Specifications: An engineer’s approach to upgrading politics

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

Terminator Salvation 2.0

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

The current state of affairs

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

I Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II Religion

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

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

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

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

III Greed

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

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

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

The Needs

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

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

Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs

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

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

1. Physiological

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

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

2. Safety

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

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

3. Love/belonging

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

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

4. Esteem and self actualisation

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

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

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

5. Further discussion

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

References

[i] Editor’s Note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnote

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

Images via Wired and Wikipedia.

Prolegomena to any future transhumanist politics

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

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

Marx Bismarck Bostrom Fuller

Revisiting Marx and Bismarck

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contemporary transhumanism

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

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

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

Recommendations

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

Footnote

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

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

By Dana Edwards and Alexander J. Karran

Cyborg brain

Abstract

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Factors that affect human decision making within complex adaptive systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The impact of human cognitive limitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cyborg Citizen: A transcendent solution?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion: Checks and Balances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Footnotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnote

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

The image is an original design by Alexander Karran.

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

A viable approach towards a sustainable political agenda?

By Roland Benedikter, Katja Siepmann, and Annabella McIntosh

Illustration-Transhumanism

Image source: Raúl Soria via Roland Benedikter

Summary

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

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

Introduction: The Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II: Another Transhumanist goal: Cognitive expansion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV: Pillars of Transhumanism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIII: Can TEF Be Put Into Political Reality?

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

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

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

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

IX: How To Become A “Transhuman Citizen”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XI: Connecting Fiction, Philosophy and Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XVI: Outlook

Summing up?

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

What does this mean?

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

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

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

Selected Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

The authors

RB KS AM

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[xxx] Ibid., p. 33.

[xxxi] Ibid., p. 33.

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

[xxxiii] Ibid., p. 280.

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

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

[xxxvi] Ibid., p. 281.

[xxxvii] Ibid., p. 281.

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

[xxxix] Ibid., p. 53.

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

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

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

[xliii] Ibid., p. 230.

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

[xlv] Ibid., p. 201.

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

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

[xlviii] Ibid.

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

[l] Ibid., p. 282.

[li] Ibid., p. 201.

[lii] Ibid., p. 282.

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

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

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

[lvi] Ibid.

[lvii] J. Hewitt, loc cit.

[lviii] J. Hewitt, loc cit.

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

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

[lxi] Ibid., p. 282.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[lxix] Ibid.

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

[lxxi] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnote

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

Why Politics 2.0?

By David W Wood, Executive Director, Transpolitica

web1vsweb2

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

The future, if we can grasp it

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

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

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

Politics opposing innovation

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

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

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

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

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

Consider some examples from recent news stories:

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

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

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

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

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

Web 1.0 and Web 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovation improving politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The chapters ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four political futures: which will you choose?

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

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

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

How do governments add value to society?

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

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

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

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

The benefits of digital democracy

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

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

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

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

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

Cyborgization: a possible solution to errors in human decision making

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

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

Dana Edwards is a Transpolitica Consultant.

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

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

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

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

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

Voluntary basic incomes in a reputation economy

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

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

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

Specifications: an engineer’s approach to upgrading politics

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

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

Extended longevity: an argument for increased social commitment

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

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

Longevity, artificial intelligence and existential risks: opportunities and dangers

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

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

Prolegomena to any future transhumanist politics

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

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

Acknowledgements

Many thanks are due to:

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

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

Towards the future

The analysis in Envisioning Politics 2.0 will be continued:

References

Image source: Dion Hinchcliffe (2006)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[xx] http://londonfuturists.com/

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

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

[xxiii] http://lucid.ai/

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

[xxv] http://criticalthought.com/

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

[xxvii] http://radivis.com/

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

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

[xxx] http://transhumanistes.com/

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

[xxxii] http://albertorizzoli.com/

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

[xxxiv] http://fastfuturepublishing.com

Footnote

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

Mediated Patent Equities For Accelerated Biomedical Research

By Maximo Ramallo, futurist, memes analyst and conceptual designer

Tangles

Summary

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

The Opposite Of Moore’s Law

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

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

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

Introducing The Patent System

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

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

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

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

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

The Adventure Of Research

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

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

Patent Privatization, Blocking and Overlapping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Results Of Patent Under-use

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

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

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

Mediated Patent Equities

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

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

Compulsory Commercialization

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

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

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

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

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

Biological Targets And Foundational Patents

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

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

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

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

Joint Research Avenues

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

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

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

Mediation By Consortium

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

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

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

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

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

The Benefits Of Mediated Patent Equities

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnote

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

Image source: Pixabay

Anarchy beyond socialism and capitalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Market-anarchy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnote

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

Accelerating Politics

By Sally Morem, essayist and singularitarian

AcceleratingThe approach to Abundance: insights from history

We begin this meditation on technology and politics with a question: what could such different processes have in common?  Both are ways by which we humans attempt to get rid of intolerable situations.  Our non-human ancestors began the process by learning to build mental models of their world.  They were just starting to discover what was and to distinguish that from what could be.  As they became human, they began distinguishing their dissatisfaction with what was from their hope for improvement through conscious consideration of past experience.

Imagine a very early ancestor stumbling upon a pile of shards, picking one up, cutting his fingers, and realizing that it was sharp enough to cut other things.  Imagine him cutting roots or meat with it.  Imagine his happiness at finding out how effective it was.  Even though he hadn’t fashioned it, it became a tool.  Technology is born.  Imagine him continuing on, deliberately fracturing rocks in order to produce a sharp one.  Accelerating technology is born.

Technology is exactly that: an environmental management system.  It consists of any and all tools and processes we devise and use by which we eliminate any intolerable aspect of our physical surroundings and reshape other aspects closer to our desires.  The excellence of each such system is measured by the order within it that fits that system’s given purpose.  These systems enable us to protect our bodies from inclement weather, warm ourselves, feed and hydrate ourselves, transport ourselves and our belongings, send messages to others, record vital information for future use, and protect ourselves from dangerous beasts, including other humans.

Which leads us directly to politics.  Those intolerable situations it deals with are interminable, unpredictable, and widespread threats and acts of violence.  Politics seeks to end or ameliorate these through enforcement of societal mandates and bans.  Politics involves the establishment and maintenance of these social norms.  Each society’s political process is concerned with the asking and answering of some very basic societal questions.  Who is a member of our group?  Who is not?  What acts must be mandated or banned?  What acts must not be?  Who must decide things for the group?  Who must not be allowed such power?  By what means must the decision-makers decide?  What are the permissible means by which their decisions will be enforced?

Imagine a society of our somewhat more recent ancestors.  They have become masters of the art of abstraction through language.  They are using some very emotional words while arguing over someone’s undesirable conduct and deciding on the spur of the moment what to do about it.  Later, they are hashing out proposals on how to deal with the mysterious and dangerous ways of the tribe living across the river.  Politics is born.

Politics is exactly that: a human conflict management system.  It consists of every concept, philosophy, institution, and process we devise and use in order to eliminate all undesirable social situations that crop up in a group of sensitive, intelligent beings that live in close proximity to one another and to reinforce all desirable behaviors in that group.

Technology and politics are two very different things, and yet they are closely connected.  Technology permits; politics commands.  New tools permit the creation of new types of societies with new political forms.  For instance, better forms of transportation permit people to congregate and to trade further from home.  Societies grow in numbers and in the territories they command.  New technologies, such as new forms of communications, permit them to engage in political decision-making processes inconceivable to their ancestors.  They disperse knowledge, permitting a wider range of people to know about more about more things, especially political issues.  They learn what other people in their society are saying about those issues and in turn are able to express their own feelings, often directly to those people.

If technology permits, why does it seem to invariably trigger the creation of new technologies?  If technology doesn’t command, couldn’t people turn down the open invitation to innovate?  They could and they have done so from time to time.  But usually, they don’t.  Why?  Every time a new technology is invented and implemented in any given society, it has changed that particular society if only by the tiniest bit.  Each change makes it that much more likely that further change will occur down the line.  Changes trigger cascades of changes over time.  The society adapts—especially its political system.  Secondary and tertiary changes ensure that the society will be much better off retaining the by now well-established technology rather than giving it up.  A cultural ratchet effect forms.  The system itself makes backsliding difficult.

A cultural ratchet makes sense.  But why faster?  Why accelerating technology?  People in each age of technology must deal with what they have—which they then begin changing.  The next generation will receive a slightly different toolkit from their parents than what their parents began with.  It will incorporate more successful applications of the old technology along with all gains made by all preceding generations.  In short, the children will never have to reinventing the wheel their great-grandparents had so painstakingly first crafted.  The most inventive of those children will work on new technology.

There is also an aspect of cultural evolution going on here.  Inventors tend to apply greater resources and efforts to improving the most effective existing technologies.  By so doing, they tend to improve the best of the best over the generations and weed out the rest.  A positive feedback loop of growing mastery results.  Inventors don’t skip around in design space.  They stick to their knitting.  But as they innovate, their toolkits diversify.  One older tool becomes the prototype for five different tools…and each of those may generate five more, and so on.

Inventors also learn how to make tools that make other tools in a more efficient and precise ways.  Endless chains of tools making tools making tools erupt, leading towards tools undreamed of by wheel-making great-grandparents.  By tightening up their tool-making procedures and making more effective tool-making tools, each technological advance takes a little less time than the previous advance.  Acceleration always begins very slowly, but even in the earliest days of human tool-making, it was already underway.

The early evolution of technology and political systems

Long before the emergence of civilization, even before the emergence of agricultural villages, people were already putting their new toolkits to good use.  Sometime late in the Neolithic Era, hunter-gatherer groups began coalescing, especially during the fecund summer months.  They would congregated by the hundreds for fishing on the banks of teeming rivers.  They would gather berries and nuts by the bushel basket and engage in the Big Hunt with carefully crafted slings and spears.  With that many people living so close together, even only for a few months, the traditional means of handling conflicts by elders or headmen were swamped by the rising tide of vital societal information.

Societies were growing more complex, more capable, more diverse, more conflict-ridden.  And their political systems grew more elaborate in response.  As a group grows arithmetically the potential numbers of paired relationships between members will rise exponentially, which of course also includes the potential number of conflicts.  Some sociologists believe that as a result of pure mathematical logic that the maximum number of people in the simplest form of human society—the hunter-gatherer band—is roughly 50.  Any more people and the potential for conflict simply explodes.

Every single societal enlargement of that basic group of 50 has been the result of accelerating technology interacting with accelerating politics.  We can simplify the historical analysis by beginning with that group.  Consider the novel decision-making and conflict-resolution procedures, the continual fissioning of work into more specialties and sub-specialties, and the growing complexity of society into steepening hierarchical structures as the number of individuals in our hypothetical group increases step-wise by a factor of ten:

A hunter-gatherer group of 50
A village of 500
A town of 5,000

Technological and political acceleration began feeding off of each other.  New tools and weapons permitted populations to boom.  Arguments over hunting lands occurred repeatedly.  Herding societies emerged.  People traveled more, traded more.  People found their once-distant societies coming into contact and conflict.  And then as the first farmers began taking land into cultivation, dustups between “the farmer and the cowman” broke out, ages before Rodgers and Hammerstein depicted them humorously in “Oklahoma.”

No one person ever actually noticed these changes in his lifetime.  Or in ten lifetimes.  Nevertheless, these technological changes had profound effects on ancient practices and beliefs.  In the long ages before civilization and writing, people, no doubt, responded badly to the stresses quite often.  Occasionally they responded brilliantly to the dire need for managing accelerating information loads generated by growing populations.  The intricate drawings and paintings in the caves at Lascaux and Chauvet may well have been the result of numerous such attempts over several thousand years.

And then consider what happens much later as the following came to be:

A city of 50,000
A kingdom of 500,000
An empire of 5,000,000
A nation of 50,000,000
A trading bloc of 500,000,000
A world economy of 5,000,000,000.

No political authority or structure can remain the same as such numbers and the inevitably intricate coalitions and conflicts grow.  Political leadership has changed historically from the lead hunter, the elder, the village headman, the petty king, the citizen of the polis, the senator or assemblyman, the proconsul, the high king, the emperor, the governor. the prime minister, the president  These officials have served as decision makers in governments as varied as any you’ve read about in political philosophy—hunter-gatherer bands, agricultural villages, city-states, princedoms and kingdoms, democracies, republics, dictatorships, tyrannies, and empires of innumerable shape and dimension.

There is one very pointed fact that any political scientist must face when studying societies.  In the larger societies, no individual will ever know more than a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of his fellow citizens.  The citizen can count on the fact that he will never have a one-on-one relationship with any but the comparatively very few relatives, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances he actually does meet in his lifetime.  The implications of this stark fact are manifest in the massive, impersonal, bureaucratic, hierarchical systems we have erected ever since the numbers of people and their complex interactions, and vital maintenance systems warranted these kinds of structures.

Throughout history, during boom and bust, even during collapse, technological development continued to accelerate.  For instance, the water wheel was invented and spread rapidly throughout Europe after the Roman Empire crumbled into petty kingdoms during what was mistakenly called the Dark Age.  The first factories on river banks demonstrated that water power could effectively replace human and animal power to drive machinery, driving down costs as well.  This new technology was so manifestly useful that even monks put it to work in their monasteries.  Upon such inventions and their colossal wealth-producing power, nobles and kings built the modern European nation-state.

The S-curve and disruptive change

Picture the classic S-curve graph which depicts a trend line for technology over time.  The vertical axis stands for measured excellence in a society’s aggregate technology.  Measurements take place in four dimensions:  computation, precision, miniaturization, and replication or in any appropriate combination of these dimensions.  The horizontal axis stands for time.  We follow the S-curve from the distant past on the left where it is apparently not rising at all to roughly present-day technology in which the line has taken a decidedly upward turn to the near-term future on the right where it turns more and more sharply upward to an imagined future at which it achieves virtual verticality.  At some point, it presumably will begin slowing down and the line will become more gently horizontal, but we see no signs of that happening in the near-term future.

What can such a graphic abstraction possibly mean?  The S-curve is a distillation of an enormous number of events in the history of technological development and an informed guess on its future based on those past trends.  The S-curve is an assertion about the nature of technology and its development.  It states that development is not arithmetical and cannot be arithmetical.  It states that any real development must be exponential.

When did people first start noticing such changes within their lifetimes?  A good educated guess would place this in the age of revolution during the 18th century.  A real political revolution, not a mere coup d’etat, is always an emergent response to a gut sense of the presence of deep, ongoing change.  It is never planned.  It is always a surprise.  Novel means of production and the novel nature of the goods being produced were beginning to have a pronounced political effect on the West.

We may trace these revolutionary stirrings back to Gutenberg’s printing press three centuries earlier.  As a result of that invention, writing was no longer the preserve of the very few learned scribes, theologians, or philosophers.  Neither was reading.  Religious laypeople discovered that it was important to own and to be able to read a Bible.  They never felt that need before because they couldn’t afford such a precious thing as a book.  Gentleman scientists discovered that they needn’t write dozens of letters on their discoveries to their colleagues; they merely had to write one article to any of a number of newly founded scientific journals.  That kind of change in the mastery of information dissemination transferred readily to ongoing political discourse.  The kinds of philosophical and political energies these growing capabilities unleashed in Europe and later in America shaped a new era, one which had been given a name by historians: The Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment meant exhilaration.  The newly felt sense of possibilities.  The revolution of rising expectations.  The Faustian sense that wholly new wealth could be created out of virtually nothing by newfangled machinery.  The Enlightenment meant suffocation.  The sense of feeling constricted by formerly venerated institutions, traditions, rulers, and laws.  These are the political pressures that grew and grew in direct response to technological change until they exploded.  Two such explosions were also given names: the American and French Revolutions.

What kind of political system was fit for people living in changing times?  Certainly not a top-down, autocratic system in which only the favored few heirs to power got to decide.  Perhaps some sort of representative government as in Parliament or American colonial assemblies.  Or perhaps a system fit for small societies in which every citizen represented only himself, as in the New England town meeting.  But monarchy?  Aristocracy?  These had to go.

And what sorts of lawmaking should be done in these new revolutionary assemblies?  Thinkers realized that in a free society, laws must achieve a kind of active or at least tacit consent by the great bulk of the public.  The consent of the governed.  If not, disobedience would become rife when laws are seen as nonsensical or against the interest of a large number of people.  The problem of legitimacy.  Political philosophers realized that the law is seen as legitimate only if and when most people believe in it and obey it.  Popular sovereignty.

None of these political insights were even remotely realizable in practice until transportation and communications systems of the new industrial age were able to link the fast growing numbers of citizens in intricate networks of political and economic exchange in the emerging mass democracies.  And as these societies continued to grow far more complex, as arts and sciences and manufacturing continued to specialize and sub-specialize, people grappled with the problem of managing greater and faster information loads.  Efforts to do so led to even more revolutionary technologies as we shall see.

Overcoming inertia caused by authoritarian governments

Why were democratic societies so much better at generating technological change and handling the stresses change generated?  Why are authoritarian societies handicapped in handling the same?  Let’s consider the case of an early 19th century inventor.  In a democracy, a farmer who wished to invent a better plow did not have to ask His Lordship’s permission to tinker.  He had no lord.  Nor did he have to ask permission of his commissar.  He had no commissar.  He merely had to invent.  He would scribble his ideas in the summer and tinker in the winter at his leisure.  If the plow worked as well as he hoped next spring, he likely shared the idea with neighbors and relatives.  Or perhaps he would start a small company and sell to his neighbors.

Acquaintances might think him impractical and dreamy, but if the invention worked, they pounced on it and improved their own crop yields thereby.  Multiply this example ten thousand-fold and you will discover the secret of democracy with respect to innovation.  It permits and even encourages private decision-making and deal-making at the grassroots level.  Powerful creative forces emerge as people build upon their technological and economic successes.  The skills these nascent inventors developed were readily transferred to the growing transportation, communications, and manufacturing sectors of Western economies.  Democracy drove innovation hard in the 19th century—straight to and through the second industrial age in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The enormous expansion of capabilities exhibited by industry in the realms of communications, transportation, manufacturing production capabilities, and marketing, didn’t occur because engineers simply installed conveyor belts and powered machinery in factories.  Engineers also developed the first information control systems decades before the development of electronic computers.  Cards and reports were printed and distributed by the planning department detailing exactly who and what went where and when and what each were to do in the factory at all times.  Each motion of a worker and a machine were fitted together to optimize assembly at the most efficient speed.

It worked.  In the most famous example of mass production, Henry Ford kept tweaking his assembly line over decades.  When his first factory began making Model Ts, they would come off the line every 12 ½ hours.  In 20 years, when Ford was ending production and shifting to the Model A, the tempo of production had increased so much that cars were coming off the line every half-minute.  Technological deflation permitted him to drop the price of cars so that his own workers could afford to buy them.

Critics blasted Ford and other producers for turning highly skilled human machinists into essentially unthinking, unskilled machines.  Any attentive engineer would have gotten the hint.  A machine is far better at acting like a machine, at making regular and precise motions, than any human could ever be.  Unthinking motions were ripe for the plucking by automation.  Sure enough, Ford automated as many of those jobs as he could.  Such factories can be seen as the world’s first replicators.  They were huge, noisy, extremely expensive, and yet extremely effective in producing millions of replicas of the original design of each product.

Systems of all kinds were becoming highly centralized during the height of industrialization.  Politics was no exception.  All utilities—electrical, gas, water, sewage, streets, railroads—were placed in the hands of utilities companies or local governments.  School districts were consolidated and rural children attended school with their fellow students in town.  Radio, and later television, permitted millions of people to watch the same sports, entertainment and news shows.  Millions of people joined major political parties and campaigned and voted for their favorites.  Party platforms were constructed out of planks based on broad ideological principles.  Government control over large sectors of the economy advanced rapidly in the form of regulations and outright ownership.  Government programs for the indigent and elderly were begun and grew to huge proportions.  Centralization of decision-making powers was seen as a fact of industrial life.  Intellectuals assumed the future would bring more of the same.

Decentralization enabled by miniaturization of electronics

As we’ve seen, industrial development triggered the formation of more precise information controls over production.  The development of the first electronic computers after World War II at first merely emphasized the centralizing character of such controls.  After all, these computers filled entire rooms and required highly trained specialists to program and maintain them.  But then computers became the leading edge of acceleration and as such their nature began to change.  As their components became miniaturized and more precise, they became much smaller.  And yet they could hold much larger memory and execute far more calculations per second than their predecessors.  And along with all those benefits of acceleration, technological deflation took hold and costs dropped drastically.  This permitted even small companies and colleges to own the computing power it took the economic power of governments and large corporations to afford a mere generation earlier.  Later, individuals were able to afford personal computer, laptops, and now tablets and smart phones.  The decentralizing power of the Internet, linking all of these devices in densely connected networks is now manifest.

Automation had long ceased to be merely a matter of replacing human workers with machines.  The work of the machines had already far surpassed that of the humans.  Our marvelously dexterous fingers and thumbs had been turned into comparatively immense ungainly things at the scale of miniaturization already being done by the 1960s.  Our most skilled machinists simply could not work to the kinds of tolerances that high precision technologies required.  Automation plays a much more important role in production today.  It has been years since any human has made a computer chip by hand.

If we take 1960 to be the year in which the very first information economies were beginning to emerge, we shouldn’t be too surprised to find something occurring that will feel very familiar to those historians knowledgeable about the age of revolution: That the massively centralized character of systems in what used to be industrial societies were beginning to break down.  Decentralization of telecommunications systems led the way.  Political systems were overloaded with problems needing consideration.  People were startled to discover that centralization was actually inefficient.  Political activists were aggravated by a sense of uncaring, unfeeling, unresponsive hugeness in systems they once admired.  They began forming their own organizations and create their own ideologies of liberation from what they deemed oppression.

But they were dreaming ahead of their time.  Western societies were still mostly industrial with all the limits and needs for hierarchies remaining intact.  But then computers started to get very inexpensive and people found they could do all sorts of interesting things with them.  The true age of decentralization of decision-making had begun in the computer clubs and garage workshops of the 1970s.

The 20th century was the first century in which parents expected their children to live a different kind of life than they had led.  Accelerating technology was reshaping societies each generation, and then each decade by the time the Information Age emerged by continually interweaving numerous technologies into newer and ever-changing supple systems of great productive power.  If accelerating technology rates are themselves accelerating, can politics be very far behind?

Replicators and the Abundance Society

What happens when knowledge becomes massively and easily distributed, enabling smaller and smaller groups of people to handle processes that used to take the effort of thousands or even millions?  And finally, what happens when technology gets so powerful and inexpensive that each one of us will command the potential creative and production power of today’s nation states?  This is what happens: the Abundance Society.

As excellence in computation, replication, miniaturization, and precision grows, automation will produce almost everything we use.  Those items not automated will be things we enjoy making ourselves.  When we reach this point, economics as we’ve known it will end.

The seeds of the Abundance Society already exist in 3-D printers, 3-D scanners, and CAD programs.  Right now, these technologies are digitizing consumer items, turning them into pure information—ready to print in any quantity desired.

We aren’t there yet.  We need to fill in a few more pieces in order to achieve true technological systems of Abundance.  1.  A means by which waste is turned into printer toner.  2.  A means by which molecules are sorted and moved precisely into place as directed by the CAD program.  3.  A means by which the printer and its control software are themselves printable.  At the point when anything becomes a resource, nanotechnology becomes the producer, and the entire system can be readily reproduced on demand, printing will evolve into true replicator technology.

The power of the Abundance technology will generate a revolution more all-encompassing than the agricultural and industrial revolutions combined.  It will offer every individual everywhere a universal toolkit with the ability to “grow” every gadget, article of clothing, book, article, recording, appliance, power generator, recycling system, electrical and plumbing system, car, house—anything imaginable, and much that is not imaginable today.  For example, Abundance will spread the life-giving ability of creating potable water anywhere, at any time.  The blessings of clean water will be especially appreciated in Third World nations, which will rapidly cease being Third World as Abundance spreads.

A truly advanced replicator will also offer the ability to “build” any food to exact specifications.  “Earl Grey.  Hot.”  A chef who enjoys cooking could use the replicator as a sous chef to produce chopped and grated ingredients on demand.  A person who does not enjoy cooking could order the replicator to produce an entire meal indistinguishable from the original composed of ingredients from nature.  No chef or chemist could tell the difference even after extensive testing.  For instance, you could order a grilled steak (with the sizzle) that had never seen the inside of a cow.  Highly advanced replicators could also monitor your health and produce medicines and cell repair machines to cure what ails you.

Decentralization of the massive industrial systems we now use for production and distribution of all goods and services will be the natural outgrowth of accelerating Abundance technology.  These systems will crumble as people abandon them.  Why would people go to any government or private corporation for health care, education, welfare, or any goods or services?  Why would anyone ever waste time and effort to ship anything anywhere when they could just post the CAD program online and alert specific recipients?

And, exactly why would people work for a living?  They would have no reason at all to do so, since every one of them would be the owners of their own means of production and livelihood.  They would simply do what interests them, not what other people want them to do.  As corporate and governmental hierarchies are automated out of existence, there would be very little left for humans to do as far as tedious, onerous work is concerned.  The very concept of a “job” would become obsolete.  The implications for politics are obvious and revolutionary.  Ask the question: Who will control the Abundance Society?  It answers itself: Everybody.

Once the first replicators came online, the technology would diffuse throughout the world rapidly.  In months?  Very likely.  Or perhaps it will be only a matter of weeks.  The originators would likely work for high-tech firms and would try to keep the design secret.  Political leaders will likely try to help them.  But as technology accelerates and the word gets out about what is possible, Open Source inventors would figure out quickly enough how to reinvent the technology.  And they would be even quicker to duplicate the work and distribute the CAD software online.  Intellectual property rights attorneys and courts will be running the Red Queen’s race against them with their Injunctions.  Inventors will find hundreds of ways around patent restrictions with CADs programmed to mutate and evolve.  One gadget could be tweaked into a hundred different gadgets in mere minutes.  Every attempt to stop or even slow down the Abundance cascade of inventions would merely spur the inventors on.

Any even moderately handy person will find it easy to build his own replicator at home using online CAD software and then reusing it to build more for friends, relatives, and neighbors.  As acceleration races on, as technological deflation shreds costs, duplication rates for production of replicators will rise around the world.  When the replicator costs the equivalent of the proverbial cup of sugar…or a piece of paper, any sense of felt deprivation arising out of the act of sharing anything, let alone valuable things like replicators and CAD programs, will ebb away.  The day may come when children will wonder at the meaning of such odd words as “selfish” and “unselfish.”  Distinctions that are vital to us will mean nothing to them.  Their sense of morality, of what acts should be banned or mandated, will shift as well.

Another word that may lose meaning is “pollution.”  Raw material for replicators can be found everywhere, literally dirt cheap.  Users will pick up material in junk piles and landfills (until there are none left) and even in their own backyards—dead leaves, sticks and twigs, and grass clippings will become handy sources of carbon for food and graphene products.  Why would anyone ever send material up in smokestacks, pour waste into rivers, or send the garbage and sewage out when every single molecule of such “waste” can be reused by replicators?

In a weird way, capitalism may well eliminate itself by generating the world’s very first truly Abundant society through the workings of its own massively creative networks of competition and cooperation.  When all scarcities end, all economic systems must end, including capitalism.  Not through bombs and barricades, but through neglect.  An apparent political paradox: We may achieve the ultimate socialist dream through capitalist methods evolving into a fundamentally libertarian society.

If I’m right about the growing pace of change in certain key technologies, we may enter the Abundance Society by the early 2020s. This will NOT be the technological Singularity. The Singularity will occur when the rate of change is so steep, technologies will be emerging that are unimaginable to us right now. The Abundance Society, on the other hand, is fully predictable and understandable, and we are much closer to it than most people realize.

The role of governance in the future

Politics at its very core addresses questions of direction for the society: What shall we do as a people?  Should certain things be subject to political control?  In the Abundance Society the field of political debate will contract as the real work of automation reshapes society.  Governments will have to start sharpening their enforcement skills and let whatever distribution skills they’ve garnered over the past century atrophy.

Think about every single function taken up by every single human government since the beginning of time.  The question is not which one of these functions should be or could be automated, but which ones must be and which ones should not be.  The debate over bans and mandates is the only real political debate remaining worth having in an age in which technology can change everything quickly—for better or for worse.

Discussion and implementation of specific effective means of enforcement against seriously dangerous uses of replicators, including the fabrication of lethal chemicals, biologicals, and nuclear material, as well as mandates on replicator controls in order to avoid runaway replication, must await the work of cutting-edge scientists and engineers in the field.  I will simply note that these means will almost certainly have to be automated because the threats will arise very quickly, as in minutes or even seconds.  And so, enforcement will not be able to include our traditional legal procedures.  No cops, no attorneys, no judges, nor juries.  No time.

When we achieve the Abundance Society, we will cease having to address questions of equity or equality.  As noted above, these questions simply won’t mean very much to people who live in Abundance.  Political freedoms will remain robust, but it’s doubtful that very many people will be very politically-minded.  Social and cultural freedoms will be widespread, but if any actions come close to the very sharply drawn danger line presented by the powerful technologies, those actions will be stopped by what will be likely be even more powerful policing and defense technologies.

This combination of libertarian laissez faire and extreme control will bewilder anyone familiar with present-day ideological debates.  But accelerating tech has been and is the largely unseen driver of political change and, even though technology does not command, the kinds of technologies we are developing today will make it reasonable for us to reshape our ideological beliefs and political actions accordingly.  The nation-state as we’ve known it will vanish.  The only aspect that will remain of today’s governments will be those carried out now by the police and armed forces: technologically upgraded and very specialized and highly focused enforcement systems.  Period.

The establishment of a global government is something that has been the goal of a number of political idealists over the ages.  The idea grew out of the dream of finally ending bloody conflict by rationalizing international affairs.  There is no possibility of the development of a world government along the lines of existing nation-states in the face of the changes accelerating tech is triggering.  There is only one possible form of world government or at least of informal governance.  A political power of some sort providing the world the automated enforcement system alluded to above.  Accelerating tech would overwhelm any other kind of governance.

Ethics embedded in technology

If the thought of placing all of your trust in one institution with the magnitude of power necessary to defend us from existential dangers is frightening (and it should be), let’s consider an alternative.  We could use the Holmesian rule of investigation as our guide in grappling with these issues as we attempt to find a better answer:  After dismissing the impossible, we must accept the improbable as being that answer.

Sherlock would suggest the logic of embedding simple, but highly moral rules within the technology itself to make sure it never oversteps moral bounds.  The technology would itself be the judge of the morality of its actions.  This would enable human ethical thought to be brought to bear extremely quickly under dangerous situations.

This would seem an exceedingly difficult challenge, but we can actually imagine (roughly) how it would work.  Simply embed a moral checklist at any point in which an action is about to be taken.  One decision-point at the end of a chain of decision-points.  Only one checklist, so the system wouldn’t have to spend precious seconds running through endless decision-points and checklists.  Each component of the enforcement system, each weapon, would thus include a basic artificial intelligence component.

To illustrate the possibilities, I’ll use some scenarios that could have taken place in the universe described by van Vogt in his science fiction novel, “The Weapons Shops of Isher.”  If you aimed the gun at a deer out of hunting season and pulled the trigger, it would not fire.  If you did so in hunting season it would fire.  If you aimed the weapon at a person, it would not fire, unless you were firing in self-defense or in defense of someone else.  This gun would have the kind of moral capability we are looking for within the enforcement technology I have in mind.  It would also have to have a deep awareness of its environment and people and their intentions.  It would be an AI.

We can’t even imagine being able to count on millions of smart people utilizing empowering future technology wisely and morally every single time.  Today, it would only take one guy with an Uzi to ruin everyone’s day.  Tomorrow, it would only take one guy (or one uncontrolled weapon) to end everyone’s life.  So, we must make sure that all Uzis are, in effect, manufactured in the Weapons Shops of Isher.

Abundance accelerating the acceleration of technology

The Abundance Society won’t end the accelerating development of technology; it will make it even easier to occur.  Millions of users of these powerful production facilities will be inventing more gadgets more often and posting CAD programs online.  They won’t be forced to await decisions of labor committees or marketing managers for permission.  In the words of the shoe company, they’ll just do it.  Nor will they have to be particularly handy.  They will simply imagine something they would like to use, tell their replicators to write the CAD, and print the prototype.  No machinists or carpenters needed.  Inventors will simply test their prototypes after printing.  As replicators improve and their owners grow more experienced working with them, the rate of invention itself will accelerate, adding to the overall rate of acceleration.

One device may branch out through design space, serving as the seed for thousands of different devices in a matter of weeks or even days, and a bit later in hours and even minutes.  Imagine larger and larger shockwave of change ripping through all areas of human life faster and faster, courtesy of the replicators and the Internet.

Clearly, the Abundance Society will not end history.  More and more important changes will be happening simultaneously, faster than ever before.  The amount of change and the pace of change will accelerate.  History will become more like a spaceship than a mule train.  As we move up the steepening curve of development, we will enter something we could call the Post-Abundance Society.  This society will not cease being Abundant; existence of Abundance will simply be taken as a given.  But, the superb control over matter and energy achieved by accelerating technology will enable us to reach past Abundance and allow us to transcend more and more historical limits on our decisions and actions.

People will find it necessary to invent brain and body augments to keep up.  Ancient biological rhythms of life will be disrupted.  What will happen when traditional human limits no longer apply or are not as restricting as they are now?  For instance, political decision-making is now limited to those cycles and to human stamina.  We can only take so many meetings and do so much reading before our time and our minds and our bodies are overwhelmed with floods of information and decisions waiting to be made.

Forms and structures of government are already morphing, flattening, fracturing under existing strains.  Think about what is to come as accelerating change strains politics past the breaking point.  Would a return small republics or direct democracies or even adhocracies be enough to handle things?  What about various systems of referenda?  What about Delphi polls, betting markets, minarchism, techno-anarchism, just plain anarchism, or rule by Artificial General Intelligences (AGIs)?

Perhaps people could enter an electronic legislative assembly and leave it as their desires for better and more nuanced security systems are met and their interests change?  Will that assembly exist as a mere pattern of activity, a standing wave of interaction on the Internet or in Virtual Reality, as the membership keep changing moment by moment?  Perhaps such a system could keep up the pace for a while.  But it will seem as soon as some innovative form of government is offered by political science as a palliative, it may already be rendered obsolete.  There may never be one best system of government ever again.

We can always guess as to what changes might be taking place in terms of societies and politics, even though we can’t know, not until we get there ourselves.  To handle such immense change, people may choose to augment their brains and bodies to computer speed.  Or they may choose to upload their minds into an immensely capable computer-based Virtual Reality, sometimes referred to as a noosphere, so that they may continue to experience existence at ever greater speeds.  They would become incomprehensibly intelligence from our standpoint.  They may choose to double their knowledge, experience, and capabilities at the same dizzying rate that technology is exploding in order to keep up.

Could transhuman technology eventually disrupt the cohesion of society?

Political philosophy has rested tacitly or overtly over the centuries on the recognition of a number of human limits.  What happens when those limits are surpassed by the emergence of transhuman bodies and minds?  Accelerating times will cause a problem with time itself.  People no longer have the time to adjust, to take meetings, to read, to make trade-offs, to settle moral/ethical quandaries.  Things simply keep changing faster and faster.  We humans need time to figure difficult problems out, and acceleration will not give us that time.  We’ll struggle to keep up.  We’ll get our brain augments for purely practical reasons: We’ll need to think a million times faster than we do now in order to deal with a reality that’s changing at least that fast.

Those aspects of traditional societies and politics that had survived the gauntlet of Abundance will likely get shredded by the extreme tempo of change of the Singularity.  A moral sense, a sense of being a member of a community of fellow humans, a sense of limits, a set of social skills, a sense of rights and of justice, a sum of our behaviors, our perceptions, our capabilities, our tendencies, our emotions, what we tend to love and tend to hate, and again, our sense of limits.  All of these will become vulnerable to extreme rates of change.

When we Upload, when we change our bodies into any shape on whim and then do so over and over again, when we master endless skills and combine them in endless ways for amusement and personal growth, when we have far more power than today’s nation-states at our fingertips, when we are able to swap memories with other humans and AGIs whenever we desire more experiences, when we can enter into group minds and leave them at will, what realm of existence could be left for politics, except perhaps for a strange form of virtual adhocracy, group minds through which individuals merge and detach as decisions are made?

And what of the possibilities offered by extreme life extension and youth extension?  Political systems today are structured to deal with ancient cycles of birth, childhood, adulthood, elderhood, and death.  If other drastic changes didn’t unhinge politics as we’ve known it, life extension surely would.

Those thinkers, such as Francis Fukuyama, mindful of the potential of radical societal change offered by accelerating technology, express a fundamental, quite reasonable fear: That we will soon cease sharing a common humanity, that inequalities far more fundamental and injurious than any we have ever experienced will become our fate as the human race fissions into a thousand drastically different races, or perhaps different species.  And would this fissioning continue as people differentiate themselves within those races and species, each generation splintering more and more?  As we upgrade our brains and Upload our minds, our capabilities could soon become so differentiated that we could never see each other as truly recognizably human.

How sociable and courteous would all these beings be with one another?  Would life become so different for these beings that they would no longer be able to communicate or even apprehend the existence of one another?  What would moral and immoral intentions and actions directed toward such various beings entail?  What would enforcement of norms entail?  What would norms entail?  Could such varied beings ever form one moral community?  Could they ever treat each other as equals, or even think of the other as an equal, at least in some limited way?  A modicum of trust in politics is vital to establishing any kind of effective decision-making system for the group—or for numerous interacting groups.  Here, trust must be virtually non-existent.  Think about how badly humans have treated the dreaded stranger, the other, over the ages.  Based on past performance, the prognosis does not look good.

The warnings are dire.  We face a post-human future in which dangerously chaotic forces make survival precarious.  In this potential future, the remnants of democracy are incinerated in the heat of extreme change.  Human freedom dies in the flames.  Those who fear this future recommended relinquishment of advanced technologies to prevent it.  A very harsh response.  But, never mind for the moment if relinquishment is desirable or not.  Is it even possible?

The infeasibility of technological relinquishment

Let’s say we set out to control the nanotechnology revolution and the biotechnical revolution and the computer revolution and the replicator revolution and so on.  Let’s say we will mandate the end of all advances in computation, replication, miniaturization, and precision.  What would we have to do?  In order to make enforcement of norms against advanced technology effective, political efforts would have to include arriving at a deep understanding of what exactly dangerous technologies are, achieving strict international agreements and conventions against said dangerous technologies, and establishing effective enforcement procedures to wipe out said dangerous technologies.  Is such understanding possible?  Are such agreements possible?  Are such procedures possible?  We lack substantial agreement on any sort of universal values system—individuals, groups, and nations are in sharp disagreement on so many such norms.  We have the additional difficulty of a lack of a recognized, valid set of international decision-makers.  We would also face one insurmountable obstacle, a true paradox: It would take advanced technology to enforce a ban on advanced technologies.

Who could accurately forecast which specific technological development would harm or help humanity and exactly what it would do under various circumstances?  What about future technologies any permitted technology would spawn, a cascade of generations upon generations of new technologies now unimaginable to the regulatory panel of experts?  What if anything would they have to say about these now non-existent technologies?  How could they possibly judge their worth and their danger?

Even if we somehow succeeded in settling these matters, the temptation to defect against relinquishment laws would be severe.  The immediate concrete benefits of doing so would be perceived by defectors to greatly outweigh any abstract future risks.  Human enhancement involves a very real temptation to defect because such enhancements hold out opportunities to better compete against other humans.  Furthermore, an early defector will cause a cascade of defectors.  The logic of arms races would prevail.

Temptations to defect hint at the chaotic nature of cooperation under these circumstances.  It’s like balancing a top.  It will spin nicely for a while, but one little bobble and the time for it to topple over will come very soon.  And then there’s the metaphor of the pile of sand at criticality.  One more sand particle dropped on it may well set off an avalanche.

Since everyone knowledgeable enough to develop advanced technology would have to, in effect, voluntarily cooperate with a regimen of relinquishment (it’s clear that physically enforced cooperation simply would never work), any individual or small group could effectively destroy the agreements by defecting.  There can be but one possible result of relinquishment—utter failure.

Smart brain augmentation facilitating cohesion

However, there may be a wholly different way of dealing with dangerous technology.  We must consider the implications of the fact that liberal democracy itself was made possible by these very trends we fear.  Democracy was invented by people inspired by the sociological changes accelerating technology was triggering.  Its development was fostered by further acceleration.  This is no surprise.  After all, the human drive to achieve more and more well-being for more and more people is what drove human inventiveness in the first place.

instead of regulation forestalling the fissioning of the human race, which as we’ve seen is doomed to failure, how about using the technology itself to prevent a total rupture of relationships between what may potentially turn out to be many human races?  Here is a startling reason for us to develop brain augment technology as soon as possible: It may foster within us very deep sense of mutual fellow-feeling.

The original idea behind this concept was to use brain augments to give us access to a massive growing amount of information with the computing power to handle it.  But in brain augments, information could also flow the opposite way.  Brain augments could be used to record the massive amount of information the human brain generates when it thinks, feels, remembers, imagines, anticipates, plans, accepts, rejects, and directs the body to do anything.  We could do this in order to preserve our sense of self for future Uploading to the Singularity’s noosphere.  We could conduct these recordings over any amount of time.  Years, perhaps.

Now, while we’re busy recording ourselves, we might also choose to pool copies of portions of our memories and other aspects of our active minds, creating numerous AIs that would retain mental models of what we could call the “baseline human.”  These would essentially be recordings of our ordinary, pre-Singularity selves.  We might either choose to leave them frozen, unchanged, or perhaps we would interact with them and they would change over time.  We might also exchange them, merge them into standard personalities, and copy them for one another.  If we do so, we would in effect create the mental template of the baseline human that all future humans would hold in common for ages to come.

And so, as our species fractures, every individual in every human species would retain copies of the baseline human and use them as translating devices to communicate with all other species of humans when desired.  Think of them as communications links or archival sources or decoding devices and all of the above and more.  If this bridging technology is developed, our future selves may be able to avert the disaster that Fukuyama has warned us against.  Even though our future selves may be as radically different as he fears or even more different than he or any of us could imagine, every one of our future selves would still retain the baseline human historical commonality.  As such, this commonality, link, translator, AI or whatever, would serve to keep all descendants of humans “together” in some sense hinted at by that vague word.  It would give us at least a small felt sense of kinship, of fellow-feeling, or perhaps even the tiniest touch of a sense of egalitarianism.  At the very least, it would smooth the rough edges that are sure to grow as we differentiate at accelerating speeds.  And it may enable us avert serious violence due to misunderstandings and keep the Singularity reasonably peaceful and secure.

The Singularity is upon us

What I have envisioned is the unexpected: a future in which accelerating technology successfully generates effective accelerating politics for accelerating societies, a future in which new, strange technologies, politics, and societies are being replaced more and more rapidly by newer, truly incomprehensible technologies, politics, and societies.

We have edged our way up close to the event horizon of the technological Singularity, to that point where we can no longer see beyond the onrush of acceleration.  As it turns out, life has been striving for that moment all along, unknowingly but continually, in unerring direction, long before the first humans existed.  Participation is the necessary work of all, not merely the work of one class or one race or one civilization, but every single human being now living or yet to be born.

An immense historical process is underway—an emergence of accelerating human capacity and capability, the creation of which is becoming even more unimaginable as acceleration continues to flood our awareness with novelties and breakthroughs—faster, faster, faster.

The Singularity is now upon us.  Things have gotten very strange.  So strange, so far beyond anything we have known that we can no longer distinguish any landmarks nor can we make any recommendations to those who enter here.  And so this meditation on technology and politics must come to an end.  Our proper response to acceleration at this point, for now, must be silence.

Sources

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Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 10 of the Transpolitica book “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”. Transpolitica welcomes feedback. Your comments will help to shape the evolution of Transpolitica communications.

Image source: Pixabay

An introduction to tomorrow’s politics

By David W. Wood, Executive Director, Transpolitica

The Transpolitica manifesto summarised

Today’s most pressing political problems

Transpolitica seeks to uncover and highlight what can be called “tomorrow’s solutions to today’s most pressing political problems”. What are these problems?

The polling agency YouGov conducts frequent surveys of political opinion. On the 4th of March 2015, they revealed the preferences indicated by a representative sample of 1701 voters from throughout the United Kingdom (PDF). Survey participants were asked to specify up to three issues, out of a range of 13 choices, in response to this question:

Which of the following do you think are the most important issues facing the country at this time?

The top-ranked issues were as follows:

  • Immigration & asylum – selected by 50% of participants
  • The economy – selected by 46%
  • Health – 42%
  • Welfare benefits – 30%.

At the same time, the survey participants were also asked a different question (referring to the same set of 13 possible choices):

Which of the following do you think are the most important issues facing you and your family?

For this question, the top-ranked issues were slightly different:

  • The economy – 43%
  • Health – 38%
  • Pensions – 29%
  • Tax – 21%.

YouGov also periodically ask voters for their feedback on the performance of the main party leaders in the United Kingdom parliament. The results are that these three leaders are all judged more as “doing badly” than as “doing well” (or as “undecided”). At time of writing, their most recent “doing badly” ratings were (PDF) 50%, 66%, and 70%.

Taking one step back from these results, I perceive a great deal of anxiety among potential voters. They’re worried about how they and their families will be able to afford healthcare and other necessities of life, especially as they or their loved ones experience old age. These worries are compounded:

  • As many new people are migrating into the country, potentially overwhelming local schools and local welfare services
  • As there are many pressures on the national health service
  • As politicians seem unable to make any real changes.

Looking further around the world, I see some common underlying patterns:

  • Electors are disturbed by the pace of social change and uncertainty about the future
  • Governments often seem to be a hindrance to positive change (not an enabler)
  • Politicians are caught up in their own systems – they cannot rise above inertia
  • Politics are subject to strong vested interests, including finance and corporations
  • Voting often ends up being tactical or ineffective (especially in “first past the post” systems)
  • Political parties fail to present any compelling big vision for the future (beyond talking about economic matters).

Technology as the solution

The solution offered by Transpolitica to the political problems being experienced around the world can be summarised in a single word: technology.

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, and improved knowledge management. Indeed, the next 10-20 years look set to witness four profound convergences:

  • Between artificial intelligence and human intelligence – with next generation systems increasingly embodying so-called “deep learning”, “hybrid intelligence”, and even “artificial emotional intelligence”
  • Between machine and human – with smart technology evolving from “mobile” to “wearable” and then to “insideable”, and with the emergence of exoskeletons and other cyborg technology
  • Between software and biology – with programming moving from silicon (semiconductor) to carbon (DNA and beyond), with the expansion of synthetic biology, and with the application of genetic engineering
  • Between virtual and physical – with the prevalence of augmented reality vision systems, augmented reality education via new MOOCs (massive open online courses), cryptocurrencies that remove the need for centralised audit authorities, and lots more.

Each of these four grand convergences will be far-reaching in its own right, but the combination of all four happening in parallel injects additional large elements of uncertainty.

The changes ahead have been likened to a dozen different Gutenberg moments happening simultaneously. Here’s a report by Singularity Hub writer Jason Dorrier about the opening remarks at the Singularity University (SU) Summit held in Amsterdam in November 2014:

SU’s global ambassador and founding executive director, Salim Ismail, set the stage.

We’re at an inflection point, he said, where we are digitizing and augmenting the human experience with technology. That digitization is accelerating change. The question is: How can individuals and society, more generally, navigate it?

Five hundred years ago, Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press freed information as never before. Ismail framed the current pace of technology as Gutenberg to the extreme, “We’re having about a dozen Gutenberg moments all at the same time.”

It’s true…currently, I’m listening to experts communicate new and novel ideas. I take notes on a laptop, connect to the internet, find images, load the article—and publish (for free). Ideas from the mouths of the few to the brains of the many in mere moments.

This flow of information is driving idea cross-pollination and innovation on a massive scale.

Listening to Ismail’s talk, I was reminded of a quote. Generally attributed to Elbert Hubbard, it goes like this, “The world is moving so fast these days that a man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.”

Politics as the complication

In principle, technological developments have the potential to generate abundance – plenty of material possessions, healthy longevity, uplifting mental life, and profound experiences, to dissolve the worries of electors around the world. Voters will no longer need to hustle and campaign for adequate provision of welfare services, such as pension, education, and healthcare.

However, there are many uncertainties that influence technology – both how it is developed, and how it is deployed. Technology does not determine its own outcome. Instead, the allocation of resources to technological development is strongly impacted by the operation of markets, incentives, subsidies, regulations, and public expectations. In turn, all of these factors are impacted by politics (either in commission or in omission).

Politics as the complication

For this reason, the statement

Technology can enable bigger positive changes in the next ten years than in any previous ten year period…

needs to be followed by an important proviso:

…providing these technologies receive sufficient funding, focus, and regulatory support – as provided by a positive political climate.

Transpolitica therefore wishes to engage with politicians of all parties to increase the likelihood of an attractive, equitable, sustainable, progressive future, enabled by a combination of new technology and new politics. The ideas raised in this book are designed:

  • To elevate the thinking of politicians and other leaders, away from being dominated by the raucous issues of the present, to addressing the larger possibilities of the near future
  • To draw attention to technological opportunities, map out attractive roads ahead, and address the obstacles which are preventing us from fulfilling a potential that far exceeds the present status quo.

Bold, regenerative projects

If the single-word summary of the Transpolitica manifesto is “technology”, the single-sentence summary spells out a more concrete request:

Transpolitica calls upon politicians of all parties to define and support bold, regenerative projects to take full advantage of accelerating technology.

Such projects have taken place before, with outstanding results. One important example is the 1960s Apollo “moonshot” program, launched with the following words in September 1962 by US President John F. Kennedy at a speech at Rice Stadium in Florida:

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…

If I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun… and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out – then we must be bold.

Similar bold huge projects have taken place in wartime: consider the Manhattan project to develop the first atomic bomb, carried out under the threat that axis powers might reach that fearsome outcome first. Another example is the post-war “Marshall Plan” peacetime reconstructive project – a project that involved far-sighted economic innovation rather than technological innovation.  And let’s not forget the grand project in the United Kingdom to set up the Welfare State and the National Health Service.

These projects share the characteristic of being bold and visionary. They were able to galvanize huge collaborative endeavours, via providing a profound sense of manifest purpose and shared destiny.

In the present times, two EU regenerative projects are worth mentioning. Each has a budget of around one billion euros:

First, the “Human Brain Project” is described as follows:

Understanding the human brain is one of the greatest challenges facing 21st century science. If we can rise to the challenge, we can gain profound insights into what makes us human, develop new treatments for brain disease and build revolutionary new computing technologies. Today, for the first time, modern ICT [information and comms technology] has brought these goals within sight.

Second, consider the “Graphene Flagship”:

The Graphene Flagship’s overriding goal is to take graphene, related layered materials and hybrid systems from a state of raw potential to a point where they can revolutionize multiple industries… and put Europe at the heart of the process, with a manifold return on the investment as technological innovation, economic exploitation and societal benefits.

Each of these EU projects has the expectation of generating economic and social benefits, in addition to technological innovation. That characteristic is shared by the various proposed Transpolitica regenerative projects. One difference, however, is the matter of scale. The Transpolitica projects are conceived as involving larger resources, larger collective effort, and larger outputs.

The six Transpolitica regenerative projects

1. Clean tech -> sustainable growth -> material abundance for all

Enough sunlight strikes the earth each hour to power all of humanity’s needs for an entire year. An analysis published in Nature contends that wind energy could provide 20-100 times current global power demand. Earth also experiences a natural abundance of energy from wave and from geothermal. In turn, this rich abundance of multiple forms of renewable energy can be used to provide more than enough food and clean water for everyone’s needs. This regenerative project can take advantage of improvements in energy storage and transport, in desalination, in agriculture, in the creation of synthetic food, and (with some care) genetically modified organisms.

Even if human population levels rise significantly in the decades ahead, there’s no reason why anyone should suffer any shortage of material possessions. What’s more, we can have lifestyles that avoid causing any degradation in the environment. Developments in fields such as nanotechnology can improve our ability to usefully recycle the waste arising from our activities.

This is not a vision of reversing growth; nor one of zero growth. People don’t need to anticipate living more frugally than at present. On the contrary, this is a vision of positive sustainable growth, empowered by numerous improvements in green technology.

The difficulty, however, is that green technologies are progressing too slowly. Too many financial subsidies are diverted into energy resources that have highly polluting side effects. The transition to cleaner lifestyles is fitful and erratic. In contrast to that future vision of humanity living in positive harmony with the environment, present-day societies are pushing the planet close to devastating tipping points. Vested interests, driven by short-term financial concerns, are obstructing a rational allocation of research and development resources. That’s why politicians need to exert much greater green leadership:

  • Championing a wide-ranging investigation into which green technologies are the most promising
  • Where needed, orchestrating long-term, patient investment, and adjusting regulatory frameworks
  • Opposing any distortions that short-term interests exert on the R&D landscape.

Some readers may be nervous at this mention of a positive role for governments in assisting a technological revolution. They may believe that government intervention is inevitably misguided and counterproductive. I offer the counter-analysis of renowned Venezuelan scholar Carlota Perez, whose book “Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages” is, rightly, held in high regard. Perez describes recent history as featuring five major technical-economic cycles:

  1. From 1771: The First Industrial Revolution (machines, factories, and canals)
  2. From 1829: The Age of Steam, Coal, Iron, and Railways
  3. From 1875: The Age of Steel and Heavy Engineering (electrical, chemical, civil, naval)
  4. From 1908: The Age of the Automobile, Oil, Petrochemicals, and Mass Production
  5. From 1971: The Age of Information Technology and Telecommunications.

Perez argues that the technology of wave five in this list is already in the process of undoing many of the environmental problems introduced by wave four.

Nevertheless, despite her optimism that “a sustainable positive-sum future is possible”, Perez states clearly (PDF):

  • It will not happen automatically: the market cannot do it alone
  • The state must come back into the picture.

Her analysis proceeds:

  • Each technological revolution propagates in two different periods
  • The first half sets up the infrastructure and lets the markets pick the winners
  • The second half (“the Golden Age” of the wave) reaps the full economic and social potential
  • Each Golden Age has been facilitated by enabling regulation and policies for shaping and widening markets.

2. Rejuvenation biotech -> Longevity dividend -> healthy longevity for all

The second proposed regenerative project focuses, not on material abundance, but on an abundance of health, for as long as people wish to live.

Given adequate R&D resources, human longevity could be enormously extended, using technologies which are already broadly understood. Prolonging healthy lifespan would clearly benefit the very large number of citizens concerned, and it would also benefit society by preserving and deepening the experience and wisdom available to solve our various social problems.

In this way, Transpolitica supports the aspiration of people in all corners of the globe to indefinite healthy life extension. Rejuvenation therapies based on regenerative medicine can and should be developed and progressively made available to all citizens. The resulting “longevity dividend” will have large social and economic benefits, as well as personal ones.

The longevity dividend fits the maxim that “prevention is cheaper than cure”. Another homely saying captures a related perspective: “a stitch in time saves nine”. Once rejuvenation therapies are available, periodic application of these therapies will undo the accumulated damage of biological aging. As a result, the present very expensive healthcare costs that are frequently incurred in the last years of someone’s life will be deferred and, ultimately, avoided completely.

If readers are hearing for the first time about the concept of the longevity dividend, they may find it surprising. It’s a subject which I am exploring at some length in a forthcoming book, “Approaching rejuvenation: Is science on the point of radically extending human longevity?”  For now, a brief explanation will have to suffice.

The basic idea is that aging should be recognised as an underlying common cause and exacerbating agent of all sorts of disease. Addressing aging can, therefore, be expected to reduce both the occurrence and the severity of these diseases. The approach is described in an article “A Reimagined Research Strategy for Aging” from the website of the SENS Research Foundation:

Many things go wrong with aging bodies, but at the root of them all is the burden of decades of unrepaired damage to the cellular and molecular structures that make up the functional units of our tissues. As each essential microscopic structure fails, tissue function becomes progressively compromised – imperceptibly at first, but ending in the slide into the diseases and disabilities of aging.

SENS Research Foundation’s strategy to prevent and reverse age-related ill-health is to apply the principles of regenerative medicine to repair the damage of aging at the level where it occurs. We are developing a new kind of medicine: regenerative therapies that remove, repair, replace, or render harmless the cellular and molecular damage that has accumulated in our tissues with time. By reconstructing the structured order of the living machinery of our tissues, these rejuvenation biotechnologies will restore the normal functioning of the body’s cells and essential biomolecules, returning aging tissues to health and bringing back the body’s youthful vigour.

Potential damage-limitation and damage-reduction therapies range as follows:

  • Regenerative mechanisms which already operate in healthy humans (especially in young healthy humans), and which could be encouraged to continue operating beyond the point when they ordinarily lose their potency
  • Regenerative mechanisms which already operate in non-human animals, and which could be triggered, via ingenious processes, to operate in humans
  • Brand new biological mechanisms, created via methods such as synthetic biology and genetic engineering, which have no direct parallel within any existing animals (human or otherwise)
  • Brand new physical mechanisms at the macro-scale, for example involving mechanical replacement body parts
  • Brand new physical mechanisms at the nano-scale, such as nano-surgery
  • Combinations of the above.

Depending on the type of damage being addressed, different regenerative therapies will be needed. Transpolitica advocates that extensive experiments with more than one type of therapy should be carried out, to determine which approaches are the most effective in different circumstances.

A practical suggestion is that 20% of the public research funding that currently goes to specific diseases should be reassigned, instead, to researching solutions to aging. This “ending aging” angle is likely to provide promising lines of research and solutions to many diseases, such as senile dementia (including Alzheimer’s), cancer, heart disease, motor neurone disease, respiratory diseases, and stroke.

3. Improved brain science -> Super well-being for all

The third proposed regenerative project focuses on yet another type of abundance: mental well-being, including well-being in the emotional and spiritual dimensions.

Just as science is providing us with unprecedented understanding of energy and materials (the first regenerative project), and of bodily health and rejuvenation (the second), it is also providing us with unprecedented insight into the operation of mind and brain. To an extent never before imagined, we are gaining an awareness of the factors that influence our levels of happiness, engagement, creativity, autonomy, mindfulness, and consciousness.

Presently, many of us often struggle through periods of life in which, despite having lots of possessions, we’re only semi-conscious. But with more focus on the causes of mental well-being – causes that include physical, chemical, biological, physiological, psychological, and social factors, as well as intellectual development – technology will become better placed to allow everyone access to states of mental enlightenment which, previously, were hard even to imagine.

4. Automation -> New social contract -> Universal income

Emerging technologies – in particular automation – are likely to impose significant strains on the current economic model. It is far from clear how this will play out; it’s also unclear what the best strategies for response are. Society and its leaders need to consider and discuss these changes, and draw up plans to deal with different outcome scenarios.

Transpolitica anticipates that accelerating technological unemployment may cause growing social disruption and increased social inequality and alienation. People who trained hard for new career opportunities may discover that their employment prospects have been quickly overtaken by increasingly sophisticated robots, AIs, or other software – automation systems that have gained new skills at a rate faster than can be matched by human trainees.

A new social contract is needed, involving appropriate social, educational, and economic support for those who are left with no viable option of ‘earning a living’ due to this unprecedented technological change.

A form of negative income tax (as proposed by Milton Friedman) or a basic income guarantee could provide the basis for this new social contract. It may take a moonshot-scale program to fully design and implement these changes in our social welfare systems. However, political parties around the world have developed promising models, backed up by significant research, for how universal basic income might be implemented in a cost-effective manner. Transpolitica urges experimentation followed by action based on the best of these insights.

5. Risk awareness and management -> Avoid existential threats

Some emerging technologies – in particular artificial general intelligence and nanotechnology – are so powerful as to produce changes more dramatic than anything since the agricultural revolution. The outcomes could be extraordinarily positive for humanity, or they could threaten our very existence.

Existing technologies already pose potential catastrophic risks to the well-being of humanity:

  • The risk persists of accidental nuclear warfare
  • Runaway climate change might be triggered by unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases that push global temperatures beyond sudden tipping points.

There are further complications from relatively easy access by alienated, destructive individuals to weapons of mass destruction, including dirty bombs and synthetic pathogens.

Without being complacent, Transpolitica believes that sustained human innovation can mitigate all these risks, once they are fully understood. We call for significant resources to be applied to working out how to ensure that the outcomes are positive.

The wise management of the full set of existential risks is likely to involve innovations in technology (e.g. the development and production of cleaner energy sources), economics (e.g. a carbon tax to redress the market failure of unpenalized negative externalities), and politics (e.g. the collaborative creation and enforcement of binding treaties). The end outcome will be the successful harnessing of technologies, both old and new, for the radical enhancement of humanity.

6. Improved rationality -> New democratic governance

Whereas the fourth regenerative project seeks to deal with the possible end of employment (in the wake of improved automation), and the fifth regenerative project seeks to deal with the possible end of humanity itself (in the wake of adverse usage of technology), the sixth seeks to deal with possible failures in the operation of democracy. These failures may arise from technology being, again, applied for ill purpose, by autocrats and other politicians desperate to hang onto power and influence. Unless it addresses this risk, society faces the unwelcome prospect that the full benefits of new technology will be restricted, subverted, or negated.

The underpinnings of a prosperous, democratic, open society include digital rights, trusted, safe identities, robust infrastructure, and the ability to communicate freely without fear of recrimination or persecution. Transpolitica therefore wishes to:

  • Accelerate the development and deployment of tools ensuring personal privacy and improved cyber-security
  • Ensure the protection of critical Internet services even for the cases of wars and other emergencies (these services will include web archival, GitHub, Wikipedia, StackOverflow, trusted root keys, etc); for comparison, this protection is just as vital as the storing the seeds of critical food plants in the Norwegian Doomsday Vault
  • Extend governmental open data initiatives
  • Champion the adoption of “Democracy 2.0” online digital tools to improve knowledge-sharing, fact-checking, and collective decision-making
  • Increase the usefulness and effectiveness of online petitions
  • Restrict the undue influence which finance can have over the electoral and legislative process.

Government policy should be based on evidence rather than ideology:

  • Insights from the emerging field of cognitive biases should be adapted into decision-making processes
  • New committees and organisations should be designed so that they are less likely to suffer groupthink
  • AI systems should be increasingly used to support smart decision making.

Finally, to guard against a different form of oppression of free debate, all laws restricting free-speech based on the concept of “personal offence” should be revoked (this is a distinct concept from the crime of harassment). The principle should be advanced that anyone accepted into a country, whether as a visitor or as an immigrant, must confirm that they fully accept the principle of free speech, and renounce any use of legal or extralegal means to silence those who offend their religion or worldview.

With these safeguards all in place, the influence of politics on the development and deployment of technology should become beneficial rather than adverse. It will contribute to the creation of a positive feedback network of influences.

Building a positive feedback network

This same positive network also includes positive influences both to and from education. Education is addressed, in the Transpolitica framework, as one of four key enablers of the set of regenerative projects. Let’s turn to these next.

The four Transpolitica regeneration enablers

7. Education transformed in readiness for a radically different future

Transpolitica advocates a series of transformations in education. A greater proportion of time spent in education and training (whether formal or informal) should be future-focused, exploring

  • Which future scenarios are technically feasible, and which are fantasies
  • Which future scenarios are desirable, once their “future shock” has been accepted
  • What actions can be taken to accelerate the desirable outcomes, and avoid the undesirable ones
  • How to achieve an interdisciplinary understanding of future scenarios
  • How resilience can be promoted, rather than society just having a focus on efficiency
  • How creativity can be promoted, rather than society just having a focus on consumption
  • The intelligent management of risk.

Lifelong training and education should become the norm, with people of all ages learning new skills as the need becomes apparent in the new age of automation. Educational curricula need to be able to adapt rapidly.

Transpolitica would mandate that each university and educational establishment makes an increasing proportion of its material freely accessible online every year.

Education should take greater advantage of MOOCs (massive open online courses), and the possibility for people having their knowledge certified without enrolling in a traditional college. MOOCs can be usefully complemented with location based learning labs (“makerspaces”) absorbing some of existing library empty space, preserving the “open knowledge” of libraries and expanding it into “open education and learning”. Transpolitica anticipates a time where, apart from lab work, the whole of tertiary education will be delivered online.

8. A proactionary regulatory system to fast-track innovative breakthroughs

The so-called “precautionary principle” preferred by some risk-averse policy makers is often self-defeating: seeking to avoid all risks can itself pose many risks. The precautionary principle frequently hinders intelligent innovation. The “proactionary principle” is a better stance, in which risks are assessed and managed in a balanced way, rather than always avoided. Any bias in favour of the status quo should be challenged, with an eye on better futures that can be created.

Transpolitica observes that many potentially revolutionary therapies are under research, but current drug development has become increasingly slow and expensive (as summarised by “Eroom’s law”). Translational research is doing badly, in part due to current drug regulations which are increasingly out of step with public opinion, actual usage, and technology.

In practical terms, Transpolitica recommends:

  • Streamlining regulatory approval for new medicines, in line with recommendations by e.g. CASMI in the UK
  • Removing any arbitrary legal distinction between “therapies for ill-health” and “therapies for enhancement”.

Transpolitica also urges revisions in patent and copyright laws to discourage counter-productive hoarding of intellectual property:

  • Reduce the time periods of validity of patents in certain industry areas
  • Make it much less likely that companies can be granted “obvious” patents that give them a throat-choke on subsequent development in an industry area
  • Explore the feasibility of alternative and complementary schemes for facilitating open innovation, such as reputation economies or prize funds.

9. A progressive transhumanist rights agenda

A third factor that will underpin successful outcomes of the Transpolitica regenerative projects is the protection of what can be called “transhumanist rights”. This phrase indicates that:

  • The set of rights championed goes further than the set that normally viewed as comprising human rights
  • The recipients of these rights form a wider group of sentient organisms than just the human species.

The first significant transhumanist right that Transpolitica seeks to defend is the concept of morphological freedom:

  • The rights of all people, including sexual and gender minorities, to bodily self-determination
  • Free access to modern reproductive technologies, including genetic screening to improve the quality of life, for all prospective parents
  • Making it easier for people, if they so choose, to enter a state of cryonic suspension as their bodies come close to clinical death.

Transpolitica also wishes to:

  • Explore the gradual applicability of selected human rights to sentient beings, such as primates, that demonstrate relevant mental life, and also advanced AIs (when they exist in the future) that need such rights to function in their respective purpose
  • Hasten the adoption of synthetic (in-vitro) meat, and the abolition of cruelty to farm animals.

Finally in this section, Transpolitica envisions support for a radical future for consciousness. This will facilitate enhanced mental cooperation as minds become more interconnected via brain-to-computer interfaces and other foreseeable brain/mind technologies.

10. Funding and resourcing of regenerative projects

One more enabler deserves careful discussion – the funding and resourcing of the bold regenerative projects listed above.

The short answer is that these projects will be collectively self-funded by smart positive feedback cycles. The result of spending money in support of these projects is that money will be saved elsewhere, as a consequence of the projects. In addition to the longevity dividend already mentioned, there will be an important peace dividend and an equally important AI dividend.

In more detail, these projects can be funded and resourced by the following methods:

  • Tap into the well-spring of positive motivation and discretionary (volunteer) effort which these projects will unleash
  • Benefit from the longevity dividend, in which less budget will be consumed by end-of-life healthcare (prevention is cheaper than cure)
  • Smarter forms of international cooperation, reducing costs from efforts duplicated between different countries
  • When international cooperation enables it, divert funding from military budgets to regenerative budgets (peace dividend)
  • Eliminate the loopholes which allow multinational companies to shuffle revenues between countries and avoid paying due taxes
  • Apply the principle of “the polluter pays” with targeted new taxes such as when greenhouse gases are emitted
  • Savings from applying principles of automation and Information Technology wherever applicable (AI dividend).

The Transpolitica manifesto, summarised

A single page summary of the foregoing projects and enablers – as shown at the beginning of this article – depicts Transpolitica advocacy as split into three groups:

  • Projects to achieve sustainable, evolving well-being
  • Projects to apply tech-savvy proactive risk management
  • Enablers of regeneration and transcendence.

The first group consists of

  • Green tech leading to material abundance
  • Rejuvenation biotech leading to super health
  • Brain tech leading to super mental health.

The second group seeks to put in place

  • A new social contract, alongside automation
  • Existential risk awareness and solutions
  • Better democracy via revived rationality.

The third group involves

  • Education for a radically different future
  • A 21st century regulatory framework
  • A progressive transhumanist rights agenda
  • Projects funded by smart positive feedback.

Transpolitica outreach

Transpolitica outreach

Transpolitica envisions influencing and inspiring three different groups of political actors:

  • People who already have strong commitments to existing political parties, and who wish to continue operating within these parties
  • People who are concerned about political issues, but who feel strongly disinclined to become involved in any specific political party (whether old or new)
  • People who are ready to make a difference in their political environment by forming or joining a new party, such as a local Transhumanist Party.

This influence and inspiration will take place via publications, videos, memetic engineering, research, and campaigns. A list of “tasks awaiting volunteers” is maintained on the Transpolitica website.

There is no requirement for a Transpolitica volunteer or supporter to agree with all the principles set out earlier in this chapter. Indeed, the authors of the various chapters in the present book embody a variety of different stances and opinions.

Nor is there a requirement for a Transpolitica author to know all the answer. As you’ll find, the chapters are generally far from being fully comprehensive and encyclopaedic. They aim, instead, to place interesting questions onto the table of public political discussion, rather than to definitely answer these questions. The shared goal of the authors, for now, is to change the agenda of political discussion. This involves highlighting important opportunities and risks. There’s no need, for now, to provide authoritative implementation plans. Such plans may feature in later books in this series.

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 1 of the Transpolitica book “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”. Transpolitica welcomes feedback. Your comments will help to shape the evolution of Transpolitica communications.

The Vision Thing

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

A brief review of existing visions for alternative political systems

Introduction

Last year’s establishment of the Transhumanist Party in the u.s. has sparked much activity in Europe towards the same goal, and it seems likely that the trend will spread across the planet within the next few years.  This begs the question of the ‘vision thing’ as G.H.W. Bush once called it.

Unlike the general movement which is under little pressure to develop a common goal about what kind of society and political, economic and social model or models it wants to pursue, and indeed encompasses a wide range of ideas on the topic, political transhumanism will be asked the question and must develop at least some vague models, and ultimately concrete programs, to work toward.

This task is complicated by these factors among others:

  • Participants in electoral democracies must adhere to the rules under which these systems operate, which also vary from country to country, despite the question of the desirability of these rules, and the likelihood that they will, perhaps profoundly, change as a consequence of accelerating advancement of technology and its effects on social structures anyway. But it is the essence of transhumanism to not only anticipate these changes but attempt to control them toward maximising benefits for the planet.
  • These changes bear a high degree of unpredictability, so the vision is necessarily a moving target. Nonetheless at least foundational principles and a general direction have to be made identifiable, and these will have to avoid being in conflict with local constitutional conditions as well as voter acceptability.
  • Most self-declared transhumanists entertain already individual visions which vary widely, sometimes enough to constitute incompatibilities, and those who participate in party politics must work to at least arrive at common denominators.

This process has barely begun, which is why i decided to assemble some existing models and fragments that appear suitable as building blocks for debating and developing visions that can be commonly agreed upon.

Vision 1

 Image source: http://www.kevmunday.co.uk/photos/society.jpg

A – Science Fiction

Over a century science fiction has established itself as a rich source of inspiration for technological and social innovation as it provides complete freedom from the restrictions of current reality for developing and fleshing out possible scenarios and offers an abundance of ideas and models.  Here i want to restrict myself to discussing only the one that is probably most widely known: Star Trek.

Those familiar with the various productions will know that the protagonists act within a world characterised by material abundance and minimised social conflict.  Yet the environment is far from a perfect utopia.  Evolution continues but mostly in regard to technology and little in terms of psychology and biology, problems with technology persist and conflicts mostly with other ‘species’ keep erupting, mostly at the periphery of the terrestrial federation.   While a comprehensive social model is never presented there are possibly enough indications of its elements to allow to reconstruct a somewhat comprehensive picture.  One such attempt has been undertaken by Rick Webb.

In his view,

The federation is a proto-post scarcity society evolved from democratic capitalism. It is, essentially, European socialist capitalism vastly expanded to the point where no one has to work unless they want to.

It is massively productive and efficient, allowing for the effective decoupling of labor and salary for the vast majority (but not all) of economic activity. The amount of welfare benefits available to all citizens is in excess of the needs of the citizens. Therefore, money is irrelevant to the lives of the citizenry, whether it exists or not. Resources are still accounted for and allocated in some manner, presumably by the amount of energy required to produce them (say Joules). And they are indeed credited to and debited from each citizen’s “account.” However, the average citizen doesn’t even notice it, though the government does, and again, it is not measured in currency units — definitely not Federation Credits. There is some level of scarcity — the Federation cannot manufacture a million starships, for example. This massive accounting is done by the Federation government in the background.

While it is not knowable that this socio-economic model did evolve from ‘democratic capitalism’, the similarities between it and social democratic capitalism are large enough,  the few references to the transition period, which took no more than a couple centuries, make no mention of disruptions major enough to have caused substantial deviations, so that this is a real possibility.  Apparently the only major intervening change is the substantial advancement of technological capacities which is already underway and accelerating.  This of course is a very optimistic scenario according to which today’s humans, if existential catastrophe can be avoided, just have to carry on as now.

But does this system of abundance really work well?  For the most part yes, but within limits.  On the individual level it is impossible to go overboard because

If they go crazy and try and purchase, say, 10 planets or 100 starships, the system simply says “no.”

Webb explains that this occurs rarely if at all by assuming strong ‘social pressure against conspicuous consumption’, but it seems more likely that it is due to the fact that nobody will be impressed by it when everybody has what they need and more, than because of social pressure which is likely to provide motivation to disregard it.  He points out that locally crises and disasters can and periodically do occur.  These can be caused by unforeseen environmental changes or interference by nonhumans.  Help is usually dispatched quickly but does not always arrive in time, and sometimes it is already too late by the time information reaches Starfleet.

In the current discussion the scope is usually limited to Terra.  The complications and unpredictabilities resulting from encountering and reacting to nonhuman interference are ignored, and for good reasons, as there is simply no way to know what benefits or threats it may bring.  Most existential threats that can be anticipated are home made.  Biospheric warming has already limited effects on politics, economics and technology; the only extraterrestrially caused events that warrant serious efforts of preparation are meteoric and cometary impacts.  It is therefore unnecessary to explore this aspect any further.

There is a lot of trading going on between humans and nonhumans, which presumably accounts to a degree for the abundant conditions in the terrestrial domain.  The Enterprise occasionally finds itself needing certain materials to carry on that have been lost, destroyed or consumed and they are often obtained through bartering from established nonhuman systems or freelance traders or smugglers.  The wild card in these scenarios appears to be replicator technology.  In the current debate additive manufacturing is often pointed to as a solution for self-sufficient resourcing, which is incorrect.  3D- printing will lower production costs mainly by eliminating labour expenses, but raw materials, ‘ink’, will still have to be synthesised, mined or grown.  A much larger step will be alchemy through nanotechnology.  My conclusion was that this is the method used in replicators, and if so it is unclear why the ship would be dependent on bartering.  Some reviewers however go a step even further and claim that replicators create matter from energy, which appears highly unlikely given how much energy would be needed according to Einstein’s famous formula just to constantly feed a thousand people.  But then i do not know how and how much energy can actually be generated by warp drive technology.  As long as humans are confined to Terra it would appear that nanotech will be sufficient to provide the material basis for abundance.

Quite a few essays and articles about Star Trek and its economics can be found, and a few caught my attention for various reasons.

One by Greg Stevens makes an interesting and quite obvious connection to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and says:

If human endeavours are seen as advancing up this noble ladder of advancement, then any society where all of the basic low-level needs are met would obviously be left to while away their time exclusively on love, self-esteem, and self-actualisation.

Near the end of his article Stevens points to this possibility:

One of the biggest fears that comes up in this discussion is the simple fear of pranks and mischief-makers. Mischief-makers of this kind are largely absent from the Star Trek universe, but they are a very real component of humanity.

He quotes from Rudy Rucker’s “Realware” and presents some examples of his own, illustrating the possibility to create anything out of thin air and concluding:

Some people will want to band together and perform great creative deeds for the betterment of humanity …..  But some people – maybe even most people – will want a thousand-ton turd.

In this extrapolation he ignores the probabilities indicated by accelerating evolution of human psychology, but if this were to become a real problem there will be technological solutions to it.

In his piece “The Star Trek Economy Thing” Joshua Gans, after dealing with the problem of how to measure the value of goods and thus G.D.P. growth, points to the changes of terrestrial economy caused by the massive increase in military production after the first Borg invasion.  While it remains rather unlikely that Terra will be invaded by the Borg, or will be able to resist, anytime soon, it is important to expect the unexpected and gear some of the wealth derived from the coming abundance toward dealing with unanticipated high impact events.

At the conclusion of his article Fred E. Foldvary writes:

Each person’s heritage, values, and personality are respected. While this is relatively easy to achieve in the organizational order of a ship, to do this on a galactic scale requires universal liberty where each person, regardless of species, has an equal right to do whatever does not coercively harm others.

Ship captains repeatedly talk about cultural evolution as if it is following along the same lines for each ‘species’.  But that this is not necessarily so is shown most starkly by the Borg but also others like the ‘extragalactic’ Species 8472.  I do not even think that all posthumans will want to continue evolving uniformly, as we already are confronted with incompatibility among human cultures to which my proposed solution is habitat separation, an issue i will address elsewhere.

The strongest connection between Star Trek economy and current theory of economics is made by Andrew Leonard in his Salon article “The utopian economics of Star Trek”.  Starting out from J.J. Abrams’ 2009 film ‘Star Trek’ he points to the explicit reference it makes to new growth theory as laid out in Paul Romer’s 1990 paper “Endogenous Technological Change” (download).  Not being an economist i am in no position to technically evaluate its merits, but it has found wide acceptance and seems to be definitely worth studying in the quest for economic models compatible with transhumanist thought.  For non-experts like me easy introductions are offered in WP and by Tyler Cohen’s and Alex Tabarrok’s brief video introduction.

In conclusion it appears that models presented in Star Trek and other science fiction creations, many of which are much further removed from the present, are of limited value in developing a politico-economic transhumanist theory.  By their very nature as stories to be told they inevitably focus much more on the what than on the how.  However they contain plenty of ideas that can be useful in defining transhumanist goals.

B – Transhumania

In the very near future Transhumania is created as an extraterritorial independent city state floating offshore in international waters.  Zoltan Istvan has used this device for the plot of his novel “The Transhumanist Wager” but also as an illustration of his idea of a transhumanist polity; therefore it gets a fair amount of the author’s attention in that he outlines principles and practices of living and working together in a transhumanist community.

While quite a few reviews of the book itself have been written, not much has been on this particular subject yet.  There is an interesting piece by 33rdsquare which deals with the figure of Jethro, the main protagonist and most radical of the transhumanists, but it becomes clear in the course of reading that there is no real difference between his person and the political system he implements, and i will refer to it later.

In the press conference where Jethro presents Transhumania to the rest of the world, he says the following:

Ladies and gentlemen, behind me on the screen is a picture of Transhumania, the seasteading transhuman nation where scientists, technologists, and futurists carry out research they believe is their moral right and in the best interest of themselves. We are on our way towards attaining unending sentience and the most advanced forms of ourselves that we can reach, which is the essence of the transhuman mission.

And later:

On Transhumania, we are all one-person universes, one-person existences, one-person cultures. Bearing that in mind, we may still live or die for one another: for our families, for our children, for our spouses, for our friends, for our colleagues at Transhumania—or for those whom we respect and for whom we care to reasonably live or die. We will not live or die for someone we don’t know, however. Or for someone we don’t respect. Or for someone or something we don’t value. We will not throw away years of our lives for uneducated consumers, for welfare-collecting non-producers, for fool religious fanatics, or for corrupt politicians who know law but don’t stand by it or practice it.

This does not contain much information on the topic, but provides a good insight into the intellectual atmosphere in which Transhumania is conceived and created.  Only the first sentence of the second paragraph hints at principles of social organisation.  Clearly the individual is the basic element.  This one-person universe can submit to more general collectives such as family and friends, implied by one’s willingness to die for them, and the term ‘submit’ is used here not in the sense of subordination but that of integration.  But i question the verity of including colleagues here.  If this refers to colleagues in general it seems plausible in the sense that they have all submitted themselves to the idea and cause of Transhumania, have integrated into it and thereby become subject to the willingness to die for Transhumania itself.  But if it regards personal disagreement or conflict such a decision would have to be taken under the rules of utility as described in the following quote that closes Jethro’s address, and will be further discussed within the topic of humanicide:

We will invite you to join us: as friends, as colleagues, as comrades. And we will trade value to each other to gain what we want. We will discriminate against and judge each other on the basis of whether we offer sufficient utility to one another or not. There’s only one quintessential rule on Transhumania: If you don’t add value to the transhuman mission, if you are inconsequential or a negative sum to our success, then you will be forced off and away from our nation.

The political structure of Transhumania does not amount to much more than derivation from Jethro’s logic, which i consider to not always be compelling, and the social structure during the island days is firmly based on the business principle: benefits in exchange for work.  This changes later when after a military confrontation with a coalition of established governments is won by Transhumania which then proceeds to govern all planetary affairs.  The underlying principle is a hierarchical meritocracy with Jethro, bearing the most merit, at the top.

All reviewers appear to agree that when Transhumania takes on global rulership Jethro starts using his position in dictatorial manners.  I tend to disagree.  The project has been run this way since its inception, only until now he never encountered any resistance.  The following quotes illustrate the way in which his transhumanist ideology remains paramount:

The Transhuman Revolution seeks to transform the world into a transhumanist-inspired planet. Transhumania aims to fulfil that goal in order to harness the Earth’s resources and to unite with those millions of people on the outside who can, and want to, help us accelerate the greater transhuman mission…

Jethro turned from the ocean and stated firmly to the leaders of Transhumania, “We want to teach the people of the outside world, not destroy them; we want to convince them, not dictate them; we want them to join us, not fight us.

In the following i sense an almost fascist attitude of contempt: “If you weren’t an intellectual with progressive thinking and creative futuristic ideas, you were no one”, which is somewhat ameliorated by the fact that mandatory and free education is provided.

And the reference to Earth’s resources betrays colonialist impulse:

The Transhuman Revolution seeks to transform the world into a transhumanist-inspired planet. Transhumania aims to fulfil that goal in order to harness the Earth’s resources and to unite with those millions of people on the outside who can, and want to, help us accelerate the greater transhuman mission.

And here he surprisingly commits a grave logic error, taking his reasoning to absurd conclusions:

The optimum transhuman trajectory of civilization is that which creates the most efficient way to produce omnipotenders.  Currently, the best way to accomplish this is to achieve as expediently as possible the highest amount of productive transhuman life house in the maximum amount of human beings; however not all human beings will be a net-positive in producing omnipotenders.  Any individual who ultimately hampers the optimum transhuman trajectory of civilization should be eliminated.  The Humanicide Formula addresses these issues directly.  It determines whether an individual should live or die based on an algorithm measuring transhuman productivity in terms of that individual’s remaining life hours, their resource consumption in a finite system, and their past, present and potential future contributions.

Besides the inane concept omnipotender, meaning an almighty one, which is an unrealistic idea and contributes nothing to the story, there is no need for such a formula in an abundance based society.  This seems to be more of an expression of dislike of, and contempt for, those who show no interest in becoming ‘omnipotenders’, and it implies totalitarian control over the behaviours of individuals.

This is addressed by 33rdsquare as well:

Knights even describes how TEF should make people try to act like computers, to explore and even attain a “cold precisionlike morality” and a “harsh machine-like objectivity.”   Among the controversial ideas Knights and his fellow transhumanists act out would transfer those billions from programs that fund society’s most vulnerable — or as Knights says, “lazy welfare recipients,” “mentally challenged, “uneducated repeat criminals” and “obese second-rate citizens bankrupting our medical system”.

But Jethro manifests more agreeable aspects of his personality.  Here he shows a degree of transparency rarely seen in current governments:

Every one of you is to go to your teams and staff today, and tell them the same thing I have told you: war is imminent. You are also to offer them the same opportunity to leave Transhumania on the same terms I have given you. Tell them everything exactly as I have told you just now.

After 17 years of undivided rule he announces ‘democratic elections’.  At this point transhumanism has been firmly established and accepted, and the presidency smoothly goes to his closest associate.  This raises the question of what criteria should apply for participation in ‘democracy’, a topic to which we will return later.

As we have seen there is not much in the rules by which Transhumania is governed that is applicable to the foundations and policies of current transhumanist parties.  This is quite surprising but can be explained by the way in which transhumanism comes to power in the novel and by Jethro’s l’état c’est moi approach.  Meanwhile in the real world Zoltan is pioneering the transhumanists’ hopefully not too long march through the institutions.

C – Neue Slowenische Kunst

NSK or Neue Slowenische Kunst, which is german for New Slovenian Art, is an art collective based in Lublijana.  It was founded in 1984 by the multimedia group Laibach (established 1980), the visual arts group Irwin (1983), and the theatre group Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre (SNST) (1983–87).  Further groups have joined since then.  In 1992 they founded NSK State in Time, which is described on their website:

The State is conceived as a utopian formation which has no physical territory and is not identified with any existing national state. It is inherently transnational and describes itself as ‘the first global state of the universe.’ It issues passports to anyone who is prepared to identify with its founding principles and citizenship is open to all regardless of national, sexual, religious or other status. It now has several thousand citizens across numerous countries and all continents, including a large number in Nigeria. The NSK State itself is a collective cultural work, formed by both the iconography and statements of its founders and its citizens’ responses to these and to the existence of the state. It is also part of the wider ‘Micronations’ movement which has grown increasingly visible and received growing critical and theoretical attention in recent years.

It is clearly not directly applicable to current or future realpolitics transhumanist parties are dedicated to, but still can serve as a model to work toward in the long view.

Several very interesting articles have been written about it, most putting greater emphasis on its artistic implications than the political ones, even though the two are inseparable.

Conor McGrady writes in The Brooklyn Rail:

A full working group session also examined the question of whether the NSK state should or should not consider itself a micronation. Loosely described as “independent nations or states, but which are not recognized by world governments or major international organizations,” micronations usually exist as social or political simulations. On this issue delegates were unanimous. It was argued that the NSK state transcends micronations, in that for the most part they limit themselves to outmoded forms of government, mimicking fiefdoms, monarchies, and other feudal structures. As the “first global State of the Universe,” it was suggested that the state relate to micronations in a paternal fashion, rather than build fraternal ties.

On the influencers site i found this quote:

The artists who form the collective Irwin are the visual biographers of NSK: their work, framed within the tradition of totalitarian regimes, reappropriated the supremacist symbols of the Eastern European Block to construct their own identity as “state artists”, faithful to a strict collective discipline. They opened consulates, designed badges and distributed passports for the NSK, a “state in time” that takes the paradoxes of state identity to an extreme in order to ultimately reveal a glimpse of the hidden face of existing ideological structures.

The most interesting view is presented by Gordan Djurdjevic in his article ‘Crossing the Wires: Art, Radical Politics, and Esotericism in the Project of Neue Slowenische Kunst’ on the academia site, where he explores the esoteric dimension of NSK, which he introduces with two quotes:

  • “All art is Magick” – Aleister Crowley
  • “All art is subject to political manipulation … except for that which speaks the language of this same manipulation” – Laibach

In 2005 MIT published an extensive treatment of Laibach and NSK by Alexei Monroe under the title of ‘Interrogation Machine’.

Certainly transhumanism will have to develop an artistic foundation, especially in the context of party politics and propaganda.  NSK can provide interesting and valid ideas, and should be studied.

D – Zero State

Zero State is an emerging trans-national, virtual state.  On its website it is presented as follows:

The Zero State (ZS) community works toward the establishment of a VDP (Virtual/Distributed/Parallel) State or “Polystate” committed to Social Futurism and the WAVE Principles.

These terms are explained there subsequently, with the exception of ‘Polystate’ which may still be in flux; it has no WP entry yet, but here Poly- and VDP state are equated.  We will look at Polystate separately later on.

On its site there is a FAQ section that describes its general ideas and the possibilities of participation, but not much is said about either its internal structure or its ideas for the organisation of the world at large.  However in an article on the IEET site by Amon Twyman, who is the founder of ZS, entitled “The Social Futurist policy toolkit” he says: “It is my intent that this toolkit should form a kind of bridge between the broadest, most general level of political discussion on the one hand, and the development of specific policies for local groups on the other”, and lays out the following six policy categories:

  1. Evidence, Balance, & Transition
  2. Universal Basic Income & LVAT
  3. Abolition of Fractional Reserve Banking
  4. Responsible Capitalism, Post-Scarcity, & Emergent Commodity Markets
  5. Human autonomy, privacy, & enhancement
  6. Establishment of VDP (Virtual, Distributed, Parallel) States

It would be redundant to explain these categories here, and i highly recommend reading the original text on the site.  Another promising source may be the book “Zero State: Year Zero”, which to read i did not have enough time.  Another source worth mentioning here is the technoprogessive declaration conceived during the TransVision conference of 2014 and mentioned here by James Hughes.

While far from a comprehensive program, an internal constitution or a vision of how to optimally organise local, national, or virtual association, this toolkit does in fact deliver the “the broadest, most general level of political discussion”, which can be the basis for any and all of the above.  The principles underlying these policies can be applied to all political activities.  Besides the Transpolitica manifesto, which is actually ideologically very close to, if not identical with, Twyman’s social futurism, and well worth studying, this is in fact the most suitable material i have come across in my search for transhumanist political principles.  But that is no accident as ZS is clearly a transhumanist organisation de facto, if not explicitly, and it has begun developing long before transhumanism entered the political arena.

E – Libertarianism

There are two areas where a strong connection between transhumanism and libertarianism exists.

History:  early transhumanism, namely extropianism (now extropism), grew, at least in part, out of the 60s counterculture, a confluence of various movements such as those who work for equality before the law (race, gender, wealth, age) and those who work for mental, physical, and social self-determination.  Many among them declared themselves to be libertarian, quite often reflexively as a reaction to the restrictive policies used against them.  Libertarianism was almost the countercultural default position in those days.

Economy: many of the people who dream up, develop and produce the technologies that are essential to transhumanist thought are unsurprisingly entrepreneurs and capitalists, and a sizable number among them are libertarians, trying to minimise government influence on business activities.

Since the turn of the century an increasing influx of a variety of new ideas and people into transhumanism is underway, and now libertarians are a large minority within the movement.

Even though the core idea of libertarianism is that of individual freedom with an emphasis on protection against intrusion by ‘authority’, this has often been expanded and altered.  Within the economic domain it often refers to the freedom of business activities and strongly overlaps with neoliberalism.  Other variants such as socialist, anarchist and cooperative libertarians promote freedom from corporate as well as governmental interference.

Politically libertarianism plays a significant role mostly in the u.s., while in Europe it is more of philosophical interest.  Because of the diversity in the usage of the term, it is not easy to find common libertarian principles that could apply to transhumanism.

However there is an extropian manifesto that contains the following policy principles:

  • Endless eXtension – perpetual growth in accord with biological and technological evolution
  • Transcending Restriction – “abolish all restrictions imposed by religion, protectionism, segregation, racism, bigotry, sexism, ageism, and any of the other archaic fears and hatreds”
  • Overcoming Property – reform of “archaic, out-dated human laws that govern possession by improving and/or annihilating terms such as ownership, copyright, patent, money and property”
  • Intelligence – “The most valuable material in the universe is information and the imagination to do something with it”
  • Smart Machines – “attainment of Friendly Artificial Intelligence. We promote the development of robots, computers, and all machines that can emulate human thought, copy minds, and attain intelligence that exceeds human ability”

These are explained further on that site.  They appear to be quite compatible with those of ZS mentioned above, again unsurprisingly.  Another concept that i find very useful is that of the Proactionary Principle explained on the Extropy Institute’s site.

F – Socialism

Even though socialist ideas have been promoted since long before Karl Marx, his version is often associated with the term.  Founded in materialism that holds that history is driven by the changing material base, the economic conditions, which determines the superstructure, society’s culture and politics, it is based on the principles of collective ownership, compensation by contribution and production for use.

While for Marx socialism was a transient period leading by historical necessity to communism, the various forms of socialism we see today, including social democracy, would be described by him as reformist.  He made explicit this distinction in his 1848 Communist Manifesto.

Unfortunately he did not foresee the development of the power of the media we see today, which does a lot to obscure the perception of real class differences, especially in the u.s. where the term ‘class’ has been successfully banned from the vocabulary in order to keep up the pretence that class does not exist, which leads almost half the population to regularly vote contrary to their own material interests.  He also ignored, understandably, the fact that the traits that lead humans to capitalist behaviour in the first place, namely hoarding and raiding, control and violence, are anchored deeply within the genetic code as they proved to be conducive to survival during a long period of human history.  This was the main reason that the only real experiment to implement his model three decades after his death, the soviet union, showed signs of failing even under Lenin and turned into an imperialist ‘thugocracy’ under Stalin, from which it never recovered.  Thus socialism as it exists today is quite distinct from the marxist idea and comes in a wide range of variations which can also be quite distinct from each other.

As it would exceed the scope of this writing to explore the many variations of socialism that today are alive and, because of the accelerating excesses of capitalism, increasingly kicking, it shall suffice to point again to the above quoted article by Twyman.  At least points 2, 3, and 4 in his policy toolkit imply a more or less profound reform if not abolition of capitalism.  In fact the article also includes ‘A note on Marxism’, in which he says:

Social Futurism does not deny the Marxist analysis of the problem, but seeks a staged transition to a post-Capitalist society which does not attempt to undermine the entire basis of our current society in a single move.

I completely agree with this position, but in this context point out that his transhumanism, or ‘social futurism’, is one form, in my view the most advanced, of what Marx would have called ‘socialist reformism’.

Even the third point in the extropian manifesto ‘Overcoming Property’, far from being libertarian as understood in the u.s., is in complete contradiction to the foundation of capitalism.

In closing i must point to the above mentioned principle of ‘production for use’ as opposed to production for profit.  As the latter takes an increasing proportion of value out of the economy and makes it disappear into a finite holding of unproductive land and real estate value as well as an infinite holding of financial or virtual value, transhumanism, which is based in reason, but also any reasonable economist, will see virtue in this principle.

G – Anarchism

Like socialism anarchism is a historic phenomenon with close links to the former that also is alive today in theory but much less in practice of political significance.  There are no anarchist governments in existence and no significant anarchist parties, the latter actually being a self-contradictory concept.  Another problem is that anarchism in much of public perception still carries terrorist connotations.

And like socialism it also manifests a wide range of sometimes contradictory variants, too many to list in this context, but a fairly comprehensive overview can be found here.

However there exists an explicit form of transhumanist anarchism with its own manifesto.  It claims to be based on the Transpolitica manifesto, from which it distinguishes itself by introducing the concept of vanguardism:

Vanguardism traditionally conceived of a small group of people who value a socialist state to guide the working class (proletariat) away from the tyranny of the capitalist-state and the few who run it (bourgeoisie)”.

This is sensible only under the premise of misidentifying socialism as leninism, stalinism or some other such manifestation, and adds nothing of value to the discourse.

While the manifesto is perhaps the most detailed presentation of transhumanist policy ideas, and i essentially agree with its intention and recommend it as a rich source of material and inspiration, i see two major flaws with it.

To associate transhumanism with anarchism, and anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism in particular, instead of promoting these ideas simply as transhumanist policy principles, is a tactically unwise move that will not find much resonance in populations of currently existing polities.  Likewise including the Fermi paradox is unneeded baggage and the question “Have millions of civilisations gone extinct because they could not realize such a [anarchist] society?” is naively self centered and showing an untranshumanist lack of imagination.

It appears to be in disagreement with engaging in electoral procedures within current systems that even allow for such an option.  “Said reform rarely happens as parties become interconnected with the current neoliberal system”.  My conclusion is not inescapable, but a political party by its very nature has to be connected with existing systems, none of which are by definition neoliberal, neoliberalism being just the current marketing device of capitalism.

H – Democracy

Even more so than socialism and anarchism, the term is applied in a myriad of ways, ranging from the just mentioned anarchism through western systems to the DPRK.  Everyone, including transhumanism, and even Jethro Knight’s version, wants to be ‘democratic’ because of the populist attraction it has assumed over the past two centuries.  In truth the rule of the people has remained elusive, and personally i object to it at least until ‘the people’ have, through voluntary, if possible, genetic reprogramming or otherwise, purged themselves of the obstructive tendencies acquired in the course of human evolution.  But a more plausible solution appears to be the delegation of policy decisions to future machine intelligence altogether.  However neither is currently or in the immediate future available and the idea is beyond our current concern; my point here is that like everything else, the idea of rule by the people should be questioned.

But if the ‘will of the people’ is to partake in the generation of political decisions, there should be more efficient ways to accomplish this than through representative bodies, despite the fact that that is currently the only model being practiced.  Most people do not feel like they have any real influence on politics, especially on the state level, and the clearest indicator for this is the often quite low rate of electoral participation.  I shall here present brief descriptions of some alternative approaches.

1. Delegative Democracy

There is precious little information out there on this concept despite it being very plausible at first glance.  The best i could find is Bryan Ford’s 2002 paper, and apparently its last two sections are still under construction.  In 2014 he published ‘Revisited’, which contains some further links.  Both are here.

The idea is that each voting right holder can choose to delegate his vote, preferably to a person he trusts and knows to hold similar views on the matters of concern as himself, or to become a delegate himself.  This principle is repeatable so that the next level will always be comprised of fewer delegates than the previous.  Each delegate is afforded a degree of influence corresponding to the number of votes he represents.  The aim is to combine the principle of direct democracy with the practicality of representative democracy.

Advantages are among others that voters, even those who have no time or inclination to study the issues in question, can feel that their votes are not wasted, and that the cost for entering the process is low.  The WP entry contains a more detailed list, and Ford’s paper discusses ideas on practical problems and solutions.

Software solutions for implementing the systems have been developed and European Pirate Parties are using them.  There is also a brief and quite superficial video introduction.

The model is certainly one to be explored, discussed and tested.

2. Deliberative Democracy

Beyond the question of how to best recognise and realise voters’ intentions, this model is concerned with the quality of those intentions.  Valid decisions can only be arrived at through explicit deliberation free of the influence of prevailing power structures.

The main forum promoting this view is the Center for Deliberative Democracy (CDD) at Stanford and its website contains research papers, events, briefing documents, questionnaires, a downloadable toolkit, case studies, videos and press publications.

The case studies always involve deliberative polling, whereby random samples of people, considered to be statistically representative, convene to intensely deliberate certain issues under the guidance of trained moderators.  They are polled before, during and after their discussions and considerable changes in content and quality of opinion are often found.

Currently the main proponent of the concept is James S. Fishkin, director of the CDD.  He and others present a series of videos that will give the reader a good idea of the theory and current practice of deliberative democracy.

In his 1985 book ‘Is Democracy Possible?’, last updated in 2014, John Burnheim presents a much more profound approach, based on rethinking the current social and political structures quite radically.

He envisions the obliteration of the state, promotes the concept of decentralisation and introduces the idea of ‘demarchy’.  I quote:

In order to have democracy we must abandon elections, and in most cases referendums, and revert to the ancient principle of choosing by lot those who are to hold various public offices. Decision-making bodies should be statistically representative of those affected by their decisions. The illusory control exercised by voting for representatives has to be replaced by the chance of nominating and being selected as an active participant in the formulation of decisions. Elections, I shall argue, inherently breed oligarchies. Democracy is possible only if the decision-makers are a representative sample of the people concerned. I shall call a polity based on this principle a demarchy, using “democracy” to cover both electoral democracy and demarchy […..]

The whole tendency of demarchy is to replace the rigid legal electoral and administrative procedures of state democracy, which tend to standardize and atomize people, by flexible, responsive, participatory procedures that permit and foster maximum variety.

The whole last chapter is devoted to this concept of demarchy.  He lists four conditions for its realisation:

a) The first condition of demarchy being possible is that the society in which it is to be instituted be reasonably democratic in its social attitudes. While recognizing that people may differ greatly in particular abilities, the demarchist does not believe that there is any group of people whose capacities entitle them to a position of special or wide-ranging power in the community. At the base level choices made by people of no special ability are likely to be reasonable provided they are based on sound knowledge. They may need expert advice, but the judgement about whose advice to take is appropriately made by lay persons.

b) The productive technology of the society must be ample to provide a good deal of time and resources that can be devoted to public debate and decision-making.

c) People must value the opportunity for effective participation in matters that interest them and be prepared to leave other matters to those who have those interests, provided they are satisfied that the system is fair and effective.

d) People must be anxious to avoid rigidity, bureaucracy and concentration of power. They must want to avoid giving power to the state if other social mechanisms will produce common goods reliably and fairly.

The book is too full of ideas to do them justice here.  One particular gem that i want to include, because it is the expression of an essentially transhumanist view: “What human nature is is a matter of what human beings can do.”

The whole topic of Deliberative Democracy and this book in particular offer plenty of food for thought, and i highly recommend incorporating these ideas in discussing and developing a foundation for transhumanist politics.

3. Participism

As the name implies, this concept attempts to allow for determination by the people through active participation in both political and economical processes.  These two branches are known separately as parpolity and parecon; their main proponents are Michael Albert, Robin Hahnel and Stephen R.  Shalom.  Instead of discussing these features here suffice it to describe them in the words of the authors.

In a short interview Shalom describes parpolity as

A type of direct democracy, using a system of nested councils. Everyone would be a member of a primary council, which would be small enough for face-to-face decision making and for real deliberation. Decisions that affected only or overwhelmingly the members of one of these councils would be made in that council. Decisions that affected more than the people in a single council would be made in a higher-level council that would consist of delegates from several lower-level councils. There would then be additional council layers as needed to accommodate the entire society. […..] There are other aspects of the Parpolity model—such as the High Council Court, a mechanism that attempts to protect the rights of minorities without (like the US Supreme Court) becoming an instrument of minority rule.

On parecon Hahnel says:

Parecon is a proposal or vision for how to accomplish economic functions consistent with classlessness, self-management, solidarity, equity, diversity, and ecological good sense.  Parecon is not, however, a blueprint, but is rather a formulation of some critical attributes a few key aspects of economics need to have if we are to accomplish desirable aims. Beyond those critical attributes of key aspects, there is, of course, room for great diversity […..]

And what are parecon’s key aspects? First, workers and consumers self-managing councils, where self-management means people have a say in decisions proportionate to the extent they are affected by them […..]

The next key feature of parecon is called balanced job complexes. This names a new way of dividing tasks among jobs. In a participatory economy, you do a job, so do I, and so do all others who are of age and able to do work that contributes to society. More, we each choose a job that we wish to do […..] we define jobs so that each one includes a mix of tasks that convey, overall, roughly the same degree of empowerment as other balanced jobs convey to other workers […..]

The third defining feature of a participatory economy is a new norm for determining how much of the social output each member of society receives […..] people should get a share of the total social output in accord with the duration, intensity, and onerousness or socially valued labor that they do […..]

Finally, the last key aspect of parecon and the hardest to be brief about, is called participatory planning. This approach to allocation replaces markets and central planning, each of which directly violates central aims and values of parecon and each of which also generates class division and class rule […..] Very briefly, workers’ and consumers’ councils, which were mentioned earlier, cooperatively negotiate economic outcomes, without incurring undue costs in time allotted and in a manner conducive not only to self-management, but to the most informed choices possible. The procedures involve making proposals, assessing them, and refining them, all in light of steadily improving indications of true and full social and ecological costs and benefits, until arriving at a plan.

There are several books by each, Albert and Hahnel, and one by Shalom available at Amazon, as well as a graphic book titled Parecomic by Michael Wilson about the concept and about Albert in particular.  A very rich source is the media group Z Communications, cofounded and coedited by Albert.

Deadlines prohibit me to deeply review all the material, but it certainly should be included in the discussion of our topic.

4. Others

There are many other ideas for improving the performance of current systems, more than i have space here to address.  But i want to mention the work of Roberto Mangabeira Unger. In his idea of Empowered Democracy he emphasises the need for social experimentation and wants to see it given room within current polities in the expectation that once underway it will lead to progressive change.  Much of his work can be viewed on and downloaded from his website.

J – Polystate

Even though Amon Twyman uses the term, as mentioned, to categorise ZS, i could not find any further references to it, except last year’s eponymous book by Zach Weinersmith.  This is one of the most interesting ideas i have come across, especially in the transhumanist context as it deals with political constructs based in virtual spaces.  Under the assumption that politics will be increasingly migrating into virtual spaces, as many other activities like business and the media already have done and are doing, i have approached the book from the perspective of looking for solutions not only for developing political theories and performing certain political functions such as voting, but for governance itself.  However instead of internal political structures and functions it concentrates on problems of interstate relationships.

Weinersmith introduces these three concepts:

  1. Anthrostate – “A set of laws and institutions that govern the behavior of individuals, but which do not govern a behavior within geographic borders”.
  2. Geostate – This is a political entity defined by the fact that its governance usually extends over a fixed geographical area. This includes almost all current nation states.
  3. Polystate – “The polystate is the collection of anthrostates in a hypothetical human society”.

The central topic of the book is the anthrostate, and the relationships of multiple not necessarily compatible anthrostates within a polystate.  Weinersmith assumes reasonably that the internal structures and functions as well as their underlying ideologies can vary wildly.  About the concept itself he says: “I am not a proponent of this idea or a detractor”.  The idea of ‘government of choice’ is not a new one.  It is known under the concept of panarchism, first introduced by Paul Émile de Puydt in his 1860 paper ‘Panarchy’.

Unfortunately i let myself be misled into thinking that anthrostates as well as polystates are based within one or several geostates, probably because it is never explicitly stated that a polystate indeed is based within its own geographic area, and because ZS, the one polystate mentioned earlier, is obviously based within many geostates.  Indeed at location 605 is this quote: “WS-1 [a hypothetical polystate] does not claim any territory”.  But there are several other quotes i could list that seem to indicate that polystates can indeed have their own territory.  This conflict is never really resolved.

Much of the book deals with relations between anthrostates, exploring ways in which problems resulting from incompatibilities in for instance economical, criminal, electoral and taxational laws can be resolved, including warfare.  Under current conditions no geostate would cede authority in these matters or tolerate these conflicts within its territory.

As initially mentioned many transhumanist parties have sprung up across the globe, all aiming at participating in national elections except for one: TPV (transhumanist party virtual).  This can not be a true party until it finds a state, such as an anthrostate, within which it could compete.  However the two virtual states mentioned are not prepared for electoral democracy, and may not ever decide to be.  As i know of no other virtual state that is, most likely because an established legislature would not have the power to implement any of the above mentioned policies within the territory of any geostate, and therefore would under current conditions be of limited utility, the whole issue remains hypothetical.

Indeed Weinersmith has described his book as a thought experiment, and as such i find it to be a good source of ideas.  In a recent interview he refers to the “discretization of experience”, by which he means the increasing variety of choices for customers afforded by technology, which he extrapolates, very reasonably, to include choices for customers of government.  In his book however he takes this idea to the point of having for instance an anarchist, a communist, a liberal and a fascist sharing the same house (possibly even the same apartment?) and living under different governments and laws.  This shows the inherent weakness of the oxymoronic concept of virtual reality.  There are only two ways in which it can be achieved:  subjectively, by induced amnesia so that the subject is not aware of any reality outside the one he experiences, which is the model assumed by simulation theories, or objectively, by transitioning from physical existence into virtual existence as software while maintaining awareness of the existence of physical reality.  Unless one accepts the esoteric concept of involution according to which the physical plane of existence emerged from the astral, and that in turn from the causal one, all nonphysical realities always remain rooted in the physical.  To live within a computer its physical machinery must be maintained, protected and energised.  The same is true for a virtual polystate, and sharing it with an IS militant would sooner or later lead to conflict not only between anthrostates but also involving the not so virtual reality of physical swords and bombs.

In conclusion it seems clear that Weinersmith does not offer or try to offer any real solutions to the problem of what used to be subcultures multiplying and consolidating in virtual spaces and reconciling their differences with the physical basis within which they operate.  That will have to be, and is being, done by emerging virtual states, parties and other political bodies themselves.   As for the objective of developing political structures congruent with transhumanist thought, he takes no position here.

Conclusion

Even though the presented constitutes a very limited sample, there is certainly no shortage of ideas, and there are some more elaborate models, out there that can and should be used in discussing and developing theories that will be coherent within a transhumanist framework.  Transhumanist parties and their theoreticians have a big task ahead which is alleviated by agreement on common principles while giving room to accommodating different national conditions.

But i have been encouraged by seeing how many good brains have been working on these ideas for years already.

On this optimistic note i will leave the reader with an interesting historical observation published by the Center for Systemic Peace.

Global Trends in Governance

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.

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 7 of the Transpolitica book “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”. Transpolitica welcomes feedback. Your comments will help to shape the evolution of Transpolitica communications.