Please find below notes from the online Zoom conference call which took place from 9pm to 10pm GMT on Sunday 17th November, discussing features of the Technoprogressive Roadmap which is being prepared and published by the UK’s Transhumanist Party.
Here’s how the conference was described in advance, via London Futurists:
In a time of intense tactical political discussion, can we identify larger, longer-term goals for politicians in the UK and elsewhere to keep firmly in mind?
The UK’s Transhumanist Party is in the process of publishing a “Technoprogressive Roadmap” for the UK: 15 transformational goals for the UK to seek to accomplish by 2035, with the goals being supported in each case by 2 interim stepping-stone targets to be accomplished by 2025.
These 15 goals span six overlapping spheres of human life: the flourishing of individuals, the flourishing of society, the flourishing of positive international relationships, the flourishing of the environment, the flourishing of humanity’s steps into the wider cosmos, and the flourishing of productive political processes.
This online conference call is a chance for people to ask questions and express their views on what the Transhumanist Party has already published. You can share your views about matters to prioritise or deprioritise, on potential alternatives, and on what shorter-term actions should be organised…
Another online conference call in the same series will be announced shortly – probably focusing on the technoprogressive vision for the future of education, and taking place from 9pm GMT on Sunday 1st December.
Setting the context
To start the conference call, the following brief set of slides were shown:
A wide-ranging discussion then took place, in which only a small number of the initial points could be explored. The notes that follow include some of the highlights.
The following individual participants who spoke up during the call have kindly agreed to be identified:
- “AK” – Alexander Karran
- “DW” – David Wood
- “EP” – Evan Parker
- “JBZ” – Johannon BenZion
- “MH” – Margaret Hardie
- “TJO” – Thomas James O’Carroll
- others TBC
Paragraphs in italics are comments added after the conference, making points that there was no time to include during the call itself.
The order of discussion has been rearranged in some cases, to make the underlying structure of the conversation clearer.
Technoprogressive vs. technosluggish
JBZ: Many political institutions suffer from a kind of “technosluggishness” – even when these institutions are managed by people who would see themselves as being “progressive”. These institutions aren’t able to keep up with the pace of technological change.
DW: The question isn’t whether government should be “big” or “small”. Instead, it’s how can government be fast and nimble – agile and effective. The answer partly involves changing how we humans interact, but it’s also about using the right technologies in support of our institutions.
Improving international cooperation?
TJO: Many of the goals in the Technoprogressive Roadmap will need international cooperation in order to succeed. How will this cooperation be achieved?
DW: In part, by extending what we’re doing today, in this call, nurturing links with like-minded people and groups around the world (whether or not these people are comfortable to use the terms “transhumanist” or “technoprogressive” to describe themselves).
DW: And in part, by bringing our ideas to existing international bodies, such as forums organised by the United Nations or the EU. We look forward to groups within these bodies adopting some of our ideas and developing them further.
Countering the trend towards greenwashing?
TJO: In the video about carbon neutrality and climate change, it is stated that
This goal rejects any creative accounting in which various actions initiated by the UK are completely omitted from the balance sheet – actions such as international shipping, flights to overseas destinations, and the production of goods overseas for import into the UK.
We cannot lower the risk of climate catastrophe by any such “greenwashing” measures of “sweeping data under the carpet”.
We need to assess the situation honestly and transparently.
TJO: What counter-measures are in mind to prevent greenwashing?
DW: Greenwashing is when people or organisations say they are going to be environmentally friendly and responsible, but they don’t follow through, or they misrepresent relevant statistics. We have to shine the light of analysis on this. We need to develop meaningful metrics which cannot be gamed – metrics that measure substantial changes in our interaction with the environment. We need to be able to have an honest discussion, based around truly useful metrics.
The future of political parties?
EP: What role does the Technoprogressive Roadmap envision for political parties in the future? Is the writing on the wall for political parties?
DW: The system of political parties has been seeing its fastest changes recently, with the quick rise of a brand new party, that is the Brexit Party (albeit based on prior work by UKIP). This is a sign that the political landscape can change more quickly than ever before.
DW: The power held by political parties in the current system does need to be weakened. This power is an example of how humanity’s instinct for tribalism (in-group loyalty) is unhelpful in the present age.
DW: It is still useful for like-minded people to be able to organise together into political parties, alliances, and groups. However, the public often feel unable to cast votes for the political parties they actually prefer the most. Instead, they often feel obliged to cast a tactical vote, in order to prevent the election of another candidate that they particularly dislike or fear. This feature makes it difficult to find out what the public actually thinks about new parties, and it helps strengthen the power of older parties.
EP: Consider an example problem – say how to improve the organisation of a nation’s health service, or the educational system. Isn’t the best way to evolve a good policy in these fields to involve people from different political dogmas, sitting down with open minds, listening to all the arguments, and then reach a consensus? That’s instead of what tends to happen now, which is people just thinking in their existing groups, e.g. a leftist grouping which allows no role for any privatisation. Isn’t it better for people to be able to look at options in an expansive way?
EP: Too much present-day political discussion is structured around groups that made sense centuries ago. We should move on, with a national conversation, with the people in Parliament being independent MPs, rather than being controlled by parties.
EP: Politics shouldn’t be focused on gaining a majority of the seats in Parliament (even a majority as low as a single seat). Parties shouldn’t feel entitled to push through their entire political manifestos, just because they gained a majority. Instead, issues should be decided one by one, free from dogma, by an open-minded discussion among independent MPs. We can do all this a lot better!
DW: Yes, too many current political discussions are bedevilled by questions of political dogma, and by people being too quickly pigeon-holed on account of a cursory inspection of their views, rather than their ideas being listened to properly. Thinking stops once a label has been applied, “left-wing” or “right-wing” or whatever.
DW: Instead, we need to move to what has been called a superdemocracy, and data-driven decision-making.
DW: People also need to become comfortable about holding in their mind two contradictory ideas at the same time, in order to allow new ideas to emerge than can transcend and unify the separate opinions.
EP: We need a culture in which people are willing to learn from diverse political views. Different political views can be fascinating. They can all have something to bring to the bigger picture.
EP: Of course emotions will come into political discussion. But that shouldn’t result in the extended divisiveness that runs through our Houses of Parliament.
EP: In summary, political parties have had their day.
DW: So perhaps the slogan of the Transhumanist Party could be, We want all parties to be abolished, including ourselves!
EP: Having groups of people sharing ideas together is fine. But the power fetish in politics is a massive problem.
EP: MPs generally go into Parliament with good intentions, but as soon as they sense they could get the red (ministerial) case, and the power that goes with it, they go along with the process (this is something that former politician Michael Portillo has talked about). They vote with their party, rather than according to their own independent assessment.
Changing the electoral system?
AK: Would proportional representation be a first step forwards? It would be a system that would allow independents to rise to the top.
EP: That’s a useful stepping stone, but the election process has more fundamental problems – as E describes in the forthcoming book Reinventing Democracy.
EP: A better process would be “representative selection” in which people are selected to join parliament, that represent all sectors of society, in a way that is truly representative. The present parliament has an over-representation of lawyers and a severe under-representation of the working class. (3% of MPs are working class, out of around 25% of the whole population.)
AK: But how can the public mindset be changed, to support this kind of idea? Many people seem to find comfort in a model of a simplistic division of political possibilities, left vs. right. They don’t seem to have the cognitive bandwidth to assess more complicated options (although, to be clear, they do have the underlying ability). Being short of time, they prefer a nice simple set of options and actions to consider, without delving into finer points of philosophy.
Problems with our education system?
EP: The problem is that our education system does not train us to have open minds. That’s a very big flaw.
EP: We also need to point out to people that, just because a policy has failed, that’s no reason to blame someone, and to remove them from office. Instead, we should learn when a policy fails, and adjust.
DW: That’s similar to the approach of agile experimentation adopted by many leading businesses, which embrace the ideas of “fail forward, fail fast, and fail smart”.
EP: This failure-adverse mindset dates back to the previous century, and beyond.
How might representative selection work?
TJO: Are you proposing something almost like a jury system, where people are picked at random?
EP: Yes, people would initially be selected so as to represent the demographics of society.. They would need to be willing to serve. It’s for a short term – a term of service to your country. Perhaps for 2 or maybe 3 years.
EP: The system could be designed with an agreed bar level of mental agility, in order to be eligible for selection. We could put the bar as high (or low) as we like. (Our current crop of MPs aren’t particularly bright…)
TJO: But how would this be implemented? How could the change be introduced? Any existing government might reject the idea.
EP: See chapter 5 of the forthcoming book…
EP: Actually it’s very important that we can suggest a positive solution. There are far too many critics who complain about problems with our present state of democracy, without offering a credible positive alternative to the present system.
Democracy and engagement?
EP: Our current system is democracy in name only. The populace are not well engaged with it. 95% of people say they’re not interested in politics. It’s a failure of our education system.
EP: For the wellbeing of society, people need to feel comfortable and engaged about talking about the big ideas of the day.
EP: Actually, in good circumstances, the public discussion of politics can indeed become more engaging. Something like 80% of the electorate took part in the recent referendum on Scottish independence.
EP: To help greater engagement, there’s a big role for digital platforms, that encourage and enable good quality discussions.
Possible roles for technology?
A2: Could blockchain help with a reliable random selection? This is something blockchain companies are already exploring within their own governance structure.
A2: Most countries have National ID systems and those would effectively integrate easily with this system.
A2: Another system of representative system is delegative democracy. In delegative democracy, you cast votes yourself only on issues you care about and feel you have clear views about. For example, I care a lot about water and, therefore, would be more interested in devoting time towards researching that topic and taking part in votes about it. In another case, if there is someone who is more interested than me in food issues, who I trust, then, I should be able to transfer my vote to them. This is something that should be possible using technological systems in place.
JBZ: Has talked to someone who founded a blockchain voting company in Australia. He would also agree in the importance of post-partisanship, as being key to real progress.
EP: The technology should enable a productive national conversation, which draws upon the views of ordinary people, experts, think tanks, politicians, the civil service, and so on. There are many big topics, associated with technological possibilities, that urgently deserve a national conversation – consider the quantum computing possibilities covered at yesterday’s London Futurists event, or increased longevity.
JBZ: It’s a double-edged sword. People can use the technology of new information systems in destructive ways too, socially engineering outcomes that they personally wish to see, but which may not be in the general interest.
JBZ: Rather than blaming the low-information voters who have been led astray by this kind of social engineering, we should be blaming the bad actors who are doing the manipulation.
AK: Regarding blockchain: bear in mind that systems using blockchain aren’t necessarily truly anonymous. However, the ability to cast a vote truly anonymously is important. Tying votes to entries in a national ID register could be a recipe for unwanted control.
DW: Technology that makes it easier for people to be correctly added to the voting registration list should be welcomed. There are parts of the world where politicians actively try to suppress the voting rights of parts of the community they believe would vote against them. Too many people in these regions – including some states of the USA – are deliberately disenfranchised.
JBZ: In the USA, this is an example of so-called hyper-partisanship.
Has voting has its day?
MH: Who decides what the ‘greater good’ is? Who arbitrates between conflicting priorities and on what basis? The whole notion of legitimacy needs revisiting. Should we have a ‘voting licence’ the way we have a driving licence? On the basis of the fact that how you vote can cause serious damage
EP: Voting may have had its day. Historically, it was very important. It was great that people in the past fought for the right to vote. But if a society was being designed from scratch, we should be able to consider different options.
EP: Voting can be used for many important functions, but it’s probably not the best system to select the people who will be sitting in Parliament. There are other, better ways of ensuring appropriate representation.
EP: Would favour there still being MPs who have ties to local communities. But how the MPs are selected in a representative way needn’t involve voting.
DW: There’s much more to democracy than just the voting. Democracy is about involving everyone in the conversation, bringing insights from multiple perspectives, and taking the time to ensure that there are solutions that work for everybody, without leaving segments of the populace behind.
DW: Voting is only a part of democracy. We make a fetish of voting at our own danger.
A role for AI overseeing politics?
AK: Humans aren’t very good at managing other humans. We’re too partisan. Can’t we take more advantage of decision-support tools?
MH: Should we all have an impartial AI political advisor? The ‘impartial’ bit might be hard to engineer from what is mostly biased data on politics out there.
AK: It’s true there are problems of potential data bias. But with some care, can’t we envision a neural network processing enough data that it can offer us policy recommendations?
AK: Consider the remarkable results already achieved in text generation by OpenAI’s GPT system:
We’ve trained a large-scale unsupervised language model which generates coherent paragraphs of text, achieves state-of-the-art performance on many language modeling benchmarks, and performs rudimentary reading comprehension, machine translation, question answering, and summarization—all without task-specific training.
AK: Imagine feeding such a system with all the political discourse from the last 2,000 years, say, and works of philosophy, and then asking it questions. Couldn’t that help in independent formulation and evaluation of policy?
AK: A decision-support system would be of great assistance to the human representatives selected for the task of working in Parliament. It could generate a number of policy recommendations which would then act as seeds for further group discussion by humans. Note that humans would remain “in the loop”.
JBZ: The Technological Roadmap envisions AI-driven governance.
TJO: The “House of AI” idea.
DW: The basic idea is that we have the best of human intelligence supported by the best of artificial intelligence.
DW: We’re seeing some of that already: consider Wikipedia, and the Snopes fact-checking site. We’re seeing some fact-checking in real time now. There’s scope to improve it further, so that when politicians are speaking on screen, the display will also indicate in real-time if there are questionable aspects in what the politicians say. There could be some kind of traffic light red/amber/green indication.
DW: As well as checking facts, this AI system could draw attention to issues with the argument (logical fallacies, cognitive biases, etc). Going further, this isn’t just about showing when humans have got something wrong; it’s about proposing new syntheses of ideas.
DW: This will be covered in more detail in the video for the 15th goal in the set. Although it’s the last one in the set, it may be the most important in the whole set.
A possible trial in a small city state?
JBZ: At RAADfest recently the talk by Ray Kurzweil reviewed some impressed progress with the capabilities of predictive algorithms, developed at Google and elsewhere.
JBZ: Software that can process and generate text is already progressing very quickly. We may not be far from seeing a group of people try a new governance model, using pilot versions of technology, in a small city state somewhere, separate from traditional governance oversight.
JBZ has been invited to go to Bolivia to discuss with some people there about such a community. It’s not clear how to evaluate how seriously this project should be taken. It’s easy to talk, but harder to follow through.
DW: There are a number of communities with strong libertarian and voluntarist principles that are already organising themselves around the world. There may be a talk at London Futurists soon, by someone who has spent time in several of these communities. These communities are seeking to take advantage of technology to organise themselves in different ways than has traditionally been the norm.
DW: So maybe this is how we will make progress: demonstrate the viability of ideas about better politics and better governance in small scale pilots.
DW: The online group Zero State had some similar aspirations, though it seems these have yet to be fulfilled.
Who would write the AI used in government?
A2: Who should be writing the algorithm for any AI used in AI-driven governance? I think first we need an algorithm bill (regulations) before we even get into having such an advisor.
DW: Agreed that clear principles are needed here. We need to avoid giving too central a role in society to an AI that on the surface is serving the needs of the general public, but which is in a deeper sense supporting the business objectives of the organisation or corporation which created it.
DW: It’s like today’s social media: we value the services we get from it, but we are aware that we are, in a sense, being manipulated by it.
DW: Therefore the videos about increased political flourishing – goals 14 and 15 – will advocate for clear agreement on the principles by which any AI must be developed, before it can be adopted in any central role in society.
DW: Some of the principles will be transparency and explainability. There will also be principles about identifying biases in the data used to train any machine learning.
AK: Open source will help here.
AK: Note that these AI algorithms generally aren’t “written” in any traditional sense, but they emerge from a process of training.
JBZ: Yes, the predictions often come from a “black box”, without it being understood why various predictions (e.g. life expectancy) have been made. We may have cases where the AI is right, but we cannot understand why it is right, and we cannot really trust it.
DW: The technoprogressive roadmap proposal is that AIs will not be accepted, unless they can explain their reasoning in a satisfactory way. Opaque AI should not be accepted. A movement in support of explainability of AI is already gathering momentum, independent of the technoprogressive roadmap.
Priorities for next steps?
DW: What topics should be discussed in subsequent calls? One option is to dive more deeply into the future of education.
AK: Support the idea of having issue-based conversations. And support the idea of a call focused on education.
EP: In a way, education underpins everything else.
MH: It’s about more than just education. There are an awful lot of very educated people out there with quite retrograde views. It’s terrifying.
TJO: Interested in the interconnections between different points in the roadmap – a series of dependencies.
DW: The goal of looking at these dependencies would be to try to identify the interventions that would have the greatest leverage.
DW: One example of an interconnection is the same that climate change seems to increase social stresses and to lead on to problems such as civil wars, as in Syria.
DW: Perhaps it is goal 2, for increased mental fitness and emotional vitality, that will have the biggest positive impacts on progress with all the other goals. If more people around the world have broader, calmer minds, living in a way that is more focused and more helpful, we would be less prone to being adversely manipulated or distracted by various external or internal pressures.
JBZ: A friend in the US has suggested that improving the public health service there should rank as the highest priority. A mindshift towards treating aging as a disease, and allocating funds accordingly, promoting healthy longevity, is key to improving matters.
JBZ: We also have a lot to learn from what Estonia is doing with digital governance. In turn, with a better digital infrastructure, Estonia is looking forward to an improved health system. We may be able to learn from San Marino too (an even smaller country).
JBZ: Other longevity-related topics to review include the longevity caucus in the USA, and the increasing electoral successes of the Party for Health Research in Germany.
DW: There has been lots of news recently in the UK about extended waiting times at accident and emergency in the national health service, about resource shortages, and other growing crises. The problems run so deep that they cannot be resolved simply by hiring more doctors and nurses, and building new hospitals. Instead, the transhumanist insight is that what’s needed is a switch to better preventive measures, including health rejuvenation interventions, and including better mental health (since bad physical health often stems from bad mental health).
DW: It’s true, as was said earlier, that even very well educated people can have very retrograde views – terrifyingly so. I see that as a problem of poor mental health or poor emotional intelligence.
A2: From a health perspective, we need to have focus on prevention through better data on individuals, better diets and a focus away from cure which is the current focus of the NHS.
A2: This is something we are now seeing come through biotechnology sector. I am lucky enough to be working in a start-up developing blood tests that individuals can do themselves. When healthy individuals have data and apps to help them with mental health then we will see a move in the right direction but this is highly unlikely to come through the NHS.
TJO: Ideas for innovative new treatments in the mental health space, such as “mental health ninjas” also deserve more attention.
DW: Interestingly, there are some public surveys that suggest that the question of the best way forwards for the NHS is viewed by electors as even more important, in determining how they will vote, than the question of Brexit.
JBZ: There were lots of important themes in the roadmap videos – such as post-scarcity and the elevation of the human condition through technology – that we haven’t had the time to discuss in this call.
AK: Let’s not forget about the importance of “transcendental purpose”. People in the general public need to have a bigger vision for a better society.
DW: My own vision is that the technoprogressive roadmap can come to provide that kind of necessary, uplifting vision for the general public.
MH: How about trying to use the ‘election lift’ for the subject of the technoprogressive roadmap and see if you could interest a TV station in making a programme about this topic?
DW: Yes, as soon as the set of videos has been completed.
JBZ: Ready to help with any media opportunities, even at short notice.
MH: Part of me is very enthused about this discussion. But I’m worried about how to organise a transition from today’s adversarial political thought and action, which is based on scarcity, towards a more inclusive abundance-mentality point of view. How do we get these ideas to the people at large, if we’re not standing candidates?
MH: If we want to talk positively about technology, we have a lot of mistrust to overcome, due to social media and Cambridge Analytica. People are, with some reason, fearful of loss of jobs, and of surveillance capitalism.
MH: Perhaps the recent movement with public interest in climate change is showing the way. The fast changes in public discourse give reason for optimism.
DW: I share the inspiration of what has happened recently with climate change campaigners.
DW: Although we’re not standing any candidates in the election next month, we do have something akin to a manifesto, which is the set of goals for 2035, along with plans for shorter-term projects in support of the 2025 interim goals.
DW: Greater clarity on possible next steps with these 2025 interim goals will be important. There may be a video in the series focused on just that point. We haven’t discussed these goals in this conference call at all. It’s something to pick up in later calls in this series.
TJO: To build a larger audience, I recommend word-of-mouth. Anyone is welcome to join in.
MH: But why is the participation for this particular call so small, out of a membership of London Futurists of more than 7,000?
DW: I think we need time to build momentum. Establish a pattern and then build on it.
JBZ: The imminence of a new year – indeed a new decade, the 2020s – is likely to cause more people to reflect on the need for new initiatives. Perhaps the 2020s will become like a new 1960s!
A2: Thanks for the discussion, guys. I think the future is bright as long as we continue to discuss and bring the idea forward.