Daniel Barry (Singularity University/Astronaut): Competing on the TV show Survivor

Uploaded by ibiomagazine on 26.04.2012

Hi, I'm Sarah Goodwin. I'm a graduate student at UCSF,
and today for iBioMagazine, we're talking to Dan Barry,
who went from being an academic professor in bioengineering
at Michigan to doing space walks and working with the International Space Station with
NASA, and now he runs his own robotics company in Massachusetts.
So, thank you for joining us, and today we're talking
from the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.
So, you went on Survivor.
Indeed. The ultimate competition.
What made you decide to go on Survivor?
Well, I just liked the show. I thought it was a fun show,
and I thought it would be a really interesting challenge
because they have such a great scheme
for changing who's valuable, right?
So, at the beginning, it's kind of this teamwork thing.
People that can win the competitions are valuable. And in the middle,
you want to get rid of those people because it becomes individual competitions,
and you want to get rid of the people that are good at that sort of stuff.
But, in the first two phases, you still keep the social people.
And then, in the last phase, you want to get rid of all the social people
because you ultimately want to be up against somebody that everybody hates
so that you'll win.
So, you keep all of the people that are really irritating.
So, it's a very good dynamic to change what characteristics of an individual
are beneficial at the moment in that game.
So, I thought that was kind of interesting.
But mostly, it just looked like it would be fun.
And, I was actually quite fortunate to get on a season and be divided into tribes.
And ended up with... just really, I would say, cooperative and fun people to be with.
So, I loved being on Survivor. I really had a good time...
Even though I didn't last that long. I was kicked off sixth,
when my best friend stabbed me in the back.
But, it was really fun, and I really enjoyed participating.
That sounds like quite the experiment.
It was. It was. And, in fact, we had a really good group dynamic going,
and were it not for a tenth of a second here or there, we would have dominated.
Did you use any of your science skills in trying to... I know that they have different
kind of... I guess... games?
Sure. Yeah, they play great games.
I didn't really use any science. I did use survival training,
because I built this kickass shelter.
I mean the best shelter that's ever been built on Survivor.
Foot and a half off the ground, a nice waterproof roof, and that sort of thing.
And I knew how to make fire,
which surprisingly people go on Survivor not knowing how to do.
But, in the end, actually, it was being unable to solve a puzzle which caused my demise.
So, I have to say... And the other thing is, of all the sort of hardships that were there...
And there were some! I mean, you don't eat for 12 days, that sort of thing.
I was surprised to find that the limiting consumable was dry wood.
And that's because you need to have a fire because you need to boil the water
in order to have enough water to drink.
And, I guess as a cautionary tale for those Survivors of the future,
I thought I knew everything about dehydration.
I mean, I'd been through 2 military survival camps
where the major focus was, "Don't get dehydrated."
And so I was making sure I urinated twice a day,
and I was pinching my skin and checking, so I thought I was about five pounds dehydrated
because you can only drink as much as you can boil.
Well, I got off that island, and I had lost, in 17 days, I had lost 33 pounds.
Of which, about 17 or 18 was water.
So, I regained the water weight in 3 days, but I had no idea how severely dehydrated I was.
And then I went back and looked at the films,
and I'm looking at this puzzle I couldn't solve, and I'm like,
"I was completely confused on that thing because I was dehydrated!"
So, I had my rationalization as to why I couldn't solve the puzzle.
Could you tell us a little bit more about the importance of cooperation
in advancing knowledge and innovation?
You know, everybody says, "Cooperation? Forget that. Competition is where it's at."
Right? "So, keep your cooperation, I'm going to go find the most competitive people,
and that's who I'm going to hire for my company."
And, the example I'm going to give you there is from William Muir,
who was a poultry scientist
who did an interesting experiment, which was that...
you know, you want to get the most eggs out of your chicken.
So, there's two approaches. One is you go to the hen house,
and you pick the chickens that lay the most eggs, right?
And then you breed those chickens and do that for subsequent generations.
And clearly, you're going to get a chicken that makes a lot of eggs.
So, he did that experiment, and after about four generations,
what he had was... chickens... they nest them in groups of 9.
So what he had after four generations or so was a group of 9
which very quickly became a group of 3
because those 3 murdered the other 6.
And they were 3 featherless chickens because they plucked the feathers out of each other.
So, he had picked the most homicidal, maniacal, competitive, insane chickens.
And they were the ones that produced the most eggs,
because they would peck everybody else and take all the food and lay all the eggs.
So, it was like, how can I put this?
It was like he built the US Senate or something. Do you know what I'm saying?
The competition isn't always the best solution.
And then the alternative experiment, which he also did,
was to take the clutches of 9 chickens together, who together were laying the most eggs
and breed those, and that was successful.
So, there's many cases where cooperation completely trumps competition.
And this sense of it's all about who gets the perfect score
and who can step on the other person to succeed
that I think actually is a very weak strategy
for success, at least success as measured in the way that I think is important.