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1 October 2023updated 04 Oct 2023 3:54pm

Max Bennett’s Q&A: “When we follow advice, we adopt the wants of others”

The AI entrepreneur on Jim Carrey, Game of Thrones and his disdain for self-congratulatory LinkedIn posts.

By New Statesman

Max Bennett was born in 1990 in New York City. As well as an entrepreneur and neuroscience researcher, he is the co-founder of several AI companies, including the retail marketing platform Bluecore.

What’s your earliest memory?

Building a Lego sailboat on the floor of my mother’s living room.

Who are your heroes?

As a child, my heroes were Jim Carrey, Carl Sagan and my music composition teacher Tim Otto. As an adult, my heroes are family and friends who approach their lives in ways that inspire me.

What book last changed your thinking?

I just finished reading The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin, a novel about a utopian anarchist society thousands of years in the future. I had never considered anarchy as a social system even worth pondering, but Le Guin’s book made me ponder it.

Which political figure do you look up to?

I don’t tend to look up to politicians. But of the figures I have seen in my lifetime, I most respect Barack Obama. Whether or not he made the right choices, he wrestled with those choices with integrity.

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In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

It would be cool to spend a day 1,000 years in the future, when our minds have been instantiated in a non-biological medium. We could preserve what is most precious about human nature, while letting go of evolutionary baggage that no longer serves us.

What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

The evolution of the human brain and building AI-based products. I have become convinced that understanding brain evolution holds the secret to intelligence.

What TV show could you not live without?

When Game of Thrones was still on I would treat Sunday-night episodes with an almost religious zeal.

Who would paint your portrait?

My wife’s sister, Melanie Reese. She would make fun of some esoteric feature I was unaware I had.

What’s your theme tune?

Anything by Hans Zimmer.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Something along the lines of “Don’t follow advice”. Typically when we “follow advice” we are adopting the wants of other people, as opposed to listening to our own inner compass. (The irony of following this advice is not lost on me.)

What’s currently bugging you?

My own struggle to be present and think less about things in the future or past that I cannot change. Also, self-congratulatory LinkedIn posts.

What single thing would make your life better?

Being less attached to my ego, which includes stories I tell myself about what would make my life better.

When were you happiest?

Whenever I am laughing with friends and family, learning something new, losing myself in creating something, or doing physical activity in nature.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

Soundtrack composer, game designer or sci-fi writer. But life is long – I haven’t given up on incorporating these somehow.

Are we all doomed?

Humanity is not doomed. Whether or not things go well for us humans is a matter of our collective choices.

Max Bennett’s “A Brief History of Intelligence: Why the Evolution of the Brain Holds the Key to the Future of AI” is published by William Collins

[See also: Who owns your face?]

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This article appears in the 04 Oct 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Labour in Power