Q2 sprint: Political responses to technological unemployment

Technological Unemployment v2

Q1 recap

Before sharing some details about Transpolitica focus during Q2 2018, here’s a quick update on Transpolitica activities during Q1 2018.

Transpolitica has made good progress during Q1 with goals identified at the start of this period:

Priority project for Q2

As Q2 approaches, it’s now time to put into motion the first of a series of time-limited projects to dive more deeply into some of the specific key themes of a better politics.

Each such project will involve gathering, developing, reviewing, and then disseminating the best technoprogressive thinking on a given topic.

The first project in the series is “Political responses to technological unemployment”, carried out over three phases:

  1. Up to end of April 2018: mainly writing and collecting submissions – framing analyses, thought pieces, policy recommendations, etc
  2. Up to end of May 2018: more focus on group deliberation – where are the weak points and the strong points of our collective understanding, and how can we improve our understanding
  3. Up to end of June 2018: more focus on communicating our findings and recommendations, via publications, memes, slogans, videos, etc

Note that I am using the phrase “technological unemployment” to also include “technological under-employment” and “precarious employment”. (A better choice of words could be one outcome from the project.)

Starting points for this project (to avoid people re-inventing the wheel) include:

Depending on progress, possible outcomes of the project might include a PDF research pamphlet, a video, an improved set of pages on H+Pedia, a press release, a set of slides, and/or a public event (such as a meeting of London Futurists in June and the Humanity+ Beijing event in July).

Questions that need addressing

Key to the success of the project will be the identification of the areas most in need of better understanding. These are the “major uncertainties” where we should prioritise our focus.

For the moment, it seems to me that these areas include:

  1. Potential transition mechanisms from where society is today, to a new social contract in which a citizen’s income (to give one example) is in place
  2. Possible alternatives to a citizen’s income
  3. Strengths and weaknesses of various forecasts of scenarios for the development of technological unemployment
  4. The pros and cons of various ways of raising money to pay for a citizen’s income
  5. The possible role of decentralised technologies such as blockchain in the administration of a citizen’s income
  6. The possibility of an “Apollo scale” project to drive down the costs of all goods and services needed for a prosperous lifestyle
  7. International and trans-border considerations

If you think you know at least part of the answers to the above questions – or if you think there are more important questions to be addressing – please do become involved.

To become more involved in this project

The mailing group https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/transpolitica exists to to coordinate planning and execution of Transpolitica projects. To join the group, visit this page, and send a subscription request.

(There’s also a Transpolitica group on Facebook, but with a potential impending mass exodus from Facebook, it’s more important than before to use other means for project coordination.)

Tools for better politics?

Which solutions most deserve mention, in a list of “tools for better politics”?

Tools for better politics

As I’m reflecting on comments from reviewers of the draft chapters of the forthcoming book Transcending Politics, I’ve reached the view that I should add a new section, towards the end of the book, entitled “Tools well worth watching”.

This will fit well into Chapter 14, “Afterword”, which already contains a similarly-themed section “Communities well worth joining”.

If you have any suggestions or comments, either leave them in the Google Doc for Chapter 14, or as replies to this blogpost.

Ideally the list will include tools applicable to one or more of the systems described below (this is an extract from Chapter 1).

  • Transparency systems, so that the activity of public organisations and decisions are visible, and can be judged more easily and accurately
  • Fact-checking systems to determine more quickly and clearly, via an online lookup, if some information is misleading, deceptive, biased, or in any other way suspect or substandard
  • Thinking training systems to help everyone understand and routinely practice the skills of critical thinking, hypothesis formulation and testing, and independent evaluation of sources
  • Accountability systems to hold people and organisations to account whenever they pass on damaging misinformation – similar to how codes of conduct already operate in the fields of advertising and investment communications
  • Bridging systems to encourage people with strong disagreements to nevertheless explore and appreciate each other’s points of view, so that shared values can be identified and a constructive dialog established
  • Educational systems to keep politicians of all sorts informed, succinctly yet reliably, in timely fashion, about the trends that could require changes in regulations
  • Simulation systems to help politicians of all sorts creatively explore possible new policy frameworks – and to gain a better idea in advance of likely positive and negative consequence of these new ideas
  • Monitoring systems to report objectively on whether regulatory policies are having their desired effect
  • Concentration systems to boost the ability of individual politicians to concentrate on key decisions, and to reach decisions free from adverse tiredness, distraction, bias, or prejudice
  • Encouragement systems to encourage greater positive participation in the political and regulatory processes by people who have a lot to contribute, but who are currently feeling pressure to participate instead in different fields of activity.

One source of ideas, by the way, is the H+Pedia article on “Politics 2.0”.

 

Chapter updated: “1. Vision and roadmap”

As well as general tidying, this update to Chapter 1 includes an important new section “Transcending left and right?”

Hopefully there will only be small changes to this chapter from now on, up until publication.

Review comments appreciated!

Access the chapter here.

The section heading are:

  • Power and corruption
  • Floods ahead
  • A technoprogressive transhumanist future
  • Steering technology
  • In pursuit of liberty
  • Roadmap ingredients
  • Transcending left and right?
  • About the name ‘Transpolitica’

Chapter updated: “4. Work and purpose”

As well as general tidying, this update to Chapter 4 includes some extra analysis, bringing the material up to date for January 2018.

Hopefully there will only be small changes to this chapter from now on, up until publication.

Review comments appreciated!

Access the chapter here.

The section heading are:

  • The rise of the robots
  • Automation accelerates
  • Machine learning powers ahead
  • 80% job transformation?
  • Limits to retraining
  • Robots and humans in partnership at work?
  • Three possible futures for automation
  • Citizen’s income Qs & As
  • The pace of change.

Transpolitica goals and progress, Q1

The advent of 2018 is the occasion for some changes in Transpolitica.

We’ll be switching to a system of three-monthly cycles, that is, one cycle for each quarter of the year.

At the start of each cycle, a set of priority projects will be agreed and announced. At the end of each cycle, we’ll review progress, and consider what we should learn, both from what went well, and from what went badly.

Pplus Q1

Priority projects for Q1

You can read the priority projects for Q1 (Jan-Mar 2018) here. In summary, these projects are:

  1. Assist the launch of the book “Transcending Politics”
  2. Refresh the Transpolitica website
  3. Refresh the Transpolitica content on H+Pedia
  4. Review the Transpolitica project backlog

To give more details about the first of these priorities, support is requested for the following tasks:

  • Review the draft content of the book. Make recommendations about any high-impact changes that come to your mind
  • Collect endorsements for inclusion in the book, and to help with publicity
  • Identify the core messages that should be prominent in descriptions of the book
  • Prepare and review slide presentations and videos to draw more attention to the content of the book
  • Find opportunities for Transpolitica consultants to speak about the availability of the book.

Progress with “Transcending Politics”

As of today, 7th January 2018, draft content for all the envisioned chapters of the book are now available for online review. The final three chapters to be released for review are:

You can find a list of the section headings for all the chapters of the book here. That link also provides pointers to the Google doc versions of all 13 of the chapters.

If you’ve been thinking in the past that you would like in due course to do some reviewing, now is that time…

If you do take the time to review any of the chapters, the kind of comments I’m mainly interested are:

  • If you couldn’t understand parts of what I’ve written
  • If you particularly liked specific parts
  • If you think I’ve missed out some important lines of reasoning
  • If you think there are sections that should be omitted
  • If I’ve made some mistakes in the factual content

You can make comments directly in the Google docs.

Remaining steps before publication

Here’s a summary of the steps remaining until the book is published:

  • Review the earlier chapters, bringing their content up to date for January 2018
  • Find good locations to insert a small number of topics that still need to be covered
  • Take account of all comments raised by reviewers
  • Strengthen some of the conclusions – by stating them more clearly and forcefully
  • Tighten some of the content – removing material that is less important overall
  • Collect and include some endorsements, to help with publicity
  • Add in an Acknowledgements section and, perhaps some additional start and end material
  • Produce some videos or slide presentations to help with publicity
  • Release a Kindle e-version of the book
  • Fix any significant points raised by the first batch of readers
  • Re-release the Kindle e-version (if needed)
  • Release a print-on-demand physical version.

 

The Future of Politics (#T4G17)

Later today (Saturday 4th November), David Wood, the Executive Director of Transpolitica, will be speaking at the #T4G17 event “The Future of Politics”.

DW Fourth Group Summit

The core message that will be shared is this:

The future of politics is technoprogressive transhumanism

In more detail:

  • The profound application of the exponential technologies of the fourth industrial revolution: nanotech, biotech, infotech, cognotech
  • The positive transformation of human nature – body, mind, society
  • Renewed democracy, elevating the best insights of the community
  • A roadmap to sustainable abundance, with no-one left behind

Note: For more information about today’s event – organised by The Fourth Group –  see thefutureofpolitics.eventbrite.com.

Democracy and inclusion: chapter ready for review

FiPo cover hires

Another new chapter of the forthcoming book “Transcending Politics” has been released for review comments by Transpolitica supporters. This means that drafts of ten of the envisaged 13 chapters have now been completed. At the current rate of progress, the book has a good chance of being finished by Christmas.

The latest chapter is entitled “Democracy and inclusion”. You can get an idea of the content covered in this chapter by the list of its section headings:

  • Technoprogressive decision-making
  • When democracy goes wrong
  • Why democracy matters
  • A democracy fit for a better future
  • Better politicians for better democracy
  • Beyond the stranglehold of political parties
  • Could we dispense with politicians?
  • Why nations fail

Here’s how the chapter starts (in its current version):

I’ll start this chapter by repeating a set of questions from midway through the previous chapter:

Where should the boundary fall, between the permitted and the impermissible? What is the method to tell whether a particular item of food or medicine is suitable to be freely bought and sold, as opposed to needing regulation? What safety regulations should employers be obliged to observe, in their treatment of employees or contractors? Which new technologies need careful monitoring (such as hazardous new biochemicals), and which can have all details freely published on the open Internet?

My basic answer to all these questions was: it’s complicated, but we can work out the answers step by step. I now want to ask a follow-up set of questions:

  • Who is it that should decide where the boundary should fall, between the permitted and the impermissible?
  • Who is it that should decide which health and safety regulations should be introduced?
  • Who is it that should decide which technologies need careful monitoring?

Should these decisions be taken by civil servants, by academics, by judges, by elected politicians, or by someone else?

There’s a gist of an answer in what I said later in the previous chapter:

Each area of regulatory oversight of the economy – each set of taxes or safety standards imposed or revised – needs careful attention by an extended community of reviewers

By drawing on technological solutions that can orchestrate the input of large numbers of human thinkers, we can keep improving our collective understanding of the best regulatory frameworks and institutions. We can collectively decide which constraints are needed on the activity of the free market, so that we benefit from its good consequences without suffering unnecessarily from its bad consequences.

But how will this work in practice? How do we prevent the bad effects of “group think” or (worse) “mob rule”? If there’s “an extended community of reviewers” involved, won’t that be far too cumbersome and slow in its deliberations?

Just as important, how do we avoid decisions being overly influenced by self-proclaimed experts who, in reality, have expertise in only a narrow domain, or whose expertise is out-of-date or otherwise ill-founded? And how do we guard against decision-makers being systematically misled by clever misinformation that builds a “false consciousness”?

Technoprogressive decision-making

As I see things, the ideal technoprogressive decision-making process would observe the following fifteen principles:

  1. Openness: Decisions should be subject to open review, rather than taking place secretly behind closed doors; reasons for and against decisions should be made public, throughout the decision-making process, so they can be scrutinised and improved
  2. Accessibility: Details of the decision process should be communicated in ways so that the key points can be understood by as wide a group of people as possible; this will allow input into the decision by people with multiple perspectives and backgrounds
  3. Disclosure: Assumptions behind decisions should be stated clearly, so they can be subject to further debate; potential conflicts of interest – for example if someone with ties to a particular company is part of a standards-setting exercise that would impact the company’s products – should, likewise, be stated upfront
  4. Accountability: People who are found to have deliberately miscommunicated points relevant to a decision – for example, suppressing important evidence, or distorting a competing argument – should be liable to a judicial process, and may have privileges withdrawn as a consequence
  5. Deliberation: In the terminology of Unanimous.AI CEO Louis Rosenberg, the decision should express the “convergent opinion” rather than the “average opinion”; decision-makers should work as a “swarm” that dynamically exchanges opinions and adjusts ideas, rather than as “crowd” that merely votes on an answer; in this way, the outcome is “the opinion the group can best agree upon”
  6. Constructive scepticism: All assumptions and opinions should be open to questioning – none should be placed into an untouchable category of “infallible foundation” or “sacrosanct authority” (for example, by saying “this was our manifesto commitment, so we have to do it”, or by saying “this is the express will of the people, so we cannot re-open this question”); on the other hand, rather than being hostile to the whole decision process, questions should be raised in ways that enable new alternative assumptions to be considered in place of the ones being criticised
  7. Autonomy: Each decision should be taken in its own right, with each decision-maker expressing their own independent views, rather than any system of horse-trading or party politics applying, in which individuals would act against their own consciences in order to follow some kind of “three line whip” or “party line”
  8. Data-driven: To guide them in their deliberations, decision-makers should seek out relevant data, and verify it, rather than giving undue credence to anecdote, supposition, or ideology
  9. Experimentation: In any case where significant uncertainty exists, rather than relying on pre-existing philosophical commitments, an incremental experimental approach should be preferred, in order to generate useful data that can guide the decision process
  10. Agility: Hard decisions should be broken down where possible into smaller chunks, with each chunk being addressed in a separate “sprint” (to borrow a term from the methodology of software development); for each sprint, the goal is to gain a better understanding of the overall landscape in which the decision needs to be taken; breaking a decision into sprints assists in preventing decisions from dragging on interminably with no progress
  11. Reversibility: Wherever possible, a reversible approach should be preferred, especially in areas of major uncertainty, so that policies can be undone if it becomes clear they are mistaken
  12. Adaptability: The system should applaud and support decision-makers who openly change their mind in the light of improved understanding; decision-makers should feel no undue pressure to stick with a previous opinion just in order to “keep face” or to demonstrate “party loyalty” through thick and thin
  13. Leanness: Decisions should focus on questions that matter most, rather than dictating matters where individual differences can easily be tolerated; by the way, “lean”, like “agile”, is another term borrowed from modern thinking about manufacturing: lean development seeks to avoid “waste”, such as excess bureaucracy
  14. Tech-embracing: Technology that assists with the decision process should be embraced (and people should be supported in learning how to use that technology); this includes wikis (or similar) that map out the landscape of a decision, automated logic-checkers, modelling systems that explore outcomes in simulated worlds, and other aspects of collabtech
  15. Independence: The outcome of decisions should not depend on the choice of which people coordinate the process; these people should be enablers rather than dictators of the solution.

Two underlying points deserve emphasis. These decisions about social institutions should be taken by everyone (that is, no-one is excluded from the process); and they should be taken by no-one in particular (that is, the process gives no special status to any individual decision-maker). These two points can be restated: the decisions should follow the processes of democracy, and they should follow the processes of the scientific method.

I’ll say more in this chapter about various problems facing democracy, and will return in later chapters to problems facing the application of the scientific method. The technoprogressive roadmap needs to be fully aware of these problems.

But before that, you may be thinking that the above fifteen principles set the bar impractically high. How is society going to be able to organise itself to observe all these principles? Isn’t it going to require a great deal of effort? Given the urgency of the challenges facing society, do we have the time available to us, to follow all these principles?

Here’s my response…

As with all the other chapters released so far, Google Doc copies of the latest version can be reached from this page on the Transpolitica website. Google Docs makes it easy for people to raise comments, suggest modifications to the text, and (for reviewers who log into a Google account) to see comments raised by other reviewers.

Comments are particularly welcome from reviewers where they point out mistakes, pieces of text where the meaning is unclear, or key considerations that seem to have been neglected.

Markets and fundamentalists: chapter ready for review

FiPo cover hires

Another new chapter of the forthcoming book “Transcending Politics” has been released for review comments by Transpolitica supporters. This means that drafts of nine of the envisaged 13 chapters have now been completed.

The chapter is entitled “Markets and fundamentalists“. As before, you can get an idea of the content covered in this chapter by the list of its section headings:

  • Conflicting views on markets
  • Collusion and cartels
  • The abuse of market power
  • When competition needs to be curtailed
  • Restrictions on economic freedom
  • Determining boundaries and externalities
  • When regulations cripple innovation
  • Overcoming vested interests
  • Beyond economic fundamentalism

Here’s how the chapter starts (in its current version):

Transhumanists look at the human condition and proclaim: humanity deserves better. By taking advantage of the best insights and energies of present-day humanity, we can elevate humanity to a comprehensively better state.

This proclamation alarms a series of different kinds of critics.

First, it alarms religious fundamentalists, who believe that humanity is already the end point of divine creation. Any apparent flaws in the human condition – such as the physical blind spot in our eyes, our many cognitive biases, and our destructive tendencies towards tribalism and xenophobia – must be self-inflicted (they say), being the result of human sinfulness, in past or present-day generations. Or perhaps these flaws form part of some vast inscrutable divine plan, beyond human comprehension.

In response, transhumanists view these flaws as being, instead, unhappy consequences of our evolutionary heritage. Natural selection was limited in its foresight. Because of the incremental nature of biological evolution, there were many engineering solutions that lay outside its grasp. Because of the resulting shortcomings in human body and mind, the social structures that grew up over history had their own shortcomings, in turn causing further problems in the human experience. Transhumanists accept that there are many aspects of humanity that are “very good” – to use the description placed into the divine mind by the authors of the first chapter of the biblical book of Genesis. But there are many other aspects of the human condition that are capable of radical improvement, via intelligent design that can be carried out by far-sighted twenty-first century human engineers. When these improvements are in place, humans will become very good indeed.

Second, transhumanism alarms a group of critics who can be described as humanist fundamentalists. These critics abhor the transhumanist idea that technology can profoundly augment human consciousness and human character. Transhumanists anticipate humans reaching systematically better decisions, with the help of advanced computer algorithms, artificial intelligence, and enhanced mental states accessed by increasingly smart drugs. Humanist critics fear that any solutions based on digital technology will be cold, unimaginative, and blinkered. A world that maximises efficiency, they warn, will be an inhuman one. These critics prefer the random whimsy and creative variability of the present-day human mind. Therefore they oppose the transhumanist project to use technology to improve the human mind. It won’t actually be an improvement, they say.

In response, transhumanists point out that digital technology can improve our creativity as well as our rationality. Rather than being limited to measures such as efficiency and productivity, new technology can augment our emotional responsiveness and spiritual capacity. As well as making us smarter, technology can make us kinder and more sensitive. Rather than dehumanising us, technology, used wisely, can humanise us more fully. Instead of most humans spending most of their lives in an impoverished mental state, the humans of the future can inhabit much higher planes of consciousness. But if we stick with our unaided mental capacity – as humanist fundamentalists would prefer – our quirkiness and (to use a candid term) stupidity will likely be the death of us. Humanity deserves better!

Third, consider a group of critics that I will call cultural fundamentalists. To them, when it comes to determining human capabilities, nurture is far more important than nature. If we want to improve human experience, we should prioritise changing human culture (the environment in which humans are nurtured). Let’s restrain advertising messages that encourage destructive consumerist tendencies. Let’s ensure popular soap operas have characters that demonstrate positive behaviour. Let’s avoid situations in which different people live side by side but receive very different rewards for roughly similar amounts of work, thereby stirring up feelings of alienation and resentment. Let’s improve life-long education. Let’s arrange for everyone to be able to meet regularly with trained counsellors to talk through their underlying personal struggles, and to receive fulsome personal affirmation. Above all, let’s not focus on individual biological differences. To such critics, transhumanist interest in genetic influences on behaviour and personality is a retrograde step. Any idea of choosing the genetic makeup of your baby – or of editing your own genome – harks back to the discredited ideology of eugenics. These critics, therefore, regard transhumanists as being perhaps just one or two steps removed on a slippery slope from the dreadful biological experiments of the Nazi era.

In response, transhumanists say we have to consider both nurture and nature. It would be perverse to rule out improving our biological selves, via enhanced nutrition, dietary supplements, medicinal compounds, detox programmes, or (an extension of the same line of interventions) genetic reprogramming. Just because some past genetic experiments have been moral scandals, there’s no necessity to group all future genetic experiments under the same heading. After all, various past experiments to improve human culture went horribly wrong too – but that’s no reason to give up on the “improve culture” pathway. Similarly, there’s no good reason to give up on the “improve biology” pathway. It is by taking fully into account both the biological and cultural influences on human capabilities, that we will have the best opportunity to improve human experience. That’s what humanity deserves.

To recap, transhumanists alarm religious fundamentalists, humanist fundamentalists, and cultural fundamentalists – but in all three cases, the alarm is misplaced. In the remainder of this chapter, I want to consider a fourth group of critics: market fundamentalists. I’ll also be considering the mirror image of that group, who can be called anti-market fundamentalists.

Conflicting views on markets

Market fundamentalists believe that free markets are absolutely the best way to decide the allocation of resources.

For example, what price should a taxi company charge, to transport passengers a given distance? A free market solution will allow the price to be adjusted according to supply and demand. If there are more people wanting to hire a taxi at a given time than there are drivers available, the price should be raised, using a “surge” multiplier (as in the practice of Uber). The higher price will encourage a greater number of part-time drivers to make themselves available to pick up passengers. And if some potential passengers have less of a need to take a taxi service at this precise time, they can cancel (or defer) their transport plans, in view of the higher prices. Supply and demand will both change, rationally, in line with the dynamically adjusted price.

Likewise, how many units should a manufacturer produce of, say, a new model of car with some smart new driver-assist features? In an open society, with freedom of choice for consumers and vendors alike, there’s no formula that can reliably predict the right sales figure ahead of time. Manufactures need to monitor the purchases actually made by consumers, and to adjust production accordingly. No one can be sure whether consumers will tend to prefer to spend their money, instead, on cars from a different manufacturer, or on overseas holiday vacations, or on Kickstarter investments. The choice belongs to them: it’s not something that should be dictated in advance by any government officials.

To boost sales of their new model, should the manufacturer reduce the retail price of the car? Again, that’s a decision under their own control, and shouldn’t be determined by any state planners of the economy. Out of the myriad individual free choices of the buyers and sellers of different goods and services, companies that are responsive to changing consumer needs will do well. In turn, consumers will benefit.

What about similar questions for the introduction of a new medical drug? Who should determine the price at which that drug will be sold? If there’s a free market, pharmaceutical companies that are responsive to changing patient needs will do well. If one company sets the price of the drug too high, another could introduce a competing product that is less expensive. In this system, there’s no need for any state planners of healthcare to determine the prices in advance.

Market fundamentalists resist attempts to override the operation of free markets. They maintain that planned economies have never performed as well as countries where decisions remain in the hands of buyers and sellers.

In response, transhumanists say: we can do better. The free market no more represents an absolute pinnacle of design than does the makeup of the human body, the composition of our DNA, or the output of evolution by natural selection. None of these features of the human species should be put onto a pedestal and worshipped. Resource allocation should be determined by the combined operation of several different social institutions – not by the free market alone. These institutions should steer the operation of the free market, for significantly better outcomes.

More accurately, some transhumanists say that we can do better. Unlike in the three previous cases, the transhumanist community is divided when it comes to free markets. Recall the distinction made in Chapter 1, between technolibertarian and technoprogressive. Both sides of this transhumanist divide see the tremendous transformational potential of technology. Both look forward avidly to the development and deployment of technology to overcome the limitations of the human condition. But whereas technoprogressives see important limitations within the operation of the free market, technolibertarians take a different view. Free markets don’t need to be steered, they say. Instead, free markets just need to be protected – protected against distortions that can arise from government interference, from monopolies (when free choice vanishes), and from “crony capitalism” (which is a particular type of government interference, since legislators in this case unduly favour the businesses of their “cronies”).

To round out this picture, one other position should be mentioned. Anti-market fundamentalists see the market system as having a pre-eminently bad effect on the human condition. The various flaws with free markets – flaws which I’ll be exploring throughout this chapter – are so severe, say these critics, that the most important reform to pursue is to dismantle the free market system. That reform should take a higher priority than any development of new technologies – AI, genetic engineering, stem cell therapies, neuro-enhancers, and so on. Indeed, if these new technologies are deployed whilst the current free market system remains in place, it will, say these critics, make it all the more likely that these technologies will be used to oppress rather than liberate.

In contrast, technoprogressives look forward to wiser management of the market system, rather than dismantling it. As I’ll argue, key to this wise management is the reform and protection of a number of other social institutions that sit alongside markets – a free press, free judiciary, independent regulators, and, yes, independent politicians.

Collusion and cartels

To proceed, let’s consider one of the ways in which free markets can fail…

As with all the other chapters released so far, Google Doc copies of the latest version can be reached from this page on the Transpolitica website. Google Docs makes it easy for people to raise comments, suggest modifications to the text, and (for reviewers who log into a Google account) to see comments raised by other reviewers.

Comments are particularly welcome from reviewers where they point out mistakes, pieces of text where the meaning is unclear, or key considerations that seem to have been neglected.

Finally, let me give a big public “thank you” to Andrew Vladimirov for the extensive comments he has recently provided on previous draft chapters. Andrew – I’ll get round to giving these comments my full attention shortly!

Exuberance and scarcity: chapter ready for review

FiPo cover hires

A new chapter of the forthcoming book “Transcending Politics” has been released for review comments by Transpolitica supporters.

The chapter is entitled “Exuberance and scarcity“. You can get an idea of the content covered by the list of its section headings:

  • Lost fortunes over the centuries
  • Overconfidence over the centuries
  • From slow change to fast change
  • Financial clouds gathering again
  • Economic maximisation is not enough
  • Animal spirits
  • A technoprogressive future for money
  • Towards sustainable abundance
  • Constancy amidst change

Here’s how the chapter starts (in its current version):

Let’s set aside for the time being the subject of the previous chapter, namely the threat of an environmental meltdown triggered by reckless human activity. Instead, to start this chapter, let’s consider a different kind of meltdown, in which financial systems cease working around the world.

In such a scenario, ordinary citizens might try to withdraw cash from bank teller machines, sometime in the next few years, only to find they’ve all stopped working. The funds in savings accounts may be significantly reduced overnight. Payment requests using credit cards may be declined, causing chaos in shops and restaurants. In an atmosphere of profound uncertainty, corporations will avoid taking risks. Business contracts will be cancelled, with growing numbers of employees being made redundant. Supermarket shelves will become bare. Populist politicians and newspapers will be quick to blame bankers, businessmen, overseas cabals, the so-called “elites”, reds-under-the-bed, or whoever. Tempers everywhere will flare. Soon, people will be trying to take matters into their own hands. The few “survivalists” who have been able to hoard scarce resources will find their stashes under attack. It won’t be long until law and order breaks down.

That’s a possible disturbing future which has echoes in many past upheavals. History bears witness to a long series of financial crashes, each ugly in their own way. Simpler times saw simpler kinds of crashes, but the effects were still often catastrophic for the individuals involved.

In this chapter, I’ll explore the likely effect on future financial stability from the trend that underpins all the others discussed in this book, namely the acceleration of technological innovation. Should that acceleration make us more apprehensive about forthcoming financial crises? Or will it instead diminish the importance of money? Indeed, if economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources, and accelerating technology delivers a sustainable abundance of all the basic necessities of life, where will that leave economics? Will the displacement of scarcity by abundance transform the so-called “dismal science” (economics) into an unnecessary science?

To give my answer in advance: that’s not going to happen any time soon, contrary to the apparent expectation of various techno-utopians. Technological innovation, by itself, isn’t going to free society from the risk of financial meltdowns. Instead, we’re going to need better politics: technoprogressive politics…

As with all the other chapters released so far, Google Doc copies of the latest version can be reached from this page on the Transpolitica website. Google Docs makes it easy for people to raise comments, suggest modifications to the text, and (for reviewers who log into a Google account) to see comments raised by other reviewers.

Comments are particularly welcome from reviewers where they point out mistakes, pieces of text where the meaning is unclear, or key considerations that seem to have been neglected.

Drafts of eight of the envisaged 13 chapters have now been completed. Over the month of August, it is hoped that at least one more chapter will be completed – and that the earlier chapters will be revised in the light of review comments that have already been received.

Championing the Future

What are the most important issues that deserve full attention, during the campaigns leading up to the UK General Election on 8th June?

GE_2017

Should this election be dominated by the single issue of “Brexit”? That’s the issue given prominence by Prime Minister Theresa May as she called this snap election.

The Prime Minister wants the votes in GE2017 to deliver her a clearer power base, and therefore a stronger negotiating position with the other countries of the EU during what is anticipated to be a difficult set of discussions over the next two years.

In brief, the three main political parties in England and Wales (to set aside for the moment the special conditions that apply in both Scotland and Northern Ireland) have Brexit positions as follows:

  • The Conservatives have committed to a decisive break with the EU – leaving the single market and the customs union – and in the event of a failure of negotiations, with no framework relationship at all with the EU
  • The Conservative are also committed to giving, via the “Great Repeal Bill”, UK government ministers ongoing discretionary power over thousands of legal decisions which previously required either EU or UK parliamentary review
  • Labour have also committed to following through with a break from the EU, but don’t support “Brexit at any cost”; instead they advocate “Brexit with social justice”
  • Labour demand that the final negotiated terms will be put to the UK parliament for verification, though they have not clarified what they want to happen if Parliament rejects these terms (that is, whether the UK might in that case seek to retain its membership in what could be a reformed EU)
  • The LibDems are pushing for the UK to remain in the single market and the customs union
  • The LibDems also champion the ability of the UK Parliament to vote, at the end of the negotiations with the EU, for the UK to remain inside the EU after all, in case it has become clearer by that time what costs and drawbacks an exit will incur, and that many the presumed benefits of separation are illusory.

But should the GE2017 decision be decided entirely by views about Brexit?

That question hinges, in the first instance, on how seriously you view the consequences of a “wrong” Brexit outcome. Both sides of the Brexit debate contain people who see the matter as having fundamental importance:

  • Passionate Leave supporters highlight what they see as impending crises within the EU zone. The Euro is about to fail, they say. The EU operates opaquely, with no transparency. It increasingly lacks democratic support for its empire-building aims. Better for the UK to be as far away as possible from this forthcoming major train wreck. So long as it remains constrained by EU processes, the UK will be unable to adopt the policies needed for its own best future prospects
  • Passionate Remain supporters, on the other hand, forecast what will be a “Titanic” outcome of Brexit, to refer to an unfortunate choice of words from Boris Johnson, the UK Foreign Secretary – words turned into a scathing black comedy video by Comedy Central UK

However, I’m drawn to the observation made by sustainability advocate David Bent at a recent London Futurists event:

If you’re worried about leaving the European Union… I worry more about leaving the safe zone for civilisation on our global planet

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David was referring to the prospects of forthcoming runaway climate change: the departure of the Earth from the “Holocene era” to an “Anthropocene era”. See from around 13-18 minutes into this recording of the event:
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The bigger issues

Climate change is an example of the category of “existential issues” – issues that might radically alter the well-being of human existence on planet Earth, well within many of our lifetimes.

These issues include existential threats but also existential opportunities. What they have in common is that, unless we give them sufficient attention in advance, our room for manoeuvre may rapidly diminish. It may become too late to head off an existential threat (such as runaway climate change), or too late to take hold of an existential opportunity (such as investing vigorously in next-generation green technologies).

In all these cases, we may end up realising, too late, that we had been concentrating on lesser matters – matters that appeared urgent – and lost sight of the truly important ones. Too much debate over the swings and roundabouts mechanics of Brexit, for example, may lead us to forget about the actions needed in many other areas of forthcoming radical change. Too much focus on the present-day rough-and-tumble may prevent us from championing the future.

That’s why Transpolitica urges serious attention, in the run-up to GE2017, to a number of potential existential issues. We need politicians who will commit to devoting significant energies to developing practical plans to enable the following:

  1. Next generation green technologies, including those for better storage and transmission of clean energy
  2. Healthcare solutions that address the causes of ill-health and disease, rather than just trying to patch people up after the onset of chronic illness – these solutions include regenerative medicine and other rejuvenation therapies, to be made available and affordable to every citizen
  3. Radical solutions, as a subset of the previous case, for the growing crisis of mental ill-health, including dementia, as well as depression
  4. Transitioning society away from one in which we live to work (with the aim of near full employment) to one in which we live to flourish (with the aim of near full unemployment) – this transition may become especially pressing, with the rapid onset of technological unemployment and technological under-employment in the wake of robots, AI, and other automation
  5. Foreseeing and forestalling the risks to societal well-being from widespread surveillance (by both corporations and governments), and from pervasive online infrastructures that are increasingly vulnerable to security flaws and other errors in software implementation (including powerful AI algorithms that operate with unexpected biases)
  6. Mechanisms for better debates on political topics – debates freed from distortions such as fake news, deliberately misleading statements, overly powerful press barons, deceptive intentions being kept hidden, and the flaws of the “first past the post” election system
  7. Mechanisms for effective international collaboration, that supersede and/or improve upon the existing troubled operations of the UN, the IMF, and more local organisations such as the EU.

The last of these issues takes us full circle. Proper solutions to the big issues of the near-future depend upon a healthy international environment. If you think that the UK leaving the EU will significantly impact, for better or for worse, the UK’s ability to address the other big issues, then maybe you would be correct, after all, to prioritise the Brexit issue in the GE2017 campaign.

But only if we keep these other issues in mind too.

Footnote

Some of the themes covered above are likely to feature in the London Futurists event happening on 29th April, “Who can save Humanity from Superintelligence”, addressed by Tony Czarnecki, Managing Partner of Sustensis.

Here’s an extract from the description of that event:

The presentation will cover four overlapping crises Humanity faces today – crises in the domains of politics, economics, society, and existential risk. The presentation will also provide a vision of a possible solution, with a reformed European Union becoming the core of a new supranational organization having the best chance to tackle these problems.

The world faces a series of existential risks. When combined, the chance of one of these risks materializing in just 20 years is at least 5%. We already had one such “near miss” that could have annihilated the entire civilization. That was the Cuban crisis in October 1962, which almost started a global nuclear war…

Additionally, mainly due to the advancement in technology, the world is changing at almost an exponential pace. That means that change, not just in technology but also in political or social domains, which might previously have taken a decade to produce a significant effect, can now happen in just a year or two. No wonder that people, even in the most developed countries, cannot absorb the pace of change that happens simultaneously in so many domains of our lives. That’s why emotions have overtaken reason.

People are voting in various elections and referenda against the status quo, not really knowing what the problem is, even less what could be the solution. Even if some politicians know what the overall, usually unpleasant solutions could be, they are unlikely to share that with their own electorate because they would be deselected in the next election. The vicious circle continues but at an increasingly faster pace…

Anyone wanting to improve the situation faces three problems:

  1. Existential risks require fast action, while the world’s organisations act very slowly
  2. People want more freedom and more control, while we need to give up some of our freedoms and national sovereignty for the greater good of civilisation and humanity
  3. Most people can’t see beyond tomorrow and act emotionally, while we need to see the big picture and act rationally.

Therefore, anybody that sees the need for the world to take urgent action faces a formidable task of proposing pragmatic, fast and very radical changes in the ways the world is governed.

For more details of this event – and to RSVP to attend what will surely be a lively discussion – click here.