The Case For Universal Prosperity

By Michael Hrenka, Constructive Philosophical Futurist, Radivis.com

Introduction

In this chapter I present two different versions of a universal basic income (UBI). The first part is about a moderate UBI that aims to cover basic living expenses. As short-term goal I propose experimentation with this moderate concept with the medium-term goal to implement it on the national level. It does not matter much which nation is meant exactly, because the logic of the UBI will be basically the same for all nations.

For the long term I propose the introduction of a more generous version of the UBI in the second part of this chapter. Under the right circumstances, this could enable us to enter an era of universal prosperity and great economic and cultural flourishing.

Reasons to consider a universal basic income

In industrial countries the wages of the vast majority have been stagnating since the 1980s [i]. What little growth there currently is flows mainly to the wealthy, increasing economic inequality to dangerously high levels that threaten both social cohesion and further economic growth, due to the demand side breaking away. Economic crises threaten the existence of many people. All of these problems may be exacerbated severely by the coming wave of automation which will most likely create a huge level of technological unemployment. Innovative integrative solutions for these problems are sorely needed.

Approach of this chapter

There are many ideology-driven efforts to promote a universal basic income. While these may be quite convincing to those who share these ideologies, they fail to convince a large majority of the concept.

We cannot allow this to happen, because the concept of a universal basic income has merit beyond narrow ideological arguments, and can profit everyone in one sense or another. That’s why it’s important to leave out ideology as far as possible and choose a more scientific approach that potentially everyone can subscribe to.

The introduction of a radical concept like a universal basic income requires building a large supporting alliance behind it. Ideological arguments threaten the cohesion of this alliance, so they should be minimized in favour of a more empirical approach: Consider the facts of previous experiments with UBI and promote more and better experimentation.

An important component of political and economic systems consists of the psychological and economic incentives of all participants: What structural forces guide their decisions? How can these societal structures be optimized to create better decisions and subsequently better results?

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Part 1: Universal Basic Income

What is a universal basic income?

There are different definitions of a universal basic income. I choose one that allows the analysis of the salient structural components of a UBI separately.

A UBI is an income that fulfils the four criteria of:

  • Universality: Everyone gets it regardless of how much property they own or what other income sources they have.
  • Individuality: It is paid to them individually and directly as money.
  • Unconditionality: It is not dependent on meeting certain activity of lifestyle requirements, like a requirement to accept offers to work.
  • Sufficiency: It is high enough to cover the basic living expenses and enable people to do productive work.

Why a universal basic income

Next, let’s consider these four criteria individually to see why they make sense:

Universality

This criterion may be the most radical of all: Everyone gets a basic income, whether they are rich or poor, young or old, sick or healthy, employed or unemployed.

But why? First of all because it’s easy and simple. The complicated, expensive, fallible, and problematic means-testing that is used to test whether someone has the means to cover their own living expenses without government help becomes obsolete. With a universal basic income nobody will fall through the gaps of the social security system, because everyone is covered under any circumstance. Unnecessary and annoying bureaucracy will fall away.

Another very important point is that getting a basic income independently from other income sources removes the negative incentives for getting work that are present in our current social security systems. Because current social security payments are income dependent, getting a job means that these payments are reduced or stopped entirely. Effectively, this means that income on top of contemporary social security payments are taxed with a rate between 75% and 100%! With the implementation of a universal basic income, this effective tax rate could drop to 0%, or at least to a much more modest level [ii].

Individuality

Everyone gets the basic income individually as money, not as food stamps, vouchers, free services, or anything else. There is no intermediary between the state who pays the income and recipient of the income other than maybe the bank who processes the payment.

Indirect payments, for example to family fathers who could get the payments for the whole family, could be withheld from the intended recipients. In that case, the income would be ineffective, because it doesn’t reach those who might need it most.

Unconditionality

There is no requirement to work or get a formal education for qualifying for the universal basic income.

Having any conditions apart from age or place of residence on a universal basic income would necessitate a huge bureaucratic apparatus which would have to check whether these conditions are actually met. This would not only represent an unwarranted intrusion into the privacy of everyone, but it would also increase the cost of a UBI significantly and unnecessarily.

If such conditions were in place despite of their cost, they could be wielded as tools of coercion by the state. However, the state already has a sufficient and strictly checked and balanced tool to regulate the behaviour of its citizens: the legal system. If an offense is not sufficiently bad to fine or imprison a person, it cannot be so bad that it warrants the reduction of a guaranteed basic income (which would effectively be a fine that had to be paid regularly).

Sufficiency

The UBI must at least be high enough to cover the most basic living expenses, meaning food, shelter, and clothing.

If it doesn’t, then additional social security payments would be required – thus undermining the simplification of the system and other advantages that a UBI would otherwise enable.

Additionally, the UBI must be high enough to enable people productive participation in society – which is what the word work should actually mean. Expressed more concretely, the UBI enables people to do meaningful work, whether in a self-employed manner or in a job working for someone else.

In our current time this requirement means that the UBI should cover the costs of

  • reasonable transportation
  • an internet connection
  • a computer and the electricity for its operation
  • at least minimal health care

Without these requirements, people cannot be expected to meaningfully participate in the labour market. So, the UBI needs to provide for these basics (where they are not already provided for by the state in some other way), otherwise the economy would suffer from opportunity costs of potential workers not being able to enter productive jobs, because they are too poor for doing so.

In other words, the UBI should enable people to work for free if they choose to forfeit any kind of luxury. This also means that a minimum wage becomes optional, because no wage is required to sustain the existence and basic productivity of workers. With a sufficient UBI, people would work for achieving their personal goals and wishes, and not for sustaining their existence.

Can it be implemented realistically?

Implementing an insufficient basic income could be easily be done by cutting all current social security payments and using the money that was spent on them to finance a quite modest basic income. But in that case, there would be a lot of people left with an insufficient basic income trying to get by somehow without the possibility to get additional income from social security. This would most likely create more trouble than it’s worth.

Realistically, a sufficient universal basic income cannot be easily achieved right now without increasing some taxes. The real question therefore is: What kind of taxes should be used to finance a UBI?

It is reasonable to expect that a UBI would have effects that save government spending, for example due to lower crime rates and overall better health, reducing health care costs. Such effects have been observed in various studies testing a UBI or a related scheme [iii],[iv].

However, it would be unreasonable to assume that these savings would make the UBI finance itself completely, so that the necessity to increase taxes would disappear. In the following, I briefly explain a few categories of taxes that can play a major role in financing a UBI.

Land value tax

A land value tax (LVT) [v] is basically a usage fee for land. The amount paid depends on the unimproved land value only, which is the market value of the land minus the value of the buildings, private property, and improvements on the land.

In some sense, a LVT is an economically optimal and quite untypical tax, because it doesn’t create any economic disincentives for productive activity, but actually creates incentives to use land optimally! Therefore, introducing a LVT also has the potential to increase economic growth.

A LVT is also progressive in the sense that mainly wealthy landlords would pay the tax, while those who don’t own land don’t have to pay that tax.

There’s also the fact that evading a LVT is very difficult, because land cannot be hidden or moved.

A practical issue with a LVT is that it might be a hard political challenge to introduce it.

Consumption taxes

Consumption taxes like the value-added tax incentivize saving money and disincentivize spending it on rather unnecessary products.

Generally, consumption taxes behave regressively, because wealthier individuals typically spend a smaller fraction of their income on consumption, while poorer individuals have to spend a large fraction of their income on necessary living expenses.

With a UBI, this regressive tendency of the consumption tax is reduced, because the basic costs for living are already covered by the UBI.

Consumption taxes can be increased for certain kinds of goods. This makes sense if these goods are problematic in some respects, for example if they cause health issues like addictive drugs. Legalizing certain currently illegal drugs and taxing them highly (unless their users get a medical prescription for them) may make more sense than continuing a costly and ineffective war on drugs.

It would also be possible to tax “luxury goods” very highly in order to introduce some progressive effects to consumption taxes. Unfortunately, the classifications of good into basic goods and luxury goods can be quite problematic in general. It could be argued that with a UBI this classification is not strictly necessary, because the costs for the most basic goods are already covered by the UBI, so that people would spend all additional income on some form of relative “luxury” anyway.

Income taxes

Income taxes are levied on personal income and company profits. Income taxes on personal income encourage companies to replace workers with machines, since machines don’t pay income taxes.

This has led some thinkers (for example, Braus [vi] and Winfield [vii]) to come up with the idea to introduce a tax on automation, which should be used to finance a UBI. However, an automation tax would require complex measurement and regulation of automation. Furthermore, it would discourage automation and thus slow progress and make the country in which the tax was introduced less competitive.

If the automation encouraging effects of individual income taxation are to be avoided, replacing individual income taxation with consumption taxes, land value taxes, and taxes on company profits would be a viable alternative.

One of the few advantages of income taxes is that they allow for a rather fine grained control of tax progression. They can be used to regulate income inequality towards optimal levels even when other measures for doing so prove to be insufficient.

Finally, progressive taxation of company profits can also be used to create more innovative markets. Big companies can use economies of scale and therefore have some decisive advantages over smaller competitors. This encourages the emergence of problematic monopolies and oligopolies. Taxing large profits of big companies higher can help to even out the field in order to establish a more competitive and performant market.

Green taxes

Green taxes, also called environmental taxes are taxes on environmental pollutants. They should ideally be paid by the polluters themselves in order to create an incentive to use more environmentally friendly methods.

A relatively often discussed green tax is a tax on CO2 emissions, called a “carbon tax”. It should be paid by the users of fossil fuels. It was recently proposed to use a carbon tax to fund a small universal basic income in the USA [viii].

Because companies usually pass on the costs of environmental taxes to the consumer, green taxes effectively act as consumption taxes. Green taxes are also rather regressive, in that low income households use a relatively large fraction of their income for fossil fuels [ix] . Overall, green taxes behave quite a lot like specific consumption taxes, and they may be beneficial to incentivize the transition to a sustainable economy.

Social dividends

An alternative or complementary way to financing a UBI through taxes is to pay the UBI out of a fund that collects dividends from publicly owned capital, for example national resources or government owned (shares of) corporations.

A most notable example of such a fund is the Alaska Permanent Fund [x] which is financed by oil revenues. It already implements a kind of insufficient UBI for all residents of Alaska, though it is not totally unconditional: People who were convicted for a felony, or were incarcerated for having committed one, don’t get a payment for that year.

Wherever nations own large natural resources, they could use them to finance a significant part of a UBI. Were this possible, it would be preferable to using income or consumption taxes.

But what about government owned companies? Considering the fact that most states are highly indebted [xi], the prospect of them buying or creating companies in order support a UBI with their profits seems highly unrealistic, even if that was a politically and economically uncontroversial move to make.

Social dividends unfortunately have the drawback that they represent a more volatile income source than tax revenues. Therefore, the UBI fund should ideally have reserves for the case that current revenues from a social dividend are insufficient.

A conservative compromise model

For the rest of this article I assume a model which I see as a suboptimal – but realistic – conservative compromise:

  • Almost all social security policies get slashed in favour of a sufficient UBI.
  • Consumption taxes and income taxes are both increased so much that they can cover any additional cost that a sufficient UBI would impose.
  • Land value taxation and social dividends are not used to finance the UBI, even though that might be seen as preferred solution.

The reason for assuming such a problematic compromise is to demonstrate that a UBI would represent a large net gain for almost everyone, even without an optimal financing model.

What are the likely positive effects of a universal basic income?

It is quite reasonable to expect significant social, economic, and psychological gains from a UBI. Additionally, many different groups will experience quite specific advantages, if a UBI is implemented.

Social advantages

Existence-threatening poverty would be effectively abolished. Currently, there is the possibility for people to lose their job and also to slip through the cracks of the social safety net. This can cause a continuous background of fear, anxiety, and stress, which is of course bad for health, happiness, and productivity.

In general, due to various different reasons, poverty causes people to be unhappy and less productive. In part, this is because being poor is expensive [xii]. A UBI could help the poor to escape the poverty trap and to get better paid jobs.

Additionally, poverty can create high incentives for criminal behaviour. Thus, it should be expected that a UBI will reduce the crime rate significantly, which would increase the safety of everyone.

Economic advantages

It is hard to predict what effects a UBI would have on the economy. Also, the effects would depend on how the UBI was implemented. Nevertheless, it is possible to have some reasonable expectations about how a UBI would change the economy.

First of all, the income distribution would change moderately. Those who profit the most will be those who have almost nothing at the moment. Low income individuals will profit significantly from a UBI. Middle class earners will be largely unaffected, because what they gain from the UBI they will essentially have to finance on their own through their taxes. Only wealthy individuals will see a modest increase in their tax burden. Overall, income inequality will be slightly reduced, and there will be more demand for consumer goods, because now the vast majority of people will have more money to spend.

Most companies will generally profit from this rise in consumer demand, unless they have specialized on selling upper class luxury goods.

However, there is a good chance that the increased consumer demand will stimulate overall economic growth [xiii]. Also, a UBI would make people bolder and would encourage them to start risky endeavours like creating a company, and to take advantage of risky opportunities. More small businesses would spring up and some of them would turn into big businesses eventually. The rate of innovation would rise as a consequence, thus accelerating the increase of living standards for all.

In the long run, everyone would profit significantly.

Psychological advantages

With a UBI, personal motivation will shift. The pressure to work in order to maintain one’s existence is lowered. Therefore, people will be more positively motivated to work towards achieving their personal goals, rather than to work in order not to die. This opens up the question what it is that people actually want for themselves, and they get the opportunity to think about that in more depth. Also, with a solid unconditional income, they have more autonomy to follow their own goals, rather than to conform to arbitrary social expectations which might be ill suited for them.

According to the psychological self-determination theory [xiv], there are three basic psychological needs: Autonomy, competence, and relatedness. A UBI strengthens the autonomy of individuals, because they can do what they want without falling into the risk of losing their unconditional income. Thus, they can focus on achieving competence and strengthening their relatedness to others. Thus, they will be more likely to thrive.

When it comes to work motivation, there have been many experiments which demonstrate that people who are more motivated by the desirability of a task in itself perform better than those who are motivated by external rewards like money (see the book Drive by Daniel H. Pink [xv]). The higher the UBI, the more one should expect motivation move from the problematic extrinsic motivation to the more benign intrinsic motivation. This line of reasoning will be especially important for the second part of this chapter.

Advantages for specific groups

In addition to those general advantages, it’s worth pointing out some specific effects for different groups within the population.

  • Workers benefit from higher motivation, more flexibility, a better working climate, more opportunities for further training, and more safety for creating their own small businesses.
  • Freelancers can focus more on delivering high quality products and services.
  • Students profit from higher flexibility and can choose to devote more of their time for studying without going into debt.
  • Business owners profit from higher consumer demand, more motivated workers, and suffer a milder catastrophe in the case of bankruptcy.
  • Unemployed people have more time to look for a job that fits to them well – sparing companies and themselves from a lot of frustration. They are also much more motivated to work for relatively low wages, because they can keep most of what they earn.
  • Chronically sick and disabled people also have more motivation to get healthy and find a job they can still perform in.
  • Pensioners similarly can be much more motivated to do some work for which they are paid.
  • Wealthy people profit from higher security and a high degree of economic and political stability. There’s no need to build bunkers to hide from the pitchforks [xvi].

How could a UBI be introduced?

There are many different possibilities for introducing a UBI, each with their own distinctive advantages and disadvantages.

Introducing a UBI at once

Theoretically, a nationwide introduction of a UBI that replaces most social safety systems could be done immediately. Of course, you might think “the sooner, the better”, but while the advantages of a UBI might arrive soon, all kinds of possible disadvantages would arrive at the same time. If it’s implemented the wrong way it cause significant negative consequences and would deter other nations from introducing a UBI.

Unconditional incomes for specific groups

Instead of starting with a universal basic income for everyone, it might be considered to create unconditional incomes for specific groups first, for example students or pensioners. This may be slightly less risky than introducing a UBI all at once, but there’s also no good justification for choosing this approach.

Gradual vertical introduction

With the argument that some advantages of a UBI might be seen even when introducing it at a low level, it could be introduced very gradually while lowering other social security payments by the amount of the UBI.

A gradual transition like this may be best to minimize problematic disruptions for individuals and systems, but it would also fail to provide the full advantages of the UBI to anyone. Also, it would be a relatively expensive way to introduce it, since all of the current bureaucracy would still exist during the transition period.

Local introduction

All of the studies about basic incomes have been done locally, so the introduction of a UBI may start locally, too. For that purpose, it would be introduced in select cities immediately, indefinitely, and completely. Those cities would be the perfect bases for long-term experimental research. If problems arise within these cities, we will learn how to fix them before the UBI is introduced on a larger scale.

Once the results on the city level have been proven to be sufficiently positive, introduction of the UBI may move on to the regional level, and then the national level. This way, ideally, a UBI could be eventually introduced in all nations.

A side-effect of this approach is that the model cities and regions would probably become very attractive and that many people move to those locations. This has actually happened in the UBI experiment in Namibia in which there was significant migration into the village that paid a UBI even though immigrants would not receive it!

Overall, this is probably the best way to introduce a UBI, because it can demonstrate the positive effects (especially the long-term effects) quickly and without huge costs. Also, the risks of this approach are quite minimal.

Counterarguments against UBI

Let’s proceed with responding to some frequent counterarguments against introducing a UBI.

People will stop working

Proper economic considerations and empirical findings [xvii] tell us otherwise: People would work more, on average, if there was a UBI, rather than less.

Those who temporarily do stop working usually have a very good reason for doing so, for example studying or caring for a child.

It cannot be financed

The quota of state expenditures to gross national income (GNI) of industrialized nations typically lies between 30 and 60 percent. Most of the expenditures are comprised of social spending. If such a state decided to spend 30 percent of its GNI on a UBI and limited other state expenditures to 25 percent, it would have roughly the quota of France, and a lesser quota than Denmark. France and Denmark are nice countries that have a properly working economy. So, they are a proof that such high expenditures as are required for financing a UBI don’t have catastrophic results.

But how much do 30 percent of the GNI of different nations represent? Here’s a list of what 30 percent of the GNI per capita would mean for different nations as UBI per year (in US Dollar; source: Wolfram Alpha GNI estimates for 2013):

  • Switzerland: $27,200
  • Australia: $19,600
  • USA: $16,000
  • Canada: $15,600
  • Germany: $14,200
  • Japan: $13,900
  • France: $13,000
  • UK: $12,500
  • Italy: $10,800
  • Spain: $9,000

These values are slightly higher if the full UBI is restricted to persons of age 18 and older. It is often suggested that children only get 50% of the UBI that adults would receive.

It happens that these values are roughly at the level of sufficiency for the respective nations. Therefore, a UBI can be financed.

Rich taxpayers and corporations will flee the country, so the UBI is unsustainable

A UBI would increase consumer demand and may lower labour costs. This should make any country introducing a UBI attractive to investors even if taxes are high.

Also, rich people and corporations rather use tax evasion schemes than actually leaving the country. That will hardly change with the introduction of a UBI alone.

Immigration will become rampant and make a UBI unsustainable

This may become a real issue if other nations fail to introduce a UBI, too. If anything, this is an argument for international cooperation and coordination when it comes to introducing universal basic incomes.

And if it really turns out to be problematic, immigration still can become more tightly regulated.

A UBI would cause inflation

Inflation mainly depends on how much money is created. No additional money needs to be created for a UBI, because it is covered by taxes. Nevertheless, there are a few theoretical arguments that suggest a UBI might cause inflation anyway. Interestingly, real world experience from partial basic incomes suggests that a UBI might actually reduce inflation to healthy levels [xviii].

Additionally, if a UBI would turn out to increase economic growth, then it would actually have deflationary effects. These can easily be compensated by creating more money.

Part 2: Universal Prosperity

What is universal prosperity?

My idea of universal prosperity is that we can lift the living standards of everyone to a really decent level within the next decades. This “prosperity” life standard would include the following:

  • Acceptable shelter and clothing
  • Really healthy food
  • As much education as desired
  • A generous amount of transportation within the country
  • Multiple vacations per year
  • Good medical treatment, including preventive and regenerative treatment
  • Frequent participation in cultural events
  • Computing devices with high speed internet connections
  • 3d printers and sufficient feedstock materials for printing a large variety of goods
  • Some extra money left for donations

These requirements would be contrasted with what I don’t consider necessary for a “prosperity” lifestyle:

  • Owning a large flat or house
  • Owning a private car, yacht or jet (in the coming decades we will probably get used to take self-driving cars)
  • Owning any kind of “luxury” items
  • Being able to fly around the world multiple times a month
  • Using all of the very latest high end top notch tech gadgets
  • Having lots of saved money or assets
  • Having a personal human or robot butler
  • Hanging around in expensive clubs, restaurants and hotels
  • Getting the very best education from one or more private human teachers
  • Being able to afford the very best services for everything

All of these things might be nice, and people of course have the right to aspire to achieve them through hard work, but they are not a requirement for a happy life.

Under very optimistic circumstances, we might have universal prosperity by around 2040 within the current industrialized nations.

How could universal prosperity be reached?

The word “universal” indicates that everyone should be able to have this “prosperity” life standard. Because not everyone can work or owns lots of capital, we need a UBI to achieve this goal. Unfortunately, even the wealthiest nations would have to increase taxes to insane levels to finance a UBI that would grant prosperity to everyone. So, this is hardly a viable option.

What can be done however, is introducing a UBI at a merely sufficient level, say within the next ten years, and then coupling the amount of the UBI to the level of economic growth. Because a modest UBI should stimulate economic growth, this is a much more realistic path to universal prosperity than waiting 25 years and introducing a generous UBI only then.

Apart from that, we cannot wait 25 more years before introducing a UBI, because technological unemployment will be rampant long before 2040. Not dealing with that trend proactively will most likely ruin the economy.

Once technological unemployment really takes off, it will be necessary to increasingly tax capital gains, as income taxes from labour will break away.

Make it ecological

When it comes to economic growth, there is valid criticism that it usually entails ecological degradation. However, that doesn’t need to be the case, since increases in efficiency through the use of better technology can create growth that doesn’t cause additional ecological costs.

Rather than demanding a stop of the economic growth paradigm, we should focus on “ecological growth” [xix], which would be based on

  • A transition towards renewable energy sources
  • Higher energy efficiency, for example through better reuse of “waste heat”
  • Sustainable agricultural practices [xx]
  • Circular economy [xxi]
  • Vast gains in general efficiency made possible by a very high degree of automation through pervasive use of robots and artificial intelligence

A focus on technological solutions doesn’t automatically generate ecological growth, but if a decidedly technological approach is combined with intelligent regulations that favour ecologically sound alternatives, economic growth can very well become ecologically sustainable.

For that purpose, we may need to replace simple conventional economic metrics like GDP and GNI with metrics that consider the ecological costs of economic activities. The Sustainable National Income [xxii] and the Genuine Progress Indicator [xxiii] are good examples for such “eco metrics”.

By coupling the amount of the UBI to the “eco metrics” SNI or GPI, rather than the GDP or GNI, people would have an incentive to demand ecological growth. I call such an “eco-growth coupled” universal basic income a Sustainable Universal Prosperity Income (SUPI).

How the Sustainable Universal Prosperity Income would work

The SUPI starts with a UBI at a merely sufficient level which is introduced in a certain year, say 2025. This year would be the reference year of the SUPI. From then on it will only be adjusted to inflation and the change of the chosen eco metric.

For example, if the inflation rate is 2%, then the UBI payments will be increased by 2%, preliminarily. Next, we need to consider the change of the eco metric. If it has increased by 3%, then the SUPI will increase by about 5%. This increase comes from 2% inflation and 3% eco growth. However, if the eco metric has decreased by 1%, the SUPI will only increase by 1%, which won’t be enough to compensate for inflation. Consequently, the purchasing power that people get from their UBI will decrease – because some problematic economic activity has degraded the environment.

If the nation managed to generate an average eco growth of 3% over 25 years, by 2050 the SUPI will be at 209% of the sufficiency level of the reference year (this is automatically adjusted for inflation). This could be enough to generate sustainable universal prosperity.

Such a high level of ecological growth may be optimistic, but the positive stimulus from the UBI, increased thermodynamic efficiency, and efficiency gains from the use of robots and artificial intelligence could make it possible.

Why would a SUPI be a good idea?

The idea to give everyone more money than they need to stay alive, healthy, and productive for free may seem quite excessive at first glance. That’s why there need to be really good arguments in favour of such a system. Even though there are some valid philosophical and ideological arguments for a generous universal basic income, I restrict myself to ecological, social, psychological, and economic arguments that can ideally be accepted by everyone.

Ecological reasons

Sadly, the current ecological footprint of the Western world is unsustainable. We’d need much more than one single planet to sustain that lifestyle if everyone in the world adopted it. There are different ways to react to that fact, but the most rational approach is to aggressively use intelligent technology and policymaking to reduce our ecological footprint even while increasing our standard of living.

A SUPI would of course be a foundational piece of intelligent policy-making. Conveniently, it can also accelerate further technological innovation, as is explained further below.

Because we live on Earth and depend on the environment that it provides to us, we should naturally have a strong incentive not to destroy it. However, in the face of more immediate economic pressures this basic sensibility all too often takes a backseat. This is why politics and economics need to be realigned so as to support the natural incentive to protect our natural wealth. If people’s incomes directly and immediately depend on the state of the environment, they get useful feedback that can stimulate them to demand a transition to a sustainable economy.

With a “normal” UBI there’s the problem that the increased consumer demand could accelerate economic activities that degrade our environment. This issue is not absolutely dismantled with a SUPI, but at the very least a SUPI creates the right conditions and incentives that support the creation of an ecologically responsible economy. People who suffer from relative poverty simply don’t have the “luxurious” option to buy “ethical” products that don’t contribute to the destruction of the environment.

Finally, people receiving a SUPI can easily choose not to work in a job that has detrimental social and ecological impacts. When companies with unethical business models notice that it gets really hard to them to attract and keep workers, then they are likely to reconsider their strategy. After all, with a SUPI, the company leaders themselves don’t really need to run such a business anyway.

Social reasons

In the next decades automation will eliminate a vast number of jobs and many of those who will have lost their jobs won’t be able to find a replacement job soon. More work can be done by less people. And the average level of qualification required to get a job will most likely rise significantly. So, an increasing number of people will require further education and training. With a SUPI they get the chance to focus on that, instead of being forced to take kind of job they can find.

Nevertheless, sooner or later, many jobs and even companies will become fully automated through advanced artificial intelligence which will even be able to do very creative tasks. Only a small number of people will be able to do any kind of conventional work that creates an income for them. Without a SUPI the existence of most people would become quite unpromising. With their SUPI however, they can choose to do whatever gives meaning to their lives without having to worry about making a living. Great freedom and liberty for everyone can become a reality.

Still, inequality will be an issue even when people don’t need to work for the basic necessities of life. After all, those who have work or capital can still continue to get wealthier while those without only have their basic income. This divide will become increasingly difficult to bridge as the number of available jobs gets smaller and smaller. This is why the basic income needs to rise over time in order to limit income inequality. Otherwise increasing inequality will threaten societal cohesion to a dangerous degree. It is much less likely that there will be civil unrests, uprisings, revolts, or even revolutions if everyone gets a SUPI.

Psychological reasons

The fact that the SUPI is coupled to the economic and ecological wealth of the nation effectively turns its citizens into shareholders. Thus, they have additional motivation to support their nation as effectively as possible. Therefore, interest in politics will probably grow, and people will demand improved methods of democratic or direct participation. Everyone will have a good reason to strive for the holistic optimization of societal systems, because that’s what actually gets them an income raise.

Sure, the influence that an individual may have on the economy at large is very marginal, but you have to consider that the same is true for the influence a single voter has on the politics of a democratic country. If it’s a valid line of reasoning to keep the basic income relatively low because that would save costs, the same line of reasoning could be used to justify the abolition of democratic elections. Costs are a bad reason for denying citizens their empowerment.

The higher the SUPI, the more motivation will shift from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation. With a sufficiently high universal income, people who do work because they find it inherently rewarding and meaningful will be more likely not to bother about using work as a source of income. Instead, they will work voluntarily and for free, because they just want to help the organisation and people they work, or because the work is genuinely interesting and engaging. Money would just be an annoying distraction in that case. After all, extrinsic motivation can negatively interfere with already existent intrinsic motivation, as studies have shown. Purely intrinsically motivated people are happier, more creative, and more innovative.

Therefore, the fraction of work that people are actually directly paid for will in all likelihood decrease dramatically. The purpose of work will shift towards personal accomplishment, solving real problems, gaining reputation, mastering hard challenges, and collaborating with like-minded people.

And indeed, the SUPI creates a solid basis that allows everyone to focus on solving the real challenges that we are faced with: How do we make our lives and the world as a whole better? Everyone will have much better chances to work on his own personal development, and on creating positive change in the world around him, because worries about money will be rather unnecessary.

Economic reasons

Currently, automation is often seen as very negative, because it eliminates jobs. When jobs become much less of a necessity, due to their income generating function being taken over by a SUPI, the negative sentiments against automation will decrease – and may even turn into demands for faster automation. Social and political resistance against automation will disappear. Therefore, the speed of innovation can increase, which should give the economy a big boost.

Actually, the whole incentive situation for automation will change dramatically: With the shift towards voluntary work there is only a need to automate work which people are not willing to do for free. Automation will gradually eat up all the jobs that aren’t inherently rewarding. What remains is work that people do for free. There is much less economic reason to automate jobs that people do voluntarily. Still, even some voluntary workers might be replaced by machines, if the latter are much more efficient than human workers.

In any case, an increasing degree of automation will bolster the supply of all kinds of goods. On the other hand, without a SUPI, consumer demand would at the same time decrease, because fewer and fewer workers would be left to purchase those goods. In fact, at least something like a SUPI will be needed to keep the economy running smoothly.

An increasing universal basic income can keep income inequality at economically optimal levels rather naturally. Consumer demand will be boosted to the level that is required by an increasingly automated supply side. The conventional economy will continue to make sense.

But there is more: New economic modes are on the horizon and will complement the conventional economy. Presenting these rather speculative ideas in detail would go beyond the scope of this chapter, so I will only mention them briefly:

  • Personal 3d printers will grant private individuals powerful and effective means of production. People become consumers and producers at the same time. They will often share their product designs freely and openly. Personally customized products will gradually replace uniform mass produced goods.
  • Companies and cooperatives will become much easier to create and run successfully, because with a SUPI people will be much more willing to work for free. However, cooperatives will often prove to be more attractive compared to conventional companies. Therefore, conventional companies will be pressed to adopt elements of cooperatives, so that hybrid company forms will emerge.
  • The non-profit sector will see a massive boom, because with a SUPI non-profit organisations have it much easier to cover their costs. Without having to aim for profits, they can focus on providing the best products and services imaginable – ideally for free! In turn, this will reduce the costs for all organisations, while at the same time improving the overall quality of almost every product.
  • Crowd funded and crowd sourced initiatives will provide exactly the kinds of products and services that are desired. Consumers that so far have merely reacted to the supply side will become proactive and take a leading role in specifying and designing new goods and services. This will range from the design of new forms of electronics to the direction of medical research.
  • More and more digital goods will be shared openly and freely. Reputation systems and reputation economies will support this development further, because sharing will increase reputation. And reputation will be coupled to personal wealth, in turn. Inspired by the fictional reputation currency “Whuffie” in Cory Doctorow’s science fiction novel “Down and out in the magic kingdom” [xxiv], I developed a system called Quantified Prestige [xxv] (Hrenka 2012) that could be used as basis for a reputation economy.
  • New systems to leverage the so-called attention economy are also being worked on – for example the decentralized social network Synereo [xxvi]. Users will be rewarded for interacting with online content and for sharing it with others.

All of these developments will be enabled or supercharged by a SUPI, and they will massively transform the economy. We will live in a Zero Marginal Cost Society [xxvii] in which the cost of very many goods and services will be effectively zero.

Why think about a SUPI already?

Wouldn’t it be better to restrict ourselves to the next step and only debate about the introduction of a “simple” universal basic income?

While it is important to create and strengthen a big alliance that can politically introduce a UBI, there are some important reasons for looking further into the future.

First of all, it may seem intuitively reasonable to restrict a UBI to a merely sufficient level. It may be possible that a UBI is introduced, but only under the condition that it stays at such a minimal level. This would significantly complicate the introduction of a true SUPI, and unnecessarily delay the unfolding of the full potential of the universal basic income idea.

Perhaps even more importantly, a bright vision of a very positive future is sorely needed. People want to thrive and flourish. It would be hard for them to look forwards to a future in which they would be mostly restricted to living on a merely sufficient basic income. Instead, the idea of universal prosperity not only makes a lot of sense, but also provides reasonable hope for a much better future.

Finally, without such a positive vision, people tend to find refuge in extreme ideological positions. The lack of promising secular and moderate visions can drive people to violence, crime, drug abuse, and even terrorism. Hope is very important for the human psyche. When things get really serious, humans will flock to those who promise them hope, no matter how misguided the hope promising ideology actually is. The vision of the SUPI, and the society it can help to create, can provide substantial hope and acts as antidote against ideological extremism.

All these reasons mean that we must talk about the idea of universal abundance as soon as possible. Let’s not waste too much time on half-hearted compromises!

What counterarguments against a SUPI can we expect?

Of course, the idea of a generous sustainable universal prosperity income may seem much more extreme than a “normal” universal basic income. Certain objections are very likely to come up in the debates about a SUPI. Nevertheless, the SUPI idea is quite rational and is not easily invalidated by criticism.

It’s not fair to give people so much money when they don’t even have to work for it!

What is and is not fair is highly subjective and depends on cultural expectations. The fairness argument is a highly ideological one and therefore it cannot be easily dismantled with facts alone. I could argue that the end result of a SUPI would be a world that is much fairer than one without it, but that assertion certainly won’t convince everyone.

Let me therefore try to propose a different perspective: Consider the SUPI as an investment that you make in order to get a very special kind of return – a better society. If people invest into the SUPI they get rewarded with a much better society and a booming economy.

The failure to invest into a SUPI does not only represent a huge missed opportunity, but can be actively dangerous. Everyone depends on having a functioning society around him. If we don’t provide the support to the society that it actually needs, it will sooner or later come crashing down. The typical results of that are very gruesome and can be found in about any history book.

People would get really lazy if they got so much money for free!

According to self-determination theory, humans have the psychological needs of autonomy, mastery, and relatedness. A SUPI would strengthen their autonomy and allow them to find better ways to satisfy their needs for mastery and relatedness. They will be guided by their passions and intrinsic motivation, whether that’s voluntary work, a creative hobby, or just interacting with others in clubs, social networks, or online games. Everyone has the wish to be really good at something, even if it’s just playing a certain game. At the professional level, playing games counts as (e-)sports. And few people would argue that doing sports is being lazy.

Anyway, if prosperity really made people lazy, then the rich would be suffering from a laziness epidemic – from which they would need to be cured by giving away their money, so that they would be forced to work hard in order to make a living. I hope that people see that this proposition is nonsensical.

Ordinary people should not be shareholders of a nation or region. They don’t deserve it!

From a purely utilitarian perspective it is irrelevant whether they deserve it or not. If a SUPI provides superior results, then it should be adopted. Historically, capitalism was introduced and philosophically justified based on utilitarian reasoning [xxviii]. If you think capitalism is legitimate due to its efficiency, it should be legitimate for people to be shareholders of a nation if that’s a more efficient system than the status quo.

It would be better for the economy to lower taxes and keep the UBI at a level that is merely sufficient!

That is a highly questionable hypothesis. As explained above, massive automation will require a proportional strengthening of the consumer demand side. Either you hope for this strengthening to somehow happen on its own, or you do the economically rational thing and use a SUPI to do that in an intelligent and systematic way.

Of course, optimizing the economy is difficult, so some actual experimentation will be required to figure out the optimal approach. It might be conceivable that there are better solutions than SUPI, but the idea of trickle-down economics has failed empirically [xxix],[xxx],[xxxi], so we definitely need to try something else.

Summary

I have predicted that a UBI, if it is implemented correctly, will have the following effects:

  • The economy is boosted and will grow faster.
  • Inequality, poverty and criminality will be significantly diminished.
  • People will feel better, more motivated, more creative, and more innovative.

For best results, the introduction of a UBI is done in several steps:

  • Pilot cities should introduce a fully sufficient UBI as soon as possible. The resulting effects should be scientifically analyzed.
  • Whole regions should introduce a UBI one by one until the whole nation has a fully sufficient UBI.
  • As soon as the UBI is introduced on a national level, it should be transformed as soon as possible into a SUPI (Sustainable Universal Prosperity Income).

It is not premature to present, discuss, and promote the SUPI idea, because it enables an uplifting and bold positive vision of the future.

References

[i] Piketty, T. (2014) “Capital in the twenty-first century” The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England

[ii] Dolan, E. (2014) “A Universal Basic Income and Work Incentives, Part 1: Theory” EconoMonitor, August 18, 2014 http://www.economonitor.com/dolanecon/2014/08/18/a-universal-basic-income-and-work-incentives-part-1-theory/ accessed February 20, 2015

[iii] Kaufmann J. (2010) “BIG Hopes, BIG Questions: Namibia’s Basic Income Grant”. The Journal of Civil Society and Social Transformation, Volume 1, January 2010, 38-47 http://max-cmshost-01.syr.edu/uploadedFiles/moynihan/tngo/BIG%20Hopes,%20BIG%20Questions%20Namibia%E2%80%99s%20Basic%20Income%20Grant.pdf

[iv] Standing G. (2013) ”Unconditional Basic Income: Two pilots in Madhya Pradesh”. http://www.guystanding.com/files/documents/Basic_Income_Pilots_in_India_note_for_inaugural.pdf accessed February 20, 2015

[v] “Land Value Tax” Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_value_tax accessed March 16, 2015

[vi] Braus, A. (2014) “Don’t Tax Humans – Tax the Robots” https://medium.com/@ajbraus/dont-tax-humans-tax-the-robots-be8da8351bb9 accessed March 9, 2015

[vii] Winfield, A. (2015) “Maybe we need an automation tax” http://robohub.org/maybe-we-need-an-automation-tax/ accessed March 9, 2015

[viii] Van Hollen C. (2015) “Democrat proposes carbon cash: $1000 for every American” SFGate article by Carolyn Lochhead, February 25, 2015 http://m.sfgate.com/science/article/Key-House-Dem-proposes-carbon-cash-1-000-for-6101720.php

[ix] Dinan T. (2012) “Offsetting a Carbon Tax’s Costs on Low-Income Households” Working Paper Series, Congressional Budget Office, Washington D.C. November 2012, Working Paper 2012-16 http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/11-13LowIncomeOptions.pdf

[x] “Alaska Permanent Fund” Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Permanent_Fund accessed March 16, 2015

[xi] CIA World Factbook: Public debt of different countries https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2186rank.html accessed March 17, 2015

[xii] “Ghetto tax” Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghetto_tax accessed February 23, 2015

[xiii] Krugman P. (2014) “Inequality Is a Drag”. The New York Times, August 8, 2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/08/opinion/paul-krugman-inequality-is-a-drag.html

[xiv] http://www.selfdeterminationtheory.org/theory/

[xv] Pink D. (2010) “Drive”. Canongate Books, 2010. 14 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1TE

[xvi] Hanauer N. (2014) “The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats”. Politico Magazine, July/August 2014 http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/the-pitchforks-are-coming-for-us-plutocrats-108014.html

[xvii] Dolan E. (2014) “A Universal Basic Income and Work Incentives. Part 2: Evidence”. EconoMonitor, August 25, 2014 http://www.economonitor.com/dolanecon/2014/08/25/a-universal-basic-income-and-work-incentives-part-2-evidence/  accessed February 20, 2015

[xviii] Santens S. (2014) “Wouldn’t Unconditional Basic Income Just Cause Massive Inflation?”. Medium, November 22, 2014 https://medium.com/basic-income/wouldnt-unconditional-basic-income-just-cause-massive-inflation-fe71d69f15e7 accessed March 17, 2015

[xix] Morrison R. (2013) “Ecological Growth”. EugeneWeekly.com, November 14, 2013 http://www.eugeneweekly.com/20131114/guest-viewpoint/ecological-growth accessed February 28, 2015

[xx] “Sustainable agriculture” Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_agriculture accessed February 24, 2015

[xxi] “Circular economy” Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circular_economy accessed February 24, 2015

[xxii] “Sustainable national income” Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_national_income accessed February 24, 2015

[xxiii] Harris J., Roach B. (2013) “Environmental and Natural Resource Economics: A Contemporary Approach”. M.E. Sharpe Inc., 80 Business Park Drive, Armonk, New York 10504. 3rd edition 2013. Chapter 8 http://www.ase.tufts.edu/gdae/Pubs/te/ENRE/3/Ch8_Income_Accounting.pdf

[xxiv] Doctorow C. (2003) “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”. Tor Books, January 2003 – available for free download at http://craphound.com/down/download/

[xxv] Hrenka M. (2012) “Quantified Prestige”. Radivis.com, October 2, 2012. http://radivis.com/quantified-prestige/

[xxvi] “Synereo” http://www.synereo.com/ accessed February 28, 2015

[xxvii] Rifkin J. (2014) “The Zero Marginal Cost Society”. Palgrave Macmillan; St. Martin’s Press LLC, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010

[xxviii] Rifkin J. (2014) “The Zero Marginal Cost Society”. Palgrave Macmillan; St. Martin’s Press LLC, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010

[xxix] Piketty, T. (2014) “Capital in the twenty-first century” The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England

[xxx] Chu B. (2015) “The wealth that failed to trickle down: The rich do get richer while poor stay poor, report suggests”. The Independent, January 19, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/the-wealth-that-failed-to-trickle-down-report-suggests-rich-do-get-richer-while-poor-stay-poor-9989183.html accessed Feburary 28, 2015

[xxxi] Aleem Z. (2014) “7 Chars Show What Free Market Economics Have Really Brought on America”. Policy.Mic, November 20, 2014 http://mic.com/articles/104612/7-charts-show-why-trickle-down-economics-has-been-an-enormous-failure accessed February 28, 2015

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 3 of the Transpolitica book “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”. Transpolitica welcomes feedback. Your comments will help to shape the evolution of Transpolitica communications.

Catalysing the Development of Artificial Intelligence Tools

By Dr Roland Schiefer, author of “All In The Mind”

Summary

Our near future will be dominated by the explosive development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems. These systems will affect our physical world by driving cars and controlling robots. However, online AI tools that are continuously accessible through mobile phones and wearable interfaces might have an even stronger effect on our social and political structure, because they will change the way we think and act. Groups that can quickly and effectively highlight the opportunities and threats of new AI tools will therefore have considerable impact on politics, development and user behaviour.

Cortana

Example of a digital assistant: Microsoft Cortana

Introduction

AI tools are “narrow” artificial intelligence systems that do complex things like interpreting voice input or analysing texts very fast. They do not have consciousness or a will of their own. The best known examples for such tools are Siri, Google Now and Cortana made by Apple, Google and Microsoft respectively. These voice-based “digital assistants” can handle simple conversations and daily administration tasks like scheduling and booking tickets. They can also answer questions by accessing search engines such as Google or Bing. Digital assistants are now mainly accessed from mobile phones, but Microsoft is introducing Cortana as an optional interface for Windows 10, opening the scope to laptops and desktop systems. The more convenient and reliable these assistants become, the more users will tend to see their own assistant as the obvious way to access the digital world. Successful producers of digital assistants will try to enhance this trend by creating a “walled garden”, a service environment that is so richly stocked with easily accessible options that most users will not bother to look outside. We can expect Siri travel services and Cortana tax return. However, providers of smart services such as travel agencies and accounting firms will try to strengthen their own brand identity. Perhaps we will get an HSBC tax return service that can be accessed by any of the popular assistants – degrading the assistant to the role of a smart browser. Some companies might fund the development of open assistants that leave all the branding to the actual service provider. AI tools are ready for the mass market.

The development of AI tools proceeds at an extreme speed. Some of the richest companies in the world, like Google, Apple and Microsoft, are putting much of their profits into AI systems. They hire tens of thousands of the brightest, best educated and most motivated people to shorten product cycles. Billions of users are eagerly waiting for new versions of AI tools such as Google Now, Siri and Cortana to make their own lives easier, more exciting or more profitable. They produce a flood of feedback concerning new uses and suggested improvements. They are also willing to have their purchasing decisions influenced in return for this service, so they generate huge profits that are in turn invested to improve AI tools. This process creates a continuous proliferation of new, potential applications. Only a few of these applications have yet been built and only a fraction has even been considered. Most of them might remain unexplored, because the initial applications we use tend to influence what we want next. Minor decisions in the early stages will therefore lead us along a path of development on which some highly desirable options are no longer feasible or negative outcomes can no longer be avoided.

We cannot plan this development in a conventional way, as we know little about the opportunities and threats we will have to cope with. We can only try to reach some consensus about the general outcomes we would prefer and then try to nudge the development process in a direction that makes these outcomes more likely. This has some similarities with the way a catalyst works in a chemical reaction: It makes certain reaction steps more likely. AI development might be ”catalysed” by adjusting the legal framework, changing the rules for access to capital, providing reliable, evidence-based information for decision-makers in the sector or showcasing demonstrator projects to accelerate specific developments. The Government will certainly play an important role, as it represents public interest, has access to funding and can change the legal structure. We can also expect that some universities and foundations will establish “Catalyst Teams” that aim to make preferred outcomes more likely. The impact of such team will increase with the following capabilities:

  • Involve representatives of various stakeholders such as politicians, civil servants, platform developers, businesses, pioneering users and activists. Facilitate fast flow information on new developments, opinion polls among members, responses to project concepts, etc. Create relevant consensus faster than normal communication would do.
  • Focus on “verified information” that can be accepted by decision makers without delay, i.e. not personal hopes and fears. Base statements on tests where possible. Ensure access to a pool of test users who will work hard to learn certain AI tools and produce measurable outcomes. University students might do this as part of a study module while university staff could manage the tests.
  • Use mass media to familiarise a wide range of people with new concepts. Present desirable AI trends in the form of entertaining events. Motivate participants with publicity or price money. The format could extend from a technical or business focus to a brainy version of the “Survivor” series to attract a wider audience.
  • Cooperate with developers to fast-track development of demonstrators. Showcasing desirable applications might require customised prototypes at the edge of current technology. Companies such as IBM or Microsoft, smaller software developers or innovative university departments might be motivated by an opportunity to show their products to a wide audience.
  • Continuously model the impact of possible legal changes. The law should be used as a catalyst to make things go right and not a remedy to be applied after things have gone wrong.

The following sections describe a few potential applications of AI tools and how Catalyst Teams might accelerate and inspire their development.

A new type of education

In future, AI tools will consistently support us in what we are doing. They will provide us with facts, search for solutions, guide our hands-on work and free us from a lot of unpleasant administration tasks. Some parts of our current education will therefore become useless and we will require skills that are currently not taught in school. We might find that the best performers among AI tool users are not necessarily the best pupils in a conventional school environment.

Particularly teaching by AI tools will open new opportunities. A pupil’s personal AI tool, which could be provided online as a service, could store all knowledge a pupil has already learned. Tests and questions of understanding would then reveal what knowledge she has retained and what type of information she is most likely to forget. Based on the learning progress of other pupils with similar mental characteristics, the AI tool could determine the pieces of information that are most likely to complete a process of understanding or learning a practical skill. Each learning step will make the model of the pupil’s mind more detailed. Obviously, an AI tool would present all information in the best possible way, emphasising graphical format, text, sound, instruction by a teacher or group work according to the pupil’s personal characteristics, the task at hand and the fellow pupils available for interaction.

This style of learning does not have to be done in isolation. A group of children and their teacher might share a virtual environment in which the learning takes place. The AI tools of the individual pupils could communicate to develop the best teaching strategy based on the composition of the group and the abilities of the teacher, who might primarily be responsible for the interpersonal part of the event.

It will certainly be advantageous to promote this new style of learning. Countries that manage it first will have a competitive edge. Universities that can integrate it will attract more foreign students and teachers who excel in it can expect brilliant job opportunities all over the world. Learning with AI tools might particularly benefit currently disadvantaged pupils, as it can analyse and remedy their weak spots in a focused manner.

Parents and teachers will rightly be hesitant. Many new teaching methods and teaching technologies promised to revolutionise education and did not deliver. The AI teaching tools described above are feasible, but they are not ready for routine use. Developers might hesitate to invest heavily in products that might not be taken up. Catalyst Teams could therefore accelerate this process by creating bridges between the different stakeholders.

Imagine a school agrees to have a pilot AI teaching lab and have selected school classes use it regularly a few hours a week; an online publisher or TV channel agrees to document the progress of the children and provide regular broadcasts; a major developer such as IBM agrees to provide and adapt appropriate AI teaching tools. This would not only create feasible solutions. It would establish a dynamic process in which all participants have an interest to move faster as they would have otherwise done.

Imagine another TV show in which groups of high-school children compete in solving tasks using AI tools through mobile phones or augmented reality gear. Pupils from schools in different socio-economic environments are invited to increase variety. A big high-resolution screen in the background shows the viewer what the contestants see on their mobile screens or their virtual reality gear. Viewers can so keep an eye on the entertaining social interaction while they learn how school problems and real-life problems can be solved by using AI tools.

Some of the challenges could be school-related. One can expect that many people would like to know how easy it is to ace conventional A-level exams when connected to AI tools. The groups might also be asked to design a product that is later printed on a 3D printer and has to be put to practical use. Pupils could show how well they can diagnose the illnesses of people who volunteer for this purpose. Contestants might be asked to start and run a company with the help of their AI systems. All this would provide the adults with a gentle introduction to how their own world is changing right now.

Ultimate survival

AI tools reduce the minimum number of people required to advance a civilisation from our current level. These tools can store all of our knowledge and skills and teach them to users as required. Generalists with AI tools could then do specialist work. A general mechanic with augmented reality gear, for example, could repair almost any device including motor cars, diesel trucks, domestic appliances, airplanes and mobile phone masts. A self-sufficient group would therefore not need many mechanics. The same applies to surgeons, researchers and any other kind of specialist. Maintaining a specific level of technology therefore does not require a minimum number of experts who can hold all the relevant knowledge of our time in their heads.  Scientific progress will obviously be related to the number of well-educated and well-equipped people who can contribute to it. Smaller societies will therefore develop more slowly and those eager to exchange information will grow at a faster clip.

AI tools could also reduce the volume of trade needed to ensure survival. Much of our global interdependency results from our need for industrial products that are made cheaper elsewhere, raw materials only found in foreign countries or food that does not grow in our region. 3D printers could make most of the products we need, although usually at a higher price and a lower quality. High levels of recycling or alternative product designs could reduce our dependence on raw materials.  It will then still be advantageous to trade, but as a matter of economic efficiency, not as a matter of survival.  In the event of a disaster, countries, regions, cities and even small bands of individuals could continue on their own.

Imagine an ongoing experiment designed to test how well a small group of dedicated participants might do in sustaining civilisation. Approx. 20 students might live on a piece of land dedicated to that purpose. Their experiences might be shown in regular TV episodes.  The average student might stay 9 month, so that participation can be arranged during a gap or practical year. Students might get credits for participating. Universities would benefit from the exposure. Companies making AI tools, 3D printers and other equipment might sponsor the event.

The event should involve practical challenges so that TV viewers have fun watching it. Contestants might start off in tents and then build houses guided by their AI systems. They might generate their food in a microbiological process using waste and solar energy. That will make for interesting cooking experiences. They might have to grow crops. Should they be provided with a tractor or should they have to work with shovels until they can 3D-print their own tractor?

Participants might be required to complete a study module during that year to show that new knowledge was transferred. They might be required to do some research work to show that overall knowledge has been increased. Step by step, the conditions could be made more stringent. Can they print their own mobile phones? Can they print server computers that run their AI software? Can they develop new AI software? Can they print printers? Can they do genetic engineering? Could they really go it alone?

Such a project would not only provide entertainment and a lot of commercial spin-offs. It would change the way we see ourselves and our civilisation. AI tools might turn us into a network of interacting subunits that can easily rearrange themselves in response to technological, environmental or political changes. That would make our society far more resilient against shocks or disasters of any kind and have obvious relevance for national defence.

How to make AI tools more trustworthy

We can expect that authoritarian regimes all over the world will use the opportunities provided by AI tools. They will create their own digital assistants with an ecosystem of AI tools around them to provide their citizens with convenient cradle-to-grave support in a regime-friendly way.

Even in currently democratic societies, there is no “objective” way of building analytic systems, just as there is no “right” way of writing a newspaper article. Any analysis of data or text by man or machine will necessarily require a wide range of assumptions.  Systems that provide technical answers will rely on current scientific theories, some of which will turn out to be wrong. Economic analysis will necessarily be based on theories about the way markets work or the way vested interest groups play their games. Most AI tools will have an underlying ideological bias. The best way to cope with that is to make this bias visible and give users a choice.

Digital assistants that support choice must be “honest brokers” that allow users to choose what sources are used. Some users might only want to use data sources that have already been used in peer reviewed journals. Some might only want to use legal analytics engines built by major accounting companies. Some might want all their sources to be approved or previously used by one of the NATO governments. Others might prefer the Chinese government or a large charitable organisation.

Catalyst Teams could help during the initial stages of this development by arranging events in which digital assistants are compared with each other. Are they all “honest brokers”? Can the user track the information and models on which the assistant’s answers were based. How much is the scope of services restricted by routing users to preferred business partners? How much effort is made to keep data confidential?

This is likely to cause conflict. The revenue stream for platform developers, the makers of digital assistants, might be linked to keeping users within a “walled garden”, i.e. sourcing services only from a group of preferred suppliers who support each other. Many users will object to having their choices made for them.  Developers, in turn, might argue that the first of them who really breaks down the garden walls will suffer the highest financial loss.

Catalyst Teams might encourage fair competition and free choice by promoting legislation that forces all platform developers to reveal all sourcing choices of their digital assistants and to make it easy for users to set their personal preferences. The same analysis performed with different clusters of AI tools will often lead to different results and that will in turn trigger studies about the nature of these differences. When tools do not behave as intended, developers will change their structure or look for better concepts to base them on. Political, philosophical or social concepts, for example, which have previously only been compared in scholarly discussions, will then have to prove their value as functional components in tools. This should speed up the development of concepts and put our civilisation on steroids. Countries that allow it to happen will grow in strength. We can hope that authoritarian regimes, obsessed with protecting current privileges, are likely to lose out. If we can indeed arrange our systems in a way that makes open structures more competitive, we will have more reason to trust these tools.

Reducing inequality

In the middle of the nineteenth century, wealth was very unevenly distributed and our economic system looked rather unstable. Factory owners could afford to pay the seemingly unlimited masses of workers just enough to survive and reproduce. Karl Marx predicted that a competitive market would force companies to produce ever more goods at increasingly lower prices – goods that the workers could not afford and the rich classes were no longer able to take up. Then the system would collapse leading to a revolution.

Things did not happen that way. The masses of workers were not unlimited. Supply dried up and they had more opportunity to bargain for a larger share of the cake. An increasing number of workers got a higher education and could therefore work more productively. They were valuable and short in supply, so they could demand even higher wages. Step by step, educated workers on different levels acquired a larger share of the wealth. They became the consumers that the system had been lacking.

This new class of educated workers gained in influence and shaped the political system. Sometimes they allied with the poor and deprived to wrestle more privileges from the rich. Sometimes they allied with the rich to preserve the current order, as they now had houses and pensions to lose. And they shaped expectations. Good education and hard work were bound to ensure lifetime employment and a rather generous income.

Things did not happen that way due to automation. Smart machines can out-produce and out-administrate humans in an increasing number of fields. This has reduced the demand for people with average intelligence, education and motivation, who have generally not seen an increase in their purchasing power over the last three decades. Only top performers are disproportionally rewarded. Machines are also starting to replace people in jobs that are still seen as pinnacles of personal achievement, such as medical doctors and pilots. The political bargaining power of educated citizens is therefore waning and the influence of those who own smart machines is increasing. This reduces the stability of our current political system.

Catalyst Teams should attempt to counter this trend by building on the spread of AI tools, as these tools will generally make people more productive. Productive employees can charge higher wages and subsidising AI-based professional skills enhancement would accelerate this process. Budding entrepreneurs will find it easier to start their own companies, because AI systems will take most administrative chores off their hands. Legislation that interlinks with the capabilities of AI systems could make it even easier to found a company, gain access to financing, or handle administration. Higher income and the optimism associated an economic upswing are likely to lead to higher investment and higher consumption. We can expect fast economic growth that benefits a large part of the population and therefore reduces the current income inequality.

Considerable resistance will have to be overcome, because improvements for a large number of people will often be linked to disadvantages for some. Running a company, for example, will be much easier when most tax and accounting issues are handled by an AI tool. This will invariable mean fewer jobs for tax consultants and accountants. Well-educated and well-organised professionals will try to stall developments that disadvantage them. Legislators will have to counter vested interest groups in the interest of the community.

AI tools will allow individuals to create considerable value outside the formal economy. Conventional economic indicators based on the formal economy might therefore show that things are going down while everybody creates more value and actual consumption is going up. Imagine a house owner who gets new windows installed. He gives a job to somebody else and increases GDP, but only few house owners will do that, because professional services are expensive. Imagine another house owner who installs his own windows by using an AI system. All work steps are shown on an augmented reality interface, allowing him to do work he would otherwise not have managed. He is a pensioner who is glad to do work that gives him purpose and pride, so no opportunity costs need to be budgeted. Assume his story inspires many other do-it-yourself customers who would never have considered contracting a company. Their joint purchases of material might lead to a moderated GDP increase while the actual increase of the value generated is much higher. AI systems might in this way activate considerable amounts of “hidden labour” among the increasing number of pensioners and people on welfare or basic income. Catalyst Teams might help this development by popularising appropriate economic indicators that show how well we are actually doing.

Transforming the legal jungle

Repealing laws takes effort for politicians. Laws that make life a bit more difficult for everybody without any real benefits are therefore likely to stay around, because lawmakers would not get political rewards for removing them. Laws that create one big winner, who naturally supports them, and many small losers, who are often not even aware that they are losing out, are likely to get passed and stay around. Laws that make the proponent look good, like safety regulations, are likely to pass and stay around, even when they are actually just favours for vested interest groups. Who wants to stand up and be against safety? These are just some of the reason why the legal jungle grows. Some economists worry that our society might suffocate itself under a blanket of overregulation.

Specialist lawyers can navigate through parts of the jungle to help their clients. Naturally, they want to keep the jungle as dense as possible to make the help of lawyers indispensable. As far as their profession is concerned, they are fighting a losing battle.  Almost half of the legal costs have previously been incurred by “discovery”, a process in which junior lawyers sift through millions of pages of documentation to find relevant passages. This process has largely been taken over by IT tools, reducing the demand for lawyers and the fees that clients are willing to pay. Registrations for law degrees at US universities have dropped by 40% and AI developers are trying to increase the automation of legal services. Liverpool University, for example, has teamed up with Riverview, a law firm, to see how far AI development skills can be used in a commercial law firm. There might be some parts of the legal profession that are fiendishly hard to automate, but there will be some low-hanging fruits that can be picked first.

Activists with legal skills could, for example, search for laws that appear to be there for the common good, but only protect the privileges of a few while putting a burden on a large number of others. They could provide support for their point of view by using a legal analytics tool and demand that this law be repealed. Opponents would only need a single legally trained person and an AI tool to respond, so insisting on a response in due time would not be unreasonable. If the law cannot be defended, lawmakers will be under pressure to repeal it.

It might be sensible to focus first on repealing laws that do not need replacement and then extend the scope to laws that are easy to replace. Once the principle is established, we can expect a variety of activists that demand to repeal laws that are useless, do not serve their purpose, favour vested interest groups and so on. Step-by-step the legal jungle might be turned into a park with broad walkways and sign-posted paths.

Catalyst Teams could accelerate this process by showing how much is already possible and highlighting where this development might go. They could also establish links between innovative politicians, university law departments and legal AI tool developers to pick a few promising legal areas to start the clearing process.

Open AI tool development

AI tools will soon be key elements of our societies. If only few software producers in the world were able to make such AI tools, economic growth would be hampered, these companies could extract considerable rent from commercial and private users and small societies could never become resilient, as the main tools required to make them productive would come from an outside source. It is therefore essential to ensure that the basis of AI tool creators is as broad as possible.

Much of the AI tool creation relevant for economic growth may be based on extending existing tools. Somebody may create an AI tool for repairing domestic appliances with augmented reality guidance. Somebody else might extend that tool to repairing vintage cars. A third party might extend it to handle minor surgery. However, all of them would still depend on the original product. Genuine variety and resilience is only possible when a sufficient number of players can create new AI tools from a very low level. This can be imagined as follows:

A developer provides his “extractor” AI tool with information on what a new AI tool should be able to do. That can be done by speaking, writing, drawing or guidance of internet searches. The extractor builds a logical structure and continuously checks whether this structure is consistent and complete. As long as it is not complete, the extractor will ask for more, taking previous input, background information and information about the developer into account. The result is a complete specification.

The developer should then be able to feed this specification into an automated compiler, an AI tool that turns the specification and information on the nature of the hardware on which it is to be used into a working product. Only when those compilers are good enough to become the choice of established software developing companies will this bottleneck have been overcome.

Ideally, any graduate with specialist knowledge and a viable vision should be able to use the knowledge extraction process to create a new AI tool. The process should not require thousands of highly specialised AI-tool-related terms that are not generally understood. However, AI tool creation will involve some concepts that are not yet part of the way we think. And it might show us that some of our current ways of thinking are quite inefficient. General education will have to be adapted accordingly.

Catalyst Teams might help to pinpoint the risks resulting from dependence on a small number of AI tool developers and encourage solutions. It is obvious that currently successful AI developers will not appreciate the idea of automating the software development process, as this would change the environment in which they prosper. One can rather expect them to provide a flood of arguments that makes such an attempt look inappropriate, premature or misguided. Catalyst Teams might therefore encourage other players, e.g. universities or open source groups to tackle this problem.

Spy versus spy

A mesh of civilian and military cyber-security is becoming increasingly important for our societies. This was illustrated in 2010 by the Stuxnet computer worm, which was allegedly produced by US and Israeli agencies. The worm spread via USB flash drives and communication networks. It sought out the Siemens programmable logic controllers in the centrifuges of the Iranian nuclear programme and made them malfunction. Quite a few centrifuges ended up broken. Since then, it has been common knowledge that cyber war is real.

The use of armed aerial drones in many crises areas of the world makes it evident that war is in increasingly being automated. A look at the smart creations of Boston Dynamics, a company now owned by Google, will certainly confirm that. Such equipment has military advantages, but also creates new kinds of vulnerability. A potential enemy could have started years ago to influence the production process of these robots, so that they can in turn be influenced when the need arises. Naturally, all producers of military robots will try to avoid that, but that takes additional effort.

Wars usually include attacks on civilian structures and our structures are becoming more vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Air traffic management, for example, must handle civilian piloted planes, military piloted planes, civilian drones and military drones. Automated cars are becoming reality and will depend on country-wide information systems that can be sabotaged. Further efforts will therefore be required to defend civilian infrastructure.

Cyber warfare also changes the international diplomatic game. Small groups without state backing could do considerable damage, particularly when they can configure AI tools to help them in their undertaking. Hostile governments can conduct cyber-attacks in other countries without officially taking responsibility. Allies of the attacked country, who do not want to be inconvenienced, will find it much easier to ignore a cyber-attack than a physical attack. This will reduce the extent to which allies can be relied on and implies that each government has to spend proportionally more on cyber warfare, where it might well stand alone, than on conventional warfare, where it can place more trust in the support of its allies.

We can expect that a considerable part of the top graduates in all major countries of the world will work with AI tools that collect data and model outcomes related to defence and security. Billions of AI agents are likely to spread on the internet, in the form drones or as smart dust, collecting data on how people behave, how gadgets work and how pieces of infrastructure hang together. Powerful analytics engines on large computer clusters, tightly interlinked with a lot of very smart people, will continuously model how our systems might fail, how an enemy might use them to do harm, how such harm could be prevented and how one could interfere with such systems to strike back at an enemy.

Some people will argue that this arms race can be avoided in some way. Assuming that we have to deal with it, what would be the rules of this game?

  • Civilian, military, and private security are obviously interlinked. A country that can integrate them will get strong defence at a good price. A country in which the military, companies and citizens are at loggerheads will be weak and waste money. Cyber defence should have a face that citizens can like.
  • Any single agency tasked with cyber defence would easily be the smartest and most powerful organisation in the country, creating obvious problems with democratic control. Outsourcing cyber security work to private companies, universities and foundations would reduce the problem to some extent, increase trust and spread the considerable knowledge created this way, because the need to defend our society will teach us a lot about how it actually works.
  • In order to avoid a central point of failure, the cyber defence efforts distributed over many suppliers should be coordinated in parallel by several centres of comparable influence that monitor and supervise each other. These centres should be arranged in a resilient network that ensures operation according the given rules even when one of the centres fails, i.e. turns inactive or hostile.

Catalyst Groups that work outside the established government security structure and have no specific loyalty to any of the players might be able to develop and advance promising solutions.

Conclusion

The development of AI tools is a fast, dynamic process in which small initial changes will have a major effect on the outcomes. Catalyst Teams that can provide reliable information for decision makers by clarifying innovative concepts, testing them in pilot studies and distributing the results in an effective manner might therefore have a considerable impact on this process.

Politicians might contribute to Catalyst Teams as participants or sponsors and use them to filter or amplify ideas and use moderate resources to maximum effect.

Transpolitica is carried by future-oriented people with a wide range of professional backgrounds and could therefore contribute to establishing such a Catalyst Team.

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 4 of the Transpolitica book “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”. Transpolitica welcomes feedback. Your comments will help to shape the evolution of Transpolitica communications.

 

The Zeitgeist of Change

By Stuart Mason Dambrot, Synthesist | Futurist, Critical Thought

When envisioning, planning for or attempting to create a future scenario, an often-overlooked problem is ignoring the Zeitgeist – the dominant school of thought that typifies and influences the culture of a particular period in time. As a result, such scenarios have an overly narrow focus on that specific scenario alone. As a result, institutionalized aspects of human behavior do not change in isolation, but are nonetheless conceptualized as separate entities.

As a result, the scenario in question – whether, for example, political, technological, economic, or sociocultural – will carry a higher than necessary probability of failure to materialize or, if apparently successful at first, to sustain the structural and functional design originally intended. This then leads to increasing divergence from that initial design, and so requires propaganda – and more often than not, ultimately the application of force – to maintain power.

To understand why this ultimately counterproductive approach to governance characterizes human behavior, it’s necessary to look in a direction rarely addressed in political dialogue: the evolution of H. sapiens neurobiology.

The typically unarticulated factors at the core of this issue follow. While clearly interrelated, these will first be addressed individually before being integrated into a cohesive proposition that presents possible Transhumanism efforts in science and technology that might provide solutions to this pervasive and persistent dilemma. In short, H. sapiens:

  1. unconsciously forms in-groups and out-groups that compete for legitimacy and power
  2. is a social species with (typically) an alpha male-based structural hierarchy
  3. mistakes beliefs and observation-based inductive inference for knowledge and fact-based deductive conclusions, respectively
  4. has a cognitive system based largely on emotion and metaphor
  5. exhibits cognitive bias and often lacks meaningful self-awareness

While this chapter is obviously not an academic treatment, we can nevertheless deconstruct our cognitive and behavioral patterns in the light of these defining characteristics in the interest of transcending our current political systems.

Human Phylogeny

Human Phylogeny. Credit: Stearns & Hoekstra (2005). Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press. © Oxford University Press [xvi]

The Nature of Human Nature

We can learn a great deal about ourselves by observing chimpanzees and bonobos – our closest living primate relatives. Our DNA differs from that of both species by only 1.2 % (although they differ from each other in both DNA and social behavior [i]). We all share a common non-human ancestor some eight to six million years ago [ii], while chimpanzees and bonobos diverged from each other some 1.5-2 million years ago. As such, it is more enlightening to say that we’re like them than the typical view that they’re like us – and what’s enlightening is the range and specificity of behaviors that we share.

In addition to chimpanzee behaviors observed in the lab that are associated with high intelligence – such as recognizing themselves in a mirror and communicating through a written language – it is their untrained behavior in the wild that is truly revealing. This includes having a dominant alpha male leader; ingesting medicinal plants for a range of ailments; using leaves for bodily hygiene; raiding and decimating other chimpanzee troops to acquire their territory and food resources; and – in perhaps the most telling example – practicing the art of deception: In a troop of male chimpanzees walking in single file though the forest in search of food, a single individual spots a piece of fallen fruit off to one side of the trail. That individual then turns to the opposite side of the trail and looks at the forest floor with an exaggerated stare. Once the other chimpanzees are straining to see what he is apparently looking at (as humans would do), he leaps to the fruit and grabs it for himself.

In other words, deception is a trait we share with chimpanzees that provides a highly functional evolutionary advantage in a hierarchical social species based on alpha-structured resource acquisition and control.

Interestingly, bonobos have a very different culture, being matriarchal and peaceful. For example, while chimpanzees engage in copulation primarily for propagation – with high-ranking males monopolizing and guarding females in estrus – bonobos engage in sex to reduce tension and resolve conflicts, offer a greeting, form social bonds, elicit social or food benefits (young females, in particular, may copulate with a male then take or receive food from him), and other reasons. Unlike chimpanzees, bonobos are female-dominant with an alpha female social hierarchy, and in the wild have not been observed to exhibit lethal aggression.

Since we exhibit qualities of both species, the question becomes one of scale. Specifically, at individual and small scales, we tend towards less aggressive bonobo-like behaviors – but within large-scale societal agglomerations artificially delineated on the basis of an abstract definition (in this discussion, politics, as well as economics, organized religion, nationalism, militarism, and so on), we engage in more chimpanzee-like aggressive behaviors.

Either way, in many ways we are (so to speak) chimps in suits.

This is the heritage we carry forward, even with our uniquely powerful brains. What’s even more astounding, however, is the revelatory finding reported in recently-published research [iii],[iv] that a single genetic mutation appears responsible for the uniquely neuron-dense neocortex we share with two other extinct hominin species, Neanderthals and Denisovans. (That said, since these two species did not create a robust culture as we have, it appears that more neurons are not enough: our cognitive abilities appear to rely on other factors, such as how those neurons are interconnected.) The point is that this unique gene is one out of the some 20,000 genes that comprise our genome [v], most of which share with chimpanzees and bonobos.

In-group Favoritism and Intergroup Aggression

That an us-versus-them mentality drives our social behavior [vi],[vii] is obvious – sometimes tragically – in politics, religion, nationalism, sports, multiplayer video games, and other large interest- and/or belief-based agglomerations. What is not fully realized is how little it takes for even a small number of strangers to quickly bond on the basis of almost anything – even eye color [viii], a random grouping, or a grouping based on an otherwise meaningless object or task.

In one such experiment [ix], investigators studied collaborations of 10-person groups in which some members were collocated and others were isolated. Individuals bought and sold shapes from each other in order to form strings of shapes, where strings represent joint projects, and each individual’s shapes represented his or her unique skills. The investigators found that the collocated members formed an in-group, excluding the isolates – but the isolates also formed an in-group.

In short, based on little or no substance we automatically form in-groups that are biased against and aggressive towards corresponding out-groups – without being aware of doing so. This characteristic alone is responsible for much of our discord, violence and dysfunctional governance.

Tools, Language and Logic

While other animals make and use tools – such as chimpanzees fashioning, along with other tools, “termite fishing toolkits” from twigs and branches [x] – we alone have created tools, structures and technologies that have dramatically transformed, and will increasingly transform, ourselves and our planet and exoplanetary environments. At the same time, our spoken and then written ability to communicate with other members of our species graduated from signs to symbols, leading to an incredibly rich language fueled by our ability to generalize and categorize the patterns we detect through our senses. The final component of this intellective triptych is the emergence of reason (using existing knowledge to draw conclusions, make predictions, or construct explanations) and its formal representation, logic.

While there are far too many reasoning methods and logic systems to cover here, the three that matter most in this discussion are deduction, induction and abduction[xi]. Deductive reasoning is a logical process which derives a definite conclusion as a logical consequence of premises that are assumed to be true. On the other hand, inductive reasoning infers probabilistic generalizations from specific observations, where the conclusion can be false even if all of the premises are true. Finally, abductive reasoning reverses the direction of inference, inferring a probable premise, cause or explanation for an observed consequence.

In this discussion, we’re primarily concerned with deduction and induction. (Abduction comes into play where, for example, we envision a future state – political or otherwise – and “reverse engineer” the conditions that would likely lead to that state – an approach well-suited to transpolitics, if only we could have universal agreement on that future state should be.)

In the case of deduction and induction, there are three critical issues that often go overlooked in daily discourse (“a watched kettle never boils”), but oftentimes – as a reminder of a chimpanzee deceiving others in his group in the pursuit of self-interest – are intentionally leveraged in rhetorical speech, political dialogue and propaganda: (1) depending on the truth of the original premises, a deductive conclusion can be true or false even if logically valid; (2) a deductive conclusion can be valid even if the premise is false; and (3) an inductive inference is erroneously thought to be or presented as a deductive conclusion.

As such, a central goal of a future transpolitical environment is educating, encouraging and supporting the abandonment of generating misleading communications by intentionally or unintentionally manipulating logic.

The Invisible Hand of Emotion: Rationality as an Afterthought

Rationality is the quality or state of being reasonable, based on facts or reason. Rationality implies the conformity of one’s beliefs with one’s reasons to believe, or of one’s actions with one’s reasons for action. However, it’s not that simple: What is considered rational is relative, in that the operational cognitive model – reflected in often unspoken framing – determines whether or not a decision is rational or not – for example, whether the model primarily values the individual or the group.

Moreover, unlike our advanced neocortical cognitive capabilities, emotions arise in a much more primitive part of our brain – the limbic system. Nevertheless, emotions influence and interact with cognition in a number of important ways. Perhaps more importantly, emotion is causative in decision-making by unobtrusively engaging prior to cognitive activity, reasoning and rational thought. A case in point: Scientists presented subjects with what is known as a visual choice reaction task, in which a button had to be pressed when an image was presented. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to image the brain areas active during this task, the researchers observed activity not in the part of the neocortex where rational decisions are made, but rather in a deeper brain area called the anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with error detection, motor activity, conscious experience and, in this experiment, possibly, acting as an interface between limbic and cortical systems [xii].

Another factor that can be used in rhetorical or persuasive communications to facilitates a speaker’s ability to control the emotional component of cognition, memory and language is that we describe and understand the world primarily through metaphor [xiii] – a word or phrase used to compare two unlike objects, ideas, thoughts or feelings to provide a clearer description of one using the other.

Relatedly, a process known as framing – how individuals, groups, and societies organize, perceive, and communicate about reality – is used by mass media sources, political or social movements, political leaders, or other actors and organizations to make false or exaggerated comparisons that can be persuasive when a logical argument would not be.

Know Thyself

A field of inquiry since antiquity in both Eastern and Western philosophy, self-awareness (also referred to as self-knowledge, mindfulness, metacognition [xiv], and other terms) is the practice of intentional, non-judgmental introspection of our patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting. The goal is to develop the ability to go beyond mere consciousness of one’s body and environment to gain a deeper understanding of one’s assumptions, biases, predilections, biases, motives, values, emotions, thoughts, metaphors, and other typically unarticulated contributors to and causes of otherwise unexamined habits of cognition and behavior. Self-awareness is achieved through a variety of channels, including meditation, counseling, psychotherapy, education, and training.

The need for this new perspective is obvious. Our history – past, present and (at least in the short-to medium term) future – is marked by an endless series of violent practices in what is often archaically referred to as man’s inhumanity to man. Moreover, these large-scale events, such as invasion, war, genocide, atrocities, religious hatred, violent racism, abusive sexism, induced poverty, and exploitation, have their roots and counterparts in small-scale and individual antisocial – and sometimes seen as idiopathic – behaviors like lying, cheating, stealing, interpersonal abuse and violence, and other unfortunately everyday activities. When we do assign cause, we tend to point to a variety of secondary and tertiary causes of such behaviors. However, everything we do – not only the above, but all of our technology, economics, philosophy, beliefs, creativity, and most assuredly politics – is a primary expression or instantiation of a neural state of which we are seldom aware and therefore rarely articulate or consider as causative or even relevant.

In the specific domain of transpolitical change, the aforementioned issue of scale is central by virtue of the large number of persons involved in relation to the practice of self-awareness being de facto an individual pursuit. Given our near-universal priority being growth, productivity and wealth, a global environment supporting self-awareness appears to be a far-future scenario – an enlightened society that no longer requires laws defining, and enforcement maintaining, restricted and coerced behavior. In this scenario, individual self-awareness is an essential cornerstone of an enlightened transpolitical system in which the strong do not victimize the weak [xv].

The Zeitgeist of Change

Taking these powerful, universal, and often silent factors into question, and the way they influence – and when acted upon unthinkingly, determine – our thoughts, priorities, decisions, communications, and behavior, we can begin to see ourselves in aggregate as an enormously intelligent species that still prioritizes competitive self-interest, and that thinks and acts based more on instinct and impulse than reflection and insight. This clear and present reality is the fundamental causative determinant in the cyclical nature of political dialectic, as well as the generative force in creating the illusion that our social institutions – be they political, national, religious, economic, military, scientific, creative, or any other of the myriad aspects of human behavior – are rationally-created entities that have an existence of their own outside the realm of humans acting in groups of various sizes, values, goals, and resources.

In order to successfully and consistently consider societal evolution as a whole rather than just focusing on alternate political systems, and thereby to maximize the probability of creating non-dystopic futures, we would be best served by adopting what might be considered a medical model. In other words, to stop treating what can be considered the symptoms of human nature – that is, dysfunctional politics and other agglomerative In/Out group-mediated social institutions – we need to:

  1. use that awareness to move beyond our evolutionary impulses to acquire power and control over others
  2. foster a deeper awareness of our emotion- and self-interest-driven motivations
  3. learn through guidance and practice how to decouple those impulses from our political behavior
  4. use this new self-knowledge to model non-exploitative transpolitical systems that are no longer manifestations of evolutionary drives, unexamined beliefs and experience-based neocortical models of perceived value and alpha dominance
  5. use these models to design transpolitical constructs that implement our rational and cooperative traits

References

[i] The Social Behavior of Chimpanzees and Bonobos (http://primate.uchicago.edu/Stanford.pdf)

[ii] Comparing the human and chimpanzee genomes: Searching for needles in a haystack (http://genome.cshlp.org/content/15/12/1746.full)

[iii] Xeroxed gene may have paved the way for large human brain (http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2015/02/xeroxed-gene-may-have-paved-way-large-human-brain?intcmp=highwire)

[iv] Human-specific gene ARHGAP11B promotes basal progenitor amplification and neocortex expansion (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2015/02/25/science.aaa1975)

[v] The shrinking human protein coding complement: are there now fewer than 20,000 genes? (http://arxiv.org/abs/1312.7111)

[vi] Evolution of in-group favoritism (www.nature.com/srep/2012/120621/srep00460/full/srep00460.html)

[vii] Intergroup Bias (http://www.psych.purdue.edu/~willia55/392F-%2706/HewstoneRubinWillis.pdf)

[viii] In-groups, out-groups, and the psychology of crowds (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201012/in-groups-out-groups-and-the-psychology-crowds)

[ix] In-group/Out-group Effects in Distributed Teams: An Experimental Simulation (http://www.ics.uci.edu/~jsolson/publications/DistributedCollaboratories/Bos_IngroupOutgroup.pdf)

[x] Chimps Shown Using Not Just a Tool but a “Tool Kit” (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/10/1006_041006_chimps.html)

[xi] Deductive Reasoning vs. Inductive Reasoning (http://www.livescience.com/21569-deduction-vs-induction.html)

[xii] Volition to Action—An Event-Related fMRI Study (http://www-psych.stanford.edu/~span/Publications/gw02ni.pdf)

[xiii] The Metaphorical Structure of the Human Conceptual System (http://www.fflch.usp.br/df/opessoa/Lakoff-Johnson-Metaphorical-Structure.pdf)

[xiv] Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive–developmental inquiry (http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/amp/34/10/906/)

[xv] Dialogues with the Dalai Lama (http://www.mindandlife.org/dialogues-dalai-lama/)

[xvi] EVOLUTION: AN INTRODUCTION (2nd Edition) by Stephen Stearns & Rolf Hoekstra (2005) Figure 19.1 from p. 481. Figure may be viewed and downloaded for personal scholarly, research and educational use. To reuse the figure in any way permission must first be obtained from Oxford University Press. Figure is not under a Creative Commons license.

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 8 of the Transpolitica book “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”. Transpolitica welcomes feedback. Your comments will help to shape the evolution of Transpolitica communications.

Democratic Intelligence

By Stephen Oberauer, senior software developer, London

DI3

My experience of politics

I was born in South Africa in 1978, and remained ignorant about apartheid until I was about eleven years old.  I knew that different races lived in different areas and went to different schools, and that black people were generally poorer and less educated than white people, but I had no idea that there was an unnatural law, enforcing the division.

South Africa has been described as the “protest capital of the world,” with thousands of protests every year.  I had often see footage of violent protests on television, but remained safe in my parents’ suburban home, twelve miles from the center of Cape Town.  Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, signalling that change and democracy was on its way, but this did not seem to reduce the number of protests or amount of political violence.  In 1993, four men with grenades and assault rifles shot up the nearby St. James Church, killing 11 people and wounding 58, including some people that I knew.  My neighbour had shrapnel wounds.  A man I later worked with lost both his legs and an arm, and the woman who later became my mother-in-law, was shot in the arm while protecting her face.  The murderers claimed that they were following their orders and that they regarded all whites as legitimate targets as they were complicit in the government’s policy of apartheid.

In 1994, we had our first democratic elections, for which I was too young to vote.  My personal perspective of the major South African political parties was that they were usually quite easily categorized as either white or black, and ranged from extremely racist, admitting to wanting to kill people of the opposite colour, to not obviously racist.  Deciding who to vote for was incredibly simple: Racists voted for racist parties, and those who did not consider themselves to be racist, voted for the party that was the same colour as themselves, with the primary concern to get people out of power that wanted to kill them for the colour of their skin.  Had it been legal for sixteen year olds to vote, I would have voted against Nelson Mandela, partially because I, and most other white people, had no idea what a great leader he’d turn out to be.

Democracy didn’t, however, solve the problems.  I remember having to fetch my wife from work because an angry mob of striking security guards were marching in town, smashing cars and shop windows and heading straight for the shop where my wife was working.  We drove away from the centre of the city in a slow traffic jam, with thousands of other fearful workers, including the slowest Ferrari driver I’ve ever seen, eager to get to the safety our homes.

Today, after 21 years of democracy in South Africa, the murder rate has come down, but there are still about 50 murders a day, with some of the worst rape and hijacking statistics in the world.  There are regular power cuts, the government appears to be in chaos and the number of protests appears to be on the increase.  The current president, Jacob Zuma, has been accused of hate speech, for singing the song, “Kill the Boer.”  Boer is the Afrikaans word for farmer, but the meaning “white person” is implied.  He has also been to court to face charges of rape and corruption.  It seems that democracy, although the most sought after type of government today, is not the solution that South Africa hoped it would be.

Globally

According to The Economist Intelligence Unit (PDF) the countries of the world are governed as follows:

  • Full democracies: 15% of countries, 11.3% of the world population
  • Flawed democracies: 32.3% and 37.2% respectively
  • Hybrid regimes: 22.2% and 14.4%
  • Authoritarian regimes: 30.5% and 37.1%

One might think that the solution to world conflict is to get that 15% up to 100%. But while democracy sounds like a great idea, and generally is much better than a dictatorship, its usual implementations have many flaws.  Having the ability to stand in a queue for an hour or two and select one of the given choices every five years, knowing that one’s single vote in a sea of millions probably won’t make any difference at all, isn’t very much of a choice.

A modern computer system, called LiquidFeedback, has been used by the Five Star Movement in Italy to get instant feedback from whoever wishes to share their opinion or vote on a policy.  Such software makes the thought of standing in a queue every five years seem archaic.  While not everyone has access to the internet, it is a technology that is growing exponentially, and, according to the chairman of Google, everyone on the planet could have internet access within the next five years.  This might be hard to comprehend, especially if you’re not familiar with exponentially growing technology.  If so, it can be useful to think back to what the world was like about ten or twenty years ago.  For me, my internet access was 2,000 times slower just seven years ago.  Internet access is certainly growing quickly, and even if five years is an exaggeration, a large proportion of the world should have internet access soon.

Democracy applies within an entire country.  An even better system, however, would be able to affect decisions made in other countries.  If you lived in Palestine or Israel, and you wanted the other country not to fire rockets at you, how great would it be if your political system allowed you to say so?  And it wouldn’t just be to protect yourself and your family.  The ability to vote against human rights violations in foreign countries would be amazing.  People trapped in a dictatorship could still contribute their intelligence to other countries, and very importantly, the world would not have to suffer just because a few countries are generating ten times more greenhouse gasses than others.  In today’s connected world, where a company can easily exist in one country and have employees scattered around the world, geographical boundaries are losing their meaning.  Perhaps there are more important things to consider than geographical boundaries and age to determine whether or not someone should be allowed to vote, or how important their vote should be, like how much knowledge they have about what they’re voting for, how intelligent they are, or how prejudiced or objective they are.

Consider the quality of information in everyone’s heads. We know that some people are pro capitalism, some are pro socialism, some are extremely concerned about environmental issues, and others believe that global warming is a hoax.  It’s incorrect to assume that the majority of voters know better than the minority, but democracy appears to completely ignore this problem.  I think a good way to illustrate the problem is by talking about the one thing that everyone disagrees on more than politics: religion.

According to PewResearchCenter, the world’s largest major religious group, Christianity, consists of only 31.5% of the world’s population.  Democratically, would this mean that Christianity is the right religion?  Of course not, because no such rule exists.  In fact, if such a rule existed, then we could say that the other 68.5% are right, however the other 68.5% believe completely different things to each other, with Islam having the largest proportion at 23.2%.   Christianity itself is divided up as half Catholic, and half other denominations, with Catholicism itself being divided into many different denominations.  Of the religious people in the world I’d be surprised if many of them, when asked whether they believed their religion was the right one, would say “no.”

Besides politics and religion, opinions differ enormously on topics such as spiritual mediumship, UFOs and aliens, medicine and other forms of healing.  Since everyone believes different things, one has to consider how to get the most accurate and useful information.  For this purpose thinkers have come up with the concepts of critical thinking and the scientific method.  Many books have been written about critical thinking, teaching people to understand common logic errors, cognitive biases, evidence and statistics.  The scientific method is also part of critical thinking and gives us a structured approach to learning, based on evidence, testing and peer reviews.  Learning and applying critical thinking skills vastly improves the quality of information in people’s minds.

I’ve voted in about three of South Africa’s elections.  There have always been many political parties with their leaders’ faces on the ballot paper, most of whom I’ve never heard of before.  They could be geniuses, the likes of which the world has never seen, the next Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, or Einstein.  Unfortunately the vast majority of voters have no idea who these people are.  They will simply vote for the one or two parties that they’ve heard of, and for whatever reason, feel more seduced by.  Perhaps they even vote for the party that has told the most lies.

Another problem with democracy is that money is used to purchase votes, and I’m not talking about corruption.  According to the UK’s electoral commission (PDF), £31.5 million was spent on election campaigning in 2010.  That’s not only highly inefficient, but spending that kind of money to persuade people to vote for a particular political party makes the whole democratic process seem somewhat pointless, as if it’s merely a way to make us feel like we are free.

Even in America, a country whose leaders have told the inhabitants that they have been free for many years, getting electors to repeat lines like “liberty and justice for all,” managed to get 50 million people to vote for George Bush in 2000 – a man who was wrong in his claims [i] that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam was linked to Al Qaeda, and that Iraqis would be dancing joyfully in the streets to receive American soldiers.  He also grossly underestimated the human and financial costs of the war, and announced, six weeks after the start of the war, that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”  The result of the occupation of Iraq, according to sixteen American intelligence agencies was an increase in Islamic radicalism and the risk of terrorism.

But enough about the negative side of democracy.  It was the best thing that we had for a long time, and it has been around for a very long time; traceable back to 600 BC.

To quote R. Buckminster Fuller,

You never change things by fighting the existing reality.

To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Reasons for conflict

In order to solve the problem of conflict it’s important to understand why it exists in the first place.

In South Africa we were divided into blacks, whites, coloureds and Indians, as well as rich and poor.  The separation caused animosity between the groups.  Without separating people into groups there cannot be a concept of war.  Wars are fought between religions, races and across country borders.  Even civil war is fought between different groups; people who are categorized by their political preference, or their status.  When people are united, and not classified into a group, they will not be able to find a group to fight.  Unfortunately democracy encourages the formation of groups, placing people in boxes such as left wing, right wing, republican and democrat, instead of acknowledging that perhaps we are all members of the same species, each with our good ideas and our faults.

Modern terrorism is a consequence of people having extreme ideas, being brainwashed and unable to be critical of their own thinking.  This is partially due to being part of a group with similar ideas, but also partially because they have not been taught critical thinking.

Poverty also causes conflict.  When people become desperate they act.  Those who are comfortable have no reason to get out and protest.  This is quite obvious in South Africa, where the people who protest are usually poor people who believe they should earn more, or that the government should supply them with a need that is not being met.

Lack of transparency in governments means that governments can get away with doing things that the people don’t know about.  This lack of transparency can lead to corruption, lack of trust, and anarchy.

The last reason for conflict that I want to mention is the lack of a systematic method to change what we care about.  Petitions are often used in an attempt to change the world around us, but unfortunately they often don’t work.  There are usually no requirements for the number of signatures, and often no official person to send the petition to.  They are arbitrary claims that at least a certain number of people want a specific change, but do not mention how many people refused to sign.  They can be generated from misinformation about something that may or may not be true, and stir up feelings of anger, and when they are posted off into the void, they become anyone’s guess as to whether or not something will be done.

I’ve always thought of striking as the most pointless exercise in the world; not working in an attempt to earn more money.  From my experiences in London and France, it feels like strikes are almost regular, as if it’s just a randomly occuring holiday, by people performing important services like transport, education, mining and security.  Transport strikes disrupt millions of parents trying to get home to their children, and holiday makers trying to enjoy what little bit of time they have away from their stressful jobs, and the next month they will strike again, and continue to earn the same, low salary.

When petitions and striking don’t work, people turn to demonstrating, which can turn into riots, and when nothing changes, civil war, simply because people don’t have a systematic method to change what they care about.

I would like to suggest therefore that the kind of government that would be far more effective at making the world a better place and achieving peace would be a…

Self-improving, Transparent, Democratic, Meritocratic, International System.

Let me start by explaining this idea by writing a bit about modern systems, and explaining why they are so effective.

The StackExchange group of websites, with perhaps a hundred sub-sites, each for asking and answering questions about a particular topic, are great examples.  These are similar to many other sites that use a concept called gamification.  Gamification gives the user, or player, a goal, or number of goals, and usually awards the user with points.  In the case of StackExchange, badges and virtual medals are also awarded.

On StackOverflow, their sub-site for asking programming questions, one can ask a programming question, and, if it is a well written question, based on their guidelines, one usually has the correct answer within minutes.  Amazingly, this is a free service.  I’m not quite sure if that explains just how incredible the system is, so let me try another way:  One can either spend hours or days trying to solve a complex programming problem, or type it into StackOverflow and have it answered in minutes!

Stack Overflow Profile

My StackOverflow profile

So, how does the system work?

Everyone can earn points by asking questions, answering questions, doing reviews, improving formatting, etc.  One earns these points democratically, meaning that one earns points by other people looking at what one has done and awarding or deducting points.  Once one reaches a certain number of points, one is considered more trustworthy or knowledgeable and therefore more functions are enabled for that person.  The details are quite complex, but the system has obviously been shaped over many years into what it is today, a beautiful and elegant solution.

Imagine what a self-improving and transparent, democratic, meritocratic system could be like…

It starts with a well defined end goal, perhaps along the lines of “Increase happiness and unity worldwide,” in order to focus the users and help the system to evolve with a purpose.

Ideally the system would be universal, however, realistically it would require the ability to make changes in specific geographical areas where there may be a different need, or more users, or perhaps the system is used by a political party.

Perhaps you, as a user of the system, came up with the idea that it might be good for everyone to get benefits instead of just people who are not working, so you go to the website and type your proposal, “Give benefits to everyone, not just those who are unemployed.”

The website gives you a list of similar suggestions, and noticing that your proposal is already on the system and is number 273 in the queue, with 834 votes, you click the vote button to increase the value of the proposal and write a comment explaining why it would mean so much to you.

proposal

Screen for suggesting a proposal in hypothetical democratic, meritocratic system

The proposal now has 835 votes and with its new value it is bumped up to position 272 in the queue.  Within the next few weeks a further 7,433 people vote for the proposal and it eventually reaches the number one place in the queue.  Your comment on the proposal has been noted by many people and voted up so that it is number five in the list of comments.

People who have earned the most points on the system vote for or against the idea, based on feedback from a group of experts on the subjects involved, including mathematicians and people who are highly clued up about benefits.  The experts each record a ten minute video, or write a short article, explaining anything that they think is relevant, and then the videos and articles are uploaded to the site and linked to the question.  The people with the most points (trusted) watch all the videos and then vote on whether or not to go ahead with the proposal.  Each vote includes the voter’s reason for voting for their choice.

70% of the voters decide that it is not a good idea to give everyone benefits, so the proposal is disapproved, but you are not happy.  You believe that the system is faulty and you should be one of the people with a large number of points, so you can be included in the final round of voting.  For this reason you need to increase your points to 200.  This takes a lot of work.

You answer some critical thinking tests, which bump up your points from 50 to 100.  Then you read all of the recommended books… some history, some logic, some science, some psychology, etc.  One of them doesn’t appeal to you, so you create a proposal that the book is changed.  Eventually you do all the tests on the books that you read and your points are bumped up to 150.  Unfortunately you don’t quite get the points that you need, so you decide to try to become an expert on benefits.

You go to the expert section on the website and follow the strategy to become an expert.  Eventually you write an amazing article on benefits and are selected as an expert.  The next time the benefits proposal makes its way to the top of the list you are ready with your well researched video on how amazing the world would be if everyone had benefits.

Your video is watched by the people with the most points and 80% of them vote for everyone to have benefits and the new policy becomes reality.

Unfortunately the new policy doesn’t work out as well has you’d hoped, but since there is a democratic way to change things, people propose an even better system and the better system is implemented next.

Of course this is a rough idea of a transparent, self-improving, democratic, meritocratic system.  You can probably find faults in this solution.  I can see some already, but this is just the start.  The real system should be thoroughly discussed and thought out and would become more complex as it matures and improves.  The main point, however, of this system, is that it is self-improving and focused.  While existing political systems sometimes have the ability to improve and mature, they are very difficult to change, and can only be improved up to a point, because ultimately their party’s purpose is to stay in power.  They will not hand over the reigns to a system which makes them obsolete.  The purpose of the solution I’m proposing is not for it to remain in power, but for it to improve itself, and recursively replace itself with better systems that also generate solutions.

The system could be used not only for international change, but also for smaller groups, like charities or researchers, trying to figure out the most efficient way to solve a problem.

But imagine if it was used internationally.  Imagine if you could see a clear and well defined path that you could take to suggest any change, or become an expert on any matter so that your knowledge, experience and desire for change could make a difference.

Comparing the idea to existing systems

The White House already has a petitioning system.  This is a great step forward, since it is a formal way to request change, the petition goes to the right people, and the White House have promised to respond.  Unfortunately it still does not make it easy enough to change policies.  For example:

  • It’s up to you to get to 150 signatures in order for your petition to be publicly searchable. It doesn’t matter if you are a genius and spent the last twenty years coming up with your idea. You still need to be able to find 150 people who agree with you, by yourself.
  • You have just 30 days to get 100,000 signatures in order to get a response from the White House. Now that is a lot of signatures.
  • Your petition has limited power. I doubt very much you could petition the president to resign, or ask the government to shut down all the coal power stations and force energy companies to use renewable energy instead, because you believe that long term environmental concerns are more important than short term profit.
  • Lack of transparency. There is no way of knowing who reads the petitions, what their area of expertise is, besides public relations, and whether or not they actually have the power to change anything.

LiquidFeedback is a website used by The Five Star Movement.  It appears to be a very effective tool for holding an instant referendum.  It allows users to vote and select a proxy to vote in their place.  It sounds vaguely similar to the idea that I’m proposing, which I call Democratic Intelligence, so, for clarity, here are the differences:

  • With the default implementation of Democratic Intelligence, the experts, made up of users with the best knowledge of the topic, make the decisions. This, as with all features, could change to a better way of making decisions.  With LiquidFeedback it’s just a referendum, so the decision is still up to the party.
  • LiquidFeedback allows one to select a proxy, meaning that some people will have more voting power than others. In Democratic Intelligence, one does not choose a proxy.  The default implementation is that voting power is based entirely on points based on knowledge; however it could be updated to also include points based on the user’s contributions. Democratic Intelligence is completely systematic, and therefore a user’s popularity shouldn’t make much difference.
  • LiquidFeedback, like Democratic Intelligence, can be used by political parties or other organizations, however one of the main goals of Democratic Intelligence is unity, and therefore to be used globally.
  • Democratic Intelligence is self-improving, whereas in LiquidFeedback, it seems that users only have the ability to make political decisions, not decisions to improve the system.
  • LiquidFeedback does not appear to use gamification.

To summarize, the principles of Democratic Intelligence are:

  • Self-improvement
  • Transparency
  • Democracy, enabling everyone to say what is important to them, and by creating suggestions and ranking the importance of existing suggestions.
  • Meritocracy, in that knowledge is required do do various things like voting and sharing videos and thoughts on suggestions.
  • Unity, wherever possible, with the aim of becoming a global system.
  • Gamification
  • Goal orientation
  • Critical thinking

Practical aspects

How to build it

Building the system is the easy bit.  The system is currently in development, and will be ready to be improved when it is live.  I expect it to go live at democraticintelligence.org around May, 2015.

How to make it grow

The system would require regular use by a large enough group of people in order for its usefulness to be seen and to attract more users and grow.  For this reason it could start as simply a way for a charity similar to GiveWell to decide the most effective way to spend donations.  Perhaps it could be used by activist communities like Zero State and Humanity+ to collaborate internationally.  It could also be used to run a public company, although if the goal of the company is to make money, this could work against peace – seeing as the most effective ways to make money are not necessarily the most moral.

As the system matures, the charity or activist community could, for example, use the system to figure out better ways to find users.  It might decide to accept donations, and it might decide to use some kind of international currency like bitcoins, or it might simply rely on volunteers to complete any tasks that come out of the system.

Imagine an international, virtual community, voting and discussing what to spend money on in an organized fashion in order to achieve their goals.

My dreams are:

  • that the system could expand to become so large and mature, that the best ideas for peace leap out of it like popcorn
  • that petitions, striking, demonstrating, rioting and civil war become obsolete
  • that other, better systems emerge as a result
  • that eventually the entire world is part of a single system that works for everyone

What you can do

If you would like to get involved and help this kind of system become reality, start by joining one of the following groups to follow the progress of the idea, find information to share, discuss ideas that you have about it, and show your support:

Once the website is live, at democraticintelligence.org, you can help out by registering and using the site to share your suggestions, to learn, to vote and to volunteer.  If you know of anyone that would like to use the site, let them know about it.  Share information and videos about it.

Some readers will be skeptical, which is great.  One should not just accept anything that one reads.  If you’re skeptical, I’d love to have your involvement as well.  Visit the groups and share your wisdom so that we can learn from you.  As with any project I get involved in, I like to think of Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb.  Edison invented hundreds of light bulbs that didn’t work before inventing ones that worked well.  His famous quote is “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  Regardless of how well an idea works, it’s important to keep trying and refining, learning from past mistakes.  I hope we can apply this to politics, continuously trying out new ideas and making old ideas obsolete.

References

[i] From the book, Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), by Carol Tavris & Elliot Aronson, pages 2 & 3

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 2 of the Transpolitica book “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”. Transpolitica welcomes feedback. Your comments will help to shape the evolution of Transpolitica communications.

Political Transhumanism and the Transhumanist Party

By M. Amon Twyman, Transhumanist Party Co-Founder, UK Party Leader, Global Party Secretary

Summary

Transhumanism has historically been an effectively apolitical movement, focussed on technological improvement of the human condition. While some political obstacles to that goal have been recognised, Transhumanists’ political views have traditionally covered a broad range, making the emergence of a unified Political Transhumanism seem highly problematic. A paradigm shift appears to have occurred in 2014, with the establishment of the Transhumanist Party in the USA by Zoltan Istvan. Subsequently a number of related groups have rapidly appeared around the world, in an entire new movement dedicated to the idea of Political Transhumanism, with the Transhumanist Party as its primary vehicle in any given country. This chapter will consider the relationship between that movement and Transhumanism as a whole, what character the nascent Transhumanist Party appears to be developing, and the question of possible long-term strategies to transform the politics of the Twenty First Century.

A Unified Political Transhumanism

Transhumanism is an intellectual and cultural movement to expand human capabilities through technology. Transhumanism integrates numerous ideas and ideologies under one umbrella, and that diversity can make it difficult to trace a singular origin to the movement. Although earlier uses of the word “transhuman” and similar concepts have been noted (reaching as far back as Julian Huxley and even Friedrich Nietzsche), the general consensus seems to be that Transhumanism as a modern movement began with the ideas of futurist F.M. Esfandiary (AKA F.M. 2030) at the New School in 1960s New York.

From there, there was a slow emergence of groups in the UK and California which gave rise to the Extropy Institute in the late 1980s, and later an explosive proliferation of organisations and sub-movements owing their growth to the internet. The movement now comprises tens or even hundreds of thousands of members, a number of wealthy patrons, and a wide array of factions and specialist interests. The one consistent idea at the heart of it all, known as the “Central Meme of Transhumanism” or CMT, is that we can and should improve the human condition through technology.

Politically, the movement has historically been highly diverse, with that diversity only increasing with the growth of the movement. Certain popular currents of thought come and go, such as Libertarianism being very popular in Extropian circles in the 1980s and 1990s, but there has never been a point at which being a Transhumanist has strongly implied having a particular political outlook. That diversity has occasionally led to assertions that Transhumanism is inherently apolitical, and in some quarters it is (with Transhumanists often preferring technical over political solutions to problems), but we must note that a diversity of political opinion and a lack of it are not the same thing. There are indeed many Transhumanists with political interests, and although they often differ in those interests they certainly agree on the core impulse of Transhumanism.

The existence of significant (if diverse) political opinion on the part of Transhumanists reflects the fact that many of them recognise that their technological aspirations may be hindered or even blocked entirely by political opponents. There has however never been any serious attempt to unify Transhumanists behind a single political effort, ideology, or framework in order to deal effectively with that opposition. The resultant diversity has historically made the emergence of a unified Political Transhumanism seem highly unlikely. To look at that another way, any unified Political Transhumanism could only represent aspects of the wider Transhumanist movement, and never the entire thing. Such aspects would not just include the occasionally incompatible philosophies which comprise the Transhumanist movement, but also traditional political (e.g. Left/Right) divisions between individual Transhumanists. Any decision as to which aspects of Transhumanism to emphasise could be made deliberately, or allowed to emerge via some process, but in either case there inevitably would be some bona fide Transhumanists who quite rightly felt that the party did not represent their views.

Possible responses to this situation fall into three categories. First, a person could simply say that this is a non-issue, as a political variant of Transhumanism strikes them as irrelevant or undesirable in some way. Although that is a valid point of view, we might note that it is one that politically-empowered opponents of Transhumanism (such as lobbyists on behalf of conservative religious groups) would be very happy to see all Transhumanists adopt.

The second category is the favoured response of fanatical ideologues throughout history: To declare that there is no problem because only one variant of Transhumanism is valid, and all others are not worthy of the name. Putting my own belief in the power of diversity aside, I think it suffices to say that any Political Transhumanism that started out by alienating most Transhumanists would probably not have a high chance of eventual success.

Finally, one might suppose that we could “square the circle”, integrating the various disparate strands of Transhumanism in some manner that preserves difference and yet creates an effective, united front. Any such approach would seem to require that two conditions are satisfied. The first condition is that any approach or ideology consistent with the CMT must be assured a fair chance of at least partially informing policy adopted by Transhumanist political parties, if there is to be any plausible claim to universality by those parties. The second is that when making their decisions, those parties cannot be expected to wait for or please every other person and group calling themselves Transhumanist, since that would lead to deadlock and bland policy which fully satisfies no-one within the movement.

Given these conditions, I would argue that the ancient model we need to follow is not the analytical “squaring the circle”, but the altogether more forthright “cutting the Gordian Knot”. In other words, rather than attempting to carefully balance the concerns and preferences of myriad groups (a nigh-impossible task under even the best circumstances), a Transhumanist political party should boldly move ahead and do as it must. The only caveat – and the one thing stopping this from being the “fanatical” second option already noted – is that all Transhumanists must always have the option of getting involved and shaping policy. No Transhumanist could be excluded from the party on the basis of beliefs that are compatible with the CMT and the existence of the Party itself, no matter how unorthodox they may be.

In that way there would be no deadlock, no watering down party policy to please non-members, and yet a valid claim to universality and equality of opportunity. The only people not represented in the policy-development process would be those who cannot accept the CMT (and who are therefore not Transhumanists), those who cannot explicitly endorse the Party for whatever reason, and those who have chosen to exclude themselves through inactivity. Transhumanists who claimed that their views were not adequately represented within the party would only have themselves to blame, and the party could not be marginalised or distanced from the rest of the Transhumanist movement as a result.

The Transhumanist Party

Of course, when I refer to a political party in the previous section I am not being abstract or hypothetical. A paradigm shift within Transhumanism appears to have occurred in 2014, with the establishment of the Transhumanist Party in the USA by Zoltan Istvan. Although no-one claims that this fledgling organisation can speak for all Transhumanists or is even ready to operate in a serious way, a line has been crossed in the bold assertion that the Transhumanist movement can and will have a unified political face. Of course Transhumanism outside the Party and non-Party forms of Political Transhumanism will continue to exist and thrive, and we will briefly consider possible relationships between such phenomena and the Party in the next section. From now on, however, no-one will be able to intelligently claim that a unified Political Transhumanism does not exist. They will merely be able to state their relationship to it.

Subsequent to establishment of the U.S. Party, a number of related groups have rapidly appeared around the world, in an entire new movement dedicated to the idea of Political Transhumanism, with the Transhumanist Party as its primary vehicle in any given country. This expansion appears to be part of what we may think of as a “post-classical” phase for Transhumanism, following the earlier “classical” phase in which organisations like the Extropy Institute and World Transhumanist Association / Humanity+ could make statements on behalf of all Transhumanists with relative confidence. In this new phase, new organisations constantly appear and their claims to represent Transhumanism are rightly tested and questioned. The Transhumanist Party will therefore have to prove its value, its ability to endure, and most importantly its ability to reflect truly Transhumanist values in its policies.

What kind of values and policies might those be? Can we yet see any indication at this early stage? In many ways I believe that we cannot yet know what character the Transhumanist Party will have, especially since it will necessarily develop a different character in different nations. We also must bear in mind that the internal processes developed by the different national-level Parties will shape what policies they adopt, and furthermore there is a difference between policy and effective changes made in the world. All that said, certain policy themes have already been prevalent in discussions among TP supporters, and it is interesting to take note of them. These have naturally had a common focus in science and evidence-based policy, and encouraging the use of technology to circumvent problems themselves often created or exacerbated by technology (e.g. surveillance, civil rights and questions of personal freedoms, technological unemployment, intellectual property rights, the challenges of automated warfare, environmental damage, climate change and other existential risks).

Traditionally optimistic Transhumanist topics such as longevity and space exploration are also popular, but it seems likely that they will not get as much traction in policy terms as will topics which the broader public care about in an immediate and visceral way. Public opinion is, after all, the lifeblood of politics. In other words, it seems highly likely that Political Transhumanism will be primarily concerned with addressing those areas where current technologies and problems are at issue, as opposed to speculative matters. Political Transhumanism therefore has a temporal character, in both senses of the word, in that it addresses the most mundane and near-term of Transhumanist topics. Of course, in a world where technological development and various other markers of change appear to be accelerating, “near-term” doesn’t quite mean what it used to, and some of the “mundane” issues that the Transhumanist Party will have to tackle would have sounded like science fiction thirty years ago. In fact, it is my belief that TP is emerging at a time when the very fabric and nature of politics is beginning to transform beyond recognition by a Twentieth Century observer.

Transforming the Politics of the Twenty-First Century

It is easy to believe that nothing changes about politics. Its trappings and strategies are like baroque ritual, well-worn with a deep familiarity. Transhumanists, however, know well that society’s rules and institutions face a torrent of change in the coming years, driven by exponential technological development and other pressures. Politics will be no exception, and recent political adaptations to the realities of the internet, computing power more generally, 3D printing, drone technology, pharmaceuticals and genetic engineering are just the first ripples heralding the coming wave of disruption.

Of course, whatever role the Transhumanist Party might play in such a dramatically shifting future is all but impossible to predict. Perhaps it will be entirely insignificant. I expect that techno-utopians who see positive developments as inevitable would be inclined to think so, and that opponents of technological change would hope so. When I try to realistically assess the promise and plausibility of this new movement, I find myself thinking in terms of a twenty five year time frame. After twenty five years of consistent and effective effort, if all goes well enough, the movement could have enough influence through various channels to effect serious positive change. Of course that speculation raises a lot of questions, and most of them cannot yet be answered. However, we can briefly review points ranging from likely near-term strategies and prospects, to scenarios which are more speculative and plausible only in the longer term.

Firstly, there is the question of near-term political strategy, and how that strategy will necessarily be informed by local conditions. I’ve already mentioned that Transhumanist Party “precursor groups” have been springing up around the world, and most of them so far are in Europe, but even there the diversity of political conditions and sentiment means that the different Parties must naturally evolve to present a common worldview in many different ways. When it comes to traditional political party activity, we can see the most scope for modest medium-term success in nations where parliaments are elected by a proportional representation system, such as Germany. The examples of movements like the Pirate Party, Syriza and Podemos make this clear, whereas in “first past the post” systems (such as in the UK) it can easily take twenty five years to become the third party, even with radical and unexpected success. To my mind, traditional political attempts in the United States and Russia are little more than publicity drives (which is most certainly a thing of value in itself) because the systems in those nations allow for no real third-party influence. In effective single-party states like China there is no real potential for an independent political party at all.

Given this continuum from modest to negligible traditional influence, it is entirely unsurprising that some people feel that the Transhumanist Party is not worthy of their attention or support. Why put in twenty five years of hard effort to end up with little more influence than you started out with? If I felt that these limitations were absolute, then I personally would not support the effort, either. But the fact is that traditional political engagement is only one route to socio-political influence, and to the extent that traditional routes are limited then I would encourage Transhumanist Parties to explore non-traditional options. What might some of these “non-traditional options” be?

I’m going to finish this chapter by briefly looking at three such strategies, or perhaps more accurately three categories of development which we should expect to inform specific strategies. I see these categories as complementary, perhaps overlapping across different time frames, and definitely not mutually exclusive. Here we are looking at things from the most abstract, “big picture” perspective possible without veering off into the most speculative outer reaches of Transhumanism, so a lack of specificity is inevitable. We are, after all, just now taking the first step in a very long journey, and cannot be sure what lies ahead.

The first class of development is the most prosaic, and perhaps the most likely: That direct political influence will be unsatisfyingly negligible, but indirect influence through other organisations may prove fruitful. After all, established institutions (such as the two main parties in nations like the U.K. and U.S.) will have to deal with technological developments and their societal implications too, so why not try to foster influence within them? In my opinion this is a necessary course of action, very much complementary to the direct approach of the Transhumanist Party. Indeed, in the short- and medium-term I think this indirect approach could yield dividends for Transhumanism which are highly unlikely to be achieved via the Party. Many Transhumanists seem to intuit that the way forward on this front is to build strong political connections with such institutions via think tanks, and Transhumanists have already been building such organisations. Among others, we have the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET), the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) at Oxford University, and of course the recently established Transpolitica. I must reiterate that this indirect approach complements development of the Transhumanist Party, aiming for the same outcome despite being pursued by different people, by different methods and over different time frames, and so it is not a matter of having to choose between approaches.

The second category includes all situations where Party organisation has matured and has a lot of potential, but is being blocked by any combination of deliberate opposition and general political intransigence or stagnation. Transhumanists may well decide that they are being blocked from necessary measures which they have a right to pursue, perhaps as a matter of personal survival. Under those conditions, Party organisations could decide to apply their resources to direct action initiatives, rather than attempting to convince established institutions of anything. In short, if denied any chance to pursue their rights, Political Transhumanists may simply go their own way. This would involve setting up our own systems of governance and resource management, in ways and places that would allow us to pursue our own goals despite the reservations of others. Of course this raises a host of ethical and practical questions, but for the moment my purpose is only to point out that political parties can be good for more than attempting to persuade others who may never agree with our views.

Thirdly, we reach the foothills of the long-term and speculative scenarios which have long fuelled the imaginations of Transhumanists. They and various futurist fellow-travellers are aware that a number of critical societal trends appear to be unfolding at an exponential rate, which means that sudden and extremely disruptive change can be reasonably expected within decades. In fact, some would argue that we have witnessed the earliest signs of that change already, with technology already having deeply affected business and government since the turn of the Century. A noted characteristic of exponential change is that it can drastically alter circumstances (and the rules of any given situation) far quicker than would be expected by those used only to linear change. Taking that into account, we should be prepared for the possibility that the Transhumanist Party’s “futuristic” concerns could be a matter of contemporary politics a lot sooner than most people expect, and traditional politicians could very easily be caught off-guard. If we take our position seriously and prepare appropriately, the Transhumanist Party could find itself faced with an unprecedented opportunity in a lot less than twenty five years after all.

Finally, we should take that logic to its conclusion, and ask a question which will already have occurred to many apolitical Transhumanists: Why bother trying to influence politics at all, when we may well have been engulfed in a Technological Singularity within 20-30 years? After all, any number of Singularitarians are inclined to follow Ray Kurzweil’s lead in expecting a total shift in the human and societal condition around 2045, which would render any and all political progress moot. My personal answer to this question is that the future is unknown. No rational person can claim to be entirely sure what will happen. A Technological Singularity may never occur, and indeed the question of whether it occurs or not (or is a good thing or not) may well be a matter of human agency rather than inevitability. If human agency is to play any role whatsoever, then having Political Transhumanists work on increasing the odds of a good outcome – at the very least by blocking political interference – is a very good idea. If a Good Singularity is indeed inevitable then there will have been no harm in working toward it, but if a positive future has to be worked for then it would be a grave error to blithely ignore or even deliberately reject some of the tools at our disposal. Given that a Bad Singularity is probably the most horrific scenario envisaged by Transhumanists, even worse than a simple extinction of humanity, Singularitarians should be the first to acknowledge the need to work toward a positive future by all means necessary.

Conclusion: Interesting Times

In this chapter we have considered the emergence of Political Transhumanism and the Transhumanist Party as part of the “post-classical” phase of Transhumanism’s development. We have seen that this new aspect would and could not replace Transhumanism as a whole, but would instead augment and represent it in an active engagement with society. This new wing of the movement needs to be open to all Transhumanists who would step up to actively support it and represent their own beliefs within it, but at the same time it must be bold and take action without waiting for permission from every would-be armchair critic (including a good many implicit opponents). A broad range of issues seem likely to inform Party policies, but the very nature of being a political party looks likely to draw TP toward the nearer-term, less speculative Transhumanist topics. The Party may find it best to pursue unorthodox strategies, but that is no problem when we consider that our aim is to solve problems, not to create a political party of any particular type for its own sake. Finally, we are faced with a kind of modern Pascal’s Wager, whereby it behooves us to work toward a positive future by all means possible – including the political – regardless of whether the unknowable future might also be inevitable. We live in interesting times, and it is up to us to do what we can to make the best of them.

Footnote

The article above features as Chapter 6 of the Transpolitica book “Anticipating tomorrow’s politics”. Transpolitica welcomes feedback. Your comments will help to shape the evolution of Transpolitica communications.