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Philly comedian, TV personality Chuck Nice talks tech industry, Philadelphia, current events

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Philadelphia comedian and TV Personality Chuck Nice joins Inside Story to discuss a range of topics, from the tech industry to artificial intelligence and recent events local and national.

Video Transcript


MATT O'DONNELL: Good morning, everyone. It is Sunday, April 4, 2021. I'm Matt O'Donnell, and welcome to "Inside Story," and Happy Easter if you celebrate. We are talking technology, human progress, and human regression on this holiday weekend.

The pandemic has forced us to rely on technology even more to do our jobs while at home, go to school while at home, read a menu at a restaurant, watch a newly released movie that would normally be in theaters, take part in an important business meeting, or even seek mental health counseling.

Before the virus reached our shores, the future was, well, the future-- in the future. This new and temporary way of life has made the future now-- the present. We shall see how temporary some of these adaptations will be. And so how do we make sure we preserve the human aspects of our lives while still relying on those black rectangular screens we carry around all day?

Joining us on "Inside Story" to talk about this is Philadelphia native Chuck Nice. He is a longtime stand-up comedian, TV host, and co-host of my favorite, the "StarTalk" podcast, featuring the famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Chuck, say, hello, to Philadelphia.

CHUCK NICE: Hey, what's up, Philly? Yo-- yo, Philly, what up?

MATT O'DONNELL: He still has it in him.

CHUCK NICE: That's how you have to say, hello, to Philadelphia-- Yo.

MATT O'DONNELL: He's got the yo's in him. Hey, Chuck, we're going to start real easy here, all right? Real easy-- now parents, as you know, are trying to get their children off the screens and then online learning happened. Adults were trying to reduce our screen time, and then the Zoom boom happened.

Now, when talking about the growth of tech, you said the question is not how scary tech might be. The real question for us who use it is, how human are you? Explain what you meant by that.

CHUCK NICE: So the thing is that technology, if you think about it, just means some type of non-human advancement. Just think of technology as, at one point, a book was technology, because the mass production of reading materials was something that did not exist. We had this thing called the printing press technology that created its biproduct, books.

And people were afraid that everybody would have their faces stuck in these things-- these hardcover things with the pages and that's what we would all be doing-- just walking around, we'd all go blind, and you know, lose our sight from being buried in books forever. OK, that was the fear. Of course, we know that that did not happen.

All right, and then, of course, now we have phones and we have the exact same fear for the phone. So it really isn't about the technology. It's about what and how we use it. What we do and how we use it is really the issue.

And so our phones, what we have recently discovered, is that we have an entire industry that is devoted to-- I'm not going to pull punches here-- psyops-- psychological operations to get us to keep our engagement with this thing here. We're being manipulated by these companies so that we always want to be here, OK?

So that's a problem. That's where the, how human are you, comes in, OK? There has to be regulation. Human beings always need regulation. Technology really doesn't. The tech will sit there. It's just waiting for somebody to use it.

Where does the regulation need to be? Us. How are we going to use it? And so there needs to be some guidelines and guardrails as to how these companies are able to manipulate us, how much transparency is attached to these devices that are forever in our lives now. They're going to get smaller, and they're going to get more connected to our being. And as a result, we have to have guardrails to let us know how we're going to use it.

MATT O'DONNELL: I completely agree, Chuck.

CHUCK NICE: So I think that's the issue.

MATT O'DONNELL: Let's move on to talking about artificial intelligence. And we create it, right? And in many ways, when you create something, that product will reflect you-- your stereotypes, your biases, your annoyances. And so as humans create artificial intelligence, we also know that humans have waged wars. We have dirtied the planet. We have enslaved entire populations.

Humans have done a lot of great things too. So the question for you, Chuck, is, how do we prevent AI from recreating the worst things about us as humans?

CHUCK NICE: You can't. Diversity might be one answer. But the truth is that there isn't a lot of-- there isn't a lot of diversity. I have worked with a lot of people in AI and worked with a lot of people who write about it and who create it, and there's not a lot of diversity in those rooms-- that's all I'm going to tell you-- which is why you will find a great deal of bias in the artificial intelligence algorithms that are being used to do many of the things.

Facial recognition, for example, is an artificial-- a form of artificial intelligence, OK? It is a pattern recognition algorithm that says, this is a person. This is the type of person-- and for the longest time, facial recognition algorithms didn't recognize black people. They just didn't.

That's a problem, you know, because when this technology is being used to do everything from identify who might be walking into a ballpark to pointing out who's a criminal, you know, you might have a problem on your hands if there's a bias involved. And I know for a fact that there's some bias involved, because, you know, I have an AI program that I run on my phone, and it called me the n-word. So I think there's a problem here.


CHUCK NICE: Of course-- of course, that's not true.


CHUCK NICE: I was joking. I can't help it.

MATT O'DONNELL: I was waiting for you to say, not true.

CHUCK NICE: Yes. But the truth is that these biases must be identified, and then they have to be programmed out. But if I don't know I have these biases, how can I go to program them out? So once again, it starts with, how human are you?

In order to get rid of biases in the algorithms, we have to get rid of biases in the programmer or we have to counterbalance the programming with other programmers who live a different experience. And race is a lived experience.

MATT O'DONNELL: Anyone who listens to the "StarTalk" podcast knows that you know your stuff. You're a comedian, but what separates you, I think, from a lot of other comedians is your expertise. And there is this idea that we've dealt with throughout this pandemic that for some people-- and it's a minority-- expertise is bad.

So as for someone who is considered part of that expertise group, what do you think about that? Why do people feel like they shouldn't listen to those who have been educated on certain subjects more than others?

CHUCK NICE: Well, you'll hear the word, elitism, bandied about quite a bit with respect to expertise. Also, it is human nature to want to feel in control. And when you don't know things, you automatically feel less in control, OK? So for instance, I have a cardiologist. He put me on a statin.

Now, I'm not big and overweight. I'm not obese. And I'm like, what do you know? That's how I felt. What do you know, buddy? You're going to put me on a statin? I'll tell you about a statin.

Let me tell you about a statin. It's called-- it's an island right outside of Manhattan. That's the only Staten that'll be in my life, right? So I was upset because I didn't like the fact that his expertise and his exposure to knowledge that I don't have let him identify a certain protocol that said, I need to be on a statin.

Now, you take that same feeling and you apply it to things that are far less specific, like epidemiology, where you're looking at the movement and the cultural implications of a virus inside of a community, right? It's a much bigger issue now. When you tell everybody, you have to wear a mask-- I do a joke on stage where I say, did these people not realize that they're talking to Americans?

What we should have said was, whatever you do, don't wear a mask, and we all [INAUDIBLE] putting on a mask. Everybody would be walking around in a mask. How dare you tell me not to wear a mask? This is America. I wear-- it's my right to wear a mask.

So you know-- so a lot of that is human nature. A lot of it has to do with when you feel as though you are less in control, it creates a feeling of being threatened. And the second thing is that we live in an individualistic society where the individual is celebrated, as opposed to many societies where the collective is celebrated.

Now, that's great in many respects, because it leads to us being highly creative people who come up with problem solving solutions that are just amazing. The vaccine itself is an exercise in individual exceptionalism, because, quite frankly, you had two things happen. You had the SARS virus that basically was the last epidemic.

And we saw that, wow, there's an issue here that this could be a very dangerous thing, right? A group of hedge fund people saw some technology that could be very promising. They got together and they invested in this technology. The technology that they invested in 10 years ago-- so for all of you who think that, wow, this vaccine came out of nowhere-- this vaccine has been in development for 10 years, OK?

The mRNA vaccine, that's been in development for 10 years. And it was fast-tracked because we were able to make headway because we had the perfect storm to make it happen, which is so many people sick at one time that you can test them and get better results. This is probably the best vaccine that anybody could ever take, because the sample for testing is larger than any other test sample that has ever--

MATT O'DONNELL: The whole country, yeah. And mRNA, a University of Penn researcher was among the people who helped develop that. I want to go real deep here, Chuck. We're going into simulation. That's one of my favorite topics that you talk about on "StarTalk" on the podcast. And this is the idea that maybe we live in a "Matrix"-like simulation where there are people controlling things.

Now, it sounds really super far out. But you have Neil deGrasse Tyson, your colleague there, who says it's probably 50-50. Elon Musk, who is one of the futurists that lives on our planet, says that it's most likely that we live in a simulation. So I'm thinking, Chuck, believing this has two impacts. Number one, don't worry. It's all a simulation. It doesn't matter. Or two, oh my gosh, this isn't real. This is a simulation.

CHUCK NICE: So let me just say this, If this is a simulation-- by the way, I'm not going to get so granular where, you know-- let me just put it to you this way. There is mathematical evidence that we could be living in a simulation. I'm just going to leave it at that-- just accept that mathematically, it is possible that we are living in a simulation, OK?

Now, if that mathematical possibility is actually able to be proven, all right, and we are living in a simulation, quite frankly, as far as I'm concerned, philosophically, it doesn't make a difference, because my life-- what I feel, what I experience will still be the same. Whatever consciousness I have will still be the same.

Now, the greater philosophical questions, that's when it starts to get a little weird-- when you start talking about your theology, when you start talking about free will. Is there such a thing as free will if you've been programmed to live in the simulation and carry out your part in the simulation? Even if the simulation is randomized to an extent, you still don't really have free will.

So that's when the stuff gets fun to think about for me. But I will say this-- if we are living in a simulation, whoever programmed this did a crappy job of programming my life.

MATT O'DONNELL: You are a successful man.

CHUCK NICE: Because I should be Beyonce.

MATT O'DONNELL: Come on, Chuck, you're not giving yourself enough credit. I want to get to a serious topic, Chuck. This has been the big news this week-- the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis Police officer-- former officer charged with killing George Floyd. It began this week.

And this is going to be a landmark trial, no matter what happens as the result of this in terms of race relations in this country. And as a black man who understands how different it is living in this country depending on who you are and what you do, what do you hope people are going to get out of this in the long run?

CHUCK NICE: Well, in the long run, I hope what will happen is the COVID-fueled protests of the summer, because everybody was home, we all witnessed a murder together, and it sparked outrage, and I think that's great that it sparked this type of outrage. But what do you do with that outrage?

And let's hope that outrage translates into true change, because there are still people who don't believe that there is such a thing as systemic racism. And systemic racism basically is when policies primarily are set so that people are disadvantaged-- disadvantaged-- by the government itself. And that is the history of America, OK?

So I mean, these things are not up for debate. It's just called history. So what I really hope happens is that a large swath of America stops saying things like, well, my parents got here in 1933, so what do I have to do with that? That is a lazy, almost bigoted response to a very serious issue in America.

We have got to move away from the idea that the people on one end of the boat think that they can shoot a hole in the other end of the boat and sink those people over there. We are all in the same boat, people. We are all in the same boat. And that means as a country, if there is a portion of this country, a sector of people who are not doing well, the country is never going to reach its potential the way it should.

And so I just feel as though that, you know, the idea of, let's all hold hands-- OK, some people want that. No, what I want is fair and equitable policy, and policies to overturn what has happened purposely in this country to black people over the course of hundreds of years. So you know, I hope that is what we take away from this. Do I have faith that that will happen? No, not at all.

MATT O'DONNELL: I hope you're kidding.

CHUCK NICE: You know, I'm a comedian. I'm sorry. We don't look at things through rose-colored glasses. We actually look at the negative before we look at the positive, because that's where the funny is.

MATT O'DONNELL: I have a little bit of time left, Chuck, and I want to get-- now, if there was a Chuck Nice three-step program for dealing with social media trolls, what would it be?

CHUCK NICE: One, check their profile first to find out if they only have one follower. And that's-- OK, so what they're trying to do is troll you because they are, one, lonely, two, miserable, three, in need of attention. And then the second thing that you want to do is don't respond.

Don't respond to trolls. The worst thing you can do to somebody is be indifferent. And so that's what you want to give back to a troll-- indifference. What you think of me is none of my business. And the third step is-- what's the third step? Well, I'm going to go Rick Perry and say, I don't know.

MATT O'DONNELL: I've always found that the smartest people are the ones who say, I don't know, when they're asked a question. So I appreciate that. He is the pride and joy of Central High School in Philadelphia. He is Chuck Nice, comedian and co-host--

CHUCK NICE: Central mambo.

MATT O'DONNELL: Of the "StarTalk" podcast. Chuck, thanks for joining us on "Inside Story." It was fun.

CHUCK NICE: Matt, thank you so much-- anytime.

MATT O'DONNELL: That's "Inside Story" for this week-- hope you enjoyed it. Have a Happy Easter for everyone celebrating. I'm Matt O'Donnell, I'll see you on Monday morning on Action News.