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David Ewing Duncan

Award-winning science and technology journalist and bestselling author of Talking to Robots

  • About David Ewing Duncan

    An award-winning science and technology journalist for Wired, NPR, Atlantic, and the New York Times, among others, David Ewing Duncan works to inform people about issues and developments in artificial intelligence, health, IT, and biomedicine. A recent Health Strategist in Residence for IDEO and the CEO/Curator of Arc Fusion, he was originally trained as a historian. He analyzes the impacts new science and technology have on patterns of human behavior—including, in his latest book, the effects of a world where “bots” take the place of tools, careers, and even our memories.

    An entrepreneur and advisor on biotech, David Ewing Duncan alerts us that “the age of fusion” between health, IT, and biomedicine is already beginning, even as we imagine the literal fusing of robots, AI, and humans, and confront both our fascination and fears about this future. What effect will these radical technological advances have on humanity? Duncan’s realistic and thoughtful insights ask us to take both the upsides and downsides of powerful new tech seriously as we enter what he calls the Early Robot Era.

    A recent columnist for the Daily Beast and a frequent contributor to  WiredVanity FairMIT Technology ReviewThe New York TimesAtlantic, and others, Duncan has also written for FortuneNational GeographicDiscoverLifeOutside, and Newsweek.  Duncan was formerly a commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition, a special correspondent and producer for ABC’s Nightline, and the chief correspondent for NPR Talk’s Biotech Nation. In addition to Talking to Robots, he is author of the bestselling Experimental Man and Calendar, which was a bestseller in 14 countries and was translated into 21 languages, and several other books. Duncan’s work has won numerous awards, including Magazine Story of the Year from AAAS, and has been nominated twice for a National Magazine Award.

    David Ewing Duncan is the founding director of the Center of Life Science Policy at University of California, Berkeley and is on the faculty at Singularity University. He serves on a committee of the National Academies of Sciences. He lives in Boston and in San Francisco, where he is a member of the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto, a writer’s co-op.

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  • Speaking Topics

    Technophrenia: Why We Love and Fear Technology

    David Ewing Duncan wonders if humans need a Techno Love-Fear Meter, a proposed app that could help us gauge our love of any given piece of new tech versus our fear that said tech will go rogue and harm or kill us – or expose our darkest secrets to our Facebook “friends.” This talk delves deeply into our almost schizophrenic response to robots, AI and other new-tech as we devour dystopic sci-fi films and super-dark series like Westworld and Altered Carbon while simultaneously coveting the latest smart gadget, auto-driven car, or website that claims to make our lives easier. It’s a dichotomy of coolness and dread, of Star Trek vs. Black Mirror. Duncan calls out this huge contradiction in the attitudes of a species whose ascendency is based on its obsession with tools and technology, for better or for worse, an especially relevant topic as our technologies become more powerful than ever. Touching on budding AI systems being developed for politics, warfare, journalism, and healthcare, Duncan suggests that we should take our fears as well as our love of new technology seriously.

    Experimental Man: A Human Guinea Pig Takes Every Health Test on Earth

    For over 15 years, David Ewing Duncan has been test-driving virtually every medical and health test available to collect data on everything from his DNA and the microbiome in his gut to his environmental toxins levels and the impact of his diet, exercise, and sleep. In the process, he has amassed over 50 terabytes of data that scientists have analyzed using the AI and machine learning that is revolutionizing medicine, health, and how we view ourselves as humans. Now, after reporting on his findings in his book Experimental Man, and in hundreds of articles and television and radio shows, Duncan has embarked on a brand new round of tests being offered by a new generation of companies and labs.

    What is real and what is hype in this big data world Duncan calls “Radical Wellness,” and what will it mean for you and your loved ones? What is happening in the business of big health data – what is working, what is not, and why is so much money being wasted on failing business models? In this talk, Duncan shares what he has learned from his years of data collection, and what these new measurements could mean one day for you.

    Building New and Better Humans to Live (Much) Longer

    In 2018, Duncan also offered up his own genome (all of his DNA) to become the template for the first effort ever to create a synthetic human cell, and possibly to one day synthesize an entire human – a project will take years to complete. Perhaps more interesting – and controversial – is that the scientists are designing into his DNA doppelganger improvements that would also make cells in this “new” David Ewing Duncan better – in this case, resistant to viruses like HIV and the common cold. This same technology might allow people one day to be resistant to radiation in space, to be taller and stronger, or to survive in harsh and currently deadly environments – the possibilities may one day be limited only by our imagination.

    In this talk, David Ewing Duncan explains the ground-breaking science that may one day allow humans to not only heal and repair ourselves, but also to push the current boundaries of a healthy lifespan by years or decades with technology like CRISPR, synthetic biology, bionics, and more. He also goes beyond the science to ask how these expanded lifespans will affect individuals and society.

    Talking to Robots: The Top Ten Robots to Love and Fear In the Future

    In his latest book, Talking to Robots, David Ewing Duncan draws from interviews with fascinating, real-life thinkers: philosophers, engineers, futurists, to describe 24 robots and AI systems shaping the future– including Teddy Bot, Doc Bot, Warrior Bot, Facebook Bot, Politician Bot, Sex Bot, Synthetic Me Bot, Matrix Bot, Immortal Me Bot, and God Bot. In this talk, Duncan shares ten of these robots and imagines how they may shape society.

  • Video

  • Praise for David Ewing Duncan

    Praise for Talking to Robots

    Duncan takes us to the crossroads of the inevitable merging of human and machine. Splendidly written, passionately argued, and well-researched, this book is a divination tool for the arrival of either the utopia or the apocalypse.

    Andrei Codrescu, author of Raised by Puppets Only to Be Killed by Research

    Until we have a non-fiction robot that writes brilliant, insightful books (I give it 25 years), we can thank God we have David Ewing Duncan. Thanks to David’s book, I have a healthy mix of wonder and panic about the future. But more important, perhaps: I feel a bit more prepared for this radically different landscape, one where robots change everything from politics to parenting, from coffee to sex.

    AJ Jacobs, author of Drop Dead Healthy

    A refreshing variation on the will-intelligent-robots-bring-Armageddon genre…this colorful mixture of expert futurology and quirky speculation does not disappoint.


    One of 32 Books You Need to Read This Summer...and a....riveting read.

    Praise for Masterminds: Genius, DNA, and the Quest to Rewrite Life

    A Best Book of the Year

    San Francisco Chronicle

    Praise for When I’m 164: The Science of Radical Life Extension and What Happens If It Succeeds

    David Duncan makes it clear that immortality may not be all it is hyped up to be. Don't read this unless you want your mind changed.

    Kevin Kelly, Maverick Editor, Wired

    Praise for Experimental Man: What One Man’s Body Reveals About His Future, Your Health, and Our Toxic World

    In sweeping the reader up in his quest, Duncan shows what good reporting and storytelling can do. His narrative method - part mystery tale, part voyeuristic drama - humanizes complex information, educates and entertains.

    San Francisco Chronicle

    Praise for Calendar: Humanity’s Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year

    Duncan writes the way good teachers teach, conversational, yet informed… [he] is a popularizer and storyteller…

    Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today (Editor's Pick)

    Praise for Hernando de Soto: A Savage Quest in the Americas

    …a vibrant, gripping biography.

    Publisher's Weekly, (starred review)

    Praise for Residents: The Perils and Promise of Educating Young Doctors

    Duncan… captures dramatically what goes wrong, not only during medical training but also in much of the care provided by American hospitals today… I hope someone is listening.

    Washington Post Book World

    Praise for From Cape to Cairo: One Man’s Trek Across Africa

    A vivid if sobering account of contemporary Africa…

    Kirkus Reviews

    Praise for Pedaling the Ends of the Earth

    David… goes after, on a scale that few can imagine, an ongoing pursuit of being an explorer rather than an observer of the world.

    Interview Magazine
  • Books by David Ewing Duncan

  • Media About David Ewing Duncan

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  • David Ewing Duncan travels from Boston, Massachusetts

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