Introducing The After On Podcast – interviews with thinkers, founders, and scientists

Writing science fiction can get you amazing access to thinkers, founders, and scientists whose work touches on the stories you tell. It's one of the great things about my job. Sure, writing cover stories for Wired would get my calls returned faster! But countless science and tech leaders trace their interests back to tales they read as youngsters — which has lent me great success in requesting research interviews for my stories.

Setting my books in the present-ish day, I try to keep things consistent with current technology and knowledge, so I conduct lots of these interviews. And I learn troves from them. But as I get excited about a new field, I become prone to giddy tangents about how it all works, or why it matters. Giddy tangents have a place in fiction – but a limited one, and they should be used sparingly.

I conducted dozens of interviews while writing my new novel After On (which came out out on Tuesday). Focusing on the storytelling meant leaving out huge amounts of newfound learning that just didn't fit. Which was the right decision! But it also felt like a lost opportunity. And so I've created eight podcast episodes that deeply explore areas that fascinated me during my research. I'll be posting them to Boing Boing on a weekly basis, starting with Episode One, which is all about augmented reality:

A quick word on how these episodes are structured. My co-host is grizzled podcasting veteran Tom Merritt, who has been presenting tech news and culture to the world for over fifteen years. We open the show together, then cut to a long-form interview with an expert in the field in question. Then at the end of the episode, Tom and I relate the interview back to the novel. Prior to this point, it is in no way necessary to read the novel in order to connect to the podcast (non-readers can just tune out for the final section). And this week, you can actually read the relevant section (pages 1-51 of the novel) for free on Medium, where it's posted in three excerpts, here, here, and here.

In this week's episode, I interview Meron Gribetz, CEO of the trailblazing AR company Meta. AR is at a fascinating point in 2017. Meta, Microsoft, and their various AR competitors have invested literal billions in the field. Yet few people have had any AR experiences beyond the constricted aperture of Pokémon Go. This is about to change. Meta's latest product (the Meta 2) is thrilling to use, and is finding major enterprise customers. Google's much-maligned Glass product is also enjoying enterprise adoption. The narrow field of view on Microsoft's HoloLens leaves me wanting more, but the company's investment in the market is highly validating. And other shoes are surely yet to drop, from Apple, Facebook, and maybe even Snapchat.

Meron is a great guide to his emerging market, which we cover quite broadly in our wide-ranging interview. The ethical issues that next-generation AR will raise particularly intrigue me. I explore some of them in my novel, and Meron has an interesting take on them. Here's a quick guide some of the episode's highlights:

04:47– How a company that has raised $100MM began with a Kickstarter.

09:34– Why Meta thinks AR's near future is about productivity, not entertainment.

25:03– Ethical issues of AR in the wild, and the concept of "public by default."

42:07– A neuroscientific take on how UI elements light up different brain regions.

By the way, one of the coolest things about meeting Meron at his office is seeing his desk – which is literally a freakin' plank! The man is eating his own dogfood, as the saying goes, by doing without a computer. And so he accesses the Web, email and more in AR space.

I hope you enjoy this podcast, and that you'll consider joining me for some of the coming ones. Boing Boing has been my cherished guide to the digital world for most of my adult life, and it's a huge honor to be sharing my work here. The schedule is below, and/or you can subscribe on iTunes by clicking here, then clicking the blue "View on iTunes" button (under the square After On image on the left side of the page), then clicking "Subscribe" in similar location in the iTunes window.

Episodes and release dates:

  • Episode 1 (August 3): Augmented Reality. Guest = Meron Gribetz,CEO of Meta, one of the top AR companies.
  • Episode 2 (August 10): Neuroscience + Consciousness. Guest = Adam Gazzaley, a UCSF neuroscientist whose work on using video games as clinical tools has appeared on the cover of Nature
  • Episode 3 (August 17): Digital Privacy + Government intrusion. Guest = Cindy Cohn, who runs the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
  • Episode 4 (August 24): Synthetic Biology's Promise + Peril. Guest = Andy Hessel, a major synbio thought leader and a prime driver behind GP-write, which some view as the heir to the Human Genome Project.  
  • Episode 5 (August 31): Quantum Computing. Guest = Steve Jurvetson, prominent venture capitalist, and a board member of the world's largest quantum computing company (DWave) for 15 years. 
  • Episode 6 (Sept 7): Nihilistic Terrorism. Guest = Sam Harrisone of the country's most prominent and controversial commentators on this subject
  • Episode 7 (Sept 14): Super AI Risk. Surprise guest.
  • Episode 8 (Sept 2): Fermi's Paradox and the anthropic coincidences. Guest = Stephen Webb, British astronomer and perhaps the world's leading authority on Fermi's Paradox.