Kevin Kelly on Artificial Intelligence and Designer Babies (#96)

The Tim Ferriss Show with Kevin Kelly

“I do think we’ll have designer babies in the future. I’m not so sure people will want blue-eyed babies when they can make green or purple.”

– Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly (@kevin2kelly) returns to the podcast due to popular demand. Kevin continues to be perhaps the Most Interesting Man in the World.

He is Senior Maverick at Wired Magazine, which he co-founded in 1993. He also co-founded the All Species Foundation, a non-profit aimed at cataloging and identifying every living species on earth. In his spare time, he writes best selling books, co-founded the Rosetta Project, which is building an archive of all documented human languages, and serves on the board of the Long Now Foundation. As part of the last, he’s investigating how to revive and restore endangered or extinct species, including the Wooly Mammoth.

As usual, Kevin’s responses and answers are fascinating.


#96: Kevin Kelly on Artificial Intelligence and Designer Babies

Want to hear my conversation with Kevin Kelly, in which we discuss population implosions, the Long Now Foundation, organizational methods for learning, and much more? — Listen to it here (stream below or right-click to download part 1 | part 2 | part 3):

Ep 25: Kevin Kelly - WIRED Co-Founder, Polymath, Most Interesting Man In The World
Ep 26: Kevin Kelly (Part 2) - WIRED Co-Founder, Polymath, Most Interesting Man In The World?
Ep 27: Kevin Kelly (Part 3) - WIRED Co-Founder, Polymath, Most Interesting Man In The World?

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What habit, skill, or hobby do you think could have a life-changing impact? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…


Selected Links from the Episode

Show Notes

  • If you had to invest your entire life savings into one area of technology today, which would it be? What future technology will have the most unexpected impact on our lives? [7:50]
  • What is something (a certain habit/skill/hobby) that you believe can have a life changing impact for most people? [12:50]
  • What current technology in use by general western society would you like to see become obsolete in the next ten years and why? [13:30]
  • What’s the threat – technological, economic, or otherwise – that no one is expecting? [15:50]
  • What’s the thing you most admire about Tim and wish you could make a part of your own life? [18:40]
  • With the proliferation of on-demand apps, products, and technology, how can one add value to people’s lives? [20:00]
  • What are you afraid of?  [22:55]
  • How does your view of the future affect how you live your life in the short term? How do you plan for the future when you know so little about the landscape you will be operating in? [27:00]
  • What is your definition of journalism? What do you think the responsibilities of a journalist should be? [30:30]
  • Have you tried out the Oculus Rift yet? If so, did the experience change your view of the future? [34:55]
  • Do you have some examples of people who drifted along for years without any clear goal, and stumbled upon their “life task” by chance? [36:25]
  • In what ways does technology have the power to make people happy? In what ways does it not? [38:25]
  • How far will technology take us by 2020? [39:35]
  • Do you see possibilities or needs for a new mythology to arise in the coming decades? Something that integrates our new understanding of science, technology, and pace of advancement with the actualities of the human experience today? [39:45]
  • Do you have any tips for finding your purpose or mission in life? [41:15]
  • Do you think the technological singularity will happen? If so, when? [42:00]
  • What do you think will be the impact of designer babies in the future? Will everyone eventually become super intelligent, blue-eyed people? [42:25]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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36 Replies to “Kevin Kelly on Artificial Intelligence and Designer Babies (#96)”

  1. Question of the day:

    The habit that I think is life-changing is one that I heard of in one of your other podcasts: the 5-minute journal. It’s very transformative to start and end your day with positive thinking and affirmations.

    More generally, establishing any morning routine where you are in control before being bombarded by requests from others helps to stay calm and in the right mindset for the whole day.

  2. I would appear to BE a designer baby and I keep finding more and the pattern is easily recognizable. We have odd ears and that odd drumming you get in your head when you come near one of us. Some of us are building flying saucers others do mind control some do financial manipulation the point of common origin was not Mum or Dad it was pregnant Mum getting abducted and some prenatal tinkering. My hypothesis is we are gene-doped partly Reptilian partly human. One of my correspondents just noticed we have some of practically every expertise that exists, and that correspondent is about to have some attempt at alien contact and has passed the first stage and is mentally trained and can face abduction and one of these days I might have female pregnant human wanting a designer baby that will do well in Science to understate the prospectus. Bored already? See what Searl Aerospace is up to. If they open interstellar contact you will see more designer babies around. It means agents with birth certificates instead of forged passports. A different way to spy on a planet make your agent born but kind of not exactly I would think there is a botanical term about what you got to do to make a Citrus tree bear edible fruit. Not the word clone. I will think of it after I mail. Anyway that is done and humanity has human looking company. There are designer babies but one could call the work untouched by human hands. My mother called them DROOBS.

  3. One life changing habit I think many should adopt is to get rid of their cable and only occasionally selectively view things without advertisement. So many are wasting away in front of the television for hours each day. It is surely the bane of the 21st Century.

    Possibly it is more so cultivating self discipline and a sense of personal responsibility, but one could begin with curbing the media one consumes.

  4. I loved the connection that Kevin made with electricity, the internet, and artificial intelligence! It’s seems obvious as soon as he says it, but I had never really made the connection.

    Talk about a massive opportunity waiting to explode!

  5. So glad you had Kevin Kelly on the podcast again. He is one of my favorites! Also, this is a random, but have you ever thought of interviewing NBA player Stephen Curry on your podcast? Besides recently winning a championship and being crowned MVP, he has broken many shooting records. He’s only 27, but he’s already been hailed as the greatest NBA shooter of all time by some! I’m sure he would have some great insights about rituals, repetition and inherited talented vs hardwork (he grew up in a basketball family). He lives in the Bay Area.

  6. Thanks for sharing this. I think I’m a fan of your podcasts! And I would add this blog to my short list too! 🙂

  7. Such a fascinating guy- this was too short :).but, K gave no justification for why population decrease was a bad thing ( negative birth rate that is). Sure it’s the first time in history vs quality of life improving. But all kinds of things are ‘firsts’ right now eg ecological chaos. And later in the interview he recommends something utterly insane-genetic engineering and pre-birth genetic intervention for creating super babies! Isn’t that called eugenics? I’m not religious, but all aspects of that concept are just so irrevevocably fucked up it’s an epic single point of fatal failure! And in general, this idea humans can mess with nature at that level, it’s already proved catastrophic. Humans thinking they can conquer nature is the most dangerous ego trip of them all. GM interventions is enough to wipe out the human race ( i was hoping he would say it was the technology he wanted to be gone in ten years 🙂 oh dear, please, please just leave the playing God, to nature – tens of thousands of years have proven it. Yet with gene-fucking it could only take humans ten years to wipe us all out

    1. well, if we apply your logic then penicillin, operations and everything that modern medicine has to offer is also intervention into the God’s nature. And this is exactly what ancient people thought of all the medical interventions. Let’s not live according to the 1st century “wisdom”.

  8. Kevin, I mean, it all depends on what you mean by “nationalism.” It is wholly rational for a nation to hold certain interests that it encourages, even demands, other nations to adopt. Can we agree it isn’t authentic democracies that are destabilizing other nations or identifiable groups or waging cyber war. The United States, with a notable adorations, has gone to war, but its interests have always been the freedom and liberty of others. The US doesn’t go to war to annex or occupy land or nations. Our interest as a nation is to make them independent democracies, thereby less likely to foment wars or instability. So, for the US, it has as its primary national interest the freedom and liberty of all individuals in the world and has fought wars, not just to protect ourselves, but for the freedom of others. Is that the “nationalism” you are talking about?

  9. Hi, I enjoyed most of the Kevin Kelly Q & A, but one that I radically disagree with is his spin on Nationalism. One, he has a particular egregious way of framing it and second, I just flat out see it as wrong headed.

    Nationalism does not have to be an us versus them situation. It can be and I believe will be a pride in who we are as a nation, while at the same time being able to appreciate the value and contribution of other nations. I do not think it is necessary to morph into some squishy non entity for every nation to get along. What is needed it to recognize that being different does not make you inferior or substandard but makes you unique.

  10. What habit could be life changing?

    1. Placing attention on the point where breath enters and leaves nostrils, and attention on doing a full complete breath at any given time during waking hours. When speaking and listening is an interesting challenge 🙂 when falling asleep is a particularly potent time to practise. Make a committment to this it will totally change everything.

    2. Put someone elses needs first. See anothers experience instead of your own. Go out of your way to be generous and selfless mentally/emotionally/energetically

    3. Stand on head for 5 minutes immediately on rising, and before sleep

    4. No mass media for a year. If Brad Pitt can do it then Yes you can! This could mean no brain dead junk news eg celebrity entertainment stuff, or total removal. I advise total opt out. You don’t miss it!

    5. Choose one belief or thought pattern or use of language to remove. It could be a racist belief/thoughts, swearing when something irritates you, a certain habitual reacting. Something that steals life energy. For me it was certain phrases i included in conversation that didnt belong to me I’d acquired like memes. Eg a movie reference

    6. Stop thinking. Stop the brain chatter. Make it a life practice. Everytime you catch yourself-silence it. Thinking is just a bad

    habit, thats all. Use pen and paper to work things out. Be still.

    7. Learn how to speak. Its amazing how many people dont know how to speak without umming and ahhing, breaking words, using slang. Learn to speak in clear articulate sentences that could be written down without requiring editing or fixing. Reading poetry aloud is a great practice to train this as is reading and writing generally. Note most actors especially theatre ones have this skill. It’s essential

    8. Turn off wi fi router and phone wifi bluetooth cellular etc in your home when asleep. Doesnt matter if your neighbours have it (as much) – it’s no excuse- it’s your own immediate proximity to pulsed microwaves when asleep that is so critical. Especially children!!

  11. You want to start a company?

    Kevin Kelly thinks it’s a good idea to solve your own problems, i.e. pick a problem you personally have as a the basis for your new business.

    Here are a few reasons why:

    1. You understand your own needs, obviously. Turns out that deeply understanding of your customers’ needs is one of the toughest aspects of creating a valuable product/company. One bullet dodged.

    2. You may intuitively know the best way to reach people like you. Distribution is another very tough nut to crack, and getting an early edge there will reduce your risk of overall failure.

    3. It’s easier to keep the scope of your product/company smaller at first, since you are by definition solving for a tiny niche –you and other people very similar to you. It is tempting and sexy to start with a wide market target, but that’s a far riskier approach. Nail down a small market first, then use the leverage of this success to gradually expand your products & markets with less risk and lower costs.

  12. this comment is not related to this particular episode but i wonder if the show notes should include the time record when the interviews begin – it feels like the amount of advertising has gone up over time and i scroll over anyway.

  13. Kevin Kelly is great! love these AMA sessions.

    I have a couple of thoughts though… I have a problem with Kevin’s views on having kids. Shortly saying, has anybody met a person that would have as many kids as possible because of global under-population crisis? I’ve never met and don’t think it’s a good idea…

    And another note on choice. There are a lot of studies that prove that the more choices a person has, the less happy he is. And visa versus… We just falsely believe that a wider choice makes us happier.

    Thanks, Tim, for your work!

  14. Would love to hear others’ thoughts on Kevin’s response to “How far will technology take us by 2020?” (Kevin replied, “It will take us all the way”). The question is extremely vague, so the only way to answer it was with a short quip like Kevin gave or with a long-drawn out discussion of all the various ways technology will change our lives in the next 5 years. I’m intrigued by why he chose to answer the question that way and why he chose to answer it at all.

    Question of the Day

    Meditation for sure. It’s a constant struggle, but nothing has increased my own self-awareness as much as meditation. Before I started meditation, I was constantly judging myself and others in this extremely toxic way. Meditation caused me to recognize that and let go of all the negativity that came with it.

  15. I stopped listening after he said, “Nationalism is a disease” It’s a totally normal way to think. Countries are being ruined by third world trash. People need to wake up.

  16. Re: peoples comments on nationalism. We can agree with what our friend Kevin said. But I believe his description does not fit the definition of nationalism. He was describing a symptom of toxic nationalism manifesting that of meglomania: the use of a nations foreign policy to further its own nationalist agenda by imposing upon the sovreignty of other nations. One example is, .every. single. intervention. er I mean support, the US has made with (cough) peace keeping forces to (clears throat) ensure a (knees quiver) independent democracy for (wipes forehead) the (clutches at a solid object for balance) freedom truth justice and liberty ( claws at dictionary) for the safety and benefit (never ever the resources, influence or location) nation and of course the good of the US citizens in future by encouraging the rest of the world feels mega grateful

    Thats what Kevin was describing, however nationalism in a simpler form can be toxic. Identifying so strongly with ones politically defined borders (which is usually all they are -quite arbitrary) can be anti-conscious. It becomes an ideaology. You stop being a human being, made of the elements, like everyone else. Salute the flag. Taking it into your heart. Not very human!

  17. Tim,

    As much as I love meditating your ice cold shower advice – as practiced by guys like Tony Robbins (he does the pool bit though) has been pure gold to me. I feel invigorated since sticking to this practice for the past month or so. Brilliant strategy for raising your vibe!


  18. KK says that depopulation will be a huge problem. Obviously he didn’t look at the UN’s latest report this week, which said there’s an 80% chance that we’ll hit 11 billion by the end of this century (we’re around 7.3 billion now).

    Moreover, even if depopulation were a “problem,” why is the best solution having more babies? Why isn’t it better to simply adjust our expectations and learn to live and love a depopulating world?

    There certainly are huge benefits to having just 1 billion people in the world. Everyone could live like KK! 🙂

  19. A privilege to hear Kevin speaking again: measured, humble, humorous. A few aspects turned my way of thinking upside down, or, reminded me HOW to think. 1. Greatest planetary fear is falling population 2. the shout to Tim’s discipline around learning, to make learning central to our lives 3. build a business around a need or observation of your own, rather than as a construct to achieve scale and volume in itself.

    And the one thing I wrote down in my notebook for the weekend: join the Long Now Foundation. Tim and Kevin – thank you for the time. The Interval Bar is around the corner and a pleasure to stroll into for an espresso or malbec / zinfandel 🙂

  20. More to comment on later but I just want to stop in the midst of listening to this interview to acknowledge and thank Tim for referring to “children” (the offspring of human beings) as opposed “kids” (the offspring of goats). A very silly pet peeve but . . . you know. Words are very powerful and all.

  21. KK’s advice to read: why have I been wasting time when I can be developing myself by using my spare time reading! I bought a tiny palm (not hand) size notebook that can travel anywhere. One line allowed only, with title + date finished. There’s a feeling of fufillment from the list, it encourages me, allows me to review or refer titles to others, and helps keep my reading quality by stacking up a quality list. Thus cheap fiction gets more easily overlooked for something like The Art of Learning. Go out and buy yourself a mini wallet/purse sized notebook!

  22. I have no idea where to leave this question so here goes nothing.

    Would you please help us women with weight loss issues during and after menopause. I am more than willing to be a test subject.

    I am 55 and post menopausal. Please help.

    Lillie Powell AKA Nanny

  23. I’m not close to the level of fact finder as you Tim, but can you please revisit Kevin’s shocking answer @ 15:50 – stating that he believes under population, not over population is the threat no one is expecting. I would live to know what research he’s relying on to draw such a radical counter conclusion! And then suggest to listeners to procreate as much as resources provide. I found this quite shocking and would love a deeper dive – Ferriss style.

    The UN Scientists found this level of increase with no option for decrease within the next 100 years. And Mother Jones has published a great article on population increase and social responsibility.

    1. that part shocked me a bit as well. I would assume that Kevin refers to the under population of the western developed world, not the planet as a whole. But still… I’m very uncomfortable with his advise to breed as much as you want and can 🙂 don’t think it’s a good reason to have kids.

    2. Kevin Kelly is a troll for The Propagandist Cabal. This “underpopulation” comment is a brainwashing attempt to rationalize the hybrid warefare againt Europe, the “migrant attack”. Half of what Kelly said was propaganda messaging. For example, the “emotional IQ” and other blah-blah on IQ is to counter the argument about the low median IQ of the Syrians (82) and the rest of the migrants.

      The Propagandist Cabal is behind the hybrid attack on Europe. Short term goal is to bring the Euro down against the USD. Longer term goal: Rwanda-style genocide.

  24. Most transformative practice?

    In one word: empathy

    Lack of empathy is the singular motivation behind whats destroying the planet on any given level.

    Be kind and generous. Be sensitive. Being mean and ruthless and hurting others is cowardly. Put yourself aside. Let someone else ‘win’. Whats the point of your version of ‘success’ if it means someone else has to lose, or if it hurts the people you love?

    I believe even Nelson Mandela regretted the pain his family suffered as a result of his ambitions

    Thats a bit tangential- empathy is the main point I’m striving for here. It’s not a good time in history to be racking up bad karma and digging a spiritual hole for yourself.

    ‘Pronoia ‘(revised and expanded edition) by Rob Brezsny is a wonderful book I insist you all buy it immediately. ( the opposite of paranoia: the universe is secretly conspiring to help you) and being a San Francisco dude of Kevins vintage KK no doubt knows him.

  25. In this episode do they talk about Google and the driverless car? I was listening multiple podcasts while driving on a long trip and I can’t find this episode now. The one I am searching for highlighted Google’s driverless cars displacing the largest working segment of the economy (drivers) in the next 5 years. I need to find this podcast for some research I am doing. It was either one that Tim did with a guest or the Stanford E-Corner. Any help pointing me in the right direction would be greatly appreciated! Bob

  26. Kevin said privledged people should be having children. But thats a terrible criteria for having children! Shocking! Privledged people can be utterly lacking in qualities essential for supporting children, eg empathy, sensitivity, self awareness, concsious of the concept of ‘karma’ and thus living responsibly. I know that’s a generalisation but KK is also speaking in general terms. I think we can all relate to the destructive aspects of privledge, that exist for some people. The sense of entitlement for example.

    Tims personal life is none of our buisness, but I can imagine that someone on a mission to influence the world is going to be wondering whether having kids will short circuit all that energy aimed towards millions of people and redirect it into just a few people. Having children is often an extremely selfish activity, people want kids so they have something to ‘love’ and even ‘own’.

    If you aren’t able to parent children that are going to be grow up to contribute to make the world a better place; if you aren’t able to have kids without passing on your own trauma and that of your parents and all the trauma in your ancestry; if you can’t parent without expecting to put all of your own personal needs and desires aside, and concepts about your own importance – then don’t. Don’t have kids. Don’t! If you have a need to offer something, then do volunteer work at a kids charity on weekends – or find some selfless, healthy way that can meet that need

  27. K.Kelly is a troll for The Propagandist Cabal. His #1worry is “depopulation”. What a BS! The population grows by 1bn every 10 years. Unseen in the History of Mankind. This brainwashing by Kelly hints on who’s behind the hybrid warefare against Europe, the “migrant attack”.

  28. I really enjoyed listening to this episode with Mr. Kelly. He is so insightful on so many subjects. The only area that I didn’t agree with him on was the idea that there is a possible problem with the fact that birth rates are going down. I don’t have an issue with that statistic, since to be honest, I don’t know a lot about the subject or the demographic studies that have outlaid that idea. However, I do have an issue with the concept that slowing human population growth is a bad idea. And as I listened to Mr. Kelly’s opinion on the subject, I tried to hear his reasoning but either missed it, or it wasn’t there. I’m not sure which. But other than his stating that it’s better for socioeconomic growth for the planet to have an increase in population density, I didn’t hear a real “why” in there. I am not one of those who feels that humans should be eradicated from the planet (and if I were, I’m sure I would want to give myself an exception to that, which obviously isn’t fair), and I wouldn’t call the Earth “infested” with humans as some do. And yet, it’s hard not to concede that our species has had a profound affect on this planet from the things we have created and the things that we have done. In fact, pretty much every problem that one hears in the media, on the news, etc., is human created. But I do feel that wherever I’ve seen higher density of people, I’ve seen an increase in problems. Some of those are obvious such as hunger, trash, dirtiness (as in cities becoming dirty and worn faster), congestion, and crime. That has been my observation and experience in the U.S. That with an increase in population density comes a seemingly exponential increase in a lot of problems. One of the things he stated was his advice was that if people have the means, that they should have as many children as they can. But again, I just don’t understand where he was coming from other than from some sort of Rockwellian ideal of America. Just as a side note, but relevant to this discussion, I am a native of Los Angeles and lived there for my first 53 years until about three years ago when I got so tired of all of the above, I moved about 90 minutes north into the Central Valley. I love being able to get into Los Angeles for restaurants and beaches (the only two things that matter in this life), but I also love being out of all of that insanity. So obviously I had some pre-bias listening to Mr. Kelly’s comments. But in the end, I still just don’t understand where he was coming from.