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.

Four political futures: which will you choose?

By David W. Wood, Executive Director, Transpolitica

Forget left wing versus right wing. The political debate in the medium-term future (10-20 years) will be dominated, instead, by a new set of arguments. These arguments debate the best set of responses to the challenges and opportunities posed by fast-changing technology.

In this essay, I’ll outline four positions: technosceptical, technoconservative, technolibertarian, and technoprogressive. I’ll argue that the first two are non-starters, and I’ll explain why I personally favour the technoprogressive stance over the technolibertarian one.

Accelerating technology

Accelerating technology

The defining characteristic of the next 10-20 years is the potential ongoing acceleration of technology. Technological development has the potential to progress even more quickly – and to have even larger effects on huge areas of life – than has been the case in the last remarkable 10-20 years.

I share the view expressed by renowned physicist Freeman Dyson, in the book “Infinite in all directions”[i] from his 1985 Gifford lectures:

Technology is… the mother of civilizations, of arts, and of sciences

Technology has given rise to enormous progress in civilization, arts and sciences over recent centuries. New technology is poised to have even bigger impacts on civilization in the next 10-20 years.

MIT professor Andrew McAfee takes up the same theme, in an article published in October last year[ii]: (emphases added)

History teaches us that nothing changes the world like technology

McAfee spells out a “before” and “after” analysis. Here’s the “before”:

For thousands of years, until the middle of the 18th century, there were only glacial rates of population growth, economic expansion, and social development.

And the “after”:

Then an industrial revolution happened, centred around James Watt’s improved steam engine, and humanity’s trajectory bent sharply and permanently upward.

One further quote from McAfee’s article rams home the conclusion:

Great wars and empires, despots and democrats, the insights of science and the revelations of religion – none of them transformed lives and civilizations as much as a few practical inventions.

In principle, many of the grave challenges facing society over the next 10-20 years could be solved by “a few practical inventions”:

  • Students complain, with some justification, about the costs of attending university. But technology can enable better MOOCs – Massive Online Open Courses – that can deliver high quality lectures, removing significant parts of the ongoing costs of running universities; free access to such courses can do a lot to help everyone re-skill, as new occupational challenges arise
  • With one million people losing their lives to traffic accidents worldwide every year, mainly caused by human driver error[iii], we should welcome the accelerated introduction of self-driving cars
  • Medical costs could be reduced by greater application of the principles of preventive maintenance (“a stitch in time saves nine”), particularly through rejuvenation biotechnology[iv] and healthier diets
  • A sustained green tech new deal should push society away from dependency on fuels that emit dangerous amounts of greenhouse gases, resulting in lifestyles that are positive for the environment as well as positive for humanity
  • The growing costs of governmental bureaucracy itself could be reduced by whole-heartedly embracing improved information technology and lean automation.

Society has already seen remarkable changes in the last 10-20 years as a result of rapid progress in fields such as electronics, computers, digitisation, and automation. In each case, the description “revolution” is appropriate. But even these revolutions pale in significance to the changes that will, potentially, arise in the next 10-20 years from extraordinary developments in healthcare, brain sciences, atomically precise manufacturing, 3D printing, distributed production of renewable energy, artificial intelligence (AI), and improved knowledge management.

Benefits to individuals but threats to society

The potential outputs from accelerating technology can usefully be split into two categories.

Enhanced humans

The first of these categories is “enhancing humans”. New technologies can provide individual humans with:

  • Extra intelligence
  • Extra health
  • Extra longevity
  • Extra material goods
  • Extra experiences
  • Extra opportunities.

The second category is “disturbing humanity”. This looks, instead, at the drawbacks from new technologies:

  • More power placed into the hands of terrorists, criminals, fanatics, and other ne’er-do-wells, to inflict chaos and damage on the rest of us
  • More power placed into the hands of governments, and the hands of corporations, to monitor us, and keep track of our every action
  • Risks from over-consumption and from the waste products of our lifestyles – including risks to planetary climate stability from excess emissions of greenhouse gases
  • Risks of technological unemployment, as growing numbers of people find themselves displaced from the job market by increasingly capable automation (robots, software, and AI)
  • So-called “existential risks”, from unintended side-effects of experiments with disease strains, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, or artificial general intelligence.

The content of both categories are extremely weighty. How should politicians react?

The technosceptical response

One response is to deny that technology will have anything like the magnitude of impact that I have just described. This technosceptical response accepts that there has been rapid change over the last 10-20 years, but also observes the following:

  • There have been other times of rapid change in the past – as when electrification was introduced, or when railways quickly criss-crossed the world; there is nothing fundamentally different about the present age
  • Past inventions such as the washing machine arguably improved lives (especially women’s lives) at least as much as modern inventions such as smartphones
  • Although there have been many changes in ICT (information and communications technology) in the last 10-20 years, other areas of technology have slowed down in their progress; for example, commercial jet airliners don’t fly any faster than in the past (indeed they fly a lot slower than Concorde)
  • Past expectations of remarkable progress in fields such as flying cars, and manned colonies on Mars, have failed to be fulfilled
  • It may well be that the majority of the “low hanging fruit” of technological development has been picked, leaving much slower progress ahead.

Kevin Kelly, the co-founder and former executive editor of Wired, had this to say about progress, in an interview in March 2014[v]:

If we were sent back with a time machine, even 20 years, and reported to people what we have right now and describe what we were going to get in this device in our pocket—we’d have this free encyclopaedia, and we’d have street maps to most of the cities of the world, and we’d have box scores in real time and stock quotes and weather reports, PDFs for every manual in the world—we’d make this very, very, very long list of things that we would say we would have and we get on this device in our pocket, and then we would tell them that most of this content was free. You would simply be declared insane. They would say there is no economic model to make this. What is the economics of this? It doesn’t make any sense, and it seems far-fetched and nearly impossible.

In other words, the last twenty years have, indeed, been remarkable – with progress that would appear “insane” to people from the beginning of that time period. But Kelly then mentions a view that is sceptical about future progress:

There’s a sense that all the big things have happened.

So many big things have happened in the last twenty years. Is there anything left to accomplish? Can science and technology really keep up the same frenetic pace?

Kelly’s answer: We’re by no means at the end of the set of major technological changes. We’re not even at the beginning of these changes:

We’re just at the beginning of the beginning of all these kind of changes.

And for a comparison of what will happen next, to what has happened in the recent past, Kelly predicts that

The next twenty years are going to make this last twenty years just pale.

I share that assessment. I base my views upon the positive feedback cycles which are in place:

  • Technology magnifies our knowledge and intelligence, which in turn magnifies our technology
  • Technology improves everyone’s ability to access cutting-edge information, via free online encyclopaedias, massive open online courses, and open source software
  • Critically, this information is available to vast numbers of bright students, entrepreneurs, hackers, and activists, throughout the emerging world as well as in countries with longer-established modern economies
  • Technology improves the ability for smart networking of prospective partners – people in one corner of cyberspace can easily improve and extend ideas that arose elsewhere
  • The set of pre-existing component solutions keeps accumulating through its own positive feedback cycles, serving as the basis for yet another round of technological breakthrough.

What’s more, insight, tools, and techniques from one technology area can quickly transfer (often in innovative ways) into new technology areas. This kind of crossover features in what is called “NBIC convergence”:

NBIC

  • The ‘I’ of NBIC is for Information and Communications Technology. It means our ability to store, transmit, and calculate bits of information. It means the transformation of music and videos and newspapers and maps into digital form, which huge impacts for industry.
  • The ‘N’ of NBIC is for Nanotechnology. It means our ability to manipulate matter at the atomic level. Nano is one thousand times smaller than Micro, which in turn is one thousand times smaller than Milli. Nanotech enables better and better 3D printing, which is poised to disrupt many industries. It also enables new kinds of material that can be super-light and super-strong, and super-flexible, such as graphene and nanotubes. These new materials will also allow the creation of human-like robots.
  • The ‘B’ in NBIC is for Biotechnology. It means our ability to create, not just new kinds of material, but new kinds of life. It means our ability to reprogram, not just the silicon inside transistors, but the long chains of carbon-based DNA inside our cells. We’ll be applying software techniques to re-engineer genes. We’ll be able, if we wish, not just to create so-called “designer babies”, but also “re-designed adults”. With nano-sized computers, sometimes called nanobots, doctors will be able to target very precisely any ailing parts of our body, including cancerous cells, or tangles in the brain, and fix them. And, if we want, we’ll be able to remain perpetually youthful, with nano cosmetic surgery, both outside and inside the body.
  • And the ‘C’ in NBIC is for Cognotechnology. It means our ability to understand and improve the basis of cognition – thought and feeling. With very powerful scanners we can understand more precisely what’s going on inside our brains. And we can engineer new moods, new creativity, and (if we wish) new states of ecstasy and bliss.

The real significance of NBIC isn’t just in the four individual areas. It’s in the crossovers between the four fields:

  • Nano-sensors allow closer study than ever before of what is happening in the brain
  • Insight on how the brain performs its near-miracles of cognition will feed back into new algorithms used in next generation AI
  • Improved AI allows systems such as IBM Watson to study vast amounts of medical literature, and then make new suggestions about treating various diseases, etc.

For these reasons, I discount the technosceptical answer. It’s very unlikely that technological progress will run out of steam. However, I am sympathetic in two aspects to the technosceptical position.

First, I don’t see the detailed outcome of technological development as in any way inevitable. The progress that will be made will depend, critically, upon public mood, political intervention, the legislative framework, and so on. It will also depend on the actions of individuals, which can be magnified (via the butterfly effect) to have huge impacts. Specifically, all these factors can alter the timing of various anticipated product breakthroughs.

Second, I do see one way in which the engines of technological progress will become unstuck. That is if society enters a new dark age, via some kind of collapse. This could happen as a result of the influences I listed earlier as “technology disturbing humanity, threatening society”. If technologists ignore these threats, they could well regret what happens next. Plans for improved personal intelligence, health, longevity, etc, could suddenly be undercut by sweeping societal or climatic changes.

That leads me to the second of the four responses that I wish to discuss.

The technoconservative response

Whereas technosceptics say, in effect, “there’s no need to get worked up about the impact of technological change, since that change is going to slow down of its own accord”, technoconservatives say “we need to slow that change down, since otherwise bad things are going to happen – very bad things”.

Technoconservatives take seriously the linkage between ongoing technological change and the threats to society and humanity that I listed earlier. Unless that engine of change is brought under serious control, they say, technology is going to inflict terrible damage on the planet.

For example, many metrics for the health of the environment are near danger points, as a result of human lifestyles that are fuelled by conspicuous consumption. There are major shortages of fresh water. Species are becoming extinct at an unprecedented rate. Some of the accidents that are waiting to happen would make the Fukushima disaster site look like a mild hiccup in comparison. We may be close to a tipping point in global climate, which would trigger the wrong kind of positive feedback cycle (a cycle of increasing warmth). We may also be close to outbreaks of unstoppable pathogens, spread too quickly around the world by criss-crossing jet travellers rushing from one experience to another.

Enough

Technoconservatives want to cry out, “Enough!” They want to find ways to apply the brake on our technological steamroller – or (to change the metaphor) to rip out the power cable that keeps the engine of technological progress humming. Where technologists keep putting more opportunities into people’s hands – opportunities to remake what it means to be human – technoconservatives argue for a period of prolonged reflection. “Let’s not play God”, some of them might say. “Let’s be very careful not to let the genie out of the bottle.”

They’ll argue that technology risks leading people astray. Instead of us applying straightforward, ordinary, common-sense solutions to social problems, we’re being beguiled by faux techno-solutions. Instead of authentic, person-to-person relations, we’re spending too much time in front of computer screens, talking to virtual others, neglecting our real-world neighbours. Instead of discovering joy in what’s natural, we’re losing our true nature in quests for technotopia. These quests, argue the technoconservatives, aren’t just misguided. They’re deeply dangerous. We might gain a whole universe of electronic and chemical satiation, but we’ll lose our souls in the process. And not only our souls, but also our lives, if some of the existential risks come to fruition.

But whenever a technoconservative says that technology has already developed enough, and there’s no need for it to continue any further, I’ll point out the vicious impediments that still blight people’s lives the world over – disease, squalor, poverty, ignorance, oppression, aging. It’s true; some of these obstacles could be tackled by non-technological means, such as by politics or social change. But the solutions to other issues lie within the grasp of further scientific and technological progress. Think of the terrible pain still inflicted by numerous diseases, both in young people and in the elderly. Think of the heartache caused by neurodegeneration and dementia. Rejuvenation biotechnology has the latent ability to make all these miseries as much a thing of the past as deaths from tuberculosis, smallpox, typhoid, or the bubonic plague. Anyone who wants to block this progress by proclaiming “Enough” has a great deal of explaining to do.

In any case, is the technoconservative programme feasible? Could the rate of pace of technological change really be significantly slowed down?

Any such action is going to require large-scale globally coordinated agreements. It’s not sufficient for any one company to agree to avoid particular lines of product development. It’s not sufficient for any one country to ban particular fields of technological research. Everyone would need to be brought to the same conclusion, the world over. And everyone would need to be confident that everyone else is going to honour agreements to abstain from various developments.

The problem is, however, that the technology engine is delivering huge numbers of good outputs, in parallel with its bad outputs. And too many people (especially powerful people) are benefiting – or perceive themselves to be benefiting – from these outputs.

Compare the technoconservative thought with the idea that we could switch off the Internet. That would have the outcome of stopping various undesirable activities that currently take place via the Internet – abusive trolling, child pornography, distribution of dangerously substandard counterfeit goods, incitement by fanatical terrorists for impressionable youngsters to join their cause, and so on. But any such mass switch off would also stop all of the other systems which coexist on the Internet with the abovementioned nefarious examples, using the same communications protocols. Systems for commerce, finance, newsflow, entertainment, travel booking, healthcare, social networking, and so on, would all crash to a halt. For good or for ill, we’ve become deeply dependent on these systems. We’re very unlikely to agree to do without them.

Separate from the question of the desirability of shutting down the entire Internet is the question of the feasibility of doing so. After all, the Internet was designed with robustness in mind, including multiple redundancies. Supposedly, it will survive the outbreak of a (minor) nuclear war.

These same two objections – regarding desirability, and regarding feasibility – undermine any thought that the entirety of technological progress could be stopped. The technoconservative approach is too blunt, and is bound to fail.

But while we cannot imagine voluntarily dismantling that great engine of progress, what we can – and should – imagine is to guide that engine more powerfully. Instead of seeking to stop it, we can seek to shape it. That’s the approach favoured by technoprogressives. We’ll come to that shortly.

The technolibertarian response

The technolibertarian view is a near direct opposite of the technoconservative one. Whereas the technoconservatives say “stop – this is going too fast”, technolibertarians say “go faster”.

It’s not that technolibertarians are blind to the threats which cause so much concern to the technoconservatives. On the whole, they’re well aware of these threats. However, they believe that technology, given a free hand, will solve these problems. Technoconservatives, in this analysis, are becoming unnecessarily anxious.

For example, excess greenhouse gases may well be sucked out of the atmosphere by clever carbon capture systems, perhaps involving specially engineered bio-organisms. In any case, green energy sources – potentially including solar, geothermal, biofuels, and nuclear – will soon become cheaper than (and therefore fully preferable to) carbon-based fuels. As for problems with weaponry falling into the wrong hands, suitable defence technology could be created. Declines in biodiversity could be countered by Jurassic Park style technology for species resurrection. Ample fresh water can be generated by desalination processes from sea water, with the energy to achieve this transformation being obtained from the sun. And so on.

Singularity University Logo Blend Text White

This viewpoint has considerable support throughout parts of Silicon Valley, and also finds strong representation in the faculty of Singularity University. Peter Diamandis, co-founder of Singularity University, offers this advice, in a 2014 Forbes article entitled “Turning Big Problems Into Big Business Opportunities”[vi]:

Want to become a billionaire? Then help a billion people.

The world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest business opportunities.

That’s the premise for companies launching out of Singularity University (SU).

Allow me to explain.

In 2008, Ray Kurzweil and I co-founded SU to enable brilliant graduate students to work on solving humanity’s grand challenges using exponential technologies.

This week we graduated our sixth Graduate Studies Program (GSP) class.

During the GSP, we ask our students to build a company that positively impacts the lives of 1 billion people within 10 years.

Tellingly, Diamandis’ latest book[vii] has the title “Bold”. It’s not called “Go slow”. Nor “Be careful”.

To my mind, there’s a lot to admire in these sentiments. I share the view that technology can provide tools that can allow the solution of the social problems described.

Where things become more contentious, however, is in the attitude of technolibertarians towards the role of government. The main request of technolibertarians to politicians is “hands off”. They want government to provide a free rein to smart scientists, hard-working technologists, and innovative entrepreneurs – a free rein to pursue their ideas for new products. It is these forces, they say, which will produce the solutions to society’s current problems.

Technolibertarians echo the sentiment of Ronald Reagan[viii] that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Governments suffer, in this view, from a number of deep-rooted problems:

  • Politicians seek to build empires
  • Politicians have little understanding of the latest technologies
  • Politicians generally impose outdated regulations – which are concerned with yesterday’s problems rather than with tomorrow’s opportunities
  • Regulators are liable to “capture” – an over-influence from vested interests
  • Politicians have no ability to pick winners
  • Political spending builds a momentum of its own, behind “white elephant” projects.

The technolibertarian recipe to solve social problems, therefore, is technology plus innovation plus free markets, minus intrusive regulations, and minus government interference. The role of government should be minimised – perhaps even privatised.

The technolibertarian spectrum

So far, I’ve given a charitable account of the motivation of technolibertarians. They’re aware of major risks to social well-being, I’ve said. And they want to apply technology to fix these problems.

There’s also a less charitable account, which I’ll mention, since it probably does describe a subset of technolibertarians. That subset has a somewhat different motivation. They don’t particularly care for the well-being of all humanity; rather, they focus on their own well-being. In some cases, they’re prepared to risk the destruction of large swathes of humanity – perhaps even the entirety of humanity. They embrace that risk, because they believe the only way for technological progress to proceed as quickly as possible is to play fast and loose with these risks. For them, the upside of technology achieving its potential is more important than the risk of major collateral damage. They want the possibility of the upside of exponential technology, for themselves, much more than they worry about any downsides of using that technology. In parallel, they’re motivated to find evidence that various existential risks are much less serious than commonly supposed.

Accordingly, there’s a spectrum within the technolibertarian camp of people who hold different motivations to different extents. It may be significant that the full title of the abovementioned recent book by Peter Diamandis[ix] – “Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World” – puts “create wealth” ahead of “impact the world”, as if the latter is a kind of afterthought. The personal success of “going big” has an even higher priority.

Bold Cover

A good indication of the range of technolibertarian stances is found in the introductory text of the well-run “Technolibertarians” group on Facebook[x]. It starts as follows:

Technolibertarians is a group of individuals committed to:

  • The idea of fostering private governments (often referred to Anarcho-Capitalism), or much smaller forms of the present forms of governments (often referred to as Classical Liberalism and/or Minarchism), both of which support greatly increased amounts of individual freedom in the personal and economic spheres both in and out of the worlds of the Internet;
  • Support for increasing the speed of the development of life extending and human-improving technologies, known as Transhumanism (H+), and the same as it regards creation of Strong Artificial Intelligence (also known as Artificial General Intelligence), until the point of reaching the Technological Singularity.

The Technological Singularity is the name given to the envisaged future point when artificial intelligence (AI) is more intelligent, in all relevant dimensions, than humans. The resulting AI is expected to be capable of solving all remaining human problems at that time, for example finding cures to any diseases that remain unsolved. Technolibertarians tend to take it for granted that such an AI will comply with human desires to find such cures, rather than adopting a different worldview in which slow-witted small-minded divisive humankind is seen as an irrelevance or a pest. That’s in line with the general technolibertarian tendency to minimise the potential downsides of fast-changing technology.

The group’s intro continues as follows:

Specifically, we wish to ensure that as technologies in these fields enhance and increase the rate of human evolution without being instruments of oppression, but rather, instruments of freedom for the individual to pursue his or her dreams in whichever manner the best deem fit, and, that these common goals can best be achieved by keeping markets and individuals as unencumbered by governments as possible, for as long as possible, until the Technological Singularity is reached.

The final paragraph of the intro has one point worth noting. That section lists the set of topics which the group asks to be excluded from its discussions:

NOTE: Proponents of things like anti-GMO/anti-vaccine luddism, chemtrailers, 9/11 truthers, Zeitgeist/Venus Project, and Raelianism, Climate alarmism, and other pseudoscientific beliefs are unwelcome to promote their unscientific irrational moonbattery in this group. Avoid logical fallacies, stick to facts.

The inclusion of “Climate alarmism” in this list of “pseudoscientific beliefs” and “unscientific moonbattery” is a reminder of the technolibertarian opposition to any focus on the potential drawbacks of misuse of technology. In that view, there’s no need to stir up any alarm about the potential for rapid climate change. Instead, provided politicians and regulators are kept out of the way, technologists and entrepreneurs will ensure that the climate remains hospitable.

The technoprogressive response

Technoprogressives share with technolibertarians the core proposition sometimes called “the central meme of transhumanism”[xi] – that it is that it is ethical and desirable to improve the human condition through technology. Both positions see very important positive roles for science and technology, and also for the productive energies that can be unleashed by entrepreneurs, start-ups, and other business groupings. The difference between the positions is in the question of whether political and legislative intervention can have positive outcomes. Both groups are aware that, in practice, political and legislative intervention is often cumbersome, self-serving, misguided, and unnecessarily hinders the speedy development of innovative products. The groups differ in whether it’s worth seeking better politics and better legislation.

The central meme of social futurism[xii] (which is a kind of synonym for the technoprogressive standpoint) states, analogously to the central meme of transhumanism, that it is ethical and desirable to improve society through technology. Technology isn’t just restricted to improving the human body and mind – doing better than Darwinian natural selection. It’s capable of improving human politics and human economics – doing better than the invisible hand of free markets. (Though, in both cases, modifications need to be approached with care.)

Some phrases from the Technoprogressive Declaration[xiii] – created in November 2014 – highlight the distinctive position taken by technoprogressives:

The world is unacceptably unequal and dangerous. Emerging technologies could make things dramatically better or worse. Unfortunately too few people yet understand the dimensions of both the threats and rewards that humanity faces. It is time for technoprogressives, transhumanists and futurists to step up our political engagement and attempt to influence the course of events.

Our core commitment is that both technological progress and democracy are required for the ongoing emancipation of humanity from its constraints…

We must intervene to insist that technologies are well-regulated and made universally accessible in strong and just societies. Technology could exacerbate inequality and catastrophic risks in the coming decades, or especially if democratized and well-regulated, ensure longer, healthy and more enabled lives for growing numbers of people, and a stronger and more secure civilization…

As artificial intelligence, robotics and other technologies increasingly destroy more jobs than they create, and senior citizens live longer, we must join in calling for a radical reform of the economic system. All persons should be liberated from the necessity of the toil of work. Every human being should be guaranteed an income, healthcare, and life-long access to education.

Evidently, this Declaration aims at liberation – similar to the technolibertarian stance. But the methods in the Declaration listed include

  • Radical reform of the economic system
  • Smart regulation of new technologies
  • The democratisation of access to new technologies
  • Stepping up political engagement.

Another distinctive aspect of the Technoprogressive Declaration is in its recurring references to inequality. Indeed, the very first phrase is “The world is unacceptably unequal”. The picture accompanying the Declaration on the IEET website carries the word “egalitarianism” – the principle that all people deserve equal rights and opportunities.

technoprogressive_declaration_2014

To sharpen our understanding of the differences between technolibertarians and technoprogressives, let’s look more closely at this question of inequality – a topic which is strikingly missing from the introductory definition on the Facebook “Technolibertarians” group.

Growing inequality

Piketty

Publications[xiv] over the last few years by researchers such as Thomas Piketty[xv] and Emmanuel Saez[xvi] make it undeniable that, in many countries, including the US and the UK, the share of income being received by upper fractions of the population is rising to levels unprecedented since before the great depression of the 1930s. For example, the best paid 10% in the US now receive just over 50% of the total income in that country – up from around 35% over the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s.

The Economist magazine noted in a November 2014 article[xvii], in a section headlined “The really, really rich get much, much richer”:

The fortunes of the wealthy have grown, especially at the very top. The 16,000 families making up the richest 0.01%, with an average net worth of $371m, now control 11.2% of total wealth—back to the 1916 share, which is the highest on record.

Similar trends apply throughout Western Europe (though less extreme).

Similar trends exist in Russia. Writing in October 2013, Ron Synovitz reported findings[xviii] from the annual global wealth study published by the financial services group Credit Suisse:

A new report on global wealth has determined that Russia now has the highest level of wealth inequality in the world – with the exception of a few small Caribbean nations where billionaires have taken up residency… A mere 110 Russian citizens now control 35 percent of the total household wealth across the vast country.

By comparison, billionaires worldwide account for just 1 to 2 percent of total wealth.

The report says Russia has one billionaire for every $11 billion in wealth while, across the rest of the world, there is one billionaire for every $170 billion.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffet – the admired “sage of Omaha” who has contributed large amounts of his own personal wealth to philanthropic ventures – commented drily as follows[xix]:

There’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won. We’re the ones that have gotten our tax rates reduced dramatically.

If you look at the 400 highest taxpayers in the United States in 1992, the first year for figures, they averaged about $40 million of [income] per person. In [2010], they were $227 million per person… During that period, their taxes went down from 29 percent to 21 percent of income.

The raw statistics are incontrovertible. Where there’s scope for debate is in the interpretation of the figures.

Many people respond that inequality of outcome is no big deal. People are different, and that it’s right that their different efforts and talents are rewarded differently. I’ll come back in a moment to the question of the degree of the inequality of outcome, and whether that extreme is good for society. But we also need to look at the growing inequality of opportunity. The relevant dynamics were summed up evocatively in a recent perceptive speech in Washington[xx]. The speech explored the background to frustrations being expressed by US voters about the performance of their politicians. Here are some brief excerpts:

People’s… frustration is rooted in their own daily battles – to make ends meet, to pay for college, buy a home, save for retirement. It’s rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them. And it’s rooted in the fear that their kids won’t be better off than they were. They may not follow the constant back-and-forth in Washington or all the policy details, but they experience in a very personal way the relentless, decades-long trend that I want to spend some time talking about today. And that is a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain – that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.

I believe this is the defining challenge of our time…

While we don’t promise equal outcomes, we have strived to deliver equal opportunity – the idea that success doesn’t depend on being born into wealth or privilege, it depends on effort and merit…

We’ve never begrudged success in America. We aspire to it. We admire folks who start new businesses, create jobs, and invent the products that enrich our lives. And we expect them to be rewarded handsomely for it. In fact, we’ve often accepted more income inequality than many other nations for one big reason – because we were convinced that America is a place where even if you’re born with nothing, with a little hard work you can improve your own situation over time and build something better to leave your kids…

The problem is that alongside increased inequality, we’ve seen diminished levels of upward mobility in recent years. A child born in the top 20% has about a 2-in-3 chance of staying at or near the top. A child born into the bottom 20% has a less than 1-in-20 shot at making it to the top. He’s 10 times likelier to stay where he is.

The speech was made by US President Barack Obama, and is worth reading in full[xxi], regardless of your own political leanings (Republican, Democrat, or whatever).

Responses to growing inequality

Let’s look again at the changes in tax rate experienced by the top 400 taxpayers in the US, over the period 1992 to 2010. While the average income in that group soared more than five-fold – from $40M to $227M – the tax-rate fell from 29% to 21%.

In my experience, technolibertarians have three responses to statistics of this sort. First, they sometimes assert that the people benefiting from these hugely increased incomes (and declining tax rates) uniquely deserve these benefits. The market has delivered these benefits to them, and the market is always right. Second, they may point out that the tax office is a lot better off with 21% of $227M than with 29% of $40M. Third, they say that even if the rich are seeing their wealth rise faster than before, the poor are also becoming wealthier – so we are switching from a world of “haves and have-nots” to a world of “have-a-lots and haves”. In this new world, even the poorest (if they manage their lives sensibly) can access a swathe of goods that would have been viewed in previous times as spectacular luxuries.

There’s a gist of truth in all three answers. Changing market circumstances mean that winning companies do take a larger share of rewards that in previous times. The factors behind “winner takes all” outcomes are described in, for example, the book “The Second Machine Age”[xxii] by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, of MIT:

  • The digitization of more and more information, goods, and services
  • The vast improvements in telecommunications and transport – the best products can be used in every market
  • The increased importance of networks and standards – new capabilities and new ideas can be combined and recombined more quickly.

2ma

This effect is also known as “the economics of superstars”, using a term coined in 1981[xxiii] by Sherwin Rosen:

The phenomenon of Superstars, wherein relatively small numbers of people earn enormous amounts of money and dominate the activities in which they engage, seems to be increasingly important in the modern world.

This analysis explains why the photo sharing company Instagram, with only 13 employees at the time (but with 100 million registered users) was valued at $1B when acquired by Facebook in April 2012. In contrast, another company in the field of photography, Kodak, had its peak valuation of $30B in 1997, when it had 86,000 employees. This implies that Instagram employees had, on average, 2,000 times the productivity of Kodak employees. This productivity advantage was due to how Instagram took special advantage of pre-existing technology.

The analysis is continued in a landmark MIT Technology Review article by David Rotman, “Technology and inequality”[xxiv]:

The signs of the gap—really, a chasm—between the poor and the super-rich are hard to miss in Silicon Valley. On a bustling morning in downtown Palo Alto, the center of today’s technology boom, apparently homeless people and their meager belongings occupy almost every available public bench. Twenty minutes away in San Jose, the largest city in the Valley, a camp of homeless people known as the Jungle—reputed to be the largest in the country—has taken root along a creek within walking distance of Adobe’s headquarters and the gleaming, ultramodern city hall.

The homeless are the most visible signs of poverty in the region. But the numbers back up first impressions. Median income in Silicon Valley reached $94,000 in 2013, far above the national median of around $53,000. Yet an estimated 31 percent of jobs pay $16 per hour or less, below what is needed to support a family in an area with notoriously expensive housing. The poverty rate in Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley, is around 19 percent, according to calculations that factor in the high cost of living.

Even some of the area’s biggest technology boosters are appalled. “You have people begging in the street on University Avenue [Palo Alto’s main street],” says Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance and at Singularity University, an education corporation in Moffett Field with ties to the elites in Silicon Valley. “It’s like what you see in India,” adds Wadhwa, who was born in Delhi. “Silicon Valley is a look at the future we’re creating, and it’s really disturbing.”

Rotman goes on to quote legendary venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Jurvetson was an early investor in Hotmail and sits on the boards of SpaceX, Synthetic Genomics, and Tesla Motors:

“It just seems so obvious to me [that] technology is accelerating the rich-poor gap,” says Steve Jurvetson… In many discussions with his peers in the high-tech community, he says, it has been “the elephant in the room, stomping around, banging off the walls.”

Just because there is strong market logic to the way in which technological superstars are able to command ever larger incomes, this does not mean, of course, that we should acquiesce in this fact. An “is” does not imply an “ought”. Even an enlightened self-interest should cause a rethink within “the 1%” (and their supporters on lower incomes – who often aspire to being to reach these stellar salary levels themselves). A plea for such a rethink[xxv] was issued by one of its members, Nick Hanauer. Hanauer introduced himself as follows:

You probably don’t know me, but like you I am one of those .01%ers, a proud and unapologetic capitalist. I have founded, co-founded and funded more than 30 companies across a range of industries—from itsy-bitsy ones like the night club I started in my 20s to giant ones like Amazon.com, for which I was the first nonfamily investor. Then I founded aQuantive, an Internet advertising company that was sold to Microsoft in 2007 for $6.4 billion. In cash. My friends and I own a bank. I tell you all this to demonstrate that in many ways I’m no different from you. Like you, I have a broad perspective on business and capitalism. And also like you, I have been rewarded obscenely for my success, with a life that the other 99.99 percent of Americans can’t even imagine. Multiple homes, my own plane, etc., etc.

But Hanauer was not writing to boast. He was writing to warn. The title of his article made that clear: “The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats”. This extract conveys the flavour:

The problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.

And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising.

Guillotine

Declining costs

But what about the declining costs of both the necessities and the luxuries of life? Won’t the imminent material abundance, enabled by exponential technologies, remove the heartaches caused by present-day inequalities? Here, the technolibertarians have a fair point.

After all, Mary Meeker’s annual KPCB reviews of Internet trends contain some eye-popping statistics of declining costs. Here are some call-outs from her 2014 presentation[xxvi]:

  • Computational costs have declined 33% annually from 1990 to 2013: a million transistors cost $527 in 1990 but only 5 cents in 2013
  • Storage costs declined 38% annually from 1992 to 2013: a Gigabyte of storage came down in price over that time from $569 to 2 cents
  • Bandwidth costs declined 27% annually from 1999 to 2013: connectivity of 1 Gbps came down in price over that time from $1,245 to $16
  • Even smartphones, despite their ever-greater functionality, have seen their costs decline 5% annually from 2008 to 2013.

One result of that final trend – as reported in Meeker’s KPCB presentation in 2015[xxvii] – is that smartphone US market penetration jumped up from 18% in 2009 to 64% in 2014. Even in the US, with all its manifest inequalities, access to smartphones evidently extends far beyond the 1%. That access brings, in turn, the opportunity to browse much more information, 24×7, than was available even to US Presidents just a couple of decades ago.

Smartphone Growth

Yuri Van Geest of the Singularity University picks up the analysis, in an attractive slideset introduction[xxviii] to his book “Exponential Organizations”.[xxix]. These slides illustrate remarkable price reductions for (broadly) like-for-like functionality in a range of fast-improving technological fields:

  • Industrial robots: 23-fold reduction in 5 years
  • Neurotech devices for brain-computer interface (BCI): 44-fold reduction in 5 years
  • Autonomous flying drones: 142-fold reduction in 6 years
  • 3D-printing: 400-fold reduction in 7 years
  • Full DNA sequencing: 10,000-fold reduction (from $10M to $1,000) in 7 years.

Similar price reductions, it can be argued, will take all the heat out of present-day unequal access to goods. In the meantime, technolibertarians urge two sets of action:

  • Let’s press forwards quickly with further technological advances
  • Let’s avoid obsessing about present-day inequalities (and, especially, the appearance of present-day inequalities), since the more they’re spoken about, the greater the likelihood of people becoming upset about them and taking drastic action.

However, at the same time as technology can reduce prices of products that have already been invented, it can result in the creation of fabulous new products. Some of these new products start off as highly expensive – especially in fields such as advanced healthcare. Sectors such as rejuvenation biotech and neuro-enhancement may well see the following outcomes:

  • Initial therapies are expensive, but deliver a decisive advantage to the people who can afford to pay for them
  • With their brains enhanced – and with their bodies made more youthful and vigorous – the “winner takes all” trend will be magnified
  • People who are unable to pay for these treatments will therefore fall even further behind
  • Social alienation and angst will grow, with potentially explosive outcomes.

A counter-argument is that enterprising companies will be motivated to quickly make products available at lower cost. Rather than pursuing revenues from small populations of wealthy consumers, they will set their eyes on the larger populations of consumers with lower incomes. But if the raw cost of the product itself remains high, that may not be easy. Apple’s policy of targeting the wealthier proportion of would-be smartphone users makes good sense in its own terms.

A similar policy – this time by pharmaceutical giant Bayer – was described in an article by Glyn Moody in early 2014[xxx]. The article carried the headline “Bayer’s CEO: We Develop Drugs For Rich Westerners, Not Poor Indians”. It quoted Bayer Chief Executive Officer Marijn Dekkers as follows:

We did not develop this medicine for Indians. We developed it for western patients who can afford it.

That policy aligns with the for-profit motivation that the company pursues, in service of the needs of its shareholders to maximise returns. But as Moody points out, pharmaceutical companies have, in the past, shown broader motivation. He refers to this quote from 1950 from George Merck[xxxi] (emphasis added):

We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been…

We cannot step aside and say that we have achieved our goal by inventing a new drug or a new way by which to treat presently incurable diseases, a new way to help those who suffer from malnutrition, or the creation of ideal balanced diets on a worldwide scale. We cannot rest till the way has been found, with our help, to bring our finest achievement to everyone.

What determines whether the narrow financial incentives of the market govern behaviours of companies with the technology (possibly unique technology) that enables significant human enhancement? Other factors need to come into play – not just financial motivation.

The genius – and limits – of free markets

Even within their own parameters – the promotion of optimal trade and the accumulation of wealth – free markets often fail. The argument for smart oversight and regulation of markets is well made in the 2009 book “How markets fail: the logic of economic calamities”[xxxii] by the New Yorker journalist John Cassidy[xxxiii].

Cassidy_How_Markets_Fail

The book contains a sweeping but compelling survey of a notion Cassidy dubs “Utopian economics”, before providing layer after layer of decisive critique of that notion. As such, the book provides a very useful guide to the history of economic thinking, covering Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, John Maynard Keynes, Arthur Pigou, Hyman Minsky, among others.

The key theme in the book is that markets do fail from time to time, potentially in disastrous ways, and that some element of government oversight and intervention is both critical and necessary, to avoid calamity. This theme is hardly new, but many people resist it, and the book has the merit of marshalling the arguments more comprehensively than I have seen elsewhere.

As Cassidy describes it, “utopian economics” is the widespread view that the self-interest of individuals and agencies, allowed to express itself via a free market economy, will inevitably produce results that are good for the whole economy. The book starts with eight chapters that sympathetically outline the history of thinking about utopian economics. Along the way, he regularly points out instances when free market champions nevertheless described cases when government intervention and control was required. For example, referring to Adam Smith, Cassidy writes:

Smith and his successors … believed that the government had a duty to protect the public from financial swindles and speculative panics, which were both common in 18th and 19th century Britain…

To prevent a recurrence of credit busts, Smith advocated preventing banks from issuing notes to speculative lenders. “Such regulations may, no doubt, be considered as in some respects a violation of natural liberty”, he wrote. “But these exertions of the natural liberty of a few individuals, which might endanger the security of the whole society, are, and ought to be, restrained by the laws of all governments… The obligation of building party walls [between adjacent houses], in order to prevent the communication of a fire, is a violation of natural liberty, exactly of the same kind with the regulations of the banking trade which are here proposed.”

The book identifies long-time Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan as one of the villains of the great financial crash of 2007-2009. Cassidy quotes a reply given by Greenspan[xxxiv] to the question “Were you wrong” asked of him in October 2008 by the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interest of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms…”

Greenspan was far from alone in his belief in the self-correcting power of economies in which self-interest is allowed to flourish. There were many reasons for people to hold that belief. It appeared to be justified both theoretically and empirically. As Greenspan remarked,

“I have been going for forty years, or more, with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”

Cassidy devotes another eight chapters to reviewing the history of criticisms of utopian economics. This part of the book is entitled “Reality-based economics”, and covers topics such as:

  • Game theory (“the prisoners dilemma”),
  • Behavioural economics (pioneered by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky) – including disaster myopia,
  • Problems of spillovers and externalities (such as pollution) – which can only be fully addressed by centralised collective action,
  • Drawbacks of hidden information and the failure of “price signalling”,
  • Loss of competiveness when monopoly conditions are approached,
  • Flaws in banking risk management policies (which drastically under-estimated the consequences of larger deviations from “business as usual”),
  • Problems with asymmetric bonus structure,
  • The perverse psychology of investment bubbles.

In summary, Cassidy lists four “illusions” of utopian economics:

  1. The illusion of harmony: that free markets always generate good outcomes;
  2. The illusion of stability: that free market economy is sturdy;
  3. The illusion of predictability: that distribution of returns can be foreseen;
  4. The illusion of Homo Economicus: that individuals are rational and act on perfect information.

These illusions remain pervasive in many parts of economic thought. These illusions also lie behind technolibertarian optimism that technology, without government intervention, will be able to solve social and climatic problems such as terrorism, surveillance, environmental devastation, and threats from new pathogens.

Indeed, free markets and innovative technology have, together, been a tremendous force for progress in recent history. However, they need smart oversight and regulation if they are going to reach their fullest potential. That thought lies at the core of the technoprogressive stance.

The political landscape ahead

The need for smart oversight and regulation will grow even more pressing, as technology progresses over the next few decades to the point of displacing ever larger numbers of people from the workforce. This scenario is described in the recent book by Martin Ford, “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future”[xxxv].

Rise of the robots

In the scenarios Ford describes, technological unemployment won’t just impact the lesser skilled jobs currently undertaken by people in, say, the lower 50% of the income spectrum. It will also bite into the skills used by many of the top 5% in their work. As a result, many people who presently instinctively rebel against any technoprogressive notion of a new social contract may find their worldview turned upside down.

Other growing social crises may well accelerate similar changes in mindset. For example, as threats to personal well-being from poor software security become more widely publicised – as covered in my recent article “Eating the world: the growing importance of software security”[xxxvi] – I expect a growing public clamour for government action to tilt the software security playing field. Any idea of a laissez-faire market in software vulnerabilities will become seen as an irresponsible indulgence. Likewise for any idea about a laissez-faire market in synthetic pathogens, potential nano-weaponry, and lots more besides.

In short: To the extent that they place whole-hearted trust in free markets, technolibertarians are indulging in a dangerous fantasy.

But I say all this out of no desire to see the technolibertarian viewpoint be crushed. After all, that viewpoint puts its finger on a set of valid concerns, which need to be integrated into our collective response to technological possibilities. Governments and regulatory schemes suffer, as mentioned earlier, from tendencies towards deep problems: empire-building, poor understanding of new tech, regulations that become outdated, regulatory capture, and white elephant projects.

So rather than technoprogressives somehow vanquishing technolibertarians, in debate over the next 5-10 years, I look forwards to the best insights of both positions being integrated. The governmental and regulatory systems of the near future need to be significantly enhanced versions of today’s incumbent systems. We need government 2.0 and regulations 2.0.

Thinkers whose instincts place them firmly within the technolibertarian heritage can actively contribute to this discussion. As an example of this kind of positive contribution, Swedish think-tank Eudoxa founder Waldemar Ingdahl writes as follows in his essay “Anarchy beyond socialism and capitalism”[xxxvii] in the first Transpolitica book, “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”[xxxviii]:

This essay draws attention to a variant of anarchism – market anarchism – which has been little studied, but whose relevance may increase due to new technology…

Market anarchism is a belief centred on mutual exchange, not economic privilege, advocating freed markets, not capitalism. Social justice is mainly seen as eliminating the governmental privileges that rigs the market in favour of capitalists while retaining a focus on building voluntary institutions such as cooperatives.

Market anarchism pronounces itself a radical liberation while empowering people to eliminate structural poverty, and redistribute economic and social power. It differs from left-wing anarchism by its embrace of markets, while setting itself apart from the anarcho-capitalist view of freedom as simply being present day corporations and capitalist structures, minus the state’s taxes and regulations.

Indeed, there is much more that unifies technolibertarians and technoprogressives than what divides them. They can both be seen as part of what pioneering futurist FM Esfandiary[xxxix] called “up wing” as opposed to either “right wing” or “left wing”. In this, these two positions are opposed to the “down wing” technoconservative position, as well as to the “no wing” technosceptical position. Esfandiary also endorsed the term “transhuman”, via his 1989 book “Are You a Transhuman?: Monitoring and Stimulating Your Personal Rate of Growth in a Rapidly Changing World”.

Accordingly, I look forward to the following features of the political dialogue of the next 10-20 years:

  1. The evolution and maturation of an integrated transhumanist political position, that respects and enhances the best insights of both technolibertarians and technoprogressives
  2. The growing recognition of the fundamental inadequacies of both the technoconservative and technosceptical viewpoints.

Given the inertia present in current political systems and prevailing mindsets, the second of these tasks may prove harder than the first. But the first may turn out to be the enabler for the second. It is that task that deserves our fullest attention.

References

[i] http://www.amazon.co.uk/Infinite-All-Directions-Freeman-Dyson/dp/0060915692/

[ii] http://blogs.ft.com/andrew-mcafee/2014/10/16/were-living-through-a-new-industrial-revolution/

[iii] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/road-safety/8702111/How-do-accidents-happen.html

[iv] http://www.sens.org/outreach/rejuvenation-biotechnology-conference-2015

[v] http://edge.org/conversation/the-technium

[vi] http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterdiamandis/2014/08/25/how-to-become-a-billionaire/

[vii] http://www.diamandis.com/bold/

[viii] http://www.reaganfoundation.org/reagan-quotes-detail.aspx?tx=2079

[ix] http://www.diamandis.com/bold/

[x] https://www.facebook.com/groups/technolibertarians/

[xi] https://wavism.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/cmzs-central-meme-of-zero-state/

[xii] https://wavism.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/cmzs-central-meme-of-zero-state/

[xiii] http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/tpdec2014

[xiv] http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/pikettys-inequality-story-in-six-charts

[xv] http://piketty.pse.ens.fr/files/capital21c/en/pdf/F0.I.1.pdf

[xvi] http://eml.berkeley.edu/~saez/saez-UStopincomes-2012.pdf

[xvii] http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21631129-it-001-who-are-really-getting-ahead-america-forget-1

[xviii] http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-billionaire-wealth-inequality/25132471.html

[xix] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/theres-been-class-warfare-for-the-last-20-years-and-my-class-has-won/2011/03/03/gIQApaFbAL_blog.html

[xx] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/12/04/the-best-speech-obama-has-given-on-the-economy/

[xxi] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/12/04/the-best-speech-obama-has-given-on-the-economy/

[xxii] http://www.secondmachineage.com/

[xxiii] http://users.polisci.wisc.edu/schatzberg/ps616/Rosen1981.pdf

[xxiv] http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/531726/technology-and-inequality/

[xxv] http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/the-pitchforks-are-coming-for-us-plutocrats-108014.html

[xxvi] http://www.businessinsider.com.au/mary-meekers-2014-internet-presentation-2014-5

[xxvii] http://www.slideshare.net/kleinerperkins/internet-trends-v1

[xxviii] http://www.slideshare.net/vangeest/exponential-organizations-h

[xxix] http://www.exponentialorgs.com/

[xxx] https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140124/09481025978/big-pharma-ceo-we-develop-drugs-rich-westerners-not-poor.shtml

[xxxi] http://todayinsci.com/M/Merck_George/MerckGeorge-Quotations.htm

[xxxii] http://www.amazon.com/How-Markets-Fail-Economic-Calamities/dp/0374173206/

[xxxiii] http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/bios/john_cassidy/search?contributorName=john%20cassidy

[xxxiv] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/23/business/worldbusiness/23iht-gspan.4.17206624.html

[xxxv] http://www.amazon.com/Rise-Robots-Technology-Threat-Jobless/dp/0465059996

[xxxvi] http://dw2blog.com/2015/06/11/eating-the-world-the-growing-importance-of-software-security/

[xxxvii] https://transpolitica.org/2015/06/13/anarchy-beyond-socialism-and-capitalism/

[xxxviii] https://transpolitica.org/publications/anticipating-tomorrows-politics/

[xxxix] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FM-2030

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 2 of the Transpolitica book “Envisioning Politics 2.0”.

Of Mind and Money: Post-Scarcity Economics and Human Nature

By Stuart Mason Dambrot, Synthesist | Futurist, Critical Thought

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil.

Why Socialism? Albert Einstein, Monthly Review, 1949[i]

These two quotes from the same article written by Albert Einstein demonstrate that intelligence and imagination do not necessarily guard against nonconscious cognitive bias and unexamined beliefs. The question is whether either, both or neither are correct. This chapter, Of Mind and Money, provides a perspectival answer showing not only that, given advances in science and technology, the first quote is not necessarily factual, but also that as such it would support the design and implementation of a post-scarcity economic environment by modifying our fundamental, evolution-derived beliefs about scarcity, capitalism, class hierarchies, labor, and competition.

The Nature of Human Nature Redux

In the myriad discussions focused on future scenarios envisioned and articulated in science, technology, humanities, business, politics, or military, and other fields, there is one fundamental factor that is invariably undefined yet implicitly or explicitly assumed to be an unchanging and unchangeable constant.

Human nature

This is curious, in that the creators of said scenarios appear to be all about change, be they Singularitarians, Transhumanists, scientists, technologists, philosophers, or any other of the countless labels with which we describe ourselves to both ourselves and the world-at-large. Moreover, this cognitive bias is perhaps most pronounced in those scenarios concerned with post-scarcity economies, in which goods, services and information are universally accessible without the need for capital or its exchange in order to produce and acquire said goods, services and information.

This chapter will examine the evolutionary neurobiology of what we experience and perceive as human nature[ii] – the thesis being that as we learn more about the human brain and learn how to modify ourselves using a range of methods and techniques, human nature will take its rightful place amongst all other aspects of physical reality that we have studied, understood and modified.

This shift in perspective will then form the cognitive foundation of a new approach to constructing a post-scarcity/post-capital scenario that is no longer bound to attitudes and behavior long and erroneously held to be inviolate.

Human Nature: Fixed or Flexible?

In general, we appear to understand what is meant by human nature, accepting the term as if it refers to well-defined and permanent aspect of our existence. As the above quote demonstrates, this unquestioned assumption is independent of intellect, education and imagination, being more akin to religious belief in its unquestioned adherence to the axiom that human nature is, in Einstein’s words, “fixed and unalterable.” While the concept that human nature is constant is understandable when viewed as an inference based on observing historically recurrent patterns in human behavior (which are amplified versions of behaviors found in our closest hominid relatives2), only recently have science and technology given us discoveries and tools with the potential to change our evolutionary heritage and architect a very different possible future.

To this end, neuroscience, synthetic biology (a branch of biology integrating evolutionary, molecular, and computational biology with biophysics and nanobiotechnology – the melding of nanotech and biology) and other fields of established and emerging science are beginning to provide us with an understanding of our neurobiology at neural, molecular and genetic levels. These advances will then be instantiated in technologies that enable us to physiologically modify our dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors. The resulting shift in perspective will form the cognitive foundation of designing and implementing a technology-enabled post-scarcity economy by abandoning the belief that our human nature has not allowed, and therefore never could allow, such an environment to emerge and thrive on a large – much less global or exoplanetary – scale.

In addition to neuroscience and synthetic biology, the other areas key to designing and effecting human neuroaugmentation include synthetic genomics (a field within synthetic biology); optogenetics (a neuromodulation technique using light to control neurons genetically light-sensitized); neural prostheses; artificially accelerated evolution (already achieved in laboratories with fruit flies); and biorecalibration (biophysical optimization and health/life extension).

One of the main focal points in this effort might be to fine-tune the effects of the human-specific gene ARHGAP11B[iii], which appeared when the ancestral gene ARHGAP11A made an incomplete copy of itself and subsequently may have contributed to evolutionary expansion of human neocortex. (When ARHGAP11B was introduced into developing mice, the number of cortex stem cells nearly doubled and their brains sometimes developed folds – are found in primates but not mice.) The goal could be to use synthetic genomics to selectively modify phenotypic expression in the developing human brain of neural tissue and connectivity between the neocortex and the more primitive brain areas where emotion, motivation, habituation, and other functions occur.

One salient example can be seen in recent neuroscience research[iv] showing strong evidence that interpersonal differences in a specific area of the human brain are associated with different prosocial behavior. In another relevant study[v], neuroscientists at MIT identified the brain circuit in laboratory mice that controls how memories become linked with positive or negative emotions, and as a result were able to modify the emotional associations of specific memories using optogenetics – a method for controlling brain cells with light. More recently the technique has been used[vi] in mice to dramatically reduce stress-related depression-like behavior by activating positive memories.

The question might well be raised of why we cannot rely on widely-promoted sociocultural measures as a way to create a different conception of human nature, and thereby to change, abandon or transcend our biologically-determined behaviors by which we practice various degrees of inhumanity. While science, technology, medicine, knowledge, and other endeavors continue to advance at an accelerating rate, our basic behavioral patterns (in Einstein’s words, “biological constitution” and “natural urges”) have not. In fact, despite protests and legislation, other factors such as air and water quality have globally declined due to capitalism-motivated processes, with air itself now being carcinogenic[vii](causing lung cancer and contributing to bladder cancer) and water becoming increasingly both polluted[viii] and scarce[ix].

For these reasons, the assertion that sociocultural programs and legislation (given the role of corporate and individual wealth in politics) will address our species’ destructive behaviors seems somewhat naïve. Rather, a solution based on a medical model in which dysfunctional individual and group behaviors are seen not as causative but as symptoms of a deeper cause – our evolutionary neurobiology. The transformation of human society via optimizing human nature thus becomes a crisis to be scientifically analyzed and corrected rather than an anthropological project to be observed and discussed.

The Ethics of Enlightenment

Would this approach raise concerns? By all means: Does genetically resetting human neurobiology cross medical and/or ethical lines? Might this approach be considered Eugenics? Should any group or societal class have the authority to proceed with such a project? And so on. How might these issues be addressed – and are they, even in principle, addressable? On the other hand, are they in principle very different from other medical-model-based interventions?

Consider bioaugmentation applied to a serious disease: Imagine the development of a completely safe genetic treatment for cancer using – the same protocol hypothesized for resetting human nature. Despite the technology, delivery vector and safety of this cancer eradication protocol being equivalent to those of the universal transformation of human nature, it is likely that the former would encounter far less resistance than the latter. Why might this be the case? Several possible explanations come to mind:

  • While eliminating cancer is clearly perceived as a medical protocol focused on a range of terrible diseases, human nature is decidedly not seen as a disease state despite the parallels in symptomology (that is, where the problems and crises endemic in human society are seen as symptoms of many of our evolutionarily-determined behaviors)
  • A nonspecific fear of medical or genetic technology that operates at a scale or in a manner that people do not understand
  • There may be a religious factor at play, as evidenced by the belief by a remarkable number of people (despite the tremendous advances in evolution and genetics) that human beings did not evolve from earlier hominids, but rather were created by a divinity in that divinity’s image

In the above situations, education and social programs may be very helpful in laying the groundwork for accepting a medical model as a way of stopping and reversing the destructive path capitalism, as well as those who blindly accept its principles despite suffering as a result, seem committed to pursuing.

The Consequences of Capitalism

Capitalism has clearly demonstrated its profoundly negative impacts on individuals, groups, nations, the planet, and the space surrounding Earth. In terms of individuals, there is profoundly unequal access to many critical foundation areas, including food, clean water, electricity, healthcare, income, housing, transportation, education, security, governance, voting, freedom from, and freedom to. Two real-world examples illustrate the immensity of the problem:

Extreme Wealth Disparity

  • The 85 wealthiest individuals on Earth have assets roughly equivalent to 3.6 billion others
  • In 2011 Deloitte & Touche reported that the wealthiest 400 American families had assets of approximately $11 trillion, with the 2020 estimate being $19 trillion
  • Social Security, Food Assistance, Medicaid and other social safety nets are under defunding attacks from legislators whose salaries are by the citizens who voted them into office

Income and Mortality

The following chart[x] shows a nearly linear relationship between income level and age-related mortality: Those with lower incomes die at an earlier age.

Mortality and incomeIncome level and age-related mortality. Source: The Zeitgeist Movement Defined: Realizing a New Train of Thought, The Zeitgeist Group. Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

These large-scale expressions and implementations of capitalism and other problematic behaviors based on our evolutionary neurobiology are not entities in and of themselves: They appear that way because large-scale events are agglomerations of more-or-less coordinated individual behaviors. However, even single events – especially when identified as part of a widespread practice or trend – deserve our attention. A case in point: a few representative reports from a single daily issue published on the progressive Daily Kos[xi] website are representative of a range of dysfunctional trends – some far more disturbing than others:

The typical approach to addressing these problems, articulated by Einstein and many others – whether sincerely or cynically – invokes ethics, culture, education, communication, social programs, legislation and other indirect measures. Unfortunately, given the increasingly elitist and militaristic activities trending on a global basis, this solution appears to be (except on a limited and temporary basis) less than effective.

Human-induced Mass Extinction

Much as global warming is only one factor in climate change, climate change may be part of a much more severe event caused by capitalism-fueled human activity. A paper recently published[xvi] by scientists at the universities of Stanford, Princeton and Berkeley found, even using highly conservative criteria, that current extinction rates far exceed those known to exist in our planet’s five previous mass extinction events[xvii]as determined by fossil records. The researchers found that their estimates reveal an exceptionally rapid biodiversity decline over the previous few centuries, concluding that a sixth mass extinction – one that would take millions of years, with Homo sapiens disappearing sooner rather than later – is already taking place.

Cumulative extinctions

Cumulative vertebrate species recorded as extinct or extinct in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (2012). Source: Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction. Science Advances (2015) 1:5 e1400253. Copyright © G. Ceballos, P. R. Ehrlich, A. D. Barnosky, A. García, R. M. Pringle, T. M. Palmer. Creative Commons CC BY-NC 4.0 license. Courtesy: American Association for the Advancement of Science and Gerardo Ceballos.[xviii]

Specifically, they found that over the last century vertebrate species (that is, those having backbones) have gone extinct at an average rate as high as to 114 times than the background, or non-mass extinction, rate – a rate that would normally take place over as long as 10,000 years – and, critically, that this trend is caused by human activities including climate change, pollution, deforestation, habitat loss, and overexploitation for economic gain – all of which, the scientists note, are related to human population size and growth, which in turn increases consumption (predominantly by the wealthy) and economic inequity. They caution that “averting a dramatic decay of biodiversity and the subsequent loss of ecosystem services is still possible through intensified conservation efforts, but that window of opportunity is rapidly closing.”

Post-Scarcity Economics: Beyond Capital

It should be noted that the term post-scarcity economics is sometimes described as being self-contradictory, since most – but not all – definitions of economics are based the dynamic between scarce resources and demand for goods, services and information based on or incorporating these scarce resources, with capital as the foundation for all economic transactions. On the other hand, a post-scarcity economy can operate without the need for capital while still responding to supply-and-demand forces in determining the resources needed to fulfill demand.

This post-scarcity vs. post-capital question can be resolved by reconceptualizing and redefining economics – as has occurred repeatedly over the centuries – as the transformation of resources into goods, services and information that are provided to individuals or groups who demand and then acquire them. Given the technology-based labor-free structure of a post-scarcity environment, the definition of post-scarcity economics then becomes the post-capital, technology-enabled, demand-responsive transformation of resources into goods, services and information that are provided to individuals or groups who acquire them.

That being said, post-scarcity embodiments have been conceptualized for many years. The efforts most salient to the thesis herein include Technocracy Movement[xix], which proposed replacing politicians and businesspeople with scientists and engineers who had the technical expertise to manage the economy; Venus Project[xx], which calls for a culture redesign to make war, poverty, hunger, debt and unnecessary human suffering unacceptable and explores the determinants of behavior to dispel the myth of human nature, asserting that environment shapes behavior; Zeitgeist Movement[xxi], reminiscent of the Technocracy Movement and previously aligned with the Venus Project, is focused on technology, post-scarcity, post-capital, post-labor and direct (nonrepresentational) governance; and Transpolitica[xxii], a grassroots Transhumanist political organization focused on enabling society to transcend the limitations and constraints of today’s political models.

Post scarcity

How would a fully-realized post-scarcity environment be structured? First and foremost, despite having elements in common with some systems, it will not take the form of any existing sociopolitical economy, including the usual suspects: capitalism (private property and ownership of means of production, capital accumulation, wage labor, market competition, labor theory of value); socialism (social ownership of means of production and co-operative management of the economy); communism (common ownership of means of production; absence of social classes, money and the State); and anarchism (absolute individual freedom and absence of government).

While the closest post-scarcity analogue is communism, the essential differences are that in technology-enabled post-scarcity there is neither labor nor ownership of the means of production. Moreover, analogous to the assumptions about the term economics discussed earlier, it is often thought that there is only one form of anarchism[xxiii] (as per the standard definition above) – but this is decidedly not the case[xxiv]. Anarchism variants can support fundamentally different political systems that vary from extreme individualism to complete collectivism – and in addition, there is a well-established link[xxv] between specific anarchist schools and post-scarcity/post-capitalism, of which examples include:

A post-scarcity system will therefore have unique features and technologies. Firstly, it will be an technology-enabled post-capital, post-labor, Crowdsourced Peer-to-Peer Networked Anarchy characterized by an absence of wealth, class, and governance hierarchies; autonomous intelligent ownerless production; distributed egalitarian point-to-point self-governance in which each individual or group can self-define as an independent polity; and Nash equilibrium replacing zero-sum game theory. Secondly, a valuation system based on positive inclusive qualities and behaviors such as reputation, inventiveness, equanimity, enablement, and empathy will replace monetization and profit. Thirdly, a post-scarcity architecture will entail a number of current (but significantly advanced), emerging, and potential technologies in four primary areas: personal production (advanced 3D/4D printers, nanofabricators); security (reputation encoding, quantum encryption, blind quantum computing); Artificial General Intelligence and autonomous robotics; and emerging, exotic and theoretical energy sources (compact fusion[xxxiii] and Polywell fusion[xxxiv], quantum thermionic conversion[xxxv], antimatter[xxxvi], and zero-point energy[xxxvii]).

Coincident with the science and technology trends outlined above, researchers studying spatial models of complex systems found that genetically-programmed mortality, while not benefitting individuals, in certain cases results in long-term benefit to the local population by reducing local environmental resource depletion. While noting that intrinsic mortality is not favored for long-range spatial mixing or if resources are unlimited, the paper[xxxviii] does not actually suggest that post-scarcity results in immortality. However, the open question is whether post-scarcity might support a human-induced genetic adaptation that would modify the scarcity-based evolutionary default of aging and limited lifespan – potentially to the point of immortality.

Despite the utopian nature of a post-scarcity economy, however, the transition to a global post-scarcity environment without human nature being universally optimized not only virtually guarantees it being rejected and prevented by capitalist interests, but also carries with it the potential for a new generation of criminal activity corresponding to the technologies described above– that is, reputation spoofing, false demand process interruption, genome hacking, neural theft, robotic telepresence hijacking, blind quantum communication capture, induced entanglement decoherence, and Artificial General Intelligence cracking. These, of course, will necessitate a corrective response, which will simply replicate our current environment in a more advanced technological context.

For these reasons, it would be wise to stage the transition such that elevating human nature is accomplished prior to attempting to construct a post-scarcity economy.

Revolution through Evolution

Summary:

  • Einstein was correct about capitalism but missed the mark on human nature
  • In a medical model, our myriad problems can be seen as symptoms of a central underlying condition, rather than cultural problems that can be addressed by social policies
  • That causative condition is a direct and primary consequence of our hominid evolutionary neurobiological heritage
  • The path forward to an enlightened world is for each individual to physiologically evolve beyond that heritage
  • We can wait for thousands of generations (natural evolution is slow) or use the science and technology our brain has manifested to achieve that step in a matter of decades.

The decision is ours to make.

References

[i] Why Socialism? Albert Einstein, Monthly Review, 1949

https://monthlyreview.org/2009/05/01/why-socialism/

[ii] The Zeitgeist of Change

https://transpolitica.org/2015/04/06/the-zeitgeist-of-change/

[iii] Human-specific gene ARHGAP11B promotes basal progenitor amplification and neocortex expansion

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6229/1465.abstract

[iv] Spatial gradient in value representation along the medial prefrontal cortex reflects individual differences in prosociality

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/25/7851.abstract

[v] Bidirectional switch of the valence associated with a hippocampal contextual memory engram

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v513/n7518/full/nature13725.html

[vi] Activating positive memory engrams suppresses depression-like behaviour

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v522/n7556/full/nature14514.html

[vii] IARC: Outdoor air pollution a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths

http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/pr221_E.pdf

[viii] World Water Assessment Programme: Water pollution is on the rise globally

http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/water/wwap/facts-and-figures/all-facts-wwdr3/fact-15-water-pollution/

[ix] Water Fact Sheet Looks at Threats, Trends, Solutions

http://pacinst.org/publication/facts-on-the-worlds-water/

[x] Based on data in G. D. Smith et al, Socioeconomic differentials in mortality risk among men screened for the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial: I. White men, American Journal of Public Health (1996) 86(4): 486-496.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1380548/ (PDF)

[xi] Daily Kos

http://www.dailykos.com/

[xii] Teen stripped of National Honor Society position because she dared wear a sundress—in Florida

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/06/02/1389865/-Teen-stripped-of-National-Honor-Society-position-because-she-dared-wear-a-sun-dress-in-Florida

[xiii] NC Pastor tells graduating seniors they’ll be going to hell if they’re gay

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/06/02/1389845/-NC-Pastor-tells-graduating-seniors-they-ll-be-going-to-hell-if-they-re-gay

[xiv] School lunch room manager fired for giving out food to children without lunch money

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/06/02/1389964/-School-lunch-room-manager-fired-for-giving-out-food-to-children-without-lunch-money

[xv] Florida police murder black computer engineer as he listens to music; attempted cover-up exposed

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/06/01/1389661/-Florida-police-murder-black-computer-engineer-as-he-listens-to-music-attempted-coverup-exposed

[xvi] Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction

http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/5/e1400253.full

[xvii] Mass Extinction Event

https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Extinction_event

[xviii] Graphs show the percentage of the number of species evaluated among mammals (5513; 100% of those described), birds (10,425; 100%), reptiles (4414; 44%), amphibians (6414; 88%), fishes (12,457; 38%), and all vertebrates combined (39,223; 59%). Dashed black curve represents the number of extinctions expected under a constant standard background rate of 2 E/MSY. (A) Highly conservative estimate. (B) Conservative estimate.
For a larger version of the image, see http://d3a5ak6v9sb99l.cloudfront.net/content/advances/1/5/e1400253/F1.large.jpg

[xix] The Technocracy Movement

http://technocracy.wikia.com/wiki/Technocracy_movement

[xx] The Venus Project

https://www.thevenusproject.com/en/

[xxi] The Zeitgeist Movement

http://thezeitgeistmovement.com/

[xxii] Transpolitica

https://transpolitica.org/

[xxiii] Anarchism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchism

[xxiv] Anarchist Schools of Thought

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchist_schools_of_thought

[xxv] Post-Capitalism Anarchism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-capitalism#Anarchism

[xxvi] Post-Scarcity Anarchism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-Scarcity_Anarchism

[xxvii] Social Ecology

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_ecology

[xxviii] Libertarian Municipalism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_municipalism

[xxix] Anarchist Communism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchist_communism

[xxx] Direct Democracy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_democracy

[xxxi] Common Ownership

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_ownership

[xxxii] Anarcho-syndicalism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarcho-syndicalism

[xxxiii] Compact Toroid

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compact_toroid

[xxxiv] Polywell Fusion

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywell

[xxxv] Thermionic Energy Conversion (PDF)

https://nems.stanford.edu/thermionic-energy-conversion

(http://gcep.stanford.edu/pdfs/UVaodfDrAb3BdgeRCpoy-w/07-Chen-GCEP-Workshop.pdf)

http://phys.org/news/2011-08-tiny-tech-big-results-quantum.html

[xxxvi] Antimatter Fuel

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antimatter#Fuel

[xxxvii] Zero-point Energy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-point_energy

[xxxviii] Programed Death is Favored by Natural Selection in Spatial Systems

http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.114.238103

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 6 of the Transpolitica book “Envisioning Politics 2.0”.

Specifications: An engineer’s approach to upgrading politics

By René Milan, Thelemic Transhumanist [see editor’s note[i]]

Terminator Salvation 2.0

Introduction

When i first heard about the prospective title of this book i was baffled.  Politics 2.0 – what might that mean?  Like most people probably would, i immediately associated it with the numbering system commonly used in software releases, but having worked as a programmer for 30 years i could not see how this could be applied to something as complex and diffuse as politics.  However if taken as something like a cognitive metaphor i still could not clearly grasp its meaning, beyond the vague implication of improvement over Politics 1.x, presumably what humanity is struggling with today.

As is my habit in such cases i forgot about this for the time being, and three days later as hoped a possible solution occurred to me.  What if i simply maintained the software approach and regarded the task as coming up with an improved kind of politics according to user requirements?

And already i run up against a fundamental problem in business software development, which constitutes the bulk of my experience: user desires are taken into consideration, but mostly within the strategic framework of increasing productivity, which can under smarter management even, and at best, include user contentment.  But the real driver is always some kind of business case for increasing profitability.  “Who pays the piper calls the tune.”

However in this case only the user pays (the very minimal cost of this book), so i am free to assume the user’s perspective in presenting, not a completely deliverable solution, which would be way beyond any single person’s capacity, but at best a draft of specifications for an upgrade to current politics with the aim of providing an improved user experience.  Unfortunately i can not query all seven billion users, but as i am one myself, and as the major shortcomings of current politics can be seen so clearly, i believe to have enough to go on.

Thus in the following i shall attempt to identify the drivers and mechanics of current politics, determine what effect they have on the people subjected to them (users, willy or nilly) and offer conclusions on how they could and should be improved for a Politics 2.0 release.

The current state of affairs

Sampling the currently prevailing conditions, unscientifically, simply from the common anecdotal user experiences gained by following international news, one can easily identify the main factors determining the ideas, the interests and the effects shaping the reality of current politics worldwide.

I Nation

The ultimate determinant of politics within a certain geographical area is, at least theoretically, the nation controlling this area, regarding the area and the idea of the nation as inextricably intertwined, as different aspects of the same national identity, which is claimed to be sacrosanct and tends to take on mystical proportions by associating itself with concepts of destiny, providence and even divinity.  Two good examples of how the myth of the nation was, and keeps getting to be, reinforced over the decades are the films “Birth of a Nation[ii] by Griffith from 1915, and “Triumph des Willens[iii] by Riefenstahl from 1935.  The current state of affairs is rather surprising considering that as recently as 500 years ago the idea played virtually no role in politics; the basic units then were empires, kingdoms and lower level fiefdoms.  While even only 200 years ago, and in reality even now, fixed borders were not effective in large parts of Africa, the middle east and elsewhere, today everybody claims ‘national sovereignty’ to be the highest good, in practice only one’s own.  The days of internationalism being part of anyone’s political agenda are long gone (early 20th century communism).  And even though there are international treaties and organisations, they are by design subservient to the interests of (the strongest) nations.  A possible exception to this was initially the EU, conceived out of the fresh experience of what nationalism ultimately results in, but as time passed even that unique experiment seems to have become secondary to the interest of the nations who were supposed to be absorbed and dissolved into this new structure.

The effects of this common paradigm are obvious.  In the name of ‘national security’ large proportions of the people’s wealth are endlessly spent on weaponry, subventions and trade preferences in order to make the nation ‘stronger’, but as this happens everywhere simultaneously in proportion to national wealth and moderated only slightly by variations in national ideologies, the effects of these efforts are largely cancelling each other out.  But what are the effects on the objects of our deliberations, the users of politics 1.x?

It appears that among the users three distinct groups can be identified.

  1. Those who directly or indirectly benefit from the expenditures generated under these conditions
  2. Those who get some emotional satisfaction merely from abstract ideas like that of a ‘strong nation’
  3. The rest

It also appears that ‘the rest’ constitute an overwhelming majority, and that they are therefore disproportionally exposed to the negative effects generated under current conditions, namely

  1. an increase of influence of the small groups identified under 1. and 2. above, and the resulting decrease of influence of the majority, meaning that most users are deprived of their voice in these matters
  2. the loss of resources wasted on this global zero sum game, which could otherwise be spent on truly beneficial endeavours such as improvements of health, educational, infrastructural and environmental conditions even in times of those destructive tools not being used
  3. direct (death and wounding, loss of habitat) and indirect (loss of resources, property, income, health and home) effects in times and places when and where these tools are used

To stay within the metaphor this importance of the nation could be seen as a current operating system feature, and as a consequence of the above it seems obvious to this engineer that for an upgrade to Politics 2.0 with the aim of an improved user experience the first prerequisite would be an OS upgrade that completely eliminates the role of the nation from the operating environment.

II Religion

Increasingly we can observe over the last few decades the effects of religious influence on politics and beyond.  This influence has been with humans at least since the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago and the resulting congregation in large settlements (cities) and division of labour.  Even before that time this influence was obvious and actually potentially useful, for instance in the chieftain asking the shaman for advice in matters of hunting, planting, moving or fighting.  But in those days there was not yet a clear separation of religion and science.  After that time it took the form of identification of political leaders as divine entities (egypt etc), which was, for reasons which to explore would be beyond the scope of this brief analogy, common in the three early human large cultural evolutionary centres based in Mesopotamia and along the Nile and the Indus.  In the more off centre and smaller kingdoms it was less common.  Through the Greeks and then the Romans Europe inherited many values and institutions of the earlier civilisations, but the Greeks establishing philosophy and science outside of the domain of religion constituted an early break of the religious monopoly on politics which was only reestablished, partially, when Theodosius I decreed, of all the choices, xtianity to be the new state religion of Rome, which then survived the collapse of the western empire and positioned itself to sanction, or not, subsequent european monarchies.  This lasted throughout the middle ages and ended through the reformation, but was not ideologically questioned until the emergence of the enlightenment over a century later.  Nonetheless, religious influence and privileges are still common in Europe, and more so in the u.s.  Islam, being 500 years younger, is still at the beginning of its own reformation, and most countries in which it is dominant are explicitly defined as ‘islamic nations’.

Again let us examine the effects of this state of affairs on the users of politics 1.x.

The users are divided along similar lines and in similar numbers as under I.  In simple and direct terms there are the beneficiaries (who gain material advantages), the ideologues (who gain ideological, mental advantages), and the victims (who gain nothing).  And again we see a disproportional allocation of desirable and undesirable effects: too much political power for the first two smaller groups to the detriment of the third and largest group, a waste of resources on the privileges enjoyable by the first two groups largely paid for by the contributions of the third, and a host of policies restricting freedoms of users, most of whom are part of the latter group, as in marriage, abortion, political and sexual privileges.

Thus it becomes clear that a second OS upgrade is required in order to completely eliminate the influence of organised religion on the political domain, before implementation of Politics 2.0 with the aim of improving user experience can be undertaken.

III Greed

I had briefly considered giving this section the heading ´Money’, however money is merely a quantification of material value, created to have something approximating an objective measuring device for this value.  Clearly ‘objective’ is meant in a very relative manner, only in the sense that many would, or are simply forced to, agree that certain material and even immaterial objects have a particular value that can indeed be expressed by using this device.  In reality monetary value is defined by desirability, a very subjective concept, which in turn derives from real (biological) or artificially created (psychological) need.  Another option could have been ‘capitalism’, but that is just the currently fashionable term for the underlying force, which is truly greed, and which has been a driver of economic activity for much longer (in fact since the concepts and activities of hoarding and raiding proved to be conducive to survival) than the term ‘capitalism’ existed.

Again the effects on the experiences of the vast majority of the users are dismal to say the least.  As before, and more so than above, we have a subgroup of users who benefit materially, giving in to the genetic imperative of hoarding more than is reasonable, needless to say at the cost of the majority, many of whom do not have enough to even ensure material survival.  In between we have what used to be called the silent majority, which is not so silent anymore, and on a global scale certainly not a majority, who get by materially, but get nothing more out of a bad deal than some sort of intellectual satisfaction for which they were psychologically conditioned by the media controlled by the material beneficiaries in the first place.

This then is the third, actually the most important, operating system upgrade that is a prerequisite of even being able to implement a set of policies that could qualify as Politics 2.0.  I say the most important, because all the problems caused by ideologies such as nationalism and exoteric religion ultimately are maintained in the service of this same force, namely greed.  I am well aware that to resolve this problem requires a deep intervention in what is generally perceived as ‘human nature’, in reality merely the current manifestation of a genetic configuration resulting from arbitrary biological and historical conditions, which humans are becoming finally able to change, if only agreements on these issues can be arrived at.  But this subject is again beyond the scope of this piece.  Nonetheless i must point out that this must and will be addressed in the appropriate context.

The Needs

Once these operating system changes are in place, meaning that we can work on a basis of not meeting fundamental resistance to changes in software, or in policies, we can try to determine what is actually needed in order to arrive at maximal user satisfaction.

What do users want?  It might be helpful to take a fresh look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs[iv], as users want most what they need most:

Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs

The hierarchical nature of this concept seems to be quite obvious.  Nobody will be too concerned with self esteem or even family if they can not fulfil their needs for food and drink.  So it must be, contrary to currently prevailing conditions where certainly safety requirements are not guaranteed to be met for millions of users, paramount for policies meeting the specifications of Politics 2.0 to ensure that these needs are met.  Then the question of priorities arises.  As politics will consist largely in the art of applying still, even after eliminating the parasitical forces described above under III, limited resources equitably on a global scale, before the needs above the basic two lower levels can be addressed all users must be elevated to that level, explicitly the first global priority must be to create conditions within which all users can elevate themselves to level three, or in other words, everyone’s physiological and safety needs must be met.

On this basis let us examine how Politics 2.0 can and should impact the safeguarding of meeting these needs.

1. Physiological

On the physiological level it is clearly the first three items that are vulnerable to adverse political conditions.  Even a partly commercial, partly scientific and purely adventurous project like MarsOne must include provisions to guarantee the users’ access to air, water and food, and to do so is a political decision.  On this planet environmental conditions vary so widely that pressures are quite different between various places.  Nonetheless given current population distribution it is the function of politics, and 2.0 in particular, to safeguard supply of these resources within the powers of current technologies, whose limits are increasingly tested as by rising sea levels and desertification.

  1. Air is one of the oldest problems. In recent decades air pollution caused problems in the 20th century, famously in L.A., Tokyo, Mexico etc, but these problems have been solved there long ago and the knowhow and technologies are easily available.  Nonetheless we have seen recent recurrences, especially persistent in Beijing, and surprisingly in Paris.  Other recent incidents were caused by burning of rainforest in Borneo and even volcanic eruption in Iceland.  With the exception of the latter these occurrences can be more or less easily controlled, especially after elimination of the greed factor, and the will and means to do so must be part of Politics 2.0.
  2. Food is a much more complex issue than the problems with air. It has environmental, technological, cultural and social components.  Since its establishment 10,000 years ago agriculture has undergone, and caused, some profound changes.  Its industrialisation throughout the 20th century is perhaps the most important, and its results are mixed.  Efficiency has increased, but its social effects (transfer of ownership to corporations), the impact on health and environment (large scale use of industrial chemicals, large monocultures and subsequent environmental degradation), and cultural consequences (establishment of an unprecedentedly large meat eating habit) are mostly negative.  Even the potentially so positive impact of genetic modification technologies has under the current capitalist paradigm often had negative social consequences (but these should be eliminated by the measures recommended under III).  To rectify these problems will constitute a major chunk of work writing low level requirements and coding for a release as part of Politics 2.0.
  3. Water availability is strongly intertwined with the issues hinted at under b) as 70% of the water utilised in the context of human activity is used in the service of food production. Therefore some of the current problems with water shortage deriving from overuse of current resources, as practiced in the course of industrial meat production, will be alleviated by measures designed to improve global food supply.  Nonetheless global aquifer depletion[v], which is currently gaining attention in California, besides the many places where it has long been an urgent issue, will remain a problem alongside political issues such as conflicts around water rights, such as in the middle east and along the Nile, and will have to be addressed when developing Politics 2.0.  One hope i have in this context is large scale cheap implementation of new desalination technologies.
  4. A resource not explicitly mentioned in the above hierarchy triangle but certainly closely intertwined with the three mentioned above is energy. Energy is needed in providing the other three, in transportation and communication, and even to provide creature comforts (making it warm where it is too cold and vice versa).  But energy has been the subject of global discussions for quite some time, largely in a context of power politics (in the name of obsolete nationalism), but increasingly also as an environmental issue.  Even after the recommended OS upgrades, which will eliminate the profit motive and the attendant manipulation of energy prices, a lot of creativity and effort will have to be applied to better provisions in Politics 2.0.
  5. Health is listed on level two of the pyramid, but it really affects all the levels throughout. What is referred to as level two health, is probably something like the minimal health required to allow the individual to function reasonably well in its survival activities within nature and society.  But if health is negatively affected by crippling or disabling, chronically painful, or fast progressing mortal disease, functionality even on the physiological level is denied.  Of course there are cultural practices prevailing in some human and other mammalian societies designed to mitigate the effects, but they amount to palliative interventions at best.  Therefore it must be addressed here.   Like the four previously mentioned issues it is out of the control of individuals, and even the most advanced efforts by organised health institutions are still far from understanding aetiologies of, or developing therapies for, many diseases including death.  Clearly political efforts in this area are also of the highest priority and must be a fundamental consideration in the process of upgrading politics.
  6. The other listed items, sex, sleep, homeostasis and excretion, are, in a healthy individual (and society), pretty much self regulating physiological processes. One other issue relevant in this context and connected with health, education, infrastructure and last not least direct individual control is hygiene, but its centre of gravity lies probably on the next level.

2. Safety

Beginning on the level called safety things get somewhat more complicated.  It becomes obvious that two factors, relevant throughout, that are not explicitly listed, assume increasing importance: education and infrastructure.  Listed however are several items that are quite culture specific and do therefore not belong into this pyramid of needs at all.

  1. Education beyond the level of basic survival skill is clearly a prerequisite for maintaining control of access to resources, specifically those pertaining to economic activity, caring for offspring, health and hygiene, and perhaps issues of morality. And its need goes way beyond this level, after all how can one currently fulfil one’s needs for esteem and self actualisation if one can not read or write or has not developed one’s capacity for logical and critical thinking?  It is a prerequisite best met by society, not private enterprise with its overriding profit motive, which is also not exactly interested in maintaining and growing a customer base with capacity for independent thought as history has shown and does to this day, but we will have eliminated its influence already with the measures undertaken as recommended in III.  But education itself is undergoing profound paradigm shifts.  While in many places primary and secondary education still takes the form of assembling the youth of the village in (or at) one place for communal teaching, investigation, experimentation and conversation, or that of not yet technologically replaceable traditional individual teaching by experts or masters, in places with access to advanced technology education is becoming increasingly nonlocal and free of cost.  This is very welcome in principle, but the difference in possibilities of access to the enabling technologies between these places raises another issue: infrastructure.
  2. Infrastructure is even more important in the provision of health services than in education. Advanced knowledge and technologies are of no value to the users unless they can be delivered to where they are.  Thus a complete network of operators (hospitals with physicians, equipment and personnel) within reasonable proximity to users, which is still widely lacking, must be established.  This in turn is dependent on solid transportation facilities.  If health and education services are provided online, as is becoming more and more common, requirements include a reliable and secure communications network.  Needless to say, both types of infrastructure require availability of the energy to operate and maintain them.
  3. Security of body is a concept subject to various influences. The most direct and often irresistible one is force majeure, as executed by natural disasters.  Human technology may never be able to completely shield users against its impacts as long as life is based on physical substrates within this universe.  But given that terra is a normally slowly changing environment compared to current user life spans, much progress has been made for example in adjusting construction technologies in earthquake prone japan or fending off the sea in the low lying netherlands.  Much more must be done especially in the light of climate change and rising sea levels.  Security threats caused by humans must be considered as criminal after military conflicts have been eliminated by overcoming the nation concept, and are being handled in two major ways: law and therapy.  It is clear that both approaches are still in their infancy; therefore much research in these areas must be undertaken under the provisions of Politics 2.0.
  4. Employment and property are both economic concepts and can be discussed together. The original function of both is to secure the user’s economic basis, in other words they are tools toward guaranteeing the fulfilment of the user’s needs, on all levels of the hierarchy, within the current system characterised by scarcity and the exchange of privately (lit.: stolen) owned property without which the user is totally dependent solely on the commodity of his physical productive capacity.  A huge number of users are currently subject to this latter condition: without employment and without property.  This of course is largely caused by the force described under III, which we assume to have eliminated before implementing Politics 2.0.  Thus alternative ways to secure users’ material needs must be found.  Many alternatives such as cooperative production and more recently universal basic income have been developed, tested and discussed for a long time.  Building on this work developing requirements for an upgrade is one of the major issues in improving user satisfaction, as it affects billions, indeed the vast majority of current users.
  5. I will be generous and interpret ‘family’ as code for ‘securing the survival of offspring’ since it is clearly not a biological but a cultural concept. Throughout history, in different human cultures and more so among other species, family is just one of the many social forms in which this function is being executed, and it is itself undergoing constant change.  The last century saw a transition in developed regions from ‘Großfamilie’ (apparently there is no english term describing the typical 19th century configuration with three or more generations and sidelines living together) to the currently common core family, and recently we are seeing the introduction of legally sanctioned non gender based models.  Throughout history we have seen different social constructs that among others all have proven capable of executing this function, while none is guaranteed to do it well, such as single parents, institutions, communes, polygamous and polyandrous groups.  Nonetheless i submit that groups operating on liberal principles tend to do a better job than those based on authoritarian ones.  Complexities of this issue are defined by the gradual change of children’s capacities throughout development, which requires finely grained understanding of the development processes while avoiding the traditional, and current, underestimation of these capacities.  The issues of child rearing are also closely related to those of education (addressed above under a), and to privilege (to be addressed below).  In conclusion Politics 2.0 must include provisions to secure childrearing with the goal of enabling the highest physical and mental potential of children while abstaining from interfering in the social constructs providing this function for any other reasons than goal oriented ones.
  6. Morality is an interesting issue for several reasons. An obvious one is that it occurs twice in this hierarchy, once here and again on the highest (self actualisation) level.  This can be interpreted to mean that here we are discussing morality as something learned, in whatever framework and by whatever authority (do good, don’t do bad), while under the self-actualisation paradigm it is understood as something coming from a combination of character and experience, from ‘within’.  But this interpretation implies a simplification that will not suffice to do the issue justice.  First let us examine the meaning of the term ‘morality’.  Derived from the latin ‘mores’, roughly equivalent to ‘custom’, meaning the way things are done, the term does not include any obvious legitimacy, other than perhaps that of evolutionary success.  But evolution is equivalent to change, so the conservative notion of morality is already questionable.  Then there is the question of the distinction of morality and ethics.  A brief but plausible treatment i have come across in my perfunctory investigation is presented here[vi].  According to this morality would be the appropriate term here while under ‘self-actualisation’ it should read ‘ethics’.  Consequently morality, being conditioned by culture, of which humans and other animals have many, should not be listed under ‘needs’.  More precisely what is meant here is playing by the rules that prevent ostracisation of the user from the cultural context in which he happens to find himself.  The value of this ‘in the wild’ is obvious, but it must be a point of importance in Politics 2.0 to liberate users from this constraint.

3. Love/belonging

Fortunately upwards from level three (love/belonging) the influence of politics diminishes.  Policies can create or obstruct conditions conducive to meeting the needs of this level and beyond, but a lot of the required effort is dependent on the individual user.

  1. Family here, as opposed to ‘the family’ (this brings up, perhaps not without reason, mafia associations, a social construct which indeed attempts to guarantee survival in exchange for playing by its rules) under 2.e, seems to indicate a sense of belonging and protection, and a construct that can respond to this need. Again, the traditional family is not the only social unit ensuring the desired outcome, and certainly not one to guarantee this outcome.  My generation (i was a young man in the ‘60s) had to and did find, or build, other social entities to provide for this kind of need, and i do think this holds true today, but i do not know how successfully, or even if, this is undertaken these days.  There is not much an upgrade can do beyond removing all systemic obstacles, which do currently still exist, toward letting individuals build these entities, fleeting and transitory as they often turn out to be.
  2. Friendship and sexual intimacy can be addressed together. Friendship is equivalent to intimacy; if it takes on sexual qualities, and to what degree, is dependent on psychological configurations and definitely must not be subject to policy.  In fact friendship is the overriding quality needed to ensure users’ needs are met on all levels of this hierarchy.  There is not much point in having a ‘family’ if none of its members can offer friendship to the user, and the same applies to alternative social constructs mentioned above.  Apparently sexual expression and conduct has been more or less subject to cultural conventions and pressures for a long time, and clearly since religion assumed its position of control of individual behaviour during the agricultural revolution.  Currently we are seeing two contradictory trends.  In more enlightened societies there is a steady retreat of powers attempting to regulate sexual behaviour of its citizens with one notable exception being the area of ‘underage’ regulation.  Children are widely and falsely seen as asexual beings, and arbitrary age limitations are set by law.  This is an important issue to be addressed within Politics 2.0 along the lines described under 2.e.  Simultaneously there is a strong reactionary backlash against this increasing liberalisation observable even within, and stronger outside these societies.  An upgrade of politics must include complete decriminalisation of these, and other, victimless activities.

4. Esteem and self actualisation

The needs described on the remaining two levels, esteem and self actualisation can be addressed together.  Those listed under esteem (self esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of and by others), are all more or less dependent on the realisation of the quality of friendship, which was mentioned in the previous paragraph.  Friendship appears to emerge from fulfilling the needs mentioned on this level and in turn to facilitate this fulfilment, as in a virtuous cycle.  Friendship must include a well developed capacity for empathy resulting in knowing when and how to step in and when to keep out, and again it plays a beneficial role in this development.  However empathy can, and should, apply beyond established friendship in relation to strangers, who after all are potential friends.

Of the six items listed under self actualisation, the latter three, problem solving, lack of prejudice and acceptance of facts, are all results of basic education, and should have been addressed and resolved long before this level is discussed.  Thus they are the only ones mentioned in these two highest levels that are actually subject to politics.

Of the other three, morality, creativity, spontaneity the first one has already been mentioned under 2.f “as something coming from a combination of character and experience, from ‘within’”, and labelled as ethics rather than morality.  Like ethics, creativity and spontaneity are properties of ‘character’ or ‘personality’, but how much they are also subject to a learning process is to be researched and discussed.  Another open question is whether any or all of these three can be rightfully described as needs.  One can lead a perfectly fulfilled life without being spontaneous, creative or having a finely developed sense of ethics.  However much i share Maslow’s ideas about what it takes, for me personally, to become a fulfilled human, or transhuman, being, these ideas can not be automatically presumed to be true for others.  What we are discussing here is politics, an activity with the potential to facilitate, and on the lower levels to guarantee, or as is widely the case today to obstruct, the possibility of living a fulfilled life.  How that opportunity is used if attained must remain subject to individual choice.

5. Further discussion

There are two issues which are rightfully, as they do not constitute needs, not discussed within the preceding, but which are intimately connected with its content and with each other.

  1. Taxes – this is here just meant as code for any number of ways in which societies take responsibility for issues that can reasonably and successfully only be addressed through a communal approach. All of the policies required by these specifications take resources, expressed in monetary value (money), and this money is usually raised through collecting taxes.  Even after recovering the money currently drained into private holes by greed as well as that wasted on the nationalistic zero sum military game, and by sheer incompetence, there may be additional funds required to be raised as taxes, unless government, or better society, is set up as a wealth generator itself.  This is a wide open issue which will however have to be discussed, agreed upon and included in the new version of politics.
  2. Privilege (lit.: private law) is another huge factor currently draining resources from the community into the hands and pockets of the minority that benefits from these transactions, the privileged. These are mostly corporate, political and religious structures as well as wealthy individuals, which have managed to manipulate legislative processes in order to maintain or establish these privileges.   Code within Politics 2.0 must ensure the elimination of all privileges.  Law can only apply to all.

Conclusion

The list of specifications arrived at here through one of many models describing users’ needs is far from complete, and it is merely that: a list of high level specs.  This must be discussed, revised and fleshed out in low level requirements, then coded and tested before being put in production.  At least that is how it would work in a well designed and executed project which itself is a rarity in the real world.

And now it is time to give up the conveniently assumed illusion of Politics 2.0.  The basic changes to ‘human nature’, that i nonchalantly presented above as prerequisite operating system upgrades, in reality will be, and already are being, hard fought over, mentally, politically, economically and militarily, and the outcome is far from clear.  Those who think that their greed has served them well are not willing to give up the benefits it has allowed them to accumulate, and may not even be willing to give up the trait of greed itself, if and when genetic reconfiguration tools which can do this become available.

On the other hand many desirable policies described in these specifications are already, and have been, subject to attempts at introducing them, with mixed success, despite and against the unfavourable conditions of this faulty operating system that is human, but hopefully not posthuman, nature.  If there has been progress or not over the last 100,000 years, when discussed from various utilitarian viewpoints, remains an open question.  However we have no other starting point than the present, and in this sense the best i can hope for is that this list of specifications may contribute to the debate on where to go from here.

References

[i] Editor’s Note:

The author of this chapter has chosen to abide by his personal style which includes customised spelling, neologisms, minimal capitalisation, and other peculiarities, which may appear to the reader to be mistakes

[ii] https://youtu.be/PTDDcJaJz64

[iii] https://youtu.be/b0kwnLzFMls

[iv] https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maslow’s_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg

[v] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/06/16/new-nasa-studies-show-how-the-world-is-running-out-of-water/

[vi] http://www.ethicsdefined.org/what-is-ethics/morals-vs-ethics/

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 8 of the Transpolitica book “Envisioning Politics 2.0”.

Images via Wired and Wikipedia.

Prolegomena to any future transhumanist politics

Can transhumanism avoid becoming the Marxism of the 21st century?

By Steve Fuller,
Auguste Comte Professor in Social Epistemology at the University of Warwick

Marx Bismarck Bostrom Fuller

Revisiting Marx and Bismarck

In ancient Greek tragedy, the term hamartia referred to a distinctive feature of the protagonist’s character that is the source of both his success and his failure, typically because the protagonist lacks sufficient judgement to keep this feature of his character in check. (Original Sin is the comparable Biblical conception, if Adam is seen as having overreached his divine entitlement.) The propensity for projecting the future, often with specific dates attached (as in the arrival of the Kurzweillian ‘singularity’), is transhumanism’s hamartia. But transhumanism is only the latest self-avowed ‘progressive’ movement to suffer from this potentially fatal flaw.

Karl Marx notoriously predicted that the proletarian revolution would occur in Germany because its rapid industrialisation made it the most dynamic economy in Europe in the second half of the 19th century, housing the continent’s largest and most organized labour movement. However, the widespread publicity of this quite plausible prediction — starting with The Communist Manifesto — led Bismarck less than two generations later to establish the first welfare state, which exploited Marx’s assumption that the state would always support capital over labour, thereby increasing wealth disparities until society reached the breakpoint. Bismarck effectively refuted Marx by treating his prediction as a vaccine that enabled the political establishment to regroup itself – effectively developing immunity — through a tolerable tax-based redistribution of income from rich to poor that provided a modest but palpable sense of social security from cradle to grave. On the side of the poor, Bismarck capitalized on the tendency for people to discount risky future prospects (i.e. a Communist utopia) when given a sure thing upfront (i.e. social security provision).

Thus, the Marxist revolution was averted – at least in Germany. Of course, like foreign bio-agents (viruses, bacteria, etc.) that over time generate more virulent strains capable of overcoming the target organism’s immunity, Marxism developed a more militantly revolutionary strain, which refused to work with the ‘social democrats’, as the Bismarck-appeased leftists came to called. It triumphed in Russia, courtesy of Lenin. To be sure, it involved various Realpolitik compromises (e.g. the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with Germany) that established a zone free of external interference to enable the desired regime to acquire some traction in a turbulent Russia. But once the Soviet Union was in place, Marxism developed a still more virulent strain, courtesy of Trotsky, which presumed that Marxism would not completely succeed until the whole world was re-made in the image and likeness of Marx, even if that means making sacrifices at home and exporting the revolution abroad.

Now, when faced with a choice between the sort of Communist utopia that Marx envisaged and Bismarck’s welfare state, many – if not most – people still feel that the latter was indeed the better path for history to have chosen. Of course, this judgement is based on a greater familiarity with actual welfare states than actual Communist societies. Or, more to the point, it is easier to assess an unrealized Communism in relation to the realized welfare state than vice versa – despite the vivid imaginations of the most fervent Marxists. Bismarck’s revenge on Marx’s much-hyped prediction amounted to controlling the spin made of the subsequent history – not least by Bismarck’s English-speaking followers on the left, the British Fabians and American Progressives of the early 20th century.

I believe that something similar is bound to happen to transhumanism. To put my thesis in a nutshell: Transhumanism is the Marxism of the 21st century: Like its 19th century precursor, it comes burdened with hype – it sets the direction of political travel, while remaining an easy target for opponents. So let’s think through the political implications.

The first point is to recall Bismarck’s maxim that politics is the art of the possible. The very idea that one can make an art of the possible presupposes a sense of constraints – if not necessity – within which possibilities can be played out. These constraints are provided by what is presumed to be law-like in operation, such as Marx’s historical materialism. However, as Leibniz famously noted, even the laws of nature are hypothetical imperatives from God’s standpoint. In other words, certain consequences necessarily follow – but only if the initial conditions are met. If politics exists in Heaven, then there is everything to play for in terms of trying to persuade God which possibilities should be fixed and which should remain fluid. When Henri Poincaré spoke of the axioms of mathematics and physics as ‘conventional’, he was trying to secularize just this point of view. Applied to the present case: By suspending one of Marx’s axioms – that the state will always remain weak and compliant in the face of expanding capital – Bismarck opened up an entirely different political universe: What Marxists had presumed to be a foregone conclusion yielded a realm of new possibilities. The result is the political universe broadly defined as ‘social democracy’, originally the name of the manageable left-leaning parliamentary opponents of Bismarck’s own conservative party.

Contemporary transhumanism

Now shift the focus to contemporary transhumanism. Two tendencies are noticeable. On the one hand, there are bold, even millenarian predictions that within a generation our computational and/or biotechnological capacities will radically transform the material conditions of being human. These are analogous to Marx’s prediction that the German labour movement would launch the first Communist Revolution. On the other, there is a steady stream of mainly dystopic science fiction novels and films that generate an equally hyperbolic level of fear. The Bismarckian move in the face of this dialectical tension is the precedent set by the US National Science Foundation’s 2002 ‘Converging Technologies’ agenda, which established a programme of anticipatory governance, whereby social researchers would attempt to gauge the likely public response to the realization of these predictions. The tools of anticipatory governance are drawn from market research but raised to a new level, since the products in question remain speculative – albeit vividly conceived and frequently articulated. However, the effect of such research is to create a demand for broadly ‘transhumanist’ products while neutralizing the worst fears surrounding them.

So, even if the current transhumanist projects do not turn out as planned, a culture is being nurtured that wants them to be true and hence is willing to support their continued funding. In this respect, the founder of self-actualization psychology, Abraham Maslow, counts as an intellectual godfather of transhumanist politics with his conception of ‘Theory Z’ as a marketing strategy for the emerging group of consumers he called ‘transcenders’. These people, first identified in the late 1960s, had sufficiently large disposable incomes to easily satisfy their material needs, but they were disinclined to make further material investments in, say, property or stocks. Rather, they were open to products that promised positive self-transformation even if their material composition was not so different from the versions they had previously bought. Think ‘ecologically friendly’ or ‘socially responsible’ consumer goods.

A transhumanist descendant of this mentality may be found in the various shows and commercials fronted by Jason Silva, most notably his series ‘Shots of Awe’ and his exciting infomercial for Russian Standard Vodka, which manages in a little over three minutes to show how to get from Dimitri Mendeleyev, who formulated the periodic table of elements, to the transhumanist vistas that this particular mainstream brand of spirits opens your mind to. More to the point, Singularity University in California has become the mecca for cultivating this sense of ‘visioneering’, which, at least in the first instance, is a kind of Marketing 2.0 for Humanity 2.0. The unasked business plan question lurking in all this is how long are these ‘transcenders’ willing to wait before their symbolically driven purchases come to be redeemed by serious material improvements in, say, their quality of life and productivity. A Bismarckian move to short-circuit the transhumanist narrative might involve, say, channelling the modest advances made across the relevant sciences and technologies into mainstream healthcare, education, production systems, etc. – while cutting off funding for the more visionary projects. After all, even such modest advances amplified across the entire economy might result in a step change in the standard of living that might cause people to forget about the Singularity, especially if it does not involve a massive disruption of lifestyles already seen as desirable (e.g. the difference between extending lifespan 20 and 200 years).

Recommendations

So, is there any politically tractable strategy for transhumanism to avoid the Bismarckian move, which ultimately curtails the capacity of basic research to explore and challenge the fundamental limits of our being? My answer is as follows: Transhumanists need to take a more positive attitude towards the military.

A strong libertarian strain within transhumanism sees military spending as a waste of taxpayers’ money to fight wars over which they had little say, instead of spending it on, say, life-extending treatments that would directly benefit individuals. However, this is a myopic view of the military, which hints at an isolationist mentality that goes against transhumanism’s natural cosmopolitanism. (After all, aren’t transhumanists the ones interested in space colonization and searching for extraterrestrial life?) More to the point, such a myopic attitude neglects the very positive role that blue skies military-based research (e.g. DARPA in the US) has played in advancing much of what we now regard as a transhumanist agenda, not least the Silicon Valley revolution that took off with redeployment of military-funded research for civilian purposes as the Cold War drew to a close. This pattern of techno-commercial bonanza on the back of sustained military focus has been common at least since the Franco-Prussian War.

The reasons for the military’s potential centrality to the transhumanist agenda are easy to understand:  It is an institution that is by definition focussed on liminal possibilities – matters of life and death — at the largest scale and over the longest time periods. Its organization is fit for purpose: well-trained, risk-oriented yet subject to clear channels of communication and control – and, not least, subject to considerable trust from those on the outside to be able handle its own messes when they arise. The military suffers neither from the short-term ‘quick win’ mentality of most businesses nor the tendency of more democratic institutions to compromise their own values to appease powerful interests.

One way to make the connection between the military and transhumanism tighter would be by casting the transhumanist biomedical agenda as a matter of national security – a kind of long-term insurance against foreign rivals who might outproduce us, outflourish us, etc. Many mass medical innovations – from public hygiene reform to vaccinations – were introduced with this sense of ‘civilian preparedness’, with the likes of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch emerging as ‘national heroes’ of their respective countries in the Franco-Prussian War. In more general historical terms, major public funding for adventurous research has typically been done against the backdrop of a sustained external threat or ‘permanent state of emergency’ (think of the US v. USSR in the Cold War). A political party that says living 200 years is an inherently nice idea is not as persuasive as one arguing that living 200 years is necessary to maintain our position in the world. The activities of China’s Beijing Genomics Institute can help focus the mind on this issue. This public-private partnership aims to sequence the genomes of thousands of high-IQ people to find interesting transferable molecular patterns. Whether or not it succeeds in its ambitions, it is certainly assuming that the goal posts for ‘normal’ and ‘successful’ human existence are changing, which in turn requires substantial investment in basic research that aims at long-term human capital development.

Moreover, the focus on the military would help shift tenor of transhumanist political discourse from one of personal freedom to one of geopolitical necessity – but, at the same time, a discourse with a much more positive spin from that of Nick Bostrom at Oxford and Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk. Whereas they are largely in the business of preventing worst possible outcomes (e.g. our unwitting destruction at the hands of superintelligent machines of our own creation), I am suggesting a spirit more in line with ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, namely, that each potential threat is an opportunity in disguise, a moment for further distinguishing the chaff of our evolutionary heritage from the wheat that we wish to take forward, be it in terms that are purely carbon-based, silicon-based or some combination of the two. Even highly probable long term changes to the Earth’s climate can be seen in this fashion: namely, as invitations for us to undertake now — prior to any actual global catastrophe – a systematic revaluation of our existential priorities, especially in terms of energy provision. In this respect, transhumanists can ally with a proactionary ‘ecomodernism’, which specifically targets energy as a locus for innovation, encouraging a general shift away from fossil fuels to more sustainable forms of energy and a more generally planned global environment, with a door open to more substantial space exploration, not only as an escape route in case of ecological meltdown but also as a means of enhancing life on Earth.

Further reading

Fuller, S. (2011). Humanity 2.0: What It Means To Be Human Past, Present and Future[i]. London: Palgrave.

Fuller, S. (2012). Preparing for Life in Humanity 2.0[ii]. London: Palgrave.

Fuller, S. and Lipinska, V. (2014). The Proactionary Imperative: A Foundation for Transhumanism[iii]. London: Palgrave.

References

[i] http://www.amazon.com/Humanity-2-0-Means-Present-Future/dp/0230233430/

[ii] http://www.amazon.com/Preparing-Life-Humanity-Palgrave-Pivot/dp/1137277068/

[iii] http://www.amazon.com/Proactionary-Imperative-Foundation-Transhumanism/dp/1137433094/

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 11 of the Transpolitica book “Envisioning Politics 2.0”.

Cyborgization: A Possible Solution to Errors in Human Decision Making?

By Dana Edwards and Alexander J. Karran

Cyborg brain

Abstract

Accelerating social complexity in combination with outstanding problems like attention scarcity and information asymmetry contribute to human error in decision making. Democratic institutions and markets both operate under the assumption that human beings are informed rational decision makers working with perfect information, situation awareness, and unlimited neurological capacity. We argue that, although these assumptions are incorrect, they could to a large extent be mediated by a process of cyborgization, up to and including electing cyborgs into positions of authority.

Introduction

In the modern information age governing bodies, business organisations and adaptive systems are faced with ever increasing complexity in decision-making situations. Accelerating rates of technological and social change further compound this systemic complexity. In this complex environment the effects of human cognitive bias and bounded rationality become issues of great importance, impacting upon such domains as political policy, legislature, business practice, competitiveness and information intelligence.

In this text we shall use regulatory capture as an illustration of how human cognitive bias and conflicts of interest interact in the politico-economic space to create disproportionate advantage. We shall also hypothesize a novel potential solution to human cognitive bias in the form of human-machine hybrid decision support.

In broad terms regulation encompasses all forms of state intervention in economic function, and more specifically intervention with regard to the control of natural monopolies. The term “regulatory capture” is used to explain a corruption of the regulatory process. Regulatory capture has both narrow and broad interpretations. The broad interpretation is that it is a process through which special interest groups can affect state intervention ranging from the levying of taxes to legislation affecting the direction of research and development [i].The narrow interpretation places the focus specifically on the process through which regulated monopolies exert pressure to manipulate state agencies to operate in their favour[ii].

What these interpretations express is that regulatory capture generally involves two parties: the regulated monopoly and the state regulatory agency. The process of regulatory capture can be two way: just as corporations can capture government regulation agencies, the possibility exists for government agencies to capture corporations. As a result of this process, government regulatory agencies can fail to exert financial and ethical boundaries if they are captured, while corporations can fail strategically and financially if they are captured.

Regulatory capture takes two forms, materialist and non-materialist capture. In materialist capture, which is primarily financially motivated, the mechanism of capture is to appeal to the self-interest of the regulators. Materialist capture alters the motives of regulators based on economic self-interest, so that they become aligned with the commercial or special interest groups which are supposed to be regulated. This form of capture can be the result of bribes, political donations, or a desire to maintain government funding. Non-materialist capture also called cognitive or cultural capture happens when the regulator adopts the thinking of the industry being regulated. Status and group identification both play a role in the phenomena of regulators identifying with those in the industry they are assigned to regulate[iii].

Given the current socio-political climate of accelerating technological and social change, consideration should be given to how organizations are formed. Organizations should be structured to resist or otherwise minimize any service disruption caused by regulatory capture, so that if the process of normative regulation fails i.e. in situations where the balance of the relationship between the two entities has become corrupted, the service which required regulation in the first place can remain available after the failure.

One example of potential government regulatory failure due to a captured agency is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hydraulic fracking scandal of 2004. The EPA released a report[iv] in which they stated that hydraulic fracturing posed “little or no threat” to drinking water supplies. Whistle-blower Weston Wilson disputed[v] this conclusion of the EPA publicly and exposed five of the seven members of the peer review panel as having conflicts of interest. These conflicts of interest allowed elements within the administration to apply pressure, and become involved in discussions about how fracking would eventually be portrayed in the report. Due to this pressure the EPA may have unable to publish a genuine conclusion about the safety of fracking. This reveals a potential failure of the EPA to protect the public interest due to regulatory capture.

Another example of regulatory capture concerns a dramatic failure of regulatory oversight for the British National Foundation (BNF), which is one the UK’s most influential institutes on diet and health. The BNF, established more than 40 years ago, advises government, schools, industry, health professionals and the public, and exists solely to provide “authoritative, evidence-based information on food and nutrition”[vi]. Its ability to provide independent evidence-based advice however has been called into question given its apparent bias towards promoting the views of the food industry and the organization’s lack of transparency when reporting funding sources.

This comes as no surprise when 39 members of its funding membership come from the food industry[vii]. For example, In October 2009, when a television commercial for a member company’s probiotic yoghurt product was banned, the BNF spoke out in support of the product (and thus the company) by claiming that there is “growing evidence that a regular intake of probiotics may positively influence our health”. As a result while appearing to take a stance on the grounds of public health, it would appear as though the BNF were protecting its own interests and those of a member company under the guise of regulatory oversight.

Factors that affect human decision making within complex adaptive systems

The examples of regulatory capture described above highlight some of the issues associated with human cognitive bias, specifically within a complex adaptive system (such as a government or corporation) where rational choice is bounded by self-interest combined with overarching organizational goals. In information saturated environments such as these, human cognitive limitations can become a factor that leads to poor rational decision making, requiring the individual or organisation to rely on shortcuts which may lead to human error. A number of psychological and social factors such as “attention scarcity”, “information asymmetry”, and “accelerating societal complexity” contribute to poor rational decision making within complex organisational structures. Awareness has been rising that human attention has become a scarce resource in the information age, and attention scarcity ultimately relates to the economics of attention.

Attention scarcity relates to a human cognitive limitation which determines the amount of information a human can digest and attend to in a given period of time (also referred to as an information economy). Simply put, “attention is a resource-a person only has so much of it”[viii]. Thus, in a low information economy any item brought to the attention of decision makers is perceived by its economic properties which are deemed decisive for its profitability. In contrast, in a high information economy, the diversity of items mean perception is limited and only choices that expose decision makers to sufficiently strong signals are viable.

Attention scarcity is a weakness of human cognition which can be purposefully exploited. For example, consider the U.S. Affordable Care Act, which has over 9000 pages of rules. It is likely that most voters lacked sufficient “attention” to read through and digest each page at the time when the act was being debated. Due to the complexity of legislative law, even if a team of “netizens” formed to crowd source the reading and analysis of a new law, it is unlikely that they would be able to interpret and understand it within the available timeframe to object if needed.

The effects of attention scarcity are observed in the poor public understanding not only of legal documents, but also of complex open source software. We see in open source software situations where the developers allow anyone to read the source code but in which the source code has so many lines of opaque obfuscated code that very few users or even other software developers understand how it works. We can see how attention scarcity produces information asymmetry between the open source developers who can decipher the source code and everyone else who may or may not choose to use the software.

Information asymmetry is a serious factor intrinsic to cognitive bias in human decision making, and concerns decisions in transactions where one party has the perception of, or is in possession of, more or better quality information than the other. This potentially creates an imbalance in the transaction power dynamic which may lead to future failure and a collapse of trust, causing a kind of market failure in a worst case scenario.

Accelerating societal complexity refers to the structural and cultural aspects of our institutions whose practices are identified by the “shrinking of the present”, a decreasing time period during which expectations based on past experience reliably match the future[ix]. When combined with accelerating technological progress this “shrinking” appears to flow ever faster, making decisions based on belief or the perception of better information problematic.

All of these individual factors can influence the human decision making process; in combination they potentially create a decision space that becomes more fluid, with a self-reinforcing feedback loop which requires better decisions to be made in shorter spaces of time with incomplete or asymmetric information. Indeed, by all accounts humans make errors all of the time, but as society gets ever more complex, these errors have lasting and increasingly dangerous consequences (such as in the example of hydraulic fracking discussed above). In order to get a clearer picture of a possible basis for this error effect, some discussion of human cognitive limitations is warranted.

The impact of human cognitive limitation

As we have discussed previously, information asymmetry in complex adaptive systems allows for decision error to appear within the system, as the better informed parties possess a marked information advantage which allows them to exploit the ignorance of other parties. This can occur in any field of human endeavour, such as law, science, commerce or governance, where new knowledge will be easier to grasp by those with previous knowledge, given that knowledge is self-referential and compounds on itself[x]. As organizations grow larger and the decision requirements become ever more complex, attention scarcity and information asymmetry can form a feedback loop that – at scale – slows the rate of innovation/knowledge diffusion, as individuals and organisations vie for supremacy in transactions.

Research in the area of cognitive neuroscience suggests that the cognitive abilities of an individual are limited to five core systems (objects, agents, number, geometry and social) [xi], each with its own set of limitations. An example of limitation within the social system is “Dunbar’s number”, first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar[xii], who posited that the number of social group members a primate can track is limited to the volume of the neocortex, and while this theory is hotly disputed[xiii], it has yet to be disproven with any certainty. This limitation, if taken to its logical conclusion and scaled to match an average complex adaptive system (such as regulatory or corporate bodies) highlights that the decision making abilities of an average individual could be impaired significantly, when not augmented by technology or genetic engineering.

This impairment of decision making ability was remarked upon in Herbet A. Simon’s theories of bounded rationality[xiv]. These theories were concerned with rational behaviour in the context of individuals and organisations and individuals within organisations, which he stated were indistinguishable under the “theory of the firm”. In this theory the given goals and the given conditions (of the organization) drive “rational” decision making based on two functions: the demand function (the quantity demanded as a function of price) and the cost function (the cost of production as a function of the quantity produced). These two rules when applied to complex adaptive systems, such as regulatory or governing bodies, demonstrate the vast scope in which human cognitive bias can affect outcomes at the macro scale while appearing to be a series of micro decisions made by individuals.

Nowhere can this asymptotic synergy of information, human cognitive ability and bounded rationality be seen more clearly, than in the case of law. A truism often used in this context is that Ignorance of the law excuses no one, but the complexity of law confuses everyone. In a world where few if anyone in society knows the law it may well become necessary for people to supplement their own cognitive capacities with “apps” to protect themselves from the complexity of the law. “Lawfare” is said to describe a form of asymmetric warfare which allows for the exploitation of the esoteric and complex nature of the law to damage political opponents. Just as complex words on an ingredient list can be used to hide undesirable ingredients from customers, the law and its potential use as a weapon also remain hidden from most citizens.

The current analogue forms of government have their basis in a complicated combative bureaucracy (necessary to support representative forms of democracy). Accelerating technological progress, however, shows that this approach may not scale particularly well as society becomes orders of magnitude more complex in the coming decades. It is our analysis, that unless a Transhumanist approach is adopted to enhance the existing human decision processes by merging with technological decision support, catastrophic failures may occur.

In this socially complex future, it is likely that our politicians may have to rely increasingly on information technologies, to the point that they essentially become cyborgs, merging fact checking and recommendation engines – based on rational rulesets – to keep pace with accelerating societal change and allow them to fully encompass monolithic social structures. In addition, citizens may also out of necessity need to adopt similar technologies, in order to understand the decisions made by these new “enhanced” politicians and to adapt to and effectively participate in an increasingly complex and fast changing society. In addition the institutions of the future will likely have to adopt human error tolerant designs which use the latest decision support technology to help mitigate and dampen the consequences of human error.

The Cyborg Citizen: A transcendent solution?

In order to avoid confusion we first have to properly define what we mean by a cyborg citizen. Andy Clark[xv] in his book Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the future of Human Intelligence, argues that human beings are by nature cyborgs, claiming that human neural plasticity and a propensity to build and utilise tools in everyday life (from handwriting to mobiles phones), produces a species that thinks and feels most effectively only through the use of its technologies. Ray Kurzweil[xvi] goes one step further to predict that, by 2030, most humans will choose to be cyborgs:

Our thinking then will be a hybrid of biological and non-biological thinking. We’re going to gradually merge and enhance ourselves. In my view, that’s the nature of being human – we transcend our limitations.

In order to understand what a “cyborg citizen” means in today’s information and technology driven society, we must expand upon this definition to include current technological and social developments. Indeed, we will have to recognize that each individual today, and more so in the future, will have a digital, virtual, and physical self[xvii]. Thus, a cyborg is a person who is (singly or in combination) enhanced by or dependent upon, robotic, electronic, or mechanical devices such as artificial hearts, pacemakers, portable dialysis machines or even mobile / cloud computing which employs storage, search, retrieval and analysis (SSRA) capabilities such as Google, Amazon etc.

Corporations also appear to be taking advantage of technologies to enhance human decision making as a way to adapt to increasing business and market complexity. Venture capitalist firm Deep Knowledge Ventures named to their board of directors[xviii] an algorithm called VITAL, which they intend to someday evolve into a full-fledged artificial intelligence. This move may represent one of the initial forays in what may become a trend toward human-machine run corporations. Indeed, some are going much further, to call for complete replacement of humans within complex organisations (such as government) with artificial intelligence[xix]. However, arguments about the inevitable rise of artificial general intelligence aside, we push for a “human-in-the-loop” approach through the merger or bonding of human ethical and moral “instinct” with a bounded rational decision support engine, existing in either digital space or embedded into the human central nervous system via implants.

So what would such a citizen cyborg look like? Below is a list of a number of hypothetical decision support systems which are presently borderline (in that they exist, but are not as yet fit for purpose), which could exist in digital space and employ SSRA capabilities to allow for enhanced human-machine hybrid decision making.

  • Intent casting: Intent casting, originally described by Doc Searls, allows consumers to directly express their wants and needs to the market. This could allow for the digitization of intent and for agent-based AI to shop on behalf of customers.
  • Algorithmic democracy: Algorithmic democracy in theory, would allow voters to delegate their voting decisions (and thus agency) to an algorithm, which could be referred to as a digital voting agent (DA). Examples of digital agents today include Siri, Amazon Echo, and Cortana. As these DA’s become more capable, it is possible that voters could rely on their DA to inform them as to how they should vote in accordance to their specific interests and preferences.
  • Digital decision support consultants: These are intelligent decision support systems that would help professionals make better decisions. It is likely that there will be apps for different professions such as IBM’s WellPoint for doctors, legal assistant apps, and real-time fact checkers[xx] These apps may be decentralized collaborative applications with human and robot participation or they may be software agent based AI. This category would also include algorithms such as Deep Knowledge Ventures VITAL and agents to track relationships and the flow of information between groups within a complex organization or brokers between two transaction parties.

Examples of algorithms that hypothetically speaking, could run on physiologically embedded technology, directly accessible by the human brain to provide decision support:

  • Generate and test search: a reinforcement learning, trial and error algorithm which can search through a limited solution space in a systematic manner to find the best solution[xxi]. In operation this algorithm would generate possible solutions to a set problem and test each until it finds the solution which passes a positive threshold, whereupon the solution is relayed to the human cognitive process for a potential decision and reinforcement. This kind of technique can be used to take advantage of simulation testing and solve problems which have a limited solution space, such as those presented by the “free market” or those requiring a quick human decision in a “lesser of two evils” scenario.
  • Global optimization search: evolutionary algorithms which are inspired by the biological mechanisms of global optimization search, such as mutation, crossover, natural selection and survival of the fittest[xxii]. These algorithms can search a solution space and compare each solution to a desired fitness criteria. In the case where human input is necessary to evolve a solution then an interactive evolutionary algorithm could allow the human to be the solution selector, while the algorithm is the solution generator. The algorithms can go through a similar process and be generated and evolved for improved fitness.
  • Markov decision processes: an experimental framework for decision making and decision support. A Markov decision process automates finding the optimal decision for each state while taking into account each action’s value in comparison to the others, essentially an idealised decision output for a given problem state. With human decision selection driving the process, the ramifications of each decision selection at each stage of the problem analysis can be carefully considered and accepted or rejected based on rational choice.

This list is by no means exhaustive and there may be other borderline hypothetical decision support systems and algorithms which are not mentioned here. However, this list gives a general idea of how embedded or digital artificial decision support agents can improve decision quality in certain sectors of human society. By improving decision quality through technology and semi-autonomous agencies we may be able to reduce the frequency of poor decisions which result from nothing more than human error and or human ignorance.

Discussion: Checks and Balances

We do not propose that cyborgization makes for a perfect solution to the problem of human cognitive limitation and decision error in complex social systems. Indeed, decision support systems already exist in one form or another. However, they are still in an early stage of development and not ubiquitous, thus technology such as VITAL benefits only large corporations and perhaps the intelligence establishment. It is a situation similar to the early stages of computer development or the Internet, both of which existed, but the benefits were limited to certain domains, back in the 1960s during the Cold War.

We believe the widespread adoption of decision support technology, be it embedded or digital, could provide the tools necessary for individuals to comprehend the entirety of complex organizations, model the decision-consequence space and select ethical decisions. These tools would essentially enable decision makers to take into account individual need and motivation, and provide ethical solutions which afford the greatest good for the greatest number, without creating asymmetric information economies.

An example of a beneficial application of cyborg technology would be the doctor who utilises WellPoint[xxiii] to make diagnoses based on a combination of learned skillset and a digital health agent with a broad specialist evidence based knowledge base. Alternatively, in a quantified-self context an individual could upload health data gathered from wearable sensor technology, and receive information of potential health issues which could be treated with alacrity in their early stages by doctors able to access this information and review treatment options.

However, such technology and its application would not come without limitation or risk. The widespread use of these technologies could lead to a form of information “cold war”, in which human and machine agents (singly or in combination) attempt to create a state of “perfect information” to gain a competitive advantage. They may seek a form of perfect regulatory capture where one party seeks always to have an advantageous position in any transaction, be it in the free market or in the policy, legislative or intelligence domains. Arguably, such an information cold war already exists between various governments, intelligence services and corporate entities and while the “battle ground” as it were, is in so called cyberspace, it is primarily an analogue concern where agency is biological i.e. human as opposed to A.I.

It is a sad reflection upon humanity that one “positive” aspect of this cold war scenario, is that competition (war) leads to innovation, as opposing sides race to gain the information advantage. This impetus this would accelerate the development of the technologies required to create a “true” cybernetic individual or generally intelligent artificial agent. It is a matter for debate whether this would result in a situation that would be to the benefit of humanity in general or lead to a totalitarian dystopia; in which one entity or organisation exists in a near perfect state of “knowing”, stifling the development of both technology and society.

It is our opinion that the potential benefits of cyborgization outweigh the potential risks. As our technological systems and culture grow ever more complex, we must consider the risk of human error, of bad decisions, of ignorance combined with advanced technologies, in the light of a technology so pregnant with possibility.

We realize cyborgization is a controversial subject, however we see it an unavoidable and unstoppable trend. Indeed, Ginni Rometty (Chairman and CEO of IBM) stated recently that:

In the future, every decision that mankind makes is going to be informed by a cognitive system like Watson, and our lives will be better for it[xxiv]

This is a statement is very much in accordance with our notion of keeping the human-in-the-loop during decision making. Furthermore, an argument could be made that given the current reliance by vast numbers of the world population on mobile phones and internet search engines, rather than becoming cyborgs at some specific point in time (as in the prediction of Kurzweil), we have always been cyborgs (as per Clarke’s argument) and it is merely a matter of time and technology, until the line between what is human and what is our technology becomes non-existent.

Conclusion

Just as search engines allow for human beings to find the relevant information meeting their “criteria”, the adoption of decision support engines could allow autonomous digital agents and human-machine hybrids alike to find the most ethical decision within a given consequence-decision space. This approach would allow for “what if” hypothesis testing[xxv] of many decision types such as policy determination, legislative impact, market transactions and global consequence. The dawn of ethical computing is fast approaching and it is in this area requiring our fullest attention. Transhumanism provides a socially progressive framework that if adopted can allow us to transcend our human cognitive limitations, so that we can become more effective and ethical decision makers. We believe that developing the technology which can facilitate our arrival at the cyborg stage of human leadership should be a top priority, especially in this time of accelerating developments in Artificial Intelligence, which if left unsupervised could surpass us to become the apex decision maker for our entire species.

Footnotes

[i] Stigler, G. (1971), “The Theory of Economic Regulation.”, Bell Journal of Economics and Management Science, 2, 3–21

[ii] Peltzman, S. (1976), “Toward a More General Theory of Regulation.”, Journal of Law and Economics, 19 , 211–48.

[iii] Carpenter, D., & Moss, D. A. (Eds.). (2013). “Preventing regulatory capture: special interest influence and how to limit it.” Cambridge University Press.

[iv] Environmental Protection Agency, “Study of Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Wells on Underground Sources of Drinking Water.” Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water report, June 2004 – accessed May 2015.

[v]http://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/center-science-and-democracy/promoting-scientific-integrity/oil-extraction.html#.VX7TjkbFdlx

[vi] Chamberlain & Laurance (2010). “Is the British Nutrition Foundation having its cake and eating it too?” http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/news/is-the-british-nutrition-foundation-having-its-cake-and-eating-it-too-1925034.html – accessed May 2015.

[vii] Chamberlain & Laurance (2010). “Is the British Nutrition Foundation having its cake and eating it too?” http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/news/is-the-british-nutrition-foundation-having-its-cake-and-eating-it-too-1925034.html – accessed May 2015.

[viii]Crawford, Matthew B. (March 31, 2015). “Introduction, Attention as a Cultural Problem”. The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (hardcover) (1st ed.). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 11.

[ix] Rosa, H.: “Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity.” Columbia University Press, New York (2013)

[x] Klein, S. B., & Kihlstrom, J. F. (1986). “Elaboration, organization, and the self-reference effect in memory.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 115(1), 26-38. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.115.1.26

[xi] Kinzler KD, Spelke ES. Core systems in human cognition. Progress in Brain Research. 2007;164:257–264

[xii] Dunbar, R. I. M. (1992). “Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates”. Journal of Human Evolution 22 (6): 469–493. doi:10.1016/0047-2484(92)90081-J

[xiii] Wellman, B. (2012). “Is Dunbar’s number up?” British Journal of Psychology 103 (2): 174–176; discussion 176–2. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.2011.02075.x

[xiv] Simon, H.A. (1972). Theories of bounded rationality. In C.B. McGuire and R. Radner (Eds.), Decision and organization: A volume in honor of Jacob Marschak (Chap. 8). Amsterdam: North-Holland

[xv] Andy, Clark. (2004) “Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence.”, Oxford; Oxford University Press.

[xvi] Guia Del Prado “Google Futurist Ray Kurweil thinks we’ll all be cyborgs by 2030” http://uk.businessinsider.com/ray-kurzweil-thinks-well-all-be-cyborgs-by-2030-2015-6?r=US – accessed june-2015

[xvii] The digital and virtual while similar are distinct in their differences. To make clear the distinction, something is virtual if it will only exist contained within a virtual world while if something is digital it is known to exist in the physical world just in digitized form. The distinction is between digital and virtual space in which digital space is a subset of what people consider to be part of the physical world while virtual space isn’t directly referring to a part of the physical world

[xviii]Wile, R. (2014, May 13). “A Venture Capital Firm Just Named An Algorithm To Its Board Of Directors – Here’s What It Actually Does.” Retrieved June 5, 2015, from http://www.businessinsider.com/vital-named-to-board-2014-5#ixzz31dVwrSEo

[xix] http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/pellissier20150612

[xx] Ciampaglia GL, Shiralkar P, Rocha LM, Bollen J, Menczer F, Flammini A (2015) Computational Fact Checking from Knowledge Networks. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0128193. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0128193

[xxi] Kaelbling, L. P., Littman, M. L.,.and Moore, A. W., (1996) “Reinforcement Learning: A Survey.”, Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research, Volume 4, pages 237-285

[xxii] Weise, T. “Global Optimization Algorithms – Theory and Application.” Germany: it-weise.de (self-published), 2009. [Online]. Available: http://www.it-weise.de/ -accessed 06-2015

[xxiii] http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/ibmwatson/assets/pdfs/WellPoint_Case_Study_IMC14792.pdf

[xxiv] http://www.businessinsider.in/The-CEO-of-IBM-just-made-a-jaw-dropping-prediction-about-the-future-of-artificial-intelligence/articleshow/47289655.cms

[xxv] Winfield, A. F., Blum, C., & Liu, W. (2014). “Towards an ethical robot: internal models, consequences and ethical action selection.” In Advances in Autonomous Robotics Systems (pp. 85-96). Springer International Publishing

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 5 of the Transpolitica book “Envisioning Politics 2.0”.

The image is an original design by Alexander Karran.

Zoltan Istvan’s “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”: A Libertarian Philosophical Basis for “Transhumanist” Politics

A viable approach towards a sustainable political agenda?

By Roland Benedikter, Katja Siepmann, and Annabella McIntosh

Illustration-Transhumanism

Image source: Raúl Soria via Roland Benedikter

Summary

The current foundation phase of “Transhumanist” politics deserves a critical discussion of the philosophical principles that implicitly underlie its new political organization. As part of the effort towards a self-critical evaluation of political transhumanism, which is undoubtedly still in a very early phase of development, this chapter discusses the philosophy drafted by the founder of the “Transhumanist Party of the USA”, Zoltan Istvan, in his bestselling novel “The Transhumanist Wager” (2013) dedicated to develop the vision of a better society. Istvan called the philosophy underlying his meta-national, if not global, vision “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”.

We discuss the achievements, contradictions and dialectics of and within this philosophy; its possible relation to realistic social policy programs; as well as the potential implications and consequences. The goal is to achieve a more considered overall discourse at the contested new ideological interface between humanism and transhumanism which could define an influential zeitgeist of our time.

Introduction: The Framework

In recent years the importance of technology in daily life has been growing steadily. This trend is reflected by the rise of technology and its applications to ever more crucial factors within the economy, the health care sector, the military and political rhetoric. Among the systemic factors that are shaping globalization from a medium- and long-term perspective, technology has indeed become probably the most influential factor – to the point that critics speak of a “universalization” of technology in our time that is replacing the former lead roles of politics and economics.

Indeed, the computer and internet have revolutionized society since the 1990’s; genetics, bio- and neurotechnology have modified aspects of our image of the human being.[i] Furthermore, new technologies and its derivatives have also profoundly changed the ways we look at the desirable future. To a certain extent, technology has not only changed the traditional – including ideological – utopias, but has itself become the most important utopia, if not the embodiment of a utopian ideal as such. Technology as ideology is in the process of displacing most other ideological approaches both from the left and the right. This displacement has become possible given that technology -as objective process- can claim to be a new “neutral” ground between traditional political factions and their mostly “binary” inclinations that shaped the 19th and 20th centuries.[ii]

I: The “Transhumanist” Movement And Its “Proto-Political” Character

As a consequence, a technology-inspired “transhumanist movement”[iii] has begun to arise out of (as at yet mostly Western) civil societies to start to influence opinion-makers and governments, and is increasingly imitated in its basic ideas by non-democratic governments in Asia and elsewhere. The main “transhumanist” goal as far as it has been elaborated, is not only to further modernize civilization, but to overcome the existing human condition, which it regards as in principle still unsatisfactory, given its dependency on factors outside human influence.[iv]

The literal meaning of “transhumanism” is, as the term suggests, to “go beyond the existing human being”[v] through as free and open as possible application of technology to all sectors of human activity. But – more important – the meaning of “transhumanism” is also about merging technology with human biology, in order to extend human lifespan dramatically and, if possible, to eventually defeat death.

Zoltan Istvan, one of the most publicly present and well-known advocates of transhumanism, stated clearly but controversially:

What are transhumanists to do in a world where science and technology are quickly improving and will almost certainly overcome human mortality in the next 30 years? Will there be a great civil rights debate and clash around the world? Or will the deathist culture change, adapt, or even subside?

First, let’s look at some hard facts. Most deaths in the world are caused by aging and disease. Approximately 150,000 people die every day around the world, causing devastating loss to loved ones and communities. Of course, it should not be overlooked that death also brings massive disruption to family finances and national economies.

On the medical front, the good news is that gerontologists and other researchers have made major gains recently in the fields of life extension, anti-aging research, and longevity science. In 2010, some of the first studies of stopping and reversing aging in mice took place. They were partially successful and proved that 21st Century science and medicine had the goods to overcome most types of deaths from aging. Eventually, we’ll also wipe out most diseases. Through modern medicine, the 20th Century saw a massive decrease of deaths from polio, measles, and typhoid, amongst others.

On the heels of some of these longevity and medical triumphs, a number of major commercial ventures have appeared recently, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the field of anti-aging and longevity research. Google’s Calico, Human Longevity LLC, and Insilico Medicine are just some of them.

Google Ventures’ President Bill Maris, who helps direct investments into health and science companies, recently made headlines by telling Bloomberg, “If you ask me today, is it possible to live to be 500? The answer is yes.”[vi]

As a consequence, Istvan outlines the resulting political and social attempts of transhumanists to make the most out of this new potential by starting a broad public debate, including dialogue with the traditionalist and religious stripes of the population:

Recently, a number of transhumanists, including myself who is an atheist, have attempted to work more closely with governmental, religious, and social groups that have for centuries endorsed the deathist culture. Transhumanists are trying to get those groups to realize we are not necessarily wanting to live forever. Transhumanists simply want the choice and creation over our own earthly demise, and we don’t want to leave it to cancer, or an automobile accident, or aging, or fate.

To change the deathist culture in America and abroad, it’s important for people to understand that lengthening lives and having the ability to overcome human mortality is not something that has to be seen as clashing with religion. I’ve often told Christian friends, for example, that living longer could be seen as a way for religious missionaries to spread their message further – to save more people if that’s how they want to view it.

Longer lifespans and more control over our biological selves will only make the world a better place, with more permanent institutions, more time with our loved ones, and more stable economies.

In the end, transhumanism is not really trying to overcome deathist culture, but get it to understand that transhuman culture can also stand functionally next to it, helping the aims of everyone involved. Together, we can find the middle ground, and give everyone the choice to follow whatever path they want when it concerns dying or not dying in the 21st Century.[vii]

II: Another Transhumanist goal: Cognitive expansion

Another “transhumanist” goal is to expand and enhance human perception and cognitive potentials through the systematic application and broadest possible employment of neurotechnology, Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI’s) and Brain-Machine Interfaces (BMI’s). These technologies can provide direct interfaces between the human brain, the spinal cord and various technological devices through implants (and other interface technology), and such technologies have already reached a noticeable level of maturity and applicability.[viii]

Given their positive, if sometimes flamboyant basic drive, “transhumanists” are gaining relevance in several sectors of society. This is particularly the case with regard to those sectors of innovation which are involved in discussions about the possibility – and desirability – of future scenarios for mankind under “super-technological” conditions. These sectors include the debates about a rising “global imaginary”[ix]; about what humans should become both body- and consciousness-wise[x]; and about the ethics of technology application both in the broad vision and with regard to more specific anthropological implications and consequences in particular.[xi]

The most important point to consider here is that all these topics are in essence “contextual political” dimensions and thus “proto-political” in themselves by definition. In other words: Although mainly about imaginations as interconnected with technological advances, transhumanist ideas about what the human being may (and should) become, bear (willingly or unwillingly) remarkable political and social implications. These implications are presently implicit both in the topics addressed and in their specific interpretation by transhumanist ideology, including the respective public narratives. The politics inherent in transhumanism await being clarified, sooner or later, by public debate and analysis in explicit ways. This analysis needs to rise above the critique of the (unavoidable?) ethical limits of both traditional politics and transhumanism[xii], to highlight the socio-political potentials of technology in a globalized, accelerating, transdisciplinary and “fluid” social, cultural and institutional framework.

III: 2014: The Transformation of Transhumanism From “Worldview Movement” To Applicable Political Force

The constellation of ideologies and activities that comprises the transhumanist movement reached a somewhat new phase in 2014, with the outreach of transhumanist ideology from civil society to politics. Although there have existed since the 1980s several very well organized transhumanist and, more broadly speaking, “human enhancement” associations and groups able to attract synergies and sympathies both on national and international levels, and although there have been many well-known philanthropists providing funding over that time, 2014 brought something new, at least from a formal viewpoint. The year saw the more or less simultaneous founding of transhumanist political parties in several countries, including the U.S. and the UK, as well as an ongoing process in Germany and Austria towards such initiatives, several of them loosely interconnected within the more general project of a “Transhumanist Party Global”[xiii]. In the first half of 2015, all these new parties were preparing for general and presidential elections such as those of May 2015 in the UK[xiv] and those of 2016 in the USA, with the goal of gaining impact on big-picture policy decisions. All of them were directly or indirectly (i.e. through the hoped-for influence upon other, more important political parties and actors) aspiring to political power in order to maximize the impact of what is, compared to the past, a radical technological agenda for Western societies.

Most important, the publicly well-known author, columnist, adventurer and transhumanist Zoltan Istvan (born 1973)[xv], who might be viewed by now as a leading libertarian political figure of the transhumanist movement, in November 2014 founded the “Transhumanist Party of the United States of America”[xvi] with the goal to run for U.S. presidency in 2016[xvii]. Istvan elaborated – as one of his main ideological bases – the philosophy of “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”[xviii], a fictional transhumanist system of ideas developed in his best-selling book “The Transhumanist Wager” (2013)[xix].

This philosophy, although not the only one within the still very pluriform and diverse transhumanist movement, is partly challenged by prominent leftist and progressive transhumanists. However, it does appear to be the first clear condensation of existing transhumanist ideology that is, to a certain extent (as will be discussed), likely to drive the transhumanist movement’s political engagement. Because technology is declared in essence as “neutral” within transhumanism, the current Transhumanist Party claims to have a structure and agenda beyond the traditional dialectics between left and right. However, the same “classical” dichotomy between left and right, as exists in other parties, seems to characterize its present state and constellation. This can be seen with “progressivists” (or “collectivists”) in the U.S. sympathizing with a more “leftist” UK faction (which is not least a product of the traditionally rather “leftist” UK healthcare system), and with the “Technoprogressive Declaration”[xx] propagated as an alternative to the libertarian approaches of Istvan and his followers within the overall transhumanist movement. As detailed and sharp-minded as the “progressivists” contributions are, though, the libertarian “Transhumanist Wager” still remains the defining work of the transhumanists’ political and social agenda in the view of large parts of the broader public, because of Istvan’s outstanding public outreach.[xxi]

Therefore, at the start of an inquiry into the ideological bases of transhumanist politics, the question must be posed to what extent “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”, or TEF, might be able to impact the future of transhumanism as a movement, and if and how it might become influential for politics in the broader sense beyond the inner transhumanist debate. Although there might be restricted implementation potentials for TEF in applied day-to-day politics, there will be most likely many mutual influences between TEF and the “Transhumanist Party of the USA”’s practical political aims.

IV: Pillars of Transhumanism

In order to analyze “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism” and its political potentials, it is first necessary to take a closer view of transhumanism, as that forms the departing basis of TEF, and may therefore indicate how TEF fits into the greater array of posthuman and transhuman philosophies of the present.

The philosopher Max More (a telling pseudonym, as transhumanism is clearly about “maximizing and more” in every sense!) often addresses issues of transhumanism in his speeches and papers. He explains the basic transhumanist philosophical approach through its key theoretical and practical elements. According to More, transhumanism is a mindset which strives to overcome the physical and psychological barriers of being human, by rationally using technology and science to their fullest and without inhibition. The most significant aims of transhumanism are a distinctive extension of life, improved intelligence and the “optimization” of the human body. To ensure that this mindset and its aims will be supported by current society, the transhumanist movement claims to be based in both its ideology and its aspirations on rationality, including partly the tradition of rationalism.[xxii]

Nick Bostrom, professor of philosophy and director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford[xxiii] and of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology[xxiv], includes in his definition of transhumanism “The study of the ramifications, promises and potential dangers of the use of science, technology, creativity, and other means to overcome fundamental human limitations.”[xxv]

In such a framework, most transhumanists (in the first instance independent of their political inclination) explicitly promote a fundamental “enhancing transformation” of humans, in particular of human bodies and human consciousness. This position can be clarified in three parts, firstly by transhumanists being part of a long historical tradition consisting in the perpetual strivings of humans to overcome their boundaries, which therefore can be understood as a primordial human instinct, without which for example the history of medical advances would not have been possible, achieved as it was through a centuries-long battle against theology.[xxvi] Secondly, transhumanists claim that postmodern high-tech times (since the 1990s) make it possible to extend further beyond previous human options than ever before, and to take the endeavor of human emancipation against bodily and natural restrictions to a new level.[xxvii] Thirdly, transhumanists regard it as human destiny and determination to take an active role in human-technology development, including the development of the human body which was subject to nature until only recently, but which can now in their view and to a formerly unthinkable extent be “transferred” to human responsibility.[xxviii]

V: “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”, or: The Philosophy of Becoming an “Omnipotender”

On these bases, the book “The Transhumanist Wager” by Zoltan Istvan (2013) introduces a transhumanist philosophy called “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”, which is developed by the fictional protagonist and transhumanist Jethro Knights (another potentially telling name, since according to their mainstream discourse patterns, a number of transhumanists seem to conceive themselves as “knights” in the present “battle” for a better future against those unwilling, or incapable of recognizing the new technological opportunities – including a well-pondered self-irony hinting to “Star Wars”). Jethro Knights begins to evolve the TEF philosophy after a near-death experience, which brings him to the conviction that his aim in life must be to conquer death, and this core tenet also applies to all transhumanists worldwide.[xxix] While developing TEF, the key terms “omnipotender” and “transhumanist wager” are introduced at an early stage in the novel and then explained throughout the book’s story. According to the story, being the “omnipotender” means to become “the elite transhuman champion [and] the ideal and zenith of life extension and human enhancement populace.”[xxx]

Further, Jethro Knights as an individual is characterized as uncompromising, striving for the most possible power and improvement. Thus, he will overcome biological limitations and find a lasting form of life, and in the end immortality.[xxxi] The protagonist describes the significance of his transformation of consciousness, from humanistic individual to radically egocentric, as “advancing my memories, my value system, my emotions, my creativity, my reasoning”[xxxii], and therefore as an entire “enhancement of consciousness”. In this view, to transform an individual’s consciousness does not only mean to question one’s experiences, knowledge and culture, but in doing so to think and act as “reasonably” as possible. However, the exact meaning of the term “reasonable” is never clarified in detail by Istvan, and never compared to competing usages of the term, historically or in the present.[xxxiii] When applied to individuals as “systems nested in collectives nested in societies”[xxxiv], as neuroethicists John Shook of the University at Buffalo and James Giordano of Georgetown University(2014) define them, reasonable in this context could mean to examine, revise and in some cases replace current values, norms, social and governmental structures in order to reach a “transhuman” world that acknowledges the human in transition – a world in which everyone can have at least the potential to become their own most efficient and enduring self, in ways that comport with social citizenship at large and small scales. However, the question remains as to whether the version of transhumanism implied by Shook and Giordano aligns with those espoused by Bostrom and Istvan.

VI: “To love life means to become a Transhumanist”

Besides these obvious ambiguities, the “Transhumanist Wager” is clear in one point: The “wager” is about the decision each individual must make whether or not to be part of the transformation into a transhumanist world. In face of this decision, the “wager” implies the most primordial (and thus maybe most important) statement of TEF:

If you love life, you will safeguard that life, and strive to extend and improve it for as long as possible. Anything else you do while alive, any other opinion you have, any other choice you make to not safeguard, extend, and improve that life, is a betrayal of that life. (It) is a betrayal of the possible potential of your brain.[xxxv]

In essence this subtly suggests that to love life means to become a transhumanist almost automatically, and logically.

As a result, TEF – like transhumanism in general – considers the advancement of research and technology to be its first priority, as this prioritization is most likely to realize the transhumanist agenda through science. Science – and its outcome, technology – thus becomes the centerpiece of virtually “everything”, with politics, economics, culture and religion taking second place, as servants of the natural sciences. This in essence makes the humanities irrelevant, since they stem from centuries ago and will therefore have to be rebuilt from the scratch for the new transhuman world that arises.

Focusing on the individual this radically might lead to the conclusion that TEF does not pursue any kind of personal relationship between transhumanists and ultimately “omnipotenders”. But on the contrary, TEF asserts that while it is true that “a transhumanist has no immediate concern for others”[xxxvi] she or he is nevertheless able to have intimate relationships with others, such as Jethro Knights has with his wife, friends and co-workers. According to Istvan, the reason for this is that while transforming into the omnipotender, the transhumanist individual is still dependent on the knowledge of and inspiration by others; and as such can experience happiness through interacting with others. Therefore, in the vision of TEF a transhumanist society encourages family cohesion as long as it is reflected through reason and in harmony with transhumanist values.[xxxvii] When this is not the case, i.e. if one individual has lost its value to the other or is in any way in contradiction to transhuman development, then this individual will lose everything and finally be forced out of transhuman society.[xxxviii]

VII: How to Deal with Conflict If You Are an “Omnipotender”?

Taking these aspects together, it might seem surprising that while TEF supports upholding peace for as long as possible, it legitimates the use of “whatever means necessary”[xxxix] – including violence -, when it comes to conflict situations with anti-transhumanists. This is one of many parallels to other philosophies of “selfishness”, such as “Objectivism” conceived by Russian-American writer and philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-1982)[xl], which inspired the Reagan era of American politics and had prominent followers such as Alan Greenspan (the former chief of the Federal Reserve) who was a personal disciple of Rand in New York. “Objectivism” hails egoism as the true altruism since, as the saying goes, “If everything cares about himself, everybody is taken care of”. Rand legitimizes extreme violence of “first handers” (i.e. entrepreneurs) against “second handers” (i.e. employees), including cold-blooded murder of the helpless, in her monumental novel “Atlas Shrugged”[xli]. The historic goal of Objectivism to achieve “true egoism” appears to align with TEF: that is, to define “true egoism” as taking care about oneself and thus to create a world of “first handers” against a society where altruism has falsified reason by producing “second handers”, who rise against those who are the inventors of machines and progress.

Transhumanism as condensed in the novel “The Transhumanist Wager” is not far from such a vision, particularly when it comes to interaction with opponents.[xlii] However, TEF proposes any actions taken are, as far as possible, characterized by the recognition of the potential value other individuals have for themselves. When asked in this regard, the fictional protagonist and developer of TEF in Istvan’s novel declares:

We want to teach the people of the outside world, not destroy them; we want to convince them, not dictate them; we want them to join us, not fight us. They may not be essential, but they may help make it possible for us when it is time to journey through what is essential.[xliii]

Is there not implicit in these sentences a differentiation between “first” and “second handers” (those “not essential”)? Confronted with such ideals, it is unavoidable to ask questions concerning their social and political implications and how those might be concretely put into reality. Some arising questions could for example be, what negative effects might TEF as a mind-set have on the issue of community, and how should a technocratic society of the future deal with these issues? How would a majority of individuals be able to reach omnipotence without getting in conflict with each other, and what consequences would arise from such conflict? Who would be able to participate in the institutions of government and policy development and how would that differ from now? And finally, how would transhumanism be supposed to prevent misuse of inventions and technologies? These questions may be of particular concern for the concrete social and political possibilities of “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism” for years to come.

VIII: Can TEF Be Put Into Political Reality?

Whilst the book “The Transhumanist Wager” ends by outlining a thoroughly positive outcome for transhumanism and creates a clean and bright future scenario that seems a utopia, it is questionable in what sense the transhumanist transformation would be likely to happen in reality. For instance, massive social and political alterations such as a “world wide [sic] government”[xliv] and a broadly shared civilizational convention of a “one person universe, existence and culture”[xlv], seem rather unrealistic in the near future, since there are competing narratives that oppose this vision. “Posthumanistic” philosophies are not necessarily egocentric and egoistic like TEF; and neither are “postmodern” ones, not to speak of “third way” approaches or even the surviving leftist systems of ideas – rather on the contrary.[xlvi]

The author Zoltan Istvan himself states that with regard to his political campaign for U.S. presidency in 2016 he distances himself from TEF and Jethro Knights’ envisioned “measures” to spread the transhumanist mission in the world.[xlvii] He explains this with the need for a civil competition between transhumanists and its governmental or religious opponents. Indeed, rather than through mobilization on the streets, Istvan wants his party to focus on publicity-based measures to attract attention, in order to make transhumanism popular foremost as a “soft power” and thus to prepare the ground for a “transhumanist mindset” that in his hope will receive widespread voluntary support at least in the technology-driven U.S. and in the most developed Western nations.[xlviii]

This peaceful and nonaggressive approach can also be found within TEF, as seen when the fictional protagonist declares in his speech to the world’s population that the transhuman nation “will strive to settle all disputes, conflicts and problems without violence”.[xlix] This at first gives a positive impression of the actions of the new transhuman citizen and might even lead to further interest in transhumanist psychology. But the statement in the book continues by stating that transhumanists “firmly believe in possessing the most powerful weapons, having an aggressive police force, and using military might against enemies.”[l]

The first two points might remind readers all over the world of the arms race between the West and Russia during the cold war. Striving for the most efficient weapons, and frightening the other country with their possible use, created at the time a feeling within society of constant endangerment rather than reassurance. In addition, a strong police force might further add to an oppressive atmosphere, since it could give the individual the impression of constantly being controlled for “wrong” behaviour. Although the punishments foreseen in this case by the transhumanist’s police executives are mostly non-violent ones, they do interfere drastically with the individuals’ possibilities of self-realization and egoism.

IX: How To Become A “Transhuman Citizen”?

By addressing someone as a full “Transhuman Citizen”, the fictional transhumanist leader Jethro Knights means an individual who has become a citizen of “Transhumania”, his transhumanist nation. This individual has broken with everything connected to her or his history, country of origin and personal provenance; she or he will only care for someone or something outside of “Transhumania”, when this is of value for the cause of the new “Transhuman Citizen”.[li] If not so, she or he could be exiled from “Transhumania” for ignorance[lii] and most likely never receive a second chance to reintegrate into society, which would mean isolation not only from family and friends, but also from the benefits society provides to the individual, such as security or rights and freedoms. As “Transhumania” is supposed to be a worldwide nation, this would also mean that the exiled individual could not be able to turn to any other country and become a citizen there. In reality this would mean all established nations and their governments would have to be “integrated” or replaced by one “transhuman” government.

This seems to be a very unlikely scenario for the foreseeable future, though, as it would cause more conflicts than it could settle. Leading transhumanist thinkers such as Nick Bostrom have long underscored that many crucial ethical questions concerning the human body or the further development of the human brain, in relation to new technologies, will not be solved quickly; since in the age of globalization they would require a global government which in their view is quite unlikely to come into existence anytime soon.[liii]

On the other hand, such a scenario could open the way for one forceful authority to bypass the variety of existing ones – a not very reassuring vision, in a time when new extremist movements are rising around the world. Nevertheless, it seems safe to say that the program of the “American Transhumanist Party”, does indeed include plans to build up an internationally connected and unified transhuman political movement. This unification can be seen in the so-called “Transhumanist Party Global”[liv], which Zoltan Istvan stated in an interview in early 2015[lv] was formed to maximize the international political influence of the movement.

X: The “Three Laws of Transhumanism” and Mainstream Politics In A Democracy

The motivation behind the transhumanist drive for increased political influence is similar to that in Istvan’s book, and in the reality of his political initiative. Both are linked to the main goals of the transhumanist movement: First, supporting life extension research with as much resources as possible to give a majority of people the chance to benefit from the findings and applications of new technologies, and eventually even overcome death.[lvi] In order to do so, it is necessary, secondly, to spread the transhuman mindset, and thirdly, to participate actively in the development of new technologies, to be able to control them and to protect society from possible misuse of new technologies as well as other dangers they may incur. As Istvan put it in his “three laws of transhumanism”

  1. A transhumanist must safeguard one’s own existence above all else.
  2. A transhumanist must strive to achieve omnipotence as expediently as possible – so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First Law.
  3. A transhumanist must safeguard value in the universe – so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First and Second Laws…[lvii]

In response to these “laws” John Hewitt writes “If energetically adopted, these deceptively simple maxims ultimately compel the individual to pursue a technologically enhanced and extended life. (Transhumanists) have come to see the choice to accept or reject these principles as something far more fundamental than the choice between liberal or conservative principles.”[lviii]

This assumption may be correct, as technology is indeed substituting traditional political mechanisms by a new logic.

However, while transhumanists such as Zoltan Istvan want to push forward according to the “three laws” both philosophically and politically, they appear unaware of any larger risks or even contradictions in the joint endeavor. Researchers from scientific fields involved such as neuroscientist and neuroethicist James Giordano of Georgetown University[lix] recognize the potential benefits of technological evolution and policy focus, but nevertheless express concerns about the all too direct political plans of the transhumanist political movement. Even though Giordano also sees positive perspectives, he points out that there are many contradictions in programs such as those espoused by Istvan, for instance between the push toward the development of radical technologies and the safeguard of society’s safety when the innovations are not to be restricted by regulations.

This indeed poses an important question that most likely will arise louder in the years to come: what is the relationship between radical technology and safety under the condition of a potential “Transhumania”? Presumably, the absence of a compelling solution for this issue will be a hindering factor for the spread of the transhumanist mindset. Furthermore, adequate financing of transhumanist technologies and research might also become an issue when, as conducted in the fictive nation “Transhumania”, the government applies the lowest possible taxation rate on citizens’ income and as the price to pay for this discontinues the payment of retirement and public pensions[lx], as well as ceasing all governmental welfare.[lxi]

This may be interpreted by some observers as an attempt of the new political aspiration of transhumanism to get Republicans as well as rightist civil society movements such as the “Tea Party” on board. Unfortunately, Zoltan Istvan has not made any clear statements yet to address the issue of financing the transition from the present into a transhuman world. However, Istvan has stated that if twenty percent of the defense budget were to be redirected into longevity science, that would trigger in short order a great change for reaching the transhumanist core goal of defeating death.[lxii]

XI: Connecting Fiction, Philosophy and Politics

Taking all of the above into consideration, it is obvious that Zoltan Istvan lets his political agenda be influenced by “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”, but promotes these values in a more moderate form, so to speak. By at first focusing his manifesto on just three aims and otherwise concentrating his efforts on acquainting the public with transhumanism, he has been able to reach out to a broader public and achieved at least an increasing discussion about transhumanism and its political relevance. However, it is due to more than Istvan’s personal commitment that transhumanism will likely become more prominent in international political and social debates, as transhumanist parties are also in the process of being founded in Europe – with other continents most probably following. Consequently, this could mean that when a committed figure such as Zoltan Istvan manages to connect and unify transhumanist parties around the world through his prominence and public presence, then the latter could influence conventional parties and gain impact without growing a big membership first.

This influence, combined with the increasing role technology plays in globalized life, could push forward a culture which, while not fully transhuman, will be in all practical sense a more transhumanistic oriented society. If such a combined approach is successful then this transition will be achieved smoothly and without being noticed by the public and conventional politicians. Despite all its shortfalls, the developments around technological research and the transhumanist movement constitute a realistic potential for transhumanist parties to gain relevance in the political sphere. The ascent of transhumanism to a concrete social and political force at least in the US now seems based on the philosophical fundament rooted in “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”. The question, as to the extent that TEF itself is inspired by other philosophies of “selfishness”, such as Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism”, is a matter requiring further research into the direct and indirect relationships, affinities and differences involved.

XII: Conclusion: Four questions for critical debate. First Question: To What Extent Is U.S. Transhumanist Politics Driven By TEF?

To conclude this discussion on the philosophical basis of transhumanism, four crucial questions remain to be answered. (However, given the current fluid nature of transhumanist politics, more such questions are likely to arise.)

The first question concerns the extent to which the U.S. Transhumanist Party is actually driven by the statements made concerning TEF and the Transhumanist Wager in Istvan’s novel, given that Istvan distances his own policies from those of fictional lead figure Jethro Knights as previously described.

The answer to this first question is, at least for the immediate future, simple: We’ll have to wait and see. There are different, partly opposed signals and indications with regard to the proximity or distance between Istvan’s fiction and his envisaged political reality. Besides the goal of “putting science, health and technology at the forefront of American politics”, we know very little about the politics of the U.S. Transhumanist Party. There has been little discussion of the implications, derivatives, consequences and side issues involved in this manifesto. The Party is still in an early stage of development, with no sign of an encompassing, concrete political program, besides the three goals formulated in Istvan’s manifesto article in the Huffington Post[lxiii], and a reference to the “Transhumanist Declaration” [lxiv]. Neither of these sources provides a description of concrete policies, as opposed to general claims concerning the improvement of our lives by the means of technology.

Moreover, there is the fiction-reality question, which is always difficult to answer. Without doubt, there has been an influential hermeneutic circle between science fiction in particular, and practical societal progress in Western civilization throughout the past one and a half centuries. This synergistic feedback loop – of mutual inspiration and the building of stories and mythologies – can stabilize a concrete technological social agenda in the face of disputes. This allows access to the broadest possible number of people, giving the agenda an identity (possibly only transitorily) which can expand and strengthen. Given the current trend in which the imaginary and reality are becoming increasingly interwoven and mutually influential within a combined framework of a “society of images and ideas”, it may become increasingly difficult to fully differentiate or even segregate the fictional imaginary of a novel from its effects on reality – especially if it is in itself, a strongly politically colored account like the Transhumanist Wager.

Indeed, on the one hand the Transhumanist Wager is a novel about a future society and not an explicit political program. But on the other hand, this novel contains many explicit ideas about the reorganization of society which are profoundly political. Furthermore, it has been written by the subsequent founder of a political party and presidential contender, which makes it inevitable to consider its implicit and explicit political contents as related to any subsequent practical political efforts. In addition, the Transhumanist Wager contains many autobiographical parallels to Istvan’s life; and even though Istvan publicly distances himself from some ideas of his book, they still remain his proper thoughts, and thus potentially practical policies.

XIII: Second Question: How Much Influence Can One Person And His Work Of Fiction Have On A Political Movement?

A second question that is often posited is, how much influence can one person (Istvan) have on the (necessarily) greater whole of a party and political movement, and what are his real intentions, within the broadening network of his sponsors and collaborators?

Generally speaking, a political network becomes more complex the more it advances over time and the more successful it becomes. In the present stage, the U.S. Transhumanist Party appears to be largely a one-man-show, but this may change once the party gets going and expands its outreach activities. If the party is to avoid becoming a kind of subtle dictatorship (and we don’t see any signals for this at the moment), the issue of competing wings will become more accentuated, and the interior ideological debate may sharpen, as it is natural with any developing democratic party (and visible even in non-democratic parties). Comparing Istvan’s public statements, columns and the ideas formulated in the Transhumanist Wager, a picture of the presidential candidate’s political agenda becomes apparent that shows it to be rather unfinished, and in any case unconventional. In this agenda fiction, philosophy and politics appear mixed up, and Istvan’s ideas in some points appear inconsistent as a result. Depending on the occasion, Istvan still seems to decide case by case, whether a statement of him should be interpreted as a “fictional idea” of him as an artist, or as a “serious idea” of him as a political contender. In his recent columns on Motherboard, it seems as if he advocates for the same radical technologies described in his novel to be put into practice, but personally envisages a different transhumanist philosophy and social policy than in his fictional book.

There are many examples of this dichotomy. In the fictional world of the novel the main goal is to become the “Omnipotender”, and radical egocentrism is presented as a moral value. In a recent column in the online technology and science magazine Motherboard with the title: “Do We Have Free Will Because God Killed Itself?” Istvan in turn argues:

The problem with being god – a truly omnipotent being – is that of free will. […] Being all-powerful is a very strange, ironic dead end. The only thing omnipotence can truly equal is a total mechanistic void. Achieving omnipotence is literally the act of suicide, in terms of forever self-eliminating one’s consciousness. This is because a conscious intelligence, as reason dictates, is based on the ability to discern values—values, for example, to know whether as an all-powerful being, one can create something so heavy that one can’t lift it. Values require choice. But omnipotence means that all choices have already been made, and nothing can ever change, because all variables are already accounted for and no randomness or anomalies exist.[lxv]

In another article on Motherboard, Istvan writes about the future of politics and the role Artifical Intelligence (AI) should play in it:

Should we let AI run the government once it’s smarter than us? Take that one step further—should we let that AI be the President—maybe even giving it a robot form for aesthetics or familiarity’s sake? […] We would have government and a leader who really is after the world’s best interests, free from the hazards of corporate lobbyists and selfishness. As a futurist and a politician, a central aim of mine is to do the most good for the greatest amount of people.[lxvi]

Here Istvan clearly distances himself from the ideal of selfishness and egocentrism – thus leaving the libertarian approach apparently in favor of a move toward the center, or even toward the “leftist”, or to put it in more appropriate terms, participatory wing of the Transhumanist movement as for example represented in the “Technoprogressive Declaration” of November 2014 signed by many transhumanist associations and organizations[lxvii].

Something similar appears to be the case with regard to social politics in the stricter sense. In his novel Istvan abolishes most forms of social security (retirements, public pensions, governmental welfare etc.) But to the surprise of many readers of the Transhumanist Wager, Istvan in his political columns advocates not only for free education, but also for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), i.e. for one of the allegedly most “socialist” ideas of the post-Cold-War era:

To begin with, there’s no point in pretending society can avoid a future Universal Basic Income -one that meets basic living standards- of some sort in America and around the world, if robots or software take most of the jobs. Income redistribution via taxes, increased welfare, or a mass guaranteed basic income plan will occur in some form, or there will be mass revolutions that could end in a dystopian civilization – leading essentially to what experts call a societal collapse. […] The elite may not want to part with some of their money (I myself support many libertarian ideas) via wealth redistribution, but I think they probably want to avoid an ugly dystopian world even more – especially one where they would be despised rulers.[lxviii]

And again:

I specifically advocate for free education at all levels, including higher education. In fact, I support increased education levels, too, including some forms of mandatory preschool and 4-year college for everyone.[lxix]

It remains to be seen if there will be some ties with transhumanist higher education initiatives, such as the “Singularity University”[lxx] founded in 2008 by leading transhumanists like Ray Kurzweil to prepare for the upcoming age of AI and to “educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges”.[lxxi] The dispute here seems to be predetermined: The Singularity University is about leaders, as is the way of “most” transhumanist initiatives so far. Istvan seems to favor a socially broader educational agenda, beyond hierarchies and classes, which contrasts starkly with the present day American educational system that, under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, focused more on business needs than ever before. Therefore, Istvan’s agenda may sound revolutionary to many.

Here we will discuss an area of conflict that will represent one of the major challenges for the relationship between Teleological Egocentric Functionalism and the applied political pragmatism of the transhumanist movement in the years ahead. The crucial issue that will define public discussion, not only within the framework of the U.S. presidential campaign 2015-16, but worldwide (and one currently dominating the international debate since the publication of Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century in 2014[lxxii]) is equality versus inequality – in crucial areas such as fairness, participation, inclusion and access to technologies. Yet the ethical dimension (i.e. inequality, and how to avoid it) of the transition into a transhumanist society is barely addressed in the Transhumanist Wager. Rather, it is presented as an individual choice to be solved by everybody for him- or herself. However, in reality the choice is highly dependent on socio-economic factors, as Istvan rightly points out in his political statements:

The controversy with this technology is two-fold. Will conservative or religious people let us remake the human being into a more functional version of itself? And will all people be able to afford it? Editing a genome isn’t going to be cheap, at first. Neither will driverless cars. Furthermore, I surmise the Ivy League undergrad education download is also going to be costly (although, it’ll probably still be much cheaper than a physical education). So, is all this transhumanist child rearing tech fair to those who can’t afford it?

The short answer is: Of course, not. But neither are the costs of AIDS treatments in the world today. Hundreds of thousands still die because they can’t afford the proper technology and medicine. And it’s a fact that wealthier people live far longer, fuller lives than poor people—about 25 percent more on average. So what can we do to even the playing field?

To begin with, let’s not stop the technology. Instead, let’s work on stopping the inequality and create programs that entitle all children to better health and child rearing innovation. As a society, let’s come up with ways that make it so all peoples can benefit from the transhumanist tech that is changing our world and changing the way our children will be raised.[lxxiii]

XIV: Third Question: What Is Better Suited To Meet The Needs Of Politics In A Pluralistic Society: TEF or TF?

A third crucial question to be discussed with regard to the interface between TEF and concrete transhumanist political programs is: To what extent is the “Egocentrism” of TEF necessary? Might a better basis for international transhumanist politics be a Teleological Functionalism (TF) rather than a Teleological “Egocentric” Functionalism (TEF)?

This question once again points to the fundamental logical (not necessarily ethical) contradiction within Istvan’s interpretation of the potential political agenda of transhumanism as a consequence of TEF. Varying Istvan’s own question, “should a transhumanist run for president?”[lxxiv], we could pose the principal question: Should an egocentric become president – a job to represent and act in the interest of a nation?

Society is without doubt rapidly changing, and with it the basic expectations directed towards leaders with regard to their identity and ideological stature. “Egocentrism” may be viewed rather critically by larger parts of the public as a poor attribute for a political leader and a socio-political movement to hold, since politics by traditional definition in the West, is about the representation of the interests of others, and their thoughtful and pondered consideration versus specific “ego” concerns. For sure, most people consciously or unconsciously in “postmodern” globalized societies (necessarily) act egocentrically. However, in the mind of many average voters (and not to forget many leading Western intellectuals) there remains a difference between psychological/automatic egocentrism and moral/rational egocentrism. As Harvard scholars Nicolas Epley and Eugene M. Caruso explain this difference:

People see the world through their own eyes, experience it through their own senses, and have… access to the others’ cognitive and emotional states. This means that one’s own perspective on the world is directly experienced, whereas others’ perspectives must be inferred. Because experience is more efficient than inference, people automatically interpret objects and events egocentrically and only subsequently correct or adjust that interpretation when necessary.[lxxv]

In essence, the problem with moral egocentrism seems to be that in the “postmodern” (or contradictorily materialistic and idealistic) era people in general “regard their own thoughts and needs as most important and willfully fail to account for the needs and intentions of others in making their decisions”.[lxxvi]

Moreover, there are more strictly philosophical and logical implications with regard to the relation between ideas and concrete political potentials. The issue of “egocentrism” is not necessarily implicit in establishing transhumanist thought, and it is not necessary to promote human enhancement or transhumanism. On the contrary, many motives, including the opposite value of selfishness – altruism – could be used to legitimize many transhumanist technologies, for example extended life spans and improved physical and cognitive abilities, as a means to care longer and better for others. Thus, a logical conclusion could be to detach the “Egocentric” suffix of “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”, leaving “Teleological Functionalism” aimed at practically improving the lives of the greatest amount of people possible in an open society, focused on evolving, rather than on structuring and consolidating what it has. Nevertheless, it is not clear what “Teleological Functionalism” may mean without “Egocentrism”. Could it become a “Teleological Social Functionalism”? And if so, in which direction would that concretely aim, and what would it mean in practice?

XV: Fourth Question: How Does TEF Fit Into The Greater Array Of “Social Futurist” Visions Of The Present?

While the discussion so far and the conclusions reached highlight further issues to be addressed, the fourth and final question to be asked here is: To what extent might a “Teleological Functionalism” (with or without “Egocentric”) fit with the “social futurist” moral vision promoted by “alternative” thinkers such as Amon Twyman of the UK Transhumanist Party[lxxvii]?

If the central meme of transhumanism is that it is ethical and desirable to improve the human condition through technology, the central meme of social futurism is that it is ethical and desirable to improve society through technology.[lxxviii] The flip side of this second meme seems to be the principle of ‘Nobody Deserted’. Indeed, Twyman has written this up in Principle 3 of the program of the UK Transhumanist Party (TP):

We advocate these freedoms in the context of strong social support for society’s weakest members, and base policy on the principle ‘Nobody Deserted’. All citizens shall have a right to sustenance, clothing, shelter, energy, healthcare, transport, education, and access to information resources. TP also advocates that all citizens must be able to contribute to society, in their own fashion, without blemish to their dignity or sense of self worth.[lxxix]

If the different positions within the transhumanist movement are to be integrated, the question here is how selfishness and egocentrism on the one hand and the principle of “Nobody Deserted” on the other hand, can coexist, or be brought together in applied policy. If technological progress requires a certain level of solidarity and thus necessary care for others, as for example, due to the disappearance of jobs as Istvan pointed out in his plea for a universal basic income, selfishness and egocentrism must be logically submitted to and integrated into a greater picture in order to avoid new revolutions and class fights.

Nevertheless, the principle of egocentrism and selfishness in itself requires to not be subordinated to any other principle, and that absolutism lies in the basic meaning and content of the term “egocentrism” itself. The result is a similar contradiction in ideology to the one Istvan himself pointed out with regard to the issue of “omnipotence”: Once “egocentrism” is fully established according to the logical meaning of the term, it starts to socially implode. That once again shows the inconsistency of some basic pillars of current “transhumanist” political core terms.

XVI: Outlook

Summing up?

“Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”, levitating as it still seems between fiction and reality, remains in many ways an unfinished and contradictory basis for transhumanist politics. While TEF is an inspiring attempt to integrate transhumanist thought into politics and presents without doubt many interesting approaches and some surprisingly novel views on traditional standpoints, the fact is that there remain many inconsistencies within its underlying structure, logic and argument; and the same can be said of its inventor and his practical political statements regarding many issues of social practice, in particular with regard to social politics.

What does this mean?

For now, the outlook is wide open. If Istvan’s promise: “If you want to live forever, vote for me” wants to be taken seriously, he will have to realize some of his visions within the circumstances of the environment he is in – for example free education or universal basic income. However, this will be a huge challenge, since the U.S. hardly seems prepared to move in such a direction, even should Istvan be voted in as president, or as is currently in vogue, the “new social agenda” that all presidential candidates for 2016 are putting on the table to gain the votes of an unsettled middle class, which sees the “American dream” threatened by structural and systemic inequality that is getting out of hand.

Finally, if transhumanist politics wants to stabilize a broad and sustainable agenda in the center of society (as Istvan seems to aspire to), the further development of transhumanism as a political force will have to address the existing contradictions in some of its underlying philosophical terms and beliefs. And it would be well advised to address these with the help from and discussion with other approaches, for example including the experience and the views of more “humanistic” ones.

Lots of questions remain to answer; and lots of fascinating debates lie ahead.

Selected Bibliography

Benedikter, Roland, Siepmann, Katja, and McIntosh, Annabella (2015): The Age of Transhumanist Politics Has Begun. Will It Change Traditional Concepts of Left and Right? Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. In: The Leftist Review. Commentaries on Politics, Science, Philosophy and Religion, March-April 2015, http://www.leftistreview.com/2015/03/06/the-age-of-transhumanist-politics-has-begun/rolandbenedikter/. Reprint in: Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), April 27, 2015, http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/benedikter20150427.

Bostrom, Nick (2003): The Transhumanist FAQ 1.5. In: Transhumanism.org, http//:transhumanism.org/resources/faq15.doc. Access: 31.03.2015.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Transhumanismus e.V. (Hrsg.) (2005): Reader zum Transhumanismus. Würzburg: http://www.detrans.de.

Eternal Life Fan (2014): Zoltan Istvan’s political campaign – The Transhumanist Party. Video sequence from PowerfulJRE(2014): Joe Rogan Experience #584 – Zoltan Istvan. In: Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EVavmBwUVY. Access: 31.03.2015.

Istvan, Zoltan (2014): The Transhumanist Wager, Futurity Imagine Media 2013, http://www.transhumanistwager.com/ and http://www.amazon.de/The-Transhumanist-Wager-Zoltan-Istvan/dp/0988616114.

Wood, David (2015): Q&A with Zoltan Istvan, Transhumanist Party candidate for the US President. Youtubevideo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xk4olY4qIjg. Access: 31.03.2015, 13:52.

The authors

RB KS AM

Roland Benedikter, Dr. Dr. Dr., is Research Scholar at the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies of the University of California at Santa Barbara, Senior Affiliate of the Edmund Pellegrino Center on Clinical Bioethics of Georgetown University, Trustee of the Toynbee Prize Foundation Boston, Senior Research Scholar of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs Washington DC and Full member of the Club of Rome. Previously, he was a Research Affiliate 2009-13 at the Europe Center of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, and a Full Academic Fellow 2008-12 of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies Washington DC. He has written for Foreign Affairs, Harvard International Review and Challenge: The Magazine of Economic Affairs, and is author of books about global strategic issues (among them most recently two on Xi Jinping’s China in 2014), co-author of two Pentagon and U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff White Papers on the Ethics of Neurowarfare (2013 and 2014, together with James Giordano) and of Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker’s Report to the Club of Rome 2003. Contact: rolandbenedikter@yahoo.de.

Katja Siepmann, MA, is a socio-political analyst, Senior Research Fellow of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs Washington D.C., Member of the German Council on Foreign Relations, Lecturer at the Faculty of Interdisciplinary Cultural Sciences of the European University Frankfurt/Oder and has written for Foreign Affairs, Harvard International Review and Challenge: The Magazine of Economic Affairs.

Annabella McIntosh is a freelance political writer based in Berlin, Germany.

References

[i] R. Benedikter, J. Giordano and K. Fitzgerald: The Future of the (Self-)Image of the Human Being in the Age of Transhumanism, Neurotechnology and Global Transition. In: Futures. The Journal for Policy, Planning and Futures Studies. Volume 42: Special issue “Global Mindset Change” (ed. J. Gidley). Elsevier 2010, p. 1102-1109.

[ii] Cf. R. Benedikter, K. Siepmann and A. McIntosh: The Age of Transhumanist Politics Has Begun. Will it Change Traditional Concepts of Left and Right? In: In: Leftist Review. Commentaries on Politics, Science, Philosophy and Religion. Edited by Thomas Parslow. Portland, Oregon, 3 Parts, 06 March 2015ff., pp. 1-18, http://www.leftistreview.com/2015/03/06/the-age-of-transhumanist-politics-has-begun/rolandbenedikter/. Reprint of the text in one part under the title: The Age of Transhumanist Politics Has Begun. Will It Change Traditional Concepts of Left and Right? In: Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, April 27, 2015, http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/benedikter20150427 and in: Telepolis. Journal of Media, Technology, Art and Society. Edited by Dr. habil. Florian Rötzer. 19. Jahrgang, Heinz Heise Verlag Hannover 2015, 12.04.2015, http://www.heise.de/tp/artikel/44/44626/1.html.

[iii] N. Bostrom: A History of Transhuman Thought. In: Journal of Evolution & Technology, Vol. 14, April 2005, http://www.jetpress.org/volume14/bostrom.pdf. Cf. World Transhumanist Association: http://www.transhumanism.org/resources/transhumanism.htm.

[iv] N. Bostrom: Transhumanist Values. In: Review of Contemporary Philosophy, Vol. 4, May (2005), http://www.nickbostrom.com/ethics/values.html.

[v] J. Hewitt: An Interview with Zoltan Istvan, leader of the Transhumanist Party and 2016 presidential contender. In: Extremetech, October 31, 2014, http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/192385-an-interview-with-zoltan-istvan-leader-of-the-transhumanist-party-and-2016-presidential-contender.

[vi] Z. Istvan: Can Transhumanism Overcome A Widespread Deathist Culture? In: The Huffington Post, May 26, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zoltan-istvan/can-transhumanism-overcom_b_7433108.html.

[vii] Z. Istvan: Can Transhumanism Overcome A Widespread Deathist Culture?, loc cit.

[viii] R. Benedikter and J. Giordano: Neurotechnology: New Frontiers for Policy. In: Journal of European Government PEN: Pan European Networks. Section: Science and Technology. Issue 3 (June), Bruxelles, Strassbourg and London 2012, pp. 204-207.

[ix] M. Steger: The Rise of the Global Imaginary: Political Ideologies from the French Revolution to the Global War on Terror, Oxford University Press 2008.

[x] R. Benedikter and J. Giordano: The Outer and the Inner Transformation of the Global Social Sphere through Technology: The State of Two Fields in Transition. In: New Global Studies. Edited by Saskia Sassen, Nayan Chanda, Akira Iriye and Bruce Mazlish. De Gruyter and Berkeley Electronic Press, Berkeley and New York 2011, Volume 5, Issue 1 (2011), pp. 1-17, http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/ngs.2011.5.2/ngs.2011.5.2.1129/ngs.2011.5.2.1129.xml.

[xi] R. Benedikter and J. Giordano: Neuroscience and Neurotechnology: Impacting Human Futures, Springer Political Science, New York 2015 (forthcoming). Cf. J. Giordano and R. Benedikter: Integrative convergence in Neuroscience/Neurotechnology. On the engagement of computational approaches in neuroscience/neurotechnology and deterrence. Book chapter 3.2.1 in: H. Cabayan, W. Casebeer, D. DiEuliis, J. Giordano and N. D. Wright (ed.s): U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff White Paper: Leveraging Neuroscientific and Neutechnological (NeuroS&T) Developments with Focus on Influence and Deterrence in a Networked World. A Strategic Multilayer (SMA) Publication. Washington DC: Pentagon Press 2014 (April), pp. 74-79; and J. Giordano and R. Benedikter: Toward a Systems Continuum: On the Use of Neuroscience and Neurotechnology to Assess and Affect Aggression, Cognition and Behaviour. In: D. DiEuliis and H. Cabayan (eds.): U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff White Paper: Topics in the Neurobiology of Aggression: Implications for Deterrence. A Strategic Multilayer (SMA) Publication. Washington DC: Pentagon Press 2013 (February), pp. 68-85.

[xii] N. Bostrom: Technological Revolutions: Ethics and Politics in the Dark. In: M. de Nigel et al (eds.): Nanoscale: Issues and Perspectives for the Nano-Century, Wiley & Sons 2007, pp. 129-152, http://www.nickbostrom.com/revolutions.pdf.

[xiii] Transhumanist Party Global (TPG): http://transhumanistpartyglobal.org.

[xiv] G. Volpicelli: Transhumanists Are Writing Their Own Manifesto For The UK General Election. In. Motherboard Journal, January 14, 2015, http://motherboard.vice.com/read/a-transhumanist-manifesto-for-the-uk-general-election.

[xv] Zoltan Istvan’s Homepage: http://www.transhumanistwager.com/.

[xvi] Transhumanist Party USA: Putting Science, Health, and Technology at the Forefront of American Politics, http://www.transhumanistparty.org/.

[xvii] Z. Istvan: Should a Transhumanist Run for U.S. President? In: The Huffington Post, August 10, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zoltan-istvan/should-a-transhumanist-be_b_5949688.html.

[xviii] Teleological Egocentric Functionalism (TEF): http://www.transhumanistwager.com/ThePhilosophy.html.

[xix] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, Futurity Imagine Media 2013, http://www.transhumanistwager.com/ and http://www.amazon.de/The-Transhumanist-Wager-Zoltan-Istvan/dp/0988616114.

[xx] Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies (IEET): Technoprogressive Declaration – Transvision. In: IEET, November 22, 2014, http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/wood20150305.

[xxi] For example V. Larson: Transhumanist novel by Zoltan Istvan sparks intense dialog among futurists. In: Marinij.com, December 19, 2013, http://www.marinij.com/general-news/20131219/transhumanist-novel-by-zoltan-istvan-sparks-intense-dialog-among-futurists. Cf. G. Prisco: The Transhumanist Wager. In: Ray Kurzweil Homepage, May 15, 2013, http://www.kurzweilai.net/book-review-the-transhumanist-wager.

[xxii] Deutsche Gesellschaft für Transhumanismus e.V. (Hrsg.) (2005): Reader zum Transhumanismus. Würzburg: http://www.detrans.de, p. 7.

[xxiii] Oxford Future of Humanity Institute: http://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/.

[xxiv] The Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology: http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/research/programmes/future-tech.

[xxv] N. Bostrom: The Transhumanist FAQ 1.5 (2003). Word-Document from the internet: transhumanism.org/resources/faq15.doc.

[xxvi] Cf. P. Unschuld: What is Medicine? Western and Eastern Approaches to Healing. University of California Press 2009, http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520257665.

[xxvii] Deutsche Gesellschaft für Transhumanismus e.V. (Hrsg.), loc cit., p. 7f.

[xxviii] Deutsche Gesellschaft für Transhumanismus e.V. (Hrsg.), loc cit., p. 7f.

[xxix] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, loc cit., p. 19.

[xxx] Ibid., p. 33.

[xxxi] Ibid., p. 33.

[xxxii] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, loc cit., p. 55.

[xxxiii] Ibid., p. 280.

[xxxiv] J. Shook and J. Giordano: A Principled and Cosmopolitan Neuroethics: Considerations for International Relevance. In: Philosophy, Ethics and Humanities in Medicine, 2014, 9:1, http://www.peh-med.com/content/9/1/1.

[xxxv] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, loc cit., p. 270.

[xxxvi] Ibid., p. 281.

[xxxvii] Ibid., p. 281.

[xxxviii] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, loc cit., p. 202.

[xxxix] Ibid., p. 53.

[xl] Ayn Rand: https://www.aynrand.org/.

[xli] A. Rand: Atlas Shrugged, New York 1957.

[xlii] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, loc cit., p. 53.

[xliii] Ibid., p. 230.

[xliv] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, loc cit., p. 282.

[xlv] Ibid., p. 201.

[xlvi] R. Benedikter: Third Way Movements. In: In: M. Juergensmeyer and H. K. Anheier (ed.): The SAGE Encyclopaedia Of Global Studies. 4 Volumes, SAGE Publishers London and Thousand Oaks 2012, Volume 4, pp. 1647-1650.

[xlvii] D. Wood: Q&A with Zoltan Istvan, Transhumanist Party candidate for the US President. In: Youtube, January 11, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xk4olY4qIjg.

[xlviii] Ibid.

[xlix] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, p. 282.

[l] Ibid., p. 282.

[li] Ibid., p. 201.

[lii] Ibid., p. 282.

[liii] N. Bostrom: Technological Revolutions: Ethics and Politics in the Dark, loc cit.

[liv] Transhumanist Party Global: http://transhumanistpartyglobal.org/.

[lv] D. Wood: Q&A with Zoltan Istvan, loc cit

[lvi] Ibid.

[lvii] J. Hewitt, loc cit.

[lviii] J. Hewitt, loc cit.

[lix] J. Giordano: The human prospect(s) of neuroscience and neurotechnology: Domains of influence and the necessity – and questions – of neuroethics. In: Human Prospect 4(1): 1-18 (2014).

[lx] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Wager, loc cit., p. 282.

[lxi] Ibid., p. 282.

[lxii] D. Wood: Q&A with Zoltan Istvan, loc cit.

[lxiii] Z. Istvan: Should A Transhumanist Run For U.S. President?, loc cit.

[lxiv] Humanity+: The Transhumanist Declaration (1998/2009), http://humanityplus.org/philosophy/transhumanist-declaration/.

[lxv] Z. Istvan: Do We Have Free Will Because God Killed Itself? In: Motherboard, May 4, 2015, http://motherboard.vice.com/read/do-we-have-free-will-because-god-killed-herself.

[lxvi] Z. Istvan: The Transhumanist Party’s Presidential Candidate on the Future of Politics. In: Motherboard, January 22, 2015, http://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-transhumanist-partys-presidential-candidate-explains-the-future-of-politics.

[lxvii] Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies (IEET): Technoprogressive Declaration – Transvision, loc cit.

[lxviii] Z. Istvan: The New American Dream? Let the Robots Take Our Jobs. In: Motherboard, February 13, 2015, http://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-new-american-dream-let-the-robots-take-our-jobs.

[lxix] Ibid.

[lxx] Singularity University: http://singularityu.org/.

[lxxi] Ibid.

[lxxii] T. Piketty: Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Harvard University Press 2014.

[lxxiii] Z. Istvan: The Technology Transhumanists Want in Their Kids. In: Motherboard, May 18, 2015, http://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-technology-transhumanists-want-in-their-kids-chips.

[lxxiv] Z. Istvan: Should A Transhumanist Run for U.S. President?, loc cit.

[lxxv] N. Epley, E. M. Caruso: Egocentric Ethics. In: Social Justice Research, Vol. 17, No. 2, June 2004, p. 171-187, here: p. 174, http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/eugene.caruso/docs/ego_ethics.pdf.

[lxxvi] M. Ylvisaker, M. Hibbard and T. Feeney: Cognitive Egocentrism Theory of Mind. In: LearNet, The Brain Injury Association of New York State, New York 2006, http://www.projectlearnet.org/tutorials/cognitive_egocentrism_theory_of_mind.html.

[lxxvii] M. A. Twyman: The Moral Philosophy of Transhumanism, February 28, 2015, https://wavism.wordpress.com/2015/02/28/the-moral-philosophy-of-transhumanism/.

[lxxviii] transhumanpraxis: Social Futurism: Positive Social Change Through Technology, May 10, 2012, https://wavism.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/cmzs-central-meme-of-zero-state/.

[lxxix] A. Twyman: Transhumanist Party Membership Open. In: Transhumanist Party UK, March 24, 2015, http://www.transhumanistparty.org.uk/transhumanist_party_membership_open.

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 1 of the Transpolitica book “Envisioning Politics 2.0”.

Why Politics 2.0?

By David W Wood, Executive Director, Transpolitica

web1vsweb2

Introduction

The single most important task of the next ten years is to find better ways of cooperating. In an age of unprecedented crowds – both online and offline – the global human community urgently needs social mechanisms that will encourage the wisdom of crowds rather than the folly of crowds.

Our existing methods of mutual coordination seem to produce more strife than harmony these days. We’re struggling to cope with ever larger tensions and disruptions on the shrinking world stage. The nation state, the multinational business firm, the free market, the non-governmental organisation, the various international bodies of global coordination set up after the Second World War – all find themselves deeply challenged by the myriad fast-evolving overlapping waves of stress of the early twenty-first century.

We’re facing tragedies of the commons writ larger than ever before. The actions that make good sense to smaller groups often add up, perversely, to disastrous outcomes for the larger community. But attempts to coordinate actions to avoid such tragedies are falling foul of numerous deep-seated conflicts of interest. These conflicts are made more intractable by the sweeping pace of change and by the burgeoning multiplicity of interconnections. For the way forward, we’re going to need more than “politics as usual”. We’ll need to move beyond Politics 1.0.

Politics 1.0 has worked wonders over the centuries, enabling productive human cooperation on impressive scales. We can look back in heartfelt admiration at the Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus, the separation of powers, declarations of rights, emancipation bills, market liberalisation, protection of minority interests, new deals, introductions of welfare states, and the gradual (although fitful) reduction of inter-state violence. In each case, the effort required people to set aside their narrow, personal interests, for the sake of an encompassing higher vision. Politics 1.0 has taken us a long way. But the multidimensional, intersecting nature of present-day issues and opportunities requires a new calibre of politics. For reasons I’ll explain shortly, I call that “Politics 2.0”.

The chapters ahead provide visions of what Politics 2.0 might look like. They express the thoughts, hopes, and fears from a diverse mix of futurists, political thinkers, academics, and think-tank members. They continue the discussion started in “Anticipating Tomorrow’s Politics”[i], the first Transpolitica book. It’s by no means the end of the discussion, but there’s lots of food for thought.

The future, if we can grasp it

In principle, we ought to be able to look ahead to a rosy future. In principle, sustainable abundance is just around the corner. Provided we collectively get our act together, we have within our grasp a profound cornucopia of renewable energy, material goods, health, longevity, intelligence, creativity, freedom, and positive experience – plenty for everyone. This sustainable abundance can be attained within one human generation, by wisely accelerating the green technology revolution – including stem cell therapies, 3D printing, prosthetics, robotics, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, synthetic biology, neuro-enhancement, artificial intelligence, and supercomputing.

In principle, the rich fruits of technology – sustainable abundance – can be provided for all, not just for those who manage to rise to the top of the present-day social struggle. In principle, a bold reorganisation of society can take place in parallel with the green technology revolution – so that everyone can freely access the education, healthcare, and everything else needed to flourish as a full member of society.

But these steps will involve a measure of coordination that seems to lie outside our present capability. What has brought us here, so far, isn’t going to get us there.

Politics opposing innovation

In principle, human innovation can create the solutions to provide a sustainable abundance for everyone. These solutions will take advantage of new technology to create new products and services – better food, better healthcare, better education, better sources of energy, better transport, better care for the environment, better waste-management, better leisure, better entertainment, and so on.

But new products often provoke disquiet. They don’t always work as expected. They can often have nasty unintended side-effects. They may fail to live up to the promises made for them, sometimes even ruining people’s lives or despoiling the environment. For these reasons, society needs to keep its collective eye on new products. Even when new products function as intended, they typically result in marketplace losers as well as winners. In other words, new products can threaten vested interests. These vested interests, therefore, also keep a collective eye on new products. The two sets of watchfulness – the legitimate concern for the well-being of users of the product, and the more contentious concern for the well-being of competitors to the product – often overlap. Handling this murky overlap, with discernment and objectivity, is a key task in society’s self-governance.

Society can, with justification, take two different stances towards a specific innovation:

  • The innovation is desirable, and should therefore be supported, perhaps by pricing subsidies, tax breaks, and provision of central funding
  • The innovation (as it stands) has undesirable aspects, and should be restricted or penalised until such time as it conforms to various standards.

Again, in each case, motivations to protect users of the innovation can overlap with motivations to protect the well-being of competitors of the innovation.

Consider some examples from recent news stories:

  • Unmanned aerial vehicles (“drones”) represent many booming business opportunities, with their capabilities for surveillance and transport. But in December last year, a drone almost collided[ii] with a commercial airliner near Heathrow. There are clearly safety implications if unregulated drones are able to fly without restriction. The same as there are rules to ensure motor vehicles are roadworthy, there’s a need for systems to prevent aberrant drones from causing havoc
  • Innovative car hire firm Uber is running into legal controversy all over the world[iii], as existing taxi drivers highlight cases of potential concern. For example, in Dec 2014, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office issued a legal indictment against Uber (and against CEO Travis Kalanick) for violating a Korean law prohibiting individuals or firms without appropriate licenses from providing or facilitating transportation services
  • The Californian company 23andMe provide genetic testing services direct to the public, taking advantage of breakthroughs in technologies for DNA sequencing and analysis. However, the FDA have issued a warning letter to 23andMe, instructing the company to “immediately discontinue marketing”[iv] selected products and services. The FDA is concerned about “the potential health consequences that could result from false positive or false negative assessments for high-risk indications such as these”. It asserts: “a false positive could lead a patient to undergo prophylactic surgery, chemoprevention, intensive screening, or other morbidity-inducing actions, while a false negative could result in a failure to recognize an actual risk that may exist”
  • Growth in the usage of innovative “legal high” drugs has resulted in more than a doubling of the number of deaths[v] from these drugs in the UK over the last four years. As a result, the new UK government has tabled a blanket ban on the creation or distribution of “any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect”, with a prison sentence of up to seven years[vi] for people who contravene the ban. The legislation has generated lots of opposition, for its heavy-handedness, and also for its potential to obstruct innovative neuro-enhancement products
  • In response to popular concern about the negative visual appearance of wind turbines “covering the beautiful countryside”[vii], the new UK government is axing financial subsidies that were previously benefiting the wind energy industry
  • As an example of where government subsidies remain in place, supporting an energy industry, fossil fuels subsidies totalling $5.3 trillion will apply in 2015[viii], according to a report released by the IMF (International Monetary Firm). For comparison, this figure is greater than the total annual health spending of all the world’s governments.

Other examples could be mentioned from the fields of banking, telecommunications, security, defence, and agriculture. I summarise the issues as follows:

  • Subsidies and regulations, applicable to innovative products, are a core and necessary part of how society governs itself
  • It is frequently a hard task to determine which subsidies and regulations ought to apply – and when previous subsidies and regulations ought to be changed
  • Legislation is often out-dated, being more concerned with avoiding repetitions of past problems, rather than enabling future development
  • Regulatory bodies are often “captured” by vested interests who have a strong desire to preserve the status quo
  • Politicians are frequently deeply out-of-depth in their understanding of the relevant technologies; like regulatory bodies, they can fall victim to over-influence from existing industries rather than enabling the emergence of new industries
  • The increased pace of change of technological innovation makes the above issues worse.

None of this is an argument to dismantle politics, regulations, or the system of subsidies. Instead, it’s an argument to improve these systems. It’s an argument for Politics 2.0.

Rather than technological innovation simply being the recipient of influence (both good and bad) from politics, the direction of cause-and-effect can be reversed. Technological innovation can transform politics, the same as it is transforming so many other areas of life.

Web 1.0 and Web 2.0

As a comparison, consider the transformation that took place[ix] in usage of the World Wide Web between around 1996 (“Web 1.0”) and 2006 (“Web 2.0”).

This transformation wasn’t just in terms of numbers of users of web browsers – moving from around 45 million to over one billion users over that period of time. Nor was it just that the web grew in size from around 250,000 sites to more than 80 million. Instead, it was a change in the character of the web, from a “mostly read-only web” to a “wildly read-write web”. (This analysis is due to pioneering Web 2.0 analyst Dion Hinchcliffe[x].) The result is that the web increasingly displayed collective intelligence. Users submitted their own content to sites such as Wikipedia, Amazon (book reviews), EBay, Facebook, YouTube, and so on. In turn, systems of collective evaluation highlighted the content that was worthy of greater attention.

In more details, the transformation between 1.0 and 2.0 can be described as follows:

  • Instead of the distribution of static intelligence through the network to its edges, P2P (peer-to-peer) connections enabled multiplication of intelligence within the network
  • Instead of a library (the readable web), there was a conversation (the writable web)
  • Instead of there being a small number of fixed authority figures (“oracles”), there were dynamic user-reputation systems, which enabled new figures to emerge quickly, with strong reputations as judged by the community as a whole
  • The model of “publishing and retrieval” was replaced by “collaboration and interaction”
  • Instead of innovation coming primarily from companies, it increasingly came from feedback and suggestions from users.

As for the improvement of the web, so also for the improvement of politics.

I’ve left probably the most important aspect of this analysis to the last. That is the critical role of technology in enabling this social transformation. Whereas Web 1.0 was enabled by the technologies of HTTP (hypertext transport) and HTML (hypertext layout), Web 2.0 was enabled by technologies known as AJAX[xi] – asynchronous JavaScript and XML. The details don’t matter, but what does matter is that powerful hardware and software were able to work together in combination to enable smoother user experience with “web applications” than had ever happened before. (Google Maps was one of the trailblazing examples. It’s hard to appreciate it nowadays, but the swift response to user interaction on the Google Maps webpage was a delightful surprise when first experienced.)

Innovation improving politics

The chapters in this volume explore various ways in which new technology might, analogously, enable improved politics:

  • With relevant expert knowledge being quickly brought to questions of subsidies, regulations, standards, and so on – rather than politicians being out of their depths
  • With a real “wisdom of crowds” supporting the decisions made by elected leaders, rather than leaders having to deal with the “folly of crowds” often displayed by present-day democracies
  • With automated fact-checking taking place in real-time, rather than mistakes and errant claims being allowed to influence political discussion for too long
  • With humans improving their own cognitive skills, as part of a process we can call cyborgization
  • With external artificial intelligence augmenting the decision-making capabilities of humans
  • With a competitive community of online educators creating ever-better communications systems that highlight more clearly the key decisions that need to be taken, shorn of their surrounding distractions.

To an extent, all political parties pay lip service to the idea that decision-making processes can be improved by wise adoption of smart new technology. However, it is the transhumanist contingent in politics that puts most focus on this possibility. Transhumanists vividly perceive the possibility of profound transformation. As stated in the Transhumanist FAQ[xii], quoting philosopher Max More[xiii]

Transhumanism is a way of thinking about the future that is based on the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase…

“Transhumanism is a class of philosophies of life that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.”

Pioneering Swedish transhumanist Anders Sandberg expressed it like this[xiv] (emphasis added):

Transhumanism is the philosophy that we can and should develop to higher levels, both physically, mentally and socially using rational methods.

I’ll end these introductory remarks by referring to an endorsement[xv] that was recently given by Robert Kennedy III – the grandson of the Robert Kennedy[xvi] who served as Attorney General in the administration of JFK. The endorsement was in favour of Zoltan Istvan[xvii], the candidate of the Transhumanist Party for the US presidency in 2016. It reads in part:

Why are we shackled to a system of government designed before there were telephones? … Zoltan Istvan is offering creative and innovative solutions to the urgent problems we face. We can choose to live in a technological nightmare, or to harness the power of science for the betterment of humanity.

As the energetic visible trailblazer for a new kind of politics, Istvan generates considerable feedback, including both positive and negative. As you’ll see, some of the chapters in this book cover and extend that feedback; other chapters explore different aspects of Politics 2.0.

The chapters ahead

Zoltan Istvan’s “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”: a libertarian philosophical basis for “Transhumanist” politics

Roland Benedikter, Katja Siepmann, and Annabella McIntosh have collaborated to create a chapter with the following introduction:

The current foundation phase of “Transhumanist” politics deserves a critical discussion of the philosophical principles that implicitly underlie its new political organization. As part of the effort towards a self-critical evaluation of political transhumanism, which is undoubtedly still in a very early phase of development, this chapter discusses the philosophy drafted by the founder of the “Transhumanist Party of the USA”, Zoltan Istvan, in his bestselling novel “The Transhumanist Wager” (2013) dedicated to develop the vision of a better society. Istvan called the philosophy underlying his meta-national, if not global, vision “Teleological Egocentric Functionalism”.

We discuss the achievements, contradictions and dialectics of and within this philosophy; its possible relation to realistic social policy programs; as well as the potential implications and consequences. The goal is to achieve a more considered overall discourse at the contested new ideological interface between humanism and transhumanism which could define an influential zeitgeist of our time.

Roland Benedikter is Research Scholar at the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies[xviii] of the University of California at Santa Barbara, Senior Affiliate of the Edmund Pellegrino Center on Clinical Bioethics of Georgetown University, Trustee of the Toynbee Prize Foundation Boston, Senior Research Scholar of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs Washington DC, and Full member of the Club of Rome.

Katja Siepmann is a socio-political analyst, Senior Research Fellow of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs[xix] Washington D.C., Member of the German Council on Foreign Relations, and Lecturer at the Faculty of Interdisciplinary Cultural Sciences of the European University Frankfurt/Oder.

Annabella McIntosh is a freelance political writer based in Berlin, Germany.

Four political futures: which will you choose?

David Wood, Executive Director of Transpolitica, and chair of London Futurists[xx], introduces his chapter as follows:

Forget left wing versus right wing. The political debate in the medium-term future (10-20 years) will be dominated, instead, by a new set of arguments. These arguments debate the best set of responses to the challenges and opportunities posed by fast-changing technology.

In this essay, I’ll outline four positions: technosceptical, technoconservative, technolibertarian, and technoprogressive. I’ll argue that the first two are non-starters, and I’ll explain why I personally favour the technoprogressive stance over the technolibertarian one.

How do governments add value to society?

Bruce Lloyd is Emeritus Professor of Strategic Management, London South Bank University[xxi]. He argues in his chapter that, in the wake of current discussions about the future of politics, there is a fundamental question we all need to be asking. What are governments for? Alternatively expressed: How do governments add value to society?

He claims it is difficult, if not impossible, to find one simple answer to this question. In practice, there are two fundamentally different – potentially conflicting – pressures that need to be reconciled. The first pressure is the re-distribution dimension. The second is the need to effectively exploit potential and actual economies of scale.

There is also a third pressure, which needs to be integrated into policy initiatives: the need to develop structures that are the most favourable to effective positive innovation.

The chapter contends that, unless the interplay of these fundamental pressures is given greater attention at all levels of government decision-making, we are unlikely to be able to make progress on the other important challenges, mentioned elsewhere in this book, that we all face in the decades ahead. This will result in our future being much more precarious than it needs to be.

The benefits of digital democracy

Walter L.S. Burrough and Kay Firth-Butterfield introduce their chapter as follows:

This Chapter discusses the way in which U.S. citizens could be encouraged to re-engage with the electoral process and why such engagement will matter. In doing so consideration is given to the way in which such engagement can be facilitated by the development of an AI ‘trusted agent’, and the way in which true democracy reveals the uniqueness of the human characteristic to care about community.

The authors of this chapter note that the views they express in this chapter are their own and do not represent the views of any organizations for which they work, consult or teach.

Walter Burrough is a PhD candidate at the Serious Games Institute[xxii], University of Coventry. His research builds upon his Masters degree in Education, his work as a science teacher with “at risk” students in high needs schools, and his experience in database driven software development. He is interested in how to best design personalised interventions that enhance individuals’ behaviours and decision making using mobile technologies.

Kay Firth-Butterfield is the Chief Officer of the Ethics Advisory Panel of Lucid[xxiii]. Lucid is bringing to market Cyc which is, arguably, the world’s only strong artificial intelligence. Previously, she worked as a barrister, mediator, arbitrator, business owner, professor and judge in the United Kingdom. In the United States, she has taught at the undergraduate and law school levels and worked as a professional lecturer. She is a humanitarian with a strong sense of social justice and has advanced degrees in Law and International Relations.

Cyborgization: a possible solution to errors in human decision making

Dana Edwards and Alexander J Karran have collaborated to create a chapter with the following abstract:

Accelerating social complexity in combination with outstanding problems like attention scarcity and information asymmetry contribute to human error in decision making. Democratic institutions and markets both operate under the assumption that human beings are informed rational decision makers working with perfect information, situation awareness, and unlimited neurological capacity. We argue that, although these assumptions are incorrect, they could to a large extent be mediated by a process of cyborgization, up to and including electing cyborgs into positions of authority.

Dana Edwards is a Transpolitica Consultant.

Alexander J Karran is a Transpolitica Consultant and co-editor of this volume. Alex also has the distinction[xxiv] of being probably the first candidate for parliamentary election in Europe to stand under an openly transhumanist party banner – in the constituency of Liverpool Walton during the UK General Election of May 2015.

Of mind and money: post-scarcity economics and human nature

Stuart Mason Dambrot urges in his chapter for a “Revolution through evolution”. He summarises his chapter as follows:

  • In a medical model, our myriad problems can be seen as symptoms of a central underlying condition, rather than cultural problems that can be addressed by social policies
  • That causative condition is a direct and primary consequence of our hominid evolutionary neurobiological heritage
  • The path forward to an enlightened world is for each individual to physiologically evolve beyond that heritage
  • We can wait for thousands of generations (natural evolution is slow) or use the science and technology our brain has manifested to achieve that step in a matter of decades
  • The decision is ours to make.

Based in New York City, Stuart is an interdisciplinary synthesist, futurist and science communicator; the founder of Critical Thought[xxv]; and creator and host of Critical Thought | TV[xxvi], an online discussion channel featuring in-depth conversations with transformative individuals in the sciences, arts and humanities.

Voluntary basic incomes in a reputation economy

The abstract for the chapter by Michael Hrenka is as follows:

Advanced reputation systems provide the basis for an emerging reputation economy, whose functioning principles are explained in this chapter. In turn, a reputation economy provides unprecedented possibilities and incentives for voluntary basic income systems. There are multiple ways in which a mature reputation economy could make voluntary basic incomes feasible, and these different routes are explored in detail. Voluntary basic incomes have the clear advantage of not requiring large political interventions in order to operate successfully, and thus could be implemented faster and easier. These voluntary basic incomes could play an alternative or complementary role to a more conventional universal basic income. However, supportive political actions should facilitate the development of a highly functional reputation economy, in order to provide better conditions for the emergence of voluntary basic incomes.

Michael lives in Reutlingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, and describes himself as “a philosopher who studied mathematics and wants to upgrade the world”. He blogs at radivis.com[xxvii] and hosts the Fractal Future Forum at forum.fractalfuture.net[xxviii].

Specifications: an engineer’s approach to upgrading politics

René Milan has been a psychedelic transhumanist for forty years and a member of WTA (now Humanity+) for fifteen. He has worked as a clinical psychologist and transpersonal psychotherapist for twenty five years and as a computer programmer and technical analyst for thirty. He currently lives in Jerez de la Frontera in Spain.

In his chapter, René presents a draft of specifications for an upgrade to current politics with the aim of providing an “improved user experience”. He attempts to identify the drivers and mechanics of current politics, determine what effect they have on the people subjected to them (“users”) and offer conclusions on how they could and should be improved for a Politics 2.0 release.

Extended longevity: an argument for increased social commitment

MH Wake, a social anthropologist and statistician, argues in her chapter that

  • Recent improvements in life expectancy are the outcome of social forces – developments in medicine and in social welfare – which were specific to the twentieth century
  • There is a risk of increasingly fostering a mistaken focus on individual choices, as if these are the main determinants of public health outcomes
  • Continuing progress in life expectancy is by no means inevitable, without the adoption of deliberate policies to promote longevity.

Longevity, artificial intelligence and existential risks: opportunities and dangers

Didier Coeurnelle is co-chair of Heales[xxix] (Healthy Life Extension Society) and Spokesperson of the AFT (Association Française Transhumaniste) – Technoprog[xxx]. He argues in his chapter that:

  • Given the extraordinary difficulty of prolonging the maximal lifespan of human beings, focusing as much Artificial General Intelligence as possible on longevity could be the most useful goal of all at the beginning of the 21st century
  • If successful, giving the opportunity to live longer lives could be among other things a very important factor in decreasing the violent trends present in each and every of us
  • Successful or unsuccessful, giving the absolute priority to artificial intelligence to protect and to improve human beings will decrease the risk of artificial intelligence destroying or hurting us.

Prolegomena to any future transhumanist politics

Steve Fuller is Auguste Comte Professor in Social Epistemology at the University of Warwick[xxxi]. He graduated from Columbia University in History & Sociology before gaining an M.Phil. from Cambridge and PhD from Pittsburgh, both in the History and Philosophy of Science.

He raises in his chapter the provocative question: Can transhumanism avoid becoming the Marxism of the 21st century? The chapter concludes by recommending that transhumanists should ally with a proactionary ‘ecomodernism’, which specifically targets energy as a locus for innovation.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks are due to:

  • Alexander Karran, for his sterling work reviewing and suggesting improvements to the chapters in this book
  • The team of Transpolitica consultants who collectively reviewed many iterations of draft chapters on our shared Slack installation
  • All authors, for frequently processing change requests and answering queries in a prompt and courteous manner.

The book cover is based on a design by Alberto Rizzoli[xxxii].

Towards the future

The analysis in Envisioning Politics 2.0 will be continued:

References

Image source: Dion Hinchcliffe (2006)

[i] https://transpolitica.org/publications/anticipating-tomorrows-politics/

[ii] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/07/drone-near-miss-passenger-plane-heathrow

[iii] http://uber-troubles.silk.co/

[iv] http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/2013/ucm376296.htm

[v] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-32919063

[vi] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32919712

[vii] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/energy/windpower/11685082/Wind-farm-subsidies-axed-to-stop-turbines-covering-beautiful-countryside.html

[viii] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/18/fossil-fuel-companies-getting-10m-a-minute-in-subsidies-says-imf

[ix] https://web.archive.org/web/20061006135057/http://web2.wsj2.com/all_we_got_was_web_10_when_tim_bernerslee_actually_gave_us_w.htm

[x] http://dionhinchcliffe.com/ – see also the previous reference

[xi] https://web.archive.org/web/20080702075113/http://www.adaptivepath.com/ideas/essays/archives/000385.php

[xii] http://humanityplus.org/philosophy/transhumanist-faq/#answer_19

[xiii] https://web.archive.org/web/19980110162302/http://www.extropy.com/neologo.htm

[xiv] http://www.aleph.se/Trans/Intro/definitions.html

[xv] https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=444430459063839&set=a.161095190730702.1073741826.100004906654490

[xvi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_F._Kennedy

[xvii] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zoltan-istvan/should-a-transhumanist-be_b_5949688.html

[xviii] http://www.orfaleacenter.ucsb.edu/people/roland-benedikter

[xix] http://www.coha.org/staff/senior-research-fellows/

[xx] http://londonfuturists.com/

[xxi] http://bus.lsbu.ac.uk/cibs/members/lsbu-staff/lloyd

[xxii] http://www.seriousgamesinstitute.co.uk/

[xxiii] http://lucid.ai/

[xxiv] https://transhumanistparty.wordpress.com/2015/04/21/the-transhumanist-candidate/

[xxv] http://criticalthought.com/

[xxvi] http://criticalthought.com/critical-thought-tv/

[xxvii] http://radivis.com/

[xxviii] http://forum.fractalfuture.net/

[xxix] http://www.heales.org/

[xxx] http://transhumanistes.com/

[xxxi] http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/sociology/staff/academicstaff/sfuller/

[xxxii] http://albertorizzoli.com/

[xxxiii] https://transpolitica.org/publications/envisioning-politics-2-0/

[xxxiv] http://fastfuturepublishing.com

Footnote

The article above features as the Introduction of the Transpolitica book “Envisioning Politics 2.0”.

Mediated Patent Equities For Accelerated Biomedical Research

By Maximo Ramallo, futurist, memes analyst and conceptual designer

Tangles

Summary

The path from biomedical research to product development has many challenges, from overlapping patents making a maze out of bureaucratic legal procedures, to reduced market competition for the restricted access to new investigation, caused by patent holders asserting conflicting patent authorship. This chapter proposes a change in patent implementation that delivers increased revenues for patent holders and opens opportunities for further research by competitive enterprises. This policy is obtained through changing the patent system behaviour with prior compliance from patent holders and the automaticity gained from a patent share system. I believe that in doing so we will foster good conditions for market competition as well as untangling biomedical research, thus achieving exponentiality in biomedical research and increased economic growth.

The Opposite Of Moore’s Law

Time and money are constantly being lost in the biomedical field as a consequence of a growing labyrinth of bureaucratic traps, set in response to competing market forces. The current system has become troublesome, often showing a lack of success or achievements below expectations in areas such as the pharmaceutical industry. This is only one example from a broader field – a field which is under great pressure to achieve the wonders of the future that it promised yesterday, to increase overall health, lifespan and wellbeing.

With the proliferation of intellectual property rights in biomedical research we see a problem of patent under-use, leading to what scholars have called “Eroom’s Law”, eroding progress from the field. This is not just Moore’s Law spelled backwards, but the opposite of Moore’s Law. Instead of an acceleration in productivity of R&D (research and development), the biomedical field has suffered a slowdown of R&D. The number of new drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration per fixed amount (inflation-adjusted) spent on R&D has halved roughly every 9 years from 1950 to the present day.

Next, I describe the paradigm that restricts the advance of medicine.

Introducing The Patent System

Patents are one type of intellectual property. Other types, alongside patents, are copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets. Intellectual property – like any other property – can be bought, sold, assigned, given as a gift, willed to heirs, and used as collateral for a loan.

It is often thought patents give full ownership and the ability to use the invention, but the patent gives an exclusionary right: to exclude others from making, using or importing the invention. Even worse, the patent holder may not have the right to commercialize the patent himself because someone may already have an earlier, broader patent. It may also be licensed, where an owner can negotiate with others to permit them commercialization rights for the patent, in effect allowing them to “trespass” onto the property. Otherwise, with the enforceability of a patent, a court can grant monetary damages for infringement or a permanent injunction against further infringement.

In the US, the Patent Office offers a year to file the application after the publication date. The patent rights are awarded to the first to file a patent application, not to the first to make the discovery or invention. The US used to follow the process of “first to invent” for granting patents, but it replaced it by the “first to file” system, also changing the time of 17 years for patent validity to 20 years from the day the application is filed. Patents are also limited by territory, with the chance of expanding them to other countries via selective filings to individual countries.

The patent application describes how to make and use the invention, stating what the inventor’s claims are, and what constitutes its inventiveness. Generally inventors file a chain of patent applications, with other types of applications being provisional, non-provisional, continuation, continuation in part, and divisional application. The application examination may take years, during which examiners look for eligibility, novelty, obviousness, sufficient description and enablement, specificity of the claim language and utility of the claimed invention. Novelty requires it not to be identically described in a previous publication released to the public. Obviousness tests are passed if the claim is not obvious to a person with ordinary skills in the invention’s field, if that person were able to read all the publications released previously to the public. Thus, obviousness (in a legal sense) cannot be determined solely by looking at the invention, but also at the relevant previous publications, which are named “prior art”. Descriptions have to be carefully written, as it must be possible for someone with ordinary skills in the field to make and use the invention without undue experimentation.

When a patent involves a law of nature being incorporated into a novel “kit” – a way to tie the natural law to an apparatus or piece of software – by having a very broad, very abstract patent that makes use of a novel discovery, we immediately create a monopoly over an abstract concept. The dominant patent theory among economists says this is to be expected and tolerated, despite the reality of R&D saying this can be bad for the economy, and that it restricts innovation.

The Adventure Of Research

The complexities of biological organisms require a plan of research from a multi-methodological perspective, in order to exploit the constant discovery we see in the field. For further improvement over positive results, or for getting the results that we desired in the first place, a second series of studies may be required following the original study. Every new discovery could need further study that in time may lead to the desired goal, a goal which is constantly haunted by the problem of being far from the original research. The constant requirement for further research is the cause of development being endangered by bureaucracy, so that it becomes difficult to achieve a fully usable product, or to complete the attractive line of investigation envisioned from the very beginning.

When all work ends solely on the part of proving or disproving a line of hypotheses, without the possibility to pursue further investigation, it often ends in no viable product but only in effectively proving that the line of research was wrong, without harvesting any benefit from the investigation. The reason why many startups avoid engaging in research fields is no mystery, as it is time consuming and risky for their early profits.

Patent Privatization, Blocking and Overlapping

Entrepreneurs find a labyrinth of bureaucratic obstacles when needing access to multiple patent rights. To develop one functional product the entrepreneur encounters fragments of the potential future product scattered across too many intellectual property rights with overlapping patent claims, and in the hands of different holders, who at the same time may have different business strategies.

An example of the danger is the patenting of biological targets (“biological models” of living organisms) and the human gene avenue, the latter being on hold for the moment. But the issue of having restricted the biological targets, which could be used to test potential treatments that fit, is now without solution. Patenting has been halted for ESTs (“expressed sequence tags”, short DNA sequences that translate into proteins) and other raw genomic DNA sequences including gene fragments or DNA sequences with unknown translation, before identifying a corresponding gene, protein, biological function, or potential commercial product. However with biological targets still patentable it turns the risk of hindering research in promising areas into a real threat. Thus, biological models, the “targets”, which should be ensured to be available for the discovery and the test of products, are blindly restricted by the current system.

When people under-use scarce resources because too many owners can block each other, the overall effect is a catastrophic jam and rising costs for production and for research. It shows that failure can come from many sides of the bureaucratic structure of patents, because while technological innovation has been the driving engine of first world economies, and the outreach of patent protection may have been an encouraging force for business, at the same time it permits corporate entities to restrict access to these innovations.

Because the ownership of patents is often assigned to a corporation or institution to be commercialized, when there is no requirement for the patent to be used, the best monetary deal isn’t necessarily the best deal for societal gain. Some companies may not have the goal of making profits out of patents when they buy their rights, but they instead attempt to buy the rights to exclude competing technologies from the market when they have another product already developed that benefits from having no competition. Due to this, many potential lines of research may remain frozen because the company that holds specific patent rights has no interest to develop them into products. In this way, patent filings and private investment deter the culture of upstream research, causing a clash between corporate and academic perspectives.

Potentially a chain reaction with negative outcomes, these conflicts of interests could create a corporate bias in the kind of patents favoured, and thus in the kind of products entering the market. This may, for example, delay the possibility of establishing new markets, in a case when companies sense that these new markets compete with previous markets that are more amenable to vendor lock-in (“monopolies”).

By favouring some lines of research over others, these conflicts of interest can also determine the type of publications the scientific community gets involved in, redirecting attention to only part of the field that may be more interesting for direct or immediate business. Adding to the issue, knowledge of what can be patented and what not – knowledge, thus, of what new research areas are profitable – is often not available in fields like genomics until a lawsuit has taken place. But since lawsuits have the reputation of ending in losses for the parties involved, all this brings more uncertainty to the market over which fields are attractive to investigate.

The rising field of personalized medicine has to be taken into account when we consider market restrictions. This field has the potential of undergoing a blossom of its own by exploring new areas like the use of genetic analysis and genetic therapies that enjoy much of the attention from the public. However, it often hits a wall of restrictive bureaucracy administered by standards officials who may even misunderstand its application.

The Results Of Patent Under-use

Upstream research, understood as the root for more innovation, is limited by the current system that is also slowing the pace of downstream biomedical innovation. With a model far from the process of open peer review, companies are often forced to withdraw a product due to malfunctioning and incur monetary losses, when that could have been prevented if wider tests and research had been permitted to be done by third parties. Moreover if the product is a drug which is found to have unexpected side effects, companies can face heavy losses. We have also a loss in time and resources when a piece of research has no viable way to be translated into the market, even though another company has the ability to develop the appropriate product, but that company is restrained from becoming involved since they are not granted the necessary patent rights. So long as the patent remains an intangible asset, we will carry on losing its benefit for the market. Ultimately, society will see the cost of having a restrictive system like the one currently in place.

The patenting of biological targets can even backfire on the original patentee by not allowing a proper review of the process. By letting unknown issues arise into a system that deserves to be called a gamble into the future, companies take a losing strategy, and it also ends in a less competitive economy.

At this point we must question if the method given by the current bureaucracy is the only way in which the enterprises can compete for profits. If present trends continue, costs for research will keep rising and products will continue to be expensive, slowing discoveries and increasing the difficulty of working in certain fields. The quest for magic pills and ideal profits will continue to be a fantasy for the companies, and we’ll never see startups who take the risk of seeking suitable products and solutions.

Mediated Patent Equities

To see real changes we must start by acknowledging the failures that come from bureaucratic entanglements and reach a conscious acceptance about the incompetence of the current practice. What comes next is doing a slight paradigm shift that addresses the errors in the current system. It will then be possible to describe a model where private investment enables unrestrained research and development of biomedical products – a model that can sustain both upstream research and downstream product development. As gathering royalty revenues is the incentive that sustains the biomedical market, patents and other forms of intellectual property protection for upstream discoveries must fortify the incentives of undertaking risky research projects to result in a more equitable distribution of profits across businesses and institutions that take the challenge.

This article proposes a joint revenue model of business, where patents are secure to be used and provide the patent holders with a percentage in revenues, even from third parties using the invention.

Compulsory Commercialization

An alternative to restriction is an agreement for each claim or patent on compulsory implementation, maintaining the structure in shares. This being a way of licensing, we must realize the value granted through an equity market. One solution is to allow commercialization of the product without restriction, but exercising revenue reclamation and option assurance. This transforms the present right to exclude others from using and making into a new right to gather revenues.

The research, development and commercialization should be treated as a compulsory action, accepting that disputes will arise (and can be solved) between patent claims after products hit the market. One way to make this attractive is to secure the policies for the use of the claimed invention, also knowing that the mediated equity model is for patent licensing and a guarantee of options, not for permanently fixing royalties – which can still be negotiated with a mediator after the mediator has analysed the currents of the market. With the policies on the implementation of patents negotiated through a mediator, thus securing the needs of the industry, we make the overall process an extension of the market.

As mobilizing the knowledge economy for widespread progress requires asset exchange among several parties, patents must change from a model of restriction to a model for insurance of revenue, becoming a system of shares. This system automatically secures the inventor as a shareholder for other inventions made by his discovery. Once an inventor chooses to make his patent as this model proposes, and another inventor uses the technologies from the first, this automatically takes place. Moving from a culture of aggressive retention of patents to a progressive environment of exchange, thus achieving its advantages, it’s possible to start and sustain the initiative via incentives, which are left to the criteria of the policymaker in virtue of the realpolitik, in the moment to that will be implemented.

Any patent added, even those that vary its process or have slightly different mechanisms, will be treated as being under the same model and will have its fees paid, and will be compulsory on its development. As will be explained in more detail later, each time a more basic form of the patent is created, as we see in the biomedical field, they will be treated as the base for all upcoming patents that derive from the most basic one, strongly favouring upstream research. Knowing also that patents can overlap, but with patent claims having an order of priority given by the time in which they appear, this is a way of modeling prior art as a tree of processes, rather than isolate everything under contentious reasons. In this case, the value will be almost exclusively upstream revenue (after expenses and revenues to third parties), with the exception of some foundational technologies that are key to open and explore new markets, that could have an up-front revenue on the negotiation process between the patentee and the mediator. This will create a royalty network, by which revenues will be treated as a percentage assigned over net income after expenses, part of which will be treated as the fees from using the patents from other patentees. Treating the patented discovery as a system of equity and taking the revenues of the products by means of a system of royalty rates ensures the success in this model, where each foundational discovery improves its revenue each time a new application is found and packaged into a product – also increasing the attractiveness of upstream, openly available research.

Having a mandatory re-issue fee for patents ensures that the technology will be commercialized, instead of being converted into a frozen project and halted. In a case where the patents are not used by the original parties, but there is a third party who would pay for the use, there will be a reimbursement of sunk-in patents and a retirement of the license, all according to reasonable expectations.

Biological Targets And Foundational Patents

The focus on the translational side of research often hides the need for establishing the roots of the field. Foundational ideas should be considered as the first to be implemented in this model, and they need to be accelerated by expedition (a process to fast-track the bureaucracy). This early availability will hasten the use of foundational patents among new companies, enabling more startups to be created and prosper. For further improvement, university startups must be granted equity in foundational patents, available in exchange for granting their own patents within this system.

Since biological targets contain the base for doing research that leads to many channels of development, these kernel discoveries must, wherever possible, be among the first to enter this open equity model of business. Having potential links with a wide range of diseases, they must be secured to remain open for broad business opportunities to appear.

Since we cannot predict the exact future of the biomedical field, all discoveries should be treated as potential foundations for others. But it will account at the visible needs of the market to select an appropriate treatment for each patent. The support of government resources and state involvement must also be guaranteed for foundational discoveries. The translation from raw research to actionable development of new technologies will finally be a reality, and a revolution. The promise of foundational fields such as genomics will be fulfilled, to solve first-level biological questions through research, and then create new health technologies.

Many moribund lines of research can be brought back to life by having a special agreement between the patentees and interested parties to explore if they have a viable way of being commercialized.

Joint Research Avenues

As patents incur various costs, in both their research and implementation, the rewards must be guaranteed, not only by allowing third parties to use them and to retrieve a royalty revenue directed to patent holders, but also by ensuring that a bipartisan research will be conducted with rewards shared fairly between the two parties, in case the patentee is interested on joining the research. In this model we also permit other enterprises to exploit lines of research which sometimes companies could investigate themselves, on exchange for sharing credit over the results, granted in any case the research is done by a branch research group or by the root company.

Companies that don’t want to entirely leave a future research avenue, which they suspect of being able to exploit in the future, can preserve much of their hoped-for credit by allocating resources for the research that would take place. This will secure the merit and revenue by establishing participation in the invention process. Then, the overall budget for research will also increase.

The appropriate tools to cope with the increasing information can be held by the mediator entity that will allow partners to share potential business projects on a secure way, and where they can have the advantage of becoming potential investors with preference over other companies outside this model. All affiliated institutions will benefit from this culture of sharing information, with many enterprises in different fields now able to collaborate in integrated ways to provide new technologies, thanks to this disposition of information that allows open cooperation. As an example of success, many groups contributed to the human genome project, which ended ahead of schedule and under budget, spawning the field of genomics.

Mediation By Consortium

Mediation by a common entity is crucial to initiate industry-wide cooperation, in the same way that, in many universities, there is a central board that successfully administers the inventions made by employees and students. For the advance of new technologies, it is important to have a patent pool under the umbrella of a common consortium which will always answer to the needs of the industry. By creating a consortium for mobilizing a patent pool there is no infringement in this model of current patent laws, so it excludes only those who may not choose to treat their own patents as shares.

To avoid over-contentious negotiation, the consortium will be in charge of all legal proceedings and will be able to channel the financial negotiations between institutional boards and patentees. The consortium then negotiates the royalty rates and stock options over the technologies, adjusting these to the needs of the industry. It will also provide strategic guidance and management for taking advantage of new technologies and market trends. Moreover, it can encourage cross-license agreements involving previously filed patents – something that will require a new way of cataloguing patents via this institution.

A committee formed by representatives from the industry, the government, NGO’s, and of course each academic field, could be in charge of setting the board of the consortium. The advocacy for a common ground on biomedical research and development is an important goal that touches us all.

To take full advantage on the vast efforts from our scientists we must also ensure recognition of their work and exaltation of their inventiveness, acknowledging the beneficial social implications of their research. Personal income and increased funding for research that comes from this model will also bring forward the next generation of biomedical research into the present day. Researchers who want to track follow-up work based on their discovery will have the opportunity of ringside seat observation, public acclaim, and fair financial rewards when their work enters the market.

Although the board negotiates all financial and legal terms, inventors can add value to the process through their scientific insights and medical advice. They will be kept informed throughout the process, unless they specifically request otherwise. The information that the scientists provide over the future performance of the market will always be taken into account in the consortium.

The Benefits Of Mediated Patent Equities

The exchange of assets is beneficial for the original researchers by expanding the commercialization of their invention in ways frequently not previously possible, as novel uses and researches are added to their original line of discoveries. This non-exclusivity model allows a healthy competition to take place. Treating product development and research as compulsory also guarantees that interested parties will secure their investment from any risk of having production stopped. This will increase overall cost-effectiveness, returning a benefit that justifies the initial investment by startups and established companies alike. It will also alleviate the creation of products for each new generation of technologies.

With this we can increase the development of value added innovation. It will be a better, faster and cheaper way of conducting R&D. It will boost and advance new technologies, and will support the research ventures that startups and consolidated businesses need. All the potential of the research can be effectively exploited in contrast with the current model of product unviability and exhausting bureaucracy. The economic development of the industry and overall technological growth will be visually increased by these new rules of business. We can anticipate the value of this implementation by the increase in research by the companies, gathering benefits both in the form of profit and in the form of technological prowess.

Ultimately, society will be the biggest winner from these changes. Cooperation between universities and the industry will be broader. Better healthcare through research will become more common, and society will be able to respond more quickly to emerging dangers in population health. We’ll have greater welfare, as we extend the quality of life, by the protection of the human effort and the general growth, and against the old restrictions imposed by the present exclusionary patent system. The compulsory commercialization of research will have the outcome of bringing medicine to the many.

Sources

Can Patents Deter Innovation? The Anticommons in Biomedical Research – http://www.sciencemag.org/content/280/5364/698.full

Patents in Genomics and Human Genetics – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2935940/

FIGURE 1 | Eroom’s Law in pharmaceutical R&D – http://www.nature.com/nrd/journal/v11/n3/fig_tab/nrd3681_F1.html

Don’t Feed The Trolls? – http://www.nera.com/content/dam/nera/publications/archive1/PUB_DontFeedTheTrolls.pdf

Patent Misuse and the Antitrust Reform: Blessed be the Tie? – http://jolt.law.harvard.edu/articles/pdf/v04/04HarvJLTech001.pdf

Patent Theory versus Patent Law – http://mason.gmu.edu/~atabarro/PatentPublished.pdf

Proprietary Rights and Collective Action: The Case of Biotechnology Research With Low Commercial Value – http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1993&context=faculty_scholarship

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 9 of the Transpolitica book “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”. Transpolitica welcomes feedback. Your comments will help to shape the evolution of Transpolitica communications.

Image source: Pixabay

Anarchy beyond socialism and capitalism

By Waldemar Ingdahl, Director and Founder of the Swedish policy think tank Eudoxa

Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy that opposes authorities in the conduct of human relations, rejecting the state while advocating non-hierarchical organizations and voluntary associations. This essay draws attention to a variant of anarchism – market anarchism – which has been little studied, but whose relevance may increase due to new technology.

There are many strains within current anarchist thought. Anarchist communism advocates the abolition of the state, capitalism, wages and private property, and favours collective ownership of private resources. It calls for direct democracy, and a network of voluntary associations and workers’ councils guided by the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. Anarcho-syndicalism is a practice of left-wing anarchism through revolutionary unionism in capitalist society. Anarcho-capitalism advocates the elimination of the state in favour of individual sovereignty, private property, and open markets. Its ideal society sees law enforcement, and courts operated by privately funded competitors rather than by a centralist state.

The various modern currents of anarchism have often been at odds among each other and have rarely been particularly successful at establishing a particular real, functioning anarchist order.

Mature industrialism, which emerged early in the 20th century, was a paradoxical and very unstable combination of market and command economy. The market economy and the forces of competition created the dynamic framework that led the development to mature. Large factories were veritable command economies in miniature. Organizational principles were strictly hierarchical and clearly inspired by military organizations. The standardization of products and Taylorism as management ideals became the central feature of the development that led to the definitive production machine, the famous car factory of industrialist Henry Ford. The age was characterized by high transaction costs, difficulties of disseminating information and the centralization of clearly definable knowledge.

Left-wing anarchism fared badly in comparison with social democratic unions, which were able to combine the strength of labour monopsony (a market dominated by one seller) with political power over the state. Anarcho-capitalism fared badly in the face of legal complexity of government bureaucracy, while corporations thrived in collusion and their regulatory capture of government institutions.

Alongside these currents of anarchism there has long been a smaller line of thought: individualist anarchism, which can also be called “market anarchism”.

Market-anarchy

Market anarchism is a belief centred on mutual exchange, not economic privilege, advocating freed markets, not capitalism. Social justice is mainly seen as eliminating the governmental privileges that rigs the market in favour of capitalists while retaining a focus on building voluntary institutions such as cooperatives.

Market anarchism pronounces itself a radical liberation while empowering people to eliminate structural poverty, and redistribute economic and social power. It differs from left-wing anarchism by its embrace of markets, while setting itself apart from the anarcho-capitalist view of freedom as simply being present day corporations and capitalist structures, minus the state’s taxes and regulations. The powerful market position of current corporate entities is quite often highly dependent on the subsidies provided and control delegated by the state. Market anarchists often criticize the fact that corporations are able to block creativity and innovation by the privilege inherent in patent and copyright laws. In their view, markets are mechanism for cooperative collaboration, entrepreneurship, and often economic self-sufficiency.

Private property is often seen to be created by government action to limit access from the customary owners of a resource to favour the privileged classes. Similarly market anarchism sees the 20th century consumtariat losing power over its own consumption through debt and lack of control over technology.

Modern technology is enclosed and expert-driven. It is user friendly, but its “black box design” is not open to adaptation or changes. The maker movement shows a different way. It provides an alternative as a globally scattered community of Do-It-Yourself enthusiasts, hackers, researchers, designers and contractors, making everything from embroidery to robotics, working through generic designs, and open code.

Market anarchism might become an ideology more apt for the 21st century. The internet and many open ended technologies have provided the world with relatively many non-rivalrous goods. Rather than a “tragedy of the commons”, where individuals acting independently and rationally according to self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group by depleting some common resource, a “comedy of the commons” might be possible. The value of the internet increases for the individual user as the volume of available information and connections increases. Additional users make the internet more valuable to all, a development helped by open source software.

Today it is possible to share, borrow or rent a wide range of services and goods, from work, residences, vehicles, personal assistants, kitchen space, cooking and finance, clothing and tools. Everything is available in the new sharing economy.

The problem is finding someone to share with, at the right place, at the right time. The internet, social media and our constant state of connection has changed this. Mobile apps and websites are easy to scale using cloud services. The apps help users find each other, negotiate, make a transaction with or without money involved and then rate each other for everyone else in the social media to see. It is possible to find someone to share in a much larger area, and it’s easy to bill online or to regulate a gift economy. Consumers own and possess the goods and services exchanged. In combination with the adoption of 3D-printing technology, designs could be downloaded and produced regardless of intellectual property. Economies of scale and standardization are becoming less important than flexibility and adaptability.

The 3D-printer technology’s connection to the web means that political debate on copyright and patents will intensify. Designs could be downloaded and produced regardless of intellectual property. After all, the way computer technology distributes content is by copying it, exactly what copyright legislation defines as an infringement. As copyright is enforced by a government in favour of corporations, market anarchism could produce new forms of transactions regarding to ideas.

Open data and open-source collaboration are behind much of the innovative programming that powers the internet, operating systems, and software. The open code is developed organically through trial and error contributions to software. Guided by the open source community’s standards, rules, proceedings for decision-making, forms of remuneration and sanction; modern programming might be considered one of the foremost examples of real functioning market anarchy in existence.

Direct democratic decision-making is hampered by the complexity of modern deliberative processes. Information Technology can alleviate this by offering clarity to decision processes and exactly quantifying prices and market transactions for goods and services. This includes a much more deliberative use of computer systems and internet of things environments. Transparency is the way of clarifying risks and opportunities in decision making, especially for prioritizing existential risks. Services previously provided by a government might be more efficiently produced on-demand by being pre-programmed into software or into open-source platform for mutual exchanges.

Market anarchism sees a connection between economic outcomes and the material prospects for sustaining a free society, either through a ruling class treading down on those who are economically and socially weak or by populists buying their loyalty.

A decentralized medium of exchange using cryptography to secure the transactions and to control the creation of new units is certainly one of the more interesting developments from a market anarchist point of view.

Inequalities of wealth and poverty can be addressed through mutual aid societies and voluntary charities. The problem of free riders could be alleviated by automatic arbitration systems and through building in a mechanism for providing a basic income in cryptocurrency, as a payment back to the community for using the public distributed ledger: the block chain.

Market anarchism has a voluntarist approach in spreading the adoption of its views, which highlights its need for producing viable examples of its implementation. Many users of cryptocurrencies, 3D-printers, or open-source code might never think of their use as particularly political. Its voluntarism might be market anarchism’s greatest strength, while at the same time prove to be its greatest weakness, leaving its networks open for outside manipulation.

Technology has no inherent political order, rather it facilitates or debilitates certain features in society upon which political ideas may be dependent. An appropriate description might be “negative technological determinism”, what does a technological development invalidate?

Anarchist communism and anarcho-syndicalism might run into problems coming to terms with the changed nature of work and economic activity. Anarcho-capitalism might have difficulties explaining the increasing dependence of corporations on government in order to meet non-monetary competition from voluntary associations in the sharing economy and open-source innovation.

Market anarchism is at present a minute ideological current even in contemporary anarchism, but its thoughts and concept of human interaction are not invalidated by current developments to the same degree. In fact it might prove to be a way of thought well in tune to a decentralized, redistributed society.

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 5 of the Transpolitica book “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”. Transpolitica welcomes feedback. Your comments will help to shape the evolution of Transpolitica communications.