The Gradient
The Gradient: Perspectives on AI
Benjamin Breen: The Intersecting Histories of Psychedelics and AI Research

Benjamin Breen: The Intersecting Histories of Psychedelics and AI Research

A historian's perspective on transformative technological change, how humans construct narratives, and how AI and psychedelics research have overlapped.

In episode 108 of The Gradient Podcast, Daniel Bashir speaks to Professor Benjamin Breen.

Professor Breen is an associate professor of history at UC Santa Cruz specializing in the history of science, medicine, globalization, and the impacts of technological change. He is the author of multiple books including The Age of Intoxication: Origins of the Global Drug Trade and the more recent Tripping on Utopia: Margaret Mead, the Cold War, and the Troubled Birth of Psychedelic Science, which you can pre-order now.

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  • (00:00) Intro

  • (02:05) Professor Breen’s background

  • (04:47) End of history narratives / millenarian thinking in AI/technology

  • (09:53) Transformative technological change and societal change

  • (16:45) AI and psychedelics

    • (17:23) Techno-utopianism

    • (26:08) Technologies as metaphors for humanity

    • (32:34) McLuhanist thinking / brain as a computational machine, Prof. Breen’s skepticism

  • (37:13) Issues with overblown narratives about technology

  • (42:46) Narratives about transformation and their impacts on progress

  • (45:23) The historical importance of today’s AI landscape

  • (50:05) International aspects of the history of technology

  • (53:13) Doomerism vs optimism, why doomerism is appealing

  • (57:58) Automation, meta-skills, jobs — advice for early career

  • (1:01:08) LLMs and (history) education

  • (1:07:10) Outro


The Gradient
The Gradient: Perspectives on AI
Deeply researched, technical interviews with experts thinking about AI and technology. Hosted, recorded, researched, and produced by Daniel Bashir.