It was great chatting with Mark from Humans 2.0 podcast. We dived into a lot of topics from entrepreneurship to lethal vs. non-lethal weapons to how far we’ve come with technology and how far we still have to go. We’ve transcribed the podcast for you below and you can listen over at Mark’s website.
Mark: 00:00 Rick Smith founded Axon Enterprise, formerly known as Taser International and 1993 yep. You know it. We’re here interviewing the founder of the Taser device. It’s ubiquitous among law enforcement and police and Rick Smith pushed the company beyond weapons technology and towards a broader purpose of using hardware, software and artificial intelligence to make the world a safer place. Under Rick’s leadership, the company has grown from a garage in Tucson, Arizona to a Nasdaq listed global market leader in conducted electric weapons, body worn cameras and software. Rick story is unbelievably interesting and his philosophy on life, his philosophy on violence and how we are going to see killing a thing of the past because of technology. You guys really, really do not want to miss out on this one and if anything to you sticks out, take screenshot of the podcast episode and go ahead and share it with your friends and your family, whether that’s social media or just texting it to your mom or your girlfriend. Without further ado, enjoy episode two 29 with Rick Smith.
Mark: 01:41 Rick, the first question that I like to ask my guests always is, how do you spend your time here on planet earth?
Rick: 01:48 Oh, that is a great question. So, um, let me sort of answer with something I do each year is I reflect on the events of the year. So I keep a journal, I do an application called one second a day where you record one second, a video every day and then it gives you like your year highlights in one second increments. And what I’ve noticed is I go back to them, I look at all of the years past the number of seconds of work that make the highlight are exceedingly low, that really life happens around the things you do for work. And now it’s not to say you want to be a slacker and not excel at your job, but I think the overall level of life enjoyment you get comes from a sense of achievement in your work, but a sense of human connection and that you live those moments both with you, people you work with and importantly with family and friends outside of work. And that’s something I’m actually pretty proud of that I’ve, you know, I’m happy with the level of professional success that I’ve reached and I’ve managed to do it in a way where I’m also very happy with the level of engagement that I have with my family and friends. I don’t, I’m not a workaholic and that’s something that is because I am very conscious about it.
Mark: 03:13 I really love that answer because you just mentioned the word conscious and I think that, you know, I think sort of like the first step in life for the most part is, you know, becoming consciously aware of, you know, a sort of problem. And then I think after that, then you can begin to adjust your own sort of inputs and then be able to take, you know, the action needed to shift that around if it ever was a problem. But, you know, Rick, I really just want to get into man. I mean, how did you, you know, how did you start a company that is now globally recognized? You know, everybody knows what Taser is. It’s largely supplied by all the law enforcement. And so, I mean, dude, just please take us back and like, how did this all start?
Rick: 04:02 Yeah, so I was in graduate school, I had a couple of friends that were shot and killed, uh, old football teammates from high school. And I became very interested in the topic of, of violence and gun violence in particular. To me, there’s a very sort of rancorous political debate about gun control and the second amendment. And I looked at all that and actually saw parallel to a story about New York City in the early 1900s. There was a very contentious issue around horse ownership and basically horse maneuver was causing rampant disease problems in New York City. But you can imagine how connected people were to their horses, right? You can’t take people’s horses away. But the way they solved that problem was there was a technology shift called the automobile and it sort of took care of the problem better than any regulation ever could have.
Rick: 04:56 And I saw an opportunity, you know, the way to really solve the quote “gun problem” is to give people to star trek phaser or something like it. And then rational people aren’t gonna want to kill people. They just want to protect themselves. So let’s give him a way to do it where they don’t have to kill somebody else. So then one thing, I guess the, you’re putting the rubber to the road. So there was that insight. But really the key for me was deciding I was just going to do it while the idea was not fully formed. Because I think many people give this impression that, you know, the first thing you have to do is have this really detailed business plan that you’ve got to figure out all the problems you’re going to solve. And if you set that as the bar, nobody would ever go do a startup because there’s just so much uncertainty.
Rick: 05:43 If you’re waiting for certainty, you’ll never do it. So in my case, I literally decided not to interview for jobs when it got closer to graduation. That’s probably the best and most important decision I ever made was just literally, I am not going to sign up at the career center, just not going to do it because I want to go see if there’s something to this crazy idea I’ve got. And I figured, um, you know, so what if I fail, I’ll go move in with my parents. I’ll work on this. I’ll give myself a timeline of up to one year and I figured, you know, if it didn’t work well then I’ve taken a year to pursue my big idea and at least I wouldn’t have that regret of going through life always wishing I’d given it a shot. And what’s the downside? If I failed? Well then I go get a job and I’m probably a more interesting job candidate for having tried some crazy entrepreneurial venture and failed. So I just didn’t see a downside to giving it a shot. When you frame it that failure is that learning experience, the worst you’re going to do is learn something.
Mark: 06:44 Hmm. Hmm. And, what age were you at when you first started this?
Rick: 06:48 I was 23.
Mark: 06:49 23. Rick, I think what you’re talking about here is pure gold. I was just telling a friend about this and it’s like, you know, I think, I think there is definitely a time and a place for planning and all these sort of postulating and whatnot. But I think at the end of the day it’s all about action. It’s all about how can you put your foot down and move forward wherever you can right now. And I think like I’ve interviewed person after person and they always, always speak of that and I, it’s like action is very much super, super important above at least at the beginning phase when you’re doing something sort of by yourself over the whole sort of planning phase, man. So you have this incident unfortunately where two of your friends pass away because of this problem.
Mark: 07:41 And you start thinking about this not in terms of the way that everybody else is thinking about in terms of gun control laws and, and this and that. And you sort of use this parallel between the horse and buggy and it’s like you have a great quote and it’s like killing is a technology problem and you know, we can use technology to end killing as we know it. And so Rick, I’m wondering if you could, you know, let’s say somebody has really never heard of this perspective, let’s say nobody has ever heard of “how can we use a taser instead of a gun?” Or like how do we end killing, how do we lower the amount of deaths? So what is your sort of thought process when it comes to that big, glaring conversation that actually sort of sounds very sort of out of this world. The end of killing. You know, human beings have been in wars for basically the start of our existence. You know, wars have dramatically increased, decreased, excuse me today. But I mean, how do begin to like break down this idea to somebody that maybe has never really, you know, heard of it?
Rick: 08:56 Yeah. Well, the first time that I mentioned this idea to people, they think I’ve lost my mind, that’s the initial reaction. And, actually the idea for the book started from a dinner conversation on exactly this topic. And it was interesting as I talked to people, like once you begin to dig in, it’s like, you know, you and I have never met. Have you ever seen somebody get killed? No, neither have I. I mean, we see, yes, we see it in movies and I watched Game of Thrones last night, you know, so yeah, we see some pictures of it. It would be really bizarre for any of those to actually see somebody get killed. And it used to be a couple hundred years ago that was totally normal. Like that was Saturday entertainment in many cities around the world where they’d execute criminals in a very sort of gruesome way. So as I started worked on the book I read one of the early pieces I did for research was just to go back and see who else has written on this topic. And Steven Pinker, a professor at Harvard published a book a few years ago called Better Angels of Our Nature and he basically shows that the level of violence and killing in society is down by over 99% from where it was a couple of hundred years ago, which is shocking to me. It was like, wait a minute, this, I’m not swimming against history. This is a trend that’s already happening and we’re 99% the way there. How do we get rid of that last 1%? So then you start digging in. And so for me, the easiest one is police work because that’s where my business exists and where I spend most of my time.
Rick: 10:36 And a lot of people don’t know this, but cops are not trained to shoot to kill. In fact, they’re not allowed under the law to shoot to kill. They’re allowed only to shoot to stop a threat. And anytime you hear about a police shooting, you will hear some version of the words – I had no choice. Meaning, you know, I had to kill this guy because I had to stop him from doing whatever he was doing. He was either going assault me or somebody else and I had to kill him because I didn’t have a choice. Well, ultimately that begs the question, well, what would a choice look like? And we don’t have to have great imaginations because there’s really creative people in the arts that, you know, sometimes life imitates art cause we can take ideas from science fiction. If you had Captain Kirk’s, Star Trek phaser and it was faster and more reliable at stopping a threat than punching a hole in them with a bullet, then every cop around the world would carry Captain Kirk’s phaser and wouldn’t even need a bullet anymore.
Rick: 11:32 And so that was sort of the first step. But, but to be honest, that’s not, that’s not far enough to just think about police work. So then we extend, we think about probably one of the hardest problems to wrap your head around is war. But ultimately like the big industrialized wars who’ve gone away and they just don’t make sense. Like God help us if China and the US or Russia ever go to war with each other because they’re all armed with thermonuclear weapons, the types of wars we’re now in the, in the long piece where I think it’s becoming acceptable. That war, you know, wars used a couple hundred years ago, the primary job of a national leader was to execute war on behalf of the honor of the country to steal resources from other folks and take territory. Those wars have largely disappeared, only in very framed elements do they even still occur.
Rick: 12:19 So the types of military operations we now see are like the events in the Middle East of the past two decades where it’s not wars against major nation states. It’s, you know, you’re dealing with these non-nation state actors that really, their number one weapon against the modern world, or sort of global or western institutions and militaries isn’t that they’ve got, you know, fighters and bombers and that kind of stuff. They basically try to go to us into killing the wrong people cause it undermines the region. So that’s suicide bombers or if they can, that’s why they, you know, they hide in schools and hospitals will sort of almost do anything they can to try to get us to use our lethal weapons. And so when I first started talking to people about, well, what if we could execute modern wars without killing people?
Rick: 13:09 At first they, their head explodes and they say, well, no, no. The whole point of words to kill people. Well, no, it’s actually, it’s not, the point of war is to protect the national interest. And I would actually argue that today in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular, we are not going to kill our way to success. In fact, every person we kill undermines the mission. So if we think about it that way, then well wait a minute, maybe rather than spending another trillion dollars to upgrade our entire nuclear weapon arsenal, what if we took some of that money and we invested in non-lethal capabilities so that when a 12 year old suicide bomber walks up on a US checkpoint, the 18 year old American standing there has some choice besides, well, I’ve either got to kill him with my m16, or he’s going to get close enough and potentially kill me and all of my comrades that are at this location.
Rick: 14:01 So it’s been really interesting as I’ve started doing engaged with different military thinkers that they’re agreeing just generally that, you know. Yeah. That the problem now is we know how to kill people in mass and when we could destroy the world if we wanted to. It’s now about how do you achieve military victory with the least loss of life. And that means we need to reframe the way we think about technology. We can’t keep building weapons for the old wars. We need to build weapons for modern military conflict. And that means actually extending our humanity, which we’re already doing by trying to limit collateral damage. The next step is what if we just limited all damage to be, look, let’s build highly automated systems that can capture people, and get them off the battlefield, so to speak. And then we can sort out the good from the bad rather than dropping 500 pound bombs from the sky and hoping, you know, we killed the bad guys and not too many, you know, innocence.
Mark: 15:00 Hmm Dude, this is totally blowing my mind. Like you tweeted a few days ago, you said “today an end to killing sounds a crazy idea, tomorrow it will sound as if it had been inevitable all along.” And when you begin to think about you’re like, oh my God, yeah. And then you begin to envision a scenario, like the one that you painted with a police officer where they are faced with a decision and they have one kind of tool, they have many now, but they would have one kind of tool. And that tool is very archaic, like it kills people, right? And you begin to just switch that out with a taser. And in some situations you’re like, oh my God, this, you know, there’s no more murder anymore like that.
Mark: 15:50 You just subdue the person until they’re arrested or whatever kind of protocol they follow. And I think that Rick, you’re a real sort of trendsetter in this area and I’m just curious since you are in many different circles among law enforcement technology, you said military, I’m sure you’re in other circles. I’m curious, are other people thinking about this? Is this something that is like totally, totally out there? Like, there’s no way we’re gonna envision a world where if the US military is occupying whatever country, Iraq, Afghanistan, we’re not going to be dropping bombs the way that we’re going to get controls by using another form of a weapon that doesn’t murder people. But I’m just curious, is this something that is, you’re often seen as very much an outlier or just something that like people are like slowly starting to understand?
Rick: 16:53 Yeah, so I would say in policing we’re getting pretty well accepted, but we’ve been at it for two decades. When we first launched the Taser into policing, there was a ton of skepticism. I remember the police officer basically telling me, this is America son. We don’t electrocute people, but you know, yes, it’s the idea of shooting electricity through people involuntarily is a little weird and it’s a little scary, but the alternative is blowing holes in them with flying shrapnel. Like this is a step in the right direction. And then my company also started the body camera, effectively when you first told cops they were gonna wear cameras, I can tell you the reaction was either have you lost your mind. So I’ve gotten kind of used to that and you know, for people that are actually thinking about starting a business, if somebody, if the idea seems really crazy, that could be a really good indicator.
Rick: 17:46 Now there’s lots of bad crazy ideas. But one of my sort of heroes is Peter Diamandis who created the xprize that you know, basically instigated the whole private space travel industry. He has this great segment, you know, the day before, it’s a breakthrough, it’s a crazy ass idea. And that’s absolutely true. It may be like, look, if it’s not kind of a crazy idea, that means there’s probably a bunch of other people already working on it. If the crazy ideas are the ones that really challenge the status quo and it’s so outrageous, we’re kind of trained to conform, you know, in society. And so I tend to think if it comes across as a crazy idea – and now you need to get to the underlying logic and make sure it’s still logical and it makes sense – but to me that can be a real positive indicator that you might be on to something that no one has figured out yet.
Mark: 18:37 I totally love Peter Diamandis. I’ve had on Steven Kotler and I’m in the process of trying to get him on this podcast. But I mean, dude, I’m just curious like have you…this might be a little bit hard, but I mean, do you guys ever look at the numbers of how many tasers are maybe fired by police in the day or a year? And then contrast that with a gun? Cause I mean, you guys are literally saving, I don’t know what it is, like tens of thousands if not hundreds, if not eventually millions of lives. I mean, that’s, that’s pretty unfathomable.
Rick: 19:17 It is. It is pretty humbling to be a part of. So we have, you know, let’s call it a ballpark, around a million tasers around the world today, maybe a little bit less in professional use and they get used on average about once every two years. So you have several hundred thousand Taser uses per year. And then there was a study out of Dallas that basically showed that about 5% of the time a Taser is being used, it’s in a situation where lethal force would be legally authorized that the cop could have used a gun. And so based on that, we estimate there been around 200,000 people whose life was saved from potential death or serious injury. Now most of those people probably wouldn’t have been killed, but they were all at pretty high risk of something really bad happening and the Taser was able to be used.
Rick: 20:07 The thing that’s been, you know, candidly kind of frustrating is that the negative use of this technology or when there’s a bad outcome that gets almost all the press. So, you know, like if you’ve never been in an airplane and all you learned about air travel was from reading about it in the news, you would never get on an aircraft. And they sounded incredibly dangerous cause you only, they don’t write about all the planes that land safely. And similarly, when you know, when a Taser use saves a life, and we have just thousands of cases where we know that’s happened, that tends to not get anywhere near the attention when there’s a bad outcome where somebody dies after a Taser use and that tends to really get inflamed. Or when a cop abuses somebody with a taser weapon or even there is an allegation of abuse, particularly like if police officers use a taser in a school which just inherently, as soon as I say that, it brings to mind of like police abusing children. But in fact, you know, there’s some times like schools can be pretty violent places and there been instances where cops use the technology to save people in a school environment. But unfortunately it doesn’t often get perceived that way. So there’s sort of a big uphill battle on public perception where we could use to the status quo. Like, you know, police, if they use a baton or a gun. Many times it’s not as controversial as if they use a new technology just cause we’re all sort of numb to the status quo.
Mark: 21:36 Mm hmm. That’s such a good point. And I think we both know with any sort of new thing, especially with technology it can sort of get that initial public outcry even though it’s not deemed. And to me, I think one of the more interesting things is when you start talking about sort of like non-engaging technology, meaning you know, the body cameras that you put on police and I think that I’ve seen an interview with you where you said that when you put a camera on somebody it completely changes their behavior. And I’m obviously not trying to make a case that, you know, all police officers are bad or anything like that. But when you add that accountability, it just adds a completely different layer.
Mark: 22:31 And then I think as I’m saying this right now, my mind is sort of envisioning the future and imagining a world where everybody is wearing some sort of a camera and everybody sort of knew it is knowing what everyone else is doing. Not in a sort of privacy sort of way, although I know that’ll be an issue. But it’s like what would people around the world actually be doing if they knew that at one point or another everybody could see what they were doing if it is of malintent towards somebody else. But I think once you start talking about like this different next level version of the world with technology, man, I think human behavior and human dynamics are going to completely change for the better. At least in terms of this sort of public safety realm.
Rick: 23:32 Yeah. I mean, look, there’s going to be some mistakes too. Like the world became much more connected. I mean, the way if you went back to somebody 25 years ago and described to them the way people use social media today, it wouldn’t blow their minds how creepy it’d be. Like what, like all the crazy details. So you know, the people share online willingly. There’s a joke that Facebook was started by the NSA or something, right? Just to get it really to expose, you know, other privacy. But I mean, what it means to be human is changing. And look, I’m not going to claim that this is going to be just a pure utopia of unadulterated good. You know, we’ve certainly seen downsides to some of the technology. So I think these are important conversations when we think about police using surveillance or building automated weapons systems to use non-lethal force you know, in an automated fashion. Like, I think that’s much more acceptable than building machines that automate killing people. But there are going to be risks. There’s going to be downside, there’s going to be some abuse cases. But that’s what progress is all about is you solve a problem, there are going to be new problems that emerge and you get to work on those as well. But the alternative isn’t, you know, many times you get sort of just general complaint like, wow, the future is scary and like police use AI. Well look, the solutions aren’t going to fit on a bumper sticker. Like, yeah, of course police are going to use AI. Every industry is going to use AI. Like we don’t like police in the 2030s using typewriters and post it notes and carbon paper. Like we want them using technology, we want them to be data-driven. The question is how do we also use that data to hold police agencies accountable for what they do and to make sure that we’re also protecting our civil liberties. So these are complex conversations. Unfortunately they tend to devolve pretty rapidly into like, I hate cops. They’re racist, they’re bad people. I don’t trust them with anything or the other side. It’s like, no, you know, cops are doing a tough job and we should just support them unconditionally. I was like, no, the answer is going to be somewhere in the middle.
Mark: 25:42 Mm hmm. Totally. Yeah. And I think when you begin to think about it police officers are a group of people that take on this extreme responsibility and are in the face of so many hard decisions. Like I know for a fact I wouldn’t be able to do that. And I think that the more tools, the better technology that we can create is going to solve this issue. And you have a great quote and it’s “I do not believe that we will solve today’s challenges by yelling more empathetically about approaches that have been around for decades or by denigrating people with opposing views. We need new thinking and fresh ideas.” And I’m curious from that point, like if, if somebody were to read The End of Killing ,hopefully when this goes out it’ll be live. What would you say are some of the key points, the main things that you think are the most important for somebody to learn from, from kind of a top down, conceptual basis, sort of like regardless of their industry where they work.
Rick: 26:58 I think the main thing is we need to treat new ideas rationally relative to the world we live in today. So in the book, I call it the new versus the now, right? New concepts inherently are kind of weird and scary cause they’re new. But the world we live in now has, you know, if you compare it to what we live in today, frequently the results can be just so much better. And I’ll give you one example. You know, it was a little over a year ago that the first fully autonomous vehicle killed a pedestrian. It was in Arizona and New York Times ran a headline, something along the idea along the lines of, you know, robotic car kills women in Arizona where robots roam. And so the implication was that like, oh, this is super dangerous, that Arizona’s just letting these robots, these killer robotic cars drive around.
Rick: 27:52 Well, since that day, there’ve been over a million people. I think we’re up to about 1.3 million people killed by human drivers around the world just in the past year. And none of those, those are all tragedies and none of them have gone anywhere near the attention of the accident in Arizona. And then to put even more emphasis on this, I was out to dinner with a leading law enforcement official who had seen the accident report and he said, you know what, Rick, you would’ve killed her. I would’ve like the way that accident unfolded. There are maybe no human drivers that could have reacted fast enough to prevent what happened. And so we all formed this impression that this new technology is dangerous when it appears it’s already far superior to the status quo. And the reaction of that, I mean, Arizona suspended the driverless vehicle used for while either Arizona or Uber did. I think it was a survey presented at Google, the pointed out, like the number of people die in car accidents is like five or six, seven 47s crashing every day. And so, yeah, we can’t wait until the new technology is flawless. As soon as we know it’s some degree better than we have today, we need to start to open the aperture and accept. It’s just, it’s not going to be perfect because perfection is the enemy of progress.
Mark: 29:17 Mm hmm. Absolutely. And, just from this I’m kind of curious s do you think the thing that holds us back, do you think it’s the actual development of the technology or do you think it’s sort of public stigma, public perception of all these different things and if we decide to slow them or to stop them? Like what they did in Arizona after that incident happened?
Rick: 29:47 Yeah, I would say like 98% of the problem is public perception. The technology for many of these things is just getting easier and easier. Now again, I want to be cautious here too. We shouldn’t just throw caution to the wind and go nuts and roll out every new technology. But I do think we need rational decision frameworks and we just also need to be aware that media of all types, whether it’s traditional media, news media, social media, I mean, all of these sort of community communication tools are competing for our attention. And unfortunately, humans, 1.0 have this defect where we are just drawn to risk and negativity from our survival instincts that kept us alive to this point because you know, you can miss 10 opportunities, but one lion hiding in the bushes and you miss that one and it’s over.
Rick: 30:48 But now what’s happening, those sorts of risks really aren’t around every day. So our attunement for risk and negative change is so high that we gravitate to it. And so those are the social media posts that get all the likes or those are the news stories that get all the clicks are the ones that reinforce our fears and our sort of negative conflict oriented emotions and working through that I think is going to be one of the, really the, the biggest challenges to not only ensuring we have a good and controlled pace of technological development, but also in the politics. I’m get pretty concerned that the political machines on both sides of the spectrum here in the US have apparently determined that the best way to energize people is through fear and anger. And I just can’t see that that leads us to a good place when we have the major parties competing to out anger each other.
Mark: 31:48 That’s so true. I so agree. And you know, when you begin to look at the media today, it really is sort of outrage culture. You know, you see this headline here or you see this here, everyone clicks on it. Then the various media companies are just trying to drive traffic to their website and this stands true for basically all the other forms of media, whether, you know, we were talking about maybe TV, social media and then sort of like, now I’m sort of seeing this new paradigm unfold. And I definitely think it can go both ways where, you know, we’re seeing sort of maybe longer forms of media, maybe like a podcast where somebody can click play on this and listen to an hour conversation with somebody that they would never hear anything more than maybe like a 15 second, one minute snippet on TV.
Mark: 32:50 And they’re able to hear like this very potentially complex human conversation. And I think that enables somebody to sort of look at their ideas. But I definitely do think that it can go both ways and people can sort of entrench themselves with a self-amplifying echo chamber where they’re hearing this one specific idea. And so, you know, I’m curious, man, like to kind of hear from such a diverse guy like yourself. I mean, how does an individual, you know, let’s sort of get out of institutions like politics and various organizations. I mean, how does an individual sort of like gain the clarity to make the understanding and the decision to say, hey, guns are tools, they’re not the greatest tools because now we have new technology that can sort of circumvent some of the old prompts or even the issue with the self-driving car. I mean, just on a personal, or maybe how you mentor other people. I mean, how does somebody gain the clarity to really make these decisions instead of just sort of like following the media and saying like, Oh, you know, this is bad and I’m not gonna try to form my own opinion. It’s like, how does somebody actually do that from your advice?
Rick: 34:23 Yeah, so I’ve actually been, been working right through this issue. So with my dad, my mentor who funded my business and we made it through some really rough times together. You know, he’s in his eighties now and I’ve noticed he’s really kind of fallen into one of the echo chambers where he’ll occasionally forward me news articles. There was one outrageous one where it was this online clickbait stuff where it was just making an outrageous claim that effectively some state in the east coast had just approved postpartum abortions. So basically the theme was, isn’t this terrible that these liberals have now authorized you to kill the baby after it’s born as part of an abortion procedure. And I remember going, dad, come on, like, this doesn’t pass even the first pass sniff test. Like, do you really hold our fellow Americans in such low regard that you believe this?
Rick: 35:17 I had to go out and do some fact finding online. But it’s a lot of work to debunk a lot of the stuff that is being fed to us as we sort of sort ourselves into our areas of interest and our political views and then they become more extreme. So what we’re doing there is basically I’ve been working with my dad on a digital detox. I’ve been basically buying him audio books and podcasts and say, look you’re not employed, you’re retired. Like spending your time in email. Like you have to realize that they’re very smart people whose entire job is to get you to click the links, whether it’s in social media or email marketing or whatever. And it’s, it’s kind of polluting you, it’s making you less happy.
Rick: 36:04 It’s not a good thing. And, and so moving to more long form stuff where he’s proactively engaging and things are interested rather than reacting. So that’s what we’re doing there. And, and so far he’s been, you know, read a month into this and actually I’ve getting some pretty positive feedback. So like, hey, you know what, this is, this is interesting stuff. I’m engaging in more intellectually interesting learnings rather than this hyperbolic emotional stuff you get fed online. But for the listeners here, I would actually challenge, nobody’s figured this out yet from a business model perspective. And I think I just got back from the Ted Conference last week and they had Jack Dorsey on stage and he was talking about, yeah, you know, if I could go back and redo things like the way we add positive reinforcement just based on clicks, you know, that that isn’t the right business model.
Rick: 36:56 But he didn’t have an answer for what the next phase is. So much like for me, gun violence got me interested as like, Hey, this is a problem worth solving and maybe I could build a big business solving it. If somebody figures out how do you engage modern humans and overcome our instinctual gravitation towards the negative and the scary and the divisive and the angry. Like if somebody can figure it out as business model, that sounds like a multibillion dollar opportunity, but it’s not going to be easy because you know, you’re swimming a bit against human nature. But to me, these are the interesting problems that if I was, you know, in my early twenties, this would be one I’d be spending a lot of time looking at that. How do you come up with social media or other media platform that engages people that is both entertaining and interesting and controls for our own biological flaws that take us in a bad direction. It’s not the text problem, it’s the human problem.
Mark: 38:00 Mm hmm. Yeah. I love everything you just said and you know, that’s really how I came up with the name for this podcast. I saw this sort of technology going as almost like this, um, double edged sword, even though I think that there is intentionality designed in a certain tool in some cases, but I think that’s really like the real question. I’m definitely gonna be, you know, thinking about this myself because believe it or not, like I’ve, I’ve seen it with my own dad as well. So I’m definitely gonna work with him on this. But my philosophy is, and I think there’s definitely sort of a runaway line, and this can get tricky, but it’s like I try my best to not look at a screen, at a phone, at a laptop if I am doing something that is not going to improve my current reality.
Mark: 39:01 So I think it is very much about sort of this departure from these very like short term click baity things. Whether it’s a tweet or like a very sort of like short headline grabbing article into like the more detailed and intricate ideas that can be expressed in sort of a more human form like listening to an audio book, like maybe even a podcast. Like other forums. And I think that, I think there’s definitely gonna be some kind of technology that can definitely sort of be augmented in these previously existing social networks or maybe a new one that’s gonna help us sort of form this. Right? Because I think the sort of like the main point in this topic is like, I think based on what people are sort of seeing what they’re experiencing, I think that’s probably going to dictate their outputs.
Mark: 39:57 Like what they’re actually doing in life. And I think that does come in line with like violence, right? Like you could be somebody that sits at home all day and you know, reads articles about how, you know, like the left is doing this or how the right is doing that or how this group of people is doing this. And then you get out there in the real world and now your behavior has now sort of been modified and you’re not treating these people regardless of what the actual real facts are. And I think that sort of ties back to violence to guns to tasers. I actually think it would be a really interesting time and I mean like from your perspective on the consumer end of this, like, yeah, police having tasers and body cameras.
Mark: 40:53 That is an amazing step and we were already seeing tremendous amounts of impact on it. But like then you begin to sort of draw out here and then you begin to see like, you know, you’re the expert on this. I could be wrong, but like most of you know, most of the guns out there do not belong to law enforcement. They’re out there, that for from gun owners to even people that are not gun owners and people that are criminals and get their guns illegally. Where do you sort of think like technology can be used as a solution towards that problem? Like towards somebody being gunned down in the street or maybe somebody being, you know, potentially mugged. Like I, you know, I had a friend a few months ago that got jumped and maybe if he had a taser, maybe not a gun, I don’t, I dunno, but like maybe if you had a taser, maybe he would be able to prevent himself. But like in terms of sorta like the mainstream level out of sort of public defense, what is, what’s your take on that and technological advancement?
Rick: 41:54 Yeah, so interestingly, so I think the next 10 years are going to be quite interesting because even today, like most police officers in the country are carrying a taser weapon and a gun. Um, but the gun is still more reliable. And so what happens is if a police officer is going into a building and they don’t know what they’re going to face inside, the thing in their hand is still the gun. And that is terrible situation to be in as a human being where you’re going from a position of uncertainty and you have to make a life or death decision in potentially less than a second in an environment where your brain is just trying to calibrate what’s happening. So for us the next stop is we need to create the next generation of Taser weapons that is comparable in its reliability to a gun, to where an officer would actually choose when they’re going into a situation, they would say, you know what?
Rick: 42:49 I’m going to put the non-lethal weapon in my hand because I believe that it is as reliable at stopping the threat and I can deploy it with greater certainty that I am not going to kill somebody who might be holding a cell phone or something and so that’s going to be a big step. And part of the reason I wrote the book is to start the conversation now because I’ll tell you today, non-lethal the weapons are not at that level of reliability. They get used today in a situation where police know what’s going on. Like, okay, like we have a person with a knife, they’re suicidal. All right, we’ve got cops with guns around that are providing lethal cover. Now officer John, you go ahead and take your Taser weapon out and we’re going to give it a try in a controlled situation.
Rick: 43:33 So the next step in policing is to get to where we increased the reliability and performance to where they start using it as a first option. And I think that will then start to cascade into the public areas where, you know, tasers are available for the public today and many people buy them, particularly if they’re not comfortable with a gun or they might keep it in their car in a state where, you know, it’s not illegal to keep a firearm in your vehicle. But I think we’ll, you know, the professional classes tend to be the change makers. Like if we see the police going this direction, I think we’ll tend to see the public follow that, hey, I’m gonna want to use the same tools that professionals are using. And over the next couple of decades, I think we’ll get to a point where it will start to be a real question.
Rick: 44:19 Well, wait a minute. Yes, you might have a legal right to bear arms, but it is going to become less socially acceptable to kill someone with one of those arms when there are truly viable alternatives that don’t require you to take a life in the process. So this is going to be a decades long sort of movement. But you got to start from somewhere and plot a case into the future to hopefully we get to a point where the use of lethal force becomes a really extreme and less acceptable thing. The other thing actually I’ve talked about is there are some, I think some policy implications in the book I included a whole chapter in the war on drugs, which for me it was a little risky because, you know, my company sells to law enforcement and generally speaking, law enforcement is not in favor of decriminalization.
Rick: 45:19 But I think that’s because for the most part, look being a cop in a democracy is hard. You’ve got so many constraints on what you have to do and you’re potentially dealing with criminals that don’t have those constraints. And so for many cops, like if they have suspicion, they think somebody is a potentially violent, dangerous person, the ability to stop and search them under the guise of, you know, checking for narcotics, it’s a valuable tool to the individual cop. The challenge is, and I particularly liked the way that Steven Pinker from Harvard frames this up, was that when you create strong illegal markets, you basically create stateless elements in society. Namely, if you’re a drug dealer, violence is a logical choice. You cannot call the police if you don’t get paid, right. You have to enforce through street justice your own rights. And that’s very similar.
Rick: 46:11 I have not drawn this conclusion that street justice in the inner cities of America is actually pretty similar to the honor code of Medieval Europe, which is basically you insult me, you’ve threatened my sort of my rights or to take my things, I’m going to kill you and if I think you’re threatening me, it is actually a rational choice for me to be more violent more quickly than take the risk of letting you get the upper hand. And so in that respect, um, I don’t believe that the war on drugs has been effective in curtailing use of drugs, which is ultimately what you want from the policy. It’s been ineffective yet over the same time period, we have driven tobacco use through the floor by comparison. And yet we haven’t created, you know, the funding source of criminal gangs and you know, the sort of violent culture that revolves around the narcotics trade.
Rick: 47:02 So, and we’ve incarcerated a huge proportion of our population relative every other country on earth. So, I mean, I think technology has a big role to play, but I think there’s also a point where we do have to step back and look at policy and say, you know, is incarcerating a large portion of our population and creating a system where violence is the logical choice for a large segment of the population that engages in the narcotics trade. You know, I think to me, it doesn’t appear to be working and we should try moving in a different direction, much more similar to how we’ve approached the tobacco problem than how we’ve done it with illegal drugs. And I come at it primarily from the perspective that reducing violence within society should be our number one cause like killing people is so much worse than any other thing people do to each other. That should be our number one priority is just to keep people safe from the risk of getting killed or seriously injured at the hands of another person.
Mark: 48:07 I absolutely love that and I really was not expecting for you to, you know, bring up that perspective on, you know, the war on drugs and I’ve done a little bit of reading on this and the more and more I understand the more and more I come to your conclusion of decriminalization. I don’t know if we can necessarily make everything you know, available at CVS. I haven’t thought out that far but, I read this one quote once and it’s, “the war on drugs is actually a war on people.” You know, people in various scenarios use drugs for various reasons and you know, you shouldn’t, for the most part, unless they’re like a, some kind of a cartel that’s heavily armed, you shouldn’t approach that as a violence problem that we’re going to put you in this cage.
Mark: 48:59 I think it’s more along the lines of that community centric sort of work that I think is really gonna pull people out of maybe if they’re using drugs for, you know, maybe reasons for addiction and voluntary reasons may be, you know, they grew up in an area that’s really hard the perspective shifts. And so I love that you talked about that. And Rick, I’m curious, you know, nobody can sort of predict the future here, but I’m just curious when it comes to the advancement of technology and politics, are we going to be sitting here in like 2030 with like autonomous vehicles and more advanced AI and like all these different things. But then we’ve still got, different various politicians, various policies like you said, that are sort of against sorta like this advancement of technology for x, Y, and z reasons.
Mark: 50:06 And there obviously should be a lot of skepticism. We shouldn’t just put everything, but I’m just curious like, do you think that we’re going to be sitting here in a world where like, you know, Singularity University and like Apple and Tesla and Axon, are going to be creating, you know, game changing stuff, but they’re not going to be able to get out there in the right tools in the right context? Or do you think that this is going to be sort of like a slow, uh, battle that might end up sort of winning on the good side?
Rick: 50:40 Well I think progress happens. Like there’s no holding it back. I think we could be more rational about making progress happen more smoothly. I’ve actually gone to China on a couple of trips recently and it’s been pretty interesting. I went expecting to go over there and say, you know, we’re a democracy. We’re good. You are, you know, authoritarian, you are bad. But what he came away with was a little more nuanced. I think certainly if you look at the shift where Russia made this rapid shift to democracy in a society that hadn’t yet developed a functioning free market economy and it was pretty disastrous. And I think we’ve seen the move back away from democracy. I think the way China has approached this has been I think more interesting where they’ve been sort of migrating their economy first.
Rick: 51:41 Now, Lord knows what’s gonna happen to their politics longterm. But I think as a result where many of China’s government policies now, some of them are repressive for sure. But if we set that aside, you know, you can learn things from everyone. Uh, you know, if you have an open mind. And I think what we’re seeing China very effectively do is guide their burgeoning market driven economy into key strategic sectors, particularly around things like AI. And it’s been pretty mind blowing. Uh, and that is creating, I think, a balance of power shift in the world where in the West, I think Western democracies, we’ve become so focused on the issues that divide us, that they’re consuming all of our attention, right? So we spend an inordinate amount of time fighting over who can use which bathroom or you know, and I don’t mean to deprecate that issue, the social liberty issues are important.
Rick: 52:34 Um, but candidly it’s not nearly as important to what are we going to do if AI and automation actually does disrupt something north of 50% of the job market in the next decade. Like that is an enormous problem. It’s not getting sufficient mental space because I don’t think it plays as well into sort of divisive, you know, the whole phenomenon we’ve talked about where, uh, politics I think follows with other sort of media trends where the divisive stuff tends to consume most of our time and energy. So, my bigger concern is, is how do we start to shift democracies focus onto the sort of the more pressing and urgent large scale issues so that they don’t just get consumed on the issues that, you know, where people have very divergent opinions. And again, I don’t mean to, I mean social liberties are moving in the right direction and that is going to continue at pace. I’m just saying that there are other issues that we’re not dealing with because they don’t play into the divide and the anger machine as well as, as some of the other issues.
Rick: 53:51 So, I would hope, you know, at some point, I think we do need to think differently about democracy. Where like today, I, you know, I have many friends that have gone into politics and I can tell you it is a machine of personal destruction. You cannot win in American politics unless you go negative on the other person. It just doesn’t happen. Uh, because you know they’re going to go negative on you. And so it ultimately ends up into who can tear the other person down with rumors, counterintelligence, et cetera. And then you need to distill your sound bites down into things that frankly play into the divisive politics machine. And I think if, uh, I don’t know if there was an entrepreneurial opportunity to solve it, but for example, when we go to court, we can look at some basic sort of human business process for lack of a better term.
Rick: 54:43 When you go into court, in many cases, the judge will force the two sides to come up with a consolidated statement where they go to the jury. It’s a statement of the two sides positions that they have ratified with each other so that they have to sort of agree on where they disagree. Uh, and I think there could be something interesting there. So what if in we actually figured out how to do online voting in a manner that was secure and in a manner where as a process of voting, people actually had to review a joint statement from both candidates where they had to instead of just throwing mud at each other in TV ads they had to actually agree on the statement of where they disagree and have a rational like viewpoint put in front of voters. I think those are areas that to me are quite interesting that we need to figure out how do we, you know, democracy I think is struggling. Uh, and like I was at the Ted Conference and one of the speakers basically stood up and said, social media has broken democracy. And the question is, well, how do we fix it?
Mark: 55:51 Such a good question. Such a good question. And, um, you know, Rick, I think, you know, first and foremost, I just want to thank you for the time that you’ve spent here. And I, you know, this was super, super thought provoking. You know, just for me on a personal level and I think your book is going to be a massive success and you know, the show’s called Humans 2.0 and I think that you specifically are human 2.0 just because of your honesty, your transparency, your self awareness. You have a great quote and it’s, “I have done something that most CEOs of public companies are told never to do, speak my mind freely and I think that is going to be a grounding principle on how we’re going to move forward.” So, Rick, thank you so much for coming on this podcast. I really enjoyed it and thank you to everyone out there for listening. This has been your host Mark Metric.