One-half of TV’s nerdy sleuth duo MythBusters Adam Savage talks about taking his hit show on tour…and the rise of machines.
Adam Savage may have a slight case of hay fever, but it’s not keeping him from waking up at the crack of dawn at his home in San Francisco to talk about his love of science and film.
Savage has spent the better part of his 47 years involved in movies and TV, working for George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, where he helped create sets for Star Wars, A.I. and Terminator 3.
Serving as one-half of Discovery Channel’s MythBusters duo for more than a decade, Savage and his partner, Jamie Hyneman, have sought to take scientific experimentation out of the classroom and laboratory and into the real world. They’ve tested everything from finding a needle in a haystack to escaping from a sinking car, adding in an inordinate amount of explosions to boot.
This season of MythBusters has already featured episodes based on scientific data and events found in popular culture like The Simpsons (a show on which the duo guest-starred in 2012), The A-Team and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The new MythBusters season also marks the first time since 2003 that members of “The Build Team” – Tory Belleci, Grant Imahara and Kari Byron – were not brought back to participate in the show.
For Savage, the new MythBusters season was a way to get back to basics, conducting less myth testing and focusing more time on the process behind figuring out the myths. It’s also allowed him and Hyneman to spend more time on other projects, including Tested.com – their website dedicated to scientific experimentation. Tested.com celebrated its fifth anniversary last month and features hundreds of articles, podcasts and videos that include tours of Savage’s “man cave” in the Mission District of San Francisco (check out the video of his Quentin Tarantino movie memorabilia shelf).
Savage and Hyneman are now preparing to take their myth busting on the road, debuting their all-new “MythBusters: Jamie & Adam Unleashed!” tour which includes a stop at the Santander Performing Arts Center in Reading on April 30. Part science factory and part magic show, the tour features two hours of audience participation, high-flying theatrics and more (it’s also the last time Hyneman plans on doing the touring show). We caught up with Savage, who fought through having to blow his nose every minute like a champ.
Michael Yoder: With all the projects you’re involved in, do you ever sleep?
Adam Savage: [laughs] Yes, actually. Not only do I sleep, but I sleep a lot. Getting enough sleep is a key, vital aspect of my survival regimen. Doing something like MythBusters and doing things like this stage tour, they take a lot, and it can be a very stressful existence. I make sure when I’m in production that I get eight hours a night. It’s made my life much easier.
MY: What kinds of things do you do while touring to deal with stress?
AS: I make sure that I get out a lot. It’s very easy out on tour to not leave your bus, and it’s a very dangerous thing to do. You can sort of calcify. So I make sure in every town that I go to, I try and get out to at least one store or restaurant and see what’s going on. I think on this tour that I might actually bring a bicycle with me because I like bike riding around new cities.
MY: Is there something you’ve done for Tested.com that you’ve been particularly surprised by the audiences’ response?
AS: I’m surprised every time a video does really well. The things that people find awesome are hilarious to me, and I’m super excited about it. I love the fact that when I give a tour of my Jason Bourne prop collection that it gets 2 million hits on YouTube. That is not something that I would have expected. At the same time, I get that people are interested in seeing stuff like that, and that’s great because I’ve got a lot more.
MY: Was there a genesis moment in your life that sent you down the path of pursuing a career in film and TV?
AS: So that’s the danger to me in trying to look at someone’s life from that narrative standpoint, because it always looks fairly linear. I had a couple of great science teachers in high school who were the only teachers that actually said things like, “I don’t know” to me, and I found that incredibly inspiring. I had a father who was an artist who engendered in me a love of making my own toys. I had parents who were very supportive of me exploring the stuff that I wanted to do. I had a few years of acting training in high school. And then after 15 years of making things for a living in television and then film, MythBusters comes along, and all of a sudden the science geek and the actor and the performer and the maker of things all meet on the same plane. And it seems inevitable, but it certainly didn’t feel like that at the time.
“I had a couple of great science teachers in high school who were the only teachers that actually said things like, “I don’t know” to me, and I found that incredibly inspiring.”
MY: Will you continue doing the live show even though Jamie says this is his last tour?
AS: Absolutely. This is Jamie’s last tour. He is not interested in touring after this year, and that’s just because he’s got other fish to fry. I enjoy it and find it more creatively satisfying than he does. I mean, he really loves the interaction with the crowd, he loves the Q&A and loves talking to the kids. It’s just about where we put our energy in the future, and absolutely I plan for stage performance to be a significant part of my creative output for years.
MY: During a TEDx talk you did in 2008, you said the creative project folder on your computer contained 17,000 photos and 20 Gb of information. How large is it today?
AS: It’s actually about double that right now. It’s easily 40 Gb and probably 40,000 photos.
MY: Do you add information to it every day?
AS: Oh yeah, oh yeah. There was just a big post up on Imgur of pictures that had been taken from behind the scenes on the film Blade Runner that no one’s seen before. I downloaded all 175 of those the other night.
MY: Speaking of Blade Runner, I was curious about your thoughts on prominent scientists and inventors like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk recently raising questions about the rise of artificial intelligence, especially as someone who has worked on movies like A.I. and Terminator 3 and a fan of Blade Runner – films that deal specifically with those questions.
AS: I’m not as worried about artificial intelligence as I am about the dumb machines we already have. I’m a good old liberal. But at the same time, I’m not very interested in government intrusion in the places it doesn’t belong, and one of them is my privacy. So consequently, I can’t stand red light cameras – not because I don’t realize that going through red lights is a problem, because I know that it is. But as soon as you let a machine write you a ticket, it’s like, “Why not have cameras in your home?” That’s the very definition of the “slippery slope” to me.
MY: It does feel like a slippery slope.
AS: I think that technology is allowing us to connect in such deep ways that are both amazing and also dangerous. So it’s not AI that I see as the threat – it’s mass surveillance by all of our governments right now. It is putting our trust into machines that we can’t examine. So the idea that you can get a ticket from a red light camera, but you can’t know the parameters under which it did its job because they’re trade secrets – that’s crazy to me. It’s like someone saying, “Well, the policeman we had write you the ticket can’t tell you who he is or what his name is because that’s a state secret.” That doesn’t work. So I think AI is a much more distant problem. Another thing is, I don’t think we should put weapons on robots. To me, that’s another thing that seems like the worst idea I’ve ever heard. So AI isn’t a problem unless you hand AI a pistol. And I know there are a lot of people working on that, but as far as I’m concerned, the first rule of robots is, “Don’t give a robot a weapon.”
The “MythBusters: Jamie & Adam Unleashed!” tour hits the Santander Performing Arts Center (136 N. 6th St., Reading) on Thursday, April 30. 7:30pm. $34.50-$125. Click here for tickets.