We’ve associated the word “progress” with technology since before the Industrial Revolution, even when that technology sits at odds with social progress. In many ways, the inevitable march of “progress” — flying cars and infinite life to name just two oft-repeated promises — is just clever marketing, especially when the same can’t be said for social equality. We are living through a moment where one powerful faction is pushing for a return to mid-century values, while another is driving us toward a near future where everything, including the human body, is optimized by artificial intelligence. Even more confusingly, these two parts of the population are not mutually exclusive. Caught between two visions, it’s easy to feel hopeless. But as far as apocalypses go, at least this one has given today’s teenagers the means to generate their own 1980s yearbook photos. The future is here. And it looks a lot like a John Hughes movie.
So, is a Mars rocket “progress” — or just a billionaire’s way of impressing women? For the answer to this, and many other unknowns, you should turn to our favorite AI podcasts. These shows delve into questions about artificial intelligence without succumbing to fatalism. They blend research and creativity to contribute to the broader discussion on our relationships with technology, economics, and society at large. But if you just want to hear about when the cars will be able to drive themselves, that’s in here too.
It didn’t take long for Hard Fork to become one of the most popular tech podcasts. From The New York Times, this is a weekly show fronted by journalists Casey Newton and Kevin Roose that takes a lighter approach to tech innovation and ethics. Hard Fork regularly covers the latest developments in artificial intelligence in enough detail to be informative, yet resists bombarding listeners with surplus industry jargon. Their optimism is refreshing. Pacey and humorous, the conversation is chirpy without being flippant. The show maintains a balanced perspective, neither hastily dismissing new technologies nor accepting them without careful examination. It’s this balance of enthusiasm and critique that makes Hard Fork a great all-rounder, appealing to fans of The Vergecast and Pivot.
Radiotopia’s Bot Love adopts a unique approach to exploring artificial intelligence, blending storytelling with experimental narration. And here’s the twist: not all of the narrators are real. Bot Love explores the emotional connections formed between people and artificial intelligence as a kind of modern romance with flavors of Don DeLillo and Margaret Atwood.
Anna Oakes and Diego Senior are the hosts. This duo approach their topic with a sensitivity that evokes shows like Bodies, allowing subjects to tell their own experiences. In these stories of friendship and solace, the show often treats the bots as equals to humans, referring to them as “people” as if they possessed living souls. It’s an intriguing stylistic choice, lending nuance to an engaging and empathetic series that is not without its unnerving moments.
Land of the Giants is best known as a show that analyzes big tech companies, with past seasons focused on Apple, Amazon, and Facebook. So you may not immediately think of it as an AI podcast. But take another look. Across its most recent seasons, this show has joined the conversation around artificial intelligence. Did AI-driven algorithms change the way we date? What did deepfakes on Twitter do to democracy? In its eight season, the show covered the rise of electric vehicles, including whether Musk’s promises around autonomous driving are as near as he claims. While Tesla has experienced many production issues over the years, the same can’t be said for this podcast, which is consistently slick and well-paced. What’s refreshing about Land of the Giants is that it asks these questions without losing its accessibility. And you have to admire a podcast that introduces William Clay Ford Jr. of Ford Motors as a “nepo baby.”
There are plenty of AI catastrophizers out there. Seldom a month goes by without another end-of-days op-ed reaching our breakfast table. So it’s refreshing to come across consistent and measured criticism without the melodrama. Tech Won’t Save Us is a left-leaning podcast that dissects the misleading promises and social repercussions of our rapidly changing tech industries. The show’s host, Paris Marx, is astute and rarely hyperbolic. He sounds a bit like Ezra Klein if he had taken The Communist Manifesto a bit more seriously. His recent research on Elon Musk’s trajectory sadly coincided with everyone else’s analysis of Elon Musk. However, Marx’s interpretation is worth listening to, if only for his objection to the complacency of other tech journalists. You’ve read The Techno-Optimist Manifesto. Now listen to this podcast and make up your own mind.
It’s quite evident that Ezra Klein harbors some skepticism towards AI. In recent years, he has extensively covered this topic, showcasing impressive depth and inviting guests such as Demis Hassabis from DeepMind to discuss AI’s implications in the job market and scientific research. Klein tackles the subject with a blend of analytical insight and emotional resonance, characteristic of his approach.
As well, Klein isn’t afraid to critique the culture behind the development of this technology. Contrasting with figures like Marc Andreessen, he doesn’t embrace accelerationism. Throughout numerous discussions, Klein has made his stance clear: technology shouldn’t be given unchecked approval. Regardless of personal views on the matter, revisiting these episodes offers valuable perspectives as we rapidly move towards the future. The question remains, however: Whose future are we heading towards?
Many of the shows here cover the wider conversation around technology and artificial intelligence. If you’re looking for something with more specificity, turn to The AI Breakdown. This is a daily news show that analyses advances in AI with more enthusiasm than some of the more skeptical voices mentioned earlier Each episode is succinct, lasting about twenty minutes — perfect for listeners who wish The Daily would delve more into tech topics. The AI Breakdown targets a more specialized audience, particularly appealing to those within the industry interested in the development and application of this technology. With few frills but plenty of insight, The AI Breakdown digests large amounts of information into impressively small bites. It’s an ideal listen for a brief coffee break during a busy day at the office.
The debate around artificial intelligence often draws parallels to two vastly different milestones in technological history: the printing press and the atomic bomb. Implicit in this juxtaposition is the idea that if AI fundamentally changes the way we share information, as the printing press did in the 15th century, it would be an ideal outcome. But what if it’s worse than that? Here to ask the hard questions is Humans Vs Machines, an eight-part limited series from The World as You’ll Know It. Hosted by journalist Gary Marcus, the show explores all aspects of AI through analysis and interviews with engineers, scientists, philosophers, and journalists, all of whom have real expertise in the field. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by AI, Humans Vs Machines provides perspective without minimizing concerns. Even better, you can get through all of the episodes on your next slow workday — if AI hasn’t replaced you by then.
Alice Florence Orr is a staff writer and assistant editor for Podcast Review. She is based in Edinburgh. You can connect with her on Twitter or read her work on aliceflorenceorr.com