Dr Rachel Armstrong – Earth’s Bright Future

Dr. Rachel Armstrong, the co-director of AVATAR (Advanced Virtual and Technological Architectural Research), talks about her concept of “Living Architecture” and why she believes it can prevent the sinking of Venice, how she is designing an interstellar “worldship” with Project Persephone, and why her favourite place is in the laboratory.

BR: Welcome back London Real-ers, it’s been a crazy week here in the studio. We just dropped the Nic Gabriel Ayahuasca episode last week and the feedback has been tremendous. We’ve had messages from people all over the world that really identified with Nic’s very personal and very emotional description of his time down in the jungles of Peru. If you haven’t watched or listened to it you must check it out, we called it “Ayahuasca-My Heart of Darkness”; you can catch that iTunes or youtube. Some people are saying it’s the best account they’ve ever heard of someone’s Ayahuasca experience which is a lot to be said for sure. So please listen to that and give us your feedback as usual, just email us at [email protected] This week we have Dr. Rachel Armstrong she’s at the University of Greenwich and her specialty is living biology and architecture, and what she does is talks about buildings that aren’t just say carbon neutral but carbon negative and she’s into engineering systems that aren’t biological per se, but kind of nanotechnology that can help. For example, keep Venice from sinking into the lagoon, and she really thinks about projects that are about 50, 100 years out. A very intelligent lady and someone that we really need out there doing these kinds of research. She’s the first one to admit that her ideas won’t apply necessarily in the next 5 or 10 years, but she’s thinking you know a long time from now. The next 100 years, 200 years about what’s gonna happen so she’s excellent. And then three days later in this same very chair we have legendary body builder and six time Mr. Olympia winner, Britain’s own, Dorian Yates, and it’s just amazing this man sat down with us and talked about what it took to basically become the world’s best and keep that reign for six years and he’s very honest about the training he went to, about his steroid use, and also about being forced to retire, and how you can go from such highs to such lows and deal with that and he’s just a fascinating man and just when you thought it was going to be an interesting episode, he starts talking about how he drank Ayahuasca and his experiences with DMT, and he’s got a lot of really interesting things to say, and this is a really exceptional human being and a man with a lot of character, and something you can learn a lot about, and I’m also really privileged that we got to speak with the 50 year old Dorian as opposed to say, the 35 year old Dorian. I think the maturity really ah….he just brings a lot to the table. So that’s going on. Next week we got Tim Ferriss, I’m not gonna even talk about that, or I’ll be here all day. As usual, we are sponsored by Alpha Brian, if you want to check out some Alpha Brain, you can go on our website: londonreal.tv there’s a clickable link there you can go. If you do try some, let us know how you feel about it, I’m really enjoying it lately. If you want, just go to our facebook group London Realers and tell us if you’re feeling it or not, also we like from Onnit Labs, the Shroom Tech Sport with the Cordyceps mushrooms, a lot of great supplements there for cardio workout and or course the Hemp Force protein, it’s a different whey or non whey, protein whey of getting some protein in you, so check those out. Also we are sponsored by Audible which have great audio books. I am currently listening to Life of Pi; Mastery by Robert Greene, who was one of our guests and also I am still recommending Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography, so if you want a free copy of that and a 30 day trial you can go to audiblepodcast.com/londonreal and sign up for that. So without any further ado, here is Dr. Rachel Armstrong. If you enjoy this show and want to give us some feedback we’re on Twitter, we’re on

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BR: This is London Real, I am Brian Rose, back is Mr. Nic Gabriel and joining us today is Dr. Rachel Armstrong who is the co-director of AVATAR, love that name, which is the Advanced Virtual and Technological Architectural Research at the University of Greenwich here in London. She’s also a 2010 TED Senior TED fellow and I could go on and on and on but I won’t.

NG: Smartest woman in the world is I think is an appropriate moniker.

BR: Could be, you’re known for so many things but the one that always sticks out to me is this concept of living architecture, and I was wondering, I’m sure you hear this all the time, but if you could tell us a bit about that concept.

RA: I’m actually going to start by saying I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do when I was like 5 yrs. old and digging in the dirt backyard in my mom and dad’s house, and at the time it used to feel like the biggest garden in the whole wide world, you know and recently I’d been back there for Christmas and stuff and it’s just a tiny little square of grass you know with a little bit of crazy pave and I just remember that place being so big. But what was so fascinating at the time, you know I didn’t even know what a television set was, I wasn’t interested in those kinds of things. It was actually the activity in soil, I’d go into the garden it was like this magical world, and within a very small piece of land you could find centipedes and worms and ants and butterfly’s and grass and I was just absolutely fascinated with this and from a really really early age I just wanted to work with that creativity, and so essentially really what I’ve done over the years has been to build a pathway that enables me to do that as a living and essentially what I’m doing in terms of living architecture is literally tapping into the creative forces of the natural world as a, let’s call it a technology, as a direct technology, not as a mediated set of ideas of aesthetics or physical principles, but actually using the stuff that surrounds us to shape our environment. And, we’ve been doing that for a very very long time, but I wanted to take a direct approach as if we could stick our hands in the soil and actually see what the metabolic power, the chemical power that exists within the everyday stuff around us can actually do.

BR: You said we’ve been doing that for a long time, what’s the first example of humans doing that.

RA: Actually on phys.org today, which is a site that I dedicate my time to….

BR: What is it?

RA: Phys.org. Essentially it’s a physics and chemistry update site, and today they were describing the oldest civilization, 7,500 years old was actually gardening and bringing shells and seaweeds to actually create little crops, and it was a time before we historically think that people started to garden. So essentially as humans we have been manipulating our environment as long as documented history reveals.

BR: I guess animals have done that too as well right? But to a lesser extent. (7m 54 sec Video/Audio)

RA: Yeah, one of the guys I was talking to recently, his name is Ian, he’s a PhD student at Royal Holloway, he’s actually working with Howler monkeys, who design their own highways in the trees and they have a form of horticulture so he’s working with people on one of the islands in Nicaragua to work with the Howler monkeys to create a structure that is compatible both with human life, ‘cause the Howler monkeys don’t come down from the trees, and also with monkey life so it’s a symbiosis.

NG: Wow, if that isn’t a niche career, I don’t know what is right…that’s insane.

BR: And what are you most well-known for? What concept do people think of when they think of you?

RA: Well, I guess the Future Venice project is the one that has been on TED I guess, and that’s the idea that we could grow an artificial limestone reef underneath the city as a way of sustainably reclaiming it. It’s not supposed to be a total solution; essentially what it’s doing is creating a context for an environmental technology. It’s really a stage in which we can start talking about the potential of programical matter, something that we could probably call natural computing. Natural computing is a really neat idea, I think this is the alternative technology to machines and it was a term that was coined after Alan Turing’s interest in the computational power of the natural world. And essential it’s a whole set of unconventional computing practices that look at the ability of chemistry for example to make decisions and essentially you know, if chemistry can make decisions what kind of uses can we put that to. So Future Venice became a challenge as a way of thinking well, if we could actually give Venice the ability to fight in the struggle for survival itself, what could achieve?

BR: ‘Cause it’s sinking right?

RA: It’s sinking, it’s being drowned, you know there’s geolo…its complex. So there a number of different factors involved. And so if you think of any one particular solution, it obviously is going to cause knock on problems down the way. So essentially this is addressing one of the problems which is to literally take the stilettos off Venice ‘cause it stands on these wood piles.

BR: These wood piles are driven into the clay, and they build atop…this is Venice in Italy right by the Adriatic Sea.

RA: That’s right and if we take those stilettos off and put platform boots on, then it stops it from sinking so fast.

NG: Rachel, my main question for you today which is I’m sure one you’re asked many times is, you speak of nature having computational power, do you think that the systems we see in this computational power that we see denotes intelligence? Or do you think it’s all just a random…

RA: Oh, it’s a very interesting idea; I think that the idea of intelligence as being separate from matter is one of the things that happen when we think in terms of enlightenment thinking. In other words you think a Rene’ Descartes, he was a philosopher who described the physical world or the human body as being separate from an ephemeral substance, a soul, a mind, intelligence, anything that’s not material that we can’t measure, and so I think that this idea of matter possesses or does not possess this ephemeral thing comes from a traditional modernist enlightment way of thinking about the natural world. So in some ways it obviously depends on what you mean by intelligence but…and also there’s a (11m 38sec Video/Audio)

risk of anthropomorphizing because of the current way that we think about the world. So does matter think? Well, matter can make decisions. So, the droplets I work with, you put them in a dish and you add some chemicals and those droplets can make their way towards those chemicals, you know, it’s a very simple physical process. It’s now supposed to be a decision if it can make a decision between two different chemicals, but we’ve not demonstrated that there’s anything more sophisticated than a physical reflex. Although, you could answer, so I mean some determinists who…for example Neo-Darwinists essentially say that everything you do is a new genetic program. So there is no free will, so that in some ways, those people believe we don’t make any decisions anyway, so whether a droplet is making a decision about whether to move or not, also becomes philosophically quite problematic.

BR: These are protocell’s that you are talking about right?

RA: Yes, that’s right.

BR: Quickly could you describe what they do for people that don’t understand.

RA: Yeah, so the definition of protocell’s is controversial. So eminent scientists from Los Alamos have coined a term for protocell’s which is an artificial cell, in other words one that has a container, a metabolism and information and it can self-propagate. I don’t use protocell in that context. For me, ‘proto’ means like before or primary cell, obviously a cell. So I think of them as being the things that happen before we have a proper biological cell. And so these smart droplets, they’re not alive, ‘cause they don’t possess any DNA. They haven’t really got a centralized program that we tend to associate with biology or life. And yet, they have this general, natural computing ability that allows them to work in very life like ways, so they can move around their environment, they can sense it, they can work with other little droplets or protocell’s and they can even make substances. So you can actually get very complex interactions out of very simple things that are literally just made of oil water and alkalides. So you’ve really got about three or four different substances involved. They’re incredibly simple. They also don’t occur naturally, although it is said in the Origins of Life theories propose that these kinds of agents were around in the black vent-ers in the deep sea, in the abyss, and the intense heat complexifies molecules, and so it produces the fats and of course they also have alkali and so the fat and the alkali makes a kind of soap but this is essentially the molecular relationship that’s driving all this. Essentially they don’t need external energy like a machine does; they actually have an internal energy source which is their chemistry.

NG: Were these precursors to single cell organisms? or…

RA: I think scientifically we would never say that but essentially they are model system that start showing us just how dynamic and complex chemical interactions can be.

BR: You’re always specific to say that this does not have DNA and this is not biology, is that because that’s not your field? You just want to focus on something that’s not “living” or is that something that you’re open minded to if it can be a solution to  say saving Venice.

RA: Well I….I don’t…

NG: That’s a black balled question Brian… (15m 03sec Video/Audio)

RA: Well I don’t think we actually need it to be biological. So biology has a…we have a very particular and culturally and scientifically defined idea of what life is and so the ones that they’re using at Los Alamos for example is based on this Chemoton model, which is invented by a Hungarian called Tibor Ganti, essentially he said you need a metabolism, you need a container, and you need some information for it to be capable of being a life. And biology is actually much more complex than that, I mean that Chemoton model is really like the simplest possible set of rules that you can have to produce a living thing and biology is way way way more complex than that, it’s got DNA it’s got protein factories it’s got regulatory mechanisms, it can reproduce so…for something to be biological, I mean they’ve obviously advantages so things like being able to make more of itself is something that biology dose well. But in terms of a technology, do you really need something that’s that complex? Do you really want something that’s going to self-replicate or do you actually want…

BR: Or mutate.

RA: Or mutate. Or do you want actually something that’s simple enough for you to be able to guide its movement just by feeding it, by taking away some resources or adding more of the agents. So in some ways that these protocell’s exist between what we might think of being as synthetic biology, the design and engineering of things that are already alive and that we can shape through technology and actually exist between, you know there’s something like setting concrete. Setting concrete is fascinating, it’s like a chemical garden, until it sets and becomes a geometric block, it’s full of wriggling tubes that crawl over each other and knit together, it’s a fascinating…

NG: Wow, I didn’t know that.

BR: Concrete itself…

RA: Concrete is fascinating until it sets. The moment it sets it just turns into these identically packed crystals, but until that point it’s squirming around like worms, and so essentially these protocell’s exist somewhere in between squirming tubes and a biological system and much more towards the squirming tubes than the biology.

NG: That’s interesting.

BR: Wow, you know, people talk about carbon neutral all the time, carbon neutral, and I know you’ve talked about buildings being carbon negative, which is quite a crazy concept but your research is really popular these days ‘cause people want to hear these ideas. I would guess 30 yrs. ago it wouldn’t be as popular, and I was just wondering how your finding that people are relating to your research these days.

RA: I think with the whole environmental movement, so I think environmentalism gave us the sustainability and sustainability doesn’t really come from environmentalism, it comes from industry and I think the challenge that environmentalists have is that…you know if you look at the biggest advocates of sustainability, they’re not people who really care about plants and trees and grass and resource based economies. They’re industrialists.

NG: They’re people that want to keep the capitalist model turning with enough resources to fuel the machine. (18m 18sec Video/Audio)

RA: That’s right, so when you got big construction industries saying that they’re sustainable and when just about every advertising agency and every business model has the word “sustainability” somewhere in its first sentence then you start to realize what we’ve actually done is we’ve mechanized nature. So in other words we do the thing that Martin Heidegger hated, which is we turned nature into a standing resource, we turned it into a product that we can consume and by doing that we are just feeding an industrial machine. Now, we may be more efficient at the feeding; we may have developed some different aesthetics but we’re not changing the fundamental paradigm that’s underpinning human development. In other words….

BR: It’s a parasitic relationship with nature?

RA: Oh…we’re damaging it. In some ways a parasite has a great interest in not damaging its host. So essentially paradigms, even if were on the slow route rather than the fast route towards environmental destruction, sustainability still feeds into the modernist idea. So you know that the ideas that machines are less damaging to the environment, rather than they actually enrich qualities like fertility. You know, the soils in a city are incredibly poor; they have very few bacteria in them. If you dug something into the soil…say for exam…, when I was 5, I dug my dad’s…

BR: Back to the garden.

RA: ….master key’s down into the soil okay, and I believed I would come up with a key tree. My dad whooped my ass, and we never found the keys again, and I was disappointed, not to see a little tree growing with keys all over it. But I actually realized years later that I was actually right. Those keys would have been denatured by the soil, the organisms in the soil that had been eaten by my friends the worms, the beetles, and they would have been sucked up as salts by the grass. And some little germinating tree bean would have taken root, and is now probably the key tree that I was looking for. But if you did that in a city and dug a little hole, and put your keys in them, your dad would whoop your ass; you’d probably find them again, and they’d be very untouched because the soil is not very rich in bacteria, so we’ve actually reduced the fertility of the soil that we build our buildings on, and in some ways we’ve got a completely different value system. We’re just valuing geometry, horizontal geometry, not the creative power that’s a resource there that can say for example, transform our waste. You know that can produce green plants that will enrich the oxygen and fix dirty particles that are floating around in the atmosphere.

BR: When you say horizontal geometry, you mean like the rainforest is over here and this is over here?

RA: I mean that when we build a building, we value it in terms of its square footage.

BR: Okay…not the whole system…

RA: No, we’re not valuing it for the amount of sunlight hitting it or for its creative potential, other than in terms of a resource that we can sell as a square or geometry that we put a little concrete on and kill it.

(21m 37sec Video/Audio)

NG: You know Rachel I watched a movie the other day, Back to the Future 2, and I was really disappointed because we’ve reached the…I think it’s set in 2015 or maybe 2013 and we pretty much reached that era, and there’s no flying cars and there’s no hoverboards and a bunch of things that are depicted in there and I got to thinking, your work, it’s quite futuristic and you know the idea of a living building that can be carbon negative as Brian mentioned, or can repair itself or use these paradigms that are found in nature…how realistic is the first question, and secondly how far away are we from things like that. When will the day come where we’ll find these structures in our cities? And do you think they will ever come?

RA: These structures already exist. You know, for example in societies where there is a very fertile landscape so the living trees of Cherrapunji, you know the native people there knit…it’s a practice that’s handed down between generations. They knit together these rope bridges from living roots that can span galleys that are 30 meters across and when the monsoons come and there’s torrential water, the trees stay standing, whereas a mechanistic bridge wouldn’t. What needs to change, I think is the hardest thing I think is our mindset, you know we’re living in an urban condition, and the unmediated properties of biology are not suited to the lifestyle that we expect. Also, we’re very comfortable with machines, and we’re comfortable with them right now ‘cause we’re still not really suffering from the damage of a mono-culture of technology, and essentially that’s my beef. I don’t really have a fundamental problem with machines except that it’s the only thing that we can do and we really need to expand our technological skill set. So what do we need to do to do that? I think first of all we need to think differently. I think that these natural computers are a 21st century technology. For the last 300 years we’ve been developing a technology, one technology which is based on machines and we got a lot of species of them but essentially they all eat the same thing, they all eat the fossil fuels. They all work in a particular way and they all produce the same kinds of poisons, and that’s beginning to tell particularly as we’ve amplified the damage through industrial processes. So natural computing essentially requires first of all a different way of thinking and it requires a different infrastructure, but that’s interesting because it’s the same infrastructure that we share so let’s call them elemental infrastructures. So we need environment’s that are rich with water, air, heat and earth because those are the conditions in which chemistry and biology thrive. And then after these infrastructures then we need to start thinking about which systems we can program using those kinds of things. So for example, Future Venice works, because Venice is situated in water. If it didn’t have a watery infrastructure, if we did it in Vienna, it would be a different challenge all together, because we’d have to develop almost like a tree like water system to go through the building walls to try and capture water and then create a condition in which these droplets can start to deposit these materials. So there are a number of different things that we’d need to do in order to develop these technologies but I don’t think that we need to do it in huge expanses of city, and I think you could do it as details of buildings, you know…I think the algae technology is starting to talk about those kinds of environments. My concern with it is that we’ll be swallowed up as a soft component within machine thinking so that you just go and flog an Audi to death just because you’re looking at its….the efficiency of it producing the fuel, rather than actually engaging with it to do all kinds of different things, you know maybe like filter out the light rays during very bright times during the day, or maybe it could dance to the music on your iPod, because these are little particles that exist within water.

NG: Brian, as the resident capital industrialist, what are your thoughts?

(25m 58sec Video/Audio)

BR: I’m worried about Venice to be honest because I think Nic has a good point. I think these are fantastic ideas and I’m sure they have some practicality but in 50 years or 100 years Venice will be in worse shape, and also knowing the bureaucracy of the Italian government to allow them to touch such a sacred site, these are great ideas but will they ever be practiced?

RA: I think that has really to do with changing our mindset. So for example the Italian government have got the Moses Fates right now. The concern with the Moses gates, essentially I think of them as being giant robotic kink??, 78 of them to hold back the tide.

BR: This is a lot like the barrier on the Thames, that kind of theory?

RA: That’s right.

BR: It’s a plan to block off the lagoon when the flooding comes.

RA: That’s right; separate it from the Adriatic Sea.

BR: Which puts all sorts of bells and whistles off for environmentalists.

NG: You know there’s a, dude one of our guests mentioned this, there was some Dutch guy who had an alien encounter, and this alien race said that where they come from their religion is efficiency, and I was just thinking you would do very well on that planet, if you are not already from that planet because that’s nature right. Nature is the most efficient thing in the world.

RA: Well, I think efficiency is a very odd way to judge nature. Nature has a different set of principles. So I think the unique things that machines don’t do is…efficiency is a very mechanical way of thinking about the way that things work. I’d say robustness, flexibility, adaptability; you know qualities that really can’t measure very well. So for example the little droplets that I work with, you know you can give them all kinds of assaults and they’ll come back, they’ll reassemble and they are capable of surprising you. When these ecological technologies, when these natural computers reach tipping points, and we don’t understand the process because essentially what we’ve got is a system that works in parallel, but it’s coupled to its delivery system, but unlike say for example a computer which needs a translator for whatever computation is going on, to then turn it into a material thing, in a natural computer the information and the output are coupled. So essentially, you can see these droplets all of a sudden undergoing some kind of change, because they reached a tipping point in the system, and that’s something that we’ll need to study a lot more. But in terms of the practicality, I think it’s going to depend on 1) Peoples general value systems. I mean how important does the idea of working with environmental conditions…how does that come over the next century. How successful are the Moses gates going to be?

BR:  Can you talk more about the Moses gates and what’s going on?

RA: Yeah, so the ship opened in 2014, I meant that what I’ve heard.

BR: Oh…they’re building them?

(28m 46sec Video/Audio)

RA: Oh yeah, you can see the sights now. It looks like Fin McCool and Benandonner just had another great big fight. They’re the two Irish and Scottish giants that legend says had the big bust up over between the Irish Sea and Scotland and they created the Giants Causeway. So essentially it looks like these guys have been holidaying in Venice, and they have these great big constructions and great big machines and you are starting to see all these materials being deposited in lagoon. And they’re due for opening in 2014 and I think it’s going to actually be exciting and phenomenal, but obviously environmentally the idea of back-logging the outflow of the entire Po Delta, which is the river that feeds the region of Venice, is going to create some difficulties in the lagoon ecology. Now the lagoon ecology may be robust enough to survive that kind of assault or it may scream and we may see a lot of loss of ecological systems. And actually the marine wildlife around the Po Delta is actually very rich; Venice has a very rich marine ecology. It’s actually got its own species of nasty little mosquito, called the Tiger mosquito. If you ever come across one of those, run. They’ll get through your leather jacket. Horrible. They sneak up on you and sting you.

BR: I’ve never seen one of those….It’s kind of swampy over there. You mentioned resource based economy earlier and you know we’ve had Jacque Fresco sitting in that seat, and we had a good discussion about him and tons of our fans wanted to know what you think of the Venus project, because it doesn’t sound like its exactly what you are talking about, but they do build their structures to kind of interact with the environment. So what are your thoughts?

RA: I agree with the value system of a resource based economy. Essentially where I differ is that I wouldn’t use a modernist approach, and so essentially the Venus project in terms of its aesthetics and its dedication to mechanical technologies is essentially a modernist idea. And so the paradigm that I work with comes from ecological technologies, natural computing, it doesn’t really depend on machines, it’s actually much more about shaping the material environment that we’re in by actually using the computational power…the power of the soil, as the technology that creates the desired effects.

NG: Rachel, let’s say your ideas become generally accepted and say influence the next generation of architecture and city planning. How would you describe the ideal perfect city according to your views in 200 years’ time? What would it look like? How would it work?

RA: It wouldn’t be an aesthetic, but I imagine the idea of soft cities, in other words the city becomes a site for the production of soil which increases the fertility of the land. One of the big problems were going to have is the ability to feed people and if you think about the amount of waste that we produce within cities, you know, we’re just flushing it down into the oceans and creating all kinds of poisons, but what if our actual homes could produce a composting system within the walls? You wouldn’t have to see it; you wouldn’t have to live in it. And you know, we actually all make a product that is a kind of rich soil because we have our own bacteria and fungi that we never really see but they live alongside us, they’re doing their thing, they are producing heat from their metabolism so maybe they could be doing under floor heating. You’d control that by ventilating the air underneath the floor, so if you produced a lot of oxygen they’d produce a lot of heat. If you shut off the oxygen and let them simmer, then it reduces the heat. And the other thing is that if we can actually transform rather than just consume, we’re starting to become producers rather than consumers. So if every home is actually producing something, rather than just simply being a site of consumption, we’re actually starting to I guess reclaim a kind of economics and I don’t mean a centralized economics, I think again, you know in terms of technologies, I’d like to see a diversity of approaches. I’m not against machines, I’m not against modernism, I’m trying (33m 08sec Video/Audio)

to find an alternative paradigm that can help us solve problems in different ways where it’s appropriate. But I think a diversity of forms of economies, so that whether that’s a knowledge economy, whether it’s actually being able to actually produce things locally, so maybe somebody is developing a community garden and if you bring your soil along you got this opportunity to either grow plants or maybe it’s something that you can sell in other ways. But essentially the idea is to produce and also enriching the fertility of the planet. There’s a fantastic book if you’ve not read it, its William Bryant Logan’s Dirt. It sounds like it should be a really dull read but it’s absolutely fantastic. It poetry…

BR: Its similar type topics he’s talking about?

RA: He’s much more of a traditional environmentalist than I am. You know I really like my technology, it’s just a very particular kind, and I guess his technology is soil itself, and so he talks about the transformative properties of soil, I mean he actually comes up with quite a lot of biblical references. One is really beautiful one about the burning bush, and he’s asking why did God send a burning bush, and he comes to the conclusion that he’s telling him about metabolism, something that is burned but is not consumed by the burning.

NG: Or Moses was just really fucking high.

BR: Maybe…drink some Ayahuasca….You talk about technology and some of our fans asked you what you thought about the Singularity, which can be described in a lot of ways, but from what I understand, it’s kind of like us merging with technology I guess in the future. I was wondering if you could describe Singularity and how you feel about it?

RA: Yeah, I think Singularity is almost the logical conclusion of Cartesian thinking, so if you extract the soul and the ephemeral bit’s you’re left with a mechanical geometric thing…

BR: Of us you mean…

RA: …of us. Essentially it’s almost like a wish fulfillment and therefore the perfect body is effectively mechanical. So it was interesting when I saw Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near, the premier in London which was at the science museum and it was a very touching film but you can’t help going away the thinking that Ray Kurzweil has a vendetta against death. He’s very upset that his father passed away and you know the idea of becoming more machine like almost seems like an emotional defense against you know the decay of the flesh and so in some ways it’s a kind of denial of being made of biological matter so….

NG: God, how smart is this lady?…Wow…

RA: But, I think it’s just a model of a way of thinking that’s being literalized through the idea that we can upload our bodies, escape our soul somehow. I believe that material and the ephemeral are entangled; you know, you can’t extract one and leave the other. That’s the image of Frankenstein, that’s what Mary Shelly was saying. You can’t just take a soul out, stitch a body together, put a great big electrical current, you can call it mind, you can call it soul, whatever…charge it up enough it goes, we end up thinking like necromongers. You know we kill everything and then we think we are really great ‘cause we animate it again with a dirty great big charge of electricity. Woo…look at that, you know. But, you know these (36m 46sec Video/Audio)

metals that are around us, so Ruskin was really interested in how beautiful metals were before they were processed into pig iron and he talks about the greens and the browns that he sees in oxides and the landscape, and of course you know Ruskin’s not only a hopeless romantic, but you know he’s also very anti-industry but he has a point about the complexity of the structures that we then reduce through this mechanical process. And they think it’s very…we need to be aware of the actual philosophy that we’re subscribing to and so for me the Singularity is a kind of philosophy, it’s not really well critiqued. There aren’t people that are critiquing the Singularity in a very critical cultural way. It’s either something you believe in or don’t.

NG: The Singularity could be viewed in another way. You could say that instead of us fusing with technology at some point in the distant future, or technology become self-aware, which is another definition of it, we might actually fuse with nature again, or be able to incorporate our lifestyles and our cities back into the natural world, I mean that might be a nicer way to look at the Singularity.

RA: I think there are all kinds of different Singularities. Ray Kurzweil’s made a particular one very popular and essentially the Singularity is the idea…again you can’t…the actual idea of a Singularity comes from a Cartesian kind of way of thinking which is, it’s deterministic. In other words, because we see ourselves as geometry, we can describe ourselves mathematically. We call these mathematical principles, natural dull, we use those to predict a point in the future, and when we can’t see beyond that extrapolation, we say that’s a Singularity ‘cause we can’t…you know our calculation breaks down, therefore anything can happen. So the alternative of that is using systems theory, this is where mathematics starts to surprise you with paradoxes and things like that, and so essentially the element of surprise is inherent to your encounters; in some ways, there’s a fantastic physicist, I wish I had met him last he was alive Llya Prigogine, if you’ve not…

NG: Yes, chaos theory, yeah….

RA: So he says that time is actually a creative force, it’s not an elemental quality it’s actually a creative force that stops things from being reversible and it’s the irreversibility of things that actually is where creative opportunities lie, but, so there’s a downside in that…you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, the upside is that you are actually empowered because you can actually co-construct your future by bringing things together, you’re actually empowered to do that and it’s a creative process so that’s the tradeoff. So Singularity says these things are going to happen, they’re already fixed, it doesn’t matter what you do, it’s going to happen anyway. I prefer the other approach, coming from a different set of mathematics and a different view of what the future is but I really don’t believe in a future, I kind of believe in an unevenly distributed present, you know that you can re-appropriate resources and try and create opportunities that don’t exist in places because you have a desire to do something new. You may not know exactly what it is but actually attempting that impossible, attempting the unknown is actually a creative process, and again you know, I think it’s a different way of thinking for the 21st century science technology culture. And I think what we really need to do…find ways of sharing stories that are easy to understand about these things, because we’re really going to really need to believe in each other and to be able to deal with the unknown in this coming century. When we’ve got things like Katrina and Sandy and the Japanese tsunami, it’s you know, in a secular world how do we deal with that uncertainty because that’s not an easy thing.

(40m 48sec Video/Audio)

NG: There are certain individuals who believe from an environmental point of view that we have already crossed the Rubicon and that ecological disaster is immanent; we can’t reverse the process even if we wanted to. What are your thoughts on that?

RA: We’ve had a number of ecological disasters throughout the planet and again, Phys.org was identifying the oldest life forms existing about 3.5 billion years ago, that’s shark by Australia, I really want to go there and I’m going to make sure I wear…I think the rocks are actually very rough, so I’m going to make sure I wear flip flops when I do that, but so you know life has been extinguished many times and someone like Paul Davis who’s a physicist says that right at the origins of life, the meteor bombardment killed off life many, many, many times. Now eventually it gets to a threshold where the universe stopped bombarding the hell out of planet earth, and life has got this thing about it. It wants to survive. Now, so who was it…it was E.O. Wilson, right around the 1970’s is saying, you know we’re in the age of the 6th great extinction and bad news is it’s happening, the good news is 10 million years, it will be over. So what survives after 10 million years? Whether that’s something that is going to be calling itself human, and yet may superficially look very different from ourselves today, or whether humans are no longer there…I’m not fatalistic about it, I just think we are in a period of change. We need to deal with it, I don’t think we can stop it from happening, and that’s why I think that we need a variety of strategies not just the same old thinking processes and the same technologies to keep on flogging a planet that’s really suffering at the moment.

BR: Do you think we should get over our own extinction possibility? Let it go, Nic.

RA: I mean I want us to survive too, and I think also there’s a forced dichotomy between environmentalism and humanism. I think if you do get a collapse of technology with nature where the two things are very similar, then the human interest and the planetary interest are very much entangled, so I think at the moment they’re different sets of politics, but again, I’d like to see ideas working together with ideas of new technologies that are inherently, I guess the word I’m using is fertile, you know, we want stuff that’s life promoting, we want stuff that’s regenerative, and we need stuff like soil to reclaim some of the, I guess the scattering of resources that we’ve…and the kind of negative transformations that we’ve made over the last certainly 150 years.

BR: That’s nice. I like to hear this optimism. We’ve had a lot of doom and gloom people here so…I call it optimism. Speaking of optimism, if you look out to the next 10 years or 20 years, what are you optimistic about? And what concerns you? Yeah…just that simply.

RA: I think the thing that concerns me most is people…the hardest thing to do is to change the way that we think. The optimism I have is in the kids and I don’t mean that flippantly, you know I’ve been working with some young folks over the internet, with a couple of young American boys…

BR: Is this 20’s or teens? They get younger every year.

RA: Teens, they’re fantastic, and the thing is you know we get these questions, you are sitting on a panel and says “How are we gonna do this change?”, and I think you know our peer group is over and we’re going to still do the same things, and we’re not going to change even if we have a massive great disaster, we’re still going to do the same things, because that’s what we know but what we will get are the next generations that are going to go “Oh my god, you are going to have a crazy value system, your (44m 56sec Video/Audio)

technologies suck, and we’re going to do things differently”. We are not going to live in an age of austerity, hang it; we’re actually going to reclaim our lives. I think the patronizing lines that are being sold to young people by well-meaning politicians and environmentalists; they got to stop almost breathing before they can deserve a future. I think that’s what’s really going to really ignite change. You know young people today have to live a life and it needs to be enriched, it needs to be creative, and it needs to be fulfilling and they need to believe in it, and I don’t think they can believe in this system, particularly as we’re so reluctant to really change anything about it. Currently, right now the biggest thing the governments thinking (is) “We’ve got to save business”. It’s like, all of our cities, the future of our cities has been handed over to god damned business, I mean IBM’s smarter planet; Hewlett-Packard’s notion of an internet of things? Where’s the visionary thinking? Where’s the leadership that’s coming from government? If we are going to hand over the future of the planet to business, we are definitely doomed. And I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way because obviously business are a particular kind of thing and they need to make money, but I think that we really need to find different ways of imagining and developing futures for ourselves and one of things I’m doing…I tend to engage in impossible projects, projects that right now seem like a crazy idea and we’re never going to do it. In some ways the projects that I’m working on, I’ll probably not live to see whether I was right or wrong so that’s fine by me but I’m interested in the adventure and so other than the Future Venice project, you know like you say, it is going to be a challenge, it’s going to depend on an awful lot of contingencies, you know what the people of Italy think, whether or not the Moses Gates are a big success, whether or not Tea tinea tele, who’s an Italian group of researchers that are thinking of re-inflating Venice’s aquifers to raise the city anthropogenically over a period of 10 years. If that happens they’ll probably need the protocell technology because actually it could coat the wooden posts and stop them rotting when they’re exposed to the air and that would be a big problem if that goes ahead. So there are a lot of contingencies, I don’t think it’s a complete – No, this is never gonna happen – and I don’t think it’s – Oh yeah, it’s definitely going to happen – but essentially it’s a resource. So the other project that I’m working on is called Persephone, and this is part of the Icarus Interstellar Groups work with the DARPA funded 100 year Starship Project. Now that it…

BR: That’s a mouthful…what is that?

NG: I’m so glad I’m sober.

RA: So that is an initiative to construct a crewed interstellar ship in 100 years and so Persephone is…

NG: Is there such a thing as a crude (sic) Interstellar Starship?

RA: Yeah crewed, c-r-e-w-e-d.

BR: Crewed…oh…manned or woman-ed

RA: …within 100 years, so Persephone is about designing a natural computer, in other words another form of nature to support the interstellar crew in the 100 year Starship Project.

BR: ‘Cause they couldn’t bring supplies with them, they’d have to be something to…

(48m 27sec Video/Audio)

RA: Well essentially you would need something that would respond to the changes within…essentially it’s a biosphere, but learning lessons from things like Biosphere II, which pretty much got swallowed by cockroaches and internal difficulties…

NG: This was in Arizona?

RA: That’s right, yes. So just trying to rethink a strategy where upon everything is recycled and not trying to work with say for example, plants, but actually what could we actually grow from the chemical components. How do we start thinking about that? What types of infrastructures do we need? What are the conditions under which such things may be possible? Again, you know, I don’t know how we’re going to do it but working with an incredible group of technologists, some of whom work with natural computing, so they work with chemical computing, they work with slime molds, they work with algae, you know they work with traditional engineering technologies but essentially it’s a mash up and it’s a kind of black sky thinking, thinking beyond what the market actually wants and thinking about what can be possible if we stretch our imaginations, and actually just start to play with ideas and have fun about it. I think one of the problems with the way research is funded and the way new ideas come about tend to be a pot of money, like X Prize money, that you have to design a spacecraft that does these particular things. Everybody goes running for a very particular kind of output and so the output’s already set before you engage in the adventure, and so I guess what I like to do in places like Persephone is to bring people together who are very exciting in terms of the way that they think. So it’s designers as well as technologists so we have people like Koert Van Mensvoort who works with something called NextNature, a Dutch…he’s got crazy ideas, I love the Dutch, so you know those kids of ideas brought together with technologists who are wondering what the hell to do with these incredible strange computers. Put them all together in a room and something happens; you might not know exactly what it is, you’ve got a few principles that you want to test out and essentially those kinds of innovation forums, I don’t like the word innovation, they are…it’s just having fun really with ideas and making stuff.

BR: Big ideas. So you like the big ideas. The one that you’ll never actually see realized.

RA: Maybe. Maybe I will see them realized, and the thing is I take it seriously, because I think it’s serious. But that doesn’t stop me really enjoying what I want to do because, like I say, I’m doing what I wanted to do when I’m 5.

BR: What’s a typical week for you? That’s what I want to know.  I mean I can’t tell if you’re in the lab or if you’re not, or if you’re at a TED talk, because let’s be honest, I think you talking is probably just as important as you researching it.

RA: So one of the most important things I do is actually build teams of people that can work together and it’s really important to get the right kind of person and build proper relationships with people, not just say – I’ve got money here and you’ll do this – but actually get people excited about trying new ideas and in some ways create an environment where people can play without losing reputations because it’s an experiment. All of these things are experiments; we don’t know what the outcomes are. We produce pictures and models and tell stories; have ideas, and do it again. And so, essentially community building is a big thing, I’ll spend a good part of my week making sure that I’m communicating, writing, raising money for things and just making sure that everybody’s still on board and understand where we are at certain points in different projects. And another part of the week I’ll spend teaching, so I have students (52m 21sec Video/Audio)

at the School of Architecture, Design and Construction at the University of Greenwich, and I really enjoy that because again the projects that we ask the students to engage in are all the philosophy of architecture, you know so we ask them to go beyond the production of a geometric shape and its procurement and actually start thinking about other ideas to do with the kinds of materials that you would use, the kinds of experiences that you would have, you know the kinds of clients, you might be interested in these kinds of things. So you get engagement with poetry like “Keats in Venice” or giant cathedrals that play with light, and astrophysics. These kinds of ideas become embodied in the projects simply because we want to equip the students with the tools for thinking when they come across something new in their practice. Okay, it may seem indulgent from the outside world, in a way you’re doing these extreme thought experiments, but essentially if you don’t train the thought muscles, you come across a project and you simply won’t know how to deal with it, one. And secondly, you won’t really use new technologies appropriately, in particular for young architects, if Moore’s Law stays true and we have these exponential increases in the power of mechanical technologies and digital technologies, then how do they start to understand what this actually means for their practice so that’s why we do that, and then the rest of my week I’ll probably spend writing and I’ll take about 3 or 4 periods a year of 2 -3 weeks working in a lab in Denmark with my chemistry supervisor and Martin Hanczyc who designed a lot of these droplet systems or going to do field work in Venice working along the canals and documenting the actual mineralization that’s going on in the canals there. So if you actually walk along the canals, you’ll actually see that the biology is already doing this process and so the idea for the droplets for the protocell’s is that they coordinate with the marine environment, so they co-construct an architecture that is relevant to the organisms and the city inhabitants. So, yeah, it’s varied.

BR: So you like your lab work and your field work?

RA: I love it. I love the hands on, I start starving for the hands on when I do too much.

BR: That’s good. That gives you street cred…doesn’t it?

RA: I think’s it’s where you actually, you delve into a different world, I mean I completely lose myself in experiments. You will not see me whilst I’m on the microscope at the University of Southern Denmark, I’m sure I choose a lot of people in the lab, ‘cause I’m there, I’m camped up, and I’ll be there until 4 o’clock  in the morning, I’ll be back at 8 o’clock in the morning. It doesn’t matter whether there’s been a snow storm with 1.5 meters of snow outside, I’m back.

BR: You want to see what’s growing?

RA: God yeah.

BR: That’s awesome. I don’t know what to say much more there. Ummm, while we hit these organizations, the last I wanted to ask, people wanted to ask what you thought of the Zeitgeist Movement. I know when you first got here, we were talking about movements, and now you like and dislike the whole concept of a movement, and so I just wonder what your thoughts are.

RA: I mean I guess I’m somebody who’s…I like free independent thinking and for me, the thing I resist is dogmas. So whether that’s a scientific dogma that says that the creative opportunities and the incorporation of arts into the development of technology is a nonsense because it doesn’t fit there and (56m 10sec Video/Audio)

pre-constructed ideas about the world, so whether that’s a scientific environment or whether it’s even an environmental movement that says things can only be done one way. I’m up for everybody’s creative empowerment and I’m as willing as anybody to join in with a good idea. In our sessions where we get excited about materials and strange things going on, if somebody has a great idea, we’re all in. And so it’s about pursuing things that you have a shared common interest and I think you need to be very flexible about what a good idea is and not just stick to a pre-prescribed pathway, ‘cause I think that’s when you start losing touch with actually what is going on around you.

BR: So when you identify yourself…I’m a Zeitgeister, do you think you shut down yourself from other ideas?

RA: If it allows you to think beyond a certai…if it means that you’ve have a certain set of principles that are very flexible and can respond to changing sets of circumstances, then everybody has a kind of internal set of principles, whether it’s your ethics and morals or cultural conditions. Everybody has a set of rules but they really need to be flexible and if they’re not flexible they constrain and damage a way of thinking and we end up with all kinds of obstacles that aren’t really necessary.

NG: It seems to me Brian that a large part of Rachel’s success is cultivating open-mindedness, and I think that’s something that…I know you and I are trying to do. I don’t know how well we are succeeding but I know we’re really trying to do that. It’s really nice to see that, you’ve mentioned and referenced it so many times in this discussion. It’s like…

BR: I think she might have a point about our generation, depending on how old you are at this table, that maybe to a certain extent we aren’t capable of making change in our minds because we’ve been flooded all of our lives with all this information. It’s hard for us to conceive new ideas and maybe it is the ah…as Whitney Houston would say “I believe the children are our future”.

NG: You should sing more on the show, it’s amazing.

BR: But, maybe it will change.  We’ll need that younger generation to step up just as we said to our older generation and said “What are you doing? You guys are acting like idiots, stop doing this stuff.”

RA:  I think one of the things, we’re afraid, we’re afraid of what we are going to lose. As you get older, there are all these things that you cling to, which either give you status, they give you security, they give you some kind of social recognition, and you think – I’ve got here by doing these particular things and oh my god, and now I’m going to do something completely different – That’s not an easy thing to do.

NG: ??????? comes back like on a hippie spiritual level, it’s the subjugation of the ego, right? It’s like being able to identify what, why you are holding on to things. A lot of people can’t even do that.

RA: Again, I think that’s what the 21st century kids are going to be doing because there is no job security, there is no job for life. There are no deterministic pathways anymore. Survival will all depend on your flexibility, not just in terms of your physical ability to survive in environment, but also to think differently. Technologies are going to change all the time. The environment is going to change even faster, and how to stay optimistic, and optimism really is the most important thing because it means that you are setting yourself goals and you are going for it. If someone said “Asteroid heading the way to (59m 50sec Video/Audio)

Earth”, I’d be going “Right! Let’s build Persephone”, and we’d be in the workshop. Who knows whether the asteroid would hit or not but I’ll be building a spaceship.

NG: Have you seen Armageddon with Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck?

BR: No. I don’t want to go there.

NG: It’s crappy.

BR: It’s actually interesting, you talk about the austerity, and maybe the austerity is something that is going to facilitate this whole younger generation. Maybe it will be a benefit in getting them to think out of the box, because no longer are these set pathways on how you do everything.

RA: I must say that I’ve been curiously surprised how unrebelious the late teens early twenties are. They seem to all have businesses by the time they’re 13. Incredibly responsible, dress sense is immaculate; you know they could be on any Hollywood show and…

NG: They sound kind of boring.

RA: But when I was a kid it was punks and we looked dreadful, we came back home and our parents went “Oh my God!”

BR: So you are worried it’s a bit too…

RA: In some ways I’m kind of trying to figure out where conformism comes from, ‘cause I feel there’s a degree of conformism. But maybe…

BR: Too much? RA: Yeah, yeah.

BR: You might have a point.

NG: You know who would get on like a house on fire with Rachel, is Myles Dyer.

BR: Yeah, that’s true. You know, we’ve been lucky to have 20 something’s come on this show with huge visions and it strikes me; I’m like, when I was 25 I was doing dumb shit and I was never thinking about giving back. That never even came in to my mind until the 30’s and so yeah, I’m continually impressed and optimistic.

RA: Well again, I’m hoping that this is a reaction to the incredible conformism and I guess stability that was there late 80’s, all through the 90’s, and maybe you know…the guy I was talking to you about the Howler monkeys and the co-creation of architectures…I mean, he’s 22. So I’m really excited about what the future holds.

BR: I can tell. (1h 1m 55sec Video/Audio)

NG: I am too after this conversation.

BR: It’s nice because we get a lot of doom and gloom and a lot of we’re doing the wrong things and big business is crushing us and it’s nice that you can see it even from a big picture, like the species had been crushed before and it might be a new iteration for the future. I’m positive about that. I have to ask you one other thing because you talk about nature and obviously a lot of what you do, is getting your mind to different levels and it’s something we talk about on his show, but where do you think, if you do at all, that psychedelics come into any play with the human experience, with creativity, with any of this stuff, or is this a taboo if you are someone in academia.

RA: It’s not something that I’m experienced with, let’s put it that way. But I understand the doors of perception and I saw Timothy Leary speak once at the ICA…

NG: No way.

RA: Yeah, and he had a collection of disciples that was a theatre deep around him. I think by that time he was kind of old.

BR: It’s interesting because we’ve had Simon Powell on here who’s the author of the Psilocybin Solution, we’ve had Graham Hancock who talks a lot about his Ayahuasca experiences, I think both of them work with you on Earth 2.0 and when they went down to the Venus project, and even a little mention of the whole possibility of psychedelics had Jacque and the crew just shut down completely.

NG: Because they were restricted by their own dogmas.

BR: I don’t know, that’s what I want to know. Do you think some of these things are restrictive by their own dogmas?

RA:  So are you talking about….do chemicals change perception? I think…

NG: I mean we know that. We know they do but…

BR: is there a place for them? Do you think in this whole path there we’re talking about, or is that a completely different issue on your mind?

RA: I think in some ways it’s a different issue. It’s not something that I would personally do, but I think people reach creativity in many different ways, and I would not be prescriptive one way or the other. If it’s something that works for people and you know obviously many creatives have experimented with mind altering substances.

BR: I don’t think you need it by any means. It’s interesting because when it comes to Ayahuasca and psilocybin, they all seem to give the user, when they use these medicines, this real in touch sense with nature and the environment and it almost seems, and since these are all naturally occurring substances. It almost seems like this feedback loop.

(1h 4m 21sec Video/Audio)

RA: Yeah, but there are also lots of naturally occurring poisons as well, so the idea that things are naturally occurring isn’t necessarily…an endorsement.

BR: I see your point there, but I guess these things do for some reason tend to remind humans of a lot of the things…

NG: I’d be terrified to see what would happen to/if Rachel took Ayahuasca. I mean she would probably take over the world.

BR: I don’t even know what that means. I just got a couple questions Rachel, and we’ll wrap up. If you could make a phone call to the 22 year old Rachel Armstrong, what advice would you give her?

RA: Just keep on going. Keep believing in yourself.

NG: That’s a common one.

BR: That is a common on, and you kind of said it earlier, what advice do you have to people now listening to this in their teens or in their early 20’s, that are thinking about going into academia or not; don’t know what to do with their lives, what would you say to them?

RA: Just enjoy the journey of discovery, nothing is fixed, you can change everything.

NG: That’s awesome.

BR: It’s sounds also like you just…not even think outside of the box but it sounds like you are encouraging people to just completely…

RA: Immerse yourself in something that you really care about, and get really good at it. There is no spare time.

BR: Wow, that’s good advice. How do people get a hold of you?

RA: Uhh…twitter @LivingArchitect

BR: Living architect…and what is your history with TED? Will you be giving more talks for TED? TED seems to love you.

RA: I love TED.

BR: How is that relationship formed? How many TED talks have you given?

RA: I’ve given four officially, only one is online.

NG: Only the one’s online.

(1h 6m 05sec Video/Audio)

RA: Then two of them were three minute talks on main stage and one was at the TED ???? recently which was about the metaphysical chicken, about how would we design a chicken.

BR: Wow, and what’s up for you this year and next year?

RA: This year I’m going to be talking at LIFT.

BR: What’s that?

RA: LIFT is a technology conference in Geneva which is in February, and finishing my PhD thesis, which should be number one thing.

BR: So right now are you a physical doctor?

RA: I am a medical doctor.

BR: Medical doctor.

NG: Oh wow, I didn’t even know that.

BR: You know in her spare time. And so now you want to get a PhD?

RA: And my thesis will be in architecture.

BR: Okay, in architecture.

RA: So I also hope this year to develop a couple ideas about icological human, about the infrastructure, the philosophy of people in the 21st century that are not based on machines but are based on these ecologies of dynamic chemistry. So essentially, we’re our bacteria, we’re our environment, a plant is as much of our breathing system as our lungs are. So how do we actually start to imagine that, and what does that mean then? How do we then think about ourselves and our world if our body changes the way that it relates to the environment and the way we think about it?

BR: It’s interesting, it seems to me that Rachel thinks about things because so many people that invent things are like – okay we got to build something that does this, we got to build something that does this – and with you it’s almost like you’re tying one hand behind the back because you can’t build anything, you kind of have to simulate an environment and let it kind of build itself.

RA: Yes, and I think the first thing to build is 1) the integrity of the ideas, so what happens is…I think for me storytelling, using these different ideas is really key, and then that binds a community, and really for me, I’m interested in people in their teens and twenties. People my age, you know they’re doing their thing. I’m happy with it.

BR: You’re just over them. Over the hill.

(1h 8m 17 sec Video/Audio)

RA: But to be, to actually try and equip young people with tool set for thinking as an alternative strategy I want to see what happens with that; I’d like to see how they run with that. But to actually develop a very clear set of ideas and tools and possibilities and literally open up the future, not just bring it down to this set of austere conditions that are just going to involve more machines.

BR: Wow, what do you do for fun?

RA: This is fun.

BR: Enough said. I don’t know what else to say. Thank you so much for coming in, you really…I felt like we were all on some kind of…what’s the name of that ship going out to outer space?

RA: Oh, the 100 year starship.

BR: Yeah, I felt we were all on a starship.

NG: Honestly Rachel, you are without question the most intelligent woman I’ve ever interacted with.

BR: What happened to person? Why do you have to qualify it that way?

NG: That was absolutely phenomenal. I feel like I’m a slightly smarter or slightly less stupid monkey after having spent an hour chatting to you.

RA: Oh, we’ve got to introduce you to some Howler monkeys.

BR: I don’t know if that was the best back handed compliment…I’m not sure. No that was awesome. Thanks so much for coming on. I get a much better feel of you with an hour. I mean it’s great to see you on TED, but it’s only 7 minutes or 9 minutes or 3 minutes, it’s hard so thank you so much. Everyone is going to love this.

NG: Thank you so much.

RA: Thank you. It was a huge amount of fun.

BR: Alright, well until then…

NG: …it’s about the journey.

BR: Alright thank you both.

//LONDON OUTRO MUSIC// Transcribed by: ghost_runner


compiled by @zander-bylund.

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