In this interview Lee Davy sits down with Andrew ‘BalugaWhale’ Seidman to talk about the current state of the poker world, why the views of retired General Wesley Clark could send humanity back to the stone-age, what we would do if artificial intelligence got to a point where it could take over the world and much more.
When you look at the poker world what do you see?
“I see a widening difference between the online poker world and live poker world. I don’t think that online poker is in great shape. The skill capabilities of the good players and the bad players are getting wider. There are fewer games running. There’s more of a hierarchy that’s developed. People are less interested in playing if they think they there’s a chance they might not be a favorite in the game.
“In that sense it’s kind of smart. It almost strikes me as a game theory optimal environment where people are avoiding risk they’re supposed to avoid, and as a result, games are more or less drying up. It’s not that you can’t make money, because obviously you can, but it’s definitely a lot different from when I started playing poker.”
When people ask you what you do for a living what do you tell them?
“It depends who’s asking, but I’m more into entrepreneurship these days. I’m cofounder of a digital marketing company called Digital Reach and I spend my time working on that and playing a bit of poker. I also do a fair amount of coaching, but in general I would say I am more weighted towards the business side of things. I still live in the states so it makes it hard to play too much poker.”
What habit have you created that has delivered the most impact in your life and why?
“Learning how to listen. We all have our initial conceptions about what is and what isn’t right. When I first started learning poker, the temptation was to say, “Ugh, you should fold there, you should call there,” instead of learning to absorb information from people who were much better than me. I’m very thankful for the 2+2 community for making me a better poker player. They were the ones that provided all this amazing information.
“It’s critical to learn to listen in business. You have an idea of how you think things are supposed to be, but in reality you have to listen to what people have to say, and accept that you might be wrong, and that there are other points of view that may be right. Socrates said, “The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know.”
In June you were looking to hire someone. Describe your ideal employee and why?
“The most important thing is curiosity. Someone has to be genuinely curious about how something works in order to be self-motivated. A lot of poker players who aspire to be good poker players, but aren’t that in love with the game, don’t end up being that good, because it takes a lot of self-motivation to sit down, learn and practice.
“You also need the ability to work with others. We have a lot of people who are very smart, and capable, but aren’t great at working with other people. I would rather have five people with average ability, who work really well with each other, than one super sad all-star who is a pain in the ass.”
So you are a believer in teamwork?
“Totally. Also, previous experience means very little to me. I want a super kickass lump of clay that you can talk to and say, ‘these are the things you need to be good at, these are the things you need to learn how to do, etc.,’ and have that person be receptive and excited to be working with other people.”
You seem to enjoy being a teacher?
“Yeah I guess so, I really enjoy teaching and feel very comfortable and natural when teaching. I think that people always tend to learn better when they feel like they are part of an active team, or part of a team that functions well. When you’re struggling with others you don’t really learn very well. You exert so much wasted energy, on interpersonal issues, that you could otherwise be spending on making yourself better.”
What do you see when you look at the world?
“Well, I think in general, the world is getting better. Throughout the course of time we are seeing a slow liberalization of the world, which I think also has an increasing rate. It’s getting better and better at a faster and faster rate. In history, whenever this has happened, it’s resulted in sort of a quick sharp jerk to the opposite direction every once in a while. Maybe that’s what you see in conservative America or the Middle East? But more or less, I feel like the world is getting better. People are getting more freedom, they’re more connected, they’re easier to communicate with and we’re trying to learn how to live with how fast things are changing.”
What do you think when I say the words General Wesley Clark?
“We have technology that allows us to connect and share information, so there’s this additional level of transparency, and what ends up happening is that the status quo is challenged on a regular basis. The status quo, in general, resists that – you only have to look at Uber in places like France and Las Vegas to realize, “Wow, this is a really corrupt and stupid way to resist the incoming change of the world”.
“That’s sort of fine from a corporate point of view. Corporations will resist change…I get that. But from a governmental point of view, when you get resistance from essentially liberalization of the world, it’s really pretty scary. When it boils down to it the government controls all of the people with guns, and they can kind of do scary stuff if they want to. And so to have someone who has been in that top brass behaving like he does…it’s scary.
“The idea that we should intern or lock up people who are potentially troublemakers based on race, religion, age or anything else, is absurd. We can’t have peace by imprisoning or giving collective punishment as it never works, and history proves that. It’s scary to hear so many people in the top brass talk about interning potentially radicalized people, especially because it’s happened in America before. And I’d like to believe we’ve outgrown it, but, you know, my grandfather was alive when we were interning people who looked like they were Japanese.”
We could end up being herded into camps because we have the wrong genes.
“I don’t know if I necessarily believe in slippery slopes, and things like that, but we need to make the right choices this time, and almost certainly the wrong choice is allowing authoritarian behaviors to be permitted by the citizenry towards minorities; whether or not those minorities are Arabs, Muslims; whether they’re black, whether they’re Jewish, whether they’re Asian, whether they’re gay. You can’t really permit any of those types of discriminations or attitudes to be permitted. So it’s scary, but it’s also the Internet age, where if you say something stupid like that, it just goes viral, and then you get the pulse of liberal society very quickly and it’s kind of awesome.”
So we don’t want General Wesley Clark to be our next president, but what about Andrew Seidman? What’s the first thing you would work on?
“Wow, there are so many things. There’s chaos in the Middle East, there’s global warming, climate change, economic issues and so on, so forth. The thing I think I would work on more than anything is preparing the global economy for rapid technological changes. I think it’s pretty likely that there will be a massive job shortfall through the offset of a few major inventions that are going to come out.
“Basically, a combination of the self driving car and the Elon Musk Powerwall situation. The idea being that 35% of the working population in America is in some way related to transportation or driving something, and those jobs could just evaporate over the course of just a couple months. And in one sense, someone like Bernie Sanders is kind of interesting, because he’s talking about, ‘we need to make sure there’s not this massive gap between rich and poor’, which I kind of agree with, but on the other side, an increased minimum wage is likely to result in massive growth of technology.
“Take a restaurant, for example. That has the option right now of replacing a server with a robot. They don’t do it because it’s cheaper to pay the server, but if you arbitrarily made it more expensive to pay a server, you’d just see robots doing it because eventually it would be a better deal. And at some point they’re gonna be a better deal anyway, but things like increasing minimum wage tend to contribute to the speed of the process of replacing people with machines.”
Do you think AI will become an existential threat to the human race?
“It is very likely that we will develop AI that is significantly smarter and more powerful than people. And whether or not we screw that up or not is kind of the question of whether or not we get beaten by robots. So there’s this incredible blog called Wait but Why? that has this example of a robot that reaches Superintelligence, that was initially programmed to make the best handwritten postcard to thank a client, and it talks about this funny kind of story that this robot is essentially converting all the materials on Earth towards the goal of writing these good postcards. So they’re liquidating all the people and resources to write better postcards. Again, not going after people for a specific purpose, other than to do what it was built to do.
“So I think one thing that Elon Musk and Bill Gates, Steven Hawking, and many others have been urging, is that we have additional safeguards for how connected a generally intelligent robot can be. There is this company called Deep Mind that is based England, I think, but owned by Google. They have this amazing thing, where they have one machine that can beat all 89 Atari video games, and it has basically one code that works on all the video games, and the machine just learns how to beat the game. It also has major implications in poker as well, and poker is I think a game where at one point, just playing online will not be feasible because robots will be too difficult to keep out of games, and obviously they’ll be perfect poker playing robots as well. So I think there is this sort of indefinite half-life to any kind of online gambling or anything that robots can do.”
If you could work on anything for the next 10k hours what would it be?
“I’ve been really interested in working on robotics. I’ve been hacking around and trying to figure out how to build a small robot myself.”
You are going to be one of these people creating the AI that will take over the world.
“Well, I like languages a lot, so my brother challenged me to teach myself Russian, so I’ve been trying to learn Russian. I want to learn how to sail, it’s been awhile since I’ve had sailing lessons, but I’d like to resume those again. But if it was one thing then I would stick with the robots.”
What very important truth do very few people agree with you on?
“I’ve found Eastern philosophy to be interesting to me, and from time to time I’ve adopted the, ‘there’s nothing really good or bad, there just is, so you just have to accept it,’ philosophy So the good happens, the bad happens, and you have to accept things, and not struggle against them, and not try to connect them, and just be okay with them. But a lot of people that I’ve discussed this with really have strong opinions to the contrary, saying that if something is wrong, you have an obligation to fix it. If something is good you should celebrate it. If something is bad you can grieve it. In a sense, I agree with those things, but in another sense, since I’ve become serious about poker, I have tried to believe that everything happens the way it’s supposed to happen, and there’s just some part of you that’s supposed to accept that.”
What’s your view on forgiveness?
“I would say that empathy would be the keyword here. The real challenge is to be able to understand why somebody might be feeling the way that they are feeling, and not do it in the context of your own perspective. So if your friend is really upset with you, and you think that you didn’t do anything wrong, or maybe you thought that you were totally in the right, for whatever it was they were upset with. Instead of vigorously defending yourself, and starting from the perspective of, ‘I must be right, they must be wrong’, having empathy and understanding why they might be like that can do two things.
“Number one, it will reduce the likelihood that you will be upset at them because you will understand. Number two; you’ll oftentimes find out that you yourself were actually wrong. It’s really easy when you don’t have empathy, to assume that everyone else is wrong, and you are right, because that’s the default biological programming of a human being. It is much harder to start from the perspective of somebody else, so that’s empathy. So at the poker table, if someone is being really annoying, really aggressive, or something like that, the real challenge is to be able to say what is it that’s causing them to be like this? What if they are actually just a great guy having a terrible time? Or maybe they are just really intimidated or uncomfortable because they’re playing with a bunch of pros or something like that? Or maybe they’re upset because they just lost and they need that money and shouldn’t be gambling with it?
“There are a lot of possibilities that could be going on, that you just don’t know of. David Foster Wallace uses a great example, in one of my favorite pieces called This is Water, where he basically talks about someone cutting you off on the highway. And from your perspective it’s a dickish thing to do, he’s getting in your way, that he’s causing you to be late, that he’s making you unhappy. But maybe he’s got a sick child in the car or something like that? And maybe he’s in a hurry to get to the hospital and in fact you’re the one that’s in his way. And until you think about it like that, it’s very easy to say that every time you get cut off, that you’re being wronged. But maybe, some course of the time when you’re getting cut off, it’s because you are in fact in the process of wronging somebody else.”