Life is too short to listen to a three-hour conversation between successful normal human Mark Zuckerberg and the farcically neutral Joe Rogan, so I’m taking a different tack: scrolling very fast through an extremely long transcript and picking nuggets more or less at random. Here’s what Zuckerberg thinks about various things.
(These quotes have been very lightly edited for clarity.)
Zuckerberg on symmetry
Part of what’s a little trippy about it is that in some ways, some of these experiences, I think, feel more realistic than for example having a Zoom call, right, where you can actually see the person’s face. Because I mean, the way that our memory works, it’s like, it’s very special. Right? So, you know, when I leave here today, I’ll remember that you were across from me, and there’s a symmetry, right, it’s like, you’re across from me. So that means I’m across from you. We have a shared memory of kind of the space, of the place.
I guess it doesn’t quite work because the headphones but normally, you know, if I, if you talk it’s coming from that direction, and spatial audio and kind of directional building a spatial model of things is how we make memories. So you take something like Zoom, and it just completely blows it up. Because now it’s every meeting that you have looks the same, right? There’s no symmetry, right? So if you’re in the top left of my, of my box, square, that doesn’t mean that I’m in the same place for you. So we actually we don’t have any kind of shared spatial sense of that.
While I appreciate Zuckerberg’s attempt at an aesthetic (in its broader sense) argument regarding the sympathetic nature of forming shared memories, I feel that the interactions he’s describing are actually highly asymmetric in real life, and Zoom in fact creates a sort of super-symmetry contained in the flat display that doesn’t reflect the differences we would feel. If you and I are in the same room, what we see and hear from each other is really quite different and we may remember it very differently.
It’s true that a shared VR environment would create more of a sense of space common to both participants, but I question whether that environment would be more conducive to memory than a video call. Certainly the environments available in Meta’s VR platforms are incredibly generic.
Zuckerberg on improving art
So in a world, in the future, where you know, a lot of the things that might be physical today, I mean, maybe these, this kind of art and sculptures and stuff that you have here. Maybe in the future, they’re not physical, maybe they’re just holograms, because you can change them really easily. Maybe over time, the sort of ratio of the amount of physical stuff that we interact with to digital stuff shifts and becomes more balanced, or something like that.
Whereas if historically, it was all physical and there was very little kind of information or digital overlay on top of it… I think it’s probably gonna be a lot healthier for us. Rather than consuming kind of all this additional context through this tiny little portal that we carry around on a phone, and you’re just kind of like looking at this and you’re missing the whole context. I think to have it be able to be overlaid and you know, have have kind of people be able to pop in and interact with them through it.
It’s telling that Zuckerberg thinks that the problem with art today is there’s not enough virtual context being overlaid directly on it, and holographic docents who offer you a guided virtual tour of the piece. Now, certainly anything that gets people to engage with art more is probably good, but you have to wonder whether the solution really is an augmented reality headset issued to you when you walk into the Louvre. Why physically go there, or anywhere, at all? I guess his entire company is an attempt to answer that question.
Zuckerberg on the evolution of social media
The holy grail is building something that can create a sense of human presence. Right? It’s like I’ve spent the last almost 20 years of my life building social software, you know, making it so that whatever limited computation you have, you can kind of share something about your experience. And it started off with primarily text, right, when I was in college, then we all got these smartphones and had cameras so that it became a lot of photos. Now the mobile networks are good enough that it’s starting to be a lot more video. And to me, this kind of like immersive experience is clearly going to be the next step.
The progression from text to image to video does certainly suggest that something more “immersive” would be the next step, but this fails to consider the fact that all three of these formats work perfectly fine with a phone type device and the only difference between them is essentially bitrate. It’s a quantitative progression, and Zuckerberg is proposing that we are on the verge of a fundamental qualitative change, one that disposes of everything people already value about the text, images and videos they engage with (as people have engaged with them for millennia) and substitutes an expensive, invasive and very unfamiliar new method. I don’t think it follows.
Zuckerberg on waking up
You wake up in the morning. Look at my phone to get like a million messages… It’s usually not good, right? I mean like, people reserve the good stuff to tell me in person, right? But it’s like, okay, what’s going on in the world that I need to kind of pay attention to that day, so it’s almost like, every day you wake up and you’re like, punched in the stomach and that’s like, okay, well, fuck.
I saw this quote singled out by someone earlier so it caught my eye. It’s relatable of course, even though most of us don’t run a company weathering PR crisis after PR crisis. What I wonder is, how does he wake up every morning feeling like he’s been punched, A) when he’s rich and can do literally anything, but B) when he runs a company that touches so many people and provides so much opportunity to improve that somehow. Year after year Facebook and other social platforms have magnified and generated controversy and extremism. You wake up every day and see the fruits of that, and your response is to reset yourself, not the system you created.
To be fair that may be what he’s thinking about while he “resets” by going “surfing or foiling” on his family ranch on Kaua’i. Around here foiling means smoking crack, but he probably means the sport.
Zuckerberg on angry platforms
One of the decisions that we’ve basically made is if someone makes if someone kind of gives an angry reaction, we actually don’t even count that in terms of whether to show it to someone else.
When I was making that decision internally, a bunch of teams were like, well, you know, there is a lot that’s wrong in the world, and people should be angry about that and stuff like that. That’s probably… that’s fair. But I’m not here to design a service that makes people angry.
Facebook has both promoted and profited from outrage and anger at a scale pretty much unprecedented in the history of the world. I feel like the horse has left the barn here and Zuckerberg is out here carefully oiling the pins on the lock.
Zuckerberg on debugging the brain
And then you can use AI techniques over time to be able to kind of extrapolate from what you’ve seen in very high resolution of the tissue that you’ve removed from the body to now being able to okay even though there’s like optical and physical limits of what you can see with a microscope in a body you can use all this data that’s been generated in AI to effectively be able to see different cells interacting, like no one has ever seen a synapse, you know, neuron, like fire, like, like what it looks like in the the synapse of a brain before, like in a living organism.
But I kind of think my engineering, my perspective on this is like, how are you going to debug a system or help solve it if you can’t like step through the code, right, like one line at a time and like, see everything that’s happening. If you want to really understand what’s going on in the brain, you need to see that, right?
This type of perspective is one of many valid but sort of non-overlapping magisteria when it comes to the question of how to understand the brain. Obviously psychologists and behavioralists focus on higher-level phenomena and don’t really care how many neurons of whatever type are involved. Others see action potentials and immediately interpret it as code, since they are essentially binary (though they ultimately form an analog system). That Zuckerberg would espouse this point of view was a foregone conclusion.
The idea that the brain’s operations are a form of code and must be rendered intelligible in order to be “debugged” isn’t necessarily harmful, though it is (like most mental models) kind of fundamentally reductive. But it has the potential for harm if, like so many do in tech, people prematurely assert that they have the system figured out. Some of the worst treatments and aborted intellectual approaches to intelligence, consciousness, and perception came from people with a little information and a big agenda.
Zuckerberg on his face
I mean… Obviously the Senate testimony is not exactly an environment that is set up to accentuate the humanity of the subject. I don’t know. If you’re up there for for six or seven hours, you’re gonna make some face that’s worth making a meme out of.
Fair, but we were watching and he was making that face pretty much the whole time.