Some backstory to Episode 4

A new episode of Hi-Phi Nation is out today about a group of workers who tried to peek inside the black box algorithm that was paying them. It is available here.

I want to tell you the backstory of how this came together. Seth Lazar at the ANU asked me to help design a submission process for people out in the world to receive money to create narrative media content for an international conference on AI and technology ethics, the FaCCT conference. One of those submissions was the story of this episode, which I immediately selected as the winner, and subsequently started pitching to various media organizations to tell this story in audio. It ultimately caught the attention of Latif Nasser at Radiolab and we worked for months on getting the story aired there. But it was a short story, only one of three in that episode, which didn’t leave enough time to talk about the very substantive questions of fairness, ethics, and wages for gig workers, so I knew I had to do a longform Hi-Phi Nation version of the story.

But really what I wanted to mention is that in a lot of places I pitched, the response I got was that this story was “some kind of looney left-wing labor stuff” and “we don’t do stories like that.” I severely misjudged things. I never thought that this was a kind of reaction I could ever receive amongst what I’m told is a very “liberal” media environment. To me, there is nothing particularly “left-wing” about this story, though it is about labor. But any story about work where people think they’re underpaid and then try to do something about it is a story about labor. But it did open my eyes up to the fact that media, particularly New York, national-facing media, or some other kinds of elite cultural media, do have a perspective from which a certain kind of story seems to be off the map for them, outside of the range of what they think is appropriate to air. Maybe they think their readers/listeners don’t care about these kinds of issues, or are of an ideological bent that makes these issues distasteful. But I’ve always tried to buck the conventional media-criticism narrative, I’ve always given elite NY media the benefit of the doubt that they will accept any story on any topic provided it is told well and speaks to larger issues. But I guess I’m wrong about that. Lesson learned. That’s why its good to have your own platform. Anyhow, enjoy the episode, two more left this season.

Introductory Philosophy, Life, Death, and Justice

During the pandemic, during one of the most trying times of my life, I had to record the first half of my course Life, Death, and Justice at Vassar College as lectures on Youtube. Today I’m making all 12 of those very short lectures available for the public. They cover Plato’s five dialogues, theories of personal identity including an analysis of the film The Prestige, and Samuel Scheffler’s book Death and the Afterlife. For any of you interesting in taking a half semester of introductory philosophy, here it is.

Hi-Phi Nation returns: Season 6 on the Ethics of our Digital Futures

Its been a minute, but Hi-Phi Nation is back! I’m producing out of Princeton University this season, with the theme of philosophy, ethics, and futurism. This season we’re opening with a story about people turning their loved ones into digital beings, so as to save them from death, Update your podcast feeds, go to the website, and share the new season widely in your social media feeds.

Future episodes include a vision of the world where animals have full legal and political rights, people in love with their AI chatbots, a rag tag group of gig workers who try to peak into their pay algorithm, AI music, and more.

Hi-Phi Nation collaborates with Radiolab!

Dear Hi-Phi Nation fans, I just finished a piece in collaboration with Radiolab and it has appeared on their feed. Its about the gig economy and how a bunch of workers tried to open up the black box algorithm that paid them. I came across the story for Season 6 of Hi-Phi Nation and couldn’t wait, so I pitched to Radiolab and here it is! The entire full-length Hi-Phi Nation treatment of the story and its philosophical upshot will be available in the coming months when I launch the whole season (likely January 2023), but if you missed my voice, here it is! (Aside, boy do I love all of Team Radiolab, Latif Nasser, Lulu Miller, Becca Bressler, Sindhu Gnanasambandan, and Pat Walters who I worked with).

Season Finale today

Our season finale is out today, a week late but just as entertaining. This is the end to what is a much lighter season, something I needed after slogging through the pandemic, family deaths, and much worse than both, serving a term as chair of my department. This episode is about cannibals, and the wild debate throughout Christian thought about what God needs to do to resurrect the body of a cannibal and his/her victims. In reality, it is an episode about personal identity. Please help support the show in the off-season by sharing your favorite episodes with friends, family, and students, episodes like the one we did on Sound Illusions, or the costs of the war in Afghanistan, or our four part series on David Lewis. You can also keep in touch with me at any time on Twitter @Hiphination and by email from the website.

An Upsetting Update on Veteran’s day 2021

One of the most impressive people I’ve ever met was Ian Fishback, whose story of blowing the whistle on US detainee abuse during the war in Iraq was part of the pilot episode of Hi-Phi Nation, Soldier Philosophers Parts 1 and 2, which are available for you on the website and in your podcatchers. At the time, Ian was only recently out of the Army, and getting his PhD in Philosophy at the University of Michigan. I spent 3 hours getting Ian’s story and then another week with him at Vassar after inviting him here. A West Point graduate, Green Beret, and four-tour veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Ian had hopes of working in the philosophy and law of armed conflict. He completed his PhD under Liz Anderson at Michigan. But unbeknownst to me, Ian was slowly slipping away. A decade of war, harassment from individuals about his whistle-blowing history, Army bureaucracy, and a VA system unprepared to treat the complex trauma of these wars had left Ian unemployed and on the streets of his hometown in Michigan for past few months, eventually leading to his forced internment in a state institution where he is not receiving the care he needs. His childhood friends are seeking to place him in the highest quality institution for at least 5 weeks so that he can be in the hands of experts who can help him. The treatment of our vets of these wars by their own government is shameful. Their motivation and interest in PTSD treatment inadequate. Even five years ago, Ian reported to me he could get at most 4 hours of sleep a night as a result of his combat tours. Let us as a community help Ian where the VA could not. Please contribute what little you can to this GofundMe to get Ian the care he needs. Thank you for your time and look for the next episode of Hi-Phi Nation on Nov. 20th.

The Cutting Room floor

The second of our series on David Lewis has been released, go listen to it now! I’m also enclosing a link to a post I made over at the Daily Nous blog about a couple of things I had to leave on the cutting room floor for the four part series. In the guest post, I talk about how Steffi Lewis’ philosophy career fell as David’s was rising, and the inconsistent reports I kept getting about David Lewis’ political views.


Three years in the making, The Man of Many Worlds is out!

It is finally here! Episode 1 of our fifth season. Through four episodes, we’ll follow the story of how David Lewis, a man born into a body that never stopped betraying him, became the greatest systematic metaphysician of the 20th century. This episode: Lewis on time travel and the self, and his first and last moments of life in this world. Please share this one widely!

Season 5 coming October 16th, 2021

Season 5 of Hi-Phi Nation will begin with a mini-series on the life and works of David Kellogg Lewis, one of the greats of the latter half of the 20th century who died 20 years ago, and who would have been 80 years old today. After a very heavy fourth season and a very heavy two years for the world, we are going to cover much lighter topics, from David Lewis on time travel, alternate universes, and conversational scorekeeping, to the roles vampires, zombies, cannibals, and demons play in philosophy. We’ll also have an episode on altruism and on de-extinction. Please tell all your friends to subscribe so you don’t miss the season. Here is a picture of David Lewis in his 20s from his college yearbook, and a clip of him speaking to Australians in 1981.

A Personal Update

One of the most difficult years of my life, which I hope to god is now over, Delta-willing, just concluded today. My mom, Connie Wong, passed away this morning. I had been taking care of her in hospice at her home the past two months. My sister, her husband, and other family were holding the fort while I had to do my jobs the rest of the time. She lived alone in Southern California.

It was a tragic end to quite an epic life story, a long battle with a non-cancerous brain tumor she discovered in June 2020. Amidst Covid conditions in hospitals, Covid-teaching, Covid-childcare, I zipped between coasts to get her through a botched and failed surgery, daily radiation therapy that ultimately failed and may have accelerated her decline, attempts at physical therapy, and finally, a quick descent into a very debilitating state characterized by painful seizures, the loss of use of half her body, her memory, then speaking, then swallowing.

If we have been collaborating on anything the last year, I apologize for how uncharacteristically difficult I must have been to be productive. Most of all I apologize to all the listeners of the podcast for how tardy the next season has been, but of all the things I could have suspended to prioritize my mother’s care, it was the only one that made sense (in addition of course to the quality of my undergraduate teaching). But the next season is coming, I’m putting the episodes together now, and Slate and I are aiming for a release this October.

The story of the past year is a long story of a series of catastrophic medical mistakes that occurred one morning on July 30th, 2020 , the people who were left to clean up the mess, and the tragedy that ensued. Its also about how the end-of-life system in this country needs to change. As a fan and supporter of all makers of audio, I’m happy to share the story with anyone who wants it for a public audience, but I’m not going to talk about it on my show.

Connie was a single mother with an 8th grade education, sent to the fields by Mao at 15. She fled Guangzhou in 1971 with a satchel of flour and oil. She biked for 40miles, lost her shoes, spent 9 nights walking over hills, and then 6 hours in the water swimming to Hong Kong. She then moved to a foreign country at 30, became a bank teller, raised two children alone who ended up with PhDs, and fully bought and designed the house she retired in. I think her life is a win. She was 72.