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Tim Urban on humanity’s wild future

The Ezra Klein Show

February 10, 2020

90 minutes

 I’ve been a fan of Tim Urban and his site Wait But Why for a long time. Urban uses whimsical illustrations, infographics, and friendly, nontechnical language to explain everything from AI to space exploration to the Fermi Paradox. 

Urban's most recent project is an explainer series called “The Story of Us." It began as an attempt to understand what is going on in American politics today, and quickly turned into a deep exploration into humanity's past: how we evolved, the history of civilization, and the way our psychologies have come to interact with the world around us. 

My initial theory of this conversation was that Urban’s work has interesting points of convergence and divergence with my book. But once we got to talking, something more interesting emerged: Based on his reading of human history, psychology, and technological advancement, Urban has come to believe we are at an existential fork-in-the-road as a species. A hundred years from now, Urban thinks, our species will either advance so significantly that we will no longer be recognizable as human beings, or we will so lose control of our progress that the human story will end in a destructive apocalypse. I’m less convinced, but open to the idea that I’m wrong.

So this, then, isn’t just a conversation about politics and polarization in the present. It’s more fully a conversation about whether the politics of the present are distracting us from the forces that are, even as we speak, deciding our future.

References: 

Dave Robert’s piece on Tim Urban’s aversion to politics 

My conversation with Andrew Yang

Book recommendations: 

A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich 

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu 

Atomic Habits by James Clear


New to the show? Want to listen to Ezra's favorite episodes? Check out The Ezra Klein Show beginner's guide.

My book is available at www.EzraKlein.com.

The “Why We’re Polarized” tour continues, with events in Portland, Seattle, Austin, Nashville, Chicago, and Greenville. Go to WhyWerePolarized.com for the full schedule!

Want to contact the show? Reach out at ezrakleinshow@vox.com

Credits:

Producer - Jeff Geld

Researcher - Roge Karma

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