Meet "Scorpion," The Real-Life Santa Claus


“I believe that peace means that one person has the biggest stick. I build those sticks.” – Walter O’Brien

UPDATE: This episode ended up sparking a lot of controversy. Many skeptics asked pointed questions about Walter’s background, claims, and credentials (often pointing to pages like this or this). This is the first time I’ve run into such an issue with the podcast, so it took me some time to figure out how to respond.

Here is my post-game analysis, as well as Walter’s response.

I struggled with whether or not to take down this episode and blog post entirely.  In the end, I decided it was more instructive to leave the below original up (with this new preface) and add an audio note to the beginning of the podcast (coming soon).

I’m hoping it will help us all improve, especially yours truly. Thank you for all of your feedback.

Walter O’Brien (AKA “Scorpion”) (@walterobrienscs) is the founder of Scorpion Computer Services and, a for-hire global think tank that provides intelligence-on-demand as a concierge service. The tag line for the latter is, “for any funded need.”

  • Need to defend against chemical warfare?
  • Move an entire manufacturing operation over a weekend?
Save a loved one from a deceitful spouse?
Thread the needle on a thorny legal issue?
  • Become a pop star in a foreign country?

When Walter and his team of 2,000+ distributed geniuses say “any funded need,” they mean it literally.

Born in Ireland, Walter was diagnosed as a child prodigy with an IQ of 197. He became an Irish national coding champion and competed in the Olympics in informatics.

Fast forward to today, he and Scorpion get paid to fix every imaginable problem for billionaires, startups, governments, Fortune 500 companies, and people like you and me. On the large side, it ranges from mitigating risk on $1.9 trillion of investments to inventing artificial intelligence engines to protect United States war fighters in Afghanistan.

Walter is also the executive producer of the hit CBS TV show Scorpion, inspired by his life, which has reached more than 26 million television viewers.

I was introduced to Walter well before the show, and we go deep in this conversation, with lots of amazing and also hilarious examples of problem solving.


Meet "Scorpion," The Real-Life Santa Claus

Want to hear another podcast from a world-class computer scientist? — Listen to my conversation with Luis von Ahn, the founder and CEO of DuoLingo. In this episode, we discuss learning languages, building companies, and changing the world (stream below or right-click here to download):

#135: Luis Von Ahn on Learning Languages, Building Companies, and Changing the World

This podcast is brought to you by Wealthfront. Wealthfront is a massively disruptive (in a good way) set-it-and-forget-it investing service, led by technologists from places like Apple. It has exploded in popularity in the last two years and now has more than $2.5B under management. Why? Because you can get services previously limited to the ultra-wealthy and only pay pennies on the dollar for them, and it’s all through smarter software instead of retail locations and bloated sales teams.

Check out, take their risk assessment quiz, which only takes 2-5 minutes, and they’ll show you—for free–exactly the portfolio they’d put you in. If you want to just take their advice and do it yourself, you can. Well worth a few minutes to explore:

This podcast is also brought to you by Boll & Branch. There is a lot of nonsense in the bedding business. For instance, did you know thread-count is not a good measurement of quality? It’s a total myth. The “Made in Italy” label? It isn’t something you should necessarily pay extra for because it generally means it’s just finished in Italy and woven in places like China.

The general industry mark-up for bedding is 700 to 800 percent at most retailers. Boll & Branch creates incredibly high-quality bedding. They are the same sheets you’ll find at my home in San Francisco.

The best part? You can try anything you order at home for 30 days. If you don’t love it, send it back and get a full refund. Go to Boll & Branch and use promo code “TIM” for $50 off your entire order. Whether sheets, towels, blankets, duvet covers, or anything else. Shipping is always free.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What is a problem you would like to have ConciergeUp solve for you? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

Show Notes

  • How Walter O’Brien began his relationship with NASA [8:15]
  • How Scorpion came to be [13:20]
  • The Emotional Quotient vs. Intellectual Quotient phenomenon [15:05]
  • The origin story of the name Scorpion and current status of the company [16:40]
  • The largest project Scorpion Computer Sciences has worked on [20:05]
  • How Scorpion implements “any funded need” solutions [20:42]
  • The “Gold Digger” story [23:07]
  • The current state of head transplants and why it may be of interest [30:00]
  • Why Walter O’Brien has never tried alcohol [38:28]
  • How Walter O’Brien cultivated a higher EQ [43:25]
  • Thoughts on developing the skill of rational thinking [45:30]
  • Meditative practices [53:10]
  • On virtual reality [57:15]
  • What is ScenGen? [1:04:20]
  • Are high IQ intellectuals more susceptible to emotional highs and lows? [1:12:47]
  • Cognitive patterns in people with high IQ [1:14:54]
  • How the TV show Scorpion came to be [1:16:45]
  • When you think of the word successful who is the first person who comes to mind and why? [1:30:22]
  • How Walter O’Brien gets out of a funk [1:32:09]
  • Most gifted books [1:33:20]
  • What purchase of $100 or less has most positively affected your life? [1:34:40]
  • Advice to Walter O’Brien’s 30-year-old-self [1:37:45]
  • On the challenge of sleeping [1:39:35]
  • Particular morning routines [1:41:35]
  • Thoughts on New Year’s resolutions, goal setting and completing the to-do list [1:42:30]
  • Historical figures that Walter O’Brien identifies with the most [1:43:50]
  • If you could put one billboard anywhere, with anything on it, where would it be and what would it say? [1:45:00]
  • Final words and asks of the audience [1:48:10]

People Mentioned

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.

Leave a Reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

308 Replies to “Meet "Scorpion," The Real-Life Santa Claus”

  1. Many things can be said about him but here there are three:

    1) Walter smells a lot to CIA/Military reclutar: maybe the TV Show, his ‘pseudo-company’, etc. it is a cover to reclute people who will work in military systems.

    2) To be a genius his understanding of politics and economy are too simple “I build the long stick that the USA government uses to keep other countries under control.” Yeah, the same government that perpetuates suffering and killing all over the world for the last 70 years.

    3) Most of what the gang of geniuses do in the TV show is completely impossible.

    Tim take this podcast down, unfortunately Mr O’Brian is completely fake, no doubts about it.


  2. Great podcast! I thought Walter was interesting and inspiring. Not sure why there is so much controversy over this podcast but I’m glad Tim kept it in the podcast library.

  3. Walter seems pretty wise to me. “If there is a problem there is a solution.” Keeping this in mind is an optimistic way to live. Our solutions should be ones that work without damage. Sometimes all that is needed for a solution is patience and perspective.

  4. Hi Tim,

    First, let me say that I LOVE what you do – the podcast and books continue to be a challenge and an inspiration!! 🙂 Let me also say that I’ve never commented on a podcast before, but as a fan and someone who’s been badly conned (still putting the pieces back together years later…), I thought I could add a little perspective.

    Being cheated is of course never fun, but as an empath I played the fool a little better than most some years ago. Anyway, as part of my recovery I decided to spend some time understanding sociopathy (fwiw, Hare’s “Without Conscience”, and Stout’s “The Sociopath Next Door” are solid intros). That said, O’Brien fits a really disturbing pattern (in the interest of brevity, I’ll skip the list of a sociopath’s traits but they’re easy enough to find online and elsewhere).

    Among the other telltale signs (colorfully conflated claims to outright lies), his treatment of EQ is so oddly broken that it defies comprehension. Only a severe misunderstanding – or LACK – of empathy would attempt to derive a significant comparison between serious philanthropists. Forgetting that Bill Gates and Mother Theresa BOTH display profound generosity, O’Brien’s attempt to exalt Gate’s gift *at the expense* of Mother Theresa’s reveals more about his values than he’d likely feel comfortable admitting (assuming he could appreciate what he was saying). The point may seem minor at first blush, but a sociopath’s hallmark lack of empathy in the context of “winning” (they use a social standard since the internal one is missing) has social traction because it is easy and common to assume emotional context, especially when discussing emotional issues. Simply put, O’Brien not only gives the nod in his “empathy game” (horrific) to Mr. Gates, but he does so precisely BECAUSE (imo) he truly doesn’t understand Mother Theresa’s. (This also goes a long way to explain how O’Brien believes that it was easier for him to hack EQ than IQ: his lack of understanding of EQ would naturally lead him to believe that speaking intellectually about emotions is the same thing as empathy…it isn’t).

    Anyway, this guy couldn’t be more dangerous, imo (I personally prefer my sociopaths have lower IQs, fewer opportunities, and less access). He honestly strikes me as a sort of lesser-version Bernie Madoff, and certainly seems capable of doing similar damage on a smaller population. (Mr. O’Brien’s $150 per hour rate alone doesn’t pass my sniff-test – seems both too cheap AND too expensive given his “credentials”). Anyway, if you haven’t warned your friends and business associates, you may want to (Bernie Madoff was trusted by a lot of high-net worth individuals too…).

    Fwiw, I TOTALLY (and sincerely) agree with your decision to leave the podcast up because, in a very dark way, the interview is in keeping with the through-line of the show: you have very possibly (likely, imo) interviewed a charlatan at the top of his game. (I do think his comparison to Santa Claus are somewhat apt: they’re both HUGE fictions.)

    (Btw, I’d SO love to hear what Brene Brown would have to say about this…)



  5. What an interesting man! I loved the gold digger story, how Scengen works, his detailed VR thoughts and even the current state of head transplants!!! I listened to this podcast twice in two days. Many insights worth taking notes. Thank you Tim and Walter for your contributions.

  6. It took me too long to finally listen to this one!

    “If there is a fork in the road, take it” I love this!

    “If you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect” – Twain

    Hey Tim and Walter 🙂

    Thank you so much for taking the time to talk and teach in this episode. I definitely will use conciergeup in the future 😀

    Keep up the good work!

    Clay Steadman

  7. The FBI hired an unnamed “third party” that successfully unlocked the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone today. I couldn’t help but think of Walter and his band of geniuses…

  8. Hey Tim, I usually don´t comment, specially when people start judging and criticizing. I loved this episode for one special reason… my brother was a very weird little boy. He is really good at math and it seems he “knows it all”. A lot of facts…

    Growing up he never had friends, he had a really hard time adapting in school. It was very hard for him to relate even with us, 4 brothers and sisters, my mom and my dad. He had one friend growing up and that was my grandfather´s new wife, she was a College professor, she taught chemistry and my brother at the age of 12 was reading college books on math and other subjects.

    I wish I could tell you this story ended up well for him. I wish we knew how to help him back then. When Walter talks about how he understood he needed to work on his EQ and how hard it is for smart people to relate, it rang a bell.

    My brother could never bring himself to step into the world, his abilities to relate to others are really low and to put it in simple terms he lives in a bubble. He lives in his own mind, mostly in his room, trapped in his mind. Due to this, he also suffers from depression, so it is tough.

    When I heard this podcast the first thing I did was download it and gave it to him, hoping that it will speak a language that he would understand and that he is not alone. That even though he is all grown up, there is still a chance for him to step into the world.

    So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!! It may not be the reason why you decided to do this podcast, you may have had doubts about taking it down but there is a reason for everything and you gave hope to us…

    Over the weekend we will do a Scorpion marathon. He is excited! 🙂

  9. Loved the interview Tim. He mentioned during the interview that he has a top ten list of books that he emails friends, do you have his list of top ten books?

  10. Tim,

    I got turned on to your podcast a few weeks ago despite hearing your interview with Maron some time ago. It’s definitely made a difference in my life–given me new books to read, taught me to be accountable with my goals, helped me to become more disciplined–and I’ve been completely onboard until I listened to the O’Brien interview today. Without knowing anything about this guy, without having read any of the multitude of challenging comments and articles about him online, I just got the sense that he was full of shit. I actually got that sense with Josh Waitzkin too, but that’s a separate discussion. First of all, smart people don’t go around reciting their exact IQ scores to people, they’re out their putting their incredible intellect to work. They don’t go around complaining about what a drag it is to be a genius because they perceive so much more about civilization and humanity than non-geniuses. But above all, he didn’t sound articulate, and his rambling stories made less and less sense the further along with them he got. There was an overall sense that he lacked some basic logic in what he was saying.

    I’m disappointed, Tim, that you wouldn’t do any basic fact checking prior to putting this guy on. You indicate that you did, but all signs point to the notion that you simply took your “friend” at his recommendation for this guy. That’s not really a valid excuse though. Crimes have unwittingly been committed using that same logic. You know better than anyone that people can fall victim to social proof, which makes it surprising that you did too. Maybe you were in a pinch for a guest and needed one quickly, I don’t know. But for me, it just really calls into question some of your past choices for guests too, and whether their claims about themselves truly hold up.

    You’re big time now. Don’t you think you and your staff should be more responsible in your bookings? It comes down to basic fact checking. I’m shocked, in light of all of the clear evidence that this guy is an utter huckster scam artist, how in the hell would you leave that description of him up on your podcast? It’s blatantly false and misleading to potential listeners. Come on man.

  11. I have read Tim’s new preface, as well as all of the controversial web chatter written about Walter. I am curious to know if anyone has contracted with ConiergeUp since this episode aired, and if so, what were your perceptions of its legitimacy.

  12. Walter mentioned he had a top 10 list of books. Can you get that list and add it to the notes or selected links…

  13. Out of all the people that seen this podcast, has any contacted Water and gotten a reply or working with him. I wrote 2-3 pages, sharing my ideas, for I was so excite by the podcast. I never received a single word back?? Maybe I will see my ideas soon. They keep popping up, as time goes by. I just it better they use it that it staying in my mind. 🙂

    Best with them All.

  14. I just listened to the podcast today having no prior knowledge of the controversy. Interesting.

    Walter, if you are legit and you are looking to find the next thing it lies in the “one-offs”. Your nature aims you at the things you can replicate 32 times. You’ve mastered that world. All the juice lies in the one-offs.

    Good luck.

  15. I thought this was a very interesting podcast, but as a programmer myself, I found it lacking some specifics that I would find interesting. It would be great if Walter would be willing to do a follow up piece (or book) on his process in developing these skills and software. For example, two high-level questions I would ask are: (1) what does his process for learning a new programming language look like, and (2) how does he weigh the relative (or sometimes exclusive) tradeoffs of a programming paradigm in his systems architecture? Perhaps beyond the scope of a podcast, or perhaps not … you decide.

  16. Great Interview. I have never commented before but after all the negativity, i felt compelled to. I can guarantee you this. The people that are complaining haven’t done much and will continue to not do much. Anyone that listens to this interview will learn some valuable lessons, and techniques. Thats all that matters. Everyone has two options, to listen or to ignore. To me, it was a great investment of my 2 hours.

  17. I’m sorry, but the “real” Walter O’Brien is a liar. The majority of his bragging claims have ALREADY been disproven. The sad part is the fact that he’s STILL making up lies and some people STILL believe them because they don’t bother to do the research. He exaggerates and flat out lies to NO END.

    One of the biggest things that bugs me: Just because he supposedly DIDN’T know what MENSA was when he was a kid, DOESN’T make a difference! If he’s so bloody smart then he’d take the MENSA test now! However, he does EVERYTHING he can to AVOID getting tested now! Someone needs to sit that man down and MAKE him take the MENSA test. Also, IQ tests as a child mean NOTHING. It is ONLY tests you take when you are an adult, and I will grant that he’s probably pretty smart where it comes to dealing with computers, but that does NOT mean anything special. Hell, I’m a white hat hacker, but I don’t go around making up stories about how how I save the ENTIRE world every day or caught bad guys by using the power of my thoughts! That man had NOTHING to do with the finding the Boston Marathon bombers!