Chicken little forecast

Still Chugging Along

Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.

Progress Check: Climate Dads, Cell Phone Bans, and Asteroid Sampling

Featuring Zachary Karabell & Emma Varvaloucas

Who is going to work these days and who is staying home? How should schools handle cell phones on their grounds, and what is the UK doing about them in particular? And what did NASA scientists find in their latest asteroid sample? Zachary Karabell and Emma Varvaloucas are back to discuss the latest news stories we might have missed.

Prefer to read? Check out the Audio Transcript

Zachary Karabell (ZK): What could go right? I’m Zachary Karabell, the founder of The Progress Network, and joined as always by my co-host, Emma Varvaloucas, the executive director of The Progress Network, coming to you live from the great city of Athens, not Georgia, Greece. And I’m in New York City. And we are the co-hosts of What Could Go Right?, which is the weekly podcast of The Progress Network. And this is our attempt, sometimes Sisyphean, but an attempt nonetheless, to shed some light on things that are going well in the world.

I say this as a prelude to this episode because obviously, the month of October, particularly with what’s been going on in the Middle East, has been, for many people in the Western world at least, a very challenging time, and one where the idea that there are things going right in the world has been an alien concept. And it really is in those moments that we need to both acknowledge and engage what’s challenging and what’s difficult, but also make an effort to recognize that it is not the whole story of humanity and it is not necessarily going to dictate the future.

So Emma and I are going to talk today about some of the news that is, I would say, more constructive, more positive, but in no way are we doing so with rose-tinted we’re not gonna look at or acknowledge the things that are challenging.

Emma Varvaloucas (EV): So let’s talk about some nice stuff, nice but substantive. That’s how I would put it.

ZK: Nice but substantive.

EV: Nice but substantive.

ZK: That’s what I say about a good sandwich.

EV: Nice but substantive, I would say nice and substantive.

ZK: Okay.

EV: [laughs]

ZK: That’s a good point.

EV: So the sandwich that we’re giving to you today on the podcast starts with climate dads. Didn’t know that was a term until Bloomberg introduced it to me last month in October. Apparently they’re like dads that are super into greening the family. And the reason why I’m bringing it up is not because I think it’s such a massive phenomenon. I doubt by the numbers that it’s so big, but it is cute. In the coverage that Bloomberg did of climate dads, they had some numbers on how they find that this is a part of a larger trend of dads getting more involved in parenting and household chores and gave some numbers from the US and the UK. So I’d like to talk about those because they are dribbles of change, but change nonetheless. So the amount of time that US fathers have spent on unpaid childcare has doubled since 1965 from one hour per week to two [laughs].

ZK: I was gonna say, because this is one of these lying with statistics. It’s gone from 1% to 2%.

EV: Exactly. So that one, I was like, okay, not much to write home about, right? Slightly more interesting, 5% of US families now have a stay-at-home parent who’s male. That was 2% in 1994. So again, dribbles, but moving in a certain direction. The UK numbers are more inspiring, shall we say. In the UK, men now spend around 65% as much time as women on unpaid childcare, and that’s up from 50% in 2015. So they’re doing more than half [laughs] of what the women are doing. Again, moving in the right direction. We’re gonna give them credit for that. And in 2019, in the UK, 1 in 14 stay at stay-at-home parents were men. Now, it’s 1 in 9.

ZK: Wow.

EV: Mm-hmm.

ZK: And that’s an actual meaningful change statistically.

EV: Yeah, like I said, dribbles. The caveat was dribbles. I just think that this has been one of the most slow moving societal changes that feminism has been pushing for a long time. And I would, in the spirit of The Progress Network, like to point that out even though the numbers are not particularly strong, because even the fact that Bloomberg is writing about this from a positive perspective, climate dads as a thing, is a change. I don’t think that you would have seen that even in recent years to talk about a subgenre of dad-ing, right?

ZK: Although your stats definitely are kind of the— we may be graduating from a dribble to a trickle, which eventually, I suppose, could become a torrent. But we are a ways away from either a steady flow or a torrent. That being said, there is a question of should these things be equal, right? Should all of it be 50/50? Maybe it should be 50/50 on some sort of aggregate basis, even if it’s not 50/50 on an individual basis, meaning there should be some sense of equity between homecare and childcare overall, even if any individual family unit may vary widely. The question then is how much and how much do we allow for individual latitude, individual meaning individual family latitude.

I think the thing that’s been most problematic in the United States has been the absence of childcare, which we’ve talked about on a bunch of programs. The absence of affordable childcare for large swaths of middle income and lower income people, which has tended to fall most heavily on women, but it’s a burden that is shared in the sense of it’s an untenable economic burden for families, full stop. And that’s an equal challenge to the individual. We have an episode talking about Betty Friedan and the rise of second wave feminism. And yes, a lot of that change at that time was focused on individuals making the change, men believing that this was their responsibility and women no longer believing that this was their sole responsibility or their primary work as the case may be. But there is a larger social dynamic in that without adequate collective support, it’s really difficult for individuals to even make these changes.

EV: Sure. I mean, to get at your question of do we want things to be 50/50 or, put that another way, if things were 50/50, would that be a sign that we had arrived at the place that we want to arrive at? I think you really need to zoom in more on statistics. Like in the UK, men are now spending about 65% as much time as women on unpaid childcare. It depends what the situation at home is, right? Is there a stay-at-home parent? Are they both working? I think it’s very easy if you have both parents working, they should be spending around the same amount of time. I agree with you. That’s probably never gonna be exactly the same. It’s gonna change depending on the intricacies of circumstance. But that one I think is an easy answer.

The one that’s a more difficult answer is the ratio of stay-at-home dads versus stay-at-home moms, what is the ideal number for that? Again, I think the easy one there is not 1 in 9 and not 1 in 14. Maybe it doesn’t need to be 1 in 2, but I think we’re far away from really actually asking those kinds of questions in a serious manner because the burden is so much more on women than on men for these kinds of things.

ZK: Well, I guess here’s to climate dads, a term that I will now remember. I’m not sure I’ll use it, but I’ll remember it.

EV: I mean, you’re kind of a climate dad, you’re kind of like the OG climate dad.

ZK: To some degree, yeah. But I never thought of it in those terms. We can move from the trickle of climate dads to—

EV: We’re gonna stay on climate, but away from dads.

ZK: Okay.

EV: I love asking you quiz questions. So, Zachary, which major economy derives the highest percentage, based on the first nine months of 2023, of its electricity from clean sources?

ZK: Good question. Highest percentage of their economy from clean sources? The Netherlands.

EV: I don’t know if that’s a good guess ’cause I don’t know where the Netherlands lie, but it’s Brazil, and they have recently just—

ZK: Holland. Holland. The Netherlands is Holland.

EV: No, no, I know, but I’m saying that I don’t— [laughs] I realize that, thank you. But—

ZK: I was like, I think you know where the Netherlands are, but maybe not.

EV: Not that I don’t know where it lies geographically. I mean, I don’t know where they lie as far as percentage of their electricity coming from clean energy sources.

ZK: Oh.

EV: But in case anyone’s confused, yes, Holland, the Netherlands, western coast of Europe. And the answer is Brazil. And they have just dislodged France. Brazil is at 93% of their electricity is now coming from clean sources. This is because Brazil is putting in a ton of wind and solar, and France took a step back from using nuclear.

ZK: I just looked this up. Interestingly enough, 81% of the Netherlands is fossil fuel, so I was so wrong about the Netherlands. It’s not even funny.

EV: That’s surprising though. If 81% of their electricity—

ZK: Yeah, I mean, I would have thought it would be much more. Yeah.

EV: Wow. Wow.

ZK: So they’re not even— it was just a terrible guess on my part. I mean, it sounded right. I thought water, they’re underwater, they must be using a lot of hydro. But no, that was just wrong.

EV: Disappointing, Holland. Disappointing.

ZK: I know. And surprising with Brazil, given that the attention that Brazil tends to get when it gets attention in our world is either massive political dysfunction between Bolsonaro and various corruption trials over the past 15 years, including at one point the imprisonment of Lula, who is now the president of Brazil, or deforestation and the devastation of the Amazon basin.

So we unfairly, I think, tend to— when Brazil gets attention, it’s for these negative factors, right? Either politics or environmental degradation, not constructive use of environmental resources and renewables. And I’m totally guilty as charged. Brazil would not have been in my top 10 guesses, even with my first guess having been colossally wrong. So that’s a fascinating mismatch between, as it were, public image and actual economic and climate reality. And we pointed to this a lot in different conversations we’ve had, that there is a narrative about what’s going on in climate that’s often at odds with the reality of what’s going on in terms of solutions to carbon-based emissions and industrial economies. So that was a really good statistical lesson that I hope I have learned.

EV: I mean, for me, the question was, because Lula recently came into power after Bolsonaro, like you mentioned, there must have been a large proportion of this wind and solar installation being done before Lula. I mean, he’s on the left, as you mentioned, it makes sense that he would be a pro-environment, pro-climate change, green transition, et cetera, et cetera. But there’s no way that he could have just done that from scratch. So that makes me very curious about how much they were already doing, to your point of lots of stuff goes on that we wouldn’t necessarily assume based on political leaders.

ZK: Yeah. Think of Texas today. Massive wind and solar power generation, even as it’s the oil capital of the United States. Same thing in Oklahoma, because they have lots of sunshine and lots of wind. I mean, those renewable resources are plentiful in those parts of the United States, and there’s economic incentives to take advantage of that, which they have. So you have a similar dynamic, I think, in the United States where the narrative may be, in Texas, we’re just pumping oil because Houston’s an oil town, or Oklahoma, we’re pumping oil ’cause Tulsa’s an oil town, when in reality they’re also some of the most dynamic aggressive generators of wind and solar energy.

EV: So last point about the climate, another massive generator of wind and solar energy that people may or may not know, and that’s China.

Audio Clip: 15 years ago, China could produce six times as many solar panels as the US. Look at what’s happened since then. It can now make 70 times as many. That massive production capacity means China alone is able to install more than half of the world’s new solar panels this year.

EV: This is another piece in the very complicated climate puzzle. China is building a bunch of new coal plants and permitting new coal plants and they get a slap on the wrist for that, but they also get a cookie because they have reached their clean power targets five years early. So their targets for wind and solar capacity, they are set to reach them in 2025. Those targets were set for 2030. Again, this just goes back to the massive renewable installation going on right now that is really hard to see happening, but is happening like absolute madness.

ZK: Yeah. Again, and China has been excoriated for building lots of coal plants, excoriated by the environmental community, obviously, for building lots of coal plants, which they continue to do because there has been continued need for power generation. But there’s also been a massive competition with China over their subsidizing low cost solar panels. That was part of the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States. Part of the intent was to subsidize or make sure the United States has a more competitive solar production industry relative to China. Same thing with batteries, right? That’s been another sore spot. But China has been for its own particular reasons.

The Chinese Communist Party may not allow any particular political descent, but if the air is so polluted that people’s kids are developing emphysema or need more healthcare, there’s no way the Communist Party’s been able to resist that particular set of critiques, that it’s not doing an adequate job creating decent living standards for Chinese people. And that’s been an issue. So the Chinese government’s actually been pretty aggressive about making a transition. Also because it doesn’t want to be dependent on foreign imports of resources that it doesn’t have domestically. It has lots of coal, but it doesn’t have much in the way of oil and petroleum. And so, like any other robust, dynamic, powerful society, China doesn’t want to be dependent on external sources of energy. The United States hasn’t either. So there’s real incentives, sort of nationalistic incentives, to develop renewable sources as a way of offsetting, and nuclear as well.

EV: Yeah. Not to mention the fact that China’s economy seems to be heading into some significant headwinds. We haven’t talked about that on the podcast yet. I’m not gonna bring that up necessarily right now, but it just reminded me of that topic because it’s like CCP has always been tolerated because of the economic opportunity brought to people. And if that unstated promise is going to change, we might be seeing some very different circumstances in China the next few years.

ZK: We might indeed.

EV: But that’s not progress. Well, I don’t know, depending on how you look at it, I guess. Anyway, we’re gonna leave China be.

ZK: It could be.

EV: It could be depending on who you are and how you’re looking at things. So leaving China behind, let’s talk about smartphones in school. And this is always an interesting one with you because you have a more flexible perspective about smartphones and the youth than a lot of other people. So the UK’s Education Ministry has just announced that they’re going to issue guidance. This is like the announcement about the announcement. Anyway, guidance is coming about banning the use of cell phones in schools. As of 2018, 95% of schools in the UK already had restrictions, but they vary. Some schools are like, let’s put the phones in a bag at the beginning of the day and you get it at the end of the day. Other schools, you get to keep it, but you’re only allowed to use it in between class time. This is gonna be a blanket no cell phones in schools. And they are going to join France, China, and the Netherlands is going to also join in 2024.

ZK: Those Netherlands cell phones, however, will be powered largely by non-renewable sources of electricity, as we now know. It is definitely true that I am, judging from the arguments that I get into with people, more lax in my sense of immediate harm and/or peril of teenagers being on smart devices, smartphones insofar as we had this discussion with Jonathan Haidt a while back, who’s also a member of The Progress Network, about whether or not the notable spikes in reported teen mental health issues is attributable to social media, which are largely consumed via smartphones these days, or a whole series of other issues that are besetting modern society and that we may be sort of conflating things or assuming causation where there’s simply correlation, And we can have and should continue to have these debates on the podcast and the newsletter as a society.

When it comes to schools and phones, there, I think my attitudes are much more insofar as those can be hugely distracting and detach people from either engaging with peers in a group discussion or engaging with the material. Just like I’m not a big fan of phones at dinner with friends. I mean, I might check a fact or Google something because it used to be that when you debated over a factual point at dinner with friends, whoever was shouting the loudest sort of won the argument and then you went home and looked it up in the encyclopedia. Now, you can just Google it at dinner and get on with it. So I am in favor of a little bit of dinner Googling, depending on the conversation—

EV: Or podcast Googling about the Netherlands.

ZK: And adding a dollop of fact. Right, I just Googled the Netherlands thing, which I think was helpful for the conversation. Otherwise, I might have blithely gone on and asserted a fact that was completely incorrect. So, yeah, I think a limited amount of dinner Googling is helpful. It could even be useful for a teacher during a class lesson if a student asks a question and they don’t know the answer to look up the answer in real time. But for the most part, phones are, I think, an unnecessary school distraction. I don’t know if I agree on the you should put it in a bag at 8:30 and collect it again at 4:30. And I think if you’ve got a free period or some time, maybe it’s okay to do so. I suppose the pushback from the schools would be lunchtime and break time should be a time for people to have to engage each other and the phones mitigate against that. But I think at most of these schools, you go into your computer anyway if you need to do a lesson during that time. So I’m not sure the no smartphone thing makes total sense in downtimes, but that’s all to me.

The point of all this should be balanced, right? Are you obsessed and lost in a device or anything else for that matter, or is that simply part of the toolkit that you bring to bear on a daily basis in how you interact with the world? And balance is hard to find. And the reason why you and I have had these discussions and where I’ve pushed back a bit is by banning something or saying no, a hundred percent, you are creating, in my sense, at times, an extreme reaction to an extreme problem. And I think extremes tend to beget extremes as opposed to engender balance. And I think balance is what we need to strive for, whether it’s social media consumption, whether it’s alcohol consumption, anything, whether it’s how we engage in political debates. Balance is kind of the key, and it’s one of the points of this whole endeavor, to find a way to talk about things with balance, negative and positive, pro and con. So that’s my very long-winded response to your very simple question.

EV: That was a lovely abstract monologue about balance. I agree with you when it comes to adults because adults have the ability. I remember when I got my first smartphone, and I did experience a lot of the negative effects that have to do with smartphones and social media. But because I’m an adult, I figured it out, and now I have balance. And now I’m able to appreciate the pros and deal with the cons. I was in my twenties, and that took me until I was in my thirties probably [laughs]. So it’s a different situation when you’re talking about, I think a lot of people would say this and I think I mostly agree with this, it’s a different situation when you’re talking about children and teens. They are gonna have their phones the rest of their day. So if they don’t have them for eight hours in school, they’re gonna get them when they leave and they’re gonna have them over the weekend. I don’t view a ban in school of not having your phone as extreme. I view it as more of a middle ground in an already extreme situation.

ZK: I think the question is what message is that ban sending to students? Is it sending the message of we perceive these devices and the use and consumption of the information on them to be toxic and harmful and distracting and therefore we’re gonna take them away in a sort of abstinence approach during the school day versus teaching people how to be balanced, both by doing and also working with students about how to do that. And that may be a tall order and maybe that’s something families ought to do, but I get nervous when you ban something, full stop, which is different than saying you can’t use your phone in class, right?

I’m not suggesting there should be a complete laissez-faire attitude toward all this. I’m saying that bans, on the face of it, just like abstinence, just like no drinking, just like no drugs, just like no sex, all these things backfire because they don’t allow for how do people then figure out the balance that you described? Some of which you learned and I learned and we all learned by going to excess, right? We don’t tend to find that balance simply magically wading our way into it, right? It’s an ebb, it’s a flow. It’s pushing those boundaries. It’s not always understanding them. And again, as you just said, that may be a lovely abstract answer to a much more concrete pragmatic problem.

EV: I’ll say one thing is that the examples that you used are in interesting for bans. Sex, alcohol, drugs, all those things are banned in school and no one thinks that’s weird. No one would be like, I definitely think that we should let people have sex in the bathrooms in between class time because they need to figure out how to deal with the world in which you’ll have sex, right? It’s school. That’s not the place.

ZK: Totally fair.

EV: So [laughs].

ZK: Totally fair.

EV: I will also say that when I bring up stuff on the podcast that has to do with other nations making decisions, I really love thinking about whether that would apply in the US because I love the idea of taking good ideas. In the US, I think this one in particular would be very difficult since all of these decisions would be made, I guess, at a district level. I guess they could be made at a state level, probably never gonna be made at a federal level. And there would be enormous pushback because of the fear of guns in schools of parents not being able to get in touch with their kids. So that’s one thing where I do feel like the US is just not— that’s gonna be a major impediment to any kind of discussion around this in the United States.

ZK: There have been a whole bunch of private schools, however, in the United States that have done exactly what you’ve described, sort of phoneless days, you check your phone at the door and you pick it up at— and that’s certainly true in middle school. I mean, that was true at my son’s school. High school is different, right? But there’s definitely a willingness in a lot of private schools to make phone use during the school day not permissible. And look, your point about these other bans and that this is school and there’s a place for it is totally legit. And clearly, we’re still trying to figure out like what the right balance is between these devices. It’s just these devices are also sources of amazing education and information. And to the degree that can be woven into your day, that could actually be quite constructive.

EV: Yeah. And just from an individual perspective, there’s so much media discourse out there about people being attached to their phone. But on another token, I live by myself, I work from home. If I was not on my phone at times during the day, I would be drowning in loneliness, right? It’s not a normal situation for most of humanity. My phone is my lifeline to my friends in Greece, my friends in the United States, co-workers, it’s everything. So I definitely agree with you on that front that they should not be looked at as just sources of bad stuff. I miss flip phones a little bit.

Anyway, enough of the flip phone nostalgia from an elder millennial. Let’s talk about NASA ’cause NASA’s been doing some cool stuff, not bad stuff, cool stuff. They retrieved a sample from an asteroid for the first time in September, and they just made public the findings for the first time in October. NASA was not the first to do this. Japan beat us to the punch. They are reporting that the asteroid sample contained carbon and water. 230 scientists are gonna work on figuring out what else is in the sample for the next two years.

Audio Clip: Well, we turn now to the NASA mission that has top scientists and space geeks geeking out pretty much this morning. The first results are in from the mission that brought back a sample of dust and rock from the surface of a near earth asteroid. So this is like the basic ingredients of life.

Audio Clip: Carbon and water on an asteroid that’s four and a half billion years old. Why does that matter? Because you and I are made of carbon and water. This is fascinating. This sample may help reveal the origins of the cosmos and how water ended up on Earth. And if there are traces of water and carbon on an asteroid, could other planets have also be seeded with the critical ingredients for life?

EV: And the public can go see these samples at three different museums. The Smithsonian in DC, the University of Arizona Museum in Tucson, and the Space Center Houston in Texas. Why this is exciting, I am gonna read you this quote from one of the sample analysts. I love quotes from scientists ’cause they’re just so pumped. “We’re gonna learn so much about the origins of the solar system, its evolution, and potentially how life got started on Earth.” Basically, they’re trying to see if they can figure out what the building blocks of life were from this additional information from the asteroid and what the heck happened ’cause we still don’t really know for sure, right? So that’s cool.

ZK: Yeah, and I mean, NASA’s gotten probably its own legitimately bad rap, but certainly critique. I just finished reading Walter Isaacson’s, Elon Musk biography, and one of the subtext of that certainly is that the rise of SpaceX, which is Musk’s company, has been largely as a lower cost contractor for NASA than NASA was able to do for its own rockets to cut through the bureaucracy of NASA that has accreted over the decades and be able to deliver payloads and satellites and rocket technology at a much cheaper, more efficient level. And it distracted from the degree that NASA still does some really amazing exploratory origins of the universe, whether it’s telescopes or probes that obtain samples from far flung places, most of which, unless you’re in those particular worlds—

One of the members of The Progress Network, Ché Bolden, is deeply in this whole emerging world of space technologies, space businesses, private sector in particular. So there’s a lot going on that will probably shape our futures far more than we are aware of in the present because a lot of this doesn’t get the attention that other things get. It may not be as spectacular. Some of these take years to reach whatever destination or provide whatever data. So it’s one of these things that it’s kind of a reminder of it’s going on— I was about to say it’s going on underneath the radar, which is completely incorrect ’cause it’s totally in the radar given that it’s NASA or whatever the hell they use to find things in a far flung way, radio waves and technology.

EV: Under the proverbial radar.

ZK: Exactly.

EV: Also, in mid-October, that’s just the other bit of asteroid related news, they just launched a spacecraft to a metal asteroid. So normally, asteroids are rocky or icy. This one’s covered in a coating of metal. And they have not sampled that yet. So they just launched to reach a metal asteroid, and it will reach there in 2029. So we will come back [laughs] with a report in six years.

ZK: [laughs] Write it down, What Could Go Right?, sometime in 2029, episode on metallic asteroid discoveries. And you’ve heard climate dads in this episode and now we have in asteroid related news, which is a thing, right? It’s just not a thing most of us usually talk.

EV: Mm-hmm.

Ready for our last piece before we-

ZK: Sure.

EV: -bid people a good November. A woman in Sweden received a bionic arm. So this is really neat. They figured out a way to fuse the prosthetic piece with the bones in her arm so that neurons can actually communicate with the titanium in the prosthetic piece and she can control movement of the arm. I’m waggling my fingers right now to demonstrate the movement. She can do up to 80% of her daily activities with the arm and it also helps with phantom limb pain. So she reports that she’s been able to take far fewer painkillers after getting this. This is a collaborative effort from researchers in Italy, Australia, Sweden, and the US. Obviously, I don’t know when this is going to be available en masse, if ever, but the fact that it’s possible is amazing.

ZK: So this has been the culmination of decades of work. Some of the largest companies in the world are now spending billions of dollars on these kinds of research and technologies. Facebook, Meta is one. One of the things they’re doing, oddly enough, for their VR and metaverse work is to create neural pathways to control physical activity, which, in the case of Meta, may have more entertainment and communications applications rather than the one you’ve just talked about, which is actually controlling a prosthetic. But these technologies are far more advanced, I think, than most of us know. One of his ventures is Neuralink, which, again, isn’t exactly on this, but it’s another version of creating technologies whereby brain impulses are translated not just through our own bodies but into machines.

And again, from what I’ve understood from people in this space, not just at an investing level but at a technological level, we’re actually much more along the way given that brain impulses and brain signals are electrical and they’re impulses. We’ve obviously created massive technological advances with machines that function with electronic impulses. So it’s not as complicated as some other things, but the commercialization, the implementation, combined with the fact that there is a legitimate hesitancy to experiment to try out these prototypes on humans, that’s one of the great problems of this. There’s no crash test dummy version of this. So it’s both the commercialization and the implantation and implementation that is a hurdle to these things. But I think it’s gonna happen a lot more quickly than we think. Now, that may be, for a lot of people, a scary prospect, not a hopeful prospect.

EV: Yeah, that’s what I was just thinking, that to a lot of people, the thought of getting linked up to a machine is a hundred percent dystopian. And you think to yourself, why would I wanna get hooked up to a machine? Well, if your arm was chopped off in a farming accident and you are addicted to painkillers, you would, right? And I actually honestly had never thought about that link before until seeing this and thinking like, wow, actually, that sounds like a huge improvement in life for this person. How cool.

ZK: And again, it kind of depends on what cultural moment you’re in. So when I grew up in the ’70s and these shows, The Six Million Dollar Man, or The Bionic Woman, we thought, oh my god, this is so cool. It will give people huge powers, it’ll save their lives. And then we’ve gone through a multi-decade period where it’s much more RoboCop and Terminator and all the cyborg fears that this is gonna create monstrous fusions of human and machine. So both are possible outcomes of these technologies. And which of those two you feel is most prominent and most possible often has to do with what cultural moment you are in.

And it’s a similar discussion that we’ve had about AI and the fears around AI, which is do you look at this as empowering technologies or do you look at this as devouring technologies? And which of these, again, plays in a lot to are you feeling good about the world? Are you feeling bad about the world? Are you feeling that human beings are creating technologies that provide solutions, or are human beings creating technologies that sow the seeds of our collective destruction? And like the old canard about a hammer, it can build a building or kill a person and it’s a neutral tool that can do both, is magnified for these technologies, but the essential reality remains that they can empower and do great good or they can destroy and do great harm. And it will be up to us to figure out which of those, which is similar to the conversation we just had about smartphones and technology and communication devices.

EV: I’m just curious if you could choose to be hooked up into a machine, what machine would you choose?

ZK: That’s a really good question. I mean, I was really into the running fast, particularly with crappy knees now. If you could give me a bionic knee tomorrow, I would probably do that-

EV: That’s a good answer.

ZK: -in a heartbeat, in a moment, without question, if I knew that it would work.

EV: Right, and that there were no side effects.

ZK: And that there were no side effects and zero pain and it would be outpatient, like I’d go in in the morning and sprint out in the afternoon.

EV: I think I would choose a hip or a sewing machine. That would be really cool.

ZK: You have like a sewing arm.

EV: Yeah. I mean, I am a lover of fashion. Think about things that you would create just by being attached to a sewing machine, that you could detach and reattach.

ZK: You could just walk into a store with bolts of fabric and walk out with whatever you want.

EV: Yeah. You could just look at patterns online and be like [machine noises]. I’d be into it.

ZK: You see, everybody’s got something.

EV: Mm-hmm. So that’s all we have for today.

ZK: So we will be with you next week with a guest. Hopefully, the world will just keep spinning on its axis in the next seven days just as it has for the past, at least that’s our plan.

EV: Let’s hope that’s not gonna be subject to the phrase the best laid plans.

ZK: Exactly. Thank you for your time today. You can always tweet, send us emails at or any of the social media channels that you may use to follow us, whether on Facebook or Instagram or TikTok or, as I said, Twitter, but I now have to say X. Anyway, feedback is welcome. Thoughts, comments, criticisms, all of it, we will engage, respond to, and welcome. So thanks for listening this week.

EV: What Could Go Right? is produced by Andrew Steven. Executive produced by Jeff Umbro and The Podglomerate. To find out more about What Could Go Right?, The Progress Network, or to join the What Could Go Right? newsletter, visit Thanks for listening.


Meet the Hosts

Zachary Karabell

Emma Varvaloucas


Progress and Backlash

Featuring Fareed Zakaria

When we hear the word ‘revolution,’ we often think of the bloody conflicts of the past. But what constitutes a modern-day revolution within our current economic system and forms of government? Both parties within American politics have seen cultural revolutions and shifting value sets with each decade. Zachary and Emma discuss these changes with CNN host, journalist, and author Fareed Zakaria. His latest book, ‘Age of Revolutions,’ explores past and present conflicts that define the polarized and unstable age in which we live.

The Social Media Generation

Featuring Jonathan Haidt

Is social media safe for children? How old do kids need to be to have smartphones? Is Gen Z's mental health declining because of TikTok? Zachary and Emma speak with Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and author of "The Anxious Generation." Social media's effect on brain development, TV Parental Guidelines and the internet's lack thereof, and the influence of video games on young men are discussed here today.

Red, White, and Due: Talking Taxes

Featuring Vanessa Williamson

Why do people hate taxes but seem proud to pay them? When did taxation in the US become such a lightning rod issue? And are American feelings about taxes unique? Today Zachary and Emma talk to Vanessa Williamson, senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. The discussion weaves through taxation, redistribution, and political participation.