school is coming in as a field trip. And there’s a class that I think there’s one that runs in the morning and one that runs in the afternoon. But they’ll be bussed in. But what are the fees Lance? Is it part of the school budget or is it-I think The Challenger Center gets paid for each group of students that comes in, right?

Lance:            Yeah, and frankly there are different models and different school districts do it different ways. We do not put any restrictions on how they use our Challenger Center other than we are trying to-when we started this organization thirty years ago, and I’ve only been here for the last five, the idea was to reach as many students as possible. And we’ve served over five million students to date. So, some of them they are owned by a school district, it’s in a school, and so the children on that school district just come and use it. Just like they go to history class they go to a Challenger Center mission. There are other places where it might be-

Kevin:             -It’s more fun than history class.

John:               Yeah, I’d take that over history. We didn’t have this option.

Lance:            Yeah, I mean honestly there really isn’t any better way to do learning than

to do full on immersive simulations. I’m going to regress a little into kind of educational philosophy. But there’s different ways of learning something. And there’s passive learning like the history class, somebody talking at you. That’s passive learning. And there are educational gains when you move to active learning. And active learning isn’t really even that active. That’s just like you reading something or watching a video. You’re taking it on, you’re taking the action. But there are learning gains there. And you get learning gains when you do hands on experience and then you get even more learning gains when you do it in context in a simulation. So we are actually providing the most effective way of educating somebody. And I’m sure anybody listening to this can understand and appreciate that.

John:               Oh yeah. It’s the pedagogical way of going about it, right? That’s what they taught us in school. I used to be an educator in a previous life. I found that the only way that I could keep a bunch of three year olds-pardon me, third graders attention was to bring in computers and things like that and have fun with them. Otherwise, I was just boring Mr. Best.

Kevin:             But this is submersive. You see these kids going through the missions and it’s not a field trip anymore. It’s not them learning an assignment anymore. It’s that if they don’t get their calculations right their friends, their classmates who are up on the space station might not make it because the meteor storm is coming. And watching this-and one of the coolest things that again, Joe who’s my nephew in-law and he works for you, their daughter went to a Challenger experience. And she came out of it loving it. But you’ve got to understand, this is a person who’s a cheerleader and tumbling and math is not the thing. And she knows that her uncle Kevin and aunt Rebecca write books and didn’t quite now. And she was telling us about this Challenger etcetera experience and how great it was. And I said, ‘Well yeah, we wrote these Star Challengers books that’s set in that Challenger Center.’ And it just kind of blew her away because she was so enthusiastic with this. And of course, being a cheerleader she didn’t care about her science fiction books otherwise. I mean that hadn’t even penetrated. But that was just really exciting for her. And I thought, ‘You know, that is the tough audience.’

John:               Oh yeah. If you got Marion interested you did something special. No doubt about it. So, let’s talk about the challenge of STEM at the moment. And I’m sure this is something that you’ve got a lot of statistics and things on. So, this is great that we have this response. And one of the challenges I have from the business side bringing this is so currently, I’m working on things like a blockchain, and a distributive ledger, high-level cryptography, academia’s not keeping up with us. And so, for me to find people a lot of the time I have to go out of the country. I don’t have a choice. I can’t even find a scientist who can deal with redundant Byzantine fault tolerance in this world or in this nation. So, give me some stats on what that looks like and what you guys are-the impact you’ve already had. And what you hope to achieve. And you mentioned at the top of this the concern and the impact it would have on our country. Maybe we can dig into that a little bit.

Lance:            Sure, yeah. So, this is my chance to geek out a little bit and share with you kind of big vision and concerns and what we think we can do about it.

John:               We’re all about geeking out so bring it.

Lance:            Yes, exactly. So again, let’s put it in context. The world’s got a lot of challenge. How are we going to feed people in the future? How are we going to manage our population? All the issueas that are out there. And all of those have to be creative technology, innovation, kind of approaches. We’re going to have to really have some great thinkers. And as we look at that and I realize okay, I’m here running one of the organizations that pioneered STEM education. And so, we’re going to need more who are educated capable of being very functional in that future. Like you said, you have trouble finding them.

Kevin:             Lance, can I cut in for a second? Could you explain what STEM education is for the people who don’t know.

John:               Yeah, we can’t use acronyms. That’s a rule.

Lance:            Yeah, sorry. I come from NASA where everything’s an acronym. So, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. It’s kind of just a big buzz word now to kind of pull together all these kind of technical fields of study and careers and talk about how we’re going to kind of educate people around that group of kind of careers and fields. So, if you hear me say STEM that’s what I’m referring to. So, the challenge here, when you say you that you can’t find enough people, it’s not that they’re dropping out in college. There is, there is that look to your left, look to your right, that person might not be there by the end of this curriculum or whatever. But the biggest period, the moment when the largest number of people decide that they are not going to be involved in careers in science, technology, engineering, and math is at the ripe old age of twelve. And I mean, think about that. This is like people. This is our whole population. And that’s a statistic that’s been around for a while, 50% of them. 50% of all students at that age decide at the end of middle school decide math, science are too hard, I didn’t have a good teacher, I don’t understand it, it’s boring. And we lose out on all those people. And then more and more drop off after that.

John:               So, I was reading a book on this just recently. It was called Mindset. It was actually Carol Dweck’s Mindset. Have you heard of this book?

Lance:            I have not. But I’m always looking for new stuff.

John:               Well, this was actually mentioned in Satya Nadella’s new book Hit Refresh. Which he’s the new CEO of Microsoft. And he was talking about this problem with STEM. And I’ll throw in a little arms race that scares the heck out of me that I read about. So fixed mindset means I tried math, I’m not good at it, therefore I’ll never be good at it. A growth mindset says I tried math, I shouldn’t be good at it, I don’t know much about it, and then I’ll get better at it. But I think when we look at our entire culture as a whole lately we’re really falling into this fixed mindset trap quite a bit. Particularly our youth. Where I see it in wrestling a lot. Kids come out and expect to be Jordan Burroughs. Which you know, famous very good wrestler. And to put it in football terms, Joe Montana. And when they’re not, they just go, ‘Yeah, I’m out. Because I wasn’t special, I obviously don’t have a talent for this’ And so, I think you’re right on about overcoming that in that regard. So, interestingly enough a quick switch on this. Quantum computing is going to be the ultimate game changer for everything. Whoever gets there first, and we’re talking about qubits verses bits, and all of these things, is going to change the world. You talked about feeding the hunger you know. They’re going to come up with the right things to get fertilizer the right way so we don’t have to continue to do it the way we do with nitrogen. My challenge is it’s an arms race, right? Every country in the world’s trying to figure this out. Whoever gets there first, they’re going to be able to break our encryption. Put it this way, the current heaviest encryption that we have, it would take a classical computer, the one we’ve got sitting right in front of us a billion years to crack. With quantum computing it will take less than a minute. So, what are we going to do if we don’t have the people to win this race? I think that’s your point, right?

Lance:            Yeah, absolutely. And we don’t know if that is a student who is in lower east Manhattan in one of the toughest neighborhoods in New York or they’re in Hazard County, Kentucky. Another tough neighborhood but in a different way, right? And all those kids, they’re our future. I mean they really are. [CROSSTALK] So anyway, what Challenger Center’s doing about that I mean we know that what we do-the simulation approach is really effective. I mean we were just acknowledged by the National Science board as being the organization whose kind of best educated the public about science. We have thirty years of experience. We have alumni who come back to us and say, ‘I remember the day I was there and I realized I can do this. I want to do it and I’m going to do it.’ Now they’re an engineer, they’re a doctor, a scientist. Having said all that, I nor my board is satisfied. Because when I look out there I say, ‘Yes, we’ve worked with over five million students. Yes, we have great success stories. Yes, I’m working with more than a quarter million students every year.’ But how many people in this country do you think we have that are under the age of eighteen? Like zero to eighteen crowd? What number is that?

Kevin:             I have no clue.

John:               I’ll take a guess just based on the last census in 2013 there were about 150 million people over eighteen that were what we call adults. So, I’m going to say 300 million because we’ve like tripled that size with the millennials and generation Z. Am I in the neighborhood?

Lance:            So, while we’re-I thought the general population-the general population’s about 330 million total people-

John:               -Okay, that sounds about right.

Lance:            And so, we’ve got about I think it’s like 40-50 million under eighteen people. So, think about that. The fact is, here I am CEO of one of the leading-the pioneering, the leading STEM education organizations and we’re serving about 250,000 students. And there’s 50 million in the country. Now to be fair, I really only have to-we really only have to see them at one grade level, at one point. So if take that 50 million and I can see maybe five million of them each year, you know they cycle through, 2-3 million, then I’m getting to a huge portion of the population. Right now, I still need some work to do. So, we’re doing something and we’re saying, ‘Okay, we’ve got these Challenger Learning Centers. They’re very effective and we’re growing more. We’re building more.’ But building more Challenger Centers, those are Brick and Mortar facilities. They’re very capital intensive. And they’re very effective and we’ll never be able to replace them, their effectiveness. But how do we get to more students? And students that are in remote places. So we’ve built a platform to enhance what we’re doing and add to what we’re doing. It goes right into classrooms. It puts a simulation right on a laptop in a classroom that your average classroom teacher can operate and put in place for the students. And they can go to the bottom of the ocean or to Mars right there in their classroom. And we’ve already field tested a version of this and there are certain kids you cannot disabuse them of the fact that they were just talking to somebody under the ocean and they just saved that person’s life. And when we’re in Challenger Centers-they also by the way, there’s kids of a certain age that we cannot abuse them of the belief that at that point they’ve been to space.

John:                Once they’ve been in there their parents have to talk them down.

Lance:            Hey look, I do not try to talk them out of it because as a NASA rocket scientist I can say, ‘Look, Mercury’s in space, Venus is in space, hey Earth is in space. So, they were in Space today.’

Kevin:             True. I remember seeing a commercial on TV not long ago. It was for a pharmaceutical or something. But the comment that really struck me was, ‘The person who will find the cure to Alzheimer’s is alive today.’ And we just basically have to find-I mean not find that person like Sarah Connor or something like that. But just the thought that the people who will make tremendous breakthroughs are young people today. And you can either discourage them so that you might put off those discoveries for a long time or you can encourage them. And that’s one of the real key things that Challenger does is to take kids who are twelve years old or ten or whatever age that they happen to go in there who don’t know what they want to do with their life. Dad’s an accountant so maybe they’ll be an accountant. Well actually, they don’t ever want to be what their parents are. But they want to design video games or they want to be a football player or maybe they want to be clothes designers or something. All of those people we need to say, ‘You know, you might really want to consider going into aerospace or engineering or something.’ Because we need the people who are going to solve the world’s problems to start thinking about solving them. Not to start thinking about, ‘I’m going to design clothes.’ Not that there’s anything wrong if you want to do be a clothes designer.

John:                Well, let me throw an idea in there. So, you’re both actual scientists. I consider myself an engineer mostly. But one of the things I’ve been reading about a lot lately is called citizen science. Have you guys heard of this?

Lance:            Oh yeah.

John:                 So, citizen sci-you want to give Kevin an explanation or you want me to?

Lance:            No, you handle this one.

John:                 So, citizen science is where people are doing science themselves at home. So they’re figuring out things on their own. They’re creating their own. No, this is beyond that. This is like take your DNA and figure it out. And on home stuff. And the way they’re doing it is so I’ll give you an example, there was a guy who was going to be the head of the MIT. This was a Ted Talk I heard. There was a guy that was going to be the head of an MIT, one of the sections there. Some important section. He got here and just as he got here the tsunami hit Japan. And he was from Japan so his whole families in Japan. He can’t find out anything that’s going on. So he starts setting up people on Twitter and then they find other people. And then they figure out we need Giger calendars. And so they start making Giger calendars that you can make from off the shelf parts at Home Depot. Then they have them transferring to the cloud so they can tell where the radiation is in Japan. So the citizen science just gathered up. It’s called I think it’s safecast.com if you want to check out that site. And so, that’s just one example. There’s another example of a family where their child was given-both of their kids had that Benjamin Button type aging disease. Not the reverse but the other way so they were getting really old really fast. And they said they had like a thirty-year life span. And the parents tried to talk to some doctors. Found out that hardly any drug companies were working on this because it was a very rare disease. And they started doing it themselves. And they found just about a cure. I mean it worked on the DNA, it worked on everything.

Kevin:             They were like outsourcing kind of stuff or just themselves?

John:                 Well, they found other people in the garage, but also other people. So they get online. They find-they need to figure out how to run this citrifuse thing. And so they get somebody. Or they find somebody online. Or they find information about it. And so my question, what seems like obvious to me is that I still think classrooms are great from a social aspect. But I know that a lot of kids are just learning from out there in it. It seems like there’s this-have you ever heard of what a maker space is Lance?

Lance:            Oh yeah, yeah. We do know about makers space. And for those of you listening, it’s really kind of the woodshop metal shop of today. I mean there are different devices and things that you can in a rapid period you can actualize your own ideas and make things. At Challenger Center we’ve incorporated 3D printers into our missions. The students have to in fact-in some of them if something breaks in space and remember, you can’t just go over to the hardware store. And so, the students had to design the part that could help them fix it and put it into the 3D printer and get the part.

John:                 So, if I were designing one of those mine would be the big scene in Apollo 13 where they dump all the stuff on the table and go, ‘We’ve got to make one of these. And all we have is that.’ That would be my challenge for every kid every time they come. I would just say, ‘Here’s a bunch of stuff, good luck.’

Lance:            Well and John, you know it’s funny because occasionally if somebody asks me what it’s like at a Challenger Center, and people more our age I’ll say, ‘Have you seen the movie Apollo 13?’ And if I get the nods I’m like, ‘It’s like living in that movie.’ Because that’s what happens, we always put what we affectionately used to call it now as in off-nominal situation. Meaning there’s a big emergency. And the students have to save their fellow students. The ones in mission control have to save the ones in the space craft. And they have to problem solve and communicate and do team work. All these 21st century skills and skills that you as a lawyer want to find in those people beyond even the STEM skills. We’re doing all that.

John:                 Yeah, and my point was on the citizen science, it just seems like there’s a great opportunity to start the Challenger website with-I mean there’s this magazine called Make that I just love because it’s just a bunch of stuff you can build out of whatever. And my dad, he was a NASA guy as well and he loved to build-my dad was the kind of guy that had an oscilloscope I think on the dinner table as well as on our regular table. [CROSSTALK] I don’t have my oscilloscope anymore, I’m not biasing tubes anymore. But as it came around to that sort of thing I feel like that a lot of these kids they expect this hands-on learning that you’re talking about. And they’re willing to go chase it themselves. Especially if there’s a purpose. That seems to be a big thing so I think you’re right on target there with the 3D printers and stuff.

Kevin:             That’s the real difference though between the here’s your homework do your exercise give us your answer and uh oh here’s a problem you guys have to figure it out because somebodies in crisis up there on the moon base. And that’s what I liked about The Challenger Center. Some of the things-and not all of them do this and only some of them did, was kind of an interesting thing, that they had-not during the school time but because they have these facilities, some of them actually would contract them out for team building exercises for companies. Like management teams would go in there and they would go through them same exercises that kids do. And they would learn amazing stuff on how they have to cooperate and brainstorm and come up with things. And I mean that’s not the main thing. Although, I do want to throw out it’s challenger.org is the main website and you can look up where all the Challenger Centers are. And some of them, particularly the one here in Colorado Springs because I’ve been to it several times, they had this cool thing that like one Saturday a month when the Challenger Center wasn’t being used for schools that they opened it for the public. And you could come in and pay the cost. The $30 or I don’t remember what it was. It wasn’t very much. But I took my wife and I took my in-laws into one of these things. And my brother-in-law Tim.

John:                 See, your wife’s going to go along with that though. Most wives . .

Kevin:             Yeah, but even the skeptical ones. Like her mom and dad, my mother-in-law who doesn’t have a scientific bone in her body went through this simulation and she was enthralled. And so, I just suggest look at challenger.org and find-

John:                 -Oh no, I’ll go even better. Let’s you and I go down to one. We’ll bring the microphones and we’ll interview and talk to people and sit at one. Are you up for it?

Kevin:             We can do that for a podcast. You up for that Lance at some point?

Lance:            That would be great to bring alive and hear from the kids. I mean we can talk about it but when you hear the kids. And just like the Apollo 13 when they’re all high-fiving and whooping and hollering because they saved it, the kids do that almost every mission. They have so much sense of accomplishment and pride and they leave their saying, ‘I can do this.’ I’m going back to what Kevin said a little while ago about that commercial where it’s like the person who’s going to solve this issue is alive today. At Challenger Center, and me being in the space industry, I’m well aware and my colleagues are, that the person that’s going to walk on Mars is probably in a classroom right now. And so we actually at Challenger Center, we refer to our students as the Martians of tomorrow. You’re the Martians of tomorrow. And this whole kind of prepping them for that works. Because who doesn’t want to go on one of the greatest adventures of exploring the cosmos and dodging life and death situations and saving your friends.

Kevin:             Well, Matt Damon kind of had second thoughts I think.

John:                 Yeah, it didn’t work out well for him. He ate a lot of potatoes. But no, I completely agree. And I think that I know that those kids are out there. And I found it interesting at the top of this, you talked about working in other countries. And so I’ve recently just been around a bit. I was in Portugal working with a company doing A.I., artificial intelligence for lending. Basically coming up with new ways. We talked about this before that the current FICO system is not so good. We need to find better ways to determine people getting loans. And also, I was in Vienna. I went to a Hacker Space there which was really cool. I’ve got some pictures of that. So tell me about like the other countries that you’re in. So where else are you guys at?

Lance:            So we’re at-yeah thanks. We have a Challenger Center in Canada. We have one in the United Kingdom. We have one as far flung as South Korea.

John:                 Let’s go to the South Korean one. We’ll do the podcast there.

Kevin:             We’ll do the podcast there. We can write it off.

John:                 Yeah, we can write that off. Yeah.

Lance:            We also have one in Hawaii. So choose carefully.

John:                 Oh, never mind. Change, Hawaii.

Kevin:             I thought you had one in Australia too Lance? Did that not come through or maybe I’m just misremembering it?

Lance:            We’re talking to Australia. So here’s the interesting thing is that there are more than thirty communities right now that we’re talking to who really want a Challenger Center. And those aren’t all domestic. We’re talking to people in Australia, more people in the U.K., we’re talking to people in Jordan, we’re talking to people in the United Arab Emirates, people in Israel. There are a lot of the countries out there that really understand and appreciate the need to educate their young people and get them engaged in the science and the math fields.

John:                 Man, you’ve got so much cool stuff. Like one of the cool things would be using some of the tech we have. What if we could connect them and do missions like together? Like Australia and Colorado Springs do a mission. And they have some dependency on each other and they’re forced to work together. That would be really cool. Just a real quick question on that too. Do you-so when I was watching The Martian, one of the things that I found very intriguing about it besides the whole hey we’ve got to figure out how to get back there in two years and all of that, but was even the budget and the money of it. It seems like there’s even an opportunity to take it back a step, to plan a trip like this, to have the skill to think in that linear way that would get you to the point where you have the resources to do this. I mean it feels like you could expand this in a lot of different directions.

Lance:            Oh yeah. Well-

John:                 -And I know that’s the boring part. You three get to be the accountants that get to determine the budget for this flight. But there are some kids that would love to do that. You’d be surprised.

Lance:            Well, we’ve done a little bit of creativity recently. We took one of our-we worked with one of our Challenger learning sites, helped them win a grant from NASA to get a CubeSat. Which is a very small satellite. And as such, we then converted their simulated mission control room into a real mission control room. And so, they use their control room sometimes for the simulation of going to Mars and what not in the Challenger Center sense. And sometimes to control their satellite in space. So, they’re all kind of creative things we’re looking at and working with folks.

John:                 So, that’s a connection to the citizen science, right? So, the last-you can go online right now and make your own CubeSat and get it in the low orbit. Launch it yourself here in Colorado Springs. And as a matter of fact, there’s been several people who have done it. We should definitely launch our own CubeSat. What would we do with it though?

Kevin:             I’d put my books up in space.

John:                 No, they’re only this big. I guess we could put a USB stick in there. But it comes down to it just doesn’t last long. I think it will only-like a few days or a week or something.

Kevin:             Mine crash and burn all the time anyways.

John:                 Okay, so they’ll know the feeling. It will be the same for them. Now this is fascinating.

Lance:            Well, even on that citizen science edge, the new missions that we’re developing that-the diversion that we have going in the classroom, we’ve been developing materials that go with that. At the end of their mission it says to the students, ‘Hey, if you were really into this and you like this, here are five different activities that you can do on your own at home.’ And they can range from you can actually go do a project to you can write to your congress person to fund this initiative to a whole range of ways that you as a citizen want to be involved.

John:                 So, could that project that you made for the classroom, couldn’t that be put online? I mean it seems like gamifying it would be the obvious plan to where it was some sort of massively mutli-player universe that Kevin wrote up where everybody was sort of involved. But to win you actually had to do things that weren’t-it can’t be too kitchy. It can’t be like add four and four to get this apple or whatever. But it’s got to be within that realm. It seems like there’s an opportunity there too.

Lance:            Yeah, and I think that can be done. But we focused really on a version that is a teamwork approach. And I know that the massive online multi-player you can do that. And we’re starting to think through this. But we’ve really liked that when we work with groups that are in the same room. Yeah, this teamwork and communication and collaboration that they’re going to experience in the real world that we really want them to have. To debate with their fellow teammates which solution they’re going to do. And let people step up and show leadership. And some of this you can do online but a lot of it is very difficult unless you’re there in person. So, for us we’ve chosen to stay in this model where there’s more of a human presence of togetherness.

John:                 Oh well that’s-if you know me I’ll try to make you do everything in the world.

Kevin:             Well here’s another question. Because this kind of goes dub tails with stuff that I’ve been learning and working with just like my own writing career and building the fan club and all that kind of stuff. Is to wonder what kind of-I guess we’d call it flight paper that you’d use after it’s done. Because if I go to a book signing and I do a reading and everybody loves what they’re seeing and they love the book that they’re reading and they go great. But if I haven’t like got their name on my newsletter list then I can’t let them know when my next book is out and most of them won’t pay attention. So, if you’ve got all these people walking on air after they come out of a Challenger experience, they love space, they want to know more about it, is there some way that you have of trying to maintain that contact that they can join the after-school Challenger Center club online or something. Because if they’re that pumped up about it and you don’t give them a here’s something else that you can do to maintain your interest then you might-if you have 260,000 people a year coming through we want those 260,000 people. Not they get excited about the cheese factory where they go for their next field trip or something.

John:                 I do like the cheese factory. I think that would be fun.

Lance:            That’s a great point. And any suggestions you have are welcome. But I will say this, these are the things that we do implement now. On our Challenger Learning Centers, this isn’t just like kind of a fieldtrip you come to the cheese factory and go home and that’s it. We actually-most of the Challenger Centers-in fact, the teachers are required to come do training. There are pre-materials that come to the classroom with the teacher. And when the students leave we’re giving the teacher these activities that they can do to help the students really grasp the concepts when they get back into the classroom. And remind them of how we were introduced to them in the experience. Now as to the students themselves, do they have the options to come back? Most of our Challenger Centers have weekend programs, summer camps, some will even hold birthday parties there if you want.

Kevin:             That’s a cool birthday party.

John:                 Yeah, now I know where I want my next birthday party.

Lance:            So one of the most rewarding things I always see is like at the end of a mission like I said, and we’re doing post briefing where students are really learning what they did and how they did it and sharing. But then, I’ll see two twelve-year-old girls high fiving and saying, ‘That was the greatest thing I ever did. And when can we come back? And I want to make sure we come here for summer camp.’ And so, we try to make things available for them. And we do let them know of other programs at Challenger Center. We’re not selfish about this. We’re really about educating and inspiring the kids. So if we’re aware of other programs in the area-in fact, because we are a physical facility in this virtual world-John, I’m going to kind of go anti-thesis to you. But in the quaint way it really helps our communities because now they have a nexus hub to come to. And so, we welcome in if you have Legos or you have Robotix. I mean you can use our facility and our rooms. And it becomes a really energized place and really helps lift up a communities education in that area and inspire the kids.

John:                 And that’s not anti-thesis at all. Because remember I was talking about the maker spaces. I think you should do this. I think you should put in like some sort of networking gaming center, right? And so they can come shoot each other like they like to in Call of Duty. But then turn that into the next simulation and say, ‘Yeah, you can do that.’ But for every four hours you put in you’ve got to launch a mission or whatever. But I’ve just got to tell you, I’m just proud to know you. And I’m so thankful that someone is looking for the guy who’s going to cure Alzheimer’s because I’m pretty sure I’m on my way. I haven’t had myself tested yet. I plan on doing that at home via my citizen science kit.

Kevin:             A lot of us might be, we don’t quite know it yet.

John:                 We don’t quite know it yet. But that’s fantastic. But I want to ask one more question. Do you mind if I just take it off-topic just a little bit?

Kevin:             Go. And I want to circle back to something else later. But go ahead.

John:                 Because we’re close to the time here. So, I saw that you were the Chief Engineer or the Engineer for designing space vehicles. So I’ve got to think you must have been involved in the Rover or some of those. The various Rovers. Did you have some work in that? Just curious.

Lance:            No. So, fresh out of college I was very fortunate to join the legendary group at NASA Langley Research Center that designed Mercury. Some of the guys in there had designed Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. Those were my mentors. So I was designing not the Rovers but the human space craft like the next generation space shuttle. And I even overlapped for one year with Catherine Johnson at NASA Langley.

John:                 And there’s a great example of what you’re all about. There’s a person who was somewhere that was the key point to get us to space. I mean she was around somewhere. That’s amazing. So you actually spent some time with her and knew her. That’s really cool. Very cool. Sorry I’m just a nerd about these things.

Kevin:             Well, I was going to throw it back to kind of at the beginning. How I got into this in the first place was when June Scobee Rogers and my wife Rebecca, we put together these kids adventures. Remember the old Highland Juvenile science fiction things? The orphans in the sky?

John:                 Oh yeah.

Kevin:             So like when you were a kid you would read these science fiction adventures. And people aren’t really writing those kinds of things anymore.

John:                 It’s all vampires and zombies.

Kevin:             June wanted us to write a science based science fiction adventure that would get kids interested in space. And we wanted it set at the actual Challenger Center. And the story we came up with was I thought kind of clever as far as that the guy who runs our mythical Challenger Center, it turns out that he’s from the future. And it’s a future where it’s an alien invasion that’s kicked our butts. I mean some terrible crisis has happened in the future. But because our kids haven’t gone into science we don’t really have the resources to build the defenses against what we need. And so, there’s nobody to solve the problem and we get our butts kicked. But this guy, because of the convenient time machine, he escapes back to our time. And his job is to make sure that people actually learn science so that they’ll be around to save the world when they need to. And one novel called Moon Base Crisis, they go to the moon base in the future. And there’s Space Station Crisis and Asteroid Crisis. So those are three books where it’s kids go to a Challenger Center but then they get transported into the future where they learn the stuff that they will need to know to actually save the world. So that’s kind of a cool thing. And by writing those books which have been dozen sellers instead of million sellers. Oh no, they’ve done fine. But part of that money that we get from the books goes to the Challenger Center. But the Challenger Center is a non-profit. And they get corporate sponsorships and some other things. But Lance, I’m going to let you give your little pitch because some of our listeners here might be interested in contributing something. We’re going to have the Star Challengers books on our Creative Futurism website. So they can click and just buy the good books if they want to. But, say somebody wants to chip into your mission. How can they-

John:                 -Well, let’s say NASA credit union, who I’m pretty close with, is interested.

Lance:            Oh, well look. If a listener wants to, really go to challenger.org. And I’m sure up at the top we have kind of a donate or get involved. But look, obviously I’m really biased but from my-as an ex-NASA rocket scientist type and somebody who’s spent his whole career trying to figure out how to make the world a better place for humanity, even as a rocket scientist. And now, this is a great organization to help young people to realize their dreams, to ignite potential in them. If you want to see a better world, let’s get them engaged in positive things. Let’s get them engaged in our future solving the great challenges. And it’s an exciting adventure. And we welcome individual donors and corporations. And we have a pretty in perpetuity partnership with NASA. And if you want to come along on one of the great adventures of your life, come join up with Challenger. We look for great partnerships anywhere and people who are passionate about what we do. And thank you John and Kevin for having me on and allowing me to talk about this fantastic organization.

Kevin:             Well, I’m on bar right there with you. I’m really supportive of it. So that’s why we’re happy to have you on. And I think everybody was enlightened now because people might not have heard of it. And it’s just a cool thing to think about the future. It just really struck me that the person who is going to cure Alzheimer’s is around. And what you said, the person who’s going to walk on Mars is probably in a classroom somewhere. That we tend to think in the present. But the future is all around us. It just hasn’t happened yet.

John:                 Well it’s the old Bill Gates thing, right? We tend to overestimate the short term and underestimate the long term. We’re look at five to ten years to-I mean things are moving so fast. And without guys like you that are invigorating these kids and getting them off the video games then we’d be nowhere. So, thank you. It’s an honor to know you. Someone’s got to set us up to go down there and do a recording at the actual place.

Kevin:             We’ll figure that out. We’ll get that on schedule and go do a Challenger-

John:                 -This will be my first, well second, onsite podcast. So, that’ll be fun. We’ll get some of the kids and we’ll do the whole thing. We’ll do it up. Do we get to launch anything while we’re there?

Kevin:             Well, you get to not destroy something while we’re there. You have to save us. Well actually, one of the missions is to build and launch your own satellite.

John:                 We should write our own mission. Like we should work on our own. It’s all about like accounting and blockchain.

Kevin:             You can write that one.

John:                 I tried.

Kevin:             Thanks for coming on with us Lance and for sharing your wisdom.

John:                 Yeah. Everything including donations and everything will be on the website creativefuturism.com. And we’ll make sure that everybody has links and can easily put that in. As well as any kind of video or images we can find of these things including-I’m sure there’s pictures of the Challenger station here in Colorado Springs. So that will be fun.

Kevin:             And say hi to June for us next time you see her Lance.

John:                 And the head and figures lady, now that I can’t remember her name for some reason. But yeah, say hi to her as well.

Lance:            Well thank you gentlemen. I know that June would thank you as well for having us on and being supportive of our organization. And it was actually a pleasure of mine to have this casual kind of fun chat with you two. I’d love to continue it on other topics.

John:               Anytime.

Kevin:             Okay Lance, thanks very much.

Lance:            Okay, thank you.

Nov 21 2017

54mins

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Rank #3: Force fields, Ray Guns, and Science Fiction Weapons - Creative Futurism

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Retired Air Force Colonel Doug Beason, former head of Air Force Space Command and member of the President’s Science Council—as well as bestselling thriller and science fiction writer—discusses new advances in physics, active-denial microwaves, and weapons concepts you’ve only seen in science fiction, including the possible sonic weapons that may have been used recently at the American embassy in Cuba.

Books by Kevin and Doug

Kevin:

Welcome to the Creative Futurism podcast. This is Kevin J. Anderson.

John:

And this is John Best where you’re going to learn about the world in the future.

Kevin:

And creativity and business and how everything changes.

John:

Absolutely.

Kevin:

We’ve got a really interesting guest this week. And a very good friend of mine I’ve known for more years than I want to remember. I think more than thirty years or so. It’s Dr. Doug Beason who’s a PHD physicist and a retired colonel from the Air Force. He’s a former member of the president’s science office, former associate director at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, former chief scientist of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, and he’s also my co-author on a whole bunch of high-tech thrillers that we did. Doug and I did-our first book was called Lifeline about space stations trying to survive after a war on Earth cut off all supplies. And we did the Trinity Paradox, a time travel of an anti-nuke protestor going back in time to stop the Manhattan project. And we’ve done a bunch of other books after that including Ignition, which we sold to Universal Studios, Ill Wind, which we sold to Fox Studios, and we just sold a big thriller called Doomsday Cascade, a thriller about nuclear waste storage in a big facility. And anyway, but Doug has got some great background on some really interesting weapons technology and science fiction concepts that’s actually being worked on. So, welcome Doug, thanks for coming on.

Doug:

Oh thanks Kevin, I appreciate it.

Kevin:

Well one of the things that I wanted to bring up, and I know Doug’s got

some really cool stuff. Because I’ve known him and I’ve been hearing him talking, all unclassified of course, for many years about-you know as science fiction writers, we’re all accustomed to seeing these typical things like blasters and force fields and stun weapons and energy kind of things. They all seem like they came out of Star Trek instead of the real world because weapons are really just shooting bullets and launching bombs at people. But Doug, you’ve got a great background in some really interesting and innovative energy weapons and high-power microwaves and active denials. And you could talk the whole hour on that sort of stuff. So why don’t you fill in our listeners in a little bit of some of the categories of that and where we are in some of that in as much as you can say.

Doug:

Oh sure. Well thanks Kevin. You know before I start off, I’ll really just ask the question, what is a weapon? Since you’ve thrown that word out.

Kevin:

A stick.

Doug:

Well, that’s just it. To some people it can be a fast-looking hot fighter. And

other people it could be a humongous tank. Some people may say it’s a destroyer or air craft carrier or even a rifle. What we found in the Gulf War, it could even be underwear. Underwear, well remember the cycle.

John:

Yeah, you’re going to have to-I was going to say three lines of coke but you beat me.

Doug:

No, psychological warfare. And they use that as a torture device.

John:

Underwear?

Doug:

They did.

Kevin:

You’ve got to explain the underwear part.

Doug:

They would have female military enlisted personnel show up in their underwear to these people who any sight of human flesh, female flesh, is an abomination to them. And as a result, that was torture. It was a weapon. And so the point is, is that anything that can be used for fighting or attacking someone or for defending yourself when someone is attacking you. And so it just doesn’t have to make a smoking hole. It doesn’t have to be a big tank. Because the reason why you want to use a weapon and have a weapon is to win. And so directed energy that is light waves, light spectrum could be a weapon. It’s just unconventional and it’s revolutionary. And in fact, you really shouldn’t even be skeptical of it. Because it has all the best attributes that a weapon really should have. That is that you want it to get to its target fast. Well, directed energy weapons move at the speed of light. Can’t get any faster than that. You want to be very precise when you engage with somebody. You can shoot lasers over thousands of miles and precisely hit a target. And you can have controlled effects. Because sometimes you want to really damage something with a weapon, other times you don’t. So, that’s when you can really change and minimize collateral damage just by having graduated effects from being able to deny somebody of something all the way to destroying them. And so that’s really what makes directed energy so appealing right now. And if you look at some aspects of directed energy, well first of all, what is it? Well, it’s a photon. And all a photon is is a packet of energy. And traditionally, directed energy weapons are part of the electrical magnetic spectrum. We don’t talk about particle beams anymore because particle beams really diffuse too much. That is they spread out too much to be useful. And so, if we talk about very small wavelengths that is a billionth of a meter long. Well, that’s in the realm of light and that’s what lasers are. And if we talk about wavelengths that are thousands or a million times bigger than that, that is a few meters long, those are microwaves. And so very basically I’ve just outlined a whole new category of weapons, what they can do, and what they’re made of. Lasers, and microwaves, and all the aura photons.

Kevin:

Well, one of the things that you didn’t really mention in the mix which is

kind of important in some of these things is that shooting bullets will kill or seriously injure people. And with these directed energy weapons you can stall people or make them turn and run away without actually killing them or harming them. We want to describe how some of that is used. I remember you telling me like for embassy’s trying to just drive away restless mobs and things.

John:

And before it goes there just real quick though, but the microwave thing scares-so my dad was a microwave guy. Like for the army, right? And so, I’m not sure what he did but we went to a lot of places where there were places that ended in com, Socom, Usicom. And I remember he’d be up there working on these things, and like birds would fly across these microwave dishes and it was like a cartoon it was sad. They just sort of cook and fall to the ground. Not like looking like a turkey on the cartoon on the plate. But pretty darn close. I mean some of these things that you were just talking about seem-and maybe what’s happened over that time, because God this had to be in the 80’s-90’s when my dad was working on that stuff. But to your point, the lethalness of it, some of this stuff just seemed like it was really unwieldly in the microwave space. So has that evolved some as times gone on?

Doug:

Well, it really depends on two things. One is the wavelength of the microwave. And the second is power. If you look at-well let’s back up and look at the difference between lasers and microwaves and you might be able to understand a little bit better. And remember I said lasers have very very short wavelengths. And as a result, when a laser hits a target, say like a piece of metal, or a piece of wood, what happens is that because the wavelength is so small, it has to ablate what is burnt off layer by layer as it penetrates that target. And that’s why you get the smoke and all this. And it actually bores in and creates a hole. Because the energy has to be absorbed layer by layer. And then that boils off. With microwaves because they’re longer wavelengths, they can sometimes depending on the material, even slip through the material if there are any holes or leaks or anything like that. And they act really on the body itself and they work best on metallic type objects. When I say work best, these are wavelengths of meters to centimeters. Or what typical direct energy weapons are. And what they can do is they can actually slip inside or dodge any of the type of insulation that you may put up. Because they may get in through cracks in a cellphone or in a radio. And they’ll interact with things that are about the same size as their wavelength. And so if it’s a centimeter or half centimeter wavelength microwave then they can actually interact with the electronics. And they can burn out those electronics.

John:

Yeah, it will blow up all the transistors.

Doug:

Exactly. And that I’m sure is what your dad was doing. Because that was the big thing, is that how can we take down electronics? In fact, there’s a saying in the microwave weapons world that the smarter something is the dumber we can make it. That is all these things like that are guided by chips and electronics. Well, it’s very easy to turn those off. And first of all, either deny the use of them. Or if you put up the power even more you can disrupt them. Increase the power more and you can degrade them and stop them from working. And then there’s if you really crank it, if you really redline that power, you can actually destroy it. And this phenomenon was actually first observed back in the 1950’s when a high altitude nuclear burst called Starfish was detonated above the South Pacific over 100 miles high. And what happened is that all the electronics on the island were burned out. And when people started scratching their head and trying to think what in the world happened? Well that’s the electromagnetic pulse effect. And all high-power microwaves are doing, is trying to take that same effect and do it with a non-nuclear source. Now, what Kevin was asking about was how can you interact with people? Well, if the wavelengths are even smaller say on the length of about a third of a millimeter, if you look at what the corresponding frequency is, it’s what they call sub-terahertz. It’s no longer microwaves. It’s too high of a frequency. But it’s not quite terahertz, or it’s not a hundred gigahertz. Then that third of a wavelength is a microwave energy or a terahertz energy, is absorbed within about the first third of your skin. Well, there are no nerve cells or anything like that. But, what happens is that your nerves perceives that absorbed energy as heat. And in fact, it perceives it so fast within-well, the number’s still classified. Within a very, very, very short time, you feel, the body feels like a huge oven door has been opened and that you’ve been immersed in this oven. And you have absolutely got away. So you drop everything and you run as fast as you can. And that’s what Kevin was talking about. Using that type of affect to actually quail crowds, quail riders, push away crowds. And you can do that over 800 meters away from where the source is.

Kevin:

But there’s no actual damage. They’re not actually cooking it just feels like it, right?

Doug:

It just feels like it. And in fact, all you need to do is be exposed to that within a very very short time and then affect is turned off. And you don’t want to get anywhere near there.

John:

So, you just run away from it. It’s like my dog and the fence we put up, right?

Doug:

That’s right, that’s right.

John:

Does it at least beep before we do it? Because that’s what we do for the dog, we beep.

Doug:

It’s called the flee effect. F-L-E-E. And that you are trying to get away from something that your body cannot even think. And your mind can’t think because your body is just put into high gear. I’ve experienced it and I never want to experience it again even though there’s been no damage. And in fact, they have done over ten years of classified work with humans and human protocol and before that with animals. And in fact, they did it on a large number of mice who had the same physiology-skin physiology as humans. And they did it on so many mice that they called it the Mega Mouse Project. And they actually published this for ten years out in the open literature while the real classified reason for doing this act of denial project was still a classified project. Now what they found was that the onset of the effect, that is when people want to drop everything and flea, and then when any damage at all, and when I say damage I mean like any red marks may appear because you’ve been exposed to this or a very long time. There are 2-3 orders of magnitude difference between the exposure time and when that onset occurs of something happening. So as a result, there are what they call technological hardwires that are put into these active denial weapons to prevent them from being used any more than 1-2 seconds at a time. And I can’t tell you how long it is before you start feeling it and you want to flee but it’s less than that time. And I can’t tell you how long it is before you feel-how there are any affects that you can see. But it’s 2-3 orders of magnitude greater than that time.

Kevin:

Now you just changed something entirely for a science fiction for me, because it was literally yesterday that I was re-reading the first chapter in Dune, one of my favorite favorite novels. And you’ve got Paul Atreides, he puts his hand in a box and he feels this horrible burning sensation. And he’s got to pull his hand out but he’s got to find it. And finally when he takes his hand out he thinks that it’s going to be entirely torched. And it’s completely intact and they say that it was pain through nerve induction. It sounds like what he was really doing was sticking his hand in a little microwave box.

John:

A microwave box full of forks.

Doug:

So anyway, they have actually deployed these act of denial weapons. It was declassified back in 2001. Since than they’ve had tens of thousands of people in an unclassified way go through all types of testing. It was actually deployed in I think it was either Afghanistan or Iraq, about five or six years ago. But it was chosen not to be used, it was pulled out of there. And the reason is that the lawyers-even though it was-it met all the legal qualifications for a weapon, it didn’t mame and it wasn’t torcher, that sort of thing. Is that some lawyers decided that they did not want the U.S. to be the first to use directed energy weapons on the battlefield.

John:

It seems like this thing could have been handy this weekend in Charlottesville. That could have been useful to get people to flee.

Doug:

And nationally the Los Angeles police wanted to use it and actually get it for that very reason. And that’s just it. And what you want to do is you want to use something like this that’s a non-lethal weapon to do what they call assessed intent. What I mean by that is if you have a crowd that is approaching you and they look like they’re going to be rioting and that type of thing, right now really the police only have or the military only has two options, an on or off. That is they can either shout at people or else they can shoot them. Because there’s really no non-lethal force. They might try to use firehoses and that type of thing. That could really help because people can always shoot back. The nice thing about active denial is that say that they’re are kilometer away and they’re approaching, you can always first use bull horns to tell them to turn back. And then if they get within 500 meters or so you can always use the act of denial on it to push them back. And why 500 meters? Because that’s getting close to the range where people can be accurate with guns.

John:

So could someone shoot while they’re being-

Doug:

-They wouldn’t want to.

Kevin:

Yeah, I think you’d be so torched.

Doug:

That’s right. Now, there are ways to get around the effect of this. For example, if you’re in a faraday cage, a faraday cage is an enclosure that is purely metal, and it keeps out all radiation. But if it keeps out all radiation from getting in than no radiation can get out. Which means how do you see? How do you look out? Some people have-they’ve done testing with fireman’s suits to see if that works. Because a lot of that’s metal. What they found out is that there are some scenes that active denial wavelengths get in through. It really really heats up, like areas around the crotch and places like that.

John:

So it’s even worse-so we’re back to the end of everything.

Doug:

So if somebody is approaching you there and caged up in a faraday cage, and you’ve assessed their intent. You know what they want to do. So the idea is the first, tell them to stop, use active denial, try to push them away. If they somehow manage to keep coming then you can use deadly force. It really gives everybody from police to the war fighters a spectrum of response that’s in-between again shouting at somebody and shooting at them. So it’s much more humanitarian.

Kevin:

And the people in Charlottesville or the LA riots and stuff are not going to be walking around in faraday cages.

Doug:

Well that’s right. You can either make this affect happen over a very very wide area. And make it apply to everybody in the crowd. Or you can zero in. And in fact that’s the idea. What if a bad guy is standing next to a lady holding a baby? Well, because it’s directed energy what they do is focus this down, and I’ve seen demonstrations of this, where they can actually focus this on the persons hand where he’s carrying a weapon. And I tell you, they drop that weapon automatically when they feel like a super-heated oven spot is on it.

Kevin:

Well, and I was thinking how like the attack on the Benghazi embassy, if they had had some microwaves there they could have driven those mobs back without-in a few seconds. And that would have been-changed everything. We’ve got so many hot spots around the world, high risk embassies, high risk installations that you could have something like this. And you wouldn’t need to be killing the locals or causing stuff. The only time you do it is you give them a hot foot if they’re coming to attack you. But then they’re not mamed. It’s not like taking a drone and blowing up villages.

John:

I’ve got a really good microwave at home, I’m thinking about going home. I’m thinking I could probably . .

Doug:

It has to be a certain wavelength that’s about a hundred-in fact it’s 98 gigahertz. And about the funniest thing I ever saw was when this was still a classified project when I was still on active duty, we had four or five retired four-star generals come out. Who were part of my review group when they were reviewing this program. And we actually talked them into standing out, being a hit on this active denial device about a kilometer away from where the source was. And I tell you, you never saw a bunch of four star generals run that fast.

Kevin:

I’m surprised they volunteered.

Doug:

That’s right.

Kevin:

A little bit different from that Doug, but still in the news recently has been kind of that mysterious diplomats in Cuba who seem to have suffered hearing damage from purported sonic weapons of some kind. And I guess Canadian diplomats also suffered it. But can you talk anything about that or anything about sonic weapons? Is that something else you’re looking at?

John:

So, hold on before we get into that, what you’re saying is that we’ve opened-this is in Cuba? In Cuba, because we’ve reopened our embassy. Or have we closed it down?

Kevin:

Right. Some of our diplomats-and I don’t have the thing in front of me, I just heard it on the news that some of our diplomats in Cuba had to leave because they were suffering some hearing damage or something. And they knew where it was from and it seems suspect that there was some kind of a sonic weapon used on them.

John:

Okay. And I was just pulling this up to see what you were talking about. So, a number of U.S. diplomats at the embassy began to experience hearing loss in the fall of 2016. Huh, okay, that’s new.

Doug:

Right. It was not only hearing loss, it was nausea, it was headaches and that type of thing. So they theorized that it was acoustic weapons. It could have been other porous things that could’ve caused that type of symptoms. But acoustic weapons have been talked about for quite a while. It had to be two types, one of two types if it were acoustic weapons. Either infrasonic that is very very long soundwaves that you really can’t hear, but more that you can feel. Or ultrasonics which of course you can’t hear but dogs can hear. And if they’re of a certain intensity it’s been shown that chirp soundwaves can cause damage. And in fact, that’s what a blast wave really is from say a nuclear explosion. It is a sound wave, and it is a wave that is actually traveling faster than the speed of sound because it had so much energy in it. I guess Hitler had experimented with a sonic canon and that type of thing I understand. I really don’t know too much more about them. Except that you do have to have some kind of source that could penetrate the whatever enclosure in. Or else, perhaps that you could even put speakers somewhere on the inside of an enclosure. But that could be some kind of stealthy speakers or it would be kind of obvious. And then again it would have to be multiple sound pulses. Now there are such things as single pulses that exist in nature called soliton. But that has to do with a certain type of a medium or non-literary type of medium that these single pulses can propagate, in otherwise it’s going to lose its energy. So that’s really about all that I know about acoustic weapons.

John:

Just in your mind-I’m trying to determine the purpose to doing this to diplomats. And for me, I’m just wondering if this is a by-product of some sort of listening or spy device of some sort. I mean is there any kind of thought process? Because I mean it’s too obvious to-I could see doing this to someone-I don’t know. I just don’t see the purpose behind it. To me it seems symptomatic of something else.

Doug:

Well really, if you’re going to have a spy device you really want to have it so it’s undetectable and has very low energy.

John:

Well I didn’t say it was a good spy device.

Kevin:

Well and it might be a punitive thing or something just to show that they can. And again, this is all conspiracy stuff.

John:

Well, and I’m going to refute that by saying that the Canadians were there. See, I could see it if it was us but who hates Canadians, right? Everybody loves Canadians.

Doug:

Maybe it was just bad Cuban rum.

Kevin:

Well, I mean one report I heard thought that it might actually be Russians doing it to our diplomats in Cuba and the Cubans didn’t necessarily know anything about it. Again, that goes into novel territory, not news territories.

John:

Absolutely. That’s all allegedly. But yeah, it’s just interesting because it just doesn’t seem-normally, back to your point on things, they have a purpose. I don’t know, maybe they’re trying to drive the diplomats out of Cuba. It seems like your other weapon would be more effective than that. But it’s just fascinating that the stuff that we’re seeing as people go through to these new weapons. And what I wanted to ask you about was so there was an article just not too long ago about-I think it was in Wire. But it wanted to know did Russia just-here’s the article, it’s from the Daily Beast actually. It says did Russia just test a space weapon? And on December 16th of last year they talked about what appears to be an anti-satellite weapon. A rocket that can boost into allure but can smash into enemy’s spacecraft. Which by the way if you’re listening to this, all these articles will be in the show notes on the website. It’s creativefuturism.com. But I wanted to get your point on that. That’s fascinating to me that now we’re escalating this into space and beyond here. And I’m certain we’ve done that for a long time.

Doug:

Well, those are directed energy weapons. But they are hit to kill impact or kinetic energy weapons. It would surprise me if the Russians did. I didn’t know anything about or-this is the first I’ve heard of it. Or maybe I did and I just dismissed it at the time. But it is very well know that for example that the Chinese actually tested a hit to kill asat satellite weapon. And in fact, what they did is they smashed their asat against one of their own defunked satellites. Which increased by an order of magnitude the amount of space debris in space. And has caused a lot more damage by some of that debris impacting other satellites.

John:

I was just watching this show. I’m addicted to this show that I discovered. I love when I find a show that’s like already been going for a while because then I have back seasons to go watch. It’s called Madame Secretary. And then the second season there’s a plot where I guess North Korea will fire up satellites without telling anyone. But they’re not very good and sometimes they explode. And so in this case, one of their satellites exploded low orbit, in the debris it messed up the space lab. And then-yeah skydive. So then they had to go rescue the space people and all that stuff. The ISS exactly, the International Space Station. So, is that a common thing? I mean how do we know if other countries are firing up-I mean we know from what we see. But what’s the protocol there?

Doug:

Well, first of all the ISS International Space Station has actually changed orbit several times. Either by moving up or down in orbit. Because they have to have a box of up to five kilometers around them, below and above them. To make sure that there’s no debris that’s going to get near them. And since space command actually tracks over 25,000 objects that are the biggest satellites all the way down to objects about 2.5 centimeters-no, I’m sorry. Yeah, 2.5 centimeters in size. Anything that’s 2.5 centimeters and bigger than that could be construed as a weapon. And why is that? Especially if it’s counter orbital. That the space station is orbiting at 17,500 MPH. But if debris is going around the opposite direction then they’re going to hit at over 34,000 to 35,000 MPH. Which is a lot of kinetic energy. And so, the space station has moved up and down because of that threat. Now as far as being able to detect launches and that, the U.S. has invested an incredible amount of money in detection techniques and survivability techniques for what they call presidential control or command in communication. But there’s a series of satellites called the SBIR’s, the space based infrared radar type devices that are at G0 synchrones orbit. And they can actually detect launches with incredible accuracy. And not only with high resolution, but very very low albedo, that is-

Kevin:

-Reflection.

Doug:   I

t’s a measure of yeah, reflection and heat and all that. And why is that? Well the whole purpose of it was built and established during the Cold War to be able to detect soviet launches. But those systems are not only still up there, but new generations are up there. And what these infrared satellites can do from G0 synchronized orbit is to provide the President with near real-time information on launches anywhere in the world. And that’s why that Madame Secretary, yeah it’s a neat story but it’s kind of unrealistic.

Kevin:

But the realistic thing is the genuine threat of the space debris. We’ve got so much of that. Our litter that we put up there, not just somebody-there have been instances, right? Where somebody drops a tool when they’re trying to do repairs outside of the ISS and that just drifts away. And especially that thing-I remember when I was working at Lazarov Lab, when I think was when the Russian satellite that blew up another one. Like a communication satellite that had been deactivated and it just spread huge numbers of little pieces all over the place.

Doug:

Oh, that’s right. Now, one nice thing though about where the space station is up above 250 miles is that there is a lot of drag up there. And if you do drop a hammer, then within weeks that hammer is going to be burning up in the atmosphere. In fact, the space station has to boost up every few months because it loses 5-10 kilometers of altitude a day. And it’s just an enormous amount of drag mostly due to the large size of the solar panels. And so as a result, space debris at that altitude is not that much of a problem because it will burn up in the atmosphere. Where it’s really really a problem is above 500 miles, 500 miles and above, where the drag falls off exponentially. Because of the number of molecules it falls off exponentially as you go from the surface of the Earth. And so, it’s not really the low Earth satellites that are in danger. It is the mid and the higher-level satellites around G0 sync, the com-GPS for example, the lower satellites that are at a real danger for space debris.

Kevin:

That’s like the plastic in the landfill, it just doesn’t go away.

Doug:

Exactly.

John:

I’m just picturing like a Home Depot floating around in space really. And the cool part is if you lose a tool it will come back around, right? So you’ve just got to wait for it.

Kevin:

Well, if you know where to catch it.

Doug:

Yeah. It will drop at altitude if you’re low enough. But there are several companies out there who do want to come up with schemes. They have schemes of being high tech garbage collectors and going out and collecting. So, and one way to do it might be to use directed energy weapons to actually zap.

John:

What about like a giant magnet satellite? Magnets still work in space, right?

Doug:

Oh yeah, absolutely.

John:

So either that or we put Velcro on all the space tools. And then we get a big Velcro site up there. But you know what I’m saying? I think we could have a big magnet and that would catch all the space junk.

Doug:

Well,  except that with a big magnetic field everything falls off on how it reacts with the Earth’s magnetic field. It would be a little bit too complicated, right? And it’s easier just to basically have a huge net if you will. And that’s what some of these small companies are planning to do. They’re planning also to charge governments rates for them either cleaning up their mess like the Chinese. Or we will clean your orbit for you so that you won’t be hit by any of this space debris.

Kevin:

Now wasn’t the movie Gravity with Sandra Bullock, wasn’t that the problem? Wasn’t it the space debris that wrecked the space station and sent her drifting along?

Doug:

I have a lot of problems with that movie.

Kevin:

Yeah, but that was the concept about space debris I think. But I think earlier what John asked was a question about the Russian satellite colliding with another one. And I-as you know Doug because we were both there together, I worked at Lazarov Lab and I was the writer assigned to the whole brilliant pebbles program. Which was the step up from smart rocks where the whole thing was little tiny satellites that could be accelerated really fast and smash into an enemy satellite. And I mean they tested that and that’s everything they were working on. But now we’re talking about the consequences. If you had even a brief exchange where we and the adversary smashed ten of each other’s satellites that would have so much debris for such a long time messing up communication satellites.

John:

It would be like mutually assured destruction. Like neither of you would want to do it.

Doug:

In fact, I remember when that Chinese asat tester I told you about, that one test increased the amount of space debris by a factor of two. Simply by one test.

John:

Wow. I have one for you. So here’s a little story. So, I’m a drone nut. I love drones. Here’s the bad part, I can’t fly them. I crash them into myself mostly. Here’s the good news, I can build them. So I can keep building new ones but I destroy them. So I was watching Amazon come up with their drone plan. And I thought to myself, drone pirates. So, these drones run on like a version of-I’m by the way if you haven’t talked to me much I’m a coder guy. So I do a lot of tech stuff. And so, I wanted to see-here was my plan. I wanted to see if I could wing alongside the Amazon drone, take it over, and have it follow me home. And so for a test I got one of those DGI’s and guess what? The lynex was wide open. It’s using a little program. So I got close to it, I could literally take it over and have it follow me around. So I was telling a friend who does a lot of work for-and this was a wide open public siver so I’m not giving away anything. And she’s like oh by the way this siver is not the same as the siver you were talking about. This small business something where the military says, ‘Hey do you want to do this?’ And I forget what the stands for. She’s like, ‘Oh there’s one like this. We should go look at it.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She goes, ‘Well, they’re very worried about swarms of drones.’ She said, ‘Your little thing could just knock them all out of the sky.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll totally put firewalls on them. This is a temporary fix.’ But then they started pushing me on thinking of other things. And didn’t wing up going down the road. I just didn’t have time. But I feel that that’s like a legitimate concern. These drones-I watched one the other day. I was in Lisbon and I was standing on there’s a place at the end of the town, a square where it goes into the beach. And I watched this drone just fly right over the crowd and just keep on trucking. And I thought if that thing had any kind of armomin on it, if it had any kind of explosives, it could be really a big problem. Is that something you guys are thinking? And I’m not talking like big giant cool drones that the government uses. I’m talking about these swarms of these little guys being the problem in crowds and other situations.

Doug:

Oh yeah, it does not only concern but what was it? The U.S. military announced this past week that any drone no matter what size if it approaches a military base, any military base in the U.S. now is fair game to be shot down. And I would think that one way that they would do it instead of using a kinetic energy impact weapon, that is bullets or a missile or whatever, is to use no not a laser but actually a microwave. Because what you could do is do it one of two ways. One is that you could do it by a cyber security way. And that’s you actually insert some kind of code in there to take over the device. Or you could use a high-power microwave either to overpower whatever directions that are being given. Because any-and so that’s another way to do it. Or you can again, crank up the high-power microwave enough so that you just fry its electronics. It turns into a dumb drone and it doesn’t know what to do. It goes unstable and falls out of the sky. So yeah, any of those solutions would probably work.

John:

What about killing GPS off around the bases? I mean that’s what they mostly use. Is that something that’s already being done? Can you selectively blackout GPS’s in certain areas?

Doug:

Well, what I can say . .

John:

Oh, I guess we can’t talk about that stuff.

Doug:

Is that GPS is at an altitude of it. It’s not as high as G0 sync, 22,000 miles. But it’s much higher than a normal low Earth orbit satellites in the mid-range above 12,000 miles. So first of all, it’s difficult to get to. And if you were to use any type of radiation to try and get there, microwaves or lasers or whatever, remember that that still falls off. The intensity falls off as one over R squared. Because it’s still electromagnetic radiation. And so, just because of its height, that’s an advantage to it. But also you could imagine that a lot of thought and technology has been put in over many many years to harden these things against present and future threats. And then finally, if something happens and all the GPS satellites somehow go down, you can be assured to that at least you know the best military has plans to work what they call GPS denied environments.

Kevin:

Well and I’m thinking of something even combining parts of our discussion here, that if you’ve got little drones, like not just the Amazon drones but something more insidious but mundane at the same time, what if you’ve got like paparazzi who are shooting their drones? If I’m Tom Cruise and I’ve got my house and I don’t want some guy slipping a little drone to take pictures through my bathroom window, which you know they would do. I might want to have an active denial some kind of a microwave thing around house that would fry the circuits of some drone that’s trying to fly over. Which would have a radius effectiveness of course. But if it’s my private property, I don’t want a drone flying up to my bedroom window.

Doug:

Right, right. And so, and in fact what you might have is a two phased approach. Where you might have a high-power microwave weapon that would take out the drones or whatever. And then an active denial weapon that could push the actual people away if you want to. And in fact, there’s a system that’s been-I think it’s Raytheon. A guy named Mike Booen who was VP of that company a while back. And Mike used to run the airborne laser program a while back when he was an active duty colonel. It’s a combination of a laser and high-power microwave weapons that they’ve actually sold to Israel. And the Israeli’s are using that right now. The high-power microwave weapon, I mean it’s a combination that if it’s a plane or a drone to go against the plane or the drone. Try to burn out their electronics, try to give it false information. And it can also go after shells or missiles or even mortars. It’s been demonstrated to take out mortars.

John:

Really? Because they have like little engines in them? Or just . .

Doug:

No, these are just-basically you heat up the . . remember when I talked about the weaponization of lasers? Of blates or burns layer after layer. Basically what it does is you laze a mortar and it heats up the outside shell. And the explosive either self-detonates because of the heat or else you burn through. And then you burn a hole through it and make it detonate. So, that’s been demonstrated. It’s not 100% effective but on the other hand, it’s a lot better than having nothing.

John:

Wow. So, you guys opened up this thing in the beginning talking about some books you’ve written together. And I had the pleasure of having a few beers with Kevin down at his favorite brewery here. And he was telling me about this on that you guys were working on round nucular waste and the storage of it. I’d like to use the rest of this because that was fascinating to me. I hadn’t thought about this sort of problem. And Kevin’s always telling me that when we write a book it’s always about-what was it? His four words . .

Kevin:

And then something went wrong.

John:

And then something went wrong, yeah. Right. So, I want to hear what went wrong with our nucular story.

Kevin:

Well, we can do it just briefly. But I think we want to do a full show on the whole nuclear waste storage. There’s some massive massive problems such inspired, Doug brought it to me inspired. But just give it just a little quick precis Doug and then we’ve got a couple of other things to cover too.

Doug:

Well sure, sure. As it turns out, nuclear power plants are-they’re a reality. People may like them and people may hate them. And even if we shut down all of them today, there are 99 nuclear power plants on let’s see, 61 different sites. That are spread across 30 different states in the U.S. Even if we were to shut them all down today, we have something like 80,000 metric tons of high-level radioactive nuclear waste that are currently being stored at each of these sites.

Kevin:

Temporary storage.

Doug:

Temporary storage. And why is it temporary? Well, it’s because the government for the past forty years has been trying to come to grips with where to put it permanently. And it’s been a huge battle of either not in my backyard or environmentalists or else people just not wanting to have the problem. And the latest, Yucca Mountain, which was built over thirty years at a cost of well they say thirty billion dollars. But if you look at the amount that have gone in the lawsuits and everything else it’s approaching about 100 billion dollars.

Kevin:

That’s billion with a B, right?

Doug:

Billion, that’s right.

John:

Wait, wait. It’s just moth ball? You just said they’re not going to use it?

Doug:

It was shut down, that’s right, in the last administration. And even Trump tried to revive it. And I just sent Kevin an article today about how even Republicans themselves wouldn’t even let it get out of committee because they don’t want one of their own members, Senator Heller from Nevada, to have to face his public and not be re-elected in 2018. So I mean it’s just pure politics. And so as a result, we’ve got all this waste. Again, it builds up at a rate of about 2,000 metric tons a year that has to be stored, has to be cooled. And is not only a safety threat because of this harming the environment if it gets out, but it’s also a security threat because if terrorists were to get their hands on it, it could build a dirty bomb. That is it doesn’t have to be a nuclear bomb. But it could be something that they just pack a bunch of this high-level waste together, they put high explosives around it, they set it off in New York and people wouldn’t go around that area-

John:

-The drones. The drone would actually be a perfect delivery system.

Doug:

And so the idea that Kevin and I came up with is that when push comes to shove, there are a couple of near miss incidents, a couple of these nuclear power plants, and finally the President decides well screw it I’m just going to go ahead and solve the problem myself. And what he does is he signs a classified executive order to do this under a very very secretive covert program. Just to start moving this stuff under the safety of night if you will. Unknown to the public so that he could solve the problem. But what he does is he puts it in a facility that really hasn’t been quite designed to hold nucular waste. And in fact, what we try to do with this is show a cascade of unrelated events that happened that really make things worse and worse. Until it becomes so unimaginably bad that a bunch of bad things could happen to a whole lot of people. And that’s it without giving away the book.

Kevin:

It’s called The Doomsday Cascade and we sold it and we’re working with the editor now to do some tweaks to it. And it will be out in a year or two I think from Tour Books.

Doug:

And I’m actually working with a screen writer too on having her-

John:

-Well, I’m afraid now, this is scary.

Kevin:

The thing is is that nobody wants to have this big permanent facility because they won’t-there’s all kinds of objections to it. We can’t have the big permanent facility. But in the meantime, get stored in temporary facilities that were never designed for that. So that’s probably worse than putting it in there.

John:

But there’s nothing going on on the moon. And now Elon Musk has reusable space rockets.

Kevin:

You’re not going to launch nuclear waste through the atmosphere.

John:

He’s been launching like three or four, we should be able to.

Doug:

You know, I’ll tell ya. I was at the White House when the Cassini mission launched this was back in the early 90’s. And they only had a NASA mission to Saturn. And they only had a very small amount of radioactivity in what they call RTG, radioisotopic thermal generator. To provide power to the space craft because once you’re outside the orbit of Mars, there isn’t enough solar energy per square inch to be able to power a craft that big. And so they had to use some kind of a very very safe nuclear device. But I mean that launch was nearly delayed because of all the protests. And that was only a very small device. Because people worried about well, what happens if the rocket explodes on launch?

Kevin:

So you’re not going to launch tons of nuclear waste into the orbit?

John:

So, I guess I should note, my dad worked for NASA for like 12 years so I guess I should know. But it seems like I’m here to solve problems. Just tell me when I’m wrong.

Kevin:

And we’re here to make problems. Doug, when you were at the President’s science office, that was with President Bush senior, right?

Doug:

Yeah, the first Bush and what I used to say was the first con.

Kevin:

One of the things that you worked on was some proposals for Mars projects. And of course those are old and outdated now. But it still seems like this amazing dream for us to be sending off missions to mars. And what was good and what was wrong about some of the stuff that you guys proposed then?

Doug:

Well, what was wrong with it was cost. Because no longer will people accept something you know, programs that cost hundreds of billions of dollars just to explore.

Kevin:

Like Yucca Mountain.

Doug:

We really thought it was the best thing. Because if you look at what came out of the original space program, how many people are motivated to go into the sciences and technology. All of that we gained for it, all of the advances we made. The division it gave the youth of America. That was the bad part, the cost. The good part was that it’s not that tough to do. Especially if you do something like go back to the moon and then onto Mars. Why go to the moon? So that you can go ahead and test out all that you need to do either with all the new space gear, the habitats, or whatever. Because it’s only three days away verses Mars which is a good 18 months away. And the whole idea there is that whenever you go scuba diving in the ocean, at least scuba dive in your backyard pool to see if you could do it. So it was pretty well received. But again, it was a protocol thing and it was killed with the new administration. But on the other hand I’ve heard talks that it may be revived again. Because that whole idea of what do we really want to do rather than just orbit the Earth. What can mankind, human kind do that is very visionary and that’s going to help us in the future?

John:

Well, that’s Musk’s stated purpose, right? Elon Musk.

Doug:

Yeah, that’s right. If you listen to someone like Stephen Hawking, he thinks that if we don’t do it, if we don’t start moving off the planet that we’re doomed.

John:

I heard somebody say that the planet was going to shake us off like fleas. Like a dog shakes off fleas. But you know, I read an article that was interesting about the idea of sending robots to Mars to build other robots on Mars. But then I thought that just turns into Mars Skynet you know? As far as I can tell.

Kevin:

But something went wrong, right? But that’s one of the things though is that you mentioned Elon Musk, that we’re talking about government programs and they’re not willing to do the expense. We may well get to the point where the technology is cheap enough and there are certain individuals who are rich enough that you can maybe do it by yourself. I’m not sure about a Mars mission but certain pieces of this.

Doug:

That’s right. But very soon we’re going to have this whole access to space is going to be blown wide open. And we’re going to not be talking about it used to take 500 million dollars to launch a rocket. Now it takes about 20 million. And there are small companies out there that want to do it for a million dollars or less. But of course, that’s only getting 200 pounds to low Earth orbit.

Kevin:

But that’s a person.

Doug:

That’s right, that’s a person. It is a cargo of-it is a network of satellites. So called cell sats, satellites not much bigger than cellphones that could be autonomously networked, a self-configuration network. And if one of those nodes fails, so what? You just launch another rocket for a million dollars.

John:

So quick question. Wouldn’t these smaller cellphone filled rockets be able to be detectable by our sivers in space?

Doug:

Uh, next question.

John:

Okay, because that’s of concern.

Kevin:

Well, we’re kind of getting to where we need to wrap up. But I also wanted to-all of this really interesting stuff even from the beginning that we talked about with the active denials, and the maybe embassy microwave thing,  experimented. But how soon do you think that military bases or embassies are actually going to have these in place? Because right now they’re shooting tear gas. Which works just fine I guess.

Doug:

And right now there’s a joint non-lethal office in the Pentagon. And they’ve been established for what? 12-13 years? And they’ve been bringing this technology along. And I asked some researchers that very question. And the whole answer is it depends and it’s purely because of politics. Because the technologies been solved and now it’s up to the politicians to have the wherewithal to go ahead and feel it.

Kevin:

Well, what about for commercial services rather than like for government? As a home security system, can you give a burglar a hot foot if he comes in? I mean that maybe sounds extreme but you have people rigging up shotguns in their front door in case somebody breaks in.

Doug:

Well actually that’s a pretty good idea. But what you would have to do though is put the type of-either the type of constraints on it to make sure that if it’s a little baby that happens to crawl into your yard or something like that, will it automatically go off?

Kevin:

But will the kids get shot from the shotguns that are rigged up too?

Doug:

I know. Will it shut off for sure? So you have all those constraints that you have to consider. And the cost may be not prohibited because even though they may be ready for military or police use, they aren’t ready for mass production yet. But yeah, why not?

Kevin:

I can see Tom Cruise wanting to put one around his house or something like that just because of paparazzi.

John:

I’m telling you there’s a site called instructables.com. There will be an article in a few years, turning microwave into an anti . .

Kevin:

No, it’s not a microwave.

John:

Oh you know, I’m just saying.

Doug:

But you know, that is a good idea. Maybe we ought to pursue that. Drop this writing stuff.

Kevin:

Hot foot security systems. Doug, thanks for being with us. I mean we could talk for a while. There’s so many cool ideas out there. We just want to spread this in the podcast so people can start thinking about the way technologies going to change our everyday life and the things we do. So, we appreciate you being on and we will certainly do it again.

John:

Thanks so much Doug.

Doug:

Thanks Kevin, thanks John.

Oct 25 2017

56mins

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Rank #4: Immortality and Superpowers: All about Avatars - Creative Futurism

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Doctor Harry Kloor from the XPRIZE Foundation talks with Kevin and John about the new Avatar XPRIZE to develop augmented separate avatars, remote bodies that allow humans to do remarkable things, like surgeons operating on patients through telepresence, exploring hostile environments, and extending the human body.

Dec 05 2017

52mins

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Rank #5: Karma as Capital: The Future of Payments - Creative Futurism

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In this episode, John and Kevin speak with payments expert Chuck Davidson, head of customer engagement at Card Free, about the future of digital consumer relationships and ‘internet of character’. Chuck Davidson is Mobile payment innovator; designed, developed and launched Starbucks Mobile Payment – the largest mobile payment system in the US from idea to beta to 10,000+ store launch. Leader with 19 + years of successful product innovation experience in Payments, Loyalty and Consumer Products.

John:                Welcome everybody to this episode of Creative Futurism. My name’s John Best.

Kevin            And this is Kevin J. Anderson.

John               And today we have-and by the way, you’ve had all these amazing guests, so it’s my turn to bring someone amazing. And I’m excited for you to meet-

Kevin            -It’s about time you did some work.

John:               I know. It’s about time I did something for this podcast. You can hear him laughing in the background there. I’d like to welcome-

Kevin:             -You brought the joker onto our podcast.

John:                I did. Speaking of that I’ve got one of your Superman books here. But just a friend of mine for a long time. He was the dude who was primarily one of the main players in the Starbucks app that you said you use frequently, right?

Kevin            Oh, all the time.

John:                And my wife won’t even let me buy anything from Starbucks. If I try to buy it with cash or anything else-

Kevin:             -Oh no, you don’t get the points.

John:                Well, you don’t get the little stars in the cup, right? So that’s a big deal. But with us is Chuck Davidson. He’s the head of customer engagement right now for Card Free, but in a past life he worked for Starbucks. He’s also one of the most fascinating guys I’ve ever met in the sense of understanding how this goes. And we’re going to talk about the future of payments today. So we’re a little bit in my wheelhouse. A little less about the physics and the last time when everyone laughed at me when I wanted to shoot radioactive waste to the moon.

Kevin:             That’s a dumb idea, dumb idea.

John               I realize that is a bad idea. But welcome Chuck, how are you?

Chuck:           Dude, that would look so cool by the way. Okay, I’m doing great and I’m really glad to be a part of this and really excited to chat with you guys and our huge audience.

Kevin:           Well, and the whole point of Creative Futurism is to be talking about creativity and business and technology and how it’s all changing because I think all of us at our age-and of course we’re very young and virile and muscular and stuff. But at our age it’s almost like hyperventilating every day. Because just everyday stuff is changing at warp speed. And I find that I can’t even update the apps on my phone fast enough because they keep changing. And you being involved with the Starbucks app, which if I remember reading your stuff right the most popular business-

John:                -Number one mobile payment app in the world still.

Kevin:             Yeah, that-I resisted it first being real grouchy. I just want to use my real gold card. But it’s so easy. And once they started using it I get annoyed when I go to someplace where they don’t have the reader. And I guess what we want to talk about is this podcast is about how we deal with the future and how much it’s changing. And particularly some of the unintended consequences of it. So that’s just my kind of little soapbox, I’ll turn it back to John.

John:                Sure. So where I want to start with this is what was the promise of payments like? We’ve talked about this before. Kevin and I talked about in the book Dune, right? I assume you’ve read Dune at some point?

Kevin            Of course, everybody’s read Dune.

Chuck           Everybody’s read Dune.

Kevin            The one person who hasn’t read Dune hasn’t seen Star Wars either. They’re a survivalist out in Idaho.

John               Yeah, they live in Idaho in the back end. But the reality is is that you look at Dune, you look at the payments that were there. We talk about that being spikes. What was the promise of payments, right? What was the plan? Like what was the dream? That one day how would things be paid for? What was your thought? Let’s start with Kevin and then we’ll go to Chuck.

Kevin            Well, I think one of the craziest things that’s going on now that’s happening right under our noses is the entire concept of money is becoming invisible. And it started that way when you had a credit card. You have people that are like, ‘Well I don’t even have to pay this. It’s just a credit card I keep paying for things.’ And then you get your bill at the end. But even that I remember it wasn’t too many years ago when you weren’t allowed to buy groceries with a credit card because they were considered perishable and you would eat it and then not pay your credit card bill or something. Now that seems like a bizarre concept that you can’t use your credit card to buy $100 worth of groceries or gas or whatever. And now you’ve got the scanning cards at the pump where you just waive it in front of the reader. But your Starbucks app, the thing of it is people basically can lock in and get their admittedly expensive cup of coffee. And they just sort of waive the barcode. And the ingenious thing behind it is the loyalty points. Because then you feel like, ‘Well I’ve got to go and use this and use my app so I get my loyalty points.’ And I’m talking too much but one last thing is seeing the new Amazon stores that they’re coming up with that you just sort of have your card with you, and it reads it, and you just pick up whatever you want. It knows what you put in your cart and you walk out. You don’t even have to pay. That’s sort of the next step.

John:                Yep. And that was my dream. That was my 2000’s dream, right? That was the 90’s and 2000’s. It was that buying stuff would be more like stealing. And I have had one experience with that in the Apple store where you can go in and if it’s under a certain amount you can fire up your Apple store app and you can buy it and walk out. And it’s a little weird when you walk out for the first time with something that you have in your hands.

Kevin            Well, and I was in Sam’s Club a couple weeks ago and they’ve got a new app where you just you scan the things as you put them in the cart and then you just walk out the door.

John:               That’s stealing, I like it.

Kevin:            Well, and you wouldn’t have to worry about that if they weren’t so darn slow at the cash registers.

John:                So what was your plan Chuck? What were you thinking?

Chuck:            First of all, you guys there’s so much good content here. We could talk forever just on this intro. I mean that’s awesome, so much to unpack. And so Best, question for you. Whenever you first did your transaction at the Apple store, when you fired up your app and checked out your case or whatever it was, low cost item and walked out, did you run around and try to show your receipt to somebody at the front door? Or did you just sail on out?

Kevin:             I’m honest, I can do this.

John               I did. I just wanted a little bit of assurance that like the Apple tackler guys weren’t going to get me on the way out the door.

Chuck           Yeah, and then you feel guilty.

Kevin:             What’s to stop you? I mean you could just like waive your phone in front of the thing and not turn it on. So that you didn’t really scan it and then you walk out the door. I mean who would catch you?

Chuck:            And do they even check? Do they even care? It’s so cool because-

Kevin            -Well trying to get the attention of anyone at the Apple store on purpose is kind of hard.

John               I discovered something. Here’s what I discovered. I tried to buy an Apple TV with the app and it turns out too that Chuck just made an important point that there’s a certain amount that you can buy. And so when I did, instead of doing that it said, ‘Hey John Best needs help.’ And everyone in the Apple store was walking around asking every other person are you John Best? So if you want to have some fun, if you need attention open up the Apple store app and do that. They will find you. I promise you.

Kevin:             Yeah, that’s fun in a certain definition of fun.

John:                But to Chuck’s point, I did try to get someone to show me the way out. I mean I just wanted to feel a little bit better about wandering out with my stuff.

Chuck:            And these are all such good points. So let me back up a little bit. So my whole goal, and I was very fortunate when I worked at Starbucks, is I worked for a business unit. And so I wasn’t really tasked with innovate on payment. I was tasked with, ‘Hey guys, you Chuck work for the store value card, or the Starbucks value card group. And you’re bonused based on getting more people to use that card.’ So my whole mindset was let’s make it easier to use that card in whatever form than cash. Because I’ll get a bonus and it’s cheaper and we don’t pay interchange etcetera and so forth. So it was very business-y right? It was very much thinking about how do I look to behavior the way folks are currently doing behavior and figure out if I can nudge them, change them. Keep it as similar as possible so folks don’t freak out and I don’t get crazy training costs or anything like that. So that was kind of my thought process. Was how do I onboard more people and make Starbucks card or store value card, which is important, right? Because that’s super easy to do verses credit. How do I make that easier for folks? So that’s kind of what I did. Doing a lot of behavior analysis and customer intercepts and customer stories and use cases and all that. Just watching folks, right? That’s kind of what we did. And we realized that a lot of folks had their phone with them. And this was a while ago in 09. So, a lot of folks had their phone with them. And this is back in the day of feature phones too. So we had to use a little bit of smarts and do some modeling and place our bets. It’s going to be a smart phone verses a feature phone. We had no game and no ecosystem if you guys remember back in the day. That was the day when the carriers were going to be involved in all this craziness. And of course we were just a coffee company so that wasn’t going to fly.

So, my whole goal was to be everywhere, right? That’s why you saw things like a mini-card. A foreign factor that was small and fit on your keychain. So if you were jogging with your car keys you had your card with you and you could get your coffee on my product, the Starbucks card. Which of course turned into the mobile card. So just say for example that you went on your coffee break at 10:00AM, you didn’t have to bring your purse with you. You could just walk up with your phone. Meaning nobody really knew where you were going. So there were a lot of different behavioral aspects to that, that turned into moving a store value card form factor into a barcode. Which was super easy, they’ve been around forever, right? We pulled it right off the internet. And get that on a phone and try to keep the process as normal as possible so folks wouldn’t freak out. We didn’t want the operators to have to do additional training. We didn’t want consumers to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’ So you still ordered, you get everything the same. And at the time of payment you just whipped out your phone instead of your plastic. And you even pushed the same button, the Starbucks button, that turned on the image reader. Which read your phone. Or the magstripe reader which of course would read your card. So that’s kind of how we eased folks into doing what is now pretty popular.

I do want to mention one thing. I know that when we first went out the door, we were really surgical, right? We just wanted this to be a utility. That’s it.  And we got the elderly doctors who just wanted to pay. But the folks like Kevin who wanted to get the points and all, that was more of the majority. And we knew that once we started adding things like loyalty and stuff of that nature, we’d get a lot more folks. But right out the door we were a super disciplined payment, that’s it. Use your phone for payment, get out of the line. Then let’s start getting some data. How much time is it taking? Is it faster than a swipe? Are we getting many calls to customer care? Does that barista have to do any training? Do customers know how to do it without being incented blah blah blah? Anyway, now I’m the one that’s talking too much. But that’s kind of how we got there.

John               But just a quick question too, the one thing I remember was-and you can correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Apple have some sort of deal with Starbucks where when you walked in like the music that was playing in Starbucks would somehow interact with your phone? What was that? Remind me.

Chuck           We had a lot of that. Right out the door at the very beginning it was a pure payment play. But then much like-and you guys will get this, everybody in the corporation wants to play ball. So the folks who were involved in the music, the folks who were involved in the tune of the day, the folks who were involved in the relationship with Apple etcetera and so forth, everybody wanted to be on every channel. And I became a channel, right? Which of course was mobile. So yes, you did see things like tune of the day etcetera and so forth. That’s when the app got bigger and you started getting offers for things. Hopefully that were within your taste profile. And it got more robust as the day went on and as we started pushing down the curve to the early majority, to the majority of folks.

Kevin            Well, I’m one of these people that always brings my own iPod and noise cancelling headphones because I can’t stand the music they usually play in the background of Starbucks. So I wouldn’t want that. But that kind of brings me to a broader question of beyond being just a payment app, I’m thinking for instance of my Safeway card. And my Safeway card collects all kinds of data about what kind of groceries that I buy, what brands that I buy, and then they send me tailored to me coupons. Or to my phone they’ll go, ‘Oh, you always buy half and half so here you go. You get a discounted half and half. Or here, you bought this brand of bratwurst so maybe you want to try this brand for $0.50 off.’

John:                Or you should be out of dog food by now, here’s a coupon.

Kevin            Well, I mean that’s kind of creepy in some sense but I feel it’s rather benign. And it’s helpful to me that they help-I mean they spy on my life and tell me what I really need. But it’s not obtrusive because they’re fairly accurate. It really is the stuff that I need. But now the Starbucks app, as far as I can tell, and it may be far more insidious than this, but as far as I can tell I don’t know that it knows that I always get a grande sugar free vanilla latte for my wife and a Pike’s Place brand blend drip coffee for myself. It doesn’t seem to track the things that I buy and then tailor offers to me based on my own taste. You like the sugar free vanilla latte so you might like the sugar free mocha latte next.

Chuck:            So first of all Kevin, you need to upgrade to an Americano from that drip.

Kevin:              It takes longer. I’m not the guy that holds up the line.

Chuck:            It’s tastier, less acidic, your tummy will love you, and it’s got a nice margin. Okay so yes. So first of all, I do believe-and I haven’t worked at Starbucks for a while, but I do believe those guys are looking at the data and trying to present you with a correct offer that would be within your taste profile. I know we did that at Card Free. A great example would be one of our customers has a day part challenge. They want to make sure that the upsell you get is for the right day part. They don’t want to give you a breakfast upsell at dinner time, that type of thing. So we do count on day part. We know when you’re making the transaction. We know what to give you as far as your upsell during the checkout if you’re doing a preorder for example. And then we also-a little bit of it is go human, right? Is trying to make sure that we marry up-like if you’re a vanilla or a chocolate taste profile is a great example, right? Clearly your taste rate is going to be higher.

John:                Wait, wait. We have taste profiles? Talk to me about my taste profile.

Chuck:            Well you know what, that’s what these guys-good.

John               I didn’t realize I had a taste profile.

Chuck:            Yeah, you do. They’re awesome. Oh, heck yeah. Ethiopia-you know if you like an Ethiopian drip, chances are you’re going to like chocolate. If you like a Latin American coffee, chances are you’re going to like citrus etcetera and so forth. And there is a science behind it. They are awesome. Anyway, but you’re right. If your offer is a curated offer and it really does speak to you, it’s a lot more meaningful. And that’s where everybody in the industry is going. And we certainly are doing that at Card Free for our clients.

Kevin            Well, and in fact that traces back to-we were talking a little bit before we started recording, if Safeway gives me an offer for something that I actually use I love it. If they give me an offer for something that I don’t use then it seems like annoying spam. And the Starbucks app was annoying at least for a while when they kept saying, ‘Here download this tune of the day.’ Which I had no interest in this tune. It’s not part of my music profile at all because Starbucks doesn’t know my music profile. So that I found annoying when I kept getting announcements of download this or download this mobile game or something like that. Because it didn’t track with what my interests were. If they are collecting data so that they can give me offers that track with my interests then I don’t find it annoying.

Chuck:            That’s important Kevin, you make a great point. Where this really folds in nicely is when folks are developing loyalty programs. Especially these merchants. A lot of times what we used to do back in the day was surprise and delight you with something back in the Starbucks days. Which you know, great. But you would much rather get a loyalty offer based on your taste profile or something you actually may have purchased in the past or you like. Back to Best’s comment, you’re out of dog food, right? That type of thing. That proves to you, that me the merchant, I’m paying attention. And I’m trying to add value and I’m trying to add utility, right? And that’s kind of where you can absolutely see this in the data, right? If you give everybody the same album, just say theoretically you have a whole bunch of albums that didn’t sell back in the album day theoretically, and you give that everybody. Well great, you’re going to piss off a lot of folks, right? Oops, I hope I’m allowed to say that.

Kevin            You are, we’re on HBO.

Chuck:            Am I? If indeed you know that Chuck likes a certain type of music and you give him that album, Chuck is going to be more interested and is going to find that loyalty/play a lot more meaningful. I hear you on the spam though, I hate that too. I mean there’s a lunch place that gives away a cookie every time. I’m like you guys c’mon, I don’t need the same thing.

John:                Yeah, give me something I want. Well, so let’s fast forward to today. So Chuck in his current job has been responsible for a lot of other amazing apps that are out there. The Taco Bell’s, the Dunkin Donuts, and the evolution. Like the other day-and I’m going to talk about the future of this a little bit. But the other day-I’m not a Starbucks guy. My wife is, so I go when she does. She pre-ordered a drink. She literally walked in, it was sitting on the counter, she picked it up and she left. It had her name on it. And I thought-

Kevin:             -I’ve done that too. But not really legitimately.

John               Yeah, it was somebody else’s drink. But so, he’s a starving writer as you could tell. You’ve seen all of his best-selling books and everything. So the question is is that as you’re out there working on these things, what is the future of this, right? Where is the big bang for the buck? We’re seeing facial recognition get a lot of attention. We’re seeing that one of the big scary things is the big Equifax breach. Which makes a big problem for someone like you who’s trying to-one of the things you talked about was no barrier to entry right? And so now, I have enough information thanks to being on the dark web and buying Kevin J. Anderson’s information because it was part of the Equifax that I am Kevin J. Anderson. So what’s the future of this in the sense of both authentication, identity, as well as like how much better can it get where I can order just walk in, grab a Starbucks, and leave? What’s next? Drones dropping them off through my moon or my sun roof?

Chuck:            Yep. Well, I like your two examples because they’re examples that provide utility to the consumer, right? Whether you walk in and skip a line and pick up your coffee like your wife does, or whether you’re driving along and a drone comes up and drops a coffee through the moon roof. I would back both of those. Those are amazing and there’s a lot of operational challenges etcetera and so forth. But what’s interesting about both of those examples is those are examples that you would use. They do provide some sort of benefit to use. And that’s the difference between kind of what sort of the first phase of innovation. Everyone’s going to pay with their phone. If you guys remember way back with the NFC and all that, trusted service manager. We know everyone that’s involved and this ecosystem kind of plays together blah blah blah. No, no, no. No one played, consumers lost. It didn’t work. Nowadays folks are thinking more about the customers, right? I can walk in, get my coffee, and walk out. And what do I get? Well I get to avoid a line. Well that’s valuable to me so that means I’m going to preorder. And if I preorder my order accuracy is going to go up. In fact, preorder chances are I’ll order more. Therefore, my ticket might go up. We’ve seen preorder tickets 20% greater if you go through an app verses if you walk straight up to the actual person.

Kevin            Wow, that’s interesting.

Chuck:            So there’s a lot of benefit on both sides for these types of innovations. And those are interesting. And I think that’s the fun part about where we are going. Gone are the days where it was kind of like some of the NBA version of what is innovation. And it looks great on paper but it just doesn’t fly. There’s operational challenges and the consumer doesn’t find enough value in it. Nor does the merchant want to invest the capital, right? There’s no return. So the things folks are focusing on right now have a lot more return. So let’s talk about that. And I can’t really speak to Equifax in the fact that it just freaks me out as a consumer.

Kevin:             Why don’t you explain what that was all about. Because I’m not sure everybody is fully aware. Meaning I’m not fully aware.

John:                So in the United States there are three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. They’re generally used to make loans for you. That’s where your credit reports go. If it is that you hear the word FICO a lot which is the Fair Isaac Credit Score, it’s basically an algorithm used to determine or quantify what’s Kevin J. Anderson worth credit wise? And so Equifax is one of those where everybody reports their information to. So if I was a financial institution and I had a loan for Kevin J. Anderson, I would report that Kevin J. Anderson had paid his loan on time. And I would report it to Equifax or Transunion or all three bureaus so that other people could then make a decision as to whether Kevin was credit worthy. When I report this I report a lot of information. I have to give them their social because there’s a thousand different other Kevin Anderson’s in the world. So in a way to differentiate the Kevin J. Anderson that I’m talking about, I’ve got to give them a lot of personal information. So Equifax was one of the largest providers of this. And I would say hundreds of thousands of institutions throughout the United States use Equifax to do their decisioning for mortgages and for loans and those sorts of things. Well, that makes them what we call a honey pot. And what a honey pot is is that I’d rather not have to steal honey one hive at a time, I’d rather get a whole pot of it, right? So I don’t go out and steal a bunch of hives. I wait until they get it all in a pot. Then I take the pot. And so the point of that is, I don’t want to go steal identities from Starbucks because I would only get so many people. Why not go to a giant source where they’re all there?

So clearly hackers had been targeting and will continue to target places like Equifax. And because we run in what we call the castle model. And the castle model means that we have a castle. It has a moat, it has alligators, it has all of these things. But the crown jewels are in the drawbridge. The crown jewels are inside but once you get through those barriers of penetration off you go with the crown jewels. That’s what’s happened here. So someone got through their barriers of security. And I don’t know how good they were. I know there’s lots of people looking. But I would tell you that I know Equifax and I’m going to tell you that they’re pretty good. I’m thinking that the castle concept is the problem. And I’m actually writing a blog on that that you’ll be able to check out, johnsbestjunior.com. But at the end of the day, someone got in and they stole all of this personal information so that they would have your name, your social security number, your address, your previous address. They would know what you were paying on your mortgage. They would know past credit history that you have. It’s everything in the world I need to be Kevin J. Anderson today. And they take that big bunch of data and then they go out to the dark web and they sell it off in chunks. Give me people that have a credit score, because here’s why it’s so valuable for them to break in; one of the top ways to do damage in the world is for me to open a credit card that’s you. And then spend as much of that as I can and before they catch me. And you go, ‘Yeah, that’s not me.’ Because I could send it somewhere else. And then Visa’s on the hook, but not really because that just drives your rates up and it drives the common persons insurance up. So someone broke in, they stole I think it was 43 million accounts. Which I don’t even think that’s all of it. I think there will be more that we’ll find out soon in the Equifax data breach.

But again, I know nothing personally. I’m not related to them in any way. But they had a problem. Now, there is one thing that I’m going to bring up that’s a little weird which is if you go on the site to check your account, put in your social, you’re actually in the disclosure agreeing to never sue them. So don’t forget if you’re going on the site and you’re a listener you may want to consider that issue and to go through it. So how do you protect yourself against this? Well you’re going to have to monitor your credit. That’s the only way to go about it. And unfortunately even though Equifax got hacked, they are a way of knowing how to monitor your credit. So if someone opens up a new account in your name using your social, there are a lot of systems out there that will monitor that. So my point is that if I’m setting up a Starbucks account, I could easily become Kevin. Particularly in let’s not use Starbucks, let’s use Target. Where Target has their own store value debit, so you’re basically applying for a credit card at Target to get the app. And so, I’ll let Chuck take it from there.

Chuck:            I think that’s a good point. I also think-I also wanted to add to that everybody who’s listening just rip open the mail that comes to your snail mail. Don’t wait, don’t let it sit on the desk for three weeks because a lot of times when folks open an account fraudulently in your name, that institution will send you some snail mail to your address.

John:                Right, that’s what happened with Wells Fargo.

Chuck:            Yeah, I know that’s crazy. People keep calling. But that’s a great explanation Best so I appreciate that. I just wanted to make sure everyone does open their snail mail. Because I got in the habit now of opening it every day. I go through it and I shred it and I’m off to the races.

Kevin:             Let me check that Chuck because I mean we constantly get this you can apply for this credit card or here’s the junk mail thing. So you’re saying if we suddenly start getting snail mail from Wells Fargo and we don’t have an account at Wells Fargo, we have to look to make sure it’s not junk mail per se.

Chuck:            I do, yeah. And my identity got compromised and this is way off on a tangent but it is somewhat related. It did get compromised so that’s when I changed my behavior and I started opening all of my snail mail. And I don’t disregard something from a financial institution that I don’t have a relationship with anymore. I will read the snail mail and then I’ll call them if it’s an issue. Like if there was an account that was opened etcetera and so forth. And immediately ask to talk to their fraud department. It’s a big ol’ pain in the butt but you just fold it in your work flow and you drive on.

John:                Let’s talk about the future. So one of the things that Chuck brought to my attention, and Chuck and I speak frequently, is KFC. You’re aware of KFC, right? I don’t know if you knew this but I guess KFC is like the world’s greatest restaurant in China.

Kevin            Oh, I know a friend that lives in China. And KFC saved his life because it was the only food that had any sort of health standards at all. And otherwise he was eating the freaking rats from the street vendors and he kept getting sick. And he found out that the only way that he could keep himself healthy and alive was to just eat at KFC. Because they still had sanitation standards and stuff. Anyway, so in China . .

John               In China there you go. So while also saving people’s lives in Fraud, KFC also has implemented a brand-new way of sort of making sure people are who they are by using facial recognition. And Chuck you brought this to my attention. Would you talk about that a little bit?

Chuck:            Sure. Well first of all, let’s take a step back. I think that China’s a big deal. And we should keep talking about that with our users. Excuse me, our listeners in the future. Mainly just because there’s so many folks in China. And their appetite for trying new things in the facial recognition, for example, is aggressive. And plus as a consumer base they don’t necessarily have the same say U.S. push back to a giant database with everybody’s information in it. Anyway, I digress. So what’s interesting about that is a couple things. So KFC is doing this facial recognition trial. What’s interesting about it is you can actually buy something. It’s not necessarily facial recognition that lets you in the amusement park or things like that in the past. But you can actually go ahead and get your chicken with your face if you will.

John:                See, I’ve always said that I have a face made for chickens so this is perfect. I’m finally ready.

Kevin:             So you’re saying you just look into some camera and it says this is John Best and charge this on John Best’s account?

Chuck:            Yeah, you basically look at the terminal and it does a really quick scan into the database offsite. And it gives you the thumbs up, yep it’s John. And then that’s how you pay. I believe you still are prompted for a phone number. So there are two factors there. And then the payment goes through.

John:                So face payment.

Chuck           So it’s interesting. So it’s face plus a phone number.

John:                Now what if I bring a picture of Chuck in? Is that going to be a problem? He doesn’t want to go out in public. Like hey my face is a little messed up today so I brought this. Obviously they’re not going to let me do that, right?

Chuck:         What they say is that because of their process, in which case you look at the camera and you blink, and they’ve got some sort of an algorithm. And they believe that that’s going to address the issue of is this a picture or is this real time John Best? That type of thing. We’ll see, right? What’s interesting and I sent you a quote John, is that the project manager at Ant Financial said, ‘We hope one day in the future people can go without their cellphones or wallets.’ Which kills me. Because years ago I used to say, ‘I hope one day people will go without their wallets.’ Hoping they’d bring their cellphone, hoping they’d pay for their coffee with their phones. Now we’ve gotten to the point where folks say, ‘Hey, just bring yourself.’ And I think that’s kind of cool. At least directionally they’re thinking that way.

Kevin:             But fundamentally that’s no different from I use my thumb print for PayPal.

Chuck:            Same thing. Yeah, good point. I think that a lot of it is whether it’s a retinal scan or a thumb print or facial recognition, I kind of lump those all in the same bucket, sort of bio-metro bucket. And it just depends on which technology is getting there quicker through artificial intelligence or however they’re improving, their accuracy. There seems to have been a lot of buzz around the retinal scan in the 2015 articles that you would read. And in 2016 now it’s all about facial recognition buzz. So we’ll see where it all goes. What’s interesting about the KFC stuff, I think there was a CNN money article in September. And what’s really interesting that they’re actually letting you-there’s a transfer of something. You’re showing your face, you’re getting chicken. So it’s not just a validation. Yes, you can go to Disneyland. It’s okay here’s your chicken, right?

John:                It’s identity as currency. So we’ll find that CNN article and post it on the site. But coming back to what Kevin was just saying, so the thumb print-you know why I think the thumb print’s going to fail? Because people don’t want to touch stuff. I think we’re going to get into the voice and the face a little bit more because we’re looking like I don’t want to lick the screen or anything to get in.

Kevin:             But also, I mean the thumb print takes a few seconds. You have to actively touch something. If it’s facial recognition-I mean Facebook identifies me just from random pictures I put up. I don’t have to actively do anything else. And in fact, this kind of gets to something I mentioned before we started recording. I’m the science fiction guy. So what we’re sort of moving towards is you the person are like a physical walking bank account. You yourself are an avatar, a manifestation of your self-worth. I mean you, the body, the face, your thumb print or whatever, represents the amount of money you have in the bank account. But as we were talking before is money itself is an imaginary concept. I mean there’s no longer gold coins that you’re passing back and forth. And you have paper dollars which are based on a gold standard which are not really based on a gold standard anymore. They just-we all agree that a dollar is worth this much. And what I was discussing before is that there’s a different kind of a currency that a lot of use. I use it myself. I mentor lots of other writers. I help out with neighbors and friends. We do things where I used to kind of jokingly say that I had a big account of brownie points that was bigger than my account of dollars. And I always like to say that you have to earn brownie points before you spend them. You can’t ask for a favor before you’ve earned something. But what if there’s actually a way to quantify stuff like that? Where not only are we having invisible monetary transactions like I’m going up to KFC in China and it’s recognizing my face and it’s giving me chicken. But what if I read another writers manuscript and she’s really appreciative so she just gives me a hundred brownie points which go into my account? And those brownie points are worth some amount of value that I can then spend to get a favor from somebody else. I mean it’s kind of a conceptual amount of currency. But I really don’t see how it’s different. I think you-your life is going to be some kind of quantifiable value that you can use to buy things and sell things and get services. Which is kind of cool but you worry about the four terrible words if something went wrong. Until somebody hacks the system or your account gets frozen because of something. Anyway, let’s talk about the first part first. I’ll let you respond Chuck with whatever thoughts you have.

Chuck:           Well, I think the concept is great. I get it, right? And everybody gets it. I think that what’s interesting is I always go back to-and remember you’re the science fiction writer, I’m the manager. I just go back to the P&L. So for me I’m thinking alright, cool. You’ve got these points, right? It always turns into the chicken or the egg. If you think about it, in order for anything to take off, it has to be in a preponderance of places or everywhere, right? And there has to be enough folks who want to use it, or everyone. Like once you get everyone everywhere it’s a no brainer. But it’s really tough in the beginning to get folks off time dime. So, if I come and shovel your rock and I get three brownie points, what can I trade those in for, right? Unless you’re going to wash my car and it’s a good wash. We’re both there, thumbs up. But that would be interesting to see how that would play out. I like it though. I think a lot of it is if you think about-this reminds me of kind of the whole digital currency block chain discussion. Which is right up Best’s alley. Which you hear a lot of. Everybody understands the concept of distributive ledger. And I think that’s pretty much intuitive. And then everybody kind of understands what the merchant would get out of a sort of mass adoption of digital currency. In lower transaction fees, faster settlement, single global standard blah blah blah. But it always kind of gets wonky for me when I start thinking okay what does a customer get? All of a sudden, you’ve got this hard to convert currency, how do you get the money out? That type of stuff. Like how do I turn it into dollars that I can use for a soda pop down the street? And then of course the fluctuation which just reminds me of FX, right? The consumer has to accept that there could be a potential fluctuation in the value. And are they really willing to? So I think about that when I hear your concept. I start thinking okay, this is cool, these are similar. And it just all sorts itself out in time. It’s just a matter of how these issues or challenges are overcome.

Kevin:             I was going to say, I almost think of it like karma points. Like if I do a bunch of good things for people then they’ll do good things for me. It’s not quantified but that’s what happens. I mean if I’m a jerk and I never help anybody then nobody’s going to help me when I need it. So it sort of goes back and forth that way. I was starting to think of all those wonderful people in Houston just going to volunteer and helping to rescue people. And for no monetary payment at all. But boy, they sure earned a lot of Karma points. But it would be nice if there was some way to apply that to something of value. Other than just if I saved somebody from a rooftop by using my railboat, but a year later that person might be happy to come and help me do some landscaping.

John:                Maybe he’s a carpenter or something, yeah. I think the good news is this, and Chuck mentioned my alley so for once we’re in my alley. I’ve got a nice dark alley I can hang out in. So talking about a bit going in cryptocurrencies, so really this idea is really great. The challenge has always been that there always has to be some sort of centralized player, right? So in the model that you’re thinking of there’s somebody that’s collecting this and they become sort of the mediator between you and the carpenter who you saved from his rooftop. That’s where things go south usually in all these models. But because we only have the ability to have these centralized networks, which means that there’s nobody in the middle. But it gives the ability for me to communicate with you, and you to directly communicate with me, we can exchange value. But still have trust which is an amazing concept. So what you’re talking about is something that-and he’s going to be one of our guests. His name’s Drummond Reed. And he’s going to be also with Doc Searls, an author we’re going to have on talking about the intention economy. Chuck, I believe I introduced you to them if I remember right.

Chuck:           Excellent, excellent.

John               And the idea is that there’s going to be an internet of character. And the value proposition of that is we can use it to gain credit. Which is the real-world money, which solves the problem that Chuck was just mentioning on his P&L’s. But it solves your problem too. So maybe you don’t get direct help from that carpenter which would be great. But maybe that character that you just showed also be able to be a way that we could go back and say, ‘People like Kevin who go help people more often than not pay their bills. Or more often than not pay their credit.’ Because people are far more than-we talk about Equifax, their list of credit. We tend to want to quantify people down to a number. But the reality is is that people are-your identity is a lot more than those things. And so, the idea that a soup kitchen could give you credit for being there and we could say, ‘We’ve lost the context of service in this country to some extent.’ And so, if you could get sort of a-and I liked your idea earlier of calling it karma. There’s something right now called a FairCoin, right? And if you look in the world of what we call BitCoin, right now there’s a couple different ways to go. There’s proof of work. That means that I worked, I was a miner in this thing so I get some value from that. There’s proof of stake which means I put money in and so now I’ve got this much stake because I bought gold or whatever it is, right? And there’s a new one coming out called proof of cooperation. And I think we’ll see more. I think we’ll see proof of service. Because service has value ultimately to humanity. And so as a result, there should be in my mind, we’re going to have a way to use A.I. or some way to quantify what that value is for Chuck’s side of the P&L. It could be that the Starbucks people go, ‘You know what? It’s really worth it to give free drinks to guys over time who do this because they bring in other people and more value.’ Or something along those lines.

Kevin            Well think about the people in Houston that they drove from Oklahoma, they drove from Colorado, they drove from all over. They left their jobs for a week or two to just help out people. And now, they can’t pay their bills because they went a couple weeks without being paid, they left their job. But they were serving and helping people. But it would be nice if a Starbucks recognized that they just put in 50 hours in the rain and in a boat pulling people off of rooftops that that’s worth maybe a couple of grande Pike’s Place or Americanos.

John               And Americanos right. And that’s where the Red Cross could be the guys who put that information in. Because you ultimately have a trusted source. Now if I just said I did it, we’d have people that game it. I mean it didn’t take but three hours before people were looting homes in Sarasota in Irma this week. So we have to be careful about that but this distributive network really brings that opportunity. So I want to close out with Chuck on this. So Chuck, if it were that you were inventing-if you could wave a magic wand and I want to connect the science fiction to this. And you were in one of these science fiction novels that Kevin writes in this world, what would it look like to you-the payment structure? How does it play out? Go ahead.

Chuck:           I think I always look at it from a consumer’s standpoint. So whatever the payment is, whether it’s your face, your thumb, your tongue, your eyeball whatever, did this add utility? And this is a big deal. Because a lot of folks were building better mouse traps back in the day but nobody was using them. You have to really look at how do I want to change behavior? Because it’s a behavior play right? So did this add utility? That’s easy, right? Being on the plane first. You can get a free point. Here’s a free brownie. It’s super easy to model behavior if you want to pay someone to do something or reward someone to do something. But it has to be part of the equation. And the operational complexities of a big deal is intense. It just use to kill me when I would see people trying to pay with their phone at another coffee shop back in the day. When they were using another mobile payment play the barista had no idea how to do it. And I asked the barista, ‘How often does this happen?’ Once a month. Well no kidding, right? Because no volume solves all problems. But you’ve got to keep it super simple. Is there any training needed? That goes on the customers side too. Do they understand what to do? Or are they going to feel stupid? No, it’s got to be no training needed. And security issues are a big deal issue also. Because we talked about facial recognition and what’s interesting about it I mean you guys said, ‘Hey, what if I bring a picture?’ And that’s true, there’s different artificial intelligence and different ways to go about making blank, that type of thing. But there’s also really smart kids. Like the guys at CMU I guess I read an article recently where they created a way to fool the university using full facial recognition into thinking they were someone else. With these glasses they made, really wonky looking glasses. But they cost like $0.22 a pair. And that certainly makes you think well okay wait a minute, granted if folks are walking my amusement park with these crazy glasses I’m not going to let them in. But you have to ask that question. Is there a way around that? What is the initial application? I’m sorry go ahead.

Kevin:             On the same hand though, if I’m standing in front of the cash register at KFC, and I’m supposed to be paying, and I hold up an 8X10 picture of John Best, I would hope that the person on the other side of the cash register would say, ‘Excuse me, that’s not allowed.’

Chuck:           Well, let’s talk about that. That’s a big deal because I think whenever you daydream or whenever you strategize about what you want your future vision to be, and then you map to that, you’re saying the exact right thing. Which is I don’t have to solve the problem that says the person behind the register needs to ask John Best why he’s holding a picture, obviously that persons going to hold up a picture, right? I think you’re right. I think there’s certain human behavior that you just have to rely on. I used to hear this all the time. What if my friend goes to the bathroom and I go through her purse and take her Starbucks card and take a picture of her Starbucks card and send it to myself in my email? And then I go out and I get an account-excuse me, get a copy. And I’m thinking, ‘Okay, well what if you just grab four dollars out and go up and get a coffee?’ It’s the same thing right? It’s you’re stealing from your friend. That’s not what you’re trying to solve for. You’re trying to solve for a different set of variables. So I love the fact that you brought that up. Because I don’t think that you need to worry about that. I think that the person behind the register will say, ‘Well, wait a minute. Why are you holding up a picture of John Best?’ That type of thing. So that’s exactly the right answer. I think there’s also some technology attitudes, right? I mean in the U.S. we’re crazy uptight, not so much as we used to be. But we’re crazy uptight about big brother. We don’t want all of our information to go somewhere and be used-misused against us, that type of thing. And that’s not necessarily the case in China. They have a surveillance database with everybody’s information in them. They use it actively for crime prevention etcetera and so forth. But accepted by the citizens. So those citizens won’t have a problem if their facial recognition calls on this database and returns a positive negative so they can get it at an amusement park. Our citizens in the U.S. may have a problem if Delta airlines is calling the TSA database to see if I can get on the plane first using their facial recognition. I don’t know. That’s a good question to solve and to think through.

John               Well the TSA is already checking you on the way through the thing with facial recognition. So if you made it all the way to the gate you’re fine. You’re going to be okay. That’s what I’ve learned. But you make a valid point. By the way there is a Karma point, I didn’t know. There’s something out here that says do good things, be kind towards others, express thanks, and donate to the Chuckdavidson.com. I think my assistant might have just set this up. No, it doesn’t say that but it’s out there.

Kevin:             But just think, if you had something where you could actually earn karma points or brownie points or whatever, think of how that would affect our volunteerism in this country. I mean granted there are lots of people who do it because it’s the right thing to do and they want to help their fellow human being and stuff. But there’s a lot of people who are living on the financial edge and they want to go help the people in Houston or now Florida. But I can’t take off two weeks of work to drive down there. A lot of people who were trying to evacuate couldn’t afford to evacuate. But if you could go and volunteer for a week and it was proved that you volunteered and actually worked for a week, then just think about it like you’re doing jury duty. Your boss cannot fire you for having to do jury duty. This is karma duty and you’re helping out people. And if you’re actually helping out people in a natural disaster like Harvey or Irma, then maybe there’s some kind of a brownie point fund that helps at least pay your bills. I mean this is kind of way going far off field. But think about it how the volunteerism that I would love to see.

John:                No, I’d love to see it too.

Chuck:           No, I hear you guys. I think the big picture, yes. I always go back-I’m like a bottom up guy. So I’m like it’s got to make something, where do we monetize? Like blah blah blah. I always get into the nuts and bolts. But I agree, I absolutely agree that there’s something to be said for that definitely. Taking a step back I did want to mention one thing. We had talked about going into a store, scanning, and leaving verses Best’s example where he picks up the item and goes into the app and then walks out. To answer your question John, what do I think the future will look like? I don’t think you can move the work to the consumer. Like if I have to scan all my items in my basket, I don’t think that’s going to fly. I do think-it’s like eh., you’re just making me the clerk.

John:                I have a limit of what I will take through self-checkout. I have a mental limit. Like I’m not taking 50 things through the checkout. It’s like the same thing where like I get to cook my own steak. I don’t know why.

Kevin:              People like it. It’s like the mini-bar in some hotels that when you lift the can out it registers that you bought it and it charges your thing. The problem is I put it right back.

Chuck:           Exactly. I totally agree with you guys, totally agree.

John:                Right. Chuck, if someone’s interested in getting in touch with you how would they do it?

Chuck:           Best way is at Card Free. So, ChuckDavidson@CardFree.com. And I think we should do a book report. We should talk about this steampunk book. I think that’s a great idea.

John               I just finished it, it was fantastic.

Kevin:              There’s your assignment. You all need to read it and then we can talk about it. And actually for our listeners if you want to post some comments on the webpage, we have a place for them to do feedback, right John?

John:                Yes, we do.

Kevin:               This is wrapping up another episode of Creative Futurism. We think it was futuristic and creative today, lots of really cool ideas. So read a good book. Either one of John’s or one of mine or use the Starbucks app even though Chuck no longer works over there.

Chuck:           I always use it.

John:               Alright, well thanks everyone. And then thanks Chuck we’ll talk to you soon.

Chuck          Alright guys, cheers.

Oct 10 2017

51mins

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Rank #6: Self Sovereign Identity: The Future of Owning your Digital Life - Creative Futurism

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John and Kevin are joined by Kaliya Young, aka Identity Woman,  to explore the burgeoning concept of ‘Self Sovereign Identity’. Learn how decentralized identifiers and verifiable claims may very well give you the keys to owning your digital identity in the same way you own your physical one.

Related Links:

www.identitywoman.net

www.internetidentityworkshop.com

Full Transcript:

John:

Hello everyone and welcome to this episode of Creative Futurism. This is John Best.

Kevin:

And this is Kevin J. Anderson

John:

And Kevin J Anderson, we talk about how the future and how all this technology comes together. And how it’s very thrilling how what you write about comes true. And right now, we usually do this together. But you’re not with me right now. Where are you?

Kevin:

Well, we’re using technology and connecting through Zoom so we can do this. But it’s sort of an interesting thing that I’m writing about really high-tech science fiction and futurism and all kinds of things like that in my writing. But there comes a time when you just need to sort of unplug and get away from it all so you can actually get work done. So, I’ve had to sort of hall up in a metaphorical room with no windows and pull up the drawbridge. I’m in a mountain cabin up in the Colorado mountains surrounded by snow on the ground. It’s a beautiful perfect place. But there’s not very good phone service and not very good internet service. Which is wonderful because it lets me concentrate on things. And I got like 100 pages edited yesterday. 100 pages edited the day before. I have a killer deadline coming up in a couple of days so I just needed to drop off the face of the Earth. I am emerging to record a podcast because we’ve got a great guest and it took a while to arrange all three of our schedules. So, I am becoming technologically able again for just an hour or so. And then I drop off the face of the Earth once more.

John:

So, can I ask what you’re writing on? Am I allowed to ask what you’re working on at the moment? Or is that like something that’s got to be under wraps?

Kevin:

Well, it’s a really big fantasy novel that I have. So, I guess it’s not science fiction. It’s a medieval mindset with swords and dragons and magic.

John:

Oh, well being in the woods is a perfect place.

Kevin:

700 page manuscript, yep.

John:

So, it’s your version of Game of Thrones.

Kevin:

Well, I will turn mine in on time though. So, there is that extra little-George is a good friend of mine as I think most people know. Going back to lower technology where-in fact, here’s a segway with the fantasy stuff. Because I just watched a really terrible movie. I don’t recommend it. It’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword or something like that.

John:

I saw your Tweet about that. You did not seem like you liked it.

Kevin:

It was actually not a terrible fantasy movie. It just had absolutely nothing to do with King Arthur. But here’s the thing I want to bring up, which will lead us into our guest today. There’s a little conversation I liked where they’re in the bar and they’re talking about getting other people to join the revolution. And they said, ‘Well, we should get Bill to join because he can help out.’ And they went, ‘Bill, the potter’s son? Or Bill with the one finger? Or Bill who makes tapestries? Or Bill the guy who cheats at cart?’ And they were arguing over which Bill they were talking about because there just wasn’t a very good way to identify people in the middle ages. You had townspeople who all had jobs and they had the same name of Mary or Bill or Tom or whatever. And our guest today is going to talk a whole lot about personal identity and who we actually are. So, I will use that as a very well-planned segway to punt over to you John for a brief introduction.

John:

Yeah, thank you. A brief introduction, many years ago I bumped into this guy named Drummond Reid. And Drummond said, ‘John, you’ve got to come out to this workshop.’ And at the time I was working on the idea that I just didn’t like passwords. I really had a problem with that. We’ve talked about it before on this show. And I was invited out to something called an identity workshop. Which was interesting. It was held in basically Silicone Valley, Mountain View. And it was held at the Computer History Museum. Which by the way, they had me at Computer History Museum. And it was in the top. And it was in this wierdo kind of-not weirdo. It was an unconference. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one of those Kevin. But it’s a conference where there is no agenda. And this young lady who was helping to run the conference just kind of popped up. And she did just a spectacular job of sort of helping get everybody together. And also there were some newbies like myself in the audience. And sort of explaining what the identity workshop was and just identity in general. I ran into her just recently at the WC3. Which the WC3 is one of the governing bodies of the internet. They create a lot of the cool features that we see. How you can pretty much play a video anywhere on the internet now is thanks to the WC3. So, please join me in welcoming Kaliya, identity woman. Which by the way is kind of a super hero thing. So, hi Kaliya.

Kaliya:

Hi John.

John:

So, Kaliya welcome. You are the identity woman. You’ve told me of your super power before. But give the audience a little bit about you and your background.

Kaliya:

Sure. Sometimes I say my super power is explaining all of this identity stuff. The technical work that’s being done to everyday people. I’ve been working for the last 15 years on supporting the emergence of another layer of the internet. That really puts people at the center of their own identities and their own data live. So that we are empowered as humans being with rights and dignity. And that to make sure that we have that we need some new protocols and technical capabilities to be innovative. And that’s what a lot of what happens at the internet identity workshop that we convene twice a year is to support the community of those technical innovators working to solve the challenge of how we really empower individuals with our own digital identities.

John:

See Kevin, I told you she was speaking your language. Did you hear her talking about being human and having dignity? That sounds like you all over again.

Kevin:

Yeah, I think humans should have dignity and basically we are our identity, right? So, if somebody steals our identity then obviously somebody has stolen our soul effectively. That’s who we are. But this is a different situation from what-look, throughout history there have always been people who’ve pretended to be somebody else. Whether they were spies or they might steal the royal seal so that they can make fake empirical proclamations or something like that. So, I mean stealing identity has been around forever. But now it’s so vastly insidious because our identity is in different pieces all over the place. And it’s-our Safeway card knows what groceries we’re buying. And our credit bureaus know every bill that we’re a week late on and stuff. And that’s just things that are happening by themselves. And if somebody’s insidiously trying to become John Best to steal his dozens of dollars in the bank account, then it becomes really scary. So, I think we’re on a real important cusp and I’ll shut up and let you talk Kaliya. But how do we create an identity that is protected and is sincerely ours so that we are who other people think we are.

Kaliya:

Well, those are two separate questions. One of the things we learn about in this world of identity is that the questions get divided up into smaller pieces. But we can start with the first one which is how do we create this layer where people really own and control their own digital identities? And one way to start accessing that is to think about the options that we had up until recently to do this. So, one way we created digital identities was to go to various service providers and create a username in their name space. So, we all have these types of accounts, a Gmail address, a Facebook account, a LinkedIn, a Twitter handle. And the list goes on and on and on. So, at any time you go on the web and you go to somebody’s website and you create a new account, you’re creating a new identity within their name space that they ultimately own and control. They have the right to terminate those identities. And we as the human beings that have created those have very few rights if any. No recourse to address if those accounts are terminated. And if we think about how-what happens in the physical world, there is a bunch if laws that we have created as a civilization that address this challenge with our physical bodies. It’s not okay to terminate someone’s physical being without significant consequences or harm that physical being. It’s assault, right? So, why in the digital realm is it’s okay to just terminate my digital self with no recourse or rights basically.

John:

Yeah, where they just sort of cut you off, right?

Kaliya:

Right.

John:

Because that person made an arbitrary decision that your account no longer exists or what that looks like. And one of the challenges that we see quite frequently is being people that can conduct business on the internet, which Kevin that’s you and I really, is how often you’re really trying to prove who you’re dealing with on the other end. And how that third party trust, which I think is what you’re kind of revealing to us here, isn’t necessarily trust worthy. And so, it’s all about whatever source validates whoever that is, right?

Kaliya:

Well, so I’m not even talking about that yet John.

John:

Oh wow, you’re even higher level than that.

Kaliya:

The anchor of where that digital self exists is a starting point, right? So, there’s this sort of where do we begin to anchor? And another set of choices we have is we could anchor our digital identities in globally managed name spaces. So one option is to go get a domain name and set up an email account with-under that. And set up a homepage. And many many people do that these days. But you’re still within the DNS hierarchy and you have to pay a fee every year for the right to use that domain name. And then you could also be in the phone systems. So, the phone number numbering system is globally managed by an institution called ITUT. And you can rent a phone number from a phone company. But it’s ultimately not yours. It’s owned in this system. So, the cool thing about what’s happened finally with the community gathering at the internet identity workshop is we had a breakthrough to support individuals creating globally unique identifiers for themselves that only they control and manage. And that are findable in a global context. So, we’ve had a breakthrough. And this type of identity is called self-sovereign identity. So, this is very very new. And within the next year hopefully there will be products and services that regular consumers can access to create self-sovereign identities and use them.

John:

Interesting. So, someone like Kevin-let’s say Kevin wanted a self-sovereign identity. So, Kevin is a famous writer. So, when I look in his Twitter account one means he’s important. Like the seal that-

Kevin:

-Oh, but I just got that. I just got that. It took years. And finally I had to send all this paperwork because there are other-well, you’ve seen it yourself if there’s a famous author or famous actor. There are all kinds of people that just put up a Twitter account with that person’s name. There’s the real Donald Trump but I think there’s probably hundreds and hundreds if not more of people that call themselves Donald Trump on Twitter. But there are lots of other authors. Like Brandon Sanderson had dozens of people that called themselves Brandon Sanderson. So he had to get blessed by Twitter to say this is the real Brandon Sanderson. And I had asked for it about five or six years ago. And they said, ‘You’re not important enough. Nobody’s going to take your identity.’ And nobody as has far as I know. But I thought, ‘C’mon guys. I really need to be the real person.’ Because I interact a lot from my own social media. And I have all these people that just assume that it’s not me. That it’s just some bot or some low paid assistant who just makes up these brilliant things that I’m saying. So, I actually went back to Twitter and I said, ‘Look, I’ve got 25,000 people and there are various things. I’ve had 140 books published. I’ve got all of these best-sellers. Do you really think I don’t deserve the verified account thing?’ And they did. I mean, it wasn’t like I had to get nasty with them or anything. So, I had to do that. But I also know another famous author whose Twitter account got hijacked. It was her real Twitter account. And I think it was a disgruntled employee or an old assistant or something who hijacked it. And was posting like really nasty stuff out of the author’s mouth for a long time. And there was like a lawsuit with Twitter because Twitter wouldn’t take down the fake person because it had been verified as her. So, all of this stuff is a little bit concerning to those of us who might get noticed by people.

John:

Right, and so what I was saying, and that’s exactly why I brought this up, was so in a new self-sovereign world Kaliya, how does that work for Kevin? Like for someone like him who needs to be validated and it’s powerful and useful to his-

Kaliya:

-This is again like we need to pull the threads apart, right? So, the starting point is just having a technical like an addressable technical address, right? A Twitter handle is an address for you Kevin, right? So, the self-sovereign identity tools and systems are starting with supporting individuals having any number of these digital anchor points that they literally own and can manage and control. And then the question is what do we want to build with that new infrastructure? Because it’s almost like with the evolution of our digital systems we had the protocols that created the internet. The nodes being able to talk to each other, TCPIP, decades before we had the protocols that expressed web pages on using those same protocols, right? And so, now we’re having a next generation of protocols for expressing digital identities. And they have a lot more richness and expressive capacity just like the web added to the richness expressive capacity you could send over the internet. Before it was just like files and email. So, this next evolution of the web is about an infrastructure for identity. And now there’s another question, what would a Twitter like service using this infrastructure look like and what would verify claims look like in the context of that infrastructure? So you Kevin could create a self-sovereign identity. And other people who wanted to “follow” you would also have their own self-sovereign identities. And your self-sovereign anchor point in this digital network could directly connect to their self-sovereign identity. And in a way I think we could end up with services like Twitter and Facebook being disintermediated. Because you no longer need to be subject to the terms of service and conditions of Twitter to send messages to people. So, particularly in the case of Facebook, I’m not a Facebook user myself. But my understanding of how it’s ended up evolving is that individuals who have things to share with the world and maybe services that they offer or products that they sell, that Facebook instead of sending the messages that they post to all of the people who follow them, they only send it to 10% of those people. Then you have to pay Facebook to get to the rest of them. Are you kidding me?

Kevin:

You understand it perfect. It’s terrible.

Kaliya:

So, with self-sovereign identity if you can find the person you want to follow, you make a direct connection between your-the technical name is a DID, a decentralized identifier. And they’re a decentralized identifier. And in theory, we should be able to-if you wanted to broadcast to all of your followers, they should get your message.

John:

Yeah. And Kevin, why don’t you talk a little bit because I know you’ve been struggling with this lately. I could hear it in your voice anyways.

Kevin:

Well, we just had one of our previous episodes-I forget what it was. It was a couple of weeks ago or something. That I talked about exactly with Facebook. I mean, I have three different Facebook pages and all together they’ve got like 18,000 people who are my followers. These are people that actively went out of their way to say I want to go to Kevin’s page and see what he has to say. But when I post on that page and say, ‘I’m doing a book signing in Portland Oregon at such and such a date’, Facebook says, ‘219 people reached would you like to boost this post?’ And I get really annoyed because if I-it’s like me subscribing to a newspaper but they only send me the news every once in a while.

John:

Well, it’s actually more like you bought a classified in the newspaper. And they said, ‘Yeah, we’ll send this to 200 of them. But if you want the rest it’s even more.’

Kevin:

Exactly. Well, and I’ve talked-it sounds kind of old and crotchety but I say that I miss Myspace because on Myspace I had 15,000 followers and I would put something up on there and all 15,000 of them could look at it. And I thought that that was very useful. But one of the subjects of what we were talking about on a previous podcast was how I am actively, in a much more primitive way, but I’m doing exactly what you were talking about Kaliya. I’m trying to build up my own mailing list and a readers group with the people. So that I have a direct contact with them and when I want to send out here’s a free short story or here’s a reprint of something that you can have or here’s my list of book signings, schedules, and appearances, that I actually send it to the people who have self-identified as the ones who want to read it. Everybody’s on Facebook so everybody-that seems to be the place to contact people. But it’s an illusion because when you put something up there you think everybody can see it and they can’t. And you can’t specify who gets to see it. They just pick them by the third letter alphabetically or something. I don’t know. So, let’s talk about some other use cases.

John:

So, one thing I know, Kaliya, that you do is you get hired to come and start to explain this to organizations that are beginning to adopt this. Or trying to be in the forefront of adopting this. Can you talk a little bit about the sorts of gigs that you have and the use cases you’ve seen and the popular sort of mentality. Why are people looking at this and why do they care?

Kaliya:

Yeah. So, folks are looking-I think this speaks to the next piece of the challenge that you articulated too Kevin. Which is there’s this challenge of sharing information from third parties whose business is to know something about someone, right? A very simple example is I just spent the last two years doing a master’s degree at the University of Texas. It was in identity management and security. And so now I’m a graduate of that school. And they are going to issue me a certificate. And I can ask them for transcripts that go over what I took and what my grades were. And right now the only way that I can prove that is by them sending me, or whoever else needs to know, a piece of paper in the mail. How do I get a digital version of my proof that I just got this degree? And share it with other people like potential employers or potential people who want to hire me. Or even just like the internet in general. Like how does anybody know that it’s true about me? So, this architectures that we’re looking at use this self-sovereign identity distributed decentralized identifier, has a way to start sharing what’s called verifiable claims. So, the University of Texas is authoritative to say who’s met the requirements of a degree and who has degrees. And that they could issue in this sort of future several years out, a digital version of the degree to me. And I would store it in my wallet, my digital wallet. And then I could share this claim issued by the University of Texas with other people. And they would know it came from the University of Texas. And they would know it was issued to them by me. No, issued to me by them. So, you need to start thinking about all the different types of things that we need to prove about ourselves to do all sorts of things in the world. And we get our birth certificates issued to us by the county in which we are born. We have all sorts of potentially licenses from the state because we go through a training process and are qualified to do a particular profession. There’s a whole set of professions that require ongoing education. And like is one certification up to date or not? These are all sorts of things that we need to have this infrastructure to support the efficient and believable or trustable of the sharing of these types of things.

Kevin:

And there’s intrinsic irony in there though. Because when you’re saying that the way they are proving now is by sending you a real piece of paper in the mail rather than doing it digitally, I mean for somebody with skills and tools that would have to be a ridiculously easy thing to counterfeit. Some piece of paper that says you were-I mean I could do one up in Photoshop. But I wouldn’t know that-I mean most of the people I’d show it to wouldn’t know that this is just a completely bogus document. There has to be some basis of trusts somewhere. And the same thing with birth certificates. If John Best showed me his birth certificate, how on Earth would I know if it was real or not? So, digitally it seems to me to be even more verifiable because you can trace things back.

John:

So, just real quick from a literary, what was that movie? It was based on a book. It had Leonardo DiCaprio and I think it was Tom Hanks chasing him. And he like pretended to be a pilot. And he pretended to be a doctor.

Kevin:

Catch Me If You Can, yes.

John:

Yeah, and he basically did exactly what you’re saying. He took advantage of the fact that the average pilot cannot verify a pilot’s license. I mean they have the numbers and things on there but just visually.

Kaliya:

He never actually flew airplanes. He just dead headed.

Kevin:

But that’s the thing. If you go to the dentist and he’s a new dentist and the guys starting to drill in my mouth, of course there’s somewhere in his office he’s got a diploma framed on the wall. But we go in. I’m assuming that if he’s got a dental office he must’ve gotten licensed somewhere and he must know what he’s doing. I don’t know how to answer that. It’s just one of those where our society is based on a lot of assumptions and trusts. But it’s easy to fabricate things. I’m sounding like a paranoid guy now.

John:

That’s what we love about you Kevin. That’s what I was going to get to. So Kaliya, one thing that Kevin loves to do is he loves to take a concept like this and this is how he writes books. And he’s beaten it into me. Which is he’ll add the words and then something went wrong. So, Kevin what would you see going wrong with this sort of system? Like if you were going to use this as a minor sub plot or even a plot in the book, what’s your feeling? Or do you feel like wow, this is kind of getting to the point where it could be boring. ‘Well, I’m not going to write about this going wrong because it’s pretty obvious. It’s pretty fail safe.’

Kevin:

Well, one of the things that comes to mind off the top of my head, there have been all kinds of these science fiction stories where they create an android who’s intelligent. And then there’s a lawsuit about whether he is a human or not. Or whether he writes or not. And so, I guess I would even go more digitally. What if somebody fabricates a completely bogus identity that is so fleshed out that it looks entirely real. What if that thing then hooks up with an A.I.? Or what if an A.I. decided to get a driver’s license? The whole concept of identity never used to be this complicated. And it just seems to me that there are so many million things that could go wrong. And when we look back, our society is so reactive that we’re running around on eggshells and duct tape. And everything is fine until somebody brings a bomb in his shoe on a plane. And then all of a sudden you realize, ‘Oh crap, that’s a vulnerability that we never knew about.’ Or any number of these things that we’re relying so much on that it seems like-I like what you’re doing Kaliya as in being proactive and thinking about stuff like this. Rather than having it all fall apart and then us doing the postmortem and seeing what went wrong.

John:

So from my perspective as I hear you talk about that, one of the things that I’ve had some discussion about, and Kaliya I don’t remember if I had it at the AIW or not. Which is slang for the internet identity workshop. But one thing we’ve been talking about is whenever we have these meetings down in Silicon Valley, you get to drive back and forth from your hotel to this place. And Kaliya you can attest with me. You pass what? One million Google self-driven nobody in them cars. Something like that. Everywhere you go there’s a self-driving car. And generally there’s literally nobody in it. One of the things that we had talked about is could a car sort of have an identity? And then would that car then be-if it had an identity-and she used a technical term earlier. She called it a decentralized identifier. Which that decentralization is really important because what it implies is that it can’t be correlated, right? If we could pull it together we want to be able to do a correlation around that to say, ‘Hey, we don’t want anybody to discern that this is Kevin by correlating. Maybe on one site you want to be anonymous Kevin. You want to go in there, you don’t want anybody knowing you’re an author Kevin. You just want to be a fly on the wall so you create a new user. You’re Bonsai J. Anderson. But then on another site you’re actually Kevin J. Anderson and this identifier unfortunately leads to both. And so, she talked about this decentralized identifier. And so, one of the things we talked about is could autonomous cars be owned by multiple people in a decentralized fashion? And so, I think it kind of speaks to what you’re talking about. But Kaliya, I can’t remember if I had that conversation with you. Or if you’ve had that discussion with other people?

Kaliya:

Oh, about the identity of cars?

John:

Yeah, well just the identity of objects in general and things that-yeah.

Kaliya:

Well, I think that in some ways objects are much easier than people, right? Like one of the use cases that’s being discussed is how do you track objects from their origins and their creation from where they’re consumed, right? And it’s one thing to record the identity of like a banana in the blockchain as it moves from where it was grown to where it’s eaten. Or not even where it’s eaten where it’s bought. Or like container ships moving around globally or things like that where disclosure in a public way is probably okay. Whereas it’s really critical that we support people only showing information with the entities and institutions that they want to when they want to. And that we’re not leaving linkable bread crumbs everywhere we go.

Kevin:

John raised a really cool point that I hadn’t really thought about. We’re all looking for a way to make sure that we have our one identity that is protected and we have it. But what about the other way around? What if you want more than one identity that isn’t connected? For example, say you’re a young woman who writes sweet kids puppy books or something. And you sell them to Christian bookstores. And that’s your identity. It’s Jenny who writes sweet puppy Christian books. But she also happens to be a dominatrix that’s into S&M. And she has a big profile under a different name on those sites which are perfectly legal and she’s doing that. Obviously, she doesn’t want you to look up her identity to say she writes cute Christian puppy books and is also a S&M dominatrix. She clearly wants two completely separate identities but is the same human being.

Kaliya:

Right, so I think one of the ironies of the complexities of understanding these new architectures which is what I do with clients is supporting them to understand sort of this whole range of new possibilities. Is that you have the capacity using this new infrastructure to create a different identifier and a different sort of private link between yourself and any other institutions or any other person. So that you can literally keep every relationship separate. At the same time, if you choose to expose a particular public persona, you can keep that public persona separate from other public personas. Or personas available in particular contexts. But you as an individual have a whole realistic picture of your different identities. But the outside world, because of the way of the underlying infrastructure for the identifiers is done means that they’re not publicly linkable or connectable. But for example, even in that use case you might want to with your persona prove that your age is over 21 but you don’t want to reveal your birthdate. So these goals also allow you to share what’s called due selective disclosure. Which is share a fact like I’m over 18 but not a specific birthdate or actual name. And right now in our paper document world there’s no way to do that. You end up disclosing all the information on the artifact that you’re using to prove the claim. And the cool thing about the digital world is you can start to prove things without revealing all of the information. Like I’m currently licensed as a lawyer in California as a potential claim. But you don’t have to reveal which of the lawyers you are. Or just all sorts of things like that where there’s a kind of new flexibility and capacity with these tools to do things that weren’t possible in the paper based world of identity.

John:

Yeah, that’s where I think Kevin, I’m glad I expanded your mind in that regard. Because I know that’s something that everybody kind of needs once in a while. Sometimes you want to make a comment and you know that the source of the comment can sort of-like someone might not tell you the truth. That’s probably your biggest fear if you’re someone like Kevin like, ‘I really want to ask a question here but I don’t want anybody sugar coating it for me. I want to know the truth here and I’m afraid that someone might decide hey, they like my books. And rather than tell me the truth they might try to curry favor by like I said sugar coating it.’ But we’re about to close out here so Kaliya just a couple things. This has been fascinating. And I do agree that it is your super power. Again, I’m picturing you with a big cape and it says like I on the back of it. So, I know one of the things you’re looking for is as a new graduate in this is really opportunities with corporations and people. Because this will be the way of the world. And the faster that people sort of get on board, so tell us a little bit about how people can find you if they want to work with you or learn more about this.

Kaliya:

My website is a great place to start. It’s identitywoman.net. And my email address is the same. It’s my first name, kaliya@identitywoman.net. My Twitter handle as well has open DM’s, I’m @IdentityWoman. So, that’s how you can find me. I’m working with companies of all sizes to explain this new innovative technology. I have a gig next week with a startup in Florida who’s like, ‘We’re reading all this stuff online. It’s kind of confusing, will you come and explain it and how it fits into where we think our business is going?’ I’m very interested in supporting particularly women executives. But people in large companies who are trying to understand this space even before they start to engage a consultancy or their own development teams to really wrap their heads around this stuff. So, I’m calling it coaching. I’m not a consultant in the sense of defining a project and telling you what to do. And it’s more like personalized tutoring to really engage with the material which is still really emerging. So, those are the two things I’m doing right now with clients. And I’m happy to talk with folks who are interested in engaging me.

John:

Awesome. Well, we’ll make sure that’s on the website. Kevin, did you have any final thoughts for Kaliya? Other than you’re probably writing a chapter of your book where the A.I. becomes sentient and hits the singularity and creates its digital identity as we speak.

Kevin:

No, I was going to give the A.I. wants to form an identity for himself so he has to wait in line at the DMV and it takes forever. In fact, John and I are not sitting across the table and doing this podcast. So, he’s only assuming this is me right now. Not somebody who has a really good-

John:

-A really good Kevin imitation, you’re right. And I don’t even know if that’s Kaliya. Actually I do know that this is Kaliya. I’ve heard her speak enough at the AIW. I’m 100% sure that’s her. You on the other hand I’m a little concerned about.

Kevin:

I think one of the great things Kaliya did here is that now I’m thinking about all kinds of things that I hadn’t thought about before. And it’s just really cool stuff. And it’s our technology and it’s our society that is moving at warp speed. So I’m glad people really smart like you are thinking about it ahead of time.

Kaliya:

Thanks.

John:

Kaliya, thanks for joining us. I hope you’ll come back sometime soon. And if anybody wants to find her it’s identitywoman.net. We will have all of that on the website. Take care everyone.

Jan 24 2018

38mins

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Rank #7: Free Cookies and our Increasingly Digital Lives - Creative Futurism

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In this episode, John and Kevin traverse the breakneck changes of the digital landscape and how they are affecting our society. Join us to explore the future of digital identity far beyond the dreaded password, the growing polarization of our news consumption, and learn about the Squatty Potty that stalked John through the entire internet.

Relevant links:

Join the Wordfire Readers Group

Pre-buy John’s book “Breaking Digital Gridlock”

Buy Kevin’s latest book “Tastes Like Chicken”

Transcript:

Kevin:

Hello, and welcome to the Creative Futurism podcast. This is Kevin J. Anderson.

John:

And this is John Best.

Kevin:

And we’re going to be talking about the future and creativity and business and everything you need to know to survive until tomorrow when something’s going to change. John and I got together because we have wildly different interests and wildly similar interests. And we have interesting approaches to our world. I’m a best-selling writer. John’s a financial tech guru. And together we’re looking toward the future. And so today we’ve got just the two of us talking about things that bug us. And one of the things that-this is after the Equifax breach and all that. It’s data being taken and wondering well what do people do with all that stuff and how do you ensure your privacy? And we don’t want to sound like we’re survivalists living in a bunker somewhere. But these are issues that we need to deal with that we never needed to deal with before.

John:

Well, they’re modern issues, right? They’re issues that now-that were never a big- because in the past when you had your passport or something like that you would share it with someone who would then validate it and give it back to you. But they wouldn’t sort of snapshot that information and then store it somewhere. Now that was the difference. And here we live in a world where when you share information with somebody it then becomes part of their archive. And then that’s something that becomes a weakness or a threat to you later on if someone gets their hands on it.

Kevin:

Well, the biggest security issue that I used to have to deal with was making sure that the bully down the hall didn’t get my high school locker combination. I mean the high school locker-the bicycle locker combination, those were the things that we used to have to remember. My grandfather never had to worry about somebody stealing his password or his social security.

John:

And if he did have a password it might be one. Not 400 of them.

Kevin:

Well, and I was realizing the tipping point where at one point I used to know all of my passwords because you only had a handful of them. And then it started to get so many passwords that of course you had to write them all down. And of course you wrote them all down and taped them on the inside of the drawer in your desk. So that any idiot could come in and find your passwords and put them in. And then it got to the point where there are so many passwords everywhere. Then they would be-Safari would generate the password for you. Which is an unbreakable password. But it’s also anybody can remember. So therefore, you have to store it somewhere. So, we have this thing called One Password which is a locker of all of our passwords that has a master password.

John:

And you’re not the only one.

Kevin:

And we use it all-it’s got all our credit card numbers in it, everything into it. And of course, the thing that we have to remember is the master password to get into it. Well, that I can remember because we chose that one. But if somebody hacked and got my master password to that locker of passwords.

John:

You’re just moving the cheese, you know? Just a little more away. But you know what’s interesting? One thing I’m going to share that just happens to be my background from being a security person is let me give you a methodology that you should think about. And everybody who’s listening should think about passwords. There’s a friend of mine, he’s kind of famous too, if you watch LifeLock commercials on Sunday, he’s on there. His name’s Jim Stickley. We’re going to have him on this podcast. He’s a security expert. He’s been on the Today Show, all those kinds of morning shows. And one thing he’ll tell you is if you’re going to use like a password, let’s say you have a master password. It’s the KJ @ sign is so cool, with two zeros. Come up with some way, like maybe for example, maybe you pick something about that site. It’s always the third word on the page. And then you tag that onto the end of it. And then a couple special characters. Something that deviates with every site. But something that you would remember. Something that would be easy to go, okay I always start from the top. And the third word there happens to be books and so that’s what goes on the end. And that way you can create sort of a metamorphous on it. But let’s talk about Equifax. I want to tell you what happened. I want to know about where you are and what really happened.

Kevin:

We talked little bit but I’m sure a lot of the listeners don’t-my fans come from the book end and they don’t know about the Equifax end.

John:

Sure. So, Equifax is one of the three major credit bureaus in the United States. There’s Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Those three companies are basically-when you go to buy a home, when you go to get a credit card, wherever it is, the financial institution that gives you that-makes a decision to take a risk on you and give you credit, whatever it is. They use one of these three bureaus to determine your credit worthiness. And so, the way they do that is every time you make a good payment the financial institutions are required to transmit this information to the bureaus. So they say, ‘Kevin just made a payment on his card and it was on time.’ So, we’ll put that into his record for forever and ever.

Kevin:

So, he’s blessed. He did a good thing. He helped an old lady cross the street.

John:

But if he was 30 days late we’ll mark that down too. Which then becomes sort of a thing on your report. And these are called trade lines. Each one of these-everything that you do is a trade line. Now, if someone comes out and says, ‘Well you know what? Kevin owes me money. He never paid this credit card off.’ Well, that’s going to wind up on your credit report. So that’s what Equifax is, it’s about credit reports. And they confirmed recently that almost 143 million customer records-let me give you some perspective on that Kevin.

Kevin:

143 million.

John:

143 million, let me give you some perspective on that. There are as of the census that was done in 2013, as far as I know, 148 million adults over 18 in the United States.

Kevin:

So, that was everybody’s record.

John:

In theory, because the only way that you would have a record in there you would have to be over 18 and credit worthy. I don’t even know how you wouldn’t have a record in there if you were human unless you were really off the grid. I mean really off the grid. Like you’d never bought a home, never got a credit card from anyone ever.

Kevin:

When I was 18 my dad got me like a gas company credit card so I could buy gas and start building up my own thing. And when I first got married we made a very special point of making sure that half of the things were in my wife’s name as well as in mine. Because in my dad’s generation a lot of the wives had no credit because everything was in the husbands name.

John:

And then one day they died.

Kevin:

And the wife has no credit.

John:

Yeah. So, they got breached by hackers. And this started in mid-May and continued. And here’s the thing people don’t know, like the TJ Maxx hack, which we’ll talk about in a minute. The hackers got in in May. They were in there all the way through July. Just having their way.

Kevin:

In Equifax?

John:

Yes. So that’s one thing people think. They think it’s like a burglary. Like where they break in and they run off with the stuff, right? It’s not how this works. As a  digital gridlock. I do scenario planning for security. And one of the things I say is that I’ve known a lot of CTO’s and that stands for Chief Technology Officers, Chief Information Officers. People in charge of technology and therefore usually in charge of security at financial institutions and even other industries. That when things start to happen they start to freak out, ‘Oh we’re being hacked.’ And I tell them, ‘You know what? Don’t worry about it. As a matter of fact, that’s the best time. Because a really good hacker, the last thing they’re going to do is set off all your alarms.’ If you think about it, I’m not afraid of the burglar that’s knocking down stuff out the door that I can hear my dogs barking at.

Kevin:

You still don’t want that.

John:

I don’t want him. But trust me, he’s a lot easier to deal with than the guy who doesn’t do anything. So a good example is the TJ Maxx hacker. It was a guru. He got in through Wi-Fi, right? And he was in there for so long that he was running in their systems. And when their systems would have problems he wouldn’t want people to come looking and poking around in his area.

Kevin:

So, he fixed the problems?

John:

So, TJ Maxx probably thought they had the best running system ever. I tell people be more worried when things magically fix themselves. That’s a bigger thing. So, these people were in their from mid-May until July. And it included names, birthdays, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, physical addresses, credit card numbers, dispute documents, personal identifying information. Basically, all the credit reports is what it sounds like. Now, let me ask you a question Kevin. Have you ever gone to a website and they say, ‘I want to identify that you’re Kevin J. Anderson. Kevin J. Anderson, can you tell me which one of these is your mortgage payment?’ Have you ever seen that one?

Kevin:

Well, I’ve had the which one of these is an old address or something like that.

John:

And that’s called out of wallet. That’s the name for that. It’s an app, out of the wallet. And the reason we do that is because if someone stole your wallet then we don’t want them to be you. So, we’re trying to do something we call out of wallet. So that we can confirm you’re you. That I couldn’t steal your wallet and get your information.

Kevin:

Sometimes I’ve had trouble with those because I look at it and go I don’t remember if I was at that address or not.

John:

But that’s being old. That’s just dementia. You’re 55, right?

Kevin:

Rebecca just had one of those where they came up with it and she just went, ‘It was asking her for like her high school locker combination. Like how did they even get the correct answer for that?

John:

How could you possibly know?

Kevin:

But as long as it’s like the catcha things because half of them you can’t read anyway. As long as I can toggle to some other question that I might know I’m cool with that.

John:

So, what this is is that this is where that data came from was companies like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. They have your old mortgage payment. They have your old address. That’s where we get this data. That’s the out of wallet. So you see the implication here. The data that we were using to keep everyone safe we now can’t use anymore. Because it’s out there. And here’s the thing. You would think oh well, gee where’s this big run of hacks? What’s been the outcome of this? Now, I’ll cover a share of what we see on our side as far as financial institutions, right? And I want to talk about Uber for a second. So Uber got hacked last year by a group who got in, stole a bunch of information, demanded a ransom. Uber paid it. And surprisingly. And it turned out they weren’t honorable thieves. I mean isn’t that weird? I would’ve thought they would have kept their word. And it still got leaked out into the dark web. Which is where we put this stuff if we want to go have people use it. It took a year to tell us that. Now, as a financial institution, what we start to see is hm, it appears that we’ve got this sort of vain of fraud happening. And we can’t figure out kind of what the common thing is. Like why is Kevin getting hit? And why is John getting hit? And why is Susie getting hit? And then one day it clicks. Oh, we figured it out. Every one of them uses Uber. And so that helps us to narrow it down. And so there’s always been suspicions but until Uber comes out and says it happened you’ve got no recourses as a financial institution. And you have to pay the fraud. I mean, have you ever had to pay for any of the fraud that’s hit you?

Kevin:

No. We’ve had like our credit card numbers stolen several times. But I think we never had to pay. Even it used to be like a $300 limit or something.

John:

But somebody had to pay.

Kevin:

But we didn’t pay it. We had one where we were traveling to Australia. And we flew through Frankfurt or something like that. So anyway, so we’re in Australia and we’re getting called by our credit card company saying that somebody’s buying medical equipment in Indonesia with your credit card. Is this authorized or not? And we’re like, ‘Um, no.’ And so, my wife was on the phone for like an hour trying to get all of our credit cards cancelled, everything changed. Because somebody had skimmed our number in the airport in Frankfurt or wherever it was. But here is the real problem. So then that makes all of our credit cards not valid. And as we’re getting off the plane in Australia-

John:

-And how much Australian cash did you have on you?

Kevin:

About $100.

John:

Oh yeah, you could live off that for a week. You’d be fine.

Kevin:

Sure. That’s one of these things, the repercussions of when these things happen. Even when the checks and balances are in place it still takes a long time. Now, what we talked about before we started recording is I’m hearing these commercials about the Equifax hack or that your data’s not secure. And I’m hearing these commercials on the radio where they will offer you like mortgage title security protection. Because there are people who will get your data and they will secretly go in and recreate your identity and then refinance your house. Now I listen to that because this is the same radio that has the testosterone supplement thing and our blackberry pill will cure diabetes and everything. And then I get this thing. And my eyes kind of rolled. Like how could that possibly be true? Because I’m living in my house and I’m obviously me. And if somebody refinances and takes all the equity I, Kevin, can’t possibly be responsible for that, right? And I just tell them, ‘No it’s a mistake.’ And somebody else takes care of it, right? But what I’m asking you John, am I correct or am I being naïve?

John:

You’re being naïve. So, here’s what happens. So, one of the things they do is they prey on the elderly.

Kevin:

Well yeah. The older people I’ve heard so many times of this is your niece Sarah. And she’s stuck in Bangladesh and you’ve got to wire us $5,000. I’ve known several people who have fallen for that.

John:

Or older people who get this screen that opens up and says, ‘Your computer is locked. You need to pay this to have us fix it.’ Oh man, I chased one of those groups down because they did that to somebody once. I found them in Vegas. I shut down everything they had. You know why? Because that is just it’s despicable. You can find really cool YouTube videos of guys just attacking these guys on the web. It’s fun. But the point is it’s not naïve.

Kevin:

My mother in law had a guy 11:00 at night, ‘Hi, I’m from Microsoft and there’s a bug in your computer. I need to know all of your passwords.’ And she was like typing them in for somebody.

John:

And that’s what they do is they prey on the elderly. And the elderly is a going to open every one of those messages. Or maybe somebody else is responsible. And if you have an elderly family member who has an amount of money or what not, my suggestion would be you can actually go to most of the states, including Colorado where we live. And they have legal folks that will get involved if they’re old enough that will manage their funds. And what I like about that is that you don’t have like you and your brother and your sister, and somebody’s got to track the-it’s someone who is indiscriminate of that. Whose taking care of this for them. And will answer those questions. Because we’ve seen it over and over again. It’s so easy to bamboozle these folks because they’re not tech savvy and they’re very trusting.

Kevin:

The Nigerian prince really does want to transfer diamonds through.

John:

You know, it’s the most exciting thing that happened in that day. So, but going back to this idea of privacy, right? So, let me ask you a question. Here’s something that happened to me the other day. So, I was driving around and I was listening to Howard Stern. Sorry Howard, I’m not a huge fan. But my friend Ed called me and he said, ‘Hey John, David Lee Ross is going to be on Howard Stern.’ And anytime Ross is on I want to know when Van Halen is going back on tour. I’m a huge Van Halen nut. So, I get on, I’m listening. And in the mean time he’s doing these-I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to Howard Stern. But he’s doing these testimonials for something called Squatty Potty. You know what this is?

Kevin:

Yes, we have one.

John:

Well there you go. I do not. I did not know what it was. So, I’m listening. So, my interest has peaked. I’m listening to him talk. I get to work and I put Squatty Potty in Google.

Kevin:

They have a beautiful video of a unicorn.

John:

It’s all very very wonderful. But I click on the Amazon one. And how you really at the time-this was some time ago. One of the ways that they were advertising Squatty Potty was to put someone on the toilet in the picture. Where you can just see him outside of it on the thing. So you could see the mechanism of how it works. For those of you who don’t know it’s simply a stool. Apparently you put your feet up on that helps things . .

Kevin:

It straightens out your colon.

John:

So, the challenge is and I’m sure this has happened to you-

Kevin:

-We are not sponsored by Squatty Potty.

John:

We are not sponsored by Squatty Potty. Squatty Potty give us a call. So, what ended up happening was now everywhere I go, every website I go, there’s the guy in the toilet. Because Amazon believes I have interest. And so what they’ve done is in my browser they put a super cookie down. And because I use Google, and so Google perpetuates to the different systems I use. Now as you know, I’m a speaker. I am very likely to get up on a stage and bring up a site like Facebook. I can randomly pull it up in front of hundreds-

Kevin:

-You’ve got Squatty Potty pictures all over it.

John:

I finally named it. I’m like this is Pete everybody. Meet my Squatty Potty friend. But that’s a problem. Because not only are they doing that but they’re tracking everywhere you go. Once you go into a site, you’re really kind of leaving a trail behind, a digital trail. So in Europe there’s this new thing called the General Protection Data Regulation, GPDR. Actually, I think it’s GDPR, General Data Protection Regulation.

Kevin:

Where you can erase yourself, right?

John:

Right. You have the right to be forgotten. So, let’s say that one day you were having a bad day. You were like, ‘I just can’t keep up with this writing stuff. I want to join ISIS.’ And so, we can’t help it. Kevin puts how do you join ISIS into Google. You’re regretting that now. You’re thinking, ‘Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have done that.’ Now in Europe, you can call. You can go online and you can say, ‘I don’t want anything about me out there.’ And they will have to erase that.

Kevin:

But it’s not selective. They have to-it’s all or nothing?

John:

I think it’s all or nothing.

Kevin:

I can’t say, ‘You know, I was drunk and I really got pissed off at my boss and so I posted-

John:

-I want it all gone. It’s more about your search engine inquiries. But yeah, you can’t delete that. But what’s interesting too is what happens if the data crosses boundaries in the United States where the laws are different?

Kevin:

Well, because once it gets over here you’re never going to erase it. Ask the people who have had their sex videos leaked or something like that.

John:

We create petabytes of data every day. We’re creating more data than anything we’ve ever done before.

Kevin:

Well, but there’s also we’re both of the generation where-I was just talking about this to a friend. And I was telling him I’ve had a couple of kooky stalkers and a lot of other writers who’ve had some stalkers, some actors who have had some stalkers. And we were brought up that your privacy meant that you could request an unlisted phone number and nobody would ever know. I mean if you had an unlisted phone number that was your level of privacy. And no one would ever call you. And if somebody did happen to call you with a sales call on your unlisted phone number boy would we get pissed. And we would send like, ‘How did you get this number?’ And of course they were just a random generated number or something. But now I think the attitude is more changed where it’s a generational thing where nobody expects any kind of privacy. Which I find is a scary thing. And similar to-well, not quite similar to Squatty Potty thing. But I went to-there was a big fantasy novel that-this was a year ago. Big fantasy novel that was coming out that I wanted to know when the release date was. So, I looked it up on Amazon and I saw here’s the book, here’s the author, here’s when it’s coming out. And then I went on Facebook which isn’t even owned by Amazon. And low and behold there’s an ad for the book that I just looked at on Amazon appearing on the side of my Facebook page. And it took me a second or two to realize wait a second, that shouldn’t be here. How does this entirely separate social media company know about what I looked at?

John:

That’s because of those super cookies.

Kevin:

I’m going to sort of juggle with a couple of different things there. Like one, we used to get so much junk mail. And I would be really annoyed because the junk mail I would get had no relevance. I mean one out of a hundred would even be something I’d be interested in. So, I as a consumer sort of like the fact that there are filters out there so that the junk mail that I get is a higher quality junk mail. In that, maybe they really are sending me Batman collectibles that I might be interested in. Or I get ads for TV shows that are coming up like oh I didn’t know about that one and stuff. What I don’t want is sports memorabilia. I have no interest in that. But when they would scatter shot junk mail out, they had to mail it to every household. And now you can actually get, I think it’s a good thing that they can actually sort out and give you stuff that you might want to look at. On the other hand, if I buy diapers for my grandson because my daughter in law asked me to order it because I was ordering something else, then suddenly my Squatty Potty gets in there. My diapers get in there, whatever. And I get bridal shower stuff and baby toy stuff and all kinds of things that isn’t relevant to me. And I wish there would be sort of a separate category where this is a one-time only thing. And this is what I’m really interested in.

John:

Let me tell you what we’re headed to. So, what we’re headed to is really cool. I believe with something called self-sovereign identity, which we’re really going to dig into in another episode with a couple different people. But this idea of self-sovereign identity means that you have an identity that only you own. We’re back to that whole I don’t give anybody my passport. I just show it to the people at the passport that want to have it to see it and then bring it back. And so, one of the things that I think we’re going to blow up everything with is that that industry you’re talking about where that ad followed you to Facebook and might have followed you over to Twitter and might have followed you over to Reddit and so forth and so on. That is a bazillion dollar industry that’s going to get up ended. And the way to switch it around which is very interesting, and I’m going to blow your mind here a little bit. But what if you could opt in-and I’ll give you my example, what if you could opt in to advertising and you get paid to get it? So for example, Musician’s Friend, as you know I’m a musician. I have a small guitar problem. Uh, I have gotten rid of most of them and that but I do keep buying them. I don’t mind getting advertisements about the new Paul Reid Smith that’s coming out. Or the new Gibson whatever. And so, I might tell Musician’s Friend, yes it’s okay for you to send me your deals. And by the way, the quid pro quo for that is hey, we were spending money with someone else to put these out there. We’re just going to spend money directly with someone that we’re interested in to bring that to you. And so, if that were to bring you value and you were able to do that-

Kevin:

-Explain that. Who is actually spending-

John:

Musician’s Friend would pay you.

Kevin:

Pay me in actual money or in discounts and something that I actually-

John:

-Depends. It could be a couple different ways. It could be cryptocurrency. It could be Bitcoin, it could be actual money. It could be a discount of some sort. It could be-it’s an exchange of value. What that value is-

Kevin:

-Because I was thinking something like that if I got a free subscription to something that I would have paid for or whatever.

John:

Right. So, what you’re trying to trade and what you’re marketing, right? Which is hey, here’s a free book of Dan Shambles. What I really want is to be able to continue to tell you about my Dan Shamble series, right? And so, that’s one thing that’s going on. But there’s a great book out, it’s called The Power of Habit. And it’s by a guy named Charles Duhigg. And in The Power of Habit he tells the story, and you may have heard this story, but I’m not sure if everybody knows the full story. So, I’ll be quick about it. It’s about Target. So, some time ago, a couple years ago, the store-target the store, there was this big deal where a father of a teenage child suddenly got this big advertisement of all kinds of baby stuff. And it was all addressed to his daughter who happened to have a red card. So the red card is Target’s little card that they give you that they give you a percentage off of. And so what had happened was is that Target had started working very early and very smartly on data analytics as related to Target marketing. And so, they were using a function that’s like machine learning. And let me explain that real fast. And I know you’re a physicist so you probably get this faster than I do, but if I was going to program a computer to recognize a cat I would sit down and go whiskers, tail, and I would give it details. But the way that you do it now is you say, ‘Tell me, here’s a million cats. Look through all these pictures come up with your own attributes. And then oh by the way, here’s some foxes. I want you to be able to differentiate those too, right? So you let the computer decide the attributes. So in this situation what they wanted to do, their number one consumer, Target’s real big play is once you get a new mom, she’s going to come to Target and buy everything. Because she doesn’t want to go anywhere else. It’s a pain. You get a new mom in a super Target and you’ve got the golden ticket.

Kevin:

So our new sponsors are Squatty Potty and Target.

John:

C’mon Target. Well, Target may not like this but I’m actually going to tell the story in a good way. So what they did was, here’s a bunch of women who are now pregnant. Let’s see what the buy, right? And it turned out like things that our human minds could never comprehend. So, there were certain vitamins. They weren’t pre-natal vitamins. They were just vitamins, particular ones. But after a while they figured out that there was some article somewhere that said, ‘These are vitamins you need to take if you’re a conscientious mother doing your pre-natal.’ And so that was a big thing. The big story is did she buy a pregnancy test? And that was what clued them in. So anyways, father goes to Target and just reams out the manager. ‘C’mon, you sent out my 15-year-old daughter baby stuff,’ whatever. Comes back later and goes, ‘I’m really sorry. There’s a situation in our family I was not aware of.’ So Target correctly predicted.

Kevin:

So she was.

John:

Yeah, absolutely was. Now, what was interesting was the mistake they made there was-and this is where I want to get your impact, was they hit her with all this baby stuff, right? So, later on they figured it out. People don’t like to know they’re being targeted. So, what they do is-did you know that every Target like mailer that you get is pretty much specifically for you. But what they do is I want to sell you some baby goods. But I’m also going to put a grill over here. It’s not related but what it does is-

Kevin:

-Camouflage.

John:

Is camouflage, exactly. So, what are your thoughts on that?

Kevin:

Well, I would be more likely to buy a grill than baby stuff.

John:

Okay, if they want to sell you the grill they’re going to put the baby stuff on the other side.

Kevin:

See, I don’t mind that so much because I’m not a monolithic person. I’m not a binary person. Because I might actually buy a grill and baby stuff. So, I don’t mind having other stuff-

John:

-It’s the point of the camouflage though. I mean, is that to you deception?

Kevin:

But all advertising is deception in a certain way. I mean, advertising should be information. As in we’re telling you about something that if it really was as good as we say it was then you would want to buy it because you should have it. I think it’s-the computers filled with taking all this data and finding patterns that know humans. There was a while early on when I got my first Safeway card. Which tracks all the groceries that I buy.

John:

The secret trick where you can save $30 by-otherwise you’re spending an extra $30. Also, Kohl’s cash is a scam.

Kevin:

But the other thing was is do I really want-if I swipe my card then they know that I’m this individual who was buying this brand of whatever. And if I buy too many anti-acids does it think that I have digestive problems. All of these things. And I’ve switched over to the point where I like the fact as a consumer that it knows who I am as a consumer. So that it gives me offers not for baby food. Because I don’t care about baby food. It gives me offers on bacon or stuff that I would buy.

John:

Dog food is a classic example, right? You could pretty easily figure out if somebody has a pet or several pets, right? So that’s a good deal to where-but what’s interesting about what you just talked about is when they start connecting those dots and you’re okay with it, do you know what Google’s like I guess it’s their internal philosophy, what they tell people? It used to be very simple, don’t be evil, right? And so that was their whole deal. So, I think that your point is well taken that anybody can do what they want with data if it’s on behalf of you. Like, what about if they’re selling that to Faizer? What if they’re selling the Faizer that based on all the things that they’re buying here-and maybe they don’t give out your personal information. But they give enough that you become a profile that they say, ‘Kevin’s one of the people that we believe is at risk for Chron’s. I’m just making this up. I don’t know what I’m talking about. And they sell that off to Faizer because Faizer needs that kind of data to determine what the next pill they go after is. How do you feel about that?

Kevin:

Well, that I don’t mind either. Because if I’m actually one of these victims of a certain kind of disease-

John:

-But should they tell you that you’re at risk of Chron’s? Do you want an email from Safeway that says based on your buying habits we think you’ve got Chron’s?

Kevin:

I’m sorry but I’d like to know that. Because I probably would-

John:

-Don’t be sorry about it.

Kevin:

But that’s my health. If by them tracking my life patterns that they figured out that I’m in the top 5% at risk for pancreatic cancer, I want to know that. And I think parents that have a high risk of having a down syndrome baby or something like that, I’m fine with that sort of stuff.

John:

But what if they sell it to Faizer and Faizer sells it to your publisher? Who says, ‘Oh my God, we better Kevin.’ And then something went wrong.

Kevin:

Okay, but getting to this building your profile. I don’t care if Safeway realizes that I buy a lot of bacon and eggs so they’re going to send me bacon coupons. Well, cool. Then I’ll save money. See, that kind of stuff is fine. But let’s get much more insidious because we shy away from politics. But the day that we’re recording this is the day that the Alabama senate is happening on, right now. Okay, so without getting into the actual politics part, if they’re building your profile, and this is happening right now, what they’re also doing is they are selecting what kind of news stories you see. Because they know you like this kind of stuff or you agree with this kind of stuff and you disagree with this kind of stuff. So, that will polarize our politics even more. Because what they will do is they will only show-if they determine that you’re an ultra-conservative, they will only show you stuff that you will agree with as an ultra-conservative. Or the same goes for ultra-liberal stuff. Which I find that horrifying.

John:

I thought you were going to say that people who vote for Roy Moore that okay, these are all sympathizers or not sympathizers to women’s rights. So, okay here’s a list of people that-

Kevin:

-But let’s go that way then. Of course we hope that they don’t find out who you vote for. But let’s just say that they had a way to find the names of the people who voted for Roy Moore. And again, we’re being careful with the politics. But let’s just say the person who votes for Roy Moore probably fits within a certain profile.

John:

Just like the person who votes for the other guy fits in a certain profile.

Kevin:

Although I would say less so. I think there’s a lot for Doug Jones. I think the people who vote for Doug Jones are a lot more scattered as to what their identity is compared to-the people who vote for Roy Moore we know what that sort of person is. So, if you get information on that then you start sending them political ads. Then you start sending them the fake news. It’s exactly what the Russians did.

John:

And with Facebook and everything else. Because you can manipulate the public with that.

Kevin:

So, that’s where I get scared because I’m moving the target as we’re talking. Because I don’t mind if Safeway wants to give me a coupon for the brand of bacon that I buy. And in fact, If I am secretly at risk of having a stroke and I don’t know about it and somebody tells me, ‘Go see a doctor just in case.’ I’m okay with that. But if it comes to the we’re going to start filtering the news that you’re allowed to see-and let’s face it. A lot of these people who live in the bubble like living in the bubble. Because it’s uncomfortable for them to listen to news that disproves their core beliefs.

John:

I feel it myself when I hear it. Like just recently, I’m pretty democratic and we just recently-some of the news sources were very wrong. And very clearly wrong and Trump correctly pointed that out. And it doesn’t make-the source doesn’t make it any less right or wrong. If it’s right or wrong. But here’s something I wanted to point out. This is interesting. So, you’re a science fiction writer, well known science fiction writer, I’m going to go back to this book I’m in the middle of. So, there’s this great scene in Ready Player One where he joins what’s called the IOI. And in the IOI he goes through-so in this future if it is that you owe them money for their credit card they come get you and turn you into an indent. Which is an indentured servant until you pay it off. So, he goes down there. He does it on purpose to put himself inside there. And so he uses it to hack in. And he finds out that like how much these people know about everybody. Which is supposed to be the whole purpose of that oasis product is to be anonymous. What if we found out tomorrow or the next day that Twitter just wasn’t anonymous. And that Facebook wasn’t anonymous. Or Gmail wasn’t anonymous. What if we found out that big thing. But the other side of it that I thought was interesting was the technology. If you remember he has a call with some guy. It’s a call center call. It’s a hilarious little moment in the book. I hope they put it in the movie where some guy’s got a sword that won’t work for the level of avatar he is. And he calls them an effing moron. But the software completely translates that and removes it. What was it called? The sensitivity-the customer sensitivity software. And so, he could say whatever he wants and the thing would just make it say something nice. So, what does that look like from a fake news standpoint? I mean, at some point we’re going to be able to manipulate the story’s tone at a level that-you’re going to have to set a whole different story.

Kevin:

Well, but what we’re getting into then, and this is a way way longer discussion, but so during the last election there were a lot of the various ads going on. And many of the claims in ads, political ads against their opponent, were demonstrably untrue. Like this guy has a mansion in Barbados or something. No, he doesn’t. It was demonstrably factually false. And I was thinking why isn’t there some sort of law or regulation that you have to tell the truth in an ad. Or if you are caught telling a lie you have to disavow it. But apparently anything is fair game in political ads. You can say whatever you want no matter-you could say Roy Moore is a pedophile. Although it hasn’t been proved. But you can say that.

John:

Allegedly.

Kevin:

Well, you don’t have to say allegedly.

John:

Right. You could say whatever you want.

Kevin:

Well . . But my thing is, if you say, ‘Wait a minute, this is fake news,’ who is the innocent arbiter who actually says what this is is fake news, this is not fake news. Because that’s what’s scaring me.

John:

Well, let me bring this full circle. Let me scare the real crap out of you. Okay, so let’s take it all the way back to the beginning. So, I am now in possession of Kevin J. Anderson’s identity. I have his Equifax credit report. I have his credit card. I have his social security number. I can also tell you the last four plane trips he’s taken. I can tell you which hotels he stayed in because I was able to get in there.

Kevin:

Which brand of bacon he buys.

John:

I’ve been in his email. I know who he’s talking to. But here’s why I’m interested in Kevin. Kevin is what I call an influencer. Okay, so if Kevin comes out on his Facebook and says, ‘I believe XYZ senator or XYZ candidate has been falsely accused of this or that.’ well, you mentioned yourself, you have 25,000 likes on Facebook. You have 25,000 people in that space. How many of those people that trust you because you’re an influencer, who have read your books and believe that Kevin’s a good guy, are going to maybe base an opinion based on that, right? And so, that’s where this whole thing takes a spin. So, there are a lot of people who are really worried about identity theft. And really, that’s thugs in crime rings. What I’m fearful of is state actors. We got a lot of people really angry at those. And you know what the great equalizer is? Is cyber warfare. So for example, North Korea is some of the most sophisticated actors in the universe right now. Syria like five years ago started a computer army, a hacker army that they’ve been using. And so, these groups get together and now they have these identities, right? Maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s an Air Force general. Maybe it’s someone else. And maybe they go somewhere where you would never think to look. You know what, Kevin J. Anderson does not-I’m just making this up. Does not have a Reddit account maybe. I don’t know. So, that’s a place that you’re not really watching.

Kevin:

So, they can make up an account in my name and start posting all kinds of stuff.

John:

Posting stuff that would be influential. So, this idea of influencers, which by the way is not hard to figure out, it’s very easy to sort of find influencers in this sea of data. This idea of influencers is very interesting because that’s the next high-level manipulation beyond the vacuum. And if people don’t start thinking for themselves, and just looking and questioning everything, and just doing a little digging-

Kevin:

How can there be a child porn pizza ring in the basement of a pizza place that doesn’t have a basement?

John:

Right? I mean at least that. It doesn’t mean that there’s not something there, but let’s not take it at face value. Let’s do our own research. Let’s do a little critical-let’s get Dan Shambles on it and do a little critical thinking.

Kevin:

What I’m afraid that we’re going to do, and this is what I’m seeing right now, is you get so much of this stuff, the fake news all over the place, that I’m seeing people who just go, ‘I don’t believe any of it anymore. I don’t pay attention anymore. I just don’t believe any of it.’ When I was a kid we watched like Tom Brokaw on the NBC nightly news. And it never occurred to any of us that what was on the NBC nightly news wasn’t real.

John:

But here’s the interesting concept with that is-now I’m going to flip you another switch. So, there’s this kind of thing going on and it started with a podcast called Serial. And what Serial was about was a guy named Adnon who everybody kind of believed was falsely accused, right? And this was about killing a girl or something. But long story short, these sleuths on the web were able to find out so much stuff that called in and questioned the verdict and everything else. And so, if you can go out and take-and now it’s all over. You find it all the time. There’s sites dedicated to it where people just go online and try to help exonerate people if they believe they’re innocent. If they find out they’re guilty then they’ll send that over too. And they can go and find this stuff on the web. You can find the crime photo pictures. You can find the people that you want to talk to. And these amateur sleuths are getting people off for false-

Kevin:

-Like the justice version of SETI.

John:

Yes, exactly.

Kevin:

SETI was the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. There was a network I think Carl Sagan set it up where everybody used-they couldn’t afford giant super computers. So, it was a network of everybody’s PCP nuts and Apple 2E’s and everything else. When they went to bed at night they let their computers run.

John:

When the screensaver was running it was processing from that big dish all the sounds that they collected from the universe to look for-

Kevin:

So, this is like an army of people combing through massive amounts of data looking for stuff.

John:

Yeah, so what that means is, and I’ll take you all the way back to the X-files, the truth is out there.

Kevin:

But finding it’s the hard part.

John:

Let’s end with that.

Kevin:

Well, let’s wrap up with now letting everybody’s data get out we both want to if you can be interested in signing up for our newsletter at creativefuturism.com. But also, I’ve got my-if you’re interested in some of my books, if you go to wordfire.com. And it’ll also be on the futurism website. If you sign up for my reading group we won’t sell it anywhere else. But you will get a free copy of my Dan Shamble story collection Working Stiff. And sneak previews of books that I’ve got coming out. It’s all about just trying to find the people that buy that brand of bacon. Only we’re trying to find the people who read Kevin Anderson books so that we can keep in touch.

John:

Speaking of Kevin Anderson books, all of this identity stuff and all of this security stuff and then I know it’s not a complete sell, but will be in my forthcoming book out in early February at this point Breaking Digital Gridlock, which you can pre-order now on Amazon.

Kevin:

We will have to have a podcast on that when it comes out.

John:

Yeah, I’m really excited. I’m excited for you to read it. I have no idea what’s going to happen. I never read my book in my life.

Kevin:

My new book is called Tastes Like Chicken. It’s a Dan Shamble book. It’s completely different from John’s book.

John:

Breaking Digital Chicken, something like that.

Kevin:

Anyway, we will have some more thought provoking or anger provoking stuff in our next episode. So we hope you’ll listen. This is Kevin J. Anderson.

John:

This is John Best.

Kevin:

And we’re signing off for the week. Thank you all.

Dec 20 2017

43mins

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Rank #8: Bioengineering Superhumans: Fact not Fiction - Creative Futurism

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Ira Pastor, CEO of biotech company Bioquark joins John and Kevin to deliver the message that super powers derived from animal genes are quickly becoming science fact, not fiction. From tissue regeneration, to fighting cancer, to augmenting memory, Pastor shares the research process that is driving innovation in the future of biological transhumanism.

www.bioquark.com 

Preorder Kevin’s new comic with Stephen Sears, Stalag X on Amazon

Preorder John’s book Breaking Digital Gridlock on Amazon

Mar 06 2018

44mins

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Rank #9: Industrial Revolution in reading - Creative Futurism

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Mark Lefebvre, director of author relations for Kobo, one of the largest eBook readers and distributors, talks about the dramatic shift in reading, publishing, and bookselling with the advent of electronic books and eReaders like Kobo. It’s the equivalent of the Industrial Revolution in reading.

Kevin: Welcome to the Creative Futurism podcast, bringing together the worlds of business, technology, and creativity. This is Kevin J. Anderson.

John: And this is John Best. You’ll look at the world and the future in a whole new way. Hello everyone, and welcome to this episode of Creative Futurism. My name is John Best. And we’re here to talk about cool stuff about the world, the future, business, weapons I guess in our past episodes. Pretty much anything’s game, right?

Kevin: uh…Creativity.

John: Creativity, the future, thus the name. And who do we got today? I know we’ve got something exciting going on here.

Kevin: Well most of you people I assume know how to read. And I’m a writer so I like people who read. But you never thought that the technology of reading a book was going to completely dramatically change the entire world that we live in. We’re always used to picking up a paperback and flipping the pages. But something in about 2007, when the first Kindle came out. And it sort of changed everything. And people started reading on electronic readers. And you might have heard of Kindles or iPads but they’re not the only game in town. And in fact, there are several. There’s a Barnes & Noble Nook and there is the Kobo. Which is by Rakuten, it’s a company mainly based in Canada. And the guest that we have today is the director of self-publishing and chief of author relations for Kobo. And in fact, I have a Kindle, I have an iPad. But the one that I actually read my books on is my Kobo. I just kind of like the interface and I enjoy it. Mark Leslie Lefebvre, whose been a friend of mine for quite a while. And he’s also a really interesting guy with a lot of up to date stuff. He helped develop the Kobo writing life self-publishing platform. And he’s an expert on e-book publishing, e-book industry in general as well as national publishing. He’s also the President of the Canadian Book Seller’s Association. And Mark, welcome to our podcast.

Mark: I’m delighted to be here Kevin. Thanks for having me.

Kevin: Yeah, you thought I was going to keep reading paragraphs of his bio.

John: I was expecting another half hour but it’s all good.

Kevin: We’ve got lots of stuff to talk about. I think our audience is sort of a general audience. People that have probably their own Kindle or Kobo, read e-books and things. But maybe from the outside they don’t quite understand the absolute Hurricane Katrina or watershed that’s happening in the publishing industry since e-books have appeared.

John: And by e-books you mean the e-book itself in terms of the actual book or do you mean the self-publishing format? Or both?

Kevin: Well that’s I think both of the projects. I can certainly talk about it but we’ve got Mark as a guest.

John: Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to understand.

Kevin: Let’s turn Mark loose. Tell us about the changes in the industry. Because we authors who did all this thing felt like we had invested greatly in like Blockbuster video stores. And certainly it all vanished under us.

John: You mean like those guys at Borders? Because that didn’t go well for them either.

Mark: No, it didn’t go well. I mean so the funny thing about it, so when you think about digital reading and e-books it wasn’t really popular until maybe it was the Fall of 2006. The Sony PSR 500 came out that was the first really good e-book reader. The Kindle followed that the following year. And ironically, digital books or e-books were roughly forty years old by the time they really took off.

John: Wait, did you say forty years? You said forty? Four zero?

Mark: Four zero, yeah. Roughly yeah, because it was about 2010 that the e-book landscape really took off. You were seeing 300%-600% year over year growth in that industry. I remember. I mean I’ve been a bookseller for more than twenty-five years. I remember when Stephen King launched Riding the Bullet and it was an experiment in e-book selling. But there weren’t great writers on the market.

Kevin: These were on floppy discs, right?

Mark: Yeah, something like that. It was just basically emailed versions of stories. It wasn’t until obviously the portable reader, the Sony was the first one, the Kindle came out. The iPad was 2010 as well. So thinking about those portable devices and then obviously Kobo or initially the short covers in 2009. Then came Kobo in 2010 with all the free apps on your smart phone. It was around that time between 2007 and 2010 that a lot of scary things happened. You look at the history of publishing, there were a few significant major changes. Obviously Gutenberg who invented the movable-type for us. And that went from scrolls to the printed expensive hard cover volume. And then you had the release of the mass market paperback. You think about Pocketbooks and Penguin releasing mass market paperback. Which suddenly made books more to a larger audience than ever before. Particularly people who couldn’t afford hard covers. And then again it wasn’t until 2007 to 2010 that for one of the most dramatic changes in publishing, even more dramatic than mass market paperbacks, was this availability. Suddenly e-books became available. A lot of books to become available even if you didn’t have a bookstore in your small town wherever you happened to be. You could have access instantly and easily to an e-book. And so suddenly there was more opportunity to have access to more books then ever in the history of publishing. And that’s really when e-books started to really take off.

John: Yeah, my dad was a huge fan of Mr. Anderson here. I did look through his collection, he had tons of your books. Especially the Dune stuff, he was a big fan of that. He passed on in 2008. My dad would literally consume probably I would say two good size science fiction books a week. He was just that kind of reader. And these readers would have been great for him because he kept all his books but I don’t know that that was the important part to him. It was the stories and the imagination. And so I think he would have loved a device like this. I think he got to see a little of it, but he didn’t get to see what it turned into.

Kevin: What was really funny like you said Mark, forty years. And you remember from like the 60’s and 70’s that they were talking for decades about how video phones were going to be in every house. And they never came, and they never came, and they never came. And now finally with Skype we actually do video conferences whenever we want to. We can do that. I guess people weren’t thinking that when you call somebody on the phone you don’t want to see if they’re in their underwear or if they haven’t . . whatever. But for e-books it was sort of similar because my first novel was published in 1988. And I followed publishing and I was working as an author and they talked forever about e-books were going to be the next big thing. And they were going to take over. And I kept waiting and I kept waiting. And even when I would sign my book contracts they started to add things like we get the e-book rights. And we would go yeah yeah that’s like asking for the theme park rights. Like anybody wants anything like that. And I remember distinctly my Dune novel The Butlerian Jihad that I wrote with Brian Herbert, I’m blanking right at the moment what it is. I think it was 2006ish. It was right when this was taking off. The publisher called me up one day and well I mean the e-book representative, the publisher, was ecstatic because our book Dune: The Butlerian Jihad was the best-selling e-book in their entire company for three months running. And I went, ‘Wow that’s great, how many copies does that mean?’ And he paused and he said, ‘Total? 300 copies.’ And we’re like okay never mind, I wasn’t really worried about it. And a lot of authors were like me, we kind of regretted them because back then if I had struck e-book clause from the contracts, nobody would’ve argued. But now we sort of gave it all away because it did take off. And it took a lot of people by surprise.

John: Well technology often evolves in a few different ways, right? So, it’s revolution or evolution you see a lot of times. And I would say that most of the time it’s evolution. It’s very rarely evolution because you can always kind of find that the seeds of whatever it was in something else. And Apple’s the best at this, right? They’re the ones that go, oh everybody thinks oh the iPhone or the iPod. Yeah there were people with music players before that waited a while. And then they came out and said, ‘Okay here’s all the mistakes everybody made, let’s make an awesome one.’ And I think that’s what we saw here in the evolution of this technology was people had tried it. And what’s interesting to me is my wife to this day, she wants hard cover books. She does not like the readers. She’d rather have the actual book in her hand. As an author, are you still finding people that are like that? And the same thing for you Mark, are you finding people like that? Because most of the people I know want to have electronic books. But I imagine there’s some people who are . .

Kevin: I just answered this at a convention last week with somebody. I was on a panel about e-book publishing and stuff. And there was sort of an old guard fan in the audience, ‘That I just like real books and it’s not the real story. The book is the book it’s the paper book. And I don’t like these electronic things.’ And I kind of came up with the best answer for it, I said, ‘So do you like listening to music?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘So which is the real music, the one that’s on the album, the one that’s on the CD, the one that’s on the cassette, the one that’s on I don’t know an MP3?’ It’s the music. And the other part is just a delivery system. But I’ll point this back to you Mark, as the consumer goes, how has e-books fundamentally changed reading habits?

Mark: Well, what we’ve seen from Kobo because we can not only-we can actually see when people are reading, how long they’re reading for, the sections they’re reading from, how many pages turned, etcetera. And what we’re seeing in our most avid readers, they’re actually taking advantage of the fact that they can have a thousand books on them at all times. Think about that. They’re reading more during breaks at work. They’re reading more at lunch break. They’re reading more during commutes. They can pull out their phone, open it up on their app. And what a lot of people are doing is they’re doing their app reading while commuting or while in transit, while in the grocery store. And then if they have a device like a dedicated Kobo reading device then maybe that’s that bed time book. A lot of people on travel can pack them. Just to give you a high-level stat in terms of in the ten years between 2002 and 2012, and this is U.S. publishing stats, in 2012, e-book revenue in the U.S. was 0.05%. And in 2012, e-book revenue from all major U.S. publishers was 22.55%. A significant shift.

John: That’s revolution right there.

Mark: That’s a major one. And ironically, in the first quarter of 2012 the major publishers made more revenue from e-books than they did from hard cover. Which was a significant stat when you think about that. That’s a major change to a very slow-moving industry. An industry that’s not usually going to embrace the future.

John: So, one of the things I noticed that was a big difference maker for me was as I was moving towards it, I played with a few of them but I’m going to go out and get me a Kobo.

Kevin: Go get a Kobo, I recommend it.

John: I will get a Kobo, it’s done. Consider that done, probably on the way home today. One of the challenges I had was for technical books, I do a lot of coding that sort of thing. I needed to be able to highlight stuff and take notes. And it seemed like the system sort of evolved into that where I was able to do that. I wonder how many of those little barriers got broken through over that time that created that opportunity. And don’t let me forget this, I want to ask what you do with those statistics? Because I’m fascinated by what those mean and what trends they would look at. This is something I do for a living. I look into financial statistics, artificial intelligence, I use big data analytics. We’ll come back to that. What barriers do you think? Was there any one big one that blew open the door for everybody?

Mark: I think portability was probably one of them. But here’s the interesting thing about making notes. You can do it on a Kobo, you can do it on a Kindle as well. You can go into your Kobo for example, open up a book, you can highlight a passage. You can even leave a note. And you can decide if that note is something you can view. But you can also share it so that other people who download the book after you can have access to see that note.

Kevin: So like a reading group as you’re reading?

Mark: Yeah. So that’s something that will be and hasn’t yet been because of the way that academic publishing works. But imagine everyone studying a Shakespearean text or something and they’re all using the same reading platform for that class. Imagine everyone in the class being able to share their notes. And the professor being able to share their notes with each other. And now, academic publishing is even further behind a traditional regular trade publishing. Only because they’re doing everything they can to lock things down to prevent this digital landscape. They’re trying to drive people back to the print book. But there’s an opportunity there that we have yet to discover. And having been an academic bookseller trying to find ways to save students money, I see amazing opportunities still with that, with non-fiction technical reading. Again, you’re seeing it in some cases for high end books that are live books in the web that are being updated on the fly almost like like a Wikipedia, right? Whereas technologies change, news changes, it can be updated on the fly. We’re still at the tipping point if you think about it. Just how alive a text can actually be. Because we’re so used to putting that ink on paper and fixing it in place and you have to wait until the next print run. We’re barely taking advantage of the possibilities of what publishing can become.

Kevin: Well, and from a business standpoint I want you to talk about like things that are obvious to us but maybe not obvious to people out there. The major difference between an e-book and print a book is you don’t have to pay to print it. You don’t have to pay to ship it. You don’t have to pay to store it. You don’t have to pay to return it if it doesn’t sell. Publishing has a very narrow profit margin as it is. And if you remove all of the material costs it just changes the whole business landscape of publishing, distributing, and book selling.

Mark: Oh dramatically. And that’s where because I’m the director of self-publishing, that’s where you see an additional shift in that because previous to the digital explosion between 2007 and 2010 let’s say, if you wanted to self-publish you had to go and-you could use print on demand printing. But it was very difficult because you still had the problem of once you printed the book, you still had to ship it somewhere in the world and there were costs involved. Suddenly with e-books, all of that putting the book on a boat or a truck went away. It was delivered obviously through the web. And that barrier cost significantly changed publishing. Being that for the first time in history, writers could choose to circumvent the gatekeepers in New York publishing. You think of the people who would say, ‘You know, this is a good manuscript but we just published a novel just like that.’ Well that’s good, because the publisher has to bear all the costs and they have a limited amount of investments. They can only invest so many. But it may not be good for the reader who wants another book like that now. Not next year, now. And that’s a significant shift in the demand. The supply and demand. Suddenly… and Kevin I know you’re a very prolific writer so you would only do one book with one publisher per year. Which is why you’re with six publishers, because you write so much. But suddenly now that you’re in digital publishing, you’re not limited to a schedule that requires a Fire from Barnes & Noble sitting down with a publisher in New York and deciding what books they’re going to buy 6-7-8 months from now. You know you could produce books at a schedule that’s more in line with what the reader wants to read. They want to read the next book in that series now. They don’t want to wait twelve months for that.

Kevin: I remember the year that it came out, I forget what the second one was but Stephen King came out with a book called The Eyes of The Dragon, which is his second book of the year. And it was like horrors among the publishers, among the booksellers like only Stephen King could pull off publishing two books in one year and expect his readers to keep following him. And I know lots of writers now who their goal is a book a month. They want to bring out ten to twelve books a year. And if they’re doing a series the reader grabbed a series book, they finished it and they want the next one now. They don’t want to wait a year. They want it now.

John: Look at the model that James Patterson’s out together which is like this mentorship writing I guess that he’s doing. And I want to circle back to something you said that blew my mind a minute ago. You were talking about how we haven’t tapped this. And when you said that, that sort of like got my brain working. So you’re saying you’re like keeping track of how often they turn pages and stuff. So let’s say Kevin’s got this amazing novel and it’s in the Kobo. And you’re looking through it and you’re like, ‘Hey Kev, people are just like struggling through this section right here.’ Or you know in our business world if we have a form on the website, right? And people were dropping off in a certain place in the form we would look at that. We would say, ‘Okay like a loan. Why are we losing this business?’ So if someone’s on their way through a book and for whatever reason they’re always putting it down at chapter ten or something, and you see where I’m going with this?

Kevin: Probably need to add a sex scene in chapter ten.

John: Right, and that’s what I’m asking. Can we improve this book on the fly? Is that even a possibility? We think of them as static things. So Mark calls you and goes, ‘Hey Kevin, dude you’re killing me in chapter twelve. Nobody likes it.’ Or people love chapter twelve, let’s extend it.’

Mark: We are doing that. Well, we’re doing the feedback and sharing with publishers where people may be stopping if there’s any consistent patterns. We can see how long they sat, how many hours they read, what time of day they’re reading, where they’re stopping, we’ve even released-so Kobo has actually released reports. And one of my favorites because it really supports the high quality of content that’s coming through Kobo writing and self-publishing was the best-selling book from Kobo in the U.K. was a literary title by Donna Turat, a major award-winning novel, just well respected, everyone who was anyone had a copy on their shelves. But what we found was the read through rate on average on Kobo was less than 50%. Because it was a thick heavy literary title that people struggled with. Obviously, everyone was trying to read it but they weren’t getting through it. The most well-read I think was like 86% read through rate was a title by a self-published author from the U.K. And so, we share that kind of data.

The one thing preventing us from sharing that data in a very bulk manner with independent authors kind of relates to respecting the privacy of the readers. And I’ll give you a perfect example: Kevin J. Anderson sells tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands copies of his books because he’s an international best-selling author. So that’s not a problem if we share reading data because it’s a big enough base that we know where it is. Myself as an author, I may sell one book to my mom this month. And we share with the independent author community. So we basically share the zip code, postal code, etcetera where your book sold in the world because we sell in 190 countries. So if I see that I only sold one book last month and I call my mom up and my mom says, ‘Yeah, I bought your book. I read it, I really liked it.’ Then I see my reading stats and it says the book was never even opened, the one that was sold. That could cause family feuds. So that’s one of the reasons we’re not going to release the data.

But we are looking at strategic ways which if there’s enough volume to protect readers privacy, how can that aggregate data be used to share with a publisher or an author? Now interestingly enough, we are sharing that with the major publishers. I don’t think they’re actually using it because by the time the books out they’re already on to the next book. But an independent author or a self-published author it’s their baby, it’s their product. They are getting the feedback or statistic that says everybody seems to stop at chapter nine. They can go back and say, ‘Yeah, you know what? My editor suggested I cut this scene in chapter nine, I wonder if they were right. Because it seems to be the place where everyone stops.’ And again, we’re just at the beginning of being able to tap into that and make changes and say, ‘Wow, well maybe I’ll cut that scene. And maybe that will help people move through.’

John: Did you say that you record where people read it? In the sense of whether I’m at home, in the subway?

Mark: We’re making assumptions based on time zones and commuting times for the average reader.

John: Because the NSA is going to want to use your Kobo device because I think you’ve . . .

Mark: So, we used to have badges you would get during lunch break, or reading during a commute, or during the witching hour. That’s based on your local time zone. Now I will tell you something really awesome about the latest Kobo device which is the Kobo Aura One.

John: So that’s the one I have to get.

Mark: Yes, but it’s a very expensive reader. It is a premier reader for a few reasons. A: it’s water proof. So you can read it in the book, bath, beach, whatever. And it’s fine for up to three meters deep for an hour. So you’re good if you’re in a canoe…

John: I used to go in my pool and scuba dive because I loved the peace of it. So if I could get a book down there that would be even better.

Mark: Now, the other thing about it is I was talking about bedtime. It has a built in light that allows… again, I’m not a tech guy. I’m the writer/content acquisition guy. So it’s a basic light that affects your brain waves in a different way. So it’s sort of like a blue based light that doesn’t stimulate your brain waves. So if I set on my Kobo Aura One that my bed time is eleven, and I happen to be reading close to eleven or after eleven, it changes that light on the screen. It’s calming my brain waves down. Not keeping me awake. Like if I was looking at a computer screen prior to going to bed that will stimulate my brain waves and that’s harder for you to go to sleep. So what we like to say at Kobo is it should be the book that keeps you awake, not the medium that you’re reading it on.

John: After that you could crank up like some meditative music. But anyway, Kevin, you were going to make a point just a minute ago about my location of where you’re reading.

Kevin: Well, you made a comment about that NSA watch. You’re kind of raising my hackles Mark with somebody’s watching how many pages I’m reading. So, I’ve downloaded a copy of the Anarchist Cookbook and I keep reading the chapter on building a bomb on trains or something. Is NSA going to come? Well, let’s not use that example. Let’s use a more practical example. What if I’m reading porn?

Mark: You and billions of other people.

Kevin: Right, right. So if that’s… Kobo actually has… you’ve got some kind of standard where you don’t allow porn, right?

Mark: Well, we don’t allow illegal you know child pornography. We don’t allow certain taboo topics into our catalogue, yeah.

Kevin: Well, I guess my question is kind of boiling down to the, it sounds a little big brotherish if Kobo is getting data for how many pages I turn, which parts that I read. Has that been a concern for any of your customers? I mean does Kindle do that?

Mark: Of course they can. If we can do it, they can do it, iBook’s can do it, everyone can do it. It’s there because that’s how we support it. So for example, you read on your Kobo app on your phone. And when you finish reading on your Kobo app you get to the end of chapter three or whatever, and when you pick up your device it syncs up between the devices. Because it knows you finished chapter three. Again, it’s all part of that experience. It’s even part of book marks and leaving notes in the book, etcetera. It’s just the way the technology works now.

John: It’s totally in the app as well?

Mark: Yeah. We don’t share anything other than the aggregate data. It took the average user eight hours to read this book. This other book which is the exact same word length is six hours. That gives us a read rate so we can… and we do this because we… Overdrive is our sister company owned by Rakuten. And they power the libraries. Librarians are very interested in books that consumers read really really fast because the way a bookstore or a bookseller wants to sell more books, a library wants to engage the reader. So they’re very fascinated with those concepts.

John: I think Kevin where you stumbled is when you talked about the mom. Your mom not reading your book. The reason he said that was correlation, right? So he was able to correlate that because it was such a small amount. I assumed from the beginning that they were anonymizing this information.

Mark: Oh it has to be anonymized. We have to protect the reader.

Kevin: What I was remembering was that the cases that somebody went into the Barnes & Noble and bought certain books and then the government tried to subpoena which books they had bought and it wasn’t… so you were just talking about previous weapons development…

John: Yeah, he’s still in his weapons mode so . .

Kevin: Let me talk about some bad things from the authors point of view as far as the e-book revolution. And it mainly goes back to traditional publishers and the e-books because we always had in our contracts that if a book went out of print and the publisher stopped supporting it then we the author got the rights back. Then we could maybe sell it somewhere else or whatever. And in the transition time, I’m talking like the mid 90’s to the mid 2000’s, many of us have contracts that grants them the rights for as long as they keep the book in print. And then it allowed that if you just had an electronic book file up somewhere that book was considered “in print.” So that means that many publishers effectively own a book forever, even if they never sell another copy of it because they’ve got a file up somewhere. And a lot of authors kind of resented that for good reason. And there are certain things involved in distribution: the royalty statements, and the records that are coming out, that it’s just changed things so dramatically for me as an author point of view. And for publishers and booksellers. For instance, Kobo writing life, why don’t you tell us about how an author could just watch their sales day by day and location by location. So if they do a radio interview in Calgary, Canada they can see if their sales went up in Calgary, Canada. That’s never been available to us before.

Mark: No, I mean I get a royalty statement from one of my publishers once a year. In May I find out how many books I sold the previous year. Whereas I can log on to Kobo writing life and I can see a book that sold within the last couple hours and what country in the world it sold in. That’s revolutionary. The other thing from the writer’s perspective, because you know we talk about the difference, when my publisher sells one of my books I get 8% of that. So a $25 book, I’m getting $2. When I sell a book that’s $5.99 I keep 70% of that as that as the author. So I can sell five copies or four copies worth the same amount of money and make a significant amount more.

I think one of the other changes that sort of makes a difference, I was just talking to Robert J. Sawyer who’s a Canadian science fiction writer. Kevin I know you and Robert have been friends for a long time. You’ve known each other, you’ve grown up in publishing together. But Rob’s latest book through Penguin Random House, they only bought the North American rights. And so the book was only available as a print book and an e-book in Canada and the U.S. Rob used Kobo writing life to publish that book internationally. He was able to set instead of it being a $14 e-book, which was the publishers price, and again he kept small percentage of that, he was able to set the price at $5-$6. Make significantly more per unit sale. And because this book was available in 165 plus countries where he’s established a huge base over the years, he actually sold them internationally.

So again when you look at the comparison and the flexibility of how digital could allow publishers to navigate the world in a much more efficient way. Authors are very often taking advantage of that because it’s not based on print distribution, it’s based on a global scale.

John: You got me thinking when you were talking there. So in looking at the stuff you’ve done, I noticed you had this novel iDeath which was written out on a blog as a serialized format. And it kind of got me thinking about The Martian, right? So to me The Martian was sort of my first exposure to the self-publishing business. I discovered the book and really really enjoyed it. Then the movie came out. But as I looked into it I saw several. He was a lot like you guys. He worked at Sandy Laboratories. But what was interesting to me was that when he switched over to a traditional publisher after he just shot up the charts, that seems like the opposite of what Kevin was talking about. Was he just like so into he didn’t get it?

Mark: Well no, because Andy Weir, he started off the blog. It was actually Podium Publishing, which was an audio publisher which discovered him before Random House did. So again, small Canadian player that did that. But there’s economies of scale. So Andy Weir is suddenly like a James Patterson, suddenly like a J.K. Rowling. And because 70%-80% of book sales in North America are print as opposed to e-books and it probably got a huge advance, that was probably an okay deal. But if you’re not Andy Weir, if you’re not Stephen King, if you’re not J.K. Rowling, the economies of scale tip more in your favor because it’s not the large advance. It’s the actual ongoing royalties that you make more with. There’s still a 1% or a 2% rule in terms of that landscape. And it’s interesting to see. I honestly believe, and I’m seeing more and more, it’s kind of rare that it happens.

But just using my own experience, 90% of my own revenue from traditional publishing comes from my print book sales. And maybe 95% of my self-publishing revenue comes from e-book sales. So it’s why myself-we call it being a hybrid author. I know that there are books that I will publish through my publisher in Toronto, Ontario and they’ll get my books into all of the chapters. They’ll be getting them into some of the Barnes & Nobles. And they’ve even gotten my books into Costco and Walmart. I can’t do that as an independent author. I can’t do that with print distribution. So that’s one of the challenges. And that’s one of the reasons why authors will continue to work collaboratively with publishers. Then there may be books that are for a specific niche market that may not get that print distribution. But immediately they can have global distribution. Books available in 190 countries without shipping books on boats overseas etcetera.

Kevin: Well I’m the same way. I’m a hybrid, I still publish with my major publisher. But I’ve got books that are my own books. They’re my backlist books that a major publisher doesn’t want to reprint. But my fans still want to read so I do them myself. I had my series Dan Shamble, Zombie PI was with a major publisher here in the U.S. But I had only sold the U.S. rights to them so I released the international versions myself. Just like Rob Sawyer did. And now after four books the other publisher’s kind of lost interest and doesn’t want to do it. But my fans still want it, I still want to write it. So now I publish the rest of them myself. And I think the key to what you were saying and what John’s question was though is it depends on what kind of author you are. If you just want to write books and throw them at a publisher and let them do all the work well then don’t self-publish. Because you’re the one-man band. You’ve got to do everything, not just writing the book. You’ve got to edit and produce the e-books. You’ve got to do the social media, and you’ve got to promote it, and you’ve got to do your blogs, your mailing list, and use your various promotional items. And I think the term is freaken exhausting. Every day I look at this and I just go oh that’s another thing I’m not doing, and that’s another thing I’m not doing.

There’s a new software developed for the Apple for indie authors, it’s called Vellum. And I’m just like I need to know this. And I’ve spent a couple of days learning. And you know I don’t have time to learn new software. I don’t have time to do all this stuff. But I don’t have time to do a podcast either. I always want to focus on what you just said about the international to really hammer home. Because I’ve published 140 books and a lot of them are media tie in and Star Wars books which I don’t have the rights to. But my own books, it was for us American authors. Snd again, nobody’s going to sympathize with me complaining here. But American authors are published in America. But trying to sell the Bulgarian rights to your book, it just never happens. Or the Italian rights, or the French rights. I mean only a very small percentage of U.S. books get translated to overseas markets.

John: When you say translate you mean language translate?

Kevin: The language translated. But see that’s the thing, and Mark and I have talked about this. But the really cool thing is in so many markets around the world they read English. And the only way that they could get my first novel Resurrection Ink that I published, it wasn’t translated into any other languages. I’ve got a lot of fans all around the world who would like to read that book. But if I were in say India, the only way they could get that book was if they paid like a hundred dollars and got some specialty bookstore to get a hard copy mailed to Mumbai or something like that. But when I go on Kobo and I select worldwide distribution anybody with a smartphone in Pakistan can download my book for five bucks. Well you change the prices for different markets in India, Pakistan you make it fairly cheap. All of my library, which nobody in these other countries could ever read, is suddenly available provided they can read English.

John: But I’m going to take you back to what Mark said earlier. So let’s change your world, right? So we live in a world now just recently there was this cool experiment. So there’s a product called TensorFlow. It’s not really a product, it’s a platform by Google. Mark, are you aware of TensorFlow, do you know what that is?

Mark: No, I’m not actually.

John: So, TensorFlow is Google’s A.I. product. It’s an artificial intelligence product. So, have you ever used Google Translate?

Mark: Yes.

John: So, Google Translate was interesting. For a long time Google Translate worked like this. Let’s say that you wanted to translate German to English, right? So that was no problem. That was a direct translation. Pretty much anything to English was a direct translation. But let’s say you wanted to go Korean to Japanese, okay that’s a little different. Well the engine in the background for a long time because it wasn’t an artificial intelligence or a machine learning engine, would translate to English first and then translate it to Japanese.

Kevin: What could possibly go wrong?

John: What could possibly go wrong? But so what they did was they built this artificial intelligence engine. They taught it Japanese, they taught it Korean, and they taught it English and the whole nine yards and they put it out there. And what interesting thing happened? The A.I. developed its own language for in-between all the other languages. On its own without being told. So where I’m going with this, and it was interesting because where it ended up is… so I just got back from an international speaking gig in Vienna. And I’m sure you’ve spoken internationally. Have you ever had it where the translators got it wrong? You ever tell a joke and watch it land for like half the audience but like watched the other half go wow. Some of them are looking at you like you just said something horrible about their mom. But what if through this artificial intelligence, we could cram this in the Kobo’s, and with a 98% accuracy, this thing could translate it to Italian on the fly. It could translate it to whatever version of-

Kevin: The universal translator of your e-reader.

John: Right. But that to me is technology that exists now. I mean, what’s keeping you from doing that Mark?

Mark: You know, I think because we’re done a lot in different languages and translations. The process isn’t just translating but you actually rewrite the book in that language. There are ways. There are terms of phrase that just don’t work if it were a pure translation. The A.I. would have to be very sophisticated. Sophisticated enough to be creative I think.

John: I get your point from a culture standpoint. That’s exactly what I was thinking. And what I’m telling you is it’s there. With the other things I know I’m doing on the other side of my world with A.I., I promise you it’s not that far off that we couldn’t say let’s experiment. I say we do it tonight. Which one do we want to translate? But I want to come back to one other question just real quick. I’m back on this serialized novella as a blog, right? And you’re writing something like that too on your website on Wordfire?

Kevin: Yeah, I had my new novel that I was writing. People could subscribe and I would upload the chapters every day.

John: Yeah, I’m subscribed. I subscribed back when I first met you. And so, how is that process? Like when I read about the Martian guy, the thing that was interesting to me was that he was putting these things out there and then all of a sudden dudes from the APL showed up. And they’re going, ‘Hey, that’s wrong. You’re crazy.’ And so he goes back and adjusts that chapter and they go, ‘This is good.’ And then he moves on. Is that kind of the new way of writing to some extent? Where you’re crowdsourcing this writing through these novellas in the blog and getting feedback from the comments?

Kevin: It’s good and it’s bad. Because if you are a consumer through the reader you might not want to watch the sausage being made. You might want to actually get the finished product and read it and enjoy it. But the freedom that it gives me as the author is if I’ve got a fan that calls up and just says, ‘You idiot, that lift on your airplane wing was wrong. You’ve got to change it to this.’ And I go, ‘Well okay I can change it.’ I could never change it before. But think about the poor book collectors that are trying to get their first editions. There’s no such thing as a first addition. Even my major publishers now, it used to be when your book went back for a second printing or a third printing. That was a big deal because the printing was like 10,000 copies. But now they’ve got technology so that if you go back for printing-we went back for printing 500 more copies. Which is good because warehousing costs are smaller. The print costs are smaller. It’s catering directly to the market rather than like overblowing and printing like 300,000 copies in hopes that you sell half of them. I mean that’s-it’s a good thing.

Mark: I mean. on the flip side Kevin. I do want to talk about-because when I did iDeath. When I wrote iDeath all I knew was a basic premise because I’m pantser. I knew some basic characters and I knew-

John:-What’s that called?

Mark: Flying by the seat of your pants, a pantser. I knew roughly how I wanted it to end. And over the course of nine months I wrote this story out with people following it along live. And I was able to modify and change the story based on the things that they liked and the things they didn’t like. So it was kind of like doing an improve where oh the audience is really reacting to this joke or this kind of joke. I’m going to do more of this kind of joke. And that really shifted the way that the book worked. Now that was-that in and of itself was an amazing experience. I even had them decide a particular character was going to end up, being a hero or a villain. Because I was writing it in a way that it could go either way. And they basically answered that for me. And then the last thing was I ended up actually selling that to a publisher afterwards. After going through this whole experience. It was in 2006 that I did this. So an amazing amazing experience that I absolutely adored. And I look forward to doing more because you’ve never been able to do that before. Except when you’re telling a live story in front of people and around a campfire.

John: So why can’t I do that in Kobo?

Mark: So Kobo is basically more like a traditional bookstore, right? You buy the book that is already complete. If you’re looking for an experience like that you do have blogs. Watpad.com.

John: But that’s a blog, right?

Mark: It allows you to subscribe or follow a book that’s being published chapter by chapter. Very much the way a podcast might be released.

John: But what if I want to read it on my cool Kobo on the plane?

Mark: Well I guess you can. We are experimenting with that. We have done that in the past. We have worked collaboratively with Random House Canada a couple years ago to release a Kelly Armstrong novel instead of the full book which was available at the very end. You could actually read it week by week. Again, that’s still emerging technology. There are indie authors who are doing we call them episodes. So every week they release a new episode that’s under 20,000 words. And over the course of the summer the full novel is completed. But again, that’s still using the technology as if it were a bookstore rather than an actual automatic subscription service like you get with your subscription to this podcast.

Kevin: We may actually have Ashley from Watpad on as a guest at some point because it’s an interesting and actually scary to me prospect. It’s like this giant library of people putting up their works in progress. Everybody reads them and then they exchange information and they get… I heard it. It’s like billions of pages read that they have on it. It’s pretty amazing. So there’s that kind of interactive workshop experience. I wanted to tell one kind of amusing example about the e-readers and how you can carry a bunch of stuff with them.

A few years ago my wife and I took a Mediterranean cruise. So we got on the plane in Denver and we flew to Rome. And I was going to be gone for a week so I had I think it was my first-generation Kindle that I had. And I thought this is great, I’m going to be gone a week. I’d put like five or six books I wanted to read on my Kindle. I put it on my computer case and I was going on a cruise ship, I was going to read a whole bunch. We landed in Rome and I opened up my computer case which had been up in an overhead bin. And I pulled out the Kindle and it had a giant crack on the screen. I couldn’t read anything. So I lose all of the books that I brought along because my Kindle had broken. And you know your paperback books don’t break.

John: Arguably, that overhead bin would be a lot more full.

Mark: Although Kevin, because the books are not just on the reader, they’re on the cloud. You probably could have opened the app on your phone.

Kevin: At the time there was no cloud.

John: So let me tell you what I did with my first Kindle. So the first Kindle came out and I was working at a large credit union in California. And we had a Board. And the Board was pretty distributed across the whole California area. So we had people as far as San Diego. And if you’ve been to California it doesn’t matter if you’re only ten miles away because it can still be a two hour ride. And we would have board meetings. And I thought, ‘It sure would be nice to stop killing all this paper and selling all these binders.’ And this thing had something called WhisperNet at the time. And I could send a PDF, it would make an email address. I could send a PDF to it and then the PDF would show up on the e-reader. And so I checked into it. We didn’t really have anything that I was worried about security wise. It was more just reports and information about being on the board. So we started using it for that. And you know they loved it. Because they liked being able to have it not being about having to carry all this paper back and forth to the board. And after a while the notes came out and they started doing what you were talking about which was sharing some notes back and forth. Is that a used case that you see a lot of now? Just people starting to take in these e-readers and use them for this group read kind of mentality?

Mark: Yeah, so two things. The latest Kobo device has a built-in overdrive app. So again, our mandate is read more. We want people to read more and we want to remove the barrier from reading. So when you’re on the device you can actually just check out a library on the device. Because again, we believe that if people read more than that makes the world better for publishers and authors. Because more reading gets more reading.

But the other thing is the people in the industry are actually using their iPads. And also using their Kobo’s and their Kindle’s to actually read a manuscript. So when Kevin submits a book to his agent or to a publisher, they may be reading that version on their device so that they don’t have to cart a truckload of manuscripts with them through the subway on their way to New York. They can actually read them on the subway on the way in.

Kevin: And book reviewers much prefer e-galley’s now instead of like printed paper review copies that they go-they get a hundred a day. They don’t want to have them all sitting there. Then what do they do with them? They have them all just files, they pick the one they want to read. One of the things I was remembering from when I was a kid that we had some of the local neighbor ladies were big romance readers. Like the Harlequin readers.

John: My grandmother, oh my goodness.

Kevin: And anybody who knows a real Harlequin reader knows they go through a grocery bag full of those books a week. And I remember this lady used to every week she would bring a grocery bag of the paperbacks that she had read that week and would donate them to the library. And what I think e-books has done is taken over that market. The people that read in massive quantities. They’re not collectors, they don’t have a library big enough to hold all this stuff. They just want to read and go on to the next one.

John: They’re just consuming the story.

Mark: Those are our favorite customers. Those are our best customers. We actually call them silver foxes based on the demographics of the people and just how much they read, an average of three books a day for example.

Kevin: But one of the flip sides to that though the e-book readers, the Kindles, the Kobo’s, everything, all of those sales-30% of books sold in America or whatever the percentage is, that has really affected our traditional market, paperback market. The ones that people would just go to the grocery store and just walk away with an arm load of books. They now-getting a paperback book, the sales of paperback books have pretty much dropped. It’s kind of like the middle class vanishing. The mass market class is vanishing. Because the people who would buy a paperback book are not like the ones that want to keep it in their library forever. They want to grab something to read and read it on the airplane. So why carry a physical brick around with you when you can just load it onto your e-book? So that has been an unintended consequence of e-books, but it’s not necessarily a bad one.

Mark: No, because what we did find when we did some studies here in Canada is we looked at ironically folks who read e-books read three times as many books as they used to when they read print. So that’s a good thing. But ironically, they bought it was like 10% more books than they used to when they were only buying print. 10% more print books than they used to when they were only reading print books. And the reason that happens is you may read a book in e-book format and you’ve enjoyed it so much that we either buy a copy to have because we get a chance to get it signed by the author.

Or, and this is common because 70% of the industry is still reading print, I read this great new Chambal book by Kevin J. Anderson and I want to give it to my friend. But my friend doesn’t read e-books so I go and buy a Mass Market paperback version and I give him that.

John: I just did that recently with a book.

Kevin: I’m even worse. I started reading on my e-reader and we have a big library in our house. I started reading on my e-reader and I’d finish a book and I’d go, ‘Well it doesn’t count unless I have the trophy to put on my shelf.’ So I would actually go out and finish reading the e-book because it was more convenient when I was traveling. And then I’d buy the physical book just to stick it on my shelf so I could put it next to my other Robin Hood books for whatever. So I stopped doing that.

John: I can remember doing the same thing with movies. If I rented a movie and I liked it a lot I’d go out and get it on Blu-ray. Knowing that every bit of data that I would ever get, every format I get will be obsolete within 2-3 years.

Kevin: We just had a garage sale at our house. So we got rid of tons of paperback books, and DVD’s, and CD’s, and Blu-rays, and everything. It’s just this is our world and it is changing dramatically. And part of me is still a little bit stunned. Because like I said my first book was published in 1988. My first New York Times bestseller was 1992 or 1993. I had 50 something bestsellers, 140 books published. And all of a sudden, the last five years my entire industry that’s been around since Gutenberg, and I’m scrambling and changing and learning. And we’re going to have Dean Wesley Smith on as a guest whose very active in e-publishing. He owns his own publishing company. And he’ll talk all about the huge changes and advantages for authors. But for me I know a lot of my peers who’ve just thrown in the towel and gone to get day jobs at Home Depot. And I’m not. I’m a survivor.

John: You seem to be surviving pretty well.

Kevin: But Mark has been one of my mentors even just showing me tons and tons of stuff.

And we’ll kind of wrap up with this Mark. It’s a huge community of us indie authors who are all in the same boat sharing information helping each other out. And you yourself have been a major crusader in untold numbers of writer’s conferences including our Superstars Writing Conference here that I run. But you’ve helped create a real community. And there are other podcasts and it’s like a tribe of people who want to share. And Mark I appreciate all that you’re doing. You want to tell us how we can find you?

John: Well, hold on. I’ve got a quick question. A really important. This is important because I’m worried. Alright Mark, so if you find one of these, what do you call them? Silver foxes? And they’re spending more then let’s say 12 hours a day reading according to your statistics. Do you call 911 or something? Because like at some point you know, that seems you’ve got a duty to humanity to do that sort of thing. Anyway I’m just kidding.

Mark: That’s funny. No we say, ‘Hey these are good people, they’re reading a lot.’

John: No, no, they’re keeled over. Do you add a defibrillator to their-

Kevin: Emails, emails. Then they’ll see that the pages have stopped turning.

Mark: No, I think the joy of this new publishing industry is just how not only are writers and readers are able to connect in really good ways, but the community of writers is so supportive and so wonderfully willing to share. And I am enthusiastic that that sharing and that collaboration is going to help us take writing and publishing opportunities to an entirely new amazing level.

Kevin: And Mark, how do we find out about Kobo and KWL?

Mark: So you can go to kobowritinglife.com where you can see our articles about the craft and business of writing. We have a podcast there. You can follow us @kobowritinglife in various platforms. And myself I’m @MarkLeslie on Twitter, etcetera.

John: It looks like you also have a website, Markleslie.ca?

Mark: That’s right.

Kevin: And Mark is one of our instructors this coming February at the Superstars Writing Seminar.

John: I noticed that. I saw that on the website.

Kevin: Because we can’t get rid of him. He keeps coming back.

Mark: Can’t get rid of me.

John: He’s like one of those novella blogs, every week he’s there.

Kevin: Anyways, thanks for your time Mark and for your insights. And that wraps up our next podcast of Creative Futurism.

John: Thanks everyone. You can find me, John Best at creativefuturism.com. That’s where our blog is, that’s where all these podcasts will be, that’s where all the show notes will be. And if you’ve got comments, if you hated this please go on there and say you hated it. If you loved it, that’s good too. Yeah, if you hated it I’ll give you the email for that. But come check us out and go buy a Kobo I guess is what I’m going to say.

Kevin: I recommend it, thanks everybody.

Sep 26 2017

56mins

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Rank #10: My Life in Comics: A Day in the Life of a Super Editor - Creative Futurism

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Jake Thomas, Editor at Marvel Comics for projects including Avengers and Thor, speaks with John and Kevin about his journey to working with Marvel, and a day in the life of an editor.

Apr 04 2018

34mins

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