Discover more from The Trip Report by Beckley Waves
Psychedelic Winter, AI Spring
“If the hyper-intelligent AI is not filled with bodhisattva compassion, then our ass is probably grass.”
In the summer of 1956, scientists from the Research and Development (RAND) Corporation gave the first demonstration of a computer program called Logic Theorist.
Logic Theorist was the first program designed to mimic the problem-solving skills of a human, and the demonstration was a seminal moment in the then-nascent field of Computer Science.
When I asked OpenAI’s ChatGPT about Logic Theorist, this is what it told me1:
“Logic Theorist used a heuristic search algorithm called the "General Problem Solver" to search for a proof of a given theorem using symbolic logic. The program was able to prove 38 of the first 52 theorems in Whitehead and Russell's Principia Mathematica, which was a significant achievement in the field of AI at the time…
Overall, Logic Theorist is significant in the history of AI because it demonstrated that machines could be programmed to perform tasks that previously required human intelligence, and it inspired further research and development in the field of AI.”
In response to the capability of the Logic Theorist program, the influential computer scientist John McCarthy coined the term Artificial Intelligence.
After decades of philosophical theorizing by legendary figures like Alan Turing, Alfred North Whitehead, and Bertrand Russel, the technical field of AI was officially born.
Coincidentally, just a year later, in the summer of 1957, Life Magazine published an article and photo essay titled Seeking the Magic Mushroom.
It documented the journey of American banker R. Gordon Wasson to a village in Southern Mexico where he encountered the legendary Curandera, Maria Sabina, and became the first Westerner to partake in a traditional mushroom ceremony with a mysterious fungus.
Here is Wasson’s account of his second psilocybin mushroom ceremony:
“This time a human figure appeared, a woman in primitive costume, standing and staring across the water, enigmatic, beautiful, like a sculpture except that she breathed and was wearing woven colored garments. It seemed as though I was viewing a world of which I was not a part and with which I could not hope to establish contact. There I was, poised in space, a disembodied eye, invisible, incorporeal, seeing but not seen.”
The article and accompanying photos introduced the mystery and power of psilocybin mushrooms to mainstream culture and captivated a generation.
Along with Albert Hofmann’s unlikely discovery of LSD a decade earlier, these accounts of strange and fantastical experiences fomented cultural interest in psychedelics that fueled the Counter Culture Movement of the 1960s.
These discoveries also catalyzed the promising field of psychedelic research for psychiatric conditions. However, then president Richard Nixon introduced the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970, and both the cultural force of the Counterculture and psychedelic research programs quickly died out.
After the passage of the CSA, the restrictions and stigma were so intense that it was as if the research had never happened, and generations of psychiatrists and psychologists only knew these substances to ‘scramble your chromosomes.’
In the same year, it turns out that AI research was also cut off by newly enacted federal legislation.
The 1970 Military Authorization Act prohibited military funding of research that lacked a direct or apparent relationship to specific military functions putting a halt to over a decade of AI research.
Following these contemporaneous origins—and abrupt setbacks—the fields of Artificial Intelligence and psychedelics matured scientifically and culturally—each with its own history punctuated by forward progress and backtracking, hype and disillusionment, hopes and fears.
Fast forward to the present, and both psychedelics and AI have solidified themselves into the cultural and economic zeitgeist.
But the recent developments in each field make them appear to be headed in different directions.
Psychedelic Winter, Psychedelic Spring
Recent business news from the psychedelic world would suggest the field is going through some growing pains.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of recent events:
The forthcoming winding down of several Field Trip Health clinics
Given these developments, it would seem that we’re in a Psychedelic Winter of sorts.
However, these should be viewed as surface-level events. Casualties of the first-mover ‘advantage’ in such an unpredictable field.
Take a look at the deeper level, and it is clear that psychedelics—as potential therapeutic tools, as spiritual and personal development tools, and as socially and culturally accepted agents are gaining traction.
Consider the following:
At the grassroots level, there are already over 200 entheogenic churches in the US
At the federal level, a bipartisan effort continues to push for revised regulation of psilocybin and MDMA
The number of academic research programs continues to grow
The first edition of the new journal Psychedelic Medicine was published this week
The number of indications that are being studied as therapeutic targets of psychedelics is growing by leaps and bounds (see image below)
So, despite the recent high-profile contractions from first movers in the retreat, clinical and pharmaceutical verticals, the field continues to attract high, caliber scientists, clinicians, and entrepreneurs to build the scientific literature, policy reform, organizations, and businesses necessary for many forms of psychedelic access.
AI Spring, AI Arrival
On the other hand, it seems that AI is finally having its “Hello World” moment.
After 70+ years of development, theorizing, and conjecture AI has finally emerged as a disruptive, society-changing technology.
Just the last week, both Microsoft and Google released new AI tools in their respective workspaces, and OpenAI released the latest version of its generative language model, GPT 4, which is generating more innovative use cases than I can keep track of, as well as a sufficient amount of fear:
Commence Paradigm Shift
In the West, both psychedelic therapy and AI have been the subject of speculation and experimentation for decades.
Psychedelic substances such as psilocybin and LSD were first synthesized in the mid-20th century and quickly became the subject of scientific inquiry and cultural fascination. Similarly, the idea of artificial intelligence has been around since the 1950s.
Both have been the subject of science fiction, cultural fascination, and academic research for decades.
But only in the last few months has it felt like we are—right this very moment— living through a paradigm shift of acceptance and adoption of psychedelics and AI, respectively.