Wired Magazine has created one of the more interesting formats for explaining difficult ideas to be sprung on the internet in a long while. The Five Levels of Difficulty video series is dead simple and pure genius — it challenges an expert in something complex like blockchain technology or neuroscience to explain that topic to five different people at five levels of expertise: a young child, a teenager, a college student, a grad student or industry professional, and finally, a fellow subject matter expert.

It's a brilliant way of introducing complicated subjects to mass audiences online because it's most likely that any given viewer's handle on that subject falls somewhere in the spectrum between a 5-year-old and experienced expert. There's something especially powerful about repetition and explanations about the same thing coming from wildly different points of view.

Genome mapping

Wired's series started with neuroscientist Bobby Kasthuri, who took time to explain the workings of the Connectome, a comprehensive mapping of every neural connection in a human brain.


Biologist Neville Sanjana did a great job explaining the fine points of CRISPR, a new gene-editing technology that could unlock medical breakthroughs in the form of cures for diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's but that could also lead us down some dark futuristic dystopian paths where rich people are genetically augmented super beings. Reality turns out to be a lot messier than that of course, which makes for some fascinating discussions once the video gets up around the grad student and subject matter expert level.

Virtual reality

John Carmack, CTO of virtual reality development firm Oculus, the makers of the popular VR headset Oculus Rift, took the reins for Wired's third Five Levels of Difficulty session, diving into a multi-level discussion of virtual reality and some of the nuances around its development.


With as many headlines and as much press as Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology have been getting lately, Wired's next video, featuring blockchain expert and researcher Bettina Warburg, is particularly well-timed. Blockchain technology has much wider applications beyond just state- and intermediary-free currency and has the potential of facilitating the freer trade of all kinds of assets, physical, digital, human-controlled, or otherwise. It could revolutionize trade in a lot of ways that we're just now starting to understand.


The latest video from the Five Levels of Difficulty will appeal to any music lover, as composer Jacob Collier explores the concept of harmony using the music of "Amazing Grace" with a young child, a teenager, a college student, a professional musician, and finally, jazz legend Herbie Hancock. I admit that I bowed out of this one not too far after the teenager level. It borders on magic hearing Collier and Hancock converse with raw music.

Wired's new video series seems to be doing well, pulling in millions of views each on YouTube, so hopefully they will continue to produce new episodes. There are a lot of really complicated issues out there that could benefit from this format. To ensure that you're fully in the loop on any planned future releases, you can subscribe to Wired over at YouTube.

Shea Gunther ( @sheagunther ) is a podcaster, writer, and entrepreneur living in Portland, Maine. He hosts the popular podcast "Marijuana Today Daily" and was a founder of Renewable Choice Energy, the country's leading provider of wind credits and Green Options. He plays a lot of ultimate frisbee and loves bad jokes.