Objective Free-Thinker: Interview with Writer Brandon Keim

In my explorations into the world of AI, technology, and futurism, I’ve come across and interviewed a whole host of philosophers, tech entrepreneurs, and brain scientists – but Brandon is none of these. He’s a writer, and his work first caught my attention when I found him on his personal blog, EarthLab.net, which focuses at an intersection of science, culture, and technology – which is apt given the topics I’m diving into. Luckily, he was more than happy to catch up.

Born and raised in Bangor, Maine, and now living in Brooklyn, NY, his writing started off as much of a juxtaposition as his surroundings. Heading off rather aimless after college (with just an interest in the world and sympathy for the human condition), Brandon decided to hone in and focus on writing after he was rocked by 9/11, 2001. Since then he’s worked for the “Council for Responsible Genetics,” and has gone on to write for Wired Magazine, as well as have his word featured in Psychology Today, Reuters, USA Today, and many others.

Freedom of Thought – Perspective on Technology

Brandon explained having a liking for the kind of writing that he does because it allows him to explore the world even more thoroughly, and ask important question – often to experts – and to help distil and share ideas. “I want to be objective, not an advocate,” he told me.

Believe it or not, that doesn’t necessarily involve only science-talk.

“Science if not the only frame to see the world,” Brandon told me. It’s his belief (and it’s certainly a worthwhile point) that certain science-talk around issues of futurism and the future of technology is not written in ways that normal people can understand – and that much of the time, the prevalent writings and perspectives on those concerns are solely from a Silicon Valley perspective. This – Brandon believes – is not a bad thing whatsoever, but he’s interested in all perspectives, and what we can glean from them, and so his writing is usually through a much different lens.

His belief, in immersing himself in everything from environmental causes to questions of brain-machine interfaces, is not one of pessimism, but is certainly not one of tech optimism for it’s own sake. He doesn’t believe – as many do – that the raising tide of technology will necessarily save us as, but rather: that humanity should be tuned in very, very closely to ensure that we raise those tides the right way in the first place.

I couldn’t be more congenial to that idea.

He sees certain domains of “progress” to not have been as promising as they’ve been lauded to be. Genetic predictions have been nearly impossible to make, climate change will likely be understood – be we’re unlike to do much about it, and many of the earlier predictions of AI have failed. However, he reflected in the moment that technology (specifically his laptop) allow him to have freedom in his life and work – which he’s certainly happy to have.

To sort of sum up his perspective a bit, Brandon told me a recent story about how a certain kind of dung beetle actually navigates by starlight. Even these little facts, this little detail – make the world a more beautiful and fascinating place, and Brandon knows he’s got far more than a lifetime’s worth of topics to write about.

Purposefully Informing

He sees a big part of his job now as keeping people purposefully informed, believing that the sharing of ideas and perspectives – many of which might not have much voice otherwise – ads to the richness of decision-making on topics that deserve our attention (now and in the future).

I wanted to say a special thanks to Brandon for taking the time to chat with me in the middle of a weekday. Bringing his green thumb and explorer’s mind into the world of ideas and technology – Brandon’s articles on Wired can be found here.