The need for a better politics is more pressing than ever.
Since its formation, Transpolitica has run a number of different projects aimed at building momentum behind a technoprogressive vision for a better politics. For a new decade, it’s time to take a different approach, to build on previous initiatives.
The planned new vehicle has the name “RAFT 2035”.
RAFT is an acronym:
Roadmap (‘R’) – not just a lofty aspiration, but specific steps and interim targets
towards Abundance (‘A’) for all – beyond a world of scarcity and conflict
enabling Flourishing (‘F’) as never before – with life containing not just possessions, but enriched experiences, creativity, and meaning
via Transcendence (‘T’) – since we won’t be able to make progress by staying as we are.
When turbulent waters are bearing down fast, it’s very helpful to have a sturdy raft at hand.
The fifteen years from 2020 to 2035 could be the most turbulent of human history. Revolutions are gathering pace in four overlapping fields of technology: nanotech, biotech, infotech, and cognotech, or NBIC for short. In combination, these NBIC revolutions offer enormous new possibilities – enormous opportunities and enormous risks:…
Rapid technological change tends to provoke a turbulent social reaction. Old certainties fade. New winners arrive on the scene, flaunting their power, and upturning previous networks of relationships. Within the general public, a sense of alienation and disruption mingles with a sense of profound possibility. Fear and hope jostle each other. Whilst some social metrics indicate major progress, others indicate major setbacks. The claim “You’ve never had it so good” coexists with the counterclaim “It’s going to be worse than ever”. To add to the bewilderment, there seems to be lots of evidence confirming both views.
The greater the pace of change, the more intense the dislocation. Due to the increased scale, speed, and global nature of the ongoing NBIC revolutions, the disruptions that followed in the wake of previous industrial revolutions – seismic though they were – are likely to be dwarfed in comparison to what lies ahead.
Turbulent times require a space for shelter and reflection, clear navigational vision despite the mists of uncertainty, and a powerful engine for us to pursue our own direction, rather than just being carried along by forces outside our control. In short, turbulent times require a powerful “raft” – a roadmap to a future in which the extraordinary powers latent in NBIC technologies are used to raise humanity to new levels of flourishing, rather than driving us over some dreadful precipice.
The words just quoted come from the opening page of a short book that is envisioned to be published in January 2020. The chapters of this book are reworked versions of the scripts used in the recent “Technoprogressive roadmap” series of videos.
Over the next couple of weeks, all the chapters of this proposed book will be made available for review and comment:
As pages on the Transpolitica website, starting here
As shared Google documents, starting here, where comments and suggestions are welcome.
All being well, RAFT 2035 will also become a conference, held sometime around the middle of 2020.
You may note that, in that way that RAFT 2035 is presented to the world,
The word “transhumanist” has moved into the background – since that word tends to provoke many hostile reactions
The word “technoprogressive” also takes a backseat – since, again, that word has negative connotations in at least some circles.
If you like the basic idea of what’s being proposed, here’s how you can help:
As of March 2019, Transpolitica is focusing on hosting the publication of books, reports, and blogposts.
Actual discussion and planning of campaigns to take advantage of the ideas in these publications is now happening in a different organisation: the Transhumanist Party UK (TPUK).
For a live update of the projects being undertaken by the TPUK, see this dashboard.
As you’ll see, there’s a lot going on!
The TPUK declares its goal clearly: “A better future for everyone”. It highlights three top-level principles:
Evidence, science, and technology
Personal freedom and social justice.
Although based in the UK, the TPUK welcomes members and supporters from around the world. To sign up to receive regular newsletters and other information by email, find the “Join” section of the TPUK’s main webpage.
You might also consider pressing the “Like” button on the TPUK’s Facebook page. That way, you’ll automatically receive notification of Facebook Live videos featuring TPUK executives – of which the first is scheduled for 6pm UK time on Sunday 3rd March.
Once the book nears publication, a number of existing websites and communities will be restructured, to more usefully coordinate positive concrete action to accelerate the advent of sustainable superabundance.
I’m writing to share early news of a planned pivot involving Transpolitica and/or the Transhumanist Party UK.
This pivot will taken place over the next few months. Progressing this pivot is the goal of the forthcoming Q3 sprint for Transpolitica.
The pivot is to place more focus on one particular idea: clarifying the forthcoming era of sustainable abundance. This will happen via the vehicle of a new document – a new manifesto – which (all being well) will be published as a short new book some time later this year.
Hence the new document, which bears the working title The Transhumanist Abundance Manifesto.
It is presently mainly text, but the idea is that it will contain graphics as well.
As you’ll see, the document contains a call-to-action. If you’re able to help improve the document – particularly the FAQ section at the end (which I envision will grow to at least one hundred questions over the next few weeks), please add your comments and suggestions in this Google doc.
The Manifesto is split into three parts:
An opening invitation, “Advance!” (roughly one page of A4)
Sections explaining “Abundance awaits” (roughly three pages of A4)
FAQ (to form an extended appendix to the previous sections).
For ease of viewing, here’s a current snapshot of the first two sections.
As Q2 approaches, it’s now time to put into motion the first of a series of time-limited projects to dive more deeply into some of the specific key themes of a better politics.
Each such project will involve gathering, developing, reviewing, and then disseminating the best technoprogressive thinking on a given topic.
The first project in the series is “Political responses to technological unemployment”, carried out over three phases:
Up to end of April 2018: mainly writing and collecting submissions – framing analyses, thought pieces, policy recommendations, etc
Up to end of May 2018: more focus on group deliberation – where are the weak points and the strong points of our collective understanding, and how can we improve our understanding
Up to end of June 2018: more focus on communicating our findings and recommendations, via publications, memes, slogans, videos, etc
Note that I am using the phrase “technological unemployment” to also include “technological under-employment” and “precarious employment”. (A better choice of words could be one outcome from the project.)
Starting points for this project (to avoid people re-inventing the wheel) include:
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.
Priority projects for Q1
You can read the priority projects for Q1 (Jan-Mar 2018) here. In summary, these projects are:
Assist the launch of the book “Transcending Politics”
Refresh the Transpolitica website
Refresh the Transpolitica content on H+Pedia
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:
What are the most important issues that deserve full attention, during the campaigns leading up to the UK General Election on 8th June?
Should this election be dominated by the single issue of “Brexit”? That’s the issue given prominence by Prime Minister Theresa May as she called this snap election.
The Prime Minister wants the votes in GE2017 to deliver her a clearer power base, and therefore a stronger negotiating position with the other countries of the EU during what is anticipated to be a difficult set of discussions over the next two years.
In brief, the three main political parties in England and Wales (to set aside for the moment the special conditions that apply in both Scotland and Northern Ireland) have Brexit positions as follows:
The Conservatives have committed to a decisive break with the EU – leaving the single market and the customs union – and in the event of a failure of negotiations, with no framework relationship at all with the EU
The Conservative are also committed to giving, via the “Great Repeal Bill”, UK government ministers ongoing discretionary power over thousands of legal decisions which previously required either EU or UK parliamentary review
Labour have also committed to following through with a break from the EU, but don’t support “Brexit at any cost”; instead they advocate “Brexit with social justice”
Labour demand that the final negotiated terms will be put to the UK parliament for verification, though they have not clarified what they want to happen if Parliament rejects these terms (that is, whether the UK might in that case seek to retain its membership in what could be a reformed EU)
The LibDems are pushing for the UK to remain in the single market and the customs union
The LibDems also champion the ability of the UK Parliament to vote, at the end of the negotiations with the EU, for the UK to remain inside the EU after all, in case it has become clearer by that time what costs and drawbacks an exit will incur, and that many the presumed benefits of separation are illusory.
But should the GE2017 decision be decided entirely by views about Brexit?
That question hinges, in the first instance, on how seriously you view the consequences of a “wrong” Brexit outcome. Both sides of the Brexit debate contain people who see the matter as having fundamental importance:
Passionate Leave supporters highlight what they see as impending crises within the EU zone. The Euro is about to fail, they say. The EU operates opaquely, with no transparency. It increasingly lacks democratic support for its empire-building aims. Better for the UK to be as far away as possible from this forthcoming major train wreck. So long as it remains constrained by EU processes, the UK will be unable to adopt the policies needed for its own best future prospects
Passionate Remain supporters, on the other hand, forecast what will be a “Titanic” outcome of Brexit, to refer to an unfortunate choice of words from Boris Johnson, the UK Foreign Secretary – words turned into a scathing black comedy video by Comedy Central UK
If you’re worried about leaving the European Union… I worry more about leaving the safe zone for civilisation on our global planet
David was referring to the prospects of forthcoming runaway climate change: the departure of the Earth from the “Holocene era” to an “Anthropocene era”. See from around 13-18 minutes into this recording of the event:
The bigger issues
Climate change is an example of the category of “existential issues” – issues that might radically alter the well-being of human existence on planet Earth, well within many of our lifetimes.
These issues include existential threats but also existential opportunities. What they have in common is that, unless we give them sufficient attention in advance, our room for manoeuvre may rapidly diminish. It may become too late to head off an existential threat (such as runaway climate change), or too late to take hold of an existential opportunity (such as investing vigorously in next-generation green technologies).
In all these cases, we may end up realising, too late, that we had been concentrating on lesser matters – matters that appeared urgent – and lost sight of the truly important ones. Too much debate over the swings and roundabouts mechanics of Brexit, for example, may lead us to forget about the actions needed in many other areas of forthcoming radical change. Too much focus on the present-day rough-and-tumble may prevent us from championing the future.
That’s why Transpolitica urges serious attention, in the run-up to GE2017, to a number of potential existential issues. We need politicians who will commit to devoting significant energies to developing practical plans to enable the following:
Next generation green technologies, including those for better storage and transmission of clean energy
Healthcare solutions that address the causes of ill-health and disease, rather than just trying to patch people up after the onset of chronic illness – these solutions include regenerative medicine and other rejuvenation therapies, to be made available and affordable to every citizen
Radical solutions, as a subset of the previous case, for the growing crisis of mental ill-health, including dementia, as well as depression
Transitioning society away from one in which we live to work (with the aim of near full employment) to one in which we live to flourish (with the aim of near full unemployment) – this transition may become especially pressing, with the rapid onset of technological unemployment and technological under-employment in the wake of robots, AI, and other automation
Foreseeing and forestalling the risks to societal well-being from widespread surveillance (by both corporations and governments), and from pervasive online infrastructures that are increasingly vulnerable to security flaws and other errors in software implementation (including powerful AI algorithms that operate with unexpected biases)
Mechanisms for better debates on political topics – debates freed from distortions such as fake news, deliberately misleading statements, overly powerful press barons, deceptive intentions being kept hidden, and the flaws of the “first past the post” election system
Mechanisms for effective international collaboration, that supersede and/or improve upon the existing troubled operations of the UN, the IMF, and more local organisations such as the EU.
The last of these issues takes us full circle. Proper solutions to the big issues of the near-future depend upon a healthy international environment. If you think that the UK leaving the EU will significantly impact, for better or for worse, the UK’s ability to address the other big issues, then maybe you would be correct, after all, to prioritise the Brexit issue in the GE2017 campaign.
But only if we keep these other issues in mind too.
Here’s an extract from the description of that event:
The presentation will cover four overlapping crises Humanity faces today – crises in the domains of politics, economics, society, and existential risk. The presentation will also provide a vision of a possible solution, with a reformed European Union becoming the core of a new supranational organization having the best chance to tackle these problems.
The world faces a series of existential risks. When combined, the chance of one of these risks materializing in just 20 years is at least 5%. We already had one such “near miss” that could have annihilated the entire civilization. That was the Cuban crisis in October 1962, which almost started a global nuclear war…
Additionally, mainly due to the advancement in technology, the world is changing at almost an exponential pace. That means that change, not just in technology but also in political or social domains, which might previously have taken a decade to produce a significant effect, can now happen in just a year or two. No wonder that people, even in the most developed countries, cannot absorb the pace of change that happens simultaneously in so many domains of our lives. That’s why emotions have overtaken reason.
People are voting in various elections and referenda against the status quo, not really knowing what the problem is, even less what could be the solution. Even if some politicians know what the overall, usually unpleasant solutions could be, they are unlikely to share that with their own electorate because they would be deselected in the next election. The vicious circle continues but at an increasingly faster pace…
Anyone wanting to improve the situation faces three problems:
Existential risks require fast action, while the world’s organisations act very slowly
People want more freedom and more control, while we need to give up some of our freedoms and national sovereignty for the greater good of civilisation and humanity
Most people can’t see beyond tomorrow and act emotionally, while we need to see the big picture and act rationally.
Therefore, anybody that sees the need for the world to take urgent action faces a formidable task of proposing pragmatic, fast and very radical changes in the ways the world is governed.
For more details of this event – and to RSVP to attend what will surely be a lively discussion – click here.
The report was submitted on behalf of Transpolitica, to address the topics listed on the Science and Technology Committee inquiry page:
The implications of robotics and artificial intelligence on the future UK workforce and job market, and the Government’s preparation for the shift in the UK skills base and training that this may require.
The extent to which social and economic opportunities provided by emerging autonomous systems and artificial intelligence technologies are being exploited to deliver benefits to the UK.
The extent to which the funding, research and innovation landscape facilitates the UK maintaining a position at the forefront of these technologies, and what measures the Government should take to assist further in these areas.
The social, legal and ethical issues raised by developments in robotics and artificial intelligence technologies, and how they should be addressed.
Note: click here to access the entire set of submissions accepted by the Science and Technology Committee.
This briefing introduces Artificial Intelligence (A.I) as it is applied in industry today, and outlines what the United Kingdom can do to take full advantage of the technology. The briefing covers four areas the Implications of robotics and artificial intelligence for the UK, gaining and maintaining primacy in A.I technologies, the social and economic opportunities afforded by A.I technologies and issues in developing robotic and artificial intelligence technologies.
A.I is fast becoming an integral part of everyday life. In the coming decades, its integration into the digital ecosystem will be such that almost all technology will have an “intelligent” component.
Advances in A.I, robotics, technology and the sciences are approaching an exponential curve due to convergence and driven by information technologies.
A.I, robotics and automated processes are highly likely to displace vast amounts of the labour force within the next two decades, potentially 15 million jobs are amenable to automation, by either robotics or software, and cover an ever-broadening range of occupations.
Changes in the distribution of the capital-labour ratio will lead to a hollowing out of low, mid and high skill workers.
Re-deployment to the work force after a period of re-education and skill improvement may not be possible due to the increased pace of change, requiring a radical rethink of what it means to learn and work in a rapidly evolving digital economy.
A basic income should be investigated to offset the reduction in employment opportunities allowing for greater social mobility, a basic standard of living and reduced perception of inequality.
There needs to be a radical reform of the national curriculum and educational system to focus above all else on the creative use of technology from an early age, potentially as early as year two and becoming more intensive by year twelve.
A.I technologies can be used in the education system to improve the delivery of materials, subject matter and acceptance of A.I. The integration of A.I tools into education is not something that needs to be developed from first principles, but can draw upon the existing field of A.I.Ed
Educating citizens at all levels of society about the effects of A.I upon the UK will prove to be the biggest challenge, if the UK is to gain primacy in this area.
Defence applications of A.I, robotics and automation require serious consideration and rapid development if the UK government is to vouchsafe its citizens and allies. However, there are ethical and moral considerations and boundaries to be reflected upon.
If the UK can respond fast enough and commit to investing in education, digital infrastructure and redeployment of research funding, then coupled with existing industrial and research frameworks the UK is well placed to reap the benefits of becoming a leading player in the A.I domain.
Not since the dawn of the industrial revolution in 1750 has there been a period in history that has so radically altered society, economic growth and technological development. Since the start of this revolution, there has been a rapid but linear pattern of growth and development resulting in three distinct eras. The first era was the industrial revolution (mid-18th century), the second was the period of mass industrialisation (mid-19th century), which has now slowed and the third is the Information Technology (I.T) revolution which began in the latter half of the 20th The I.T revolution however, has broken this trend of linear progress and set in motion a period of exponential growth and development. This new revolution, which comes fast on the heels of the previous one, has been termed the fourth industrial revolution or the second machine age.
Thus far, this new “digital age” has been characterised by wide adoption of the internet and the creation of so called “cyber-physical” systems -replacing traditional infrastructure with digital technologies- and by convergence, in which the reliance and co-dependence on data driven processes provided by information technologies, is blurring the traditional divisions between scientific and industrial domains. This co-dependence is accelerating scientific and industrial progress in many areas, such as genetic engineering, regenerative medicine and automation driven by advances in robotics and algorithmic control or Artificial Intelligence (A.I).
Advances in A.I have arguably been the principal technology contributing to current progress and one that is evolving in near real-time. A.I is set to become the most advanced technological tool developed by man, since the discovery and use of fire. There are many definitions of artificial intelligence, such as Machine Consciousness, Narrow Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Strong Artificial Intelligence and Artificial General Intelligence. However, for the purposes of this briefing, the focus is upon narrow artificial intelligence applications as these are currently heading into mainstream deployment.
A.I loosely defined, is a set of statistical tools and algorithms that combine to form, in part, intelligent software that specializes in a single area or task. This type of software is an evolving assemblage of technologies that enable computers to simulate elements of Human behaviour such as learning, reasoning and classification. Some examples of A.I include classification algorithms, used to classify images on social media platforms, text mining algorithms and junk email identification to more complex examples used in computational biology and drug discovery, social network analysis, human gameplay and healthcare analytics (such as Google Deepmind and IBM Watson).
In this briefing, we will outline the connotative potential of A.I as a tool to effect radical social change, financial stability and growth and an enhancement or declension of human existence. Our aim is to rationally consider the negative implications of A.I based on available evidence and opinion, while at the same time emphasising the benefits of the technology when ethically applied so that every UK citizen can be given the opportunity to live better than well, which is our mandate.
2. Implications of robotics and artificial intelligence on the future UK
If the 1st industrial revolution was characterised as a race between technology, labour and education, the 4th may well be categorised as a race against technology that replaces both brains and brawn. This next race has serious implications for education, especially given the current plans to replace state schools with a broad, enforceable national curriculum, with academies that focus on education as product. However, the greatest area of impact will be upon employment, recent research completed by the Bank of England amongst others shows that up to a third (potentially 15 million) of jobs are amenable to automation, by either robotics or software and cover an ever-broadening range of occupations.
The eventual effect of automation will be the creation of an “autonomous economy” in which digital processes talk to other digital processes and synergise to create new processes; this will allow industries to employ fewer workers, yet complete more work. Traditional trend mappings of the economic landscape (i.e. Neo-Capitalism) point to a trend in which, as the automation of labour increase so too does job creation (after an initial period of rapid falloff and recovery). However, there is now a growing body of evidence to suggest that this time things will be both quantitatively and qualitatively different, and that this difference is due to wider applications of Moores Law, beyond electronics to machine learning and information science. This new trend presents as an exponential growth curve that will see automation applied beyond physical labour to more cognitive labour.
As this trend manifests over the coming decades it will lead to a radical redistribution of the capital-labour ratio by adding a new vector, that of the robot, forever changing the distribution of resources amongst the various strata of society. In certain occupational domains, human labour is likely to continue for technical, economic and ethical reasons. On a technical level, machines today remain inferior to humans at jobs involving creative, highly flexible or affective work and those tasks that rely on tacit rather than explicit knowledge. It may be that it is simply not economically feasible to replace workers in these areas, or ethical as in the case of those providing secondary, tertiary health or palliative care.
The coming changes will lead to a hollowing out of low, mid and high skill workers, who would (based upon previous models) re-deploy to the work force after a period of re-education and skill improvement. However, in the new digital ecosystem, re-education will only take an individual so far, as their ability to adapt to rapid advancements decreases with the increased pace of change. This will require a radical rethink of what it means to learn and work in a rapidly evolving digital economy.
Providing education and income to citizens who have or are likely to lose employment due to automation will prove to be one of the greatest challenges in the decades ahead. To address this challenge and help manage the social and economic impacts, government should engage with the public in open conversation and wide media outreach about the likely impact of A.I. Answering key questions such as how will the nature of work change? What types of jobs are likely to be automated? If there is no work, how will I support myself or my family? What can I do to find work? What will there be for my children? Such answers as provided need to be unambiguous and clear-cut and guide the public towards those industries with less probability of automation and towards education and skills training.
In addition to the implications for the economy, employment, and education, serious consideration needs to be given to the military applications of this technology, in both a global and domestic context. These considerations need to take into account defensive, offensive, automated and autonomous perspectives. International debate is already fuelling calls for a prohibition on the deployment of autonomous systems in the theatre of war on ethical grounds (Red Cross, Human Rights Watch). The HRW stated a position with some merit:
“A requirement to maintain human control over the use of weapons would eliminate many of the problems associated with fully autonomous weapons. Such a requirement would protect the dignity of human life, facilitate compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, and promote accountability for unlawful acts”
However, given the changing definition of warfare in the modern digital age, “fully autonomous weapons” in this context may not take into account “software as a weapon”. This was demonstrated by the Stuxnet malware deployment, which highlighted a radical shift from “traditional” warfare and hacking to cyber-physical attack engineering, and this form of attack will only increase in frequency and sophistication as our technologies and infrastructure systems become smarter. Therefore, the debate must be expanded beyond battlefield deployment, to include a review of autonomous systems deployed at all points within the digital ecosystem.
3. Gaining and maintaining primacy in A.I technologies
In order to gain and maintain leadership in the application and development of A.I technologies the UK must concentrate its efforts to varying degrees in three areas, education, research and industry. The area requiring the highest degree of effort, but potential maximum return will be education. There needs to be a radical reform of the national curriculum that focuses above all else on the creative use of technology from an early age, potentially as early as year two and becoming more intensive by year twelve. In addition to performing “traditional” learning tasks such as reading and writing, technology should be integrated as an additional support tool, allowing other cognitive tasks such as mathematics and the sciences to be reconceptualised to support the step changes in learner outcomes that are required for modern life and the digital workplace.
Traditional educational practice has thus far focused on developing core cognitive competencies, such as reading, writing and arithmetic with very little variation in how these are taught and applied beyond the education environment. Current and in-development A.I technologies shows that machines are already making significant strides towards mastery in all of these areas and it our conclusion that creativity should be added to this set of core competencies, a conclusion already supported by others. Arguably creativity, in the digital workplace, can be defined as the ability to ask questions using advanced intelligent technology and utilise the answers to create novel solutions to present and future problems, as such, a superior proficiency in data analysis to produce insights and apply solutions will be a much sought after skill-set in the coming decades.
Technology and A.I can serve a dual purpose in a reformed educational system by being both the facilitator of high quality learner experiences and the subject of those experiences. If in the UK, we could teach the creative use, support and understanding of A.I and information technologies from an early age, we could potentially create a generation of thought leaders and expert practitioners, with the foresight to fully utilise the potential of A.I both at home and abroad in many industrial domains. However, to achieve this, the educational system would need to foster an environment that encourages critical thinking, rational decision making and multidisciplinary approaches to increase creativity and a learner’s ability to synergise knowledge from disparate sources.
The integration of A.I into education is not something that needs to be developed from first principles, but rather something that needs only draw from the existing field of A.I.Ed, a field of research already rich with methods and technologies which given opportunity, funding and study for feasibility could be rapidly deployed. This integration could feed into the current government’s plans for academy style schools, with a call for “match fund” proposals that blend A.I.Ed into current teaching practice and change the classroom environment from one that has barely changed in a century into something representative of modern digital life. This has the potential to rapidly evolve the education ecosystem, as incorporating machine learning into teaching and learning styles, would present an innovative “learning” environment that supports the learner, teacher and the A.I system as it learns how best to serve each learner individually according to their needs, providing a level of personalisation heretofore unknown in teaching practice.
While high quality education concerning A.I technologies is needed at all levels of society, if A.I is to be embraced openly and incorporated fully as part of UK infrastructure, a positive feedback cycle needs to be created between citizens, education, industry and government. If initiated effectively this feedback cycle will fuel growth over and above standard measures of GDP, to include: education as product; innovation and entrepreneurship as a commodity to be shared strategically with allies; digital information infrastructure as a service; and if information security policy interactions are non-repressive, cybersecurity services. Furthermore, if A.I technology development is regulated using a light but firm touch, such a feedback loop allows for both secular development and global participation, providing opportunity for the UK to take global leadership in the development, application and commercial exploitation of A.I technologies.
4. Social and economic opportunities
The number of social and economic opportunities afforded by developing A.I technologies is practically limitless. The development and broad acceptance of the technology within all levels society will lead to advancements in many disparate fields, from healthcare and healthcare provision; critical infrastructure management and resilience; to decision support tools and forensic process automation. For example, advancements in the field of medicine and biology due to the application of current A.I have been truly revolutionary. A.I has allowed the tremendous amounts of data used in research to be analysed faster than ever before. Future developments in A.I, will further increase the pace of medical discoveries, and lifesaving medical interventions, accelerating discoveries in DNA mapping, drug discovery, genetic modification and synthetic biology, propelling the biological sciences to a whole new level.
The UK as world leaders in synthetic biology and the biological sciences, is well placed to take advantage of A.I technologies in this domain, not just through our research frameworks, but also in the future through a reformed education system that incorporates A.I.Ed and penetrates all levels of society, making the use of A.I to complete tasks or reach goals as natural as using a calculator or pen and paper.
Many pundits, experts, economists and capitalists argue that specialized narrow artificial intelligence applications, robotics and other forms of technological automation will ultimately result in a significant increase in human unemployment and underemployment within many fields of human endeavour (Deloitte, Financial Times, RSA). This significant “hollowing out” of Labour at all levels of the employment ladder may well result in a fundamental shift in UK society, leading to much greater levels of inequality, lesser social justice and a greater potential for social unrest. However, if managed effectively and with all due ethical consideration, the further development of A.I and the concomitant increase in the automation of labour could become a boon to the UK, in terms of increased productivity by reducing the everyday burden of citizens via a basic-income and freeing their creativity and innate empathy. Additionally, providing a basic income allows for the scrapping of large portions of the welfare system as means testing or fraud detection would no longer be required. This would have the effect of increasing social mobility for citizens at a time when it is required, in order to re-educate or re-train to remain a viable prospect in a shrinking employment market.
Thus, while it is increasingly likely that grande-masse automation will reduce the number of employment opportunities, benefits can accrue through an evolved education system that creates new employment opportunities. A.I.Ed could potentially become a large area of economic growth, helping to increase A.I, robotics and automation acceptance in the general populace. Growth would be stimulated based on the sheer number of industrial and cognitive domains required to support the development of educational A.I systems, such as, educators, computer science, Information technology, designers, technologists, infrastructure specialists, content creators and those sub domains that that support them.
There will be a number of other opportunities both economic and social that will come from developing A.I technologies in the UK and advancements from within the industry. For example, in transport management, imagine a transport management system able to respond in real-time to traffic conditions nationally and locally, with the ability to update automated and non-automated vehicles with prevailing conditions and alternative courses of action, ensuring optimal traffic flow and reducing fuel consumption, accidental damage and time-to-travel as a consequence. The same types of system could be applied to critical infrastructure to provide greater resilience and fault tolerance. Another example within healthcare, would be the use of Big Data analytics to provide diagnostic support to GP’s, hospitals and secondary care providers allowing for fully personalised health care, through the rapid diagnosis and identification of disease states and which interventions would work most effectively for the individual, helping to reduce the cost overhead associated with prolonged care due to diagnostic exploration and drug provision.
The possibility exists that A.I could be used within governance, providing evidence and helping to fact check statements and build policy. A decision support A.I could in effect act as a buffer between politician and policy, ensuring that before policy becomes actionable no unintended consequences are likely to arise. This is also an area of active research that could also provide economic and status benefits should the UK encourage its growth.
5. Issues in developing robotic and artificial intelligence technologies
The biggest challenge the UK faces with regards to developing A.I technologies, is educating the populace in its use, benefits and risks and how fast this information can be disseminated, from those in early learning, attending college or university to those performing jobs soon to be automated or retired, all must be made aware of the coming changes. It will not simply be a case of injecting some A.I subject matter into schools and colleges and hoping that learners and schools adapt, the change to an “A.I mind-set” needs to be systemic affecting all levels of our society. For the UK to prosper an equal focus must be on the practical applications of A.I in addition to creating and understanding the technology. The UK must focus on creating a generation of machine learning practitioners, through early learning and advocating “degree apprenticeships” or vocational certification.
Short-sightedness could make the UK fall at the first hurdle in its efforts to capitalise upon A.I technologies, existing austerity measures could inhibit any effort through lack of funding. Taking advantage of A.I and it development would require a significant redeployment of funds towards those scientific and industrial domains which demonstrate multidisciplinary approaches utilising A.I to provide services nationally and globally or those applying A.I solve problems specific to the UK and its society.
Another challenge facing the UK will be ensuring positive applications of A.I, a balance must be struck between national security needs and personal freedoms afforded to UK citizens, applying fully autonomous A.I to surveillance tasks targeted at citizens is a minefield of unparalleled danger. While the state is tasked with the security of its people, policing thought and action beyond the confines of just law, lies outside of its remit.
A nimble and lean directorate consisting of ministers, economists, scientists and policy experts and futurists should be created, able to respond in short timescales to technological advances in near-real-time this expert policy group should advise upon and revise policy in line with the pace of technological change. Rather than traditional precautionary policy decision approaches this group should adopt a proactionary approach to policy and regulation (i.e. a light touch, but ethically constrained) of A.I in order to reap the benefits that the technology can bring to society and advance understanding of the negative consequences. This group should advise upon or create policy and legislature that is robust enough to adapt to rapid and radical changes, without falling into traditional deny all regulation.
While it is lamentable that we live in a world of warring nation states, unmitigated threats and intractable ideologies, defence is another area in which the nations technological expertise and thought leadership can be applied. Investment in A.I and robotics for national defence is increasing globally, and it is within the UK’s best interest to increase research and development in this area in order to keep abreast of the changing nature of warfare. A full analysis of how A.I can be applied to defence ethically and morally is beyond the scope of this briefing. However, artificial intelligence and automated defence could potentially be an area of economic growth and a driver of global stability for this century, much as nuclear weapons and the potential for Mutually Assured Destruction was for the early portion of the previous century, the potential risks of A.I and robotics applied to warfare cannot be overstated.
A.I research and development has an immense amount of momentum behind it, socially, technically and economically. It is not a question of if we should we develop A.I further but rather how fast can the nation mobilise resources in the industrial, educational and civil services to take advantage of this brief period of research and exploration of the technology. The government must make a statement that defines the nation’s role as a leading light and technologically advanced society to be made to be at the forefront of its development in terms of the nation’s ability to prosper and defend itself.
First things first: I myself firmly support the principle of Basic Income and the RSA publication.
However, I am concerned that little mention has been made of how this would work for people with disabilities that preclude them from working.
There are many references in the report to support for Carers and ‘care’ that I’ve taken the liberty to list here:
A Basic Income would help people care for their relatives, friends and neighbours without having to account for their actions to the state.
Basic Income allows people to more easily take time off, reduce their hours, or take short career breaks to care for an elderly, disabled or otherwise vulnerable person.
It mitigates or eliminates losses that particular groups might experience.
Carers currently receive financial support but it is a very bureaucratic system. These allowances are means-tested and rules bound (e.g. you have to care for at least 35 hours per week in order to receive it). For this reason, the benefit is under-claimed by almost £1bn per annum. Basic Income allows people to more easily take time off, reduce their hours, or take short career breaks to care for an elderly, disabled or otherwise vulnerable person. These needs will increase over coming decades so greater flexibility will be necessary. Basic Income is very helpful in this regard.
It also allows parents, carers, and learners to have a basic level of security to pursue their lives without interference.
Expressed in the terms of Jonathan Haidt’s moral foundations theory, the UK’s current needs-based system contains elements of care, reciprocal altruism, loyalty (to expressed community virtue), authority and sanctity.
The report does mention disability; however, aside from exempting it from the current proposals, it makes no reference as to how/what the implementation of Basic Income would mean for people with disabilities who are unable to work.
Would things remain as they are? How would that reconcile itself with the broader proposals outlined here?
For reference, I’ve included the mentions made in the RSA report specifically about disability here:
Our proposal is based on the Citizen’s Income Trust 2012–13 scheme with some important fiscal adaptations. Housing and disability are not included in the model as a consequence.
From removing benefits, tax reliefs and allowances (excluding those relating to disability and housing), the Citizen’s Income Trust estimates total savings of £272bn.
As with the Citizen’s Income Trust47 proposal, the RSA Basic Income model outlined above excludes any reform of housing or council tax benefits (and, for the record, disability payments).
My concern is that ‘excluding’ disability payments from Basic Income will make for a more bureaucratic system rather than lessen it.
The current disability benefits in the UK include Incapacity Benefit (being phased out), Employment & Support Allowance which includes a contribution-based benefit, an income-based benefit, a work-related activity group where people with disabilities who ‘may’ be capable of work are mentored (some would say coerced) to ease the transition back into work together with the support group where the disability is regarded as so severe as to mean that this person is not fit for work and is unlikely to be for the foreseeable future. I myself am currently in this group. The report removes those of us with disabilities from the general conversation by glossing over what would happen to us and how we could benefit from the Basic Income.
This is further exacerbated by the somewhat conservative tone underlying the RSA report that again diminishes the role of people with disabilities in society:
This explains a recent increase in interest in the ‘contributory-principle’. In common parlance, this means that as you put more in you should get more out.
The demand is not for ‘more for more’ as contributory systems offer. It is for ‘less for less’ — a lower income for less contribution.
If things for people with disabilities are to remain as they are, Basic Income will do little to impact on our lives – even the incentives for Carers to have more flexibility for their caring duties makes little difference for those in need of constant care – and thus the RSA proposal does little to remove the social stigma and coercive nature of the current system.
Far from removing sanctions against those with disabilities, things will stay just as they are, in which case I fail to see how the following comment by the RSA re: Basic Income is any more progressive than where we’re at now:
These sanctions have led to demoralisation, deleterious mental health impacts, indebtedness, poverty, learners being removed from vocational courses close to their completion and an expansion of food banks. What began as an exercise in reciprocal altruism – where benefits apply only to those who ‘contribute’ – has become inhumane.
I realise that the report is excluding ‘disability and housing’ in order to put forward the basic tenets of Basic Income without overly-complicating things at this stage. However, as a person with a long-term severe mental health disability which has led to me losing my job and in all likelihood remaining unemployed for the foreseeable future, I have to admit that the report does make me feel marginalised rather than empowered.
Just to be clear – I do support Basic Income and believe it is the best way forward morally and with regard to the massive social changes emerging technologies will bring to the marketplace.
I just wish the RSA had had more to say about how Basic Income will affect people with disabilities rather than excluding them from the proposal, even at this early stage. Things as they are now for people like me also need to change. We’re just not being told how.
Any comments/opinions welcomed.
About the author
Gareth John is a technoprogressive transhumanist fascinated by how people perceive, interpret, respond, and interact in an increasingly media rich world. His interests include ethics and emerging technologies, artificial intelligence, personality types in cyberspace, biotechnology, cognitive science, cultural posthumanism in the humanities and arts. He lives with bipolar disorder.