Technoprogressive Roadmap conf call

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Please find below notes from the online Zoom conference call which took place from 9pm to 10pm GMT on Sunday 17th November, discussing features of the Technoprogressive Roadmap which is being prepared and published by the UK’s Transhumanist Party.

Here’s how the conference was described in advance, via London Futurists:

In a time of intense tactical political discussion, can we identify larger, longer-term goals for politicians in the UK and elsewhere to keep firmly in mind?

The UK’s Transhumanist Party is in the process of publishing a “Technoprogressive Roadmap” for the UK: 15 transformational goals for the UK to seek to accomplish by 2035, with the goals being supported in each case by 2 interim stepping-stone targets to be accomplished by 2025.

These 15 goals span six overlapping spheres of human life: the flourishing of individuals, the flourishing of society, the flourishing of positive international relationships, the flourishing of the environment, the flourishing of humanity’s steps into the wider cosmos, and the flourishing of productive political processes.

This online conference call is a chance for people to ask questions and express their views on what the Transhumanist Party has already published. You can share your views about matters to prioritise or deprioritise, on potential alternatives, and on what shorter-term actions should be organised…

Another online conference call in the same series will be announced shortly – probably focusing on the technoprogressive vision for the future of education, and taking place from 9pm GMT on Sunday 1st December.

Setting the context

To start the conference call, the following brief set of slides were shown:

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A wide-ranging discussion then took place, in which only a small number of the initial points could be explored. The notes that follow include some of the highlights.

Participants

The following individual participants who spoke up during the call have kindly agreed to be identified:

  • “AK” – Alexander Karran
  • “DW” – David Wood
  • “EP” – Evan Parker
  • “JBZ” – Johannon BenZion
  • “MH” – Margaret Hardie
  • “TJO” – Thomas James O’Carroll
  • others TBC

Paragraphs in italics are comments added after the conference, making points that there was no time to include during the call itself.

The order of discussion has been rearranged in some cases, to make the underlying structure of the conversation clearer.

Technoprogressive vs. technosluggish

JBZ: Many political institutions suffer from a kind of “technosluggishness” – even when these institutions are managed by people who would see themselves as being “progressive”. These institutions aren’t able to keep up with the pace of technological change.

DW: The question isn’t whether government should be “big” or “small”. Instead, it’s how can government be fast and nimble – agile and effective. The answer partly involves changing how we humans interact, but it’s also about using the right technologies in support of our institutions.

Improving international cooperation?

TJO: Many of the goals in the Technoprogressive Roadmap will need international cooperation in order to succeed. How will this cooperation be achieved?

DW: In part, by extending what we’re doing today, in this call, nurturing links with like-minded people and groups around the world (whether or not these people are comfortable to use the terms “transhumanist” or “technoprogressive” to describe themselves).

DW: And in part, by bringing our ideas to existing international bodies, such as forums organised by the United Nations or the EU. We look forward to groups within these bodies adopting some of our ideas and developing them further.

DW: Also consider emerging new international organisations such as United Citizens of Democracy Without Borders.

Countering the trend towards greenwashing?

TJO: In the video about carbon neutrality and climate change, it is stated that

This goal rejects any creative accounting in which various actions initiated by the UK are completely omitted from the balance sheet – actions such as international shipping, flights to overseas destinations, and the production of goods overseas for import into the UK.

We cannot lower the risk of climate catastrophe by any such “greenwashing” measures of “sweeping data under the carpet”.

We need to assess the situation honestly and transparently.

TJO: What counter-measures are in mind to prevent greenwashing?

DW: Greenwashing is when people or organisations say they are going to be environmentally friendly and responsible, but they don’t follow through, or they misrepresent relevant statistics. We have to shine the light of analysis on this. We need to develop meaningful metrics which cannot be gamed – metrics that measure substantial changes in our interaction with the environment. We need to be able to have an honest discussion, based around truly useful metrics.

The future of political parties?

EP: What role does the Technoprogressive Roadmap envision for political parties in the future? Is the writing on the wall for political parties?

DW: The system of political parties has been seeing its fastest changes recently, with the quick rise of a brand new party, that is the Brexit Party (albeit based on prior work by UKIP). This is a sign that the political landscape can change more quickly than ever before.

DW: The power held by political parties in the current system does need to be weakened. This power is an example of how humanity’s instinct for tribalism (in-group loyalty) is unhelpful in the present age.

DW: It is still useful for like-minded people to be able to organise together into political parties, alliances, and groups. However, the public often feel unable to cast votes for the political parties they actually prefer the most. Instead, they often feel obliged to cast a tactical vote, in order to prevent the election of another candidate that they particularly dislike or fear. This feature makes it difficult to find out what the public actually thinks about new parties, and it helps strengthen the power of older parties.

EP: Consider an example problem – say how to improve the organisation of a nation’s health service, or the educational system. Isn’t the best way to evolve a good policy in these fields to involve people from different political dogmas, sitting down with open minds, listening to all the arguments, and then reach a consensus? That’s instead of what tends to happen now, which is people just thinking in their existing groups, e.g. a leftist grouping which allows no role for any privatisation. Isn’t it better for people to be able to look at options in an expansive way?

EP: Too much present-day political discussion is structured around groups that made sense centuries ago. We should move on, with a national conversation, with the people in Parliament being independent MPs, rather than being controlled by parties.

EP: Politics shouldn’t be focused on gaining a majority of the seats in Parliament (even a majority as low as a single seat). Parties shouldn’t feel entitled to push through their entire political manifestos, just because they gained a majority. Instead, issues should be decided one by one, free from dogma, by an open-minded discussion among independent MPs. We can do all this a lot better!

DW: Yes, too many current political discussions are bedevilled by questions of political dogma, and by people being too quickly pigeon-holed on account of a cursory inspection of their views, rather than their ideas being listened to properly. Thinking stops once a label has been applied, “left-wing” or “right-wing” or whatever.

DW: Instead, we need to move to what has been called a superdemocracy, and data-driven decision-making.

DW: People also need to become comfortable about holding in their mind two contradictory ideas at the same time, in order to allow new ideas to emerge than can transcend and unify the separate opinions.

EP: We need a culture in which people are willing to learn from diverse political views. Different political views can be fascinating. They can all have something to bring to the bigger picture.

EP: Of course emotions will come into political discussion. But that shouldn’t result in the extended divisiveness that runs through our Houses of Parliament.

EP: In summary, political parties have had their day.

DW: So perhaps the slogan of the Transhumanist Party could be, We want all parties to be abolished, including ourselves!

EP: Having groups of people sharing ideas together is fine. But the power fetish in politics is a massive problem.

EP: MPs generally go into Parliament with good intentions, but as soon as they sense they could get the red (ministerial) case, and the power that goes with it, they go along with the process (this is something that former politician Michael Portillo has talked about). They vote with their party, rather than according to their own independent assessment.

Changing the electoral system?

AK: Would proportional representation be a first step forwards? It would be a system that would allow independents to rise to the top.

EP: That’s a useful stepping stone, but the election process has more fundamental problems – as E describes in the forthcoming book Reinventing Democracy.

EP: A better process would be “representative selection” in which people are selected to join parliament, that represent all sectors of society, in a way that is truly representative. The present parliament has an over-representation of lawyers and a severe under-representation of the working class.  (3% of MPs are working class, out of around 25% of the whole population.)

AK: But how can the public mindset be changed, to support this kind of idea? Many people seem to find comfort in a model of a simplistic division of political possibilities, left vs. right. They don’t seem to have the cognitive bandwidth to assess more complicated options (although, to be clear, they do have the underlying ability). Being short of time, they prefer a nice simple set of options and actions to consider, without delving into finer points of philosophy.

Problems with our education system?

EP: The problem is that our education system does not train us to have open minds. That’s a very big flaw.

EP: We also need to point out to people that, just because a policy has failed, that’s no reason to blame someone, and to remove them from office. Instead, we should learn when a policy fails, and adjust.

DW: That’s similar to the approach of agile experimentation adopted by many leading businesses, which embrace the ideas of “fail forward, fail fast, and fail smart”.

EP: This failure-adverse mindset dates back to the previous century, and beyond.

How might representative selection work?

TJO: Are you proposing something almost like a jury system, where people are picked at random?

EP: Yes, people would initially be selected so as to represent the demographics of society.. They would need to be willing to serve. It’s for a short term – a term of service to your country. Perhaps for 2 or maybe 3 years.

EP: The system could be designed with an agreed bar level of mental agility, in order to be eligible for selection. We could put the bar as high (or low) as we like. (Our current crop of MPs aren’t particularly bright…)

TJO: But how would this be implemented? How could the change be introduced? Any existing government might reject the idea.

EP: See chapter 5 of the forthcoming book…

EP: Actually it’s very important that we can suggest a positive solution. There are far too many critics who complain about problems with our present state of democracy, without offering a credible positive alternative to the present system.

Democracy and engagement?

EP: Our current system is democracy in name only. The populace are not well engaged with it. 95% of people say they’re not interested in politics. It’s a failure of our education system.

EP: For the wellbeing of society, people need to feel comfortable and engaged about talking about the big ideas of the day.

EP: Actually, in good circumstances, the public discussion of politics can indeed become more engaging. Something like 80% of the electorate took part in the recent referendum on Scottish independence.

EP: To help greater engagement, there’s a big role for digital platforms, that encourage and enable good quality discussions.

Possible roles for technology?

A2: Could blockchain help with a reliable random selection? This is something blockchain companies are already exploring within their own governance structure.

A2: Most countries have National ID systems and those would effectively integrate easily with this system.

A2: Another system of representative system is delegative democracy. In delegative democracy, you cast votes yourself only on issues you care about and feel you have clear views about. For example, I care a lot about water and, therefore, would be more interested in devoting time towards researching that topic and taking part in votes about it. In another case, if there is someone who is more interested than me in food issues, who I trust, then, I should be able to transfer my vote to them. This is something that should be possible using technological systems in place.

DW: The book Transcending Politics speaks positively about liquid democracy (an example of delegative democracy).

JBZ: Has talked to someone who founded a blockchain voting company in Australia. He would also agree in the importance of post-partisanship, as being key to real progress.

EP: The technology should enable a productive national conversation, which draws upon the views of ordinary people, experts, think tanks, politicians, the civil service, and so on. There are many big topics, associated with technological possibilities, that urgently deserve a national conversation – consider the quantum computing possibilities covered at yesterday’s London Futurists event, or increased longevity.

JBZ: It’s a double-edged sword. People can use the technology of new information systems in destructive ways too, socially engineering outcomes that they personally wish to see, but which may not be in the general interest.

JBZ: Rather than blaming the low-information voters who have been led astray by this kind of social engineering, we should be blaming the bad actors who are doing the manipulation.

AK: Regarding blockchain: bear in mind that systems using blockchain aren’t necessarily truly anonymous. However, the ability to cast a vote truly anonymously is important. Tying votes to entries in a national ID register could be a recipe for unwanted control.

DW: Technology that makes it easier for people to be correctly added to the voting registration list should be welcomed. There are parts of the world where politicians actively try to suppress the voting rights of parts of the community they believe would vote against them. Too many people in these regions – including some states of the USA – are deliberately disenfranchised.

JBZ: In the USA, this is an example of so-called hyper-partisanship.

Has voting has its day?

MH: Who decides what the ‘greater good’ is? Who arbitrates between conflicting priorities and on what basis? The whole notion of legitimacy needs revisiting. Should we have a ‘voting licence’ the way we have a driving licence? On the basis of the fact that how you vote can cause serious damage

EP: Voting may have had its day. Historically, it was very important. It was great that people in the past fought for the right to vote. But if a society was being designed from scratch, we should be able to consider different options.

EP: Voting can be used for many important functions, but it’s probably not the best system to select the people who will be sitting in Parliament. There are other, better ways of ensuring appropriate representation.

EP: Would favour there still being MPs who have ties to local communities. But how the MPs are selected in a representative way needn’t involve voting.

DW: There’s much more to democracy than just the voting. Democracy is about involving everyone in the conversation, bringing insights from multiple perspectives, and taking the time to ensure that there are solutions that work for everybody, without leaving segments of the populace behind.

DW: Voting is only a part of democracy. We make a fetish of voting at our own danger.

A role for AI overseeing politics?

AK: Humans aren’t very good at managing other humans. We’re too partisan. Can’t we take more advantage of decision-support tools?

MH: Should we all have an impartial AI political advisor? The ‘impartial’ bit might be hard to engineer from what is mostly biased data on politics out there.

AK: It’s true there are problems of potential data bias. But with some care, can’t we envision a neural network processing enough data that it can offer us policy recommendations?

AK: Consider the remarkable results already achieved in text generation by OpenAI’s GPT system:

We’ve trained a large-scale unsupervised language model which generates coherent paragraphs of text, achieves state-of-the-art performance on many language modeling benchmarks, and performs rudimentary reading comprehension, machine translation, question answering, and summarization—all without task-specific training.

AK: Imagine feeding such a system with all the political discourse from the last 2,000 years, say, and works of philosophy, and then asking it questions. Couldn’t that help in independent formulation and evaluation of policy?

AK: A decision-support system would be of great assistance to the human representatives selected for the task of working in Parliament. It could generate a number of policy recommendations which would then act as seeds for further group discussion by humans. Note that humans would remain “in the loop”.

JBZ: The Technological Roadmap envisions AI-driven governance.

TJO: The “House of AI” idea.

DW: The basic idea is that we have the best of human intelligence supported by the best of artificial intelligence.

DW: We’re seeing some of that already: consider Wikipedia, and the Snopes fact-checking site. We’re seeing some fact-checking in real time now. There’s scope to improve it further, so that when politicians are speaking on screen, the display will also indicate in real-time if there are questionable aspects in what the politicians say. There could be some kind of traffic light red/amber/green indication.

DW: As well as checking facts, this AI system could draw attention to issues with the argument (logical fallacies, cognitive biases, etc). Going further, this isn’t just about showing when humans have got something wrong; it’s about proposing new syntheses of ideas.

DW: This will be covered in more detail in the video for the 15th goal in the set. Although it’s the last one in the set, it may be the most important in the whole set.

A possible trial in a small city state?

JBZ: At RAADfest recently the talk by Ray Kurzweil reviewed some impressed progress with the capabilities of predictive algorithms, developed at Google and elsewhere.

JBZ: Software that can process and generate text is already progressing very quickly. We may not be far from seeing a group of people try a new governance model, using pilot versions of technology, in a small city state somewhere, separate from traditional governance oversight.

JBZ has been invited to go to Bolivia to discuss with some people there about such a community. It’s not clear how to evaluate how seriously this project should be taken. It’s easy to talk, but harder to follow through.

DW: There are a number of communities with strong libertarian and voluntarist principles that are already organising themselves around the world. There may be a talk at London Futurists soon, by someone who has spent time in several of these communities. These communities are seeking to take advantage of technology to organise themselves in different ways than has traditionally been the norm.

DW: So maybe this is how we will make progress: demonstrate the viability of ideas about better politics and better governance in small scale pilots.

DW: The online group Zero State had some similar aspirations, though it seems these have yet to be fulfilled.

Who would write the AI used in government?

A2: Who should be writing the algorithm for any AI  used in AI-driven governance? I think first we need an algorithm bill (regulations) before we even get into having such an advisor.

DW: Agreed that clear principles are needed here. We need to avoid giving too central a role in society to an AI that on the surface is serving the needs of the general public, but which is in a deeper sense supporting the business objectives of the organisation or corporation which created it.

DW: It’s like today’s social media: we value the services we get from it, but we are aware that we are, in a sense, being manipulated by it.

DW: Therefore the videos about increased political flourishing – goals 14 and 15 – will advocate for clear agreement on the principles by which any AI must be developed, before it can be adopted in any central role in society.

DW: Some of the principles will be transparency and explainability. There will also be principles about identifying biases in the data used to train any machine learning.

AK: Open source will help here.

AK: Note that these AI algorithms generally aren’t “written” in any traditional sense, but they emerge from a process of training.

JBZ: Yes, the predictions often come from a “black box”, without it being understood why various predictions (e.g. life expectancy) have been made. We may have cases where the AI is right, but we cannot understand why it is right, and we cannot really trust it.

DW: The technoprogressive roadmap proposal is that AIs will not be accepted, unless they can explain their reasoning in a satisfactory way. Opaque AI should not be accepted. A movement in support of explainability of AI is already gathering momentum, independent of the technoprogressive roadmap.

Priorities for next steps?

DW: What topics should be discussed in subsequent calls? One option is to dive more deeply into the future of education.

AK: Support the idea of having issue-based conversations. And support the idea of a call focused on education.

EP: In a way, education underpins everything else.

MH: It’s about more than just education. There are an awful lot of very educated people out there with quite retrograde views. It’s terrifying.

TJO: Interested in the interconnections between different points in the roadmap – a series of dependencies.

DW: The goal of looking at these dependencies would be to try to identify the interventions that would have the greatest leverage.

DW: One example of an interconnection is the same that climate change seems to increase social stresses and to lead on to problems such as civil wars, as in Syria.

DW: Perhaps it is goal 2, for increased mental fitness and emotional vitality, that will have the biggest positive impacts on progress with all the other goals. If more people around the world have broader, calmer minds, living in a way that is more focused and more helpful, we would be less prone to being adversely manipulated or distracted by various external or internal pressures.

JBZ: A friend in the US has suggested that improving the public health service there should rank as the highest priority. A mindshift towards treating aging as a disease, and allocating funds accordingly, promoting healthy longevity, is key to improving matters.

JBZ: We also have a lot to learn from what Estonia is doing with digital governance. In turn, with a better digital infrastructure, Estonia is looking forward to an improved health system. We may be able to learn from San Marino too (an even smaller country).

JBZ: Other longevity-related topics to review include the longevity caucus in the USA, and the increasing electoral successes of the Party for Health Research in Germany.

DW: There has been lots of news recently in the UK about extended waiting times at accident and emergency in the national health service, about resource shortages, and other growing crises. The problems run so deep that they cannot be resolved simply by hiring more doctors and nurses, and building new hospitals. Instead, the transhumanist insight is that what’s needed is a switch to better preventive measures, including health rejuvenation interventions, and including better mental health (since bad physical health often stems from bad mental health).

DW: It’s true, as was said earlier, that even very well educated people can have very retrograde views – terrifyingly so. I see that as a problem of poor mental health or poor emotional intelligence.

A2: From a health perspective, we need to have focus on prevention through better data on individuals, better diets and a focus away from cure which is the current focus of the NHS.

A2: This is something we are now seeing come through biotechnology sector. I am lucky enough to be working in a start-up developing blood tests that individuals can do themselves. When healthy individuals have data and apps to help them with mental health then we will see a move in the right direction but this is highly unlikely to come through the NHS.

TJO: Ideas for innovative new treatments in the mental health space, such as “mental health ninjas” also deserve more attention.

DW: Interestingly, there are some public surveys that suggest that the question of the best way forwards for the NHS is viewed by electors as even more important, in determining how they will vote, than the question of Brexit.

JBZ: There were lots of important themes in the roadmap videos – such as post-scarcity and the elevation of the human condition through technology – that we haven’t had the time to discuss in this call.

AK: Let’s not forget about the importance of “transcendental purpose”. People in the general public need to have a bigger vision for a better society.

DW: My own vision is that the technoprogressive roadmap can come to provide that kind of necessary, uplifting vision for the general public.

MH: How about trying to use the ‘election lift’ for the subject of the technoprogressive roadmap and see if you could interest a TV station in making a programme about this topic?

DW: Yes, as soon as the set of videos has been completed.

JBZ: Ready to help with any media opportunities, even at short notice.

MH: Part of me is very enthused about this discussion. But I’m worried about how to organise a transition from today’s adversarial political thought and action, which is based on scarcity, towards a more inclusive abundance-mentality point of view. How do we get these ideas to the people at large, if we’re not standing candidates?

MH: If we want to talk positively about technology, we have a lot of mistrust to overcome, due to social media and Cambridge Analytica. People are, with some reason, fearful of loss of jobs, and of surveillance capitalism.

MH: Perhaps the recent movement with public interest in climate change is showing the way. The fast changes in public discourse give reason for optimism.

DW: I share the inspiration of what has happened recently with climate change campaigners.

DW: Although we’re not standing any candidates in the election next month, we do have something akin to a manifesto, which is the set of goals for 2035, along with plans for shorter-term projects in support of the 2025 interim goals.

DW: Greater clarity on possible next steps with these 2025 interim goals will be important. There may be a video in the series focused on just that point. We haven’t discussed these goals in this conference call at all. It’s something to pick up in later calls in this series.

TJO: To build a larger audience, I recommend word-of-mouth. Anyone is welcome to join in.

MH: But why is the participation for this particular call so small, out of a membership of London Futurists of more than 7,000?

DW: I think we need time to build momentum. Establish a pattern and then build on it.

JBZ: The imminence of a new year – indeed a new decade, the 2020s – is likely to cause more people to reflect on the need for new initiatives. Perhaps the 2020s will become like a new 1960s!

A2: Thanks for the discussion, guys. I think the future is bright as long as we continue to discuss and bring the idea forward.

Transpolitica and the TPUK

It’s time to confirm an organisational change.

As of March 2019, Transpolitica is focusing on hosting the publication of books,  reports, and blogposts.

Actual discussion and planning of campaigns to take advantage of the ideas in these publications is now happening in a different organisation: the Transhumanist Party UK (TPUK).

For a live update of the projects being undertaken by the TPUK, see this dashboard.

TPUK Dashboard

As you’ll see, there’s a lot going on!

The TPUK declares its goal clearly: “A better future for everyone”. It highlights three top-level principles:

  • Evidence, science, and technology
  • Bright green
  • Personal freedom and social justice.

Although based in the UK, the TPUK welcomes members and supporters from around the world. To sign up to receive regular newsletters and other information by email, find the “Join” section of the TPUK’s main webpage.

You might also consider pressing the “Like” button on the TPUK’s Facebook page. That way, you’ll automatically receive notification of Facebook Live videos featuring TPUK executives – of which the first is scheduled for 6pm UK time on Sunday 3rd March.

There’s more to democracy than voting

Suppose that the UK held another referendum on the subject of Brexit. Suppose that the numerical result was essentially the same as before: around 52% voting for the UK to leave the EU, and around 48% voting for the UK to remain.

In that case, would that referendum prove to have been a massive waste of time and money?

My answer: not necessarily. Such a vote could actually lead to the healing of the nation, rather than to continued divisiveness and chaos.

politics chaos or healing

It all depends, not on the numerical result, but on the calibre of the arguments raised during that referendum.

If supporters of Leave came forward, during the campaign, with arguments that were less contestable and more compelling than before, this could lead to a healing of the nation. People who voted for the other option in the referendum might still feel disappointed. But they could accept that there were sound arguments in favour of the side that won. And, unlike the case of the first Brexit referendum, they could move forward, reconciled to the outcome. They could tell themselves they had lost a fair battle.

A similar conclusion could apply if, in a variant potential future scenario, it were Remain that won the second referendum, even if just by a narrow margin. Again, there’s no inherent reason why that conclusion would lead to ongoing bitterness. Again, it depends, not on the numerical result, but on the calibre of the arguments raised during the campaigns.

Not just a re-run

Various critics of the idea of a second referendum are doubtful that anything positive could arise from a new round of campaigning. It would just be a re-run of the previous campaign, they say, perhaps with a few people changing their minds. Nothing essentially new could arise. Forget healing. We would just get more chaos.

But I give a much more positive assessment to the idea of a second, better, referendum.

For one reason, people have learned a great deal in the intervening 30 months. Opinions which could be seen as plausible two years ago, have long since been shown up as deeply wrong. As an example, consider the now thoroughly discredited claim that it would be “the easiest deal ever” to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU (witness “EU trade deal ‘easiest in human history'” and “All the times David Davis said that Brexit was simple”.) On such matters, we’re all wiser now.

But more fundamentally, it’s now widely recognised that it’s in everyone’s interest to cool down the debate, rather than letting matters be inflamed further.

The falsification principle

As a step away from ideology to objectivity, participants in the debate should start by reflecting long and hard about which circumstances would cause them to change their minds. This is in line with the falsification principle of science: people aspiring to scientific methods should set out in advance which experimental findings would cause them to seriously rethink their currently favoured theories.

Therefore, people favouring Remain should describe the circumstances that would cause them to consider switching to Leave instead. In this way, they would identify the potentially strongest arguments in favour of Leave. For example, to my mind, the strongest argument in favour of Leave would be if the structural weakness of the eurozone were shown to be likely to lead to huge financial chaos, of a sort that the UK could best hope to escape by being outside of the EU altogether.

Likewise, people favouring Leave should describe the circumstances that would cause them to consider switching to Remain instead. For example, they might be prepared to alter their vote if they gained confidence in the flexibility and genuineness of EU reform proposals.

Debate participants unable to set out such a “falsifying circumstance” would have to acknowledge they are driven by ideology, rather being open to new findings.

Preparing to build bridges

In parallel, participants in both sides of the debate need to set out proposals for how the UK could unwind from any state of internal hostility after the campaign was concluded.

To this end, supporters of Remain need to acknowledge that many on the Leave side are profoundly ill at ease with what they see as the direction of social development. More than that, Remain supporters need to be ready to commit to a credible programme to address key causes of this alienation, including the bitter perception many people have of being “left behind”.

Similarly, supporters of Leave need to acknowledge that many on the Remain side are profoundly ill at ease with the potential unravelling of processes of multilateral decisions, in a post-Brexit race-to-the bottom world of increasing deregulation.

Towards superdemocracy

That’s the vision – the vision of a better politics being expressed in a better referendum.

It’s a vision that goes beyond democracy-as-counting-votes. It’s a vision of emerging superdemocracy (to use a term that has featured in the last two Transpolitica books – Transcending Politics and Sustainable Superabundance).

Is this vision credible? Or are we doomed to a politics dominated by feelings of vengeance and obliteration?

That is, is a second referendum likely to lead to even greater chaos, or to healing?

Personal leadership

To an extent, the answer will be influenced by the personal qualities of the people leading each side of the debate. Do these people have high personal integrity? Are they open to learning? Are they able to build bridges? Do they have high emotional intelligence? Or are they, instead, obsessive and self-serving?

The answer (chaos or healing) will also depend on how the media conducts itself. Is the media looking for high drama? Will it seek out and amplify the most inflammatory soundbites? Or will it show restraint and care?

To my mind, everyone who cares about the future of the UK has to get behind the processes of healing, rather than the processes of chaos.

That means a commitment to debating honestly – to considering the merits and demerits of different arguments fairly, rather than with a partisan spirit.

This also means a commitment to building bridges – to discovering shared common values, even with people who express views very differently to our own.

It won’t be easy. But the cost of failure would be enormous.

Image source: “Big Ben at Sunset” – Photo by M N on Unsplash

Superdemocracy: issues and opportunities

Reader feedback on the book Sustainable Superabundance has highlighted the topic of superdemocracy as having both issues and opportunities.

One issue raised is that it’s reckless to submit decisions on the future of transhumanist projects to the collective decision of the populace. The populace as a whole is unlikely to have sufficient sympathy with transhumanist objectives, and will lack an appropriate degree of understanding.

Instead of seeking collective approval for such projects, it will be better, in this line of thinking, to find ways in which these projects can take place autonomously.

To quote from one early reader, Samantha Atkins, from a discussion thread on Facebook:

The book pins its hopes on a “superdemocracy” with no clear limits on the areas that democracy has power over. It posits saner, much wiser people as necessary to make it work when we have no means to produce this miracle. It believes too much in the collective and imho will produce a wold of stagnation waiting for the collective to decide or give permission…

I believe that much less government and more real freedom of the people to innovate and find the solutions is the key to fastest progress to our joint dreams. I think government, with the ability to force decisions on people, should be severely limited in the areas it can touch…

We transhumanists are a small minority. Even in our own circles a proposition as simple as ending aging being a good thing can only garner perhaps 70% support. I have actually seen this vote taken in transhumanist groups with such results. So how can we really expect to sway entire countries and more in a superdemocracy toward our values across majorities? I think the more realistic hope and plan is for the freedom to act without waiting for the majority to agree.

These (along with many other thoughtful comments in the same thread) raise valid concerns. So let me offer some responses.

The four ‘supers’

A good starting point is with the idea of adding a social dimension to the set of areas of human life that concern transhumanists.

The four supers

This addition was discussed at the TransVision 2017 conference in Brussels, in a session that reviewed the Technoprogressive Declaration which had been agreed three years earlier at TransVision 2014 in Paris.

Here’s an extract from the official agreement from the 2017 conference:

Alongside the well-known transhumanist intentions for superlongevity, superintelligence, and super wellbeing, we additionally emphasise the importance of “super society” – by which term is implied improvements in resilience, solidarity, and democracy, whilst upholding diversity and liberty.

The agreement went on to emphasise how the practice of democracy needs to be transformed and renewed:

We envision a renewal of democracy in which, rather than the loudest and richest voices prevailing, the best insights of the community are elevated and actioned.

A vital function of democracy is for political representatives to be periodically held to account, thus ensuring they keep in mind the wellbeing of all citizens rather than just the desires of an elite; also of great importance is that democracy involves peaceful transitions of power.

A healthy democracy requires a free press and independent judiciary, and will be assisted by the wise application of technological innovation.

In the few months after TransVision 2017, I put the finishing touches on my book Transcending Politics (which published in February 2018). In the process, I opted to give more prominence to the word “super-democracy” than to “super-society”. I gave this definition in the first chapter of that book:

super-democracy: the active involvement of the entire population, both in decision-making, and in the full benefits of transhumanism.

And from the same chapter, here’s the explanation about “The four ‘supers'”:

As in the short video “An Introduction to Transhumanism” – which, with approaching a quarter of a million views, is probably the most widely watched video on the subject – transhumanism is sometimes expressed in terms of the so-called “three supers”:

  • Super longevity: significantly improved physical health, including much longer lifespans – overcoming human tendencies towards physical decay and decrepitude
  • Super intelligence: significantly improved thinking capability – overcoming human tendencies towards mental blind spots and collective stupidity
  • Super wellbeing: significantly improved states of consciousness – overcoming human tendencies towards depression, alienation, vicious emotions, and needless suffering.

The technoprogressive variant of transhumanism in effect adds one more “super” to the three already mentioned:

  • Super democracy: significantly improved social inclusion and resilience, whilst upholding diversity and liberty – overcoming human tendencies towards tribalism, divisiveness, deception, and the abuse of power

Beyond present-day politics

It’s one thing to say that transhumanism should seek the positive transformation of social power dynamics. It’s another thing to seek collective decision-making.

After all, collective decision-making has a bad track record – especially in recent times.

Indeed, incompetent government action has often slowed down or prevented good progress with the humanitarian initiatives championed by transhumanists and other futurists. Governments have imposed all kinds of unhelpful regulatory schemes.

But the vision I champion in my books isn’t for larger government. It’s for appropriate government. It’s for better government – keeping out of areas that don’t concern it, but getting involved when market forces are unable to find the best long-term solution by themselves. In other words, regulations and incentives only when necessary.

To quote from the section “Beyond present-day politics” in Chapter 3 of Sustainable Superabundance:

Alas, politics has often been a hindrance to positive technological progress. Politicians, wittingly and unwittingly, have imposed cumbersome legal restrictions on breakthrough innovations. They have elevated doctrinaire ideologues over evidence-minded pragmatists. They have re-routed funds from deserving causes to self-serving gravy train projects…

[But] when done well, politics involves wise, well-informed collective decisions about which new technologies and other social innovations should be restricted or steered, and which should be incentivised or encouraged. When done well, politics also ensures that such decisions are followed up, and are revised in a timely manner whenever necessary.

And from the agreement from TransVision 2017:

Systems for regulation of technology need to be adaptive and agile, rather than heavyweight and anachronistic.

Support for autonomous projects

A vital part of the above-mentioned agility is that subgroups of society should, indeed, be able to carry out projects of their own choice, without needing the explicit approval from an overall government.

I address the question of tolerating and enabling diversity at several points inside Chapter 4 of Sustainable Superabundance:

[The above core] principles, as stated, leave many questions unanswered. They define a broad envelope that can accommodate a multiplicity of different viewpoints. That diversity is, itself, something to cherish. Hence a seventh core principle: nurture and tolerate diverse opinions within the overall transhumanist framework

Groups of people who share particular enhanced skills and modes of practice will, understandably, seek some autonomy over decisions within their groups, freed from requirements for democratic approval by people in the wider community that have little understanding or interest in these modes of practice. This is similar to the principle of technocratic decision-making: there are domains of specialist knowledge (for example, medicine) in which decisions are best taken by the relevant experts rather than by a vote that includes non-experts.

But the chapter goes on to point out limits of any such autonomy:

Nevertheless, domains often interact with each other. Where the activities of one group of people, with one set of enhancements, interact with the activities of other groups of people, a broader democratic agreement needs to be reached.

The design of the overall transhumanist society therefore needs to enable the prosperous coexistence of subgroups with significantly divergent skills and practices.

I make no claims that the design of such a society will be easy. But I encourage transhumanists and futurists of all shades and stripes to engage in the discussion of the issues and opportunities arising.

A change in the public mood

Despite everything written above, the question still remains as to how transhumanists will be able to obtain agreement from the electorate as a whole to accelerate projects such as genetic modifications, radical brain enhancements, Drexler-style nanofactories, and whole-body rejuvenation therapies.

Wouldn’t it be better, people might ask, to create some kind of independent transhumanist state, adopting so-called transhumanist separatism?

My answer is that transhumanist projects should, in due course, go much faster (and more effectively) if they can tap into the wider resources of society as a whole, rather than being restricted to people in an isolated community.

I say this despite the opposition and (more often) apathy presently expressed by the majority of society towards transhumanism.

I say this because I foresee large changes in the public mood as the 2020s proceed.

Due in part to transhumanists speaking up in more engaging ways, the 2020s can become the decade of transhumanism: the decade in which more and more people become aware of the potential for human nature to be significantly improved by the application of technology – and see that potential as deeply desirable.

As I say in the first chapter of Sustainable Superabundance, “the few can become many”.

I realise this prediction will strike many observers as far-fetched. Let me finish this article with some words in defence of that prediction.

First, changes in the public mood are by no means unknown in history. If a compelling set of ideas gains momentum, transformation in public expectations can take place increasingly quickly these days:

Second, people are generally more capable than we first think. When we have a bad encounter with someone who has a different opinion from us – for example, someone who rejects (or supports) the idea of anthropogenic climate change, or someone who rejects (or supports) the idea of the UK remaining within the European Union – we all too often decide that they are resolute idiots, beyond the reach of reason. However, in a friendlier, more supportive environment, surprising degrees of mutual understanding and agreement can become possible. Greater emotional intelligence can make all the difference.

People fearful of submitting a decision to a democratic process tend to be anxious about the degree of change that it is possible for members of the electorate to navigate. Can resolute opponents really turn into friendly supporters?

My answer is “yes”. With my transhumanist vision, I believe that we can all do better than the sorry norms of recent history. And we can get there step by step. Starting from today.

New complete book awaiting reader reviews

The dawn of 2019 marks four years since the original launch of Transpolitica (January 2015).

The dawn of 2019 also marks the first full availability of the book “Sustainable Superabundance: A universal transhumanist manifesto for the 2020s and beyond“.

All twelve chapters of this Manifesto are now awaiting reader review and feedback, ideally over the next 1-2 weeks. I’ll welcome any comments, on any parts of the Manifesto that catch your attention. You can make comments via this shared Google doc.

Depending on the feedback, the Manifesto is expected to be officially published around mid January – first as an ebook, and shortly afterwards in physical and audio formats.

For people inspired by any of the ideas in the Manifesto, the final chapter sets out “options to engage”.

TAM Graphic 12

For the opening chapter and links to all the other chapters, see here.

TAM Graphic 1

I’ve actually rewritten parts of every chapter over the last couple of months, as the overall flow of the message has become clearer to me. Even if you’ve read individual chapters before, you may find new inspiration from looking at the latest versions:

  1. Advance!
  2. Superabundance ahead
  3. Beyond technology
  4. Principles and priorities
  5. Towards abundant energy
  6. Towards abundant food
  7. Towards abundant materials
  8. Towards abundant health
  9. Towards abundant intelligence
  10. Towards abundant creativity
  11. Towards abundant democracy
  12. Options to engage

For comparison, Sustainable Superabundance has 54 thousand words, in the latest draft, whereas the previous Transpolitica book, Transcending Politics, has 142 thousand words. The new book is intended to be much more accessible.

On a personal note: 2019 will see, from me, a greater focus than before on activism rather than analysis. Of course, both are needed. But whereas before my energy was divided roughly 30% activist and 70% analyst, it will now be the other way round.

Similarly, I will put less focus on being a futurist and more focus on being a transhumanist.

I’m keeping an open mind as to the best organisational structures to assist these projects. I may shortly reboot or even shut down some organisations where I’ve previously invested my time. I may wind down my links with some communities and ramp up new links with others.

For the time being, I’m directing people to use the Transpolitica mailing list discussion group, https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/transpolitica.

Q4 update: Progress towards “Sustainable superabundance”

TAM TOC graphic 2

Over the last few months, the “abundance manifesto” book has been coming into shape.

Thanks to many useful discussions with supporters of the Transpolitica vision, the book now bears the title “Sustainable Superabundance: A universal transhumanist manifesto for the 2020s and beyond. The basic framework has evolved through many iterations.

The goal remains that the book will be short (less than 100 pages), easy to read, and contain compelling calls-to-action.

Of the twelve chapter in the book, seven are essentially complete, and the other five are at various stages of preparation.

This list contains links to copies of the chapters that are essentially complete, along with placeholders for links to the remaining chapters:

  1. Advance!
  2. Superabundance ahead
  3. Beyond technology
  4. Principles and priorities
  5. Abundant energy
  6. Abundant food
  7. Abundant materials
  8. Abundant health
  9. Abundant intelligence
  10. Abundant creativity
  11. Abundant democracy
  12. Engage?

For convenience, a more detailed table of contents for the first seven chapters is appended below.

Feedback

Supporters of Transpolitica are invited to read through any parts of this material that catch their attention.

The best way to make comments on the content is via this shared Google document.

Once the book nears publication, a number of existing websites and communities will be restructured, to more usefully coordinate positive concrete action to accelerate the advent of sustainable superabundance.

Thanks in advance for any feedback!

Detailed table of contents

  1. Advance!
    • Time for action
  2. Superabundance ahead
    • An abundance of energy
    • An abundance of food and water
    • An abundance of material goods
    • An abundance of health and longevity
    • An abundance of all-round intelligence
    • An abundance of creativity and exploration
    • An abundance of collaboration and democracy
    • Time for action
  3. Beyond technology
    • Beyond present-day politics
    • Beyond present-day democracy
    • Beyond lowest common denominator voting
    • Beyond right and left
    • Beyond the free market
    • Beyond corporate financing
    • Beyond predetermined exponentials
  4. Principles and priorities
    • Nine core principles
    • Technocracy
    • Science
    • Transhumanism
    • Religion
    • Singularity
    • Exponential urgency
    • Technological determinism
    • Techno-optimism
    • Precaution and proaction
    • Diversity and inequality
    • Diversity accelerating
    • Coexistence
    • Human-like minds
    • Re-engineering natural ecosystems
    • Beyond hubris
    • Taking back control
  5. Abundant energy
    • Anticipating climate chaos
    • Taking climate seriously
    • Technology is not enough
    • Steering short-term financials
    • A battle of ideas
    • Beyond greenwash
    • A role for nuclear energy
    • A role for geoengineering
    • A wider view of environmental issues
  6. Abundant food
    • Population, onward and upward?
    • The legacy of Malthus
    • Necessity and innovation
    • In praise of biochemical innovation
    • More waves of innovation ahead
    • Towards feeding one hundred billion people
    • Risks posed by biochemical innovation
    • The move from harm to ruin
    • Rapid response
    • Beyond the profit motive
  7. Abundant materials
    • Approaching nanotechnology
    • Tools that improve tools
    • Waves and transitions
    • The fabrication of integrated circuits
    • 3D and 4D printing
    • New materials
    • Quantum computing
    • Nanomedicine
    • Six answers to scarcity
    • Risks posed by nanotechnology
    • Beyond the profit motive

 

Q3 sprint: launch the Abundance Manifesto

I’m writing to share early news of a planned pivot involving Transpolitica and/or the Transhumanist Party UK.

This pivot will taken place over the next few months. Progressing this pivot is the goal of the forthcoming Q3 sprint for Transpolitica.

The pivot is to place more focus on one particular idea: clarifying the forthcoming era of sustainable abundance. This will happen via the vehicle of a new document – a new manifesto – which (all being well) will be published as a short new book some time later this year.

I’ve been led to this change by reflecting on a number of developments over the last few months, including discussions at last Saturday’s London Futurists conference on Universal Basic Income and/or Alternatives. Another factor influencing my thinking is the responses to my book Transcending Politics. Whilst I’m pleased at the content of that book, I can see that many readers would prefer a simpler introduction to the subject.

Hence the new document, which bears the working title The Transhumanist Abundance Manifesto.

It is presently mainly text, but the idea is that it will contain graphics as well.

As you’ll see, the document contains a call-to-action. If you’re able to help improve the document – particularly the FAQ section at the end (which I envision will grow to at least one hundred questions over the next few weeks), please add your comments and suggestions in this Google doc.

The Manifesto is split into three parts:

  1. An opening invitation, “Advance!” (roughly one page of A4)
  2. Sections explaining “Abundance awaits” (roughly three pages of A4)
  3. FAQ (to form an extended appendix to the previous sections).

For ease of viewing, here’s a current snapshot of the first two sections.

The cosmos beckons

(Picture source: Genty on Pixabay.)

Q2 sprint: Political responses to technological unemployment

Technological Unemployment v2

Q1 recap

Before sharing some details about Transpolitica focus during Q2 2018, here’s a quick update on Transpolitica activities during Q1 2018.

Transpolitica has made good progress during Q1 with goals identified at the start of this period:

Priority project for Q2

As Q2 approaches, it’s now time to put into motion the first of a series of time-limited projects to dive more deeply into some of the specific key themes of a better politics.

Each such project will involve gathering, developing, reviewing, and then disseminating the best technoprogressive thinking on a given topic.

The first project in the series is “Political responses to technological unemployment”, carried out over three phases:

  1. Up to end of April 2018: mainly writing and collecting submissions – framing analyses, thought pieces, policy recommendations, etc
  2. Up to end of May 2018: more focus on group deliberation – where are the weak points and the strong points of our collective understanding, and how can we improve our understanding
  3. Up to end of June 2018: more focus on communicating our findings and recommendations, via publications, memes, slogans, videos, etc

Note that I am using the phrase “technological unemployment” to also include “technological under-employment” and “precarious employment”. (A better choice of words could be one outcome from the project.)

Starting points for this project (to avoid people re-inventing the wheel) include:

Depending on progress, possible outcomes of the project might include a PDF research pamphlet, a video, an improved set of pages on H+Pedia, a press release, a set of slides, and/or a public event (such as a meeting of London Futurists in June and the Humanity+ Beijing event in July).

Questions that need addressing

Key to the success of the project will be the identification of the areas most in need of better understanding. These are the “major uncertainties” where we should prioritise our focus.

For the moment, it seems to me that these areas include:

  1. Potential transition mechanisms from where society is today, to a new social contract in which a citizen’s income (to give one example) is in place
  2. Possible alternatives to a citizen’s income
  3. Strengths and weaknesses of various forecasts of scenarios for the development of technological unemployment
  4. The pros and cons of various ways of raising money to pay for a citizen’s income
  5. The possible role of decentralised technologies such as blockchain in the administration of a citizen’s income
  6. The possibility of an “Apollo scale” project to drive down the costs of all goods and services needed for a prosperous lifestyle
  7. International and trans-border considerations

If you think you know at least part of the answers to the above questions – or if you think there are more important questions to be addressing – please do become involved.

To become more involved in this project

The mailing group https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/transpolitica exists to to coordinate planning and execution of Transpolitica projects. To join the group, visit this page, and send a subscription request.

(There’s also a Transpolitica group on Facebook, but with a potential impending mass exodus from Facebook, it’s more important than before to use other means for project coordination.)

Tools for better politics?

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

Tools for better politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter updated: “1. Vision and roadmap”

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

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

Review comments appreciated!

Access the chapter here.

The section heading are:

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