Published May 2021 on YouTube

510: Rob Reid | Why the Future is a Good Kind of Scary

1. Introduction

Preparing for the Next Pandemic:Rob discusses the danger of preparing for the last pandemic instead of the next one. He warns that COVID-19 is not the last pandemic, and the next one will be very different.+
Genetic Engineering Risks:Rob discusses the potential risks of gene splicing and genetic engineering, including the creation of a superbug that could wipe out millions of people. However, he also touches on the potential benefits of synthetic biology.+

2. Pandemic Insights

Synthetic Biology Update:Rob shares his updated insights on synthetic biology and pandemic prevention, including his research on artificial pathogens and ways to prevent future pandemics. Jordan reflects on their previous conversation and how quickly their predictions became a reality with the COVID-19 pandemic.+
Pandemic Preparedness:Rob and Jordan discuss the importance of being prepared for pandemics, both natural and artificial, and how science fiction can help us think about the improbable. They also delve into the potential consequences of a maliciously designed virus and the need for pandemic preparedness to prevent future disasters.+
COVID and Other Deadly Diseases:Rob discusses the lethality of COVID compared to other diseases like SARS and H5N1 flu. He explains how COVID could have been far more contagious and worse on other vectors as well.+

3. Viral Evolution

Viral Evolution:Jordan and Rob discuss the evolutionary strategy of viruses, including COVID, and how they adapt to become less lethal but more infectious over time. They also touch on the pressure viruses face to become more infectious rather than deadly.+
Viruses and Evolution:Rob explains how viruses can misfire and burn out, and how a virus that misses the part of the script that says don't kill all your hosts could be scary. He emphasizes the need to take smart and sensible protective steps to prevent pandemics, which are easy to envision, execute, and afford.+
Pandemic Supply Chain:Jordan and Rob discuss the potential consequences of a more severe pandemic on supply chains and the workforce. They explore the possibility of power plants and other essential services being understaffed due to illness, and the impact this could have on our daily lives.+

4. Civilization in Peril

Teetering Civilization:Rob and Jordan discuss the potential collapse of society due to COVID and the fear that drives people to continue working despite the risks. They explore the consequences of a widespread shut down of essential services and the possibility of looting and chaos.+
Bioengineered Pandemics:Rob and Jordan discuss the possibility of a bioengineered pandemic and the risks associated with it. They highlight the potential for malevolent actors to deliberately release pathogens and the limitations of biosafety measures to prevent it. The conversation underscores the need for proactive measures to prevent future pandemics, especially those that could be manmade.+

5. Anthrax and Viruses

Anthrax Attacks:Rob shares his personal experience during the anthrax attacks that happened right after 9/11. He talks about how the anthrax spores came from a high-security US Army Lab, and how it made its way into the Senate Majority Leader's office.+
Deadly Viruses:Jordan and Rob discuss the potential dangers of deadly viruses, including anthrax, and how they can be accidentally leaked from labs or deliberately taken. They also explore the possibility of creating a super virus that could be used by terrorists or mass murderers, and how the death toll of these individuals is limited only by the weapons they have.+

6. Synthetic Biology's Warning

Synthetic Biology's Worst Case Scenario:Rob Reid warns that synthetic biology is an amoral technology that has the potential to be wielded by lone individuals and cause destruction beyond our imagination. He urges us to think about worst-case scenarios that could plausibly happen in the next 10-20 years and protect ourselves against them.+
Synthetic Biology's Rapid Advancement:Rob explains how synthetic biology is advancing rapidly, with high school students able to do things that would have been impossible for top scientists a few decades ago. He also discusses the rapidity with which synbio technology is improving, with DNA printing becoming easier and more widespread.+

7. Sponsors

Jordan and Jen Harbinger discuss the benefits of using Active Skin Repair, a non-toxic, all-natural skin repair product, and SimpliSafe, an award-winning home security system.+

8. Technological Progression

Technological Progression:Jordan and Rob discuss the incredible speed of technological progression and how it is important to understand that just because we don't use certain technologies every day, doesn't mean they aren't improving at the same rate. They also touch on the potential dangers of gene sequencing and how it could sneak up on society.+
Deadly Pathogens:Rob discusses the potential dangers of virologists creating deadly pathogens for research purposes and the risk of the genome being hacked and leaked to the public. He points out that even though the group of people who have access to this information is containable, the risk of it being leaked is still high. The examples of the 1918 flu virus and smallpox genome being posted online are given as evidence of this risk.+

9. Deadly Viruses

Creating Deadly Viruses:Rob Reid discusses the creation of horsepox, a virus similar in size and complexity to smallpox, and how this has shown that it is entirely possible for someone with the right tools and sophistication to create smallpox. The ability for people to do whatever they want with information is essentially unlimited.+
Gain of Function:Rob explains what Gain of Function research is and how it amplifies the lethality profile of a pathogen. He shares the most frightening example of H5N1 flu, which was made transmissible through the air by two independent research groups.+

10. Global Catastrophe

Gain of Function:Rob discusses the controversial practice of gain of function research, its potential risks, and the US government's involvement in regulating it. He also mentions the possibility of the Wuhan Institute of Virology practicing gain of function with coronavirus.+
The Origin of COVID:Rob and Jordan discuss the possibility of COVID originating from gain of function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the dangers of creating pathogens in labs. They also touch on the chilling idea of civilizations ending soon after developing advanced technology.+
Global Catastrophe:Rob Reid discusses the potential for global catastrophe and argues that synbio in the wrong hands is a much bigger risk than nuclear war due to the proliferation of the sheer number of people with red buttons. Jordan Harbinger adds that humanity's response to COVID-19 is not super promising for handling something worse in the future.+

11. Pandemic Preparedness

Preparing for the Next Pandemic:Rob emphasizes the importance of preparing for the next pandemic and not just the last one, drawing parallels to how nation-states always prepare for the last war. He warns against being too narrowly focused and instead advocates for building a broad-spectrum, robust, and agile anti-pandemic infrastructure.+
Artificial Threats:Rob Reid discusses the importance of recognizing and preparing for artificial threats, highlighting the effectiveness of common-sense security measures in reducing the likelihood of attacks. He draws parallels between the reduction of domestic hijackings in the US and the potential for similar measures to mitigate artificial threats.+
Synthetic Biology's Promise:Rob explains why it's impossible to ban synthetic biology and why it holds so much promise in the world of wellness, environmental degradation, and limiting animal suffering.+

12. Sponsors

Protecting Your Identity:Jordan and Jen discuss the importance of protecting your personal information from cybercriminals and identity theft. They recommend using LifeLock to detect potential threats and offer a dedicated restoration specialist if you become a victim. Skillshare is also introduced as an affordable way to learn new skills from home.+
Mental Health Awareness:Jordan Harbinger talks about the importance of destigmatizing therapy during Mental Health Awareness Month and how Better Help online therapy can help those struggling with relationships, sleep, anxiety, and stress. Listeners can get 10% off their first month of online therapy at

13. DNA Synthesis Infrastructure

DNA Synthesis Infrastructure:Rob Reid discusses the importance of creating a DNA synthesis infrastructure that prohibits the creation of anything that is deadly, unless the person who is creating that potentially deadly thing is extremely well-credentialed, well-known, well-trusted and is doing it for an exceptionally good reason. He also talks about the International Gene Synthesis Consortium and their common practices to prohibit the distribution of lethal DNA.+
Technology Migration:Rob explains how technology tends to migrate from the center to the edge, citing examples like family portraits and computing. He also discusses the need for regulated pathogen databases and the challenges of screening orders.+

14. Future Disease Control

DNA Printers and Lethal Pathogens:Rob discusses the potential dangers of DNA printers and the need for responsible regulation to prevent the creation of deadly pathogens. While the current best DNA synthesizer is made by a responsible IGSC member, it's important that all competitors and descendants follow the same protocol to ensure safety.+
Future of Disease Control:Rob Reid and Jordan Harbinger discuss the future of disease control and how technology will play a crucial role in it. They talk about the need for a NORAD-like system for diseases and the potential of LED-based UVC lights to disinfect entire rooms. They also discuss how the future generations will carry forward the capability of creating something from scratch and how the knowledge and equipment will eventually die out.+
Fighting COVID's Spread:Rob Reid discusses the effectiveness of our immune system in fighting off pathogens and the importance of detection in hardening our infrastructure against COVID-19. He also shares an interesting article about the early symptom of losing one's sense of smell and how it was regarded with skepticism by epidemiologists.+

15. COVID Data and Vaccines

COVID Search Data:Rob discusses the power of using search data to track COVID outbreaks and symptoms with researchers Seth and Bill. They explore the potential of creating a global monitoring system to detect outbreaks early and save lives.+
Printing Vaccines:Jordan and Rob discuss the potential of Synbio technology and BioXp to print vaccines at home or pharmacies, eliminating the need for large distribution centers and qualified personnel. Dan Gibson, the inventor of BioXp, envisions a future where vaccines can be printed in every home, making them easily accessible to everyone.+

16. Synthetic Biology Breakthroughs

Rob Reid discusses the potential of synthetic biology to revolutionize healthcare and other fields, while acknowledging the potential risks. The conversation highlights the importance of having a broad societal conversation about the topic.+

17. Outro

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