Tools for better politics?

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

Tools for better politics

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chapter updated: “1. Vision and roadmap”

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

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

Review comments appreciated!

Access the chapter here.

The section heading are:

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

Chapter updated: “4. Work and purpose”

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

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

Review comments appreciated!

Access the chapter here.

The section heading are:

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

Transpolitica goals and progress, Q1

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

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

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

Pplus Q1

Priority projects for Q1

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

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

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

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

Progress with “Transcending Politics”

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

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

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

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

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

You can make comments directly in the Google docs.

Remaining steps before publication

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

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


Democracy and inclusion: chapter ready for review

FiPo cover hires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technoprogressive decision-making

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my response…

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

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

Markets and fundamentalists: chapter ready for review

FiPo cover hires

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

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

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

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

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

This proclamation alarms a series of different kinds of critics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conflicting views on markets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collusion and cartels

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

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

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

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

Exuberance and scarcity: chapter ready for review

FiPo cover hires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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”:


  • 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.


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.


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


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.


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, 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.


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].


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.










































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


  • 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.


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

[ii] The Zeitgeist of Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[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. (PDF)

[xi] Daily Kos

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

[xiii] 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

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

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

[xvii] Mass 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

[xix] The Technocracy Movement

[xx] The Venus Project

[xxi] The Zeitgeist Movement

[xxii] Transpolitica

[xxiii] Anarchism

[xxiv] Anarchist Schools of Thought

[xxv] Post-Capitalism Anarchism

[xxvi] Post-Scarcity Anarchism

[xxvii] Social Ecology

[xxviii] Libertarian Municipalism

[xxix] Anarchist Communism

[xxx] Direct Democracy

[xxxi] Common Ownership

[xxxii] Anarcho-syndicalism

[xxxiii] Compact Toroid

[xxxiv] Polywell Fusion

[xxxv] Thermionic Energy Conversion (PDF)


[xxxvi] Antimatter Fuel

[xxxvii] Zero-point Energy

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


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


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:


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.


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.


[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







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

Images via Wired and Wikipedia.