Inside the Secret Lab of the World's Most Interesting Inventor | HELLO WORLD
Drip, drip, drip. It's springtime in the Pacific Northwest. How delightful. It's often said, by me, that if you can't make it in Silicon valley, then you head to Seattle. And if you can't make it there, you go to Vancouver. There's a reason housing prizes are only mildly insane in these parts as opposed to totally insane in Silicon Valley.
You have to put up with things like weather, Jeff Bezos's big silver spheres and tourist spots where people throw fish at your face. Still, as a Californian, I'm willing to concede that the Pacific Northwest might have some merits. I mean, this is decent. And this pizza designed by a wizard probably tastes pretty good. And so I have set out on a road trip from Seattle to Vancouver to find out why people choose to live here. Why they have given their souls over to Microsoft and Amazon.
And why they're so open about caging humans and machines like this, just so they can build our dead eyed replacements. Tourists would probably start their trip hanging out in Seattle. But I'm a tech dork with a time lapse to make. And so we're going ahead east to Redmond and Bellevue also known as the towns that Microsoft built. Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond has all the we're doing technology essentials.
There are slogans, and more slogans. There's a garage placed randomly inside of an office because startups come from garages. There are buildings and more buildings. And there are treehouses where engineers go to meditate on how to next level excel and how to let Skype keep languishing. Nearby Bellevue is similar, but kind of ritzier. This for example, is the shopping mall in the bad part of town.
I have come to Bellevue to see this thing. But mostly to meet the man who paid for it. How are you Nathan? Great, how are you doing? Nathan Myhrvold.
Yeah, likewise. Nathan is the former Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft. Today, he's perhaps best known as the world's most curious human.
This is a microscope that I built. These are commercial microscopes that I then heavily modified. And this is a solar telescope. You can see incredible amounts of detail of the sun churning.
Now this device here is a Panorama Robot. I use this for taking landscape pictures. And this is a four camera array that we built. This goes onto this mount here, and that mount slowly goes across the sky at night.
So you track the stars. So what we see are these wonderful long meteor that- Nathan really does do a bit of everything. And he does everything to the extreme. He's an accomplished paleontologist and has dug up numerous dinosaur skeletons. But just finding the bones is not enough. So back in 1997, I was interested in the following question which is, there are a bunch of the dinosaurs called Sauropod dinosaurs which had really long skinny necks.
So Apatosaurus, also called Brontosaurus sometimes is an example. Those had really long skinny tails. And a British biomechanics expert, he wondered if they could have been used to make noise. So I made a computer model that showed that in fact, the tail of these Sauropod dinosaurs could actually act like a whip, a bull whip.
Now the way a bull whip makes that cracking noise. Yeah. Is because the tip of the whip actually goes about twice the speed of sound. Okay. And that crack is a sonic boom. So I published a paper on this in 1997. It was well received, but also controversial. A lot of dinosaur paleontologists said, well, I won't believe it until you build a physical model.
I said, okay, you wanna physical model? I'll make a physical model. So this replicates the tail of a Apatosaurus. And so the idea is as this animal would walk, this very long very thin tail could be made whip around.
We have a high speed video camera. We have shown with that high speed video camera that this went mock too. Do they think it's like a defense thing or like to make noise to signal? Well, okay, so it turns out half of the specimens of this kind of dinosaur have intervertebral damage at about number 23, somewhere down here. It turns out that same area is the area where a bull whip wears out. So about half the specimens were whipping their tails.
Oh wow. So often that they damaged their bones. Which totally sounds like male behavior to me. I think the way they got a date was to impress the females by making loud booms.
And if you do a scaling argument, you can show that the noise would've been deafening. Like as loud as the big guns on the USS New Jersey. So here's the other interesting thing about wild animals. You can't know for sure what you're going to get.
Nathan also likes to photograph wildlife. I decided I wanted to photograph all of the wild cats and wild dogs in the world. But all the species, no, the individuals. Yeah. So this is a camera trap. So this is a camera that you set up and you leave out there and it gets automatically triggered if the animal walks by. That's really great for really shy animals.
And unfortunately, most wild cats are really shy. And this is a rig that we call the three Amigos. So we have three, 600 millimeter lenses. We have wired them together with electronics box that we build. So with this, I can take a picture which will simultaneously be taken by all three cameras.
And that allows me to make a big panorama. I see, sure. Of a moving subject. Okay. So these are Sandhill Cranes. There's tens of thousands of them in this one photo.
You couldn't get a picture like this without that rig. And Nathan is into snowflakes as well. Like, really into snowflakes. Most of the water that we consume falls as snow. Okay, the reason we get any water at all in the summer in the Northwest is cause the snow pack is melting.
And I'd done a lot of microscopy. So, oh this is great. I'll take some pictures of snowflakes. Well, it turns out that's really hard. So after lots of experimentation and effort, we built this. So you have to catch the snowflake and- And here's how you catch a snowflake.
This is a very delicate sable brush. And you put this down, and as it gets close to the snowflake, static electricity makes the snowflake jump up and it touches that. And then it's in here is- And then we put it on here and we have to put it on a slide that's made out of artificial sapphire.
Then we have our lighting rig made with an exotic set of light emitting diodes. Which we're able to pulse very, very fast. Then we have a computer controlled mechanism and it takes a series of pictures quickly. So this is some of the results. And these are actually the highest resolution photographs of snowflakes ever taken on our first snowflake shoot.
When the first one came out, I turned to my two compatriots who were with me. I said, look, I don't know how great this is gonna be going forward, but we definitely have our Christmas card for this year. These days, Nathan spends a lot of his time in the kitchen. He's an accomplished chef who has produced a stunning series of cookbooks called Modernist Cuisine.
The books are famous for how big they are. They're amazing photos. And the science and techniques they describe.
Nathan's most recent book centers on pizza. Well, pizza's probably the single most popular dish on earth. The other thing about pizza is that there's tons of lore and legend and oh, you can't make pizza unless you have the water of Naples or your oven was constructed of special stone quarry near Naples. Those sorts of myths and legends are one of the things that we love to dig into because sometimes there's a germ of truth to it. In which case it's really interesting. And in other cases, it's just hooey.
So this is our pizza scanner. Okay. So it turns out there's different things you can do in the crust on different techniques of baking that'll make the rim either puffier or less puffy. Well, I wanted to measure that. So it's putting a structured light field on it.
Very much like a light arm in a self-driving car. And this one, this is through stretching. So this is a called a texture analyzer. What this is does, is it presses on a subject and it measures the force as it presses. And so you get a force versus displacement curve. And from that curve you can tell off the crispiness or chewiness What else do we have? We got a centrifuge.
What do you use this for? So here is ground up peas. So this is frozen peas from the supermarket and we puree them into goo. Well, then when you spin them in the centrifuge you get this. And you can like extract that out and make that this concentrated sort of essence of- Yes, and it's fantastic. And then this is called a rotary evaporator. Rotary evaporators are basically used for distillation.
So we have got some tomatoes that we have ground up. It spins in here and we suck a vacuum and then we carefully cool it. And that allows us to concentrate it.
And here is the concentrate. So I would invite you to taste some. Should taste like a fresh tomato. Wow, yeah. Nathan's pizza pal is Francisco Migoya.
He's a world class pastry chef who used to work at French Laundry. I'm gonna make a couple pizzas for you to see. We're gonna do not classical toppings on them as well, so that you can see more or less- Science the shit out of this pizza. Okay. Actually hand us a double. So it's gotta be very supple, but it's also very light.
That's because we've allowed it to slowly build up the gas in it. We always ferment overnight in a refrigerator. It makes a huge, huge difference. So it really should be very supple. You see how Francisco is working on that. Yeah, yeah.
So we're basically trying to stretch this without making a tooth in either. We're trying to leave also a bit of a rim. Cause this is gonna puff up when it bakes. This is basically an Alfredo sauce that you would typically put in pasta. It's one of favorites.
And this is smoke paprika mozzarella. Fresh mozzarella. Oh, wow, okay. Yeah, we made a whole set of our own flavored mozzarellas.
All right, so I'm gonna go in the oven now. Okay. How hot is it? This is at 840 Fahrenheit. So there you have it.
Smells amazing. So this is Iberico Ham. We also did the pea butter. That's what we put on top and some pea shoots.
Okay, well let's try some. It's delicious. I like kind of the saltiness of the ham with the pea. And that's like the best crust I think I've ever had. I mean, so light. Yeah, and there's so much flavor in there.
You've time for another one? Yes please. Yep, okay. So here we have an ingredient called pressure caramelized zucchini. We've pressure cooked it, and we've added some baking soda.
And the reason is the reactions that cause food to brown. A chemist would say it was the Maillard Reaction. So if you add some baking soda and pressure cook the zucchini, the natural sugars and zucchini will maillardize and that puts a unique flavor in it. It's really good. I mean, you're not gonna, you have no motivation, like open up pizza place or- So my usual joke is, as a cookbook writer, I'm familiar with one capital intensive, often money losing business. I don't need to be in a second one.
Yeah. But if you're passionate and curious about pizza, you will learn all kinds of things in the book you'll find nowhere else Were there some things you've discovered that were kind of myths about pizza? The water that we used to make a pizza. We made pizza with water from a swimming pool.
Now, I don't recommend that you use swimming pool water, but it worked. Didn't kill the yeast. Away from the kitchen, Nathan heads up Intellectual Ventures. It's a very controversial company that hires very bright people to think up ideas.
Like people literally sit in a room and think up inventions. And then Intellectual Ventures patents the ideas. Nathan says he does this to let ideas flourish. Other people say he's a patent troll because he's trying to collect as many big ideas as possible so that IV can charge people for access to them. So there were a bunch of tech companies, particularly large tech companies that had the attitude of look, if we wanna use ideas in our products, that's our prerogative. Who the hell are you, inventor? All you did was come up with the idea.
I think that if you create a situation where big tech companies can steal any invention they want to, that's not right. It's morally not right. But I think it's also less efficient at getting new ideas for the world. Yeah, so you actually were born in Seattle but grew up in Southern California. Yeah, that's right.
My joke is that I'm like a salmon. I had to come back to the home stream to spawn. I know by the time you were 14, I think you'd already skipped four grades and graduated high school and you were heading off to college.
You pursued a couple fields of very hardcore science. I have a bachelor's degree, a master's, a second master's and a PhD. And they're all in different topics. But the last one was physics. And I was a postdoc with Steven Hawking at Cambridge.
And then I wound up starting a software company in 1983. Then Microsoft acquired our company. Then went to work for Bill Gates.
So you're not a computer scientist by training. You get to Microsoft, you end up as the Chief Technology Officer. But then you have all these interests clearly as we can see. So is that what was bubbling inside of you. Just this need to go off and try.
Go explore all these things that you're fascinated by. I loved my time at Microsoft. But I did have to put 90% of my waking time into one thing. And I am naturally interested in lots of other things. One of the biggest things you have pursued at Intellectual Ventures and through sort of your friendship and various partnerships with Bill Gates, a lot of it's around climate change and technology related to that.
You've had big ideas around geoengineering and I've seen you guys talk about the filling the atmosphere with particles to- Well, so here's a way to think about global warming. Sunlight leaves the sun. It comes roaring across the 93 million miles of space. It hits earth. Some of it then is re-radiated as infrared radiation.
And then infrared radiation comes up and it hits CO2 in the atmosphere and it gets stuck. That's what global warming is about. Well, the amount of energy the sun is depositing here on earth is about 300 watts per square meter. The amount of extra radiation that is trapped by this extra CO2 in an atmosphere is somewhere within two and three watts per square meter. It's 1%.
So it's a little effect, but of course it compounds across all of earth. And that keeps building up over time and that's what eventually screws you. Well, that means one approach to this is we just have to make the sun 1% dimer. Well, how do you control the sun? The answer is you could control that by putting particles in the high atmosphere. And human eyes really aren't sensitive to a 1% change.
You need almost a factor of two change in light for us to see a difference. So if we bounced that off, you literally couldn't tell here on earth that you'd done it. There's another set of ideas that are about how you could capture CO2 directly out of the atmosphere. Many parts of the ocean are very nutrient poor.
They're nutrient poor primarily cause they lack iron. So you can do something called iron fertilization. You put dissolved iron, similar to what a human would take for an iron supplement if you're anemic. And you put that into the sea water and immediately enormous amounts of plankton bloom. Those blooming plankton feed lots of fish.
So you help the whole ecosystem that way. But then quite a bit of those plankton die and they fall down to the bottom of the ocean, carrying their carbon with them. I mean, I think the general idea, probably that a lot of people have is we do something like that just by nature of being humans we're gonna **** it up even worse somehow. Well, maybe it turns out that geoengineering has got such bad side effects, we never decide to use it. But we gotta know. There's a lot of people in the climate community that hate mention of geoengineering.
Right. A lot of climate folks think that if only we stopped driving SUVs, lived simple lives, et cetera. We could just decide to not have climate change. The trouble is climate change isn't a decision. There's some very hard physics.
So you can't just say, oh, we'll all go green. And it'll all be great. And we don't have to ever worry about geoengineering 2050 is a date for various reasons that gets focused on a lot. So it's 2050, are we ****ed or are we okay? What's your, If you're betting. I think by 2050 we will have very substantial temperature increase. And we will either have enormous environmental consequences, huge loss of human life or both.
And I think we really need to say what are our alternatives. Because with the crazy time scales of this problem there's no other way to bridge that gap. It was more fun eating the pizza. Next up, I head to the open seas and then into the heart of Seattle to learn how to afford a house here. We bought it for $350,000, transform the place, and then we put it back on.
Sold it in four days for about $450,000.