Why Genius Doesn't Matter | Taylor Wilson on Impact Theory | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Why Genius Doesn't Matter | Taylor Wilson on Impact Theory".
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The most important thing to me is realizing that you can have intellect, you can have aptitude, and you have to have a whole lot of luck as with all things. But at the end of the day, what drove my success and continues to drive my success and the success of others is curiosity. Because if you're not really passionate about it and you're not really curious, you may learn what it takes to get that next promotion or that next kind of achievement under your belt, but if you're truly curious and you're truly passionate about something, it doesn't feel like work. Everybody, welcome to Impact Theory. You will hear my friends because you believe that human potential is nearly limitless, but you know that having potential is not the same as actually doing something with it. So our goal with this show and company is to introduce you to the people and ideas that will help you actually execute on your dreams. Alright, today's guest is the youngest person in history to achieve nuclear fusion. At the age of 14, on a unit that he began building in his parents' garage with pieces he cobbled together from discarded parts, the internet, and uranium he mined by himself, he managed to smash together atomic nuclei at such high velocity that he achieved temperatures 40 times greater than the core of the sun, becoming only the 32nd person in human history to do so. By the time he was in high school, he'd acquired a deep base of knowledge in at least 20 fundamental fields of science and engineering, including physics, chemistry, radiation, meteorology, and electrical engineering.
Taylor'S Advice On Success And Passion
Taylors Briefing (01:30)
By the time most kids are getting their driver's license, he'd invented the world's cheapest neutron detector designed to stop terrorists from smuggling in a dirty bomb, won the Intel Foundation Young Scientist Award, won a T.L. fellowship, and developed a medical device that created diagnostic medical isotopes that dramatically lowered the cost of cancer detection. And since then, he's designed a radically new version of a nuclear power plant that he believes is far cheaper and safer than current plants. And if he's right, the implications are far reaching. The U.S. Under Secretary of Energy, Christina Johnson said that someone like him comes along only once in a generation. As such, in 2017, he was named to the Helena Group, a global think tank aimed at tackling some of the biggest problems that we face as a civilization, please. Help me in welcoming the man Time Magazine called the next Einstein, Vice Correspondent and Nuclear Physicist, Taylor Wilson. How are you doing? How's it going? Good man. Thank you for coming on the show.
How Did you Do Impossible? (02:42)
Oh yeah, good. Researching you is madness. So creating nuclear fusion seems out of the realm of possibility, I think, certainly for myself, and I'm going to guess for 99.9999% of the people watching this show, what's the secret to doing the impossible? Oh, no, interesting hobbies, I guess. I decided I wanted to do it, right? And that's kind of always been my personality. If I decided I wanted to do something, I was going to do it. So I got in nuclear science when I was 10 years old and decided that there had to be a way for me to kind of access those nuclear reactions. And the easiest way to do that seemed to be to build a nuclear fusion reactor. So just took a few years of amassing the knowledge that required to actually do it. So I can believe, and I think most people can believe, that if they set their mind to it, that they can achieve it, but they don't necessarily know the process to go through to acquire the knowledge. What does that step-by-step process look like for you? Yeah, I mean, for me, of course, it helped that I was incredibly passionate about it. Like I was obsessed with the stuff, so I was basically sucking up every little ounce of knowledge I could. And being a child of the internet, 10 or 15 years earlier, what I did probably wouldn't have been possible, right? I grew up in Arkansas, and they kind of, 10 or 15 years earlier, information I would have had access to was what is available in the local library. So having to access the internet, being able to email physicists, kind of engineers all over the world, was very helpful. And for me, my kind of personal learning experience was studying the history of it. I really believe the best way to learn about a topic is to learn the history. Because even something as complex as, say, quantum mechanics, which is very non-intuitive, it's counter-intuitive, can be understood if you understood the motivations of the people who came up with the theory. But it was a pretty logical stepping process of going from this concept to this concept to this concept. And even though you end up with something that's very esoteric and weird and counter-intuitive, it was just kind of guys that probably weren't that much smarter than you, making the logical leap between one theory to another theory. And so by studying the history of nuclear science from kind of the earliest experiments that demonstrated that there were these fundamental building blocks of nature called atoms to being able to actually break down those atoms into their components, the electrons and the nucleus with neutrons and protons. Those experiments I very kind of closely followed in what I did and the experiments that I did when I was between probably 11 and 14. So I read the book The Boy that played with Fusion, which is a book written about you for everybody at home. It's so surreal to hear the, because he tells the book out of order, right? So sometimes he's like flash forward and it's sort of you can temper and then it'll flash back and it's you as a kid. And I would lose, like for a minute I'd be thinking, oh you're making these homemade fireworks, but you're probably in your teens. And then I'd realize you were like nine.
Getting Comfortable with Risk (05:50)
So like when did you get comfortable with playing with things that are either radioactive or explosive? Was that a good question? I became comfortable and I think my parents didn't. So I mean I was always interested in stuff that, you know, for better or worse was kind of a little bit volatile like. So as far back as I can remember I was interested in science, but before nuclear science I was interested in rocketry and space science and I wanted to build rockets. So part of that was studying energetics, right? Energetic materials, things like oxidizer fuel mixtures, things that go into rocket fuel that you know it can explode. And I've always kind of had a personality that's fairly cautious, which kind of seems weird because I play around with nuclear material and explosives and dangerous chemicals, but I realized pretty early on that if I wasn't incredibly careful I wouldn't be able to do that every day and make it, you know, as far as I have. Now going back to the notion of I want to follow the history and I want to figure this out. If you were to embark on something new today, do you literally go to Google and type in the history of whatever you're about to do or? Well, it's a process, right? So you know, for me learning a new topic, which I like to do pretty regularly, you know, I'm really lucky that I get to apply something nuclear science to a lot of different fields. So depending on the day of the week I'm working on energy or I'm working on a medical application or I'm working on an engineering project. And that way, kind of every day I get to learn something new about a different topic. But yeah, to go back to that point, partly it's getting the overarching kind of themes of the field. And then for me kind of digging into the personalities, right? So who were the people that made the discoveries? What was their training? What was their background? You know, some of the greatest discoveries in science happened from people that weren't necessarily in their own field, but just kind of at the edge of their field, right?
Staying in your area of expertise (07:46)
So a biologist that was kind of dabbling in material science. You talked about how a lot of Nobel Prizes were given to people that were either rided in an intersection or actually well outside of their field. Why do you think that is? Well, I think we all get into a sense of thinking, this is the way things are and this is how they've always been. And it gives you into a kind of a rigid structure of thinking, right? And partly that's a consequence of human psychology. Partly that's a consequence of the way science is taught. But if you're a biologist, you're taught this is what we know about biology. And you might can investigate a new probe deeper into a certain area or probe a new area, but it's usually when someone takes kind of a paradigm shift or takes a little bit of knowledge from an external field and applies it. And it's something no one's ever thought before, right? Because your average biologist doesn't know about the latest discoveries in material science. He just doesn't. That's not what a biologist's job is. But if he's able to take that discovery and be like, wow, I wonder if this effect, this force is the reason that you get this binding and this molecule, maybe that's the reason that X happens. And so I do fundamentally believe that the best scientist, the best engineer, is the best innovators or ones that are able to take their knowledge and apply it to other fields or take knowledge from an external field and bring it into an area where it hasn't really been applied before. Do you ever feel like your own thinking gets in a rut on a given problem? Oh, absolutely. What do you do to address that? You can't help but have that happen, right? And partly for me, it's going out and talking to other folks that are doing other things, right? So I'd say in my day job, I spend a lot of time meeting nuclear physicists and nuclear engineers and folks with that background. But I try to spend a certain amount of time talking to folks that are just radically different than me, right? You actually seek them out? Yeah, yeah. I go, whether it's to an academic institution, a university, a department of energy national lab, a company within industry, and try to talk to folks that are doing really different things than what I'm working on in hopes that they might have a solution that I can apply to one of my problems or vice versa, that I have developed something that might could apply to their area or their problems. I imagine now that's a lot easier for you. You've got so much credibility behind you.
Getting access to knowledge and equipment (10:15)
You're really well known in this space. Take us back to when A, you're not known in this space. B, you probably sound like the nine-year-old that you are. How do you call people, convince them? What is that process? Because people struggle even to get a mentor. How did you find mentors? How did you convince people to give you equipment? Right. Well, in your right, that was a struggle. Basically, until I achieved nuclear fusion, right? I guess you call it credibility gap, right? People are like, "Why am I talking to this kid? What does he know?" But I also have a personality where, and I said this before, if I set out to do something, I pretty much do what it takes to make it happen. Sometimes it's just being bold. I don't think most PhD nuclear physicists or nuclear engineers say a professor at a university or a director of a lab. It's very many emails from a 10-year-old. Partly, it's just being bold enough to do it. For me, if I could get in the room with them, I try to convince them that I sort of know what I'm talking about at least. Do you prepare? If you know you're about to meet somebody, do you prepare ahead of time so you go in and who they are and what their hot buttons are? You're so passionate about what you're doing that you want to convey that. No, and it's not even maybe that I'm trying to convey anything. I love what I do. I love this stuff. I love nuclear science and science in general. Being able to be in the room with someone who has knowledge about something that I don't is the best feeling in the world. Being able to absorb that knowledge from them, that transfer, that osmosis of knowledge. I think that is one of the best experiences in the world. If I have the opportunity to be in the room with someone who knows a whole lot about a subject, I'm in my element. I really enjoy that. I'd say that 100 people wanted you to mentor them.
How to get a mentor (12:11)
You obviously can't mentor them all. What would you look for? People ask me all the time how to get a mentor. What's your answer to that question? There are a few answers I guess I'd have to that. The most important thing to me and something that's been incredibly helpful to me over the years is realizing that you can have intellect, you can have aptitude, and you have to have a whole lot of luck as with all things. At the end of the day, what drove my success and continues to drive my success and the success of others is curiosity. Being passionate, passionately curious about a subject. If you're not really passionate about it and you're not really curious, you may learn what it takes to do something or you may learn what it takes to get that next promotion or that next kind of achievement under your belt. If you're truly curious and you're truly passionate about something, it doesn't feel like work. You'll do what it takes to become good at something. I always get excited when I meet students or people that contact me and they're just incredibly passionate because with that passion, they can learn what it takes to be good at science and good at innovating and good at engineering. You were going to give somebody two or three bullet points because I'll assume that the people that even know who you are, they're going to have a level of enthusiasm and passion for this. Beyond that, what becomes the next filtering criteria? For me, I'll tell you right now, if the person doesn't have the grit and tenacity that you've talked about, that's huge. But now, how do you convey that to somebody?
Conveying grit and tenacity to an employer or mentor (13:44)
I can't detect it in an interview, which means that I've seen Fight Club. Fight Club to make them stand outside the door for four days in the rain. I'm always trying to think, "What's my version of that?" Because I want to know, is the person going to stick with it? Right. Well, you're completely right about that. Passion can only take you so far. I do find, though, that folks that have passion, that takes them extra distance to become good at something. For me, when I meet someone, whether it's someone I'm interviewing to hire them or be a student, that kind of mentor relationship, aptitude is important but not that important. Finding if they're passionate, finding if they have taken the time to learn about this. They don't have to be an expert on the subject, but if they've taken the time to at least get a basis in what they're talking about, I think that's important. There's a lot of people that, and to some degree, I was that person. Before I found nuclear science, I was interested in biology, I was interested in space science, I was interested in rocketry, I was interested in all these different fields. There's nothing wrong with that. But I think sometimes you bump around things until you finally find the thing that sticks. Maybe it goes to what you're saying about grit and tenacity. Finding someone who's really stuck with something long enough to really get a grasp for it. Maybe not become an expert, but at least know what they're talking about. That's usually a good dividing line between the people that have the right stuff and the people that may still be finding what they want to do. Alright, you said something that literally the breaks screeched in my brain.
How do you know what your passion is? (15:27)
Aptitude matters, but not that much. People watching right now, I promise they're thinking this guy did nuclear fusion at 14. He's just a genius. Do you consider yourself a genius? I don't know. Look, I think I probably do have some natural aptitude for science, just like some people have natural aptitude for music, musical ability, or writing, or all these things. But that's never been to me what set me apart. There are a lot of smart people in this world. To me it was just being profoundly curious. It's kind of the difference between learning something in the classroom or outside the classroom. If you're forced to take a class on philosophy, you have to get that credit to graduate. You sit in that class, you're probably not going to become an expert in philosophy. There's not the motivation there to become good at it, no matter how much natural aptitude you may have. In that way, if you're truly passionate about something like I was a nuclear science, it never felt like learning. I was able to put in however many tens of thousands of hours it took to basically get the knowledge just to form a basis to do science, which is a lot. It really is a lot. But it doesn't feel like work if you're really enjoying it, if you're really passionate about it. One thing I found fascinating reading the book was that your younger brother Joey typically outscores you on aptitude tests. But has struggled to find that thing he cares enough about to have the kind of success you've had. Yeah, I like to tell people that. I think Joey is smarter than me in pretty much every way. Joey is a very smart guy. But unlike me, and still at this point, I don't think he's discovered what he really wants to use that aptitude for. I was lucky. I found what I wanted to do when I was 10 years old. I don't think most people who are 25 or even 30 or 35 have discovered that yet. And I think every day, I am so lucky to have the parents I had, to have the resources I had, and to discover that and have that spark when I was 10 years old. It's just about finding something that you really enjoy, whether you're 10 or 40. It happens at different points for everyone. And do people ask you about how do I find my passion or how do I develop a passion at all? Yeah, it's hard to say for me. People ask me, how did I become interested in nuclear science? And it's hard to pinpoint one specific thing where it's like, I read that or I talk to that person and I knew. I think more than anything, it was just being incredibly curious about the way the world worked, sucking in all the information I could about the natural sciences and physics and chemistry and engineering, and then stumbling across nuclear science. And just for me being like, wow, this is kind of, to me, I think a combination of three things. One, it's really cool. It's like really powerful, right? To me, nuclear science is the most interesting thing because it's humans, just about the most energy dense process that we can access, right? Like the amount of energy contained in a gram of uranium relative to the massive amounts of fossil fuels that the energy in that uranium represents. That's an incredibly powerful thing and that was really compelling to me. So that was one pillar, if you will. The other was aptitude. I kind of started to do it and I was like, hey, I'm kind of, I kind of got a knack for this, right?
Being truly passionate about something doesn't feel like work (19:08)
I'm going to be back for applying equations to designing experiments. That's the second pillar and then the third pillar would be realizing that it was something I could do that I enjoyed that I thought I could make an impact with, right? Because there are a lot of things we can do as hobbies that are fun, right? Like sports or wide variety of activities. But when you feel like you can make an impact, a positive impact on the world using that, I think for me that's when it kind of all congealed. This is probably what I would be doing, you know, for at least the next 10 years, if not longer. It's interesting that you bring that up. One of the most fascinating things about your story was whether you reacted to your grandma getting cancer and then talk to us about that. How did that manifest itself and what you pursued?
What to do when a terminal illness hits (19:59)
Yeah. And I think everyone when a terminal illness hits feels very helpless, right? You feel like, you know, why does this happen? There's not really much we can do, especially if the disease like cancer with, you know, the medicine of the time of the day. But I kind of realized that nuclear science was a powerful tool and there existed opportunities within nuclear science, so it's fulfilled in nuclear medicine, to really make an impact on the way we treat and diagnose disease. And I think it was in that moment and because of that event that I realized that this was not only something that I would enjoy and have fun doing, but could also make an impact with and it kind of gave a mission, you know, kind of a mission to what I was doing. And so that, looking back, I think that was very formative and why I chose to do, you know, what I did.
Don't feel helpless when a problem arises (20:50)
Yeah. I have two questions off that. One, do you ever feel helpless? I don't like feeling helpless. You know, if you really delve into my psyche and probably my mini neuroses, I think feeling helpless is not something I really enjoy. I like to have, you know, it's probably a control thing, I don't know. But I'm very lucky that as a scientist and engineer that I can really take these tools of knowledge about the way the world works and apply them to solving problems. And I think that's the reason I am a very profound optimist. Like I am very optimistic about the future of humanity, about the future of this planet, about all the things we do, you know, as dark as it seems sometimes and as miserable as this world can be and all the problems that we face. I have to remind myself that, you know, we are the one species on this planet that has the ability to use this thing, you know, our brain to overcome problems, right? You know, any other animal on this planet, an asteroid is headed for Earth. They're gone. They're gone. But we exist as a species in this unique time in our evolution where we can change that. We could launch a rocket, carry nuclear weapons and divert the course of that asteroid. And that makes our species very unique, that ability to solve problems. And every day I get to meet very, very bright, very impressive people from all backgrounds and all walks of life who are working on solving these kind of problems. And when you do that, there's no way you can be pessimistic about the future. You've said that you have too many things you're interested in to tackle in one lifetime. How much does impact, so you talked about that with your grandmother, how much does impact factor into that decision making of how to rank sort of hierarchically the things you care about? Yeah, I mean, I'll just have to admit, like I don't think I always do a great job of prioritizing what I do, right? Because I do it because it's interesting, sometimes I do it because I feel like it'll inspire someone to do something else.
Scientific innovation (22:54)
I don't do great at prioritizing it, but I do try to think about what is the impact of what I'm doing, right? How does it contribute? Whether it's engineering, whether it's solving a problem like energy or disease or security, or whether it's just simply doing science. Doing science for me is the most fun thing I do. The reason I ask that is for me, a lot of times people are, so I'll say you need to work hard, smart and long hours, right? That's my obsession, those three things. But what's hiding in that always and forever for me is love what you do. Like once you love what you do, I'm not saying go enslave yourself to the wheel of pain. I'm talking about something that you love doing and there's a lot of stories in the book about where you wouldn't eat, people would have to bring you food because you would just get so in on something. Something like that. No, and it's true. When you do something you love, you kind of lose yourself in it sometimes. So going back to your profound optimism for the future, one, what are you working on that you're most excited about that you think is going to have the biggest impact? And then what does our future look like? Well, the future is a very interesting place. I'll say that much. It's exciting, it's always said that to predict the future is a very dangerous occupation. And I agree, trying to predict, especially in the long term, where humans are civilization is going to be in two decades or three decades or four decades out. That's very hard. Technology follows exponential trends and it usually branches off from an area that most people or if anybody sees coming. But what excites me and partly why I do what I do is because I get this little window into the future. Whether it's research that I'm doing or someone I'm advising or a group doing work that I've come in and kind of taken a look at, I get this very early look at what the next technologies that are on the horizon are. And it's very exciting. I think as far as what I work on and the biggest part of my day job is energy. The ability to create energy sources that are non polluting, that don't have emissions, that don't have harm to the environment. While at the same time being able to electrify the one and fifth person on Earth that doesn't have electricity, that's very exciting. Because there are literally billions of people on Earth that don't have access to any electricity. And if you can provide that electricity to them at a lower cost and a much lower environmental footprint than what exists today, I think that's a very exciting future. Everything that goes into that also comes out of that is access to information. I said this before, but what I was able to do at 10 or 14 years old growing up in Arkansas would not have been possible without the internet. It just wouldn't. I would have been at the mercy of what was available in my local library or if I was at a college campus, what was available in the libraries of that college or university. And you think about the one and fifth person on the planet that doesn't have access to any electricity. Once they have access to energy, it's a very logical step to get them telecommunications, to get them access to that internet of information. And it's exciting to think about the people like me in places like rural India or sub-Saharan Africa that don't currently have access to the internet, that would be able to learn so much, become passionate about a subject, become well versed in a subject and then able to innovate the next major discovery that's going to change our lives. So of course there are downsides to that, downsides that will need to be managed like all new technology. But the ability to electrify and integrate into the network of telecommunications we have today, those probably really several billion people is going to be incredible and that's probably one of the things I'm most excited about. So I know that you've been working with Vice a lot, which is actually how you first got on my radar.
Challenges And Perspective
Communicating science to the public (27:10)
My wife and I were watching a segment on energy and they had you on it and I'm like, who is this guy? Like I was obviously freaking out about the credentials and just how young you were. What do you think is media's role in what you're trying to do, bringing the youth voice, is that part of why your focus there? Look, I think as far as some of the stuff like Vice that I've done and continue to do, I think the more that scientists communicate what they do to the public, the better off we are. Unfortunately, scientists aren't typically the greatest communicators. I mean they're great at communicating with other scientists, but as far as communicating with the general public, right? They're not great and if you think about it, that's probably the one career filled on earth that it's the most important to communicate. I mean typically, scientist funding comes from the public and the work they're doing directly impacts the citizen, the voter, the consumer. I mean think about things as diverse from the environment to healthcare decisions. The research that scientists are doing are directly affecting the average person and if there doesn't exist an ability to communicate that, you're kind of losing that knowledge to the place where it's most important that it goes. And look, I think science is really, really cool. I mean I think you would agree. Science is this amazingly cool thing. It happens with the biggest, coolest toys humans have ever built and some of the coolest places on earth by some of the coolest people. And mind you, not people that are seven-year-old white men with crazy hair and lab coats, I mean it's a very diverse group of people that do science and the more we communicate that and the more we enter that into the zeitgeist, into popular media and popular culture, the better off we're going to be because not only are citizens and the general public going to be better informed on the issues, but the more young people that are going to be inspired to go and do science. And in some ways I kind of hope that's my greatest legacy and I want to do a lot of really big things in my life. I'm very ambitious. I will try to do as many as possible or I have the ability to do, but I can only do so much. But if I can inspire 100 kids or 20 kids to pursue science and technology as a career, the amount of innovation they'll be able to do, the amount of problems they'll be able to solve and the amount of good they'll be able to do in the world, that's a force multiplier on what I'm able to do. And so in some ways I'm more excited about that than any of the work that I do is being able to be that voice to go out and say science is really flipping cool. And we should really do something to promote this so young people realize that.
Biggest challenges (30:02)
All right, you said that you're really ambitious. There's a lot of things you want to do. What are other than energy? Because I totally get it loud and clear on energy, but beyond energy, what are a few key things that if you don't accomplish by the time that you leave this earth? Or if you do me a favor and end aging, which I would really appreciate, what are those key things you're like? They just absolutely have to happen. Energy is kind of the biggest thing I focus on because energy underlies so many things we do. I mean, energy is the currency of our everyday lives. The currency of our economy is the currency of manufacturing, the currency of healthcare, sustainable food production, water resources. All these things are basically just a function of energy. And if we can dramatically, like by order of magnitude, lower the cost of energy, increase the access to energy all while doing it in a very environmentally responsible and sustainable way. So you already have that design. Why isn't that happening? So the reactors are under-own development. Development in like a, and now we have to get the government to buy in on it or development like, hey, the government's already bought in and now we're actually making them. A lot of just basic R&D, I mean, building a reactor is a hard thing. It's not as straightforward as going to Lowe's and like picking up PVC pipe and a pump and things like that. There are a lot of things with reactor development that require a lot of validation. You have to subject materials to an environment for a long period of time to see how they're going to perform. I'm happy with the progress. I think it's going to be something that is really going to come of age soon enough to make a difference, especially in the specialty customers. These reactors have the potential to be a utility-scale solution, right?
What keeps Taylor up at night (31:44)
But what I'm most excited about are those specialty customers. What keeps you up at night? What keeps me up at night? Well, that's a good question. Look, I think there are a lot of advantages to technology, right? We've created these amazing lives that compared to lives a hundred years ago or a thousand years ago are prolonged that are free from a lot of the problems that our early ancestors faced. But they haven't been without their down sides. Technology typically is always a two-headed coin, right? Nuclear technology is the prime example of that, right? We created the ability to split the atom, created the most destructive weapons, humans have ever built nuclear weapons. And it also created this technology, whether it's nuclear power, whether it's nuclear medicine, whether it's some of the other applications in nuclear technology, that really have made our lives better, have made really big advancements in the way we live our lives. There are a lot of these so-called dual-use technologies that I think going forward in the future we have to keep an eye on. Biotechnology is one of those, the ability to synthesize an organism on command to basically be able to program its genetic code to serve a function is going to have profoundly impactful importance on our lives. I mean, the ability to synthesize drugs, the ability to synthesize new materials, the ability to treat disease and create a life of abundance is all going to be enabled by those kind of synthetic biology projects, but it also creates the possibility that you could create a designer bug, right? A disease, a vector, a pathogen that could target an individual or could target a group or become way more pathogenic than something that exists today. And that's a scary possibility. The same possibility exists with artificial intelligence. And we were talking about this earlier, but I don't know where I fall on the issue of general artificial intelligence. Neuro-AI, neuro-artificial intelligence is relatively, you know, artificial intelligence applied to a problem, you know, whether that problem security or that problem's healthcare, that problem's food management. The application of artificial intelligence to that is much easier to not only know where it's going, but try to mitigate the risk and mitigate the negative consequences of it. General AI, this idea of superintelligence or a singularity or the ability to create a computer that exceeds the cognitive capacity of the human brain, that's something that's much harder to predict where it's going. And because it's harder to predict, it's harder to mitigate the negative, you know, consequences of that. I don't know where I fall on the issue. I think it's a doomsday scenario. Do I think it's an existential threat to human existence? Probably not. But I still think it's something that we have to keep an eye on. Just like, you know, we were in 1939 with the Dawn of the Manhattan Project and the Dawn of the New Era and understanding of our universe. We embarked on a crash program to develop nuclear weapons. And literally in a couple of years, we went from a theoretical concept to the ability to create the most destructive weapons humans have ever created. And in that way, I think we sort of stand like we stood in 1939 with nuclear weapons, potentially with computing technology. It will have positive outcomes. It will transform the way we live our lives in a positive way. It may also have negative outcomes. So it is very important for the scientists doing the research, the organizations funding the research, and governmental bodies, whether those are national or international, to keep an eye on it, always reevaluating where the technology is going. Out of curiosity, if you have kids, what would you do to help them foster the kinds of passions and things that have been such a boon for you?
What kind of parent would Taylor be (35:59)
Look, I definitely want to have kids. I am excited to see what they do. And in a way, I hope they don't do at least nuclear science at all. I don't know. I think it's important for me, and I talked about this before, I am so incredibly lucky to live the life I did. I think in a lot of other circumstances, I would have not ended up where I ended up. The fact that I had parents that never tried to shepherd me into any certain area, they always kind of looked to me at what my interest was and tried to fuel that passion. And like I said, that changed over the years, and then I found nuclear science. But that ability to support whatever my passion was, and do it wholeheartedly, and take me to Space Camp and take me to National Labs to meet nuclear scientists, and giving me a little bit of leeway when it came to doing experiments while still trying to keep me safe. I think if I was born into a lot of other situations, I wouldn't have had that. So for me, if I have kids, when I have kids, I would hope that they can develop their own passions, and I can support that because I think they will be the most successful when they find something that they love and are able to use what talents they may have on that. And so I'm excited about that future. How would you do that, though? Is it like a shotgun approach, or just making sure that they encounter a lot of different things, or do you have a specific methodology? Well, I'm not a parent yet. We'll see when I get to that point what my methodology is, and I'm sure I'll have a perfect plan on how it actually turns out. But yeah, look, I think partly it's making sure and encouraging curiosity, right? So giving them access to libraries of information, giving them the access to the information, encouraging that curiosity, and then once they found something they were interested in, giving them as many resources as was humanly possible to pursue that. If they're interested in space, I'm going to take them to space camp. I'm going to make sure that that is a priority for me as a parent to get them there, and expose them to people that are doing what they're interested in. I've always believed that it's very hard to be inspired to do something when you can't really see yourself doing it, right? Like if you were a young girl of color, and the only scientific mentors you have are these old white guys and lab coats, it's going to be very hard to be like, "You know what? I see myself in that person. I want to be a scientist. This is cool." And I think in that way, getting young people exposure to science and what science actually is is important. So taking them to labs, showing them people doing the science, and showing them kind of the diversity of the people that are doing science, I think that's very important because that's when that spark happens, like, "Oh, that girl is kind of like me." She looks like me, and she's having a whole lot of fun doing what she's doing. I think that's what I want to spend my life doing.
Answer everything with a question mark (39:14)
I think that is an incredibly powerful and underutilized tool for inspiration. How do you respond when somebody in your lab says that something can't be done? I usually question them very, very long and hard about that. When that happens, you know, like, "I'll, whether it's a student, whether it's someone that I'm working with, whether it's a colleague that I've engaged in a partnership," sometimes people are like, "Taylor, that's not possible." And I guess every once in a while, especially if it starts to butt up against the laws of physics, that response might be valid, but I give them a long, hard look, a long, hard questioning session of, "Is it really not possible or have you just not thought up a solution or have you not given it enough time?" Or is that just the conceived way of thinking about the subject? You know, it goes back so Elon Musk founded SpaceX in the early 2000s because early on he had this idea that he wanted to send a greenhouse to Mars, which is kind of a crazy idea if you think about it, but this idea that streaming back the pictures would inspire people. Well now fast forward over a decade and SpaceX, his space launch company, has been able to create a class of reusable orbital booster, really for the first time in the history of spaceflight, a fully reusable first stage orbital booster. That's something that even maybe six or seven years ago, if you went to the rocket community and asked, people would say it's crazy. It's not the way things are done. It's probably not possible and if it's possible, it's going to be way too expensive to be economical. And Elon and the team at SpaceX was like, this is something that is important. This is how we're going to reduce launch of the cost of launch. It's crazy to be throwing away these boosters after every flight. That would be like throwing away jumbo jets after every transatlantic crossing. And they said, we're going to do it and we're going to do it and we're going to prove it's possible and we're going to make the economics work. And I think it's thinking like that that is not always found within science, that's not always found within industry. And the more crazy folks you have that push people like that, the more kind of radical innovation like reusable rockets will have. Because again, Elon didn't know what he didn't know, right? He didn't know that's not the way it's done. He didn't spend his career in a rocket company, in a propulsion company doing rocket engineering, doing aerospace engineering. And so he didn't know that reusable orbital class vehicles wasn't the way things were done. And because of that, he was able to create a company that is now doing that and has dramatically dropped the cost of launch to orbit. And so I try to encourage the people around me, just, you know, if you don't think it's possible, just give it another try. Sketch it out. Maybe try a different way. But you come back to me again, or maybe three times from now and don't have a solution, then maybe I'll accept that it's just not going to happen right now. All right.
Embrace failure (42:23)
And how do you, I'm guessing in your career you've failed a lot by creating some of the things you've created just seems inevitable. How do you think about failure? How do you deal with failure? If I was in the lab today, I would probably fail. I will have probably profound failures in the future. Hopefully none that are large and dramatic and end up on the 12 o'clock news. But inevitably I will have lots more failures. But that's what drives innovation. I mean, some of the coolest things I've done in the lab have been failing to do what I originally set out. My original hypothesis or my original experimental design turned out to be just completely worthless. I couldn't do it or I screwed it up. But the outcome was something that actually was kind of interesting. That goes back to some of the greatest scientific discoveries in history. Came from people that had kind of really bad experimental design, but discovered something that they never intended, that they never thought of. And so in that way, people talk about failure being the catalyst of innovation or failure being the way we learn all this stuff. And nowhere is that more prominent than in science. Science is built on failure. If I knew when I set out to conduct an experiment what the outcome was going to be 100%, there would be no reason to do the experiment. So a lot of times in science and in engineering too, you're not going to succeed or you're not going to prove your intuition. But what you do develop, what you do create, what you do discover is going to probably be something, in some cases even cooler than what you set out to do. So yeah, failure is integral. And I know people say that all the time. That's almost become a buzzword. Like you have to fail to succeed and all this stuff. But like that is a core tenant to science is you have to remain curious. Like if you get convinced that you know everything and that you know everything about what you're doing and you stop being curious, that's the moment you stop becoming, you stop being a scientist. I mean to be a scientist is to not know. It's the probably only profession on earth where you were rewarded for not knowing what you're doing. And so maybe it's a good excuse but I think it's a whole lot of fun as a job.
Taylor'S Personal Aims
Where to find Taylor (44:43)
I love that. Alright before I ask my last question, where can these guys find you online? That's a good question. I try to kind of not spend too much time on social media but I do have a website and probably in the future we'll be kind of updating or at least restarting some of these social media channels because I think what I do on a daily basis is cool to look at. So one of these days I need to start getting that out there and I'll let you know when I do. Alright sounds perfect.
Impact Taylor wants to have on the world (45:13)
Final question, what is the impact that you want to have on the world? Well look I think there are a lot of things I want to do. We've kind of touched on a lot of them. I think energy, you know if we can really reinvent the way we use and produce energy, that's going to be probably more transformative than a lot of the things that I can do with my life. So if I can have at least a small part in kind of transforming our energy economy, that'll be important. But more than that I think if we can inspire a new generation of young people to pursue science and technology as a way to make the world a better place, that'll have more of a profound impact on the world than anything else. Because science is cool and science is the one thing I think that's really going to get us out of these problems that we face today. You know we're in a rut, like we have some big problems that we face domestically and internationally and in the globe in general. And science and technology represents the tools to get us out of those holes, to dig ourselves out of these problems and really make the world a better place in the future than it was in the past. So the more young people that are working on that and getting to use these really cool sexy toys, the better the world's going to be. And so if I can have a part in that, that would be something I would try to do. >> Awesome.
Closing thoughts (46:27)
>> Taylor, thank you so much for coming on the show man. That was incredible. Guys, all right, on this one I'm telling you the notion of profound curiosity. That is something I want you to burn into your soul. What I love is this guy is the one telling you that aptitude matters but it doesn't matter nearly as much as you think. And if he was going to have to trade it for something and the funny thing is in his family he has the examples. Whereas brother was actually outscoring him on all the aptitude tests that they were taking. But because he had that thing, he had that passion that he had discovered. He had the profound curiosity which used to get mentors, which used to propel himself forward, all of that. That was a real juice. Cultivate that in yourself. Go out, encounter a lot of stuff. Let his story be the story of that. Let people right now that don't know what they want to do, really look at that and think about what are the ways that you can engage with something to discover the things that you really want to do in your life. And don't take no for an answer, show his level of tenacity, get after it, convince people persuasion. This guy is able to persuade people and I think more than anything with his infectious enthusiasm for what he does. Fall in love with something, get really good at it. Put in the time and effort, don't take no, rethink, get outside your comfort zone, think about other things, come at it from a new angle. And what he said about failure is incredibly awesome and it may be oft repeated but it is literally the foundation of so many things, not just science, but hearing it from somebody who's had that level of success to say literally what I do is all about failure is pretty incredible. I hope you guys were listening as closely as I was. All right boys and girls, if you haven't already, be sure to subscribe and until next time my friends, be legendary. Take care. Hey, thank you, man. You're welcome. Really. Hey everybody, thank you so much for watching and being a part of this community. If you haven't already, be sure to subscribe. You're going to get weekly videos on building a growth mindset, cultivating grit and unlocking your full potential.