What We Discuss with Rob Reid:
- While COVID-19 has been devastating on a global scale, it’s comparatively benign when we consider how bad it could have been with a deadlier, more transmissible virus and a decimated infrastructure without access to basic necessities.
- What gain of function research is, and why it’s so dangerous in a world where even the most secure laboratories can leak pathogens into the general population.
- The death toll inflicted by society’s suicidal mass murderers is limited only by the weapons they have available — whether they’re guns, knives, airplanes, or synthetically manufactured superviruses created by soon-to-be commonplace genetic manipulation technology.
- The steps we can take as an international community to fend off the malevolent efforts of a few bad actors by creating an infrastructure that can detect and prevent the spread of any potential future pandemic.
- How DNA printers with the ability to create pandemic-defying vaccines on demand may become as common in the home as smoke alarms.
- And much more…
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider including your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
The miraculously assembled round of vaccines protecting us against COVID-19 finally provides us with a beacon of bright light at the end of this seemingly endless pandemic’s tunnel. But there’s nothing saying we can’t suffer from another pandemic somewhere down the line. In fact, history and science tell us we definitely will. Whether such a pandemic occurs naturally or is orchestrated by agents with a sinister agenda remains to be seen, but the technology that makes human manipulation of pathogens on a genetic level possible becomes increasingly accessible to the general public every year.
On this episode, After On‘s Rob Reid rejoins us to discuss the lessons we’ve learned over a year of quarantines, masks, social distancing, and lockdowns — and imagine a future where both viruses and their vaccines will be printable on demand and why that’s a good kind of scary. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Thanks, Rob Reid!
If you enjoyed this session with Rob Reid, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- Engineering the Apocalypse with Rob Reid | Making Sense Podcast Special Episode
- Rob Reid | Synthetic Biology for Medicine and Murder | Jordan Harbinger
- Mary Lou Jepsen & Rob Reid | The Future of Telepathy and Affordable Healthcare | Jordan Harbinger
- Rob Reid: How Synthetic Biology Could Wipe Out Humanity — And How We Can Stop It | TED 2019
- After On: A Novel of Silicon Valley by Rob Reid | Amazon
- After On Podcast
- Rob Reid | Website
- Rob Reid | Facebook
- Rob Reid | Twitter
- Just How Contagious Is COVID-19? This Chart Puts It in Perspective. | Popular Science
- Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live by Nicholas A. Christakis
- Why Do We Anthropomorphize? | PsychCentral
- 5G Doesn’t Cause COVID-19, but the Rumor It Does Spread Like a Virus | Rafik Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering
- John Wick | Prime Video
- Facing Down the World’s Deadliest Pathogens in a BSL4 Lab | Scientific American
- Faulty Pipe Blamed for UK Foot and Mouth Outbreak | New Scientist
- Timeline: How the Anthrax Terror Unfolded | NPR
- Our Ancestors May Have Spread Anthrax All around the World | BBC Earth
- FBI Finds No Motive In Las Vegas Shooting, Closes Investigation | NPR
- Germanwings Plane Crash’s Terrifying Final Moments | ABC News
- Knife Attack at Chinese School Wounds 22 Children | CNN
- DNA Printer for Gene Production | NOVO Engineering
- The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Foundation
- National Human Genome Research Institute Home | NHGRI
- History of Video Calls: From Fantasy to Flops to Facetime | PC World Australia
- Ray Kurzweil Calls for 1918 Flu Genome to Be ‘Un-Published’ | Ray Kurzweil
- How Canadian Researchers Reconstituted an Extinct Poxvirus for $100,000 Using Mail-Order DNA | Science
- Use of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza A(H5N1) Gain-Of-Function Studies for Molecular-Based Surveillance and Pandemic Preparedness | mBio
- Gain of Function Research | Office of Science Policy
- Dual Use Research of Concern and Bird Flu: Questions & Answers | CDC
- Theory That COVID Came from a Chinese Lab Takes On New Life in Wake of WHO Report | NPR
- Fermi Paradox: Where Are the Aliens? | Space
- Drake Equation: Estimating the Odds of Finding E.T. | Space
- The Maginot Line: 11 Fascinating Facts About France’s Ill-Fated Fortifications | Military History Now
- The US Once Had More than 130 Hijackings in 4 Years. Here’s Why They Finally Stopped. | Vox
- Twist Bioscience
- The International Gene Synthesis Consortium (IGSC)
- BioXp System | Codex DNA
- Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz | Amazon
- Opinion: Google Searches Can Help Us Find Emerging Covid-19 Outbreaks | The New York Times
- Detecting Pandemics from Internet Traffic | Seth Stephens-Davidowitz | After On
- Tracking COVID-19 Using Online Search | NPJ Digital Medicine
- A Vaccine Printer at Your Local Drugstore? We Are Making It Happen. | Codex DNA
- Dan Gibson: How to Build Synthetic DNA and Send It across the Internet | TED 2018
- UPSIDE Foods
- Wargames | Prime Video
- Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb | Prime Video
- Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy | Amazon
- Faith, Fanaticism, and Fear: Aum Shinrikyo — The Birth and Death of a Terrorist Organization | US Office of Justice
Rob Reid | Why the Future is a Good Kind of Scary (Episode 510)
Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:02] Rob Reid: You find they're always fighting the last war, preparing for the last war. Like the French, you know, right before World War II, who had built walls and trenches and so forth that were very well envisioned for trench warfare, which was what World War I was. But World War II was mechanized. So they didn't envision tanks. They didn't envisage panzer units, you know, Blitzkrieg, Maginot Line. My worry is that we're going to come out of COVID preparing for the last pandemic rather than the next pandemic. And all we know about the next pandemic is two things, A, it's coming for sure, at some point, and B, it's going to be very different from COVID.
[00:00:44] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with people at the top of their game, astronauts and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional billionaire investor, drug trafficker, or neuroscientist. Each episode turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better critical thinker.
[00:01:11] If you're new to the show or you're looking for a handy way to tell your friends about it, we now have episodes starter packs. These are collections of top episodes, organized by topic. That'll help you share the show with other people or find something that you're interested in, that your mom is interested in, your cousin, your friend, whatever. That way you're not just like, "Hey, subscribe to this feed and then scroll down 17 screens until you see something you like." You can easily find things right there on the website. jordanharbinger.com/start is where you can find that. And of course, I always appreciate it when you share the show with other people.
[00:01:42] Now, today, my friend and New York times best-selling science fiction author, Rob Reid. Rob is a long-time tech entrepreneur, who turned tech investor. He basically pioneered music streaming. So he founded the company that became Rhapsody music service, first company in history to get a full catalog of licenses from labels. This is what Spotify later adopted. This is what Apple Music later adopted. He's a pioneer in his thinking in many ways. So when he told me, that he had something major to talk about, that might become a big deal, then I'm prime to listen. We're in the middle of a pandemic now, as you know, depending on when you're listening to this, but lately we can't even turn on the news without clenching every sphincter in our body, just brazing for the next disaster or just waiting for the current one to turn a new page, whether it's a mass shooting, some terrorism, some other catastrophe of our own making.
[00:02:31] It's pretty clear that there's a small percentage of the population that just wants to kill as many people as possible before they leave this world. Fortunately, most nihilistic killers like these don't have access to nuclear weapons. But what if they had access to something equally dangerous? And what if everybody had access to that? Well, Rob Reid has done a little bit of science fiction thinking and a lot of research and we're talking about gene splicing, genetic engineering stuff that we're doing all the time. We're going to discuss the coming advances in this technology, how they could be used to create a superbug that could wipe out millions of people in kind of agonizing and disgusting ways, and how this technology might soon be available to pretty much every academic institution or even the garage of one of your neighbors. This episode is terrifying. It is fascinating at the same time. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed creating it for you. And of course, we're also going to talk about the upside of synthetic biology as well. So it's not all doom and gloom. In fact, we end on a high note as we always like to do here on the show.
[00:03:31] And if you're wondering how I managed to book all these great thinkers, they're all in my network. These are actual friends, many of them anyway. I'm teaching you how to build your network for free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Again, it's free. There's no reason to enter any payment info. There's no upsells. Just teaching you how to dig the well before you get thirsty. And most of the guests you hear on the show, subscribe to the course and contribute. So come join us. You'll be in smart company where you belong. Now. Here's Rob Reid.
[00:04:01] Rob. I know we did a similar show in the past, you and I. But since we did that show about synbio or synthetic biology, we not only experienced a real actual pandemic, but the technology around what we discuss has changed quite a bit as well. So I think an update is an order here.
[00:04:18] Rob Reid: Absolutely. I agree. And as you know, I also did almost a thousand hours of research into the question of synthetic biology, pandemic vulnerability, particularly to artificial pathogens. And also ways to prevent the next pandemic, whether it's artificial or natural in nature. And I did that A, because there was a lockdown going on. And what else—?
[00:04:42] Jordan Harbinger: You don't have anything else to do.
[00:04:42] Rob Reid: Yeah, exactly. But I also did a kind of a four-hour version of this conversation with Sam Harris, which people could check out in Sam's podcast feed. And that included basically like a scripted monologue in which I really tightly pulled together — I interviewed over 20 scientists over the course of all this research and pulled together a whole bunch of thoughts. And so, as a result of that, I've got a lot more to say about this than when we spoke a couple of years ago and I'm really honored to be back. So thank you so much.
[00:05:10] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, of course. I checked on the old episode we did because I thought, "Oh, I don't want to redo the same thing or cover all the same points." That was 2019.
[00:05:18] Rob Reid: Yeah.
[00:05:19] Jordan Harbinger: So we were kind of like, "Oh yeah, there could be a global disease." And I remember at the time thinking, "Gosh, I hope that doesn't happen in my life time, but you never know." And it was like, not even six months later, I think I'd have to check. It might've even been like 90 days. I might've been like November that we did this and then it was boom pandemic. And that alone illustrates that we just have no real timeline on when the — like, hopefully we don't do this show and things go off the rails and the way that we're talking about. But it just seemed like when we did that show, I thought, I hope this isn't too far out there. I hope it's not too Sci-Fi that we're talking about potential global pandemic. People might not be interested in that. Kind of like when you say, "Oh, don't jinx it," because you're talking about something don't jinx it.
[00:06:07] I just hope that we're not doing whatever sort of metaphysical kind of crap, that isn't really real. I hope we're not doing any kind of jinxing it by going down this road. Because honestly it just illustrates perfectly, that this is not really — it's only science fiction until it happens. And that doesn't mean it's going to happen in a hundred years. It could happen like by the time people are listening to this, which is terrifying.
[00:06:30] Rob Reid: And frankly, when we did that last episode three to six months, whatever it was before COVID hit, I myself took great comfort from the fact that I'm a science fiction writer.
[00:06:40] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:06:40] Rob Reid: And my job is to speculate about the improbable in the fairly distant future, but just in case on the very off chance that what you and I talk about does influence world events, I'd suggest two things, A, let's not talk about nuclear war at all. And B, you know, we'll focus a lot and what's great about what I've learned over the past year. There's a ton of stuff that we can do to avoid not just an artificial pandemic but the next natural one. And we now obviously know the cost of a natural one, so intimately. And even if everything on this wishlist that I developed over countless hours of research and conversations, even if all of it was implemented, it would cost something in the neighborhood of literally one percent the bill that COVID has stuck the world with. And the terrifying thing about COVID and the next plausible pandemic is COVID is pretty damn benign compared to what could have easily happened this time around or what could very easily happen next time around particularly if the next bug is maliciously designed. Because it won't have target to save the words benign features, but COVID does have certain relatively benign features and something that's designed to be malevolent certainly wouldn't have that.
[00:07:59] Jordan Harbinger: Right. And when I agree with you and we say benign features, obviously we're not minimizing the hundreds of thousands—
[00:08:05] Rob Reid: No.
[00:08:05] Jordan Harbinger: —of people who've died from COVID or depending on when you're listening to this, million. What we're saying is what if this was 50 percent lethal instead of single digit percent lethal? And there are diseases that are for sure lethal and possibly airborne contagion, and don't die within a few seconds of leaving or minutes of leaving the body. Like maybe they last for hours outside in the air or on surfaces. I think isn't measles one where like you can get it four hours later by just being in an elevator with somebody who had it?
[00:08:38] Rob Reid: Yeah, it's crazy. So what I read from my research is — well, first of all, let's start with what we think we know about COVID. If you get a new elevator that somebody who had COVID evacuated two minutes ago and the elevators made a few stops and the doors have opened and shut and so forth, you walk into that elevator, even without a mask. It is profoundly unlikely and plausibly impossible that you will catch COVID as a result of that inhabitant from a couple minutes ago. Whereas if you were unvaccinated and a person measles has been in an elevator four hours before, I believe is the statistic and world, forgive me if I got it slightly wrong, but something in the area of four hours before you're catching measles. Now, that's contagious.
[00:09:20] And in terms of, what could be more deadly than COVID? Let's look at another Coronavirus, which is SARS, which unlike COVID, which killed somewhere between the World Health Organization estimates between a half and one percent of those who catch it, SARS was 10 percent. Something else called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome is 30 percent and something which scares the bejesus out of me, which is an influenza virus not a Coronavirus is H5N1 flu, which kills over 50 percent, a higher case fatality rate than Ebola.
[00:09:50] Now, there is no reason why COVID genetically quote-unquote had to be as relatively unlethal compared to these diseases as it was. And it's just terrifying to ponder something with SARS' lethality of 10 percent. I mean, what would that have done to society? And there's no genetic reason why COVID was relatively unlethal and it could have been far more contagious and worse on other vectors as well. That period of asymptomatic infection might well have been much longer. A lot of other diseases have much longer periods of asymptomatic infection, et cetera.
[00:10:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, this is important to note because. It's hard to phrase this in a way that doesn't sound callous. But basically we got really lucky that COVID is kind of infectious and not that lethal because look at what it did. And everyone goes, "Oh, that's because everyone overreacted." "Well, it still killed a ton of people. And we didn't know what we were dealing with." And viruses, luckily, typically — and I've done a little bit of research on my own, just reading like Nicholas Christakis's books and things like that. Viruses typically mutate to become less lethal over time, because it's just a bad—
[00:10:56] Rob Reid: They do.
[00:10:57] Jordan Harbinger: —evolutionary strategy to kill off all your hosts.
[00:11:00] Rob Reid: Precisely, yeah.
[00:11:01] Jordan Harbinger: But viruses don't care if they cripple you for life or like ruin your lungs or make it so that you can't walk forever or that you die 30 years younger than you should have. They just want to be in someone who's alive and socializing for a long time.
[00:11:14] Rob Reid: Right.
[00:11:15] Jordan Harbinger: They actually do evolve to become, as far as I understand it, they do evolve to become able to spread asymptomatically so that people are not isolating themselves. They're still going out to baseball games and breathing on everyone or going to church and singing or whatever. Like the virus, if we can sort of anthropomorphize — is that the right word? A little bit?
[00:11:33] Rob Reid: Well, yeah, ballpark, I think.
[00:11:35] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I'm getting one or two letters wrong and I know it. I just can't put my fingers on it.
[00:11:39] Rob Reid: I don't know either.
[00:11:39] Jordan Harbinger: Viruses want to be able to fly under the radar, infect as many people as possible, and then keep evolving and keep moving. So they adapt to that even as humans adapt to become less — over a long period of time, over generations, humans evolve to react to them less or die less because of that. Right?
[00:11:57] Rob Reid: The evolutionary pressure on viruses is a really interesting thing because their life cycle is so short. And so God damn, many of them are alive in the body of somebody who gets infected. And so, you know, there are gazillions of generations, and gazillions I believe is a scientific term, but there are gazillions of generations of viruses in the span of, certainly in the span of the year that we've had COVID. So that is lots of time to react to evolutionary pressure. And the pressure precisely, as you said, is not that kill all your hosts as soon as you get in there. But the pressure is to become more infectious.
[00:12:31] Now, really interesting point about SARS is, you know, sometimes viruses misfire and die out. You know, they're just things that have all in the face of the evolutionary landscape. SARS never broke out wide. Because people got so symptomatic so quickly, there was essentially no asymptomatic period and there really wasn't a mild symptomatic period. And for that reason, SARS ended up burning out. And so viruses can quote-unquote screw up from an evolutionary standpoint and burn out. What's scary is to contemplate a virus that misses the part of the script that says don't kill all your hosts, right? Because again, a virus could screw up and burn out and take half of us with it.
[00:13:13] So we really just don't know what's coming down the pipeline and we need to take really, really smart and sensible protective steps that are luckily easy to envision and easy to execute on technologically and very easy to afford when we look at the cost of a pandemic or even the annual cost of the flu, very easy to afford, we just need to start taking these steps, methodically, diligently, and, you know, with a great deal of discipline.
[00:13:42] Jordan Harbinger: By the way, it is anthropomorphize. There's no—
[00:13:46] Rob Reid: Anthropomorphize, I think you're right. Yeah.
[00:13:48] Jordan Harbinger: And by the way, for people that don't know what that means, you know, whether you're a like me and you're just apparently misused words or just make up new words, or if you're foreign, it means attribute human characteristics or behavior to an inanimate or an animal.
[00:14:01] Rob Reid: Non-human.
[00:14:02] Jordan Harbinger: Non-human.
[00:14:03] Rob Reid: That's what we do with dogs all the time.
[00:14:04] Jordan Harbinger: Right, yes. So we say like, viruses like to be, viruses don't like anything. Electronics like to be indoors where it's dry. They don't like anything they're electronics.
[00:14:12] Rob Reid: The dogs all want to go to Princeton. They really don't care where they go to college, et cetera.
[00:14:17] Jordan Harbinger: Correct.
[00:14:18] Rob Reid: Yeah.
[00:14:18] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Going back to kind of what we were discussing before here, before we get into evolution was — a more intense pandemic, this could shut down supply chains. Right? We had some supply chain issues because we were stopping supply chains from operating and were saying, "Hey, maybe it's not a good idea." What if half the people that run supply chains are hospitalized, dying, taking care of dying loved ones because a disease is 50 percent lethal or getting you close to it? What happens when you have a power station and a hundred or 300—? I don't know how many people work at a power plant. There's 300 people working there and I know 150 of them are sick and can't go to work and the other 150 don't want to go to work, because what if one of them is sick and then they're going to bring that home and kill everyone else in the family. So now what? We don't have electricity, we don't have the Internet. We can't shop online.
[00:15:08] This pandemic was brought to you by Amazon and Uber Eats—
[00:15:12] Rob Reid: Good way putting it, yeah.
[00:15:13] Jordan Harbinger: You know, like online commerce and being like, wow, good thing, we have this really robust supply chain that recovered fairly quickly because capitalism and also the Internet was rocking and rolling. Everyone had broadband and it was working great. And that they were upgrading our 5G network outside while this pandemic was going on. Like they're out there putting towers up while some of these crazies are burning them down because they think it causes COVID. That's you, United Kingdom. That's looking at you, UK. What happens when all that stuff is gone? That is so much worse now, because now we don't have clean water. Now, we don't have the Internet.
[00:15:46] Rob Reid: Right.
[00:15:47] Jordan Harbinger: It's terrible.
[00:15:48] Rob Reid: And one of the things you said, really, really important people not showing up at work. I don't know if people show up at work, if the case fatality rate is 10 percent.
[00:15:56] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:15:57] Rob Reid: I mean, it's what fear drives you and what makes you say, "No, dammit. I'm not going to go work at the grocery store and expose myself to hundreds of people in the course of a day." People ended up — hats off to them and they we're freaking brave as hell. Us, non-grocery store workers never would have made it without them, but people ultimately did in big enough numbers make the judgment that COVID's fatality rate and with PPE and so forth, "I'm willing to show up for work." I don't know if they do it 10 percent or 15 percent. It doesn't have to be as high as 50. If the lights shut off on a countrywide basis or, God forbid, a worldwide basis, I do believe after a shockingly small number of days, civilization starts to teeter and eventually topple. Just with that, because think of everything that depends upon that. If the food supply, the electrical supply, or the law enforcement supply shut off, then kind of all bets are off. And that's what really, really worries me. COVID plus SARS' death rate might've started pushing us very, very close to those levels.
[00:17:01] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. We don't want to have that John Wick moment where we're like, "Oh-oh," blast open the concrete in the garage because there's no cops and now we have to defend — I can't leave the house and go to work or buy food. I'm trying to get people to stop breaking into my house and stealing things like my kids—
[00:17:17] Rob Reid: Yeah.
[00:17:17] Jordan Harbinger: —and family members and the food that we have here and the medicine in our medicine cabinet. That's what I'm preoccupied with at that point, if there's anything like that. And I don't know how long it would take for looters to start ransacking things, but how many looters and crazies and gangs do you really need before, you're like, "Eeh, I'm not leaving my family home alone. I'm going to go to work," right?
[00:17:36] Rob Reid: Or the other thing that really frightens me is that there's really only — this is surprising cause you walk in and you just see nothing but abundance, but on the grocery store shelves of the United States, there's really only a few days' worth of food there for all of us. We just don't all go at the same time and they replenish it with incredible efficiency. And so, you know, non-looter, people with non-lotter mentalities but with children that they want to feed or with stomachs that they want to fill, if the grocery stores ain't opening, the supply chains ain't there, I think everybody goes to the local Safeway grabs what they can. And the fact is there's only a few days' worth of stuff there. So it gets really, really terrifying quickly, and again, sorry to broken record, but like we can start taking an integrated set of steps now to preclude any future pandemic. And we really need to preclude any future pandemic because it could really be that bad. Again, particularly if it's malevolently designed, then it's almost guaranteed it's that bad.
[00:18:41] Jordan Harbinger: Now you mentioned malevolent design and that is sort of the next section here, because a pandemic like this could be bio engineered, manmade.
[00:18:50] Rob Reid: Yes.
[00:18:51] Jordan Harbinger: Some people think COVID is manmade. I'm not sure what the evidence is for that. I don't really need to go down that road. I think the general consensus is no, but that doesn't really matter because the next one easily could be. And I think people think, well, and this is what I thought before our previous conversation, "How the hell are we going to have a—?" This would be a colossal catastrophe. They have labs. I mean, I've seen those zombie movies where the CDC has doors and it's hermetically sealed, and then you can blow it up from the inside, right? Like you can't just have something like that leak. Not only can bad stuff leak. It has leaked before.
[00:19:31] Rob Reid: It has.
[00:19:31] Jordan Harbinger: And that was natural stuff. Imagine stuff that's manmade that is not just leaked by accident. This is leaked on purpose. It is taken by a bad actor because a lot of those labs — correct me if I'm wrong — they're designed to keep accidental leaks. You got to wash off this and you've got to spray that and you've got to leave your clothes in here. It's not necessarily designed for, "Oh, we accidentally hired a nihilistic psychopath and he's had a bad week. So he's going to deliberately circumvent these measures to get a pathogen out of the lab." Like that could happen.
[00:20:02] Rob Reid: Yeah, you're dead right. And there are a few relatively recent historic examples that prove both of the points that you just made. So first of all, accidental leak, the highest biosafety level of that any lab can have is BSL-4, biosafety level 4, and there aren't a lot of those throughout the world. There's only a handful and that is the highest level of precaution that's taken.
[00:20:24] Just one example in the UK, probably about this maybe 10, 11 years ago, I might be off a little bit, there was, as you probably remember it, terrible foot-and-mouth outbreak that resulted in the destruction of an enormous percentage of the British cattle population, many, many, many billions of dollars lost to the economy as a result of that. So you can now think of the British bioengineering community or just biological safety community being on very freaking high alert for foot-and-mouth disease sometime called hoof-and-mouth disease as well.
[00:20:58] Despite that less than a year, I believe, and it was more than a year, it was barely more than a year, foot-and-mouth disease leaked out of a biosafety level 4 lab in England. And luckily it didn't cause an outbreak. They caught it, but it leaked out and they plugged the leak and spun up the lab again. And within 10 days, it leaked again.
[00:21:22] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:21:22] Rob Reid: This is the highest level of security we can possibly have. And if you start going down to biosafety level 3, 2, 1, not surprisingly, you get more and more accidents. And the second thing you said is unbelievably important. All of the protections that we take at biosafety level, anything lab substantially all of them I should say, are against accidental leaks. But what do you do if there's a malevolent actor, that's not really part of the mentality. That's not the catastrophe they're protecting against.
[00:21:51] And to give an example of this, which is unbelievable — it's actually got a personal cast for me as I'll mention in a second, think of the anthrax attacks back in 2011. For those who don't remember them, it's happened right after 9/11. I think it was within a single-digit number of days. And if it wasn't, it was a very low double-digit number of days. And these are envelopes containing deadly anthrax spores showed up at a number of government offices, including that of the Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle, and then also some media outlets, including that — bizarrely enough, I can't make this up — of the National Inquirer. Now, it turns out these anthrax spores came from a very high security US Army Lab, probably at Fort Detrick, Maryland. It might've been another one.
[00:22:39] And so think about that. It is very hard to imagine a country at a higher-level alert than the United States in the immediate wake of 9/11.
[00:22:49] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:22:50] Rob Reid: And it's hard to imagine an organization more security minded than the United States military and our engine — well, not engineered, but kind of like milled and semi-weaponized anthrax spores came from a US army lab and made their way into the majority leader's office. And I remember this vividly because I was actually in Daschle's office. And I remember going to my doctor afterward, you know, asking for Cipro, which is the most powerful antibiotic that you can take without intravenous. That was "the thing" that could fight off anthrax. They'd sent a memo around saying, you should talk to your doc about this. He's like, "Oh my God, I was in San Francisco." That's where I lived. He was like, "Okay, like, come on. Everybody's panicking about this for basic Cipro. What symptoms do you have of having freaking anthrax." So I was like, "I was in the majority leader's office two days ago." He was like, "Ooh."
[00:23:43] Jordan Harbinger: Here you go.
[00:23:44] Rob Reid: "Take some Cipro."
[00:23:45] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:23:45] Rob Reid: So I remember that one.
[00:23:46] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. "I was right next to the guy who opened the envelope, but not on the same day that he opened it. Does that count?" "Yeah. Do not come to the office. Here's your script. I'm couriering it over to you."
[00:23:56] Rob Reid: Days before telemedicine. Yeah, exactly.
[00:23:58] Jordan Harbinger: That is crazy. I've heard of people. Where was this? I was reading like a Nat Geo article, apparently anthrax attacks reindeer, or it occurs in some natural way and I'm going to—
[00:24:10] Rob Reid: So that's why Christmas didn't happen several years ago.
[00:24:13] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that's why.
[00:24:13] Rob Reid: Was it at the North Pole, that great North Pole anthrax outbreak. That makes sense now.
[00:24:18] Jordan Harbinger: I think I've told this on the show before but it's been years. Apparently, they find really, really old, frozen, dead reindeer carcasses in, you know, like Siberia or wherever they have — and some of them have anthrax and the anthrax spores are fine. They're still totally deadly and infectious.
[00:24:37] Rob Reid: Wow.
[00:24:38] Jordan Harbinger: It doesn't matter how long or how — you can freeze a spore for hundreds of years, probably. And if you're a reindeer that died in Siberia a thousand years ago, or 600 years ago, like you're still carrying some deadly stuff. And I guess it, oh, I think what it is, is it can live in those animals and they don't die from it. It's kind of like a human carrying mononucleosis or something like that.
[00:25:01] Rob Reid: Interesting.
[00:25:01] Jordan Harbinger: You know, if you get run down, it does what it does, but apparently it's still super contagious. So we can find these things, naturally, we can leak them accidentally from labs. They can be taken—
[00:25:12] Rob Reid: No lab is secure enough to keep this stuff from coming out.
[00:25:15] Jordan Harbinger: Right. And it can be taken deliberately from labs, which is even worse. Next, next level is, now they can be designed by people to be more deadly. Like you can take a flu and make it as contagious as the measles, and then ratchet up — it's like a role-playing game, right? Where you roll something and your character stronger, they use magic, whatever. Now, you can mix all of the super strong, super deadly, super contagious viruses together and mutate it into one super virus that honestly probably should never exist. But hey, if you're the guy who shoots people in Las Vegas, because you hate your life, or you have a brain tumor or whatever the hell was wrong with that guy. Or you are the type to crash an airplane into a mountain because you hate your life, like the Germanwings pilot did a few years ago, killing everybody with you. Or you're just regular old school shooter type of person that has access to this technology. Now, you're talking about, or, you know, terrorists, you're talking about that, except for — we talked about this last time, when you are a nihilistic psycho killer, you're limited by the weapons you have. And I think the example you gave was a Chinese knife attack where like three people get stabbed.
[00:26:20] Rob Reid: Yeah, it's interesting. So there are mass school attacks in China, mass school killings, but because the most deadly weapons that are available at retail in China Are, you know, cleavers and hammers and knives. That's what these attacks were carried out with. And there was a spate of, I don't remember if it's 10 and 11, 12, something like that, there was a spate of these school attacks in China over a period of about two years. And by just this very sort of chilling coincidence, the last one was just hours before the Sandy Hook attack. And so you have a dozen-ish attacks in China, which collectively had fewer casualties than Sandy Hook because Sandy Hook was carried out with, you know, a semi-automatic weapon. Sandy Hook had far, far, far fewer casualties than the Germanwings pilot that you mentioned, another suicidal mass murderer. So it's termed suicidal mass murder for these types of people. The Germanwings pilot killed more people than any mass shooter in history because his weapon was an airplane. And so what we see is society just produces a certain small, but terrifying percentage of people every year, cross countries, cross societies who for whatever reason, go to such a dark place that they become suicidal mass murderers and their death toll is limited only by the weapons that they have.
[00:27:38] Technology is the force multiplier. And just as whenever the first mass shooting happened, let's say it was before the Wright Brothers. I don't know, but whenever that happened, people weren't thinking there's going to be these flying, you know, chunks of metal that are going to take out way more people in the future. And now we live in an era in which there have been at least four commercial pilots who have done what the Germanwings pilot did that I personally know of, and maybe there are a couple more, I'm not aware of. And it's hard for us to imagine the next thing, but the next thing is going to happen. And it's impossible for me to imagine a weapon that could actually be wielded by a lone individual that could be anywhere near, as destructive as synthetic biology.
[00:28:20] And synthetic biology is an unbelievably promising realm. It has the potential, and indeed, probably will. At some point curing cancer makes the world a much greener place. It's an incredible domain, but it's also an amoral technology. It doesn't care any more than a virus, what happens. And so we do need to exert our imagination and think about worst case scenarios that could plausibly happen in the 10, 15, 20 years scenario as this technology rapidly, rapidly improves and protects ourselves against that.
[00:28:53] The thing that you mentioned about taking all the worst aspects of a diversity of diseases and cobbling it into one at this moment is we're speaking, that may be beyond the capabilities of even the most brilliant synbio professors. I'll use synbio as an abbreviation for synthetic biology. And just a quick definition, synthetic biology is making creatures that have not, and probably will never be created by nature by manipulating, generally by manipulating nucleic acid, RNA, DNA. Right?
[00:29:23] So what you described that nightmare scenario may be within the capabilities of a few extremely brilliant people right now, or may not be, I'm not certain, but what I can tell you is this technology is improving so rapidly and it's proliferating so rapidly. That at some point, a lot of people are going to be capable of that. And we just need one of them to be somebody who goes off the rails in a Sandy Hook or Las Vegas shooter or Germanwings, like manner.
[00:29:56] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That's what's the most terrifying about it, right? Because you don't need — you explained this before in your monologue with Sam Harris, which I guess is a monologue and a dialogue at the same time, you mentioned this is like, you don't need to be an engineer to use a gun.
[00:30:12] Rob Reid: Right.
[00:30:13] Jordan Harbinger: You don't need to be a knife maker to stab someone, but you also, then—
[00:30:19] Rob Reid: You don't need to work at Boeing to crash a plane, all of that.
[00:30:21] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. But you also won't need to be a virologist to maybe print or create a new disease. And that's kind of, what's really scary about this because yes, we might only need one of those people, but what happens when the technology evolves another step and we have — I think last time we kind of were calling them 3D DNA printer or DNA printing. What was the term you used? It was essentially just DNA printing.
[00:30:44] Rob Reid: We can call it a DNA printer. It's a shorthand and people who are deeply tactical in this area might resent it, but let's use it because it's nice common English and we can understand it. What you can do already in certain lab settings is if you've got the blueprint of a critter, you know, this is its DNA, you can basically synthesize that DNA, crank out that DNA sequence. Now, it's a whole nother step. And for now not an easy one, but it will get easier to take that DNA and use it to animate, you know, the shell of a critter. Again, I'm simplifying a lot, but it's doable. It has been done. It's done a lot and it's going to get cheaper and easier and more widespread.
[00:31:25] So I'll use two quick examples here. There is an amazingly cool thing. I'm not going to denigrate this at all, called iGem, which stands for the International Genetically Engineered Machines competition or something like that. It's sort of a synbio jamboree that spun out of MIT. And features teams of college and high school kids doing really cool things with synbio. Some of the things that are being done by high school kids today probably couldn't have been done yet by the greatest minds in life sciences 20 years ago, because the tools have gotten to the point we had things like CRISPR for editing DNA, which is so much radically, more powerful than anything that preceded it. And it's only a few years old and we already have post CRISPR tools that are out there. And these tools are getting better and easier to use. They're proliferating down to the high school level. Now, it ain't possible for a high school kid to do the scary thing that we described, but it is possible for a high school kid to do things that would've alluded, even by the top scientists just a few decades ago.
[00:32:27] So that's one thing to think about when we think about proliferation. In terms of speed, as you know, an example I always like to cite is the Human Genome Project. That was a 13-year, three-billion-dollar project to sequence, which is a fancy way of saying, to read a solitary human genome. And if you really want to be tactical, it was kind of half of a human genome, but I won't get into that. Three-billion-dollar, 13-year project ended in 2003. That's not all that long ago.
[00:32:55] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:32:55] Rob Reid: I mean, that's like Bush was president, like Friends was probably on the air. We're not talking about something like the Coolidge Administration. So in the 18 years, since that. It's gone from costing three billion dollars to read out the human genome, to costing $300. That is a 10 million to one price compression. That is the rapidity with which synbio technology is improving. We can call it, some call it an exponential technology with another famous exponential technology being computing. And we all know how impossible it would have been to foresee today's society, let's say 30 years ago, and with respect to computing and we're moving that fast with synbio and other life sciences.
[00:33:44] Jordan Harbinger: The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Rob Reid. We'll be right back.
[00:33:48] This episode is sponsored in part by Active Skin Repair. I refuse to use toxic chemicals, both on myself, especially on my kids. When you get a wound, it would be great if there was an all-in-one solution that could help support the natural healing process and keep your skin clean. Active Skin Repair is a multifunctional, all-natural clinically proven skin repair product that we've been using for cuts, rashes, sunburns, insect bites, athlete's foot. We use it on Jayden's little bum. He's constantly falling and getting scrapes, not on his bum, but you know, there's diaper rash down there and stuff. Active Skin Repair has just been amazing for this. It includes the same molecule hypochlorous acid, not the hydrochloric acid. You may be thinking of. This is produced in your white blood cells. Whenever you get a wound it's also used in hospitals and it's completely non-toxic. There's no sting, always great for kids and adults. Safe around your eyes, ears, mouth. Perfect for you and your little one. Comes in a spray and a gel. Kills the bacteria and viruses, fungus while supporting the body's natural healing process. Don't just take it from me. Check out their Amazon reviews with over 1200 five-star reviews.
[00:34:48] Jen Harbinger: Get 20 percent off your order and free shipping by texting REPAIR to 64000. To get 20 percent off plus free shipping text REPAIR to 64000. That's REPAIR to 64000. Message and data rates may apply.
[00:35:02] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by SimpliSafe. SimpliSafe is an award-winning home security system. So, you know, it's engineered with the latest tech that you want to keep your family safe, but what really sets SimpliSafe apart is the people highly trained security experts who are always there for you when you need them the most. People who care about keeping you safe. When an alarm goes off, a person who cares for you is there with a phone call to make sure you're okay. When there's an emergency, a person who cares is there for you by getting fire and police responders to your front door right away. Even if you're just having a problem, setting up your system, a person who cares is there for you with a friendly chat and a quick resolution. Although you probably won't have a problem sending it up, it is very easy to do. SimpliSafe is there 24/7 with people who care and experts trained, not only to keep you safe, but to make you feel safe. It's one of the many reasons US News recently called SimpliSafe, The Best Home Security of 2021.
[00:35:50] Jen Harbinger: To find out how SimpliSafe can help make you feel safe and secure at home, visit simplisafe.com/jordan today to customize your system and get a free security camera. That's simplisafe.com/jordan today.
[00:36:01] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by Klaviyo. Ever wonder how the e-commerce brands you admire do it, how they know just the right messages to send, the right people at the right time. Guess what, not experience, they have the right data and the right tools. They have Klaviyo. Klaviyo's data-driven marketing automation platform is sophisticated enough to power those legendary campaigns from the brands that you admire, but they made it simple, easy, and fast enough for anyone to use. Klaviyo helps brands easily create personalized multi-channel marketing campaigns, using your most powerful asset, your customer data. Klaviyo integrates with all leading e-commerce platforms, helping you use your customer data in real time to send more relevant email and SMS automations. Plus building a marketing campaign is drag and drop easy. You can get started with your first campaign in under an hour and easily build from there with Klaviyo's best performing templates. Klaviyo gives you all the power of an enterprise marketing automation platform and none of the complexity. So you can compete with the big guys. No wonder more than 65,000 brands can't get enough. To get started with a free trial of Klaviyo, visit klaviyo.com/jordan. That's K-L-A-V-I-Y-O.com/jordan.
[00:37:06] Now, back to Rob Reid on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:37:10] The speed is incredible. The 10 million to one sort of price drop right now, spitting into a little plastic test tube from 23, and me and having them do this kind of for me. I know it's not apples to apples. It's not quite the same thing, but it really is incredible. And I remember seeing on, I don't know, the News 20/20, whatever it was back in the day when I was a kid like 11, 12, and they're like, "This is a video telephone. It's $2,000 and you need special telephone lines to use it. So you can't use it even if you bought one right now from your house, but you can see—" and it showed like this grainy little, tiny, tiny screen, it was black and white and it's like, you know—
[00:37:51] Rob Reid: It looked like a proof of life, probably, right?
[00:37:53] Jordan Harbinger: It was like something you would expect to see off of like a crappy Nokia phone from the '90s and the dark, like those like really—
[00:38:01] Rob Reid: Right.
[00:38:02] Jordan Harbinger: And it's like, "This is the future." And now everyone has 1080p, 4K, whatever filming and wireless streaming capability of their pocket. And we're not that far along, that's the change in technology that we can see and that we can hold on that use every day. Other technologies are developing as fast as this or faster or around the same rate, right? So just because we don't use it every day doesn't mean that it's not improving at the same rate. And I think that's important to know because a lot of people think, "Well, if it took them that long to do this, why would they be improving this much?" Well, everything really is which to me means that this is going to sneak up on us.
[00:38:40] This is going to sneak up on our society, now that genome sequences — and by the way, these things, I thought genome sequences were like a million, bajillion characters long. They can fit on pieces of paper if you're handwriting them. You can hand write it. It wouldn't take you all day. It's like, this is just a post-it note plus size bit of code. And once that gene sequence is created by a super deadly virus or any sort of gene sequence, any idiot soon can print it. And we know that from like Napster and BitTorrent, that once you leak the movie, the new Sony release, you can't put that toothpaste back in the tube and the toothpaste always comes out the tube, right?
[00:39:19] Rob Reid: Yeah. That's an unbelievably important point. And so if we have, let's say good guy, virologists making super deadly pathogens, because they want to understand what bad guys might do. Let's just take that as a scenario. And it's not an implausible one. And in fact, something very much like that has already happened, but if that happens or maybe it's an academic, maybe it's, you know, just a postdoc student or a master's student doing a thesis in which they sort of amplify the deadliness of a particular pathogen to talk about the metabolic pathways and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And they do that in a very secure enough lab. And we're lucky enough it doesn't do an anthrax in the BSL-4 lab. And they publish that genome because they're going to be talking about that. Every virus is a virus, but it's also a tiny packet of information.
[00:40:10] And, you know, that's true. You could say that's true of any critic, but it's particularly true for viruses because their encapsulation is so simple. Whereas the encapsulation of a human body and all of our organs, it's a little bit trickier, but any virus that is engineered to be profoundly deadly and is exterminated and never leaks from the lab, blah, blah, blah, if that data file, and as you said, it's minuscule. Minuscule data file gets hacked and we know all networks are hackable. At some point in the intermediate future, it will become a trivial exercise for somebody to reanimate that information. Definitely not today. There are some who could do that today. And they probably number in the hundreds, which is scary, but they tend to be successful careerists in life sciences. And they tend not to take machine guns to hotel rooms in Las Vegas. Right? So we're already counting on an awful lot of people to not go rogue on us, but it's a containable group and a sort of self-selected group of folks who are maybe less likely to do that than the average person, but that information gets out there.
[00:41:15] And like you said, it gets hacked and gets bit torrented. And we know people would find that really cool and sexy and badass to have that bit of information. And may not think it's such a bad thing because today it's unlikely that one would do something with that. Once that gets out, man, it's everywhere. And we need to worry about that intermediate future when somebody like the Vegas shooter, who probably didn't know squat about ballistics. His equivalent could come across that information, treated as a bullet, hit print, and send out more world. And again, I'm simplifying, but that is the risk we need to think very, very seriously about.
[00:41:50] Jordan Harbinger: And we know we can't contain information, not only because we've all seen a leaked movie at one point in our lives, even if we're not the person who does that bit torrenting in our house. It's like, your cousin knows how to do it. And he always gives you—
[00:42:00] Rob Reid: Never.
[00:42:01] Jordan Harbinger: He always sends you a flash drive with that stuff when he comes over. You can call him and he'll download the latest thing. Didn't someone post the 1918 flu genome on the Internet? And it wasn't like a rogue hacker. It was somebody who should know better.
[00:42:15] Rob Reid: Yeah. So there were two disastrous mistakes when it comes to posting genomes to the Internet. The 1918 flu virus, which killed at a much, much, much greater scale than COVID, tens of millions of deaths. I think worldwide, we're still very much in the single digits with COVID — and the smallpox genome, both of those are online and anybody could find them within a short number of minutes. And when they were posted not all that long ago, it was possible for anybody with some foresight to realize that the time would soon come where somebody could take that and re-animate that. And I'm embarrassed to forgotten which one it was. I think it was 1918 flu, one of the two was posted by the United States' Department of Health and Human Services, right?
[00:43:05] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:43:06] Rob Reid: Now, talk about an entity like the FDA as part of their empire, the CDC, countless other organizations, they had all the life sciences horsepower necessary to know that this was an absolutely boneheaded idea. And Ray Kurzweil who's a brilliant guy and the father of exponential thinking at the time, put out a press release saying, "Please don't do this. Life sciences and synbio is an exponential technology. You know, within a decade or two, people will be able to re-animate this stuff." And there is a professor up in Alberta, somewhere in Canada. And I apologize if I got the city wrong, who ended up partially to warn his colleagues and warn the world that, "Hey guys, this is possible." He ended up reanimating or creating from scratch. I should say something called horsepox. Horsepox is not something that can infect or damage people, but for a low budget. I think it might have been a hundred grand or so. And with some essentially mail order DNA and with the tools that a very good academic virologist has at his disposal, you know, dozens, maybe hundreds of people could do this, not gazillions.
[00:44:18] He created horsepox, which is within an, a rounding error in terms of the size and the complexity of the smallpox virus. So he didn't create smallpox, but in creating horsepox, he made it unbelievably clear to the entire life sciences community, that it is entirely possible for somebody with the right tools and sophistication to create smallpox right now. And that was several years ago and that capability, if we say at that point was limited to a few dozen academic virologists, probably within a rounding air, maybe a couple hundred back then, it's definitely something that a larger group of people could do probably, you know, several hundred, maybe even thousands of PhD or postdoctoral student. And it's going to proliferate further and further and further. These are packets of information. And the ability of the people in the near future to do whatever the hell they want with that information is essentially unlimited.
[00:45:13] Jordan Harbinger: You did get the city wrong because Alberta is a province.
[00:45:16] Rob Reid: Whew, I blew that!
[00:45:18] Jordan Harbinger: You can tell we're Americans because we don't even know what's the difference between—
[00:45:21] Rob Reid: I thought he was in the province of Alberta, one of the universities—
[00:45:23] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. Good save.
[00:45:24] Rob Reid: The Canadians have every right to lambast me for that. And I apologize.
[00:45:28] Jordan Harbinger: You're an expert on what now? What's that?
[00:45:31] Rob Reid: Not Canadian geography.
[00:45:33] Jordan Harbinger: Not Canadian geography, no. This is just as terrifying as our geography skills. Talk about gain of function research. We sort of skipped over that. It probably should have been mentioned earlier in the show, but this is even scarier because we think, "Oh my God, it would take a real psycho to design a really nasty bug." Or, you know, okay, someone's designing horsepox, but they're doing it to prove a point, which is that nobody should have the tech that's able to produce something like horsepox. But gain of function research is kind of like, we're just inventing this to show — but why don't you describe it? I'm going to butcher it. And also I'm not even entirely sure here.
[00:46:05] Rob Reid: Yeah. Yeah. So what gain of function research is sometimes abbreviated GOF, sometimes GOFR. Gain of function is basically taking an existing pathogen and amplifying its mojo. And I'm saying mojo rather than lethality, because you may not be making it more lethal. You may be making more contagious. You may be extending the asymptomatic period. You know, there's a number of things you could be doing, but basically enhancing the lethality profile of that pathogen.
[00:46:33] Jordan Harbinger: You're adding a spoiler and rims to it, basically.
[00:46:36] Rob Reid: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
[00:46:37] Jordan Harbinger: Got it.
[00:46:37] Rob Reid: And you know, maybe gazillions of CCs of engine because you can make this thing really bad, really terrifying. Why is it done? It's generally done by people who say, "I'm doing this so we could see what nature might deal with in the future," or, "I'm doing this because I'm a good guy and bad guys might do this," or, you know, insert your answer here. And I find those justifications reasonable up to a point. I do think that the people who engage in this have been overwhelmingly good guys thus far with motivations that made sense to them and probably make sense to a large portion of the scientific community. Where it falls down is something we already talked about, which is the impossibility of keeping any labs from leaking, even when everybody has the best of all possible intentions. And we know that certain slivers of the world does.
[00:47:26] And so the most frightening example of this to me was the amplification, the gain of function of something called H5N1 flu, which I mentioned very briefly earlier. H5N1 is a version of the flu that infects birds. It doesn't affect people, but it's not at all contagious between people. So a few hundred people, I think it was the UN. I forget what, what source I tracked. But over a decade, they documented every single human H5N1 death. And it was something in the neighborhood of a few hundred, right?
[00:47:56] Jordan Harbinger: So it's like people who are duck farmers or something, get it from their waterfowl.
[00:48:00] Rob Reid: Yeah, generally, chicken farmers.
[00:48:01] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:48:01] Rob Reid: Yeah, generally, chicken farmers, people who are in incredibly close contact with a population of birds that turn out to have been infected. It can jump, but it's really close contact. It's not aerosolized contacts. I don't know what they're doing with those birds, but it's not—
[00:48:16] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, good question.
[00:48:16] Rob Reid: It's not something that they breathe in. So it's very, very rare. And I think the timeframe under consideration was decade. And I think I found out that during that decade, 500-ish killed by H5N1, 70,000 killed by lightning worldwide. So we're talking rare. Now, what happened in 2011, so very, very long time ago in the world of exponential technology like synbio, is that two independent research groups, one in Holland, and one in Wisconsin, took it upon themselves to do gain of function research on H5N1. And they basically made it transmissible through the air.
[00:48:50] So we don't know how contagious it would be amongst humans because obviously they didn't infect humans with this thing. But what we do know is that it kills when it infects somebody 50 to 60 percent of the people that it infects. And these two independent teams made it capable of aerosolized transmission through the breath. Now, again, if you ask them, they'd say, "We're good guys, we're virologists. We're trying to figure out what might happen with this thing." The big problem is these were BSL level three labs, and we already know that BSL level four labs leak. And this is a pathogen that could quite literally topple civilization if it's contagious enough.
[00:49:29] There is, in my mind, absolutely no justification whatsoever to create that. Because it's not like you're beating the bad guys to the punch and figuring out how to disable it. There are — I mean, we know how many variants there are COVID, there are gazillions of conceivably, you know, configured H5N1 that could be contagious. So by creating one of them in a lab in a BSL-3 lab and taking the risk that it gets out, it's not like you're creating the one thing the bad guys can create, so you can foil it. No, you're creating something. And when folks say, "Oh, well, you know, this is just what nature is capable of." I'm sorry. Nature has had X a hundred thousand years of human history to create an aerosolized version of H5N1 and ain't done it yet. So there is in my mind, absolutely no justification for that.
[00:50:13] Now these two groups, one of them was about to get their paper in Scientist. And one of them was about to get their paper in Nature. These are the two leading publications in the entire scientific community. It's like a lifetime achievement to get a paper, neither of those publications and the US government basically stepped in and said, no. Okay. Like you can't put this out. And gosh, it's a long word. It's a long name. And the acronym is even like 20 syllables, but it's something like the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity came out and with like a freak-out statement about this, and everybody popped their breath and for a while, this is 2011.
[00:50:54] What happened since then is these papers did ultimately get published. And the United States government paused its own funding of gain of function research for a period of a few years, pause and also said nothing about private gain of function research. It didn't make it illegal or anything. It's just US only. Right? So there was a pause for a few years that pause eventually gets lifted. And just about a year ago, those two particular projects got renewed United States government funding. So this stuff goes on. And there are no holds barred on this. And there is, we talked about it briefly and I, you know, I don't know the answer to this, so I don't want to speculate on the deeply either, but there is a school of thought out there that is held by some pretty smart and responsible scientists and others that say that the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a biosafety level four lab was practicing gain of function with coronavirus.
[00:51:49] If that is true, or if that was true, it makes sense. The Coronavirus is, you know, SARS came out of China, COVID came out of China, you have the animal vectors, zoonotic virus factors that could cause another coronavirus to leap from critters to humans. It wouldn't be in a world. That's okay with gain of function research, which is the world that we live in. It wouldn't at all be crazy for the Chinese government to experiment with gain of function with Coronavirus in Wuhan Institute of Virology. Is that the origin of COVID? I don't know. I don't want to speculate. There are some who think, no, I think you correctly cited that the consensus seems to be no, but there are smart people who think, yes. Whatever that is, we can't have a world that practices gain of function, whether COVID was a gain of function thing or not the fact that H5N1 never escaped from those biosafety level three labs, notwithstanding, we simply cannot be creating pathogens like that because every lab can leak.
[00:52:48] Jordan Harbinger: Right. And at that point, was it Enrico Fermi who says any civilization given enough time basically blows themselves up? Like this is kind of how that might happen. More so than the nuclear option.
[00:52:58] Rob Reid: Easily. Yeah, when the Drake equation was originally created by Frank Drake, trying to estimate the number of civilizations that might be alive in the galaxy, there was a number in that equation, which was represented by the letter L, which is how long after a civilization becomes capable of communicating via radio telescopes, which is how we were hoping to hear from these aliens, how soon after it develops that capability does it end. And that's a chilling thing to think about. And the number that you put into L in the Drake equation has profound impact on how many civilizations, technologically advanced civilizations you believe there might be in the Milky Way galaxy. At that time, as you noted, all the thinking was about nuclear war for good reasons, it's like early '60s.
[00:53:45] These days, yes, to me, this is a massively, massively more likely way for us to bite the dust. Because with nuclear war as bad as the Cold War was, and terrified as those of us who grew up during it were during our childhood, ultimately two-ish people had the red button. The world spent trillions of dollars deterring those two-ish people, you know, Khrushchev and Kennedy, Brezhnev and Reagan, pick your pair. I say two-ish because there were other nuclear powers and maybe a high general would grab the button. Let's say two-ish people, we spent trillions of dollars on diplomacy on regional wars, like Vietnam, on, you know, detection, things like NORAD on immense nuclear stockpiles to deter those two people from hitting the red button. Thank God it worked, but it was just two people who generally worked their way methodically through society to a very high level and had no interest in destroying the world.
[00:54:41] We're probably at a point where hundreds, not two, but hundreds of people could recreate smallpox to an end of the world, but holy cow, right? So it's the proliferation of the sheer number of people with red buttons that we need to worry about, which is why I personally think synbio in the wrong hands is a much bigger risk than nuclear war.
[00:55:00] Jordan Harbinger: And we're not necessarily prime to handle things really well. I mean, look that humanity has done a pretty incredible job getting a vaccine together for COVID-19.
[00:55:09] Rob Reid: Yeah.
[00:55:10] Jordan Harbinger: Our supply chain is held up as we mentioned before. We have this robust Internet and all these other things that might break in the face of a more severe pandemic, but COVID really was our dress rehearsal for something worse. And we politicized it. We ran out of PPE. We went back and forth on masks and created all of this vaccine hesitancy because of that and because of other negative disinformation and craziness that's out there. It's not super promising that if we hit something that's worse, we're going to handle it better than we did this time. Right?
[00:55:40] Rob Reid: Right. Right. And it's like, you know, if you go through the history of significant wars between nation-states, you find they're always fighting the last war preparing for the last war and the pattern is unbelievably stark. And it's a really interesting thing to read about if you're interested in geopolitics and the history of warfare. My worry is that we're going to come out of COVID preparing for the last pandemic rather than the next pandemic. And all we know about the next pandemic is two things. A, it's coming for sure at some point. And B, it's going to be very different from COVID. In ways that we can't precisely predict, but we need to take very broad spectrum, robust, agile countermeasures, and build a very agile and robust and intelligent and tightly coupled anti-pandemic or just anti-disease infrastructure. That we're kind of ready for anything, you know, rather than being like the French, you know, right before World War II, who had built imaginal line because they were expecting the next war to be just like the trench warfare of World War I. We can't go there.
[00:56:48] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So for people that don't know, the French built a massive system of, what? Like anti-tank barricades and trenches, so that the Germans couldn't roll in again.
[00:56:57] Rob Reid: Yeah. Walls and trenches and so forth that were very well envisioned for trench warfare, which was what World War I was. But World War II was mechanized. And no, they didn't envision tanks. They didn't envisage panzer units, you know, Blitzkrieg, Maginot Line. They were readying for the last war, not because they were dumb, but because they were human and they were military people. And that it's like, it's a stretch deep into the history of warfare where people are just so wired by the last war to prepare when they're preparing for the next one, that they just don't foresee the changes in technology or the changes in deadliness of warfare that have occurred over the last half generation, generation, or two generations.
[00:57:36] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Walls aren't that great when you can just fly over them and then roll over the rest of your trenches with giant tanks. Yeah. So this makes a lot of sense, right? We're going to go, "All right. We need more PPE and we need to make sure that we've strengthened our supply chains and do domestic manufacturing," all a good idea. Right?
[00:57:55] Rob Reid: All of which we must do, yeah.
[00:57:56] Jordan Harbinger: But like maybe we're missing something and chances are, we are missing something and we just don't know what that is. Like, "All right. We have tons of ICU ventilators now." Oops. It's not a respiratory pandemic. Now what? Right?
[00:58:07] Rob Reid: Yeah. And I think the biggie that we're most likely to miss is the artificial threat. And that is something that we can do an enormous amount to — if not entirely, there's no way to make it impossible. There's no way to foil it perfectly, but we could make it, 99-point-something percent harder. And very often that's enough, you know? And I point to you, like everybody loves to joke, not everybody. We all have a friend who like, "Oh my God, the TSA people are so stupid. I could hijack a plane tomorrow if I wanted to." And it's like, you can say that all you want, but there hasn't been a single domestic hijacking of an American since 9/11. So we didn't make it impossible to hijack the plane with the TSA and at least as important, if not more important, hardening cockpit doors, I'm sure it's possible. We just made this goddamn hard that most people don't bother. You know, those who might have hijacked a plane in the past, don't bother. Interesting analogy there, or just sort of fact.
[00:59:06] In the late '60s and early '70s in the United States, there were hundreds of domestic hijackings. There's hundreds of them, literally it staggers the mind. Now, most of them were kind of like leftist activists who wanted to go to Cuba. And it got so bad that the Cuban government literally created a dormitory for wayward American hijackers, not the passengers. They sent the passengers right back, but for the freaking hijackers, because so many of them were coming to Cuba, they needed someplace to live.
[00:59:36] And so, you know, things can be done on a whim and get done a great deal. Again, there was somewhere between 100 and 200 hijackings, I think in the span of roughly five or six years. At some point you say, "You know what? You know, let's do something between performance art and a real deterrent." And in the early '70s, the first metal detectors went into place. It was nowhere near as well, organized or as professionalized as the TSA, but that brought the ambient level of hijackings almost to zero. Now, obviously, it wasn't professionalized or as tightly integrated enough to protect 9/11, but that happened decades later. It just shows you that like some common sensical precautions can do an enormous amount to take something out of the realm of whim by an average person and make it something that has to be a long methodical plan by a really smart person. That just narrows the aperture enormously.
[01:00:31] Jordan Harbinger: So a lot of people are going to say, "All right, I know you probably can't do this, but why can't we just ban it?"
[01:00:37] Rob Reid: Right.
[01:00:37] Jordan Harbinger: Why can't we just say, "Okay, moratorium on all this it's too dangerous"?
[01:00:41] Rob Reid: The reason is twofold. First, we have so much to gain from synbio. I said it before, and I'll repeat it just because this message is unbelievably important. We cannot demonize synthetic biology because it holds so much, much promise in the war against disease, in the war against animal degradation. I'm sorry, in the world of environmental degradation, in the world of limiting animal suffering, in the world of wellness. There's just so much promise in synbio. So we don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water, A. And B, the genie's out of the bottle. The nuclear anti-proliferation infrastructure in the world worked perfectly but reasonably well, when it was put into place. There have been a couple of countries that have attained nuclear weapons. Most notably, well, probably exclusively North Korea, Pakistan, and India, since non-proliferation became a globally adhered to policy. But it takes a nation-state to create a nuclear weapon. You can't do it invisibly. It requires an enormous industrial infrastructure. Synbio can be practiced invisibly. It can be practiced in trailers, in tiny labs. And so a ban is impossible for that reason. I mean, how many meth labs are there in the world?
[01:01:53] Jordan Harbinger: I was just going to say it's like the meth lab of pharmaceutical, meth lab is to pharmaceutical as synbio is to actual nuclear programs. Yeah.
[01:02:03] Rob Reid: Meth labs are illegal everywhere. I don't know how many gazillions or thousands or whatever it is there are, but synbio labs don't have to be any bigger than a meth lab. I mean, it can be but there are also some giant meth labs out there they're illegal and they're still out there. The other thing is, you know, if we think of ourselves as good guys, whatever your country, if you're from free-market oriented democracy or even another country, you think you guys are the good guys, you can't trust the other 200 countries in the world to just suspend synthetic biology because you have. And so to put this through a parochial American lens, if the US enacted a blanket ban on synbio, I can't imagine that China would. I can't imagine that North Korea would. I can't imagine the number of other countries would be, so you're basically disarming yourself unilaterally because counter measures can certainly be developed and explored with the same expertise that power synbio itself.
[01:02:59] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Rob Reid. We'll be right back.
[01:03:03] This episode is sponsored in part by LifeLock. Cybercriminals target job seekers, looking for new employment with fake job postings, designed to trick people into revealing their personal information and social security number. With this information, cybercriminals can access your credit cards, bank accounts, and even open a loan in your name. Be sure to carefully research job postings and protect your information from fraudulent job postings. It's important to understand how cybercrime and identity theft are affecting our lives. Every day we put our information at risk on the Internet. In an instant, a cybercriminal can harm what's yours, your finances credit, your reputation. Good thing. There's LifeLock. LifeLock helps detect a wide range of identity threats, like your social security number for sale on the dark web. If they detect your information has potentially been compromised, they'll send you an alert. You have access to a dedicated restoration specialist if you become a victim, so you don't have to do it all yourself to clean up that big ass mess.
[01:03:55] Jen Harbinger: No one can prevent all identity theft or monitor all transactions at all businesses but you can keep what's yours with LifeLock by Norton. Join now and save up to 25 percent off your first year at lifelock.com/jordan. That's lifelock.com/jordan for 25 percent off.
[01:04:11] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by Skillshare. We have a poster in the house that literally says always be learning. It's in Jayden's playroom. What better way to do that than from the comfort of your own home with Skillshare's myriad of online classes. Skillshare is an online learning community that offers membership with meaning with so much to explore real projects, to create, and the support of fellow creatives Skillshare empowers you to accomplish real growth. If you've ever thought about starting a YouTube channel and potentially making that a little side hustle, or just for fun, you can learn how with Skillshare's YouTube success course, where you can learn to script, shoot, and edit with Marques Brownlee, the self-taught creator who grew his love of tech into a channel with 13 million subscribers and counting. You know, that guy you've seen that guy everywhere. He's always getting retweeted by like Elon Musk for dropping coin on a Tesla. He'll guide you step-by-step through every stage of content creation for YouTube, from scripting and storyboarding to shooting and editing. You'll learn how to create videos that connect, whether you have one follower or a hundred thousand. You can also dive into portrait photography or video for Instagram. Skillshare is also incredibly affordable, especially when compared to pricey in-person classes and workshops. An annual subscription is less than 10 bucks a month.
[01:05:18] Jen Harbinger: Explore your creativity at skillshare.com/harbinger and get a free trial of premium membership. That's skillshare.com/harbinger.
[01:05:26] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored in part by Better Help online therapy. This month is mental health awareness month and The Jordan Harbinger Show is proud to join the cause of destigmatizing therapy. I know a lot of people think it's embarrassing, but if you're struggling with relationships or you're having difficulty sleeping or difficulty in meeting your goals, anxiety or stress, Better Help counselors can listen and help. Better Help will assess your needs and match you with your own licensed professional. You can start in a couple of days like 48 hours. They match right up and therapists have a broad range of experience that might not even be available locally in your area. The service is available worldwide. So no excuses about, you know, digital nomad types. This is now. Anytime zone, anytime, anywhere, log into your account. You can send a message to your counselor. Video sessions, phone sessions, live chat sessions, straight from your couch, straight from bed, depending on your mood that day. It's more affordable than traditional offline counseling and financial aid is available.
[01:06:19] Jen Harbinger: And our listeners get 10 percent off your first month of online therapy at betterhelp.com/jordan. That's better-H-E-L-P.com/jordan.
[01:06:28] Jordan Harbinger: Thanks so much for listening and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers keeps us going. To learn more and get links to the great discounts you've just heard, so you can check out the sponsors for yourself, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who support us. Remember all the links you hear on the show, they're all on that sheet. You don't have to remember stuff.
[01:06:46] Don't forget we've got worksheets for today's episode if you want some of the drills and exercises talked about during the show, the prime takeaways, those are all in one easy place. And that link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. Now, for the conclusion of our episode with Rob Reid.
[01:07:04] So what can be done about this? Right? There's a lot of upside. We don't want to ban it.
[01:07:08] Rob Reid: Right.
[01:07:09] Jordan Harbinger: What can we do to sort of limit the downsides, right? Early detection of some sort I would assume comes into play here.
[01:07:15] Rob Reid: Lots of things, yeah. So the very first thing that we can do, and we already are to a limited degree, well, not too limited degree, to a significant degree, is create 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. And so most DNA today is produced not in individual laboratories of individual scientists, but it's created in a handful of relatively large service labs that do that and do it exclusively and do it very well.
[01:07:56] And so I'll mention a very good one, Twist Bioscience is a publicly traded company. They have very, very good protective measures. They're members of an organization called the IGSC. I think it's the International Gene Synthesis Consortium, which has been around for a long time, actually like 10, 11 years, maybe a little bit more than that. And IGSC members adhere to a certain set of common practices to prohibit the distribution of lethal DNA. And so basically, I won't put in all the details, but you know, there's sort of a red, yellow, green flagging of every order that comes into an IGSC member. And the IGSC member claim, and I'll get back to that word claim in a moment, but they represent about 80 percent of the world's DNA synthesis capacity.
[01:08:37] Okay. So if you're ordering from Twist Bioscience and you something scary and weird, it's either going to get a yellow or red flag. And they're going to go deep into that. And these companies employ very large teams of PhDs and near PhDs and bioinformatics to do this work. So a real investment that's being made. The problem is that 80 percent thing and that word claim. An analogy I used in the thing with Sam Harris, which I'm fond out because it's funny. And it's real is I grew up in Southwestern Connecticut and in my sort of, let's say six or seven town area, there was precisely one liquor store that very, very reliably sold beer to teens. And for a while, there may as well have been no drinking age, even though there was 99 percent compliance with the alcohol laws in our seven-town area, any beer enthusiast under the age of 21, sure knew where to go to get beer, right? Now, imagine 80 percent compliance.
[01:09:36] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:09:36] Rob Reid: You know, if 20 percent of the DNA synthesis capacity out there, that don't give a damn, that is a hole that is so gaping, you might as well, not even bother with the other 80 percent. And the 80 percent, I talked to a bunch of IGSC members who do the research, nobody actually knows where that number came from. It was probably an educated guess back when the IGSC was founded and it kind of gets repeated because it's a good number—
[01:09:58] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:09:58] Rob Reid: But it's probably way less than that. There's only one IGSC member in all of China, and China has a lot of DNA synthesis capability. So you need to take that and instead of making that voluntary, you need to make that absolutely militantly required in all countries of the world. There needs to be firm agreement that we're going to have this regulated pathogen database and we're going to make this required. And the reason for that is A, the one liquor store example and B, people are increasingly opting out of the IGSC because the cost of screening and order has remained constant. It takes intelligent bioinformaticians to screen in order. Whereas we know the prices are plummeting for this stuff. And so the percentage of the cost of an order is growing and growing and growing. And it's getting to the point where you can't be economically competitive—
[01:10:48] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:10:48] Rob Reid: —if you actually obey these rules. So we need to make these rule—
[01:10:51] Jordan Harbinger: Order is 50 bucks, but screening, it is $385 and up and up and people are just going to go, "You know, we can't compete with other labs that aren't screening. So we're just not going to screen."
[01:11:00] Rob Reid: Yeah. And this lab with a post office box in Cayman Islands, and God knows where the lab is, is just charging you 50 bucks, right? So I say this preface, this, I am a really free-market oriented person. And I look at a great deal of regulation with great skepticism. So any listeners who were rebelling at the idea of government interference and so forth, I'm generally with you, but we can't take that chance here.
[01:11:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:11:25] Rob Reid: So that's thing number one. Now, thing number two is really kind of cool and interesting on a certain level, but it's scary on another, but it has a happy ending thing. Number two, is that in the history of technology and not just computer technology, but technology, there tends to be a migration from what I call the center to the edge. Okay, and to use one vivid example, you know, back when our great-grandparents were walking around, if you wanted a family portrait, unless you were very wealthy, you went to a specialized place where a specialized technician with specialized expensive gear cameras and so forth, and knew how to operate that fussy gear and made the capital investment would take a picture of you. Obviously, we don't even go to places to get photos printed anymore. That migrated from the center, you know, the local photographer to the edge, which is basically anybody with a telephone. There are countless examples. One other that's kind of fun is if you want an attempt, people have been sending text messages since long before any living person was born, they just used to be called telegrams. And so if you wanted to send a text message, you could do it. Probably, couldn't put emojis on it, but you would go to this highly, highly centralized infrastructure. And it certainly happened in bazillions of areas with respect to computing. Computing used to be something that happened in a very big and expensive academic computing center or private computing set or governing computing center and any computing that needed to be done, went to those places.
[01:12:50] So what we have to worry about with synbio, I believe, and everybody who's an IGSC member that I talked to said, impossible, when I floated this prediction by them. But basically I said, guys, you've got to sell by date, right? DNA printers, lab based printers, at some point are going to be able to do everything that you do at hundredth price. Naturally, the IGSC members doubt that. But you know, this is already starting to happen. So the best DNA synthesizer out there right now is called the BioXp. And google it, it's really cool, unbelievably expensive, train in high schools. It's in places that can afford it and its capabilities lag well below those of a Twist Bioscience, a great company, but man, that is — the thing of that is the Apple one. That thing is going to get better and better and cheaper and cheaper and more and more widespread. And it is eventually the descendants of the BioXp, which does DNA synthesis at the edge in the lab. You know, whatever you want to make is going to be in high school, maybe even middle school.
[01:13:49] Now, the great news is that the BioXp is made by an IGSC member and they are very responsible. And before that thing prints anything, it sends a signal back to the mothership to make sure that this is not a diabolical code that's being made. What we need to make sure is that every competitor to the BioXp and every descendant of the BioXp does that too and refuses to print something that is lethal. This is all very doable. The IGSC is already out there. It works pretty goddamn well, the BioXp, the printer already follows this protocol. With the right regulation and the right willpower and the right participant patient from industry, which doesn't want a deadly pathogen anymore than the rest of us, this could be of like our TSA and hardened cockpit doors. Something that makes it, not impossible, but really, really, really hard to make something diabolical.
[01:14:43] Now, the interesting thing to ask ourselves is what about the horsepox guy, he didn't use the BioXp. He assembled that thing because he's freaking brilliant. He's been working with various microbes for a long time and he was able to do that. Isn't he going to be able to do that 15 years from now? The answer is yes, of course, but the future generations and probably a lot of people who are postdoc students today will carry forward that capability. But it's things like the future BioXp become incredibly widespread, future students, future postdocs, and eventually future professors will never have had that weird fiddly, complicated, wet lab experience of creating something from scratch because that was the only option. That knowledge, know-how and even lab equipment and so forth will die out eventually. And meanwhile, it will be in a limited set of minds. So again, this is like the TSA and hardened cockpit doors doesn't make it impossible, but we've got a great starting point and could make it so difficult for somebody. You have to do something on your own, and that's not going to ever be widespread capability or knowledge.
[01:15:55] Jordan Harbinger: In your longer piece again, on Sam Harris and we'll link to that in the show notes. You mentioned that we can look at Google search data because people search for things like, "Why is my nose bleeding and I'm sneezing?" Or like, "Why horse cough, seven days?" you know, we can look at these search results and sort of map diseases. One day we may be able to breathe into our phones for a little checkup, depending on what we have floating around in our respiratory tract. We basically need something like a NORAD, you know, where we were looking for nuclear missiles coming from Russia or wherever else. We need something like a NORAD for diseases. And it's just cool to look at all these systems that may one day, well, unfortunately need to exist and even special UVC lights that could be LED based, they can disinfect entire rooms that hopefully people aren't in. Although it looks like maybe even we will be able to be in there cause it can't penetrate our skin. Just really cool tech that germaphobes like me can really get into but also just the idea that it's not going to be a war that we can't win as long as we sort of like get a head start and realize this might become me because by the time the pathogen hits, if it's 50 percent lethal and it's going to take us two years to come up with a vaccine, we're totally screwed.
[01:17:04] Rob Reid: Yeah. And I'm really glad you brought those precise things up. So in the long talk with Sam, I basically frame things and I'll frame them now in terms of immune system, our immune systems are unbelievably effective. They fight off countless pathogens that we encounter with hardly breaking a sweat all the time. We get sick, rarely if we're lucky. And they work because again, you're very multilayered. They're incredibly agile and they're very, very, very good at dealing with novel things that the immune system to anthropomorphize. It didn't anticipate it. And so I kind of talk about a five-layer immune system, and I won't go into all of that detail here, but one of them is hardening up our synbio, our infrastructure, which we just talked about. And another one, a very, very important one is detection. And there's lots of layers to detection, and this is where it gets kind of cool and fun and exciting because we're talking about agency, we're talking about our ability to fight this thing off, and we're also talking about really cool and interesting science.
[01:18:03] And so to use the Google search thing that you mentioned. One of the most mind-boggling articles that I read during COVID or I mean, just, maybe it wasn't objectively mind-boggling, but it really seized my imagination is pretty early in the crisis. I'd say maybe April or May. A guy named Seth Stephens-Davidowitz who's a data scientist and a Google alum and a bestselling author or near best-selling author. He's done very well. He's got a great book called Everybody Lies. He wrote this article for the New York Times. He's also a New York Times contributor about the symptom of losing one's smell. And if this was early enough that that symptom — God, I'm sure you might've been the same way. I was reading four or five hours of COVID news per day in the early going, like, I just couldn't rip myself away from that crap. And this was at a time I remember vividly "I can't smell" was barely hitting the radar and it was being regarded by epidemiologists with some skepticism because it was kind of weird and it was new.
[01:19:00] Seth did this incredible data regression where Google is very generous in making search volume and search geography. So the number of times certain queries are typed in and the region, the countries, in some cases, narrow geographies where they're typed in available to data scientists like Seth, and he plotted this immaculate correlation between people searching "I can't smell," and the prevalence of COVID. I interviewed him — just a quick plugin. Forgive me. I have my own podcast, as you know, it's called the After On Podcast. And after a bit of a hiatus, long hiatus actually as I was doing other stuff, I just relaunched it about a week and a half ago. And the first episode is a long interview with Seth and a part of that interview not all of it is how can we use — he's just one brilliant guy using information that Google is kind enough to make it available to him. How could we be really serious on a national or global level to track all kinds of search terms, all kinds of symptoms, connected, all kinds of diseases and also symptom clusters?
[01:20:04] Like I'm sure I can't smell, you know, dry cough and — pick your other weird COVID symptom, I'll bet there's a trio of symptoms that had never occurred before in any other disease. And you start seeing novel clusters popping up in different places. Yeah, why don't we make something like NORAD. And with the cooperation of Google and I guess there are other search engines being, I don't know, and with the cooperation of China and Russia and all the great small powers of the world to create this kind of monitoring system. They'd be thinking big challenges to that, but it could be something that's really, really powerful.
[01:20:38] And there's another researcher named [Bill Lampposts]. I think it's University College London, who I did sort of email interview with. He did work where he was able to detect, this is early in COVID, a national outbreak in countries on average 16 days before the public health data indicated that an outbreak was happening by using search data. A 16-day warning could be unbelievably powerful and lifesaving if we get really good at mastering this kind of technology. So that is one of many layers of detection, all of which are intriguing and exciting science that we can and should implement. And the budgets are trivial for these kinds of things, compared to the costs of that stuff actually happening.
[01:21:22] Jordan Harbinger: To me, it's interesting that this technology has so many upsides. I mean, it's really exciting, right? Ironically or coincidentally, I guess printing, well, no, ironically, printing vaccines at home or at least printing them at pharmacies and getting the distribution out there. Like right now we're looking at COVID vaccine and it's like, "Oh my gosh, we can't make enough of these. We got to ship them. They got to be cold. They got to be fresh. You got to line up, you got to do this to help at-risk people. And we need these giant centers and they need to be administered by qualified personnel. And those people have to be in the same place, but we don't want to gather people because it's a freaking pandemic, so that's dangerous. Then it'll be like, actually, every CVS has one of these. Every Walgreens has one of these. There's a nurse who can give you the shot at every one of these. There's a pharmacist who's going to make sure the machine doesn't break, or tech, at every one of these. They're all wearing PPE that maybe even they were able to 3D print on some other machine. You walk in there, they have printed a bunch of these all night or past two days, or however long these machines take to print. Maybe they even do it when you walk in, who knows how fast these things are at that time. And it goes in the machine, comes out, into the dose, they throw it in the syringe. They give you the jab, and you're out of there and you don't need to refrigerate it and it doesn't get thrown away. And there's not excess ingredients that end up getting chucked because it's all in the machine. That's what synbio technology is going to bring us while also potentially bringing us the pandemic. That is why we need the vaccination from that machine in the first place.
[01:22:46] Rob Reid: Yeah, that's another electrifying cool, fabulous technology that you just brought up. So thank you for doing that. So the BioXp, the DNA printer, that I talked about was invented by a brilliant man named Dan Gibson. He co-founded the company that manufactures that, literally, and he tells a story that he's got a TED Talk, it's worth googling. In his TED Talk and his interview with me, but I never published the interview, he basically reveals that he created this machine specifically with the idea of what he calls teleporting vaccines in mind. That is the end case of the future, future BioXp that he wants to have. And it's exactly that. What if you could print the vaccine that the world needs at every pharmacy, every doctor's office, and eventually in every home? You don't have all these problems that you talked about.
[01:23:35] And talk about either, you know, venture capital investment or public investment, this thing is already out there. The vision is already there in the brain of the inventor with a small amount of basic science research and funding and so forth. We could advance, these printers are going to advance at their own pace, the natural pace of the market. We could flood the engine with fuel and advanced the much, much more rapidly. And we need to do that so that we not only have a detection network, we've not only hardened our synbio infrastructure, but we have this way to get vaccines out to the edge, you know, not all sitting in Atlanta, but just being generated on the spot and every community that needs them in great numbers.
[01:24:16] And, you know, Dan told me in our interview, he could see this happening in homes in 10 years. So imagine if along with the smoke alarm and other fire extinguisher and other basic protective equipment that every home has, you've got a printer that is going to crank out the vaccine that you need if in fact it becomes necessary and Moderna created this — a lot of people know, creating their mRNA vaccine in something like crazy, like two days, right? So we could collapse the time from detection, early detection, as we've been talking about to working vaccine, to distributed vaccine, if we make a focus of that and our research and development does, we could collapse that time so tightly that a doomsday synbio rogue loon really won't have a chance.
[01:25:04] Jordan Harbinger: I love it, man. I think this stuff is fascinating. I think it's scary, but it's also the good kind of scary where it goes, okay, we need to focus on this because it could really be a thing. But also it's not just fear-mongering, it could also bring us some of the most cool and impressive breakthrough technology in the field of healthcare and everything else for that matter. I mean, I'm sure as with any sort of military technology where it becomes, you know, we look at it for healthcare, it's going to end up doing a whole bunch of different things, like creating fake meat that tastes like meat, or has the same properties as meat. So we don't have to slaughter animals and destroy the environment. I mean, there's so many cool things that can come out of synbio. So thanks for coming on the show. The majority of this is upside as long as we don't actually just kill everyone else in the process.
[01:25:47] Rob Reid: And thank you for saying it's a good kind of scary because that's essential. So those who do ultimately listen or already have listened to the Sam thing will find the first half absolutely terrifying. And the TED Talk that I gave that you and I talked about a couple of years ago, again, terrifying at the beginning, but terrifying with a purpose, which is motivation. And with this unbelievably optimistic and empowering message that we've got this and the budgets are minuscule. I mean the flu cost is $360 billion a year in lost. That's US alone in lost economic output and in healthcare costs, none of everything I'm talking about when costly we're close to that, right?
[01:26:23] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:26:24] Rob Reid: So it's something that's affordable. And I honestly think that one reason why we survived the Cold War was the power of movies like Wargames and Dr. Strangelove. Things that scared the bejesus out of people, but in a way that really motivated society to get its act together and preclude that kind of outcome. So hopefully as we ponder these things and hopefully as this message spreads and thank you so much for giving me this extraordinary platform to spread the message more broadly, hopefully as this gets out there, well, if any listeners know, policy makers, particularly in health, Department of Homeland Security, if anybody knows people with gigantic megaphones and want to spread this word, please do because we need this conversation to be happening and on as broad of a societal level as possible.
[01:27:14] Jordan Harbinger: Rob Reid, thank you very much.
[01:27:15] Rob Reid: Thanks for having me on. You're an incredible interview, I got to say. Just so conversational and fun, it's like a really like exciting dinner conversation in the best possible way with somebody who really freaking knows the topic. And it's just banter and it's natural and it's easy and it's just awesome. You're really, really good at what we both do.
[01:27:38] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, thank you, man.
[01:27:39] Rob Reid: You're f*cking good at it.
[01:27:40] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you. I appreciate that. It feels good when my mom says she likes the show, but it means more coming from people like you who are in the same niche. So I appreciate that.
[01:27:52] Now, I've got some thoughts on this episode, but before I get into that, here's a glimpse of my interview with the son of a Hamas co-founder before a change of heart had him working undercover for Israeli intelligence against his former friends and family to thwart terrorist plots and save lives. Check it out.
[01:28:09] Mosab Hassan Yousef: Hamas is an Islamic movement. My father is one of the founding members of Hamas. Hamas for us was everything to the point where it became an army. It's a monster. I agreed to work with Israel with a hidden agenda to be a double agent. The level of pressure that they had to go through. My heart stopped for approximately 30 seconds. Most human beings cannot make it back. I was tortured mentally and physically. Everybody in the city knew that I'm a dead man.
[01:28:46] Jordan Harbinger: For more, including what it was like growing up in one of the first families of which many consider a terrorist group and why Mosab considers it the greatest school of his life, check out episode 407 on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:29:01] I always love conversations like this, especially with people who know what they're talking about and aren't just pulling stuff out of thin air to sell a book. Speaking of which I read a Tom Clancy book about this kind of thing decades ago, where an environmentalist doomsday group created some virus to release at the Olympics because they wanted a great reset. Look at these QAnon and other doomsday cultists here in the USA and elsewhere, you don't have to look too far to find crazies with pretty much nothing to live for or blind faith in some ridiculous fantasy.
[01:29:29] There was a cult in Japan years ago, I think it was the '90s called Aum Shinrikyo or something along those lines. They attacked Tokyo subways with homemade sarin gas. So imagine if those people had something worse. I mean, we don't really have to imagine that there are people that want to shoot, blow up, destroy as many people as possible, which is terrifying. The technology on the other hand, is fascinating and it's probably, in fact, almost certainly going to save many more, more lives than it could ever take as long as we kind of, you know, keep an eye on things.
[01:30:00] Again, big thank you to Rob Reid. You can find links to his stuff in the show notes. Please use our website links if you buy any books from any guests on the show. It always helps support the show. And yes, it works for Kindle and yes, it works for Audible as well. Those are general Amazon links that work internationally as well. Worksheets for the episode are in the show notes. Transcripts are in the show notes. And there's a video of this interview going up on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, or just hit me on LinkedIn.
[01:30:30] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships, using systems and tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at jordanharbinger.com course. Dig the well before you go thirsty. Most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company.
[01:30:47] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's interested in synthetic biology or pandemics or virology, anything along those lines, please share this episode with them. I hope you find something great in every episode, especially these emerging technologies, always so interesting. Please do share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[01:31:28] This is Uncomfortable from Marketplace is a podcast about life and how money messes with it. And this season, the show digs into one very specific feeling that nagging suspicion that in some way or another, we're all getting scammed from a decades long quest to unravel and identity theft to the get rich quick allure of multi-level marketing schemes. Host Reema Khrais discusses how our society seems to be built in a way that can leave many feeling cheated. You can find, follow, and listen to This is Uncomfortable on Apple Podcasts.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.